Last August and September my wife and I had the pleasure of touring northern Greece on two wheels. We rented our BMW 310GS motorbike Max in Romania a few months earlier and over the course of 31 days we visited 15 different cities and hiked in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, Aristotle, Paul the Apostle and many others. As beautiful as each town was, I suggest these as the top five places in Northern Greece that you must visit.
We spent our first night in Greece in this charming seaside town just 2 hours west of the Turkish border and much of our route took us along what is known as the Via Egnatia, the original expressway that crossed Greece from east to west. It was built by the Romans 2,000 years ago and much of today’s highway follows the exact route.
Get there: As Kavala is a port city, it offers multiple ferry services to many different islands including Mykonos and Syros, as well as Athens for those looking for alternative ways to travel between the cities.
I believe the best preserved Roman aqueduct I have ever seen is Kamares. It is one of the main attractions in this city with the intimacy of a small town but the attractions of a much larger one.
Kavala Acropolis and Fort
The castle on the hill is called Kavala Acropolis and Fort, and it’s a moderate hike to the top of the hill, but it’s worth it. It offers a panorama of the port and the entire city, as well as views of the Kamares Aqueduct from a different perspective. You can walk from the port to the shopping streets and the fortress in less than an hour.
Museums and historical sites
The Archaeological Museum of Kavala is well worth a visit and is not overwhelmingly large, but can be visited in under 90 minutes.
I recommend you drive just 30 minutes north to the archaeological site and museum of Philippi and the holy shrine of the Baptistery of Saint Lydia which were amazing and historic. This was the site of the first Christian baptism in Europe by the Apostle Paul in the Zygaktis River. You can actually sit there by the creek, put your hand in the same water and imagine that event two millennia ago.
Pro tip: Summer travel in Europe can be challenging as July and August are the main holiday months. Although we arrived in the third week of August, Kavala was easy to navigate and not overly crowded. Due to the port access this would be a great place to visit for several days or more and then launch to your next location.
Although Athens is the government capital of Greece, Thessaloniki, the second largest city, is considered the cultural capital. It has 15 UNESCO sites, the most in any city in the world, and is also a university city so it offers a wide range of music, art and cafes. There are also so many tattoo parlors and funky boutiques that it would take weeks to make a dent.
Thessaloniki wasn’t terribly busy, and the waterfront promenade is a great place to stroll and linger. The city’s Aristotelous Square is considered one of the main meeting places for coffee or gelato. The city was founded in 315 BC. Founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals named Cassander, who named it after his wife Thessaloniki, who was also Alexander’s half-sister. Alexander’s footprints are widespread in the city and there are statues of him as well as another Greek icon: Aristotle.
Church of San Demetrius
On our first day in town we walked 6.5 miles and had the opportunity to visit several notable sites including the Church of San Demetrius which was breathtakingly beautiful with painted murals and artwork galore. It is the largest church in the city. Below the main floors are catacombs that have been remodeled and renovated over the many centuries since they were first built.
Other notable stops are the Rotunda, which was built around 300 AD and is one of the city’s most recognizable sights because of its shape, and the White Tower down by the harbor, which was built in the 15th century and has evolved throughout history a lighthouse, part of a fortress and a prison.
For museum lovers, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki is a must, as is the Jewish Museum, which sheds light on the long and significant history of the city’s Jewish population, along with the atrocities they dealt with during the Holocaust.
Pro tip: Thessaloniki and Athens go together like burgers and fries, and they’re conveniently connected by rail for around $12/€10. The journey takes 5 to 6 hours. It drives through the mountains near the town of Larissa and passes the Biggie: Mount Olympus. Travel time is about the same and is just over 500 kilometers (300 miles).
Edessa is called the city of waterfalls and the big one called Karanos is as impressive as any waterfall I have ever seen. At 70 meters high, it is the tallest in the Balkans and while there are taller waterfalls in the world, few of them are like it!
Pro Tip: It’s no secret, but few people know about it or do it, but there is a path that will guide you behind And under the Karanos Falls! We did notice a walkway at the bottom but weren’t quite sure how to get there, but if you go to the left side of the falls there is a road leading down to the hydroelectric power station and if you keep going you’ll find the walkway. Great pictures can be taken at the bottom and you can walk back up through the falls which is much more direct. It’s neither dangerous nor particularly tiring, but you will get soaked and you have to watch your stance!
Although Karanos is the main waterfall, there are two more right next to it called Lamda, and what makes these waters unique is that they contain travertine minerals that actually increase the height of the falls and make them grow over time. And the flow of water ionizes the air, making breathing fresher.
museums and shops
Downtown Park has a reptile museum, craft shops, and a mill where you can learn about the history of the area’s major crops, including sesame seeds and cherries.
Just outside the town itself (a 15-minute drive) is the ancient archaeological site of Edessa of Longos, which you can traverse on foot.
4. Meteora and Kalabaka
Some places in the world look surreal and make you wonder if they really exist: Meteora fits that prestigious list. It brings together the best of nature, carving rock like a sculptor and soaring hundreds of feet into the sky. Man’s ingenuity and backbreaking work are also at play here, where churches have been built in places that seem impossible.
Meteora is about two things: monasteries and views; and there is a lot to experience. When you arrive you might be wondering, “How do you get up there?” But the way to the top is almost effortless and can be done by foot, