Halkidiki Greece: An Underrated Paradise

Diaporos Island, Halkidiki can be reached by kayak or private boat
Diaporos Island, Halkidiki can be reached by kayak or private boat

Travelling to Halkidiki was never really on my radar for Greece. I had heard of it, but I didn’t know a great deal about it. By the time I visited, I’d been living in Greece for two years already.

There were plenty of destinations in Greece that I wanted to see, and Halkidiki was a “I suppose I’ll get there later and see what’s happening” kind of place. This August I decided to base myself in Thessaloniki for one month and with Halkidiki being just one hour away, it was the perfect spot for a day out to the beach. 

My first trip to Halkidiki came in the form of driving to Vourvourou with some Greek friends, renting a boat, and heading out to Diaporos island. After that, I was hooked! With its cerulean waters so clear that you can see to the bottom, and its idyllic beaches, I wondered why more people didn’t travel to Halkidiki. 

Where is Halkidiki? What is Halkidiki? 

The waters of Diaporos are so clear that you can see to the bottom
The waters of Diaporos are so clear that you can see to the bottom

Halkidiki is a mainland region of Northern Greece. Its geography is pretty distinct – Halkidiki exists in the form of three prongs that jut out into the sea like Poseidon’s trident. These three areas are all very different from each other. 

Mention of a summer holiday in Greece may conjure up images of spending lazy days by the beach and swimming in the azure waters but Halkidiki is so much more than that. Here, paradisiacal beaches sit beside dense pine forests, beautiful nature, and dramatic mountain ranges that house quaint villages and ancient monasteries. 

The Peninsulas of Halkidiki 

Nikiti, Sithonia peninsula
Nikiti, Sithonia peninsula

Halkidiki is comprised of three peninsulas: Athos, Kassandra, and Sithonia. Athos is a monastic region so it is best to opt to stay in one of the towns in Kassandra or Sithonia. It is pretty easy to move around Halkidiki whether you decide to rent a car or depend on public transport. 

KTEL buses run between the various towns and points of interest. They even go as far as nearby Thessaloniki which makes a great day trip for experiencing Greek city life. 

Things to do in Halkidiki 

Afytos Village
Afytos Village

Halkidiki has a little something for everyone. The nice thing about travelling to this part of Greece is that it’s not strictly a beach resort destination. If your main purpose of visiting this part of Greece is for relaxing and enjoying the summer sun, but you ever find yourself feeling restless and bored then rest – assured, there are scenic boat trips to participate on, mountains to be hiked, and cute villages to be explored. 

Vourvourou 

Where: Sithonia peninsula, Halkidiki

Vourvourou is a popular seaside town in Halkidiki. The tree-lined beaches here offer plenty of shade, along with a nice respite while remaining close to plenty of excellent tavernas. We came here first in order to pick up our boat to sail out to the uninhabited island of Diaporos

I thought that Vourvourou was very pretty but according to my Greek friend Dimitris, it has the worst waters and ambiance in Halkidiki! I’m not saying that to put you off, but just to stress precisely how beautiful this area is if Greeks are complaining that Vourvourou isn’t so great! 

Karidi beach is a popular beach that is well-serviced. Most of the people that come to Vourvourou are Greeks so even during the summer months, the beaches here are not overrun with tourists.  Vourvourou is very much a family vacation spot/seaside resort destination so it isn’t as unchartered as some of the other places in this guide. 

Diaporos Island 

Renting a boat and sailing around Diaporos Island
Renting a boat and sailing around Diaporos Island

Where: Sithonia peninsula, Halkidiki

Diaporos is an uninhabited island that sits several miles off the coast of Vourvourou. To reach it, you need to rent a boat or kayak across. Boat rentals range from 90 euros per day in the low season, to 110 euros per day in July and August. 

Word has gotten out about Diaporos in recent years, at least among the Greeks. You will see a fair few other people jetting around on their boats but that doesn’t detract from the appeal. The Blue Lagoon is the highlight of Diaporos. You can drop anchor here and dive into the crystal clear waters that are essentially like one big swimming pool.

