Options for day trips from Thessaloniki are plentiful and varied. While the city itself may be relatively small and easy to cover in a day or two, it’s the beautiful beaches, the stunning nature, and the cute villages that await just outside Thessaloniki that make it worth your while to stick around a little longer.
The Best Day Trips from Thessaloniki
Kerkini lake sits 90 miles north-east of Thessaloniki, in the Serres region of Greece. The lake is relatively off the beaten path as far as Greek travel goes. Kerkini is frequently marketed as being one of Europe’s premier bird-watching destinations, but it is so much more than that.
The lake is scenically stunning and sits against a dramatic backdrop of the Pelles mountain range. Several hiking trails twist and turn along the water banks and through the woodland, with quaint little villages every few miles breaking up the walk.
For 10 euros, visitors can take a scenic boat ride across the lake in order to get up close and personal with pelicans, dalmatian pelicans, storks, and other rare and endangered birds. Kerkini is also one of the only regions of Greece where water buffalo are still farmed. If you are lucky, you may see the farmers leading their herd to swim in the lake.
Mount Athos is one of the three peninsulas of beautiful Halkidiki. While the peninsulas of Kassandra and Sithonia are filled with scenic beach towns and holiday resorts, Mount Athos is unique because it is a completely monastic territory.
The area is considered as being one of the most important and spiritual places for Orthodox Christians in the world. 20 monasteries and 2000 monks live here, and Mount Athos is an autonomous state that operates differently to the rest of Greece.
Women are not permitted to travel to Mount Athos, however, it is possible to take a cruise around the region. Male travellers are able to obtain “pilgrimage” visas so as to be able to explore the ornate monasteries, however, a very limited number of visas are issued per day.
Boasting miles upon miles of white sand beaches that border clear azure waters, paradisiacal Halkidiki may well be one of the most underrated places in Greece. The coasts of Halkidiki can be reached in just over an hour’s drive from Thessaloniki. The area is also serviced by KTEL buses, making it an easy day trip from the city.
Halkidiki villages such as Nikiti and Afitos are great places to enjoy a laid back day relaxing by the sea, shopping for Halkidiki stuffed olives and other Greek produce, and sampling the sumptuous home-cooked dishes at the local fish tavernas. Neos Marmaras and Parthenonas are great choices if you want to hike and get back to nature.
Those seeking adventure can opt to rent a boat and sail out to islands such as Diaporos or Ammouliani.
An air of mysticism and magic surrounds Mount Olympus. In Greek mythology, it was here where the Greek gods resided. According to legend, Zeus, his wife, and all of the other ten Olympian gods lived up here. From the top of the mountain, the gods would peer down at humanity and decide their fate each day.
Today, Mount Olympus is designated as a National Park. It is possible to hike to the peak of the mountain, though reaching the top requires overnight camping. (The entire trekking time to the peak is approximately 20 hours).
Those preferring a shorter hike can follow the trails that lead around the base of the mountain, or partway up. Various freshwater springs and waterfalls greet you on your trek up the mountain and make a refreshing place to stop and relax.
The ethereal-looking monasteries of Meteora make an appearance on most people’s desired Greece itineraries, and for good reason. The name Meteora means “suspended in the air” and is an accurate reflection of how these magnificent monasteries are balanced precariously on a cliff’s edge, thousands of miles up from the ground.
Originally there were 24 monasteries at Meteora, but today unfortunately only 6 remain. Each monastery boasts different intricate designs and vivid frescoes. Some advanced research is required, as each monastery opens on different days of the week.
Numerous tour companies offer day trips from Thessaloniki to Meteora. You can also opt to take the train to Meteora (travel from Thessaloniki to Kalambaka station) and stay overnight so that you can spend more time treading along the Meteora hiking trails, and watching the sunset over the monasteries. It takes approximately 2 and a half hours to reach Meteora from Thessaloniki.
The Ruins of Ancient Pella
Pella is an ancient city in Central Macedonia and the birthplace of Alexander the Great. While many people that visit Greece venture out to the ancient ruins of Delphi, Pella is just as fascinating and well-preserved, yet it escapes the attention of most tourists.
Pella dates back to 399 BC when it was founded by King Archelaus. It became the capital of ancient Macedon and was ruled by Phillip II and Alexander the Great. As you wander around the ruins, amidst the colonnaded promenades and the mosaiced floors, it’s easy to envisage what Pella once looked like in its finest hour.
Don’t miss the Pella archaeological museum which is also on-site and contains an array of artifacts gathered from excavations in the area. It’s not easy to reach Pella by public transport – You can take the train to Edessa, and then take a bus to Pella. Alternatively, you can rent a car for your Greece trip, or join one of the tour companies that run day trips from Thessaloniki.
The Ancient City of Dion
The ancient city of Dion (now Dion archaeological park) sits on the slopes of Mount Olympus and dates back to the 5th century AD. It was once a place of strong religious importance. In ancient times, people would come here to make sacrifices to the Greek gods.
After achievements in battle and notable conquests, Phillip II and Alexander the Great would come to Dion to celebrate. Throughout the year, various sporting events were hosted in ancient Dion. Dion became part of the Roman empire under the rule of Augustus, but it was destroyed in the 5th century AD when an earthquake shook the region, followed by mass floods which caused the residents to flee.
Kalamaria and the Eastern Suburbs
While technically still part of Thessaloniki, the eastern parts of the city present a different vibe entirely and are well worth exploring. Upscale Kalamaria boasts countless bars, restaurants, and coffee shop options on the eastern edge of Thessaloniki. Nearby Pieria and Nea Iraklia are lovely coastal areas where you can escape to the sea without having to travel all the way to Halkidiki.
Kastoria is a beautiful city that awaits two hours west of Thessaloniki and encompasses the scenic Orestiada Lake. Very few tourists make the trip here, enabling you to enjoy the ambiance of “real” rural Greece.
KTEL buses service the route between Kastoria and Thessaloniki, making this an accessible day trip. Hotels and bed & breakfasts in the picturesque city are also very reasonably priced, with rooms available from $30 a night if you don’t fancy making the same journey twice in one day.
A scenic stroll or bike ride along the waterfront of the lake makes a perfect setting for a peaceful afternoon away from city life. The footpaths that twist and turn through the area are bordered by dense forests and home to hundreds of rare bird species.
As you walk the circumference of the lake, be sure to stop by Dragon’s Cave – an almost ethereal cave complex whose rooms are filled with impressive stalactites and underground lakes. For a birds-eye view of Kastoria and Orestiada Lake, follow the uphill footpath to the Agios Athanasios viewpoint.
Like Pella and Dion, Vergina played an important role in the days of the Kingdom of Macedonia. The important city of Aigai once stood here. The main reason to take a day trip from Thessaloniki to visit Vergina today is to visit the Royal Tombs which act as a final resting place for Kings and nobles of Macedonia.
The ancient Macedonians buried their dead in underground tombs covered by mounds of earth. Both Alexander the Great, and his father Phillip II are buried here. Vergina makes a nice day trip pairing with the quaint nearby town of Veroia. You can take a train from Athens to Veroia, and then a bus from Veroia to Vergina.
Have any further questions about travelling to Thessaloniki or its surroundings? I’ve lived in Greece for two years now, and based myself in Thessaloniki for a month in August 2019. I would be happy to assist with any questions you may have. Feel free to drop me a comment below. Safe travels! Melissa xo