Tourist vs Local: Thessaloniki
‘Tourist vs Local’ series aims to present a certain destination with two different perspectives. It’s amazing how different a city can look like through the eyes of a local and someone who is just now discovering it. With a good guide or a good friend you can feel almost like a local exploring the main sights, but also visiting and trying things that are not in the guide books.
This part of the series will introduce you to the beautiful Greek city Thessaloniki through the eyes of my dear friend Eleni Papantoniou. She shares the same passion as me about travelling, good food, hipster places and design which is probably why we really hit it off when we first met in Milan 3 years ago. She is a lively, open for new opportunities young woman who has been a role model for me on a several occasions with her courage and adventurous spirit. You can check her food blog that she started a while ago and I hope this will be a little push for her to continue with it.
Note: I apologize if I made a mistake on some of the Greek names. Please feel free to correct me!
What do you love the most about the city?
Eleni: I’ve heard a lot of times visitors saying “Thessaloniki has something special”. Well, the result is a combination of the following three factors: Its vibrant spirit, its great food and, of course, the sea.
Sianna: Unlike the sea resorts, Thessaloniki is not full of tourists, it has a chill vibe instead of feeling like a big busy city, so you can enjoy your stroll around the port or sit and watch the sea. You can find both hip modern restaurants and cafes and more traditional places to eat where you can enjoy the delicious local food. It has historic sites and traditional architecture without being overbuilt and grey.
What’s your favorite place for lunch or dinner?
Eleni: “Extravaganza” (Andigonidon Area) and “Inglis” (Old Town). The first one is currently a temple of experimentation with very interesting results and hipster waiters, while Inglis represents the traditional Greek cuisine, laying under some vines by the old town surroundings.
Sianna: “Inglis” tavern, located in the old city, on a hill on the way to the Castle. Just a tip – don’t stuff yourself with food if you plan to climb the hill and see the castle. We made this mistake and I felt like dying on the way to the top. I don’t regret the food though, it was delicious!
Another great place I had a lunch at was called “Φουλ Του Μεζέ”. They offer a vast menu of appetizers, most of them very traditional, served in a laid back atmosphere with a very friendly staff.
Where do you go for breakfast?
Eleni: “Estrella” by Agia Sofia Church is the place for me: it is an all-day brunch spot where one can enjoy various omelets, bagels and delicious “black forest” pancakes.
Sianna: I would suggest going to one of the street bakeries and getting a bougatsa to go, especially if you are not from around the Balkans. It is a breakfast pastry made out of filo leaves with different fillings. My favourite is stuffed with feta cheese, but you can get it with spinach or chicken.
Top three attractions or sight-seeings?
Eleni: I would recommend the White Tower as the landmark of the city, a bike trip by the sea front before sunset and a long walk in the narrow streets of the Old Town which would end at one of the top view spots, The Castle.
Sianna: The symbol of the city – the White Tower for some history and a beautiful view; a boat trip along the port where you can sip cocktails while enjoying the sea breeze; a visit to the most famous churches – Agios Dimitrios and Agia Sofia.
Best bakery or pastry place?
Eleni: I would go for “Sugar Angel” at Lassani Street. Lots of cakes to choose from! The place works as a coffee shop at the same time and it’s kind of cozy.
Sianna: “Brasserie Plaisir” had a nice selection of cupcakes and pastries, served in a subtle French atmosphere. It is also in the very heart of the city, on one side of Aristotelous square and the best thing is they would treat you with a sweet surprise when settling the bill.
“Ble” has two or three locations and offers not only amazingly looking pastries and sweets, but also has healthy lunch options giving you the chance to choose your own combination of food.
Close to Agia Sofia church, there is a cookies shop called “Cookie Man” – perfect for cookie monsters like me to grab something sweet while running around the city sightseeing.
Where you can get the best view of the city?
Eleni: Definitely at the OTE tower. It is located at the very heart of the city and quite close to the seaside. One can get to the top where hot coffee is served all day long (quite expensive though) and experience a 360o view in slow motion.
Sianna: The White Tower has an amazing view to the old port. A picture speaks a thousand words, so I will just leave you with the view above. Another spot to see the whole city from a far could be the Castle, where you can enjoy the view of the sunset over the city.
Your favourite museum or art place?
Eleni: The Museum of Photography is my favourite one for sure. Not only because of the great exhibitions it hosts every two months, but also because of the location and architecture. The building, which used to be a warehouse in the old times, can be found at the old port of the city, just by the sea.
Sianna: Photography museum near the port, overlooking the sea. I’ve visited it on both of my trips to the city and every time it surprised me with an interesting, moving exhibition, organized beautifully and interactive in the space – from photos to movies.
Another museum I really liked – Macedonian Museum of Contemporary art. It is close to the white tower and has a wide range of expositions. Both museums were really cheap and I think even free for students.
Recommend one cultural thing to do?
Eleni: Visit the Costakis Collection Permanent Exhibition at The State Museum of Contemporary Art.
Sianna: The best way to become familiar with the culture of the city and the locals, apart from the museums and sightseeing, is to dive into the bustling nightlife. If your visit is during the warm months, you are in luck, because you will find the area around Valaoritou str. full with people and music. It is in the center and close to Aristotelous square. Get a shot of ouzo! Yamas!
Your favourite traditional dish?
Eleni: “Λαχανοντολμάδες” (Lahanontolmades) – My grandma makes the best ones for sure.
Sianna: I love the Greek cuisine! It has a lot of dishes in common with the Bulgarian cuisine, but it also has more Mediterranean characteristics.
I should probably mention the all time Greek favourites that everyone should try – moussaka, gyros and Greek salad (Horiatiki). I love the tzatziki dip/salad which is made out of yogurt, cucumbers, olive oil and spices.
But my personal favourite that I would recommend trying in Thesaloniki is Tsoureki covered in white chocolate. Best thing? You can buy it from the bakery and take it home. It makes for a great gift as well!
Where would you go to relax and read a book?
Eleni: “Λοξίας” (Loksias) can be found at Isauron Street, next to Navarinou Square. It is a kind of old fashioned coffee shop/bookshop in a quite strange way. The whole atmosphere would remind me of a bistrot in Paris, while the decoration on the walls and the dress code of the waitresses has a touch from our national era in 1880s. The music is always great by the way.
Sianna: If the weather allows it I would sit at some calm place along the port and enjoy the view of the sea. If it is a bit cold, I would prefer to find a nice cozy place preferably where I can get a cup of hot chocolate. The perfect place for that is a cafe called “One Sweet Day”.