Plenty of beaches and areas of woodland are scattered around Diaporos island and part of the fun of visiting is to sail up to the various shorelines and laze on the beach or go explore. Be sure to pack a cooler of snacks and drinks as there is nothing on the island.

Provided that you are confident and have some understanding of the sea, I would say that the fun and freedom of renting a little boat is one of the best things to do in Halkidiki. 

Nikiti Village 

Nikiti
Nikiti

Where: Sithonia peninsula, Halkidiki 

Nikiti is a cute village that we stopped by at for breakfast on our way to Vourvourou. There are many family resorts and hotels scattered throughout Nikiti but it doesn’t feel overly touristy. As you wander around the country roads, you will find many quaint traditional shops selling their own homemade olive oil and other Greek produce – including, of course, the beloved local Hakidiki stuffed olives. 

Nikiti boasts several beautiful beaches and is renowned for its excellent fish tavernas which serve sumptuous dishes using the freshest catches from the nearby area. 

Afitos Village (also spelled Afytos) 

Afytos, Halkidiki
Afytos, Halkidiki

Where: Kassandra peninsula, Halkidiki 

With its unique traditional architecture and sweeping views over the Toroneos gulf, Afitos may well be the most charming village in Halkidiki. The village is perched on a hilltop and comprised of quaint stone houses and tavernas that line the narrow cobbled streets. 

Akitos beach is a pleasant place to relax beneath the Mediterranean sun. In accompaniment to the beaches though, this little village is bursting with culture and artistic events. Throughout July and August, you can find the Afitos festival here – an event which sees traditional Greek music and street performers put on live shows at the various tavernas and plazas. The 15th of August is the ascension of Holy Mary – a very important day in Greece, and a day which sees a huge feast come to town. 

Mount Athos 

Where: Athos peninsula, Halkidiki 

Mount Athos is the holy peninsula of Halkidiki. Filled with ornate monasteries and occupied by monks, it is not easy to access. Women are forbidden to enter Mount Athos, and male travellers must obtain a pilgrim’s permit in advance, of which there is a limited number available each day. 

The fascinating thing about Mount Athos is that it is an independent, autonomous state, and has been a place of deeply spiritual importance for centuries. It is said that the monasteries situated here are among the most beautiful in the world, and in fact, there are 20 monasteries contained within the small region.

The monasteries of Mt. Athos stem from a variety of backgrounds. Among the 20 religious structures, there is a Russian, a Serbian, and a Bulgarian Monastery. 

As I am a solo female traveller, I was, unfortunately, unable to go inside the various monasteries, however, I DID participate in a cruise that sailed around Mt. Athos and across to the nearby island of Ammouliani. Such cruises are a popular excursion from Halkidiki and Thessaloniki, with boats departing daily from Ouranoupoli. 

Ammouliani Island 

Ammouliani Island, Halkidiki
Ammouliani Island, Halkidiki

Where: Athos peninsula, Halkidiki 

Ammouliani is a teeny tiny island that is situated a few miles from the shore of Tripiti and Ouranoupoli, on the Athos peninsula of Halkidiki. The name stems from the Greek word “Ammos” meaning “sand” – a name awarded on account of the miles and miles of sprawling white sandy beaches that encapsulate the island. 

The pristine beaches of Ammouliani remain relatively undiscovered among most who visit Halkidiki. Each idyllic beach has been awarded a blue flag and is surrounded by translucent turquoise waters. Head to Alikes beach – a spot that is widely regarded as being the most beautiful beach in Halkidiki, or relax upon the shores of the peaceful Porto Agio and Karagatsi beaches. 

If like me you’re not really a massive beach person, you will be pleased to note that there are other activities to partake in on Ammouliani. Hiking trails lead around the island through scenic woodlands and olive groves, while the town centre boasts a picturesque harbor, excellent tavernas, and stunning gardens. 

Neos Marmaras 

Where: Sithonia peninsula, Halkidiki

Neos Marmaras is the largest town on the Sithonia peninsula of Halkidiki. Being a town, Neos Marmaras is bursting with nightlife, dining and shopping options. Whether or not this is a good place to stay is debatable and depends entirely on your travel preferences. 

