Northern Greece holds many surprises for families

Last updated 19th December 2023

With oodles of culture, amazing food and fabulous weather to boot, Greece is a popular destination for families all year round. Choose to spend your days on sandy beaches and swimming in azure waters, or discover ancient ruins teeming with history. Whatever your preference, Greece is the destination that delivers it all in a warm, welcoming and safe package. Here’s our pick of where to go in Greece and why…

© Thessaloniki

8. Thessaloniki for museums, arts and culture

This historic port is a living museum in itself. With its distinctive mix of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman cultural history, it’s the ideal city break for families looking for something unique.

Simply strolling around the narrow lanes and walls of Ano Poli – one of the oldest districts of Thessaloniki – you’ll feel like you’re part of a work of art. The artistic past of Thessaloniki spans painting, poetry, cinema, theatre, photography, music and more, meaning that there’s no shortage of galleries to explore. To help you pick the best of the bunch, here’s our hit list of where to go – from Roman ruins to Byzantine UNESCO World Heritage Sites:

Sites: Thermaic Gulf, the White Tower, Nikis Avenue, Aristotelous Square, Mitropoleos Avenue, Tsimiski Avenue, Ladadika, Modiano Market, Bit Bazaar and the Old City.

Museums: Thessaloniki Museum of Byzantine Culture, Archaeological Museum Of Thessaloniki, Folk Museum of Macedonia-Thrace.

Art galleries: Contemporary Art Centre Of Thessaloniki, State Museum Of Contemporary Art, Macedonian Museum Of Contemporary Art.

Churches: Virgin Acheiropoiitos, Agios Dimitrios, the Virgin Dexia, Agia Sofia, the Virgin of Chalkeon, Agios Ioannis the Ypogeios, the Rotunda of Agios Georgios

© Halkidiki

7. Halkidiki for stunning natural beauty

To the south-east of Thessaloniki lies Halkidiki, a charming peninsula famous for its wonderful caves, parks and beaches – many of which are Blue Flag – plus tiny islands and small bays.

Inland, part of the historic village of Stagira, where Aristotle was born, is Aristotle’s Park, a great stop off for a break in nature and incredible views of the Gulf of Ierissos. It’s also worth including the prehistoric cave of Petralona onto your itinerary. This fascinating place is where the skull of Archanthropus (dating back to an impressive 200,000 BC!) was found, along with various fossils of animals and tools.

The coast around Halkidiki is almost 500 kilometres in length and is made up of three ‘fingers’, all with their own personality. Although one – Mount Athos isn’t openly accessible (it has been the territory of the Greek Monastic State for more than a thousand years), you can enjoy Kassándra and Sithonia with the whole family.

Kassándra, the first peninsula of Halkidiki and the site of the mythical Clash of the Titans is one of Greece’s most modern cosmopolitan areas. Expect world class golf courses, marinas and spas, and enjoy gourmet meals together. Nearby Sithonía is more of a retreat, home to the city of Olynthus with its unique mosaic and forests reaching down to incredible beaches.

© Alexander the Great

6. Pella for ancient history

45 minutes north-west of Thessaloniki is the ancient capital of the Macedonian state – the city of Pella, where Alexander the Great was born and reigned. This archaeological wonder has the ruins of Alexander the Great’s palace, complete with intricate mosaics that give you an insight into the incredible history of this intriguing place.

© Buffalos – Kerkini Lake

5. Kerkini for canoeing and cycling (and water buffalo!)

Kerkini Lake, situated 40km from the town of Serres and 100km from Thessaloniki, is a stunning place of natural beauty, being full of wildlife, flora and fauna and surrounded by Mounts Belles and Mavrovouni. One of the most unusual sights in Kerkini is the water buffaloes. You’ll see these majestic creatures wading in the lake and can taste the locally made products such as buffalo milk yogurt and the caramelised, custard-like sweet kazan dipi, a regional speciality.

Whilst you’re here enjoying the scenery, make the time to go canoeing, horseback riding and hiking in the footpaths of the area’s mountain range. If adrenaline is more your style, opt for biking or 4X4 off roading.

Paddle your own canoe or plava, the traditional flat-bottomed boat used by local fishermen, to explore with the family. These boats are ideal for skimming over shallow water between half-submerged trees and clusters of reeds. Unsure of your skills? Join a lake tour.

The land around the lake is flat, just right for a bike ride or gentle walk to get to know the district’s quiet villages. First stop, Kerkini, with its pleasant low buildings and broad streets. Next, Lithotopos, where you can see how the lake was created. A paved road will take you to a spot just above the dam. When you get to Lithotopos’s little port, get off your bike – the woods here are ideal for a walk. Head to Ano Poria, for a change of scenery. This little village nestled in the crooks of Mount Beles if full of cosy hotels, cafes and tavernas.

© White Tower of Thessaloniki

4. Thessaloniki for beautiful beaches and parks

Thessaloniki is a seaside city, meaning that wherever you wander, you’re never far from the sea. You can enjoy strolling along the pier and people watching in Thessaloniki or head out for day trips to nearby seaside villages such as such as Agia Triada, Angelohori, Asporvalta and Galaksis for diving, swimming and sandcastle-making. The shallow waters there are perfect for families with small children. If you’d prefer more of a countryside escape, head north for the woods and hills or north-east for an active day out at Mount Chortiatis.

© Vergina

3. Vergina for archeology, museums and UNESCO sites

To witness the true grandeur of Ancient Greece, don’t miss a trip to the archaeological museum of the Great Tomb in Vergina (also known by its early name of Aigai), home to some of the most amazing tomb discoveries including the father and son of Alexander the Great, and the Tomb of Persephone and amazing exhibits of precious artifacts.

The city – a UNESCO World Heritage Monument – was once surrounded by a triangular wall and today, there are still imposing ruins of the palace and theatre below the acropolis, as well as the foundations of Hellenistic residences and part of the wall.

© Thessaloniki’s Gastronomy

2. Thessaloniki for exquisite food and wine

Thessaloniki’s gastronomy reflects the melting pot of cultures that the city has been home to for centuries. From high-end restaurants serving up trendy gastronomic delights to traditional eateries and street food like the hearty and delicious pita gyros, you’ll find influences from Minor Asia, the Balkans, the Mediterranean and more on your place. Its cuisine is known for its meze (small plates intended for sharing) that the 1920s refugees brought with them. They also brought the tradition of Thessaloniki’s world-famous bougatsa, a sweet-cream breakfast pastry. Head to the picturesque Ladadika quarter for a quaint Greek meal, or the food markets are a great place to sample local cuisine, including Athonos Square, Modiano Market and Kapani.

Head east out of Thessaloniki towards Vasilissis Olgas street, the previous haunt of the area’s richest families, where you can still find some grand villas. A little further east and you’ll reach the Arezzous area, full of cafes, restaurants and taverns in Nikolaou Plastira Street for a bite to eat overlooking the sea.

© Mount Olympus

1. Mount Olympus to meet the gods

Two hours south-west of Thessaloniki, along the gulf, stands Mount Olympus, home to the gods and shrouded in history and myth. According to Homer, at the peak of this grand and beautiful mountain was palace to the god Zeus.
At the foot of Mount Olympus sits the city of Dion, where the Macedonians erected their temples. Visit the archaeological excavations, including Zeus’ temple, part of the old city, the baths and theatres. Combine this cultural day trip with a relaxing excursion to the white, sandy beaches of Pieria.

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