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thessaloniki

A walk in the woods, a trip out to explore the history of Alexander the Great, some churches, a bath house, museums and markets..... here is a random selection of some of the things we enjoyed doing in Thessaloniki, in addition to our explorations of the central city.

We don't drive, and public transport was limited during our stay because of a bus strike, so - apart from one trip we took out on an organised tour - these are all things that can be done easily on foot.

Thousand forest walk

view

This walk takes you up into the pine forests that surround the castle. You get spectacular views back over the city and the sea, pine-scented air, and a break from city traffic and mayhem. There are footpaths, picnic tables and shady benches scattered throughout.

You can get up on to the hill, take in the view and get back down again in a couple of hours. There is plenty of scope for more extensive exploration, but given you are probably visiting Thessaloniki to explore the city, rather than discover the countryside, this short walk will be enough to give you a take on another aspect of Thessaloniki.

walk 2

You could easily combine it with a visit to the castle, and if you are already up in the old city, then the walk would only add an hour or so. There are plenty of places for refreshments.

To get here you can take either the 23 or 24 bus from Platiea Elefthria (or any other stop en route) up towards the castle and the 'upper city' (Ano Poli).

If you are on the 23, get off at the Agios Pavlos stop in Akropoleos street. Akropoleos is a fairly wide street running uphill towards the castle. About half way up it doubles back on itself and, at the point where it bends, you will see a run of cafes and restaurants off to the right. The Agios Pavlos stop is immediately after the bend. Getting off the bus walk downhill in the direction you came up and walk past the tavernas and cafes, with their amazing city views.

Carry on towards the big church, Agios Pavlos, clearly visible on the hill. You will go across the top of the Pashas garden on your right, and see the cafe To Ktima in the gardens, just below the church.

walk 3

If you get the 24 there is a bus stop (also called Agios Pavlos) just by the entrance to To Kitima, and you can get off here, and follow the walk as described below. Alternatively you could stay on the bus for another few minutes, and get off it at the entrance to the zoo, from where you can walk up onto footpaths.

To Kitima is a pleasant cafe, and a great place to stop for refreshments on your way home, shady and cool. It's views aren't as good as some of the other cafes, but you are further away from the road.

walk 4

Agios Pavlos is worth stopping to look at, for the views as well as decorative stone work.

To get to the forest walk, carry on along the main road, going past the entrance to the church on your right.

Walk along this road for about five minutes, passing another cafe with tables on the view side of the road, and an abandoned, large restaurant and cafe set slightly higher on your left.

A few minutes later, pretty much on the corner of the road as it curves round, there is a set of steps leading off on the left. It is sign posted. Follow up for as long as you want - it doesn't have to be far to get views.

Pella, Vergina and Edessa

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There are some amazing places to visit around Thessaloniki, and a wealth of archaeological sites. Pella is the birthplace of Alexander the Great, and Vergina is where his father, Philip was buried. Edessa has less archeology, but the most breath-taking waterfalls.

We took in all three on a day tour with Key Tours. It cost 40 euros, with museum entrance fees costing another 20 euros ( although we went on some sort of international friendship day and all the sites were free). A mini-bus with around 17 of us left at 8.30am, and we were back by 6pm. If you don't have your own transport this was a really good way to get to see these sites.

mosaic

The museum at Pella is fascinating. It has the most astounding collection of gold items, as well as mosaics. There are also lots of more ordinary objects which give an insight into the everyday life in the city of Pella.

It's a modern building, designed to give you some idea of the layout and nature of the actual city. The collection is extremely well displayed, with clear information. Although the museum is near the modern village of Pella, it is on the edges and not obviously close to any cafes or tavernas. There is a small cafe in the museum.

site

We were taken in the bus from the museum to the site - only a few minutes, but I'm not sure how long it would take to walk.

There is not much left of ancient Pella, and you need some imagination to conjour up the luxurious villas that once made up the city.

You can see a few mosaics, and the outline of the stalls in the agora are discernable. Despite that, I enjoyed the site, and could have spent longer there - I think it helped having been to the museum first.

waterfall

We went next to Edessa. This is a small town on a high cliff, in the foothills of the mountains.

The snow melt from the mountains makes the river into a roaring force which just plummets over the cliff in a spectacular manner. Walkways have been made so you can walk down by the waterfall to various viewing spots. There are caves in the rocks, and you can walk behind the waterfall at one point.