Opting to base yourself in this town means having to travel to and from the beaches each day, however, it also means that you are at a great location for taking excursions out to Parthenonas, hiking in the Sithonia mountains, and visiting the local wineries. 

Parthenonas 

Where: Sithonia peninsula, Halkidiki

Parthenonas awaits just a few miles outside of Neos Marmaras in the Sithonia peninsula. This traditional village and its stone houses sit on the slopes of a mountain and make a perfect place to hike to from Neos Marmaras. 

Nature lovers, in particular, will enjoy visiting Parthenonas – the historical village is surrounded by scenic hiking trails that ascend towards beautiful viewpoints. Trek up the nearby Mount Itamos for incredible views over to the holy Mount Athos, or rent a mountain bike and cycle along the trails that cross through the Sithonia mountains. 

Pefkohori 

Where: Kassandra peninsula, Halkidiki 

Pefkohori is one of the most popular resort areas in Halkidiki and on the Kassandra peninsula. Family resorts, serviced beaches, and diverse nightlife make Pefkohori a place that caters to every whim, however, it is very “touristy” as compared to other towns and villages in the region. 

During the summer months, the narrow stretches of beach at Pefkohori can become very crowded. While the area certainly has its beauty and charm, those looking for a more unspoiled, idyllic setting should venture to some of the quieter towns and villages mentioned on this list. 

Nea Potidea 

Where: Kassandra peninsula, Halkidiki 

Nea Potidea is a nice place to stay in Halkidiki if you are looking for somewhere a little less crowded than Pefkohori, yet which still offers every amenity that you need for a relaxing escape in the sun. 

The white sand beach of Nea Potidea spans for miles upon miles along the coast of Halkidiki. While the sections of the beach close to the town are organised and filled with sunbeds and vendors, as you continue along the coast, you can find more tranquil and secluded areas. 

Porto Koufo 

Where: Sithonia peninsula, Halkidiki 

Porto Koufo is a quaint fishing village that is home to the largest natural harbour in Greece. The village is one of the less popular vacation spots in Halkidiki, however, for that, you are rewarded with sprawls of sandy beaches with very few people occupying them. 

Petralona Cave 

Petralona’s cave is a worthwhile day trip while in Halkidiki. Though there are more than 12,000 caves scattered across Greece, Petralona’s Cave is widely regarded as being the most important. Throughout the last several decades, an extensive collection of fossils discovered here in addition to human remains that are over 700,000 years old. 

How to Get to Halkidiki 

Sailing around Mount Athos, Halkidiki
Sailing around Mount Athos, Halkidiki

If you are flying into Greece from overseas, the best way to get to Halkidiki is to fly into Thessaloniki International Airport (SKG). From there you can either collect your rental car or take a KTEL bus to your destination. 

Flights from European cities to Thessaloniki are relatively inexpensive, and several budget carriers including Jet 2, Ryanair, TUI, and Easyjet run to Thessaloniki. Tickets from London start from approximately 40 euros each way (excluding check-in baggage). 

American readers may find that it is cheaper to first fly to Athens, and then take an internal flight to Thessaloniki. Use Skyscanner’s “discover” feature in order to browse around for the best options. 

When to Travel to Halkidiki

Nikiti, Halkidiki
Nikiti, Halkidiki

Halkidiki is a very seasonal travel destination. The tourism season starts from May and draws to a close at the end of September. Outside of this period, temperatures drop and most local businesses and hotels close until the season starts again. 

If you want to escape the crowds and have the beaches of Halkidiki somewhat to yourself, late May, June, and late September are the best times to visit. That said, even if you visit Halkidiki in the height of summer, you will not see the same amount of tourists as you would in other Greek travel destinations like Santorini or Zakynthos. I visited in mid-August and was pleasantly surprised by the absence of other travellers. This truly is an underrated Greek paradise. 

Have any further questions about things to do in Halkidiki, or exploring Greece in general? I have lived here for the past two years and would be happy to assist with any queries you may have. Safe travels. Yassou, Melissa xo 

Disclaimer: This trip to Halkidiki, like most of my trips, was completely self-funded by myself and my depleting bank balance!

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