Though lesser known than Greek island hotspots like Crete or Santorini, Thessaloniki is a beautiful city on the sea replete with buildings in every style and from every period. Magnificent 3rd century remains stand next to neoclassical mansions, colorful markets and old oil warehouses converted into trendy wine bars and restaurants. Food and wine are part of the culture here, and the city is considered a gastronomic paradise among locals. The cuisine combines the simplicity of Mediterranean dishes with Balkan influences, enriched with spices and memories brought by immigrants from Asia Minor and Black Sea regions during the 20th century. Thessaloniki’s surrounding wineries are ideal for those who cherish good wine. —Maria Netsika
The native grapes found in the region’s meridian or mountainous vineyards include the white Malagousia and Assyrtiko varieties. Reds include Xinomavro, an unrivaled variety in Northern Greece, as well as Limnio and Mavroudi. There are also international varieties from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. Many boutique wineries have gone to painstaking lengths to seek out the right mix of site, soil and grape plantings to produce high-quality wines. Look for Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) appellations like Thessaloniki, Epanomi, Nea Messimvria and Slopes of Vertiskos on labels.
Where to Taste
The flagship winery here is Ktima Gerovassiliou in the seaside village of Epanomi. Vangelis Gerovassiliou has been a key player in the Greek wine scene since the 1980s, and his winery is the perfect combination of classic looks and technology. Drive up the lush slopes of Vertiskos mountain. You’ll reach the village of Askos, the home of Arvanitidis Estate, a family-owned garage winery and a must-stop for a tasting. Ossa is the base of Domaine Babatzimopoulos. In Kalohori, by the lagoons of the Thermaikos Gulf, stop at Kechris winery. Other wineries open to visitors include Messimvria Winery and Damaskios Winery, as well as Adam Wines and Domaine Florian, which require appointments.
Where to Dine
The city’s top chefs can be found in the restaurants of its most exclusive hotels: Sotiris Evangelou at Salonica Restaurant & Bar, Dimitris Tsananas at Chan, Stefanos Stamidis at Dome Real Cuisine and Apostolos Altanis at Ambrosia and Alfredo’s Grand Dining. Classic upscale spots worth the splurge include Clochard, Duck Private Cheffing and Thria Restaurant, or consider flashy newcomer Fyssalida Restaurant and Bar. Visit the market/food hall concept at Ergon Agora, which features a fresh all-day menu. Diagonios seduces visitors with grilled meats and more traditional dishes, while 7 Thalasses, Glykanisos, Kritikos Gallery & Restaurants and Mavri Thalassa all specialize in outstanding fish. Or, skip the fuss and enjoy authentic cuisine at cozy, inviting spots like Maitre & Margarita and To Manitari.
Where to Stay
For luxury accommodations, Makedonia Palace Hotel boasts a lovely restaurant and great views of the waterfront, while The Met Hotel offers sophisticated lodging and a spectacular rooftop view. Lavish Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki and Hotel Nikopolis are close to the airport. Opt for the eco-sensitive City Hotel Thessaloniki, the Colors Urban Hotel or boutique The Excelsior Hotel Thessaloniki and Bristol Hotel if you’re looking for accommodations in the city’s center. More casual lodging can be found at The Caravan B&B Thessaloniki.
When to Go
Spring and autumn are the best times to visit to get the true feel of the city and its wines.
Visit one of the hundreds of Byzantine churches that date to the 15th century. Enjoy ouzo or tsipouro (Greek wine distillate) accompanied by a variety of mezedes (side dishes) like soutzoukakia (spicy meatballs) and midopilafo (rice with mussels). Don’t leave Thessaloniki without tasting koulouri, a sesame bread ring considered the city’s most prominent street food, as well as bougatsa and Panorama triangles, both cream-filled pastries.
Walk along the seaside promenade and the gorgeous coastline. Look for a free spot at the waterfront stairs and enjoy the sunset near the “Umbrellas” sculpture.