It's a popular Greek tourist spot, and coach loads of people come to marvel. There is a pleasant cafe at the top of the falls, and a taverna with tables right by the river, just before it drops off the edge of the cliff.

The area is very fertile, with walnut and fruit trees - apparently it is really pleasant in the spring, with lots of blossom. The falls are less dramatic in the winter, as it is snow melt that fuels them.

Our guide said there was a longish, very beautiful walk you can do that takes you right down to the bottom of the falls, and then back up through the woods and fields.

tomb

The museum at Vergina, our last stop, is truly impressive. This is where Philip, Alexander's father, was buried, as well as other members of the royal family. The tombs have been a hugely important source of artifacts and information.

The museum itself is designed so it barely impacts on the landscape, with an entrance as if you were going into a tomb. It's all displayed in a beautiful manner and with some reverence. The gold items are stunning, but the tombs, paintings and other items are also fascinating, with short but informative labelling.

I'd really recommend it. It's not huge, and can be done quite easily in about an hour and a half. You can't take photographs in the museum. There is more to this site, but this wasn't included in our tour, and a lot of it seemed to be closed for renovations. There is a pleasant cafe on site, and the modern village of Vergina has a street of tavernas and cafes, just outside the museum entrance.

All of this really sparked my interest in the history of Alexander the Great, and during the holiday I read 'Alexander the Great: A Very Short Introduction by Hugh Bowden. As advertised, it is very short and it is an easy read - I found it very interesting and would recommend it.

Byzantine museum and the Archeological Museum

byzantine

These two museums are almost next door to each other, just beyond the White Tower.

We had a bit of trouble finding them at first, as they are set further back from the sea than we'd thought.

They both have the same high standard as the museums in Pella and Vergina - beautiful, purpose designed modern buildings, with amazing, beautifully displayed content.

The quality of the exhibits, as well as the care and skill with which they are exhibited, is as good or better than the best museums in Athens.

museum

Neither of them are huge, and you can do them justice without completely exhausting yourself.

Of the two I liked the Byzantine museum best, but they are both really well worth visiting.

Both museums have cafes. The one outside the Archeological museum wasn't very appealing - loud music, no people.

The one in the Byzantine museum is is a pleasant shady courtyard but is really expensive (5 euros for a coffee, very posh food).

A church, a monastry and a bath house

church

The little church of Agios Nikolaos Orphanos is a delight. It is an early 14th-century Byzantine church, which has recently been cleaned and renovated, and is in a shady, peaceful garden. It has some beautiful brick work. They even had a tortoise quietly muching away in the garden!

It is at 1 Irodotou Street, a bit hidden away in the maze of little streets in the old town, but is worth looking out for if you are going up that way. It's not far from the Inglis taverna.

It's open daily 8.30 - 3pm, except Mondays.

Hosios David

The Church of Hosios David, also known as the Latomou Monastery and Suluca Mosque, is a late 5th-century church.

This is really tucked away at the top of the old town, with steep foot paths twisting up to it. It is quite well sign posted, and a well known site.

It's a very small church with a fascinating history, a wonderful mosaic and wall paintings. The highlight for me was the extremely knowledgeable custodian, who talked me through the mosaic and paintings. He made it really interesting, and I got loads more out of it from listening to him. So if he is there, do ask him to tell you about the church.

inside

I was told that these Byzantine baths are the oldest in Greece.

They were still functioning until the 1940's, when they fell into disrepair.

They have recently been beautifully and painstakingly renovated.

The baths are on Theotokopoulou Street, at the bottom of the Old Town.

They are only open on Thursdays and Fridays, from 10am until 2pm.

There's no charge to get in.

lemons

There are lots of great markets in central Thessaloniki, and this might be quite enough to satisfy you.

However, if you do want to explore outside the centre a bit, finding a local market as a focus for this is always a good bet.

The local markets are always lively, with an ever changing array of seasonal fruit and veg, nuts, wine, olives, eggs, fish... plus cheap clothes, kitchen goods, and everything else you can think of.

There is a list of where and when these markets take place on the internet, but only in Greek.

We went to one in Archiotiton Street, in Kallithea. This is a district just west of Kastro, and we choose it because we could walk to it. It takes place on Thursday mornings.