Thessaloniki, Greece is an intriguing city! It is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of the geographical region of Macedonia. It is known for its festivals, events, and lively cultural atmosphere. The food is delicious as well!
However, if you've never been before, it can be quite overwhelming to plan your stay. International travel does require forethought. Have no fear! I have created a simple guide to help you plan your first visit to Thessaloniki, Greece!
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Which Airline Should I Fly?
You have many options if you are departing from the United States. Of course, the following factors come into play: What is your home airport? When is your desired date of departure? Do you have airline status or have you accumulated miles/ points that you intend to use?
On my recent trip to Thessaloniki, Greece, I elected to use United Airlines. I used United MileagePlus®—the frequent-flyer program of United Airlines—to book my Award Flight. In fact, for ~$100, I was able to fly—and stay—in Thessalonica, Greece! This included my flight tickets and my Airbnb stay along the Waterfront! This is one of the benefits of Award Travel—you can travel for substantially less!
Where Should I Stay?
Along the Waterfront! The Waterfront includes historical landmarks, theme parks, and picturesque views of the Aegean Sea! You can find the White Tower, the Garden of Alexander, and even a pirate ship! Transportation options are good and you are within walking distance to restaurants, shops, and other places of interest.
We stayed in an Airbnb on Leoforos Nikis—right across the Aegean Sea. We enjoyed watching the sunset over the Aegean Sea from our balcony—it was beautiful! However, it was noisy—there is a vibrant day and night scene with a plethora of bars, cafes, and restaurants. I prefer to stay at an Airbnb over a hotel. You typically get more space and it presents a less "touristy" feel.
Our host, Stamatios Giannikis of Architecture In Residence, was exceptional. He made sure our stay was pleasant and enjoyable. He provided us with helpful information and was extremely responsive. He received five stars in my book!
Although you should always be cognizant of crime, we felt relatively safe staying in Thessaloniki. We didn't have any major incidents—other than being a victim of an inflated "tourist" bill at a restaurant. Our waitress added two extra meals to our bill in a manner that appeared to be deliberate. Thankfully, we were able to get the bill "fixed" and the 2 extra meals were removed. I gave the restaurant a 1-star review.
What Type of Transportation Should I Use?
Thessaloniki is a city you probably do not want to rent a car in! Traffic is heavy and it can be difficult to find available parking spots. We decided to rent a car because we also had planned day trips to visit Pozar Thermal Baths and Edessa Waterfalls. In addition, our next stop was Thassos, and we wanted to have our own car to explore this lovely island. We elected to use the ferry at Keramoti to transport our car to Thassos.
Our Airbnb host arranged a parking spot at a parking garage a couple of blocks from our location. It was an interesting experience trying to find this parking garage for the first time. Entering/ leaving the parking garage took a lot of organization from the parking attendants; we had to leave our car keys and inform them in advance when we wanted to leave.
Thessaloniki has good public transportation options available. This includes public buses and taxis.
When you arrive at Thessaloniki Airport (SKG), you can arrange a transfer from the airport to where you will be staying along the Waterfront. Having a private transfer will cost ~28 euros for an Economy-class car. This is more expensive than using the public bus—but it provides peace of mind and is one less thing to worry about while on vacation.
You can also rent a car at SKG. It is important to do your homework before you rent a car in terms of price, coverage, etc. For example, if you plan on taking the rental car on a ferry, you need to make sure you have the rental company's permission. You can be held personally liable for any damage to their vehicle by not adhering to the rules.
I decided to rent from Potos Car Rentals. They were substantially cheaper than their competitors. In addition, they allow their cars to be transported in ferries—just make sure you inform them in advance.
I generally do not use travel portals to rent a car—even though I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve® that earns 10X on car rentals purchased through Chase's Travel Portal! I often find the car rental prices are inflated by hundreds of dollars! The 10X earning potential is not worth it to me when I can rent a car elsewhere for about half of what I would be charged!
PRO TIP: Use your Chase Sapphire Reserve® or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card when paying for your car rental. They both have Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver benefits. You should decline the rental company's collision insurance. Coverage is primary—not secondary. This benefit can save you ~$20 per day and give you peace of mind on your rental.
I highly recommend Potos Car Rentals if you are looking to rent a car in Thessaloniki! I dealt with Konstantina and she was extremely helpful in answering my questions. She helped me resolve the one "hiccup" with my rental—not having Wi-Fi and GPS that I paid for. I will definitely rent from them again the next time I am in Greece!
Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour
While in Thessaloniki, we used the Thessaloniki City Sightseeing: Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour. This made it easy to see some of the main attractions in Thessaloniki. This included: the White Tower; the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki; the Heptapyrgion of Thessaloniki; and the Port of Thessaloniki.
We purchased 24-hour tickets; we were able to use the bus an unlimited amount of times during this duration. We would simply "hop-on" to catch the bus and "hop-off" when we wished to explore an area. The bus would frequent each stop every 30 minutes which made it convenient to use. Be sure to find out the bus schedule—you wouldn't want to depend on the bus only to find out that it already made its last stop for the day!
The taxi was the only other form of public transportation that we used—but only once. One platform widely used in Thessaloniki is Taxi Beat. You can download an app to your Android or Apple phone. It is very easy and convenient to use. You will know the cost of the taxi cab ride—before it arrives. This helps prevent tourists from being ripped off. Just keep in mind that your smartphone will need to be connected via Wi-Fi or have a cellular data plan turned on.
Where Should I Eat?
Thessaloniki has a plethora of options when it comes to food! Greek cuisine is legendary and you will not be disappointed! To keep this simple, I will mention my 3 favorite places you must try while in Thessaloniki!
No. 1: Kitchen Bar Thessaloniki
The food at the Kitchen Bar was good but the views were better! It is an upscale restaurant situated right in the port of Thessaloniki overlooking the Aegean Sea. I had the grilled lambs with green herbs in a béarnaise sauce. Although not the best lamb I have tried—it was delicious. My wife enjoyed grilled sea bass—although she did have to season it with salt.
The Kitchen Bar provides a romantic atmosphere. It is a dinner you will not forget! I do recommend that you make reservations in advance. When I DM'd them on Facebook, I was told the reservation had to be made over the telephone. I was able to do this via Skype at +30 231 050 2241.
The address is: Limani Warehouse B, Thessaloniki 541 10
No. 2: Basilico
We went to Basilico on a whim; it was at the right place and at the right time—along the Waterfront and we were hungry! It is an Italian-inspired restaurant. I loved their gyro pizza! It was my first experience having greek-style pork on a pizza. They gave me a hearty portion and I was hooked after my first bite.