The Weekly Getaway: A day or two in Thessaloniki
It was about time we went back to our roots. To warm people and great food.
If you ever find yourself there, budget for a couple of days cause the city may be small but the list of food options is long. And, then again, there's always the waterfront for you to enjoy an early morning run or a lazy afternoon stroll. Or simply just sip coffee at one of the cafés, lazily overlooking the by-passers.
Palaion Patron and Pavlou Mela
Thessaloniki may be known for its long history of frappé -basically instant coffee on ice- but ask anyone in the city centre and they'll point you to Local Espresso Bar. Ok, it's also about the "see and be seen" aspect of it, but most importantly it's about the coffee they serve. If you're hungry enough, go for the fried eggs sprinkled with truffle paste and locally produced bacon. If you're looking for takeaway options, you can go for the freshly baked baguette with gruyere cheese and ham.
Lunch is being served around 2pm and whether you love fish or meat you'll most likely be able to satisfy that your palate quite easily. Ergon Agora is one of the newest establishments in the town featuring not only a restaurant but also a modern deli marketplace. Run by brothers Thomas and Giorgos Douzis who following their father's profession wanted to reimagine Greek local produce.
If you suddenly feel a sugar rush and want to get back being a kid, try the colorful mouthwatering doughnuts at Jerry's Foodtruck (their twisted croissant sticks with nutella are a real treat!).
Tip: if you wanna taste breakfast like a local, opt for the famous bougatsa, filo pastry with your choice of cheese, custard (sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon) or minced meat from Dodoni - see below.
The church of Agia Sofia is one of the few old buildings around and is definitely worth a visit. Although views on its foundation date are split between the 6th century and the 8th, Agia Sofia has since withstood many hardships such as being converted into a mosque by the Turks but also a fire, an earthquake and an air raid. Today it remains open to the public throughout most of the day. A bit further north you can also catch a glimpse of the famous mosaics of Rotonda.
Everything in the city centre is 5mins away, so chances are you could easily get there between breaks from one coffee stop to the next. Chances are that you'll definitely find someone to hang with.
Plateia Emporeiou and Caravan Saray
Having gone through a first transformation back in 2010, the area of Plateia Emporeiou (known for their high commercial activity back in the days) has now started getting a new look & feel with paved streets and more space for going around. In the last 2 years, starting with Maitre & Margarita, a cute Greek bistrot, and Ypsilon, a multi-purposed space in the old Kyrtsi arcade, the vibe of the area has gotten a lot more hopeful!
As you go further up, north of Egnatia street, you can witness yet another gentrification of Thessaloiniki's central areas - Caravan Saray. Stereo is a nice plain joint to cool down for some coffee unless you're really into vintage furniture in which case you can visit 2 Concept Store and enjoy the best of both worlds. It's amazing how much the financial crisis has benefited this side of the city, where new ideas and fresh minds flourish. A bright example is The Caravan Project, a boutique bed and breakfast that feels like it's taken out of Paris' Le Marais district.
Local street markets in Thessaloniki are a big thing, where residents pick up their daily meat or fish and local merchants alike. Even if you're not looking to buy, you can walk around Kapani and Modiano markets and get a feeling of that eastern aura that still lingers from the times of the past. Loud voices from the merchants, some bargain over the countertops (especially during the late hours of the shift before lunch) and great produce from the local region make for a nice local vibe.
Before stepping in though make sure you're ready to brave the bold smells!
A classic dish in Thessaloniki are the beef meatballs. Most that know about this will point you to Diagonios, a family run business since the 1980s of three brothers that didn't quite get along and each of them ended up running their own joint. Rather than going for the disperse expertise, opt for Ariston on D. Gounari street where you can also have a table outside overlooking passersby and the sea at the very back. Tip: No reviews can be found online, just great food spotted by locals.
Other local treats are widely known as meze, ranging from small grilled fish, think sardines, and other cured salted fish. What to expect for dessert? Mainly sweets made of tender crust or fluffy dough, sometimes mixed with fine quality nuts, cream and vanilla... all dressed in rich syrup. To name our favourite two: toulouba, a big churro dipped in syrup and served with cinnamon, and trigona, pastry triangles filled with custard cream, also served with cinnamon.
Museum of Byzantine Culture - one of the newest museums in town, showcasing the beauty of the Byzantine empire. You can also enjoy a light snack or coffee at the museum's restaurant, B
Agia Sofia - Thessaloniki's biggest and oldest Byzantine church, included as a World Heritage Site on UNESCO list
Rotonda Roman Temple - circular temple built as a house of worship by Romans in the early 300s and known for its mosaics. Recently restored
Local Espresso Bar - best espresso in town; also offers a small list of snacks for breakfast, lunch and dinner
Ergon Agora - apart from a mega-sized marketplace, they also offer an extensive menu that includes grilling fish or meat right from the market
Canteen - upscale restaurant; pizza, pasta and meat will not disappoint you
Dodoni - most traditional establishment, serving the best bougatsa in town (195 Grigoriou Lampraki street). Go for all three options mentioned above, or better yet the plain filo pastry!
Elenidis - traditional pastry sweets shop, established in the 1960s and run as a family business ever since. Try the small pastry triangles with lots of cinnamon and also add a scoop of dondurma ice cream on the side if you wanna go big!
Vomvidia - a classic grillhouse inside Modiano market, where one can feast on the famous vomvidia (translates as explosive in English!) listening to the folk tunes of gypsy buskers (see below)
Tabya - neoclassic style restored building in the city centre, with great outdoors and a nice atmosphere for afternoon or night drinks. Also serves as an art gallery during the day
bord de l'eau - doubling as an art gallery, too, bord de l'eau is a unique drink room -especially during wintertime- created in an alley around a number of local shops
Cafe Nikis 35 - one of the classic ones for coffee or laid-back drinks, hosted in a small space right on number 35 Nikis avenue
Cocktail Bar - you've guessed it right, serving tasty cocktails from professional bartenders
Vogatsikou 3 - located at the premises of the iconic Bel Air bar from the 80s and 90s, Vogatsikou 3 offers a great variety of cocktails, some light snacks and above all a smoke-free environment
Elxate - home to the town's architecture afficionados and cool kids, Elxate serves drinks straight up and plays great music... especially when it gets loud late in the night