There is often a dilemma when trying to decide on a family holiday: do you book a busy, cultural city break or a relaxing beach holiday focusing on natural beauty? Thessaloniki and Halkidiki in the north of Greece offer families a chance to create a fulfilling twin-centre holiday. A trip to Thessaloniki ticks the ‘culture’ boxes first, while Halkidiki is a peaceful haven for beach-loving visitors after a hectic few days in the city.
As well as being Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki was voted one of the ‘top tourist destinations in the world’ by National Geographic magazine. Those who often sing its praises include street photographers, historians and families looking for a great city break.
There are plenty of large attractions that are perfect to include in a child-friendly itinerary. Magic Park, a huge ‘fun park’ with rides for all ages and a playground, sits between the city centre and the airport. For a more educational trip NOESIS science and technology museum offers family friendly hands-on exhibits and activities including a 3D cinema, a simulator and Planetarium.
Nearby the museum is the Mediterranean Cosmos mall, the largest in Thessaloniki, which contains over 30 restaurants as well as the ‘Paidocosmos’, a playroom with consoles, team games and other activities for children aged 3-10 years.
After visiting the child-oriented attractions, travellers to Thessaloniki should take a stroll down the famous waterfront. The ‘volta’, or evening walk along the promenade, is intrinsic to the local culture and is a great opportunity to meet the locals.
The waterfront has a plethora of cafes and bars as well as some green spaces in which kids can burn off energy. There are 12 relatively new themed gardens and parks along the front, making it all the more interesting for children.
Those who want even more greenery can head to Seich Sou forest around two miles from the city centre. This area is great for mountain biking and has plenty of hiking trails for a range of abilities.
History buffs, too, will be satisfied with what the city has to offer. There are 15 early Christian and Byzantine monuments which comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as two Roman forums containing baths, an amphitheatre and stoas are all part of Thessaloniki’s cultural inheritance. The city is a prime example of old meeting new, blending together to create a fascinating and dynamic metropolis of ancient history and modern culture.
Around an hour south-east of Thessaloniki is the popular family holiday destination of Halkidiki. The countryside inland gives way to stunning coastline and beaches that are often hailed as some of the best in the Mediterranean. Some of the natural attractions popular with older children include the Petralona cave near Nea Kallikrateia, where visitors can explore the labyrinths in which a 700,000 year old human skull was discovered.
The guides will tell visitors about the many fossils found in the caves, including wild boar, snakes and bison. Boat trips are popular with Halkidiki holiday makers too; hop on a boat to Mount Athos and see the spectacular monasteries from the sea or visit Stagira, the birthplace of Aristotle and hike along Aristotle’s Walk. For younger children less interested in history, trips to local ports are available and a great way to explore the coast; kids will love spotting the wild dolphins that often swim alongside the boats.
Young children will also enjoy Fairytopia, a fun park with giant trampolines and inflatable bouncy castles as well as other rides.
For beach lovers, Halkidiki offers plenty of choice. In the west, the Blue Flag awarded Nea Herakleia and Nea Kallikratia are fringed with traditional tavernas and are perfect for families looking for white sand and shallow, warm waters for small children. In Sithonia, the middle finger of the ‘claw’ of Halkidiki, Toroni beach is a must-visit for families.
Toroni is so large and quiet that it can often feel deserted; parents will be thrilled to find that the larger grains of sand on the beach don’t stick like normal sand! Take a look at the Byzantine ruins of Likithos castle at the southern end of the beach, and bring a snorkel to explore the marine life that have made their home in the sunken ruins at its base.
Foodies will find their treasure in Halkidiki, home to several unique and delicious delicacies. Adults can dive into sweet pine honey, sample the local alcoholic ‘tsipouro’ or pick at the giant green Halkidiki olives. Kids will love the homemade Greek pizza, breakfasts of thick yoghurt with honey and huge sweet oranges from local trees.
Families with older children who want to soak up a bit of local history and culture can head to one of the museums or ancient buildings in the region.
Nea Moudania is home to the museum of fishing vessels; with ancient anchors, boats and a vast array of marine life it is ideal for an educational trip with children.
The folklore museum in Arnea gives another glimpse of what life would have been like hundreds of years ago, with exhibitions of tools used in traditional beekeeping, breadmaking and building providing a fascinating insight into 18th century Greece.
The Byzantine towers dotted around the coast are also an interesting sight, demonstrating how the shores of Halkidiki were protected before contemporary technology.
Halkidiki has some of the best child friendly hotels in the whole of the Greek mainland. There are several five star all-inclusive hotels along the coast that offer family friendly luxury- think 24/7 room service, private pools and baby food buffets! There is also plenty of budget friendly accommodation such as self-catering apartment blocks and family run B&Bs.
Families with children may find that a twin-centre holiday is just what they need for a summer break. With plenty to do, a variety of landscapes and different vibes to each location it could be the perfect break for boredom-busting, while parents get to absorb the sights and culture of two spectacular and unique Greek destinations.
Activities kids will love: NOESIS science and technology museum, Magic Park, Mediterranean Cosmos mall in Thessaloniki and Petralona caves, Fairytopia in Halkidiki.