I’d spent a little over 2 weeks in Αθήνα (Athens), and it’s Greece’s largest city so I expected to be in Θεσσαλονίκη (Thessaloniki) for roughly the same amount of time. What ended up happening is I stayed for just under 5 weeks! Where did all that time go, and what captivated me so much?
Thessaloniki has a population of around 1 million. 10% of that is students of which a large number are non-Greek. Europe has a program called Erasmus that lets anyone enrolled in an EU college take a semester or two abroad. With a school named Aristotle University, warm weather, and a (relatively) cheap cost of living, Thessaloniki is a destination for a lot of foreign students in addition to local ones.
This gives the city a very young and international feel; particularly in the area close to campus where you can find a lot of bars and cheap (but also good) food. It’s quite a juxtaposition since that’s also the area with an old Roman temple and the ruins of Galerius’ Arch and Palace. So it’s an everyday sight for a shitload of young people to wander by 2000 year old structures. “What am I going to do today? Just wander around some super old buildings; no big deal.”
It’s also a beautiful city. It’s built around the bay, and stretches into the adjacent hills/mountains. There’s a ‘boardwalk’ (actually reclaimed land) that runs along the coast where a lot of fancy (for Greece) restaurants are. And up in the hills you get amazing views of the city and bay below. Every day around sunset, a bunch of young people grab some alcohol and snacks, and hang out on the old wall (another 2000 year old structure) admiring the scenery. Of course, I had to hang out there with a few friends; it’s just what you do.
In the mornings (after I’d visited most of the sights), I also liked going down to the dock, and staring at the sea. During the week, there aren’t too many people there until the afternoon at which point the aforementioned throngs of young people would arrive. (I swear, they’re everywhere).
I also found the most affordably priced Greek classes I’ve ever seen. If you’re going to be in Thessaloniki for a while, and would like to learn a little Greek in a classroom setting, check out ΒΑΒΥΛΩΝΙΑ. They do a lot of culture related things as well. So if you’re into dance, art, or theater, and don’t mind receiving instructions in Greek, you can also check them out for that.
And of course, no talk of my time in Thessaloniki would be complete without mentioning the hostel. It’s called Little Big House, and OMFG, it’s awesome!* I could tell you about how every room used to be an apartment (flat) so they each have their own kitchen (with utensils, and cookware) and bathrooms. Or I could mention the reception area is a cafe where locals drop by for coffee, snacks, and drinks. Or I could say something about the free breakfast having the most variety I’ve found in any of the Greek hostels I’ve visited.
While all of those things I could have told you about are amazing, the thing that most impressed me, and made me not want to leave was the staff. My first morning there, I wandered down to reception for the breakfast, and the on-shift hospitality person (who I had not met the previous evening) greeted me by name! I was more than a little surprised; I don’t even remember my own name half the time.
And the friendliness continued from there. Need advice on what to see? They can list the most popular attractions. Need some help getting around the city? They’ll tell you what mode of transportation will work out best as well as scheduling trips or booking tickets if necessary. Have a car, and want to get out of the city? They know a fair bit about the surrounding countryside.
Hell, I’d even ask them questions about the Greek language. “What gender is this noun?” “What’s the Greek word for change (like money)?” “How do I say ‘Stone Age’ in Greek?” (Yes, I actually asked about all that. If you’re curious the answers to the last two are: ψηλά, and Λίθινη Εποχή). One time, I had to get something printed as a homework assignment, and the person on duty read it, corrected my errors, and re-printed the corrected version I sent her. I don’t think the Greek trees were too appreciative, but I sure was.
After a month of peppering them with incessant questions, I feel like I developed a genuine relationship with these people. Even one of the girls that doesn’t speak English, and never talks to guests as a general rule would say “Για σου” (hi) when she saw me (sometimes). On the day I left, I got no less than 3 hugs, and a few “I’ll miss you”s (which really says something considering how introverted and generally un-huggable I am). And I’ll miss them too. Hell, I miss them now and it’s only been a couple days.
So yeah, I definitely recommend Thessaloniki and Little Big House. They are, without a doubt, the best place I’ve been so far.
*If you like chill hostels. For a party hostel, I’m sure there are plenty in town that would be more suited to your taste.