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Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, is the cultural hub of Macedonia and one of Europe’s top destinations for everything from ancient ruins to partying. More than 3,000 years of history are on display in Thessaloniki alongside a truly engaging contemporary urban scene. But venture out of the Greece’s Second City and you’ll find 500kms of coastline along the Chalkidiki Peninsula, Mount Olympus and ancient Macedonian towns and ruins to explore. With a car hire, there is no end to the possibilities for daytrips out of Thessaloniki.
Who to Book With
Nearly all of the world’s big car rental companies have a strong presence in Thessaloniki, including Avis, Budget and Hertz. Most of them can be found at the airport, around the central train and bus stations and scattered around the fringes of the city. Thessaloniki is also home to several Greek rental outfits, such as Morphis, for even more options. But this popular travel destination gets packed during the annual September to October trade season and during other festivals. It’s advisable you book online and early, no matter when you travel, to ensure the lowest prices and greatest selection of rentals.
Best time to go
Summers are hot and humid in Thessaloniki, tempered slightly by the breezes off the sea. The best months for a visit are May and October, right on the edge of summer. Daily highs average 18ï°C and there are few tourists during these months. September to October, however, is a major trade convention period, when the city tends to be the most crowded. Summers are actually quite calm in comparison, if you can deal with the heat.
Need to Know Essentials
You should have the following documents on hand to pick up your rental:
- A valid EU or UK driving license or International Driving Permit
- A secondary form of photo ID
- The credit card used at the time of booking
- A printed confirmation if possible
The ancient city centre of Thessaloniki is not a place for driving. Traffic is painfully congested and legal parking spots on the street are nearly impossible to get. Even the main pay-for parking lot at Plateia Eleftherias fills up quickly on most days. If this lot is full, there are free city lots near the Museum of Byzantine Culture. Fortunately, most of the city’s highlights are within an easy 30-minute walk of each other in the downtown core.
Where a car really comes in handy is for exploring the amazing sights of northern Greece. Thessaloniki makes a great base for daytrips along the coast and into the mountainous interior. There is a C-shaped ring road that offers easy driving around the outskirts of Thessaloniki, connecting to Greek’s major highways the A1/E75, A25 and A2/E90. Once you are out of the centre of town, which admittedly will take a while, the rural driving is very pleasant.
Buses operated by OASTH are the only form of public transportation at the moment, although a metro line is currently under construction. There is a very useful tourist route (number 50) that covers many of the city’s highlights, and fares are quite reasonable. Taxis are also on hand for quick trips around the city centre.
There are three types of ticket on the OASTH buses. A one-trip ticket costs €.80 and is good for a single ride anywhere. A two-trip ticket costs €.90, but both trips must be taken within 90 minutes of each other. There is also a 24-hour ticket for €4 that can only be purchased at OASTH information booths. Single-fare tickets can be bought at kiosks at bus stations, OASTH information booths and directly from the driver. You’ll pay an extra €.10 if you buy your ticket on the bus, however.
Taxis offer a useful way to move between the Upper and Lower City. Drivers are supposed to use the meter for fares within the city limits, so be sure it’s turned on when you set out. After midnight, the fares are automatically doubled. Taxis can be hailed on the street or found sitting at taxi ranks near transport centres and major tourist attractions. Most of the companies can be phoned in for a pick-up, but they don’t often speak English, so you may need some local help sorting it out.
Buses operated by OASTH run on a network of 75 routes throughout the city and surrounding suburbs. Most routes operate between 05:00 and midnight, although line 74 to the airport runs 24 hours a day. Tickets can be bought from the driver, at kiosks at the stations and from OASTH information booths.
Route number 50, the Cultural Line, geared towards tourist travel. It runs in a 50-minute loop, passing most of the city’s main attractions and departing from the White Tower at the top of every hour. An English-speaking guide rides along providing information, and tickets costs €2.
There are usually five trains a day from Athens to Thessaloniki on the OSE network. The journey takes six hours and the fare is typically €18 for a standard slow and crowded train. The faster, much more comfortable, InterCity train from Athens costs €40. All trains arrive at the New Railway Station at the western end of the city.
While a car really isn’t needed within Thessaloniki itself, having your own wheels is great for daytrips around northern Greece. Outdoor recreation is on hand at national parks like Pieria, while some 500kms of beach-laded coastline awaits along the Chalkidiki Peninsula. There are also plenty of ancient towns and archaeological sites within an easy drive from Thessaloniki.
The Chalkidiki Peninsula - This begins immediately south of Thessaloniki, offering nearly limitless potential for daytrips to the beach or overnighters at cool seaside towns like Sani. Major highways make it easy to cover ground on this three-fingered peninsula before hopping onto scenic byways that hug the coast and wind through interior villages.
The Macedonian Royal Tombs - Holding legendary kings like Philip II of Macedon (the father of Alexander the Great), these are absolutely magnificent. The tombs themselves are very interesting, but the real treasures are on display in the museum. The town of Vergina is just 50 miles southwest of Thessaloniki.
Mount Olympus - This is well known to most folks as the home of Greek gods like Zeus and Athena. You can reach this ancient mountain range and its 52 peaks in just over an hour from Thessaloniki on a pretty road that runs down the southwestern coast. The national park that surrounds the mountains offers dozens of hiking trails, peaks to climb and other outdoor recreation.