Thessaloniki, Greece – Less islands, more edge

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I’m not the best at researching a place before I go – an ironic trait for a travel journalist, but there we are.

I think part of me likes the idea of a place being a bit of a mystery, particularly in this age of information saturation. It’s like going to a movie; if I read a review first, I can’t help but think about those words while watching the film. It bleeds into my mind. Sometimes, travel can be the same.

And then sometimes I’m just really, really busy before a trip…

All this to explain Thessaloniki, Greece, and why the destination wasn’t quite the white-walled, blue-roofed island fading into the sea that I had packed for.

No, Thessaloniki is far more city grunge and sharp edge than that. It’s Greece’s second-largest city after Athens, with plenty of sea but more ports than beaches. The hard lines of buildings reminded me of Berlin: practical, industrial, productive.

Yet that’s not to say the city isn’t beautiful. It is. There’s astounding beauty in its history. Founded in 315 BC, Thessaloniki has played host to numerous religions and different ruling groups.

There are even 15 monuments deemed UNESCO World Heritage sites around Thessaloniki.

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The White Tower is certainly one of the most interesting. This monument sits on a beachfront promenade with a history spanning back to the Byzantine Empire. Previously it was used as a prison and a place of execution  – earning the name ‘The Red Tower’ for the blood that dripped from its walls.

Now the walls are clean, the prison replaced by a museum, and the history tangible.

Add to that churches and towers, and there’s plenty to see in this northern Greece city – particularly for history buffs.

Food here is massive. Think wedges of cheese, hefty bread, olives dripping in extra virgin olive oil and salads flavoured with the same. Meals can last several hours.

“Everything goes slower in Thessaloniki,” people said repeatedly. It’s about calming down, relaxing, unwinding.

Students and lovers stroll along the waterfront promenade. At night, you’ll catch street musicians playing songs for coins.

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I was only there for a few days, but I’d say that’s enough for this ancient, industrial place. It’s worth a short weekend getaway, one where you allow plenty of time for lengthy feasts and long walks by the water.

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Where to stay: The MET Hotel. This design hotel is all things edgy and trendy. Quirky modern art fills the walls (like eyes blinking or trees changing seasons). Rooms are minimal with floor-to-ceiling windows that let in plenty of natural light. From the rooftop you’ll get great 360 views of the city, plus there’s a pool that’s a nice spot to lounge during the day.

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In Mavele Swimsuit

Getting there: FlyDubai fly direct to Thessaloniki. The trip takes around 5 hours and 30 minutes, with minimal time in the small landing airport. Try Business Class for lounge access, blankets, larger seats, and one heck of a delicious French toast breakfast.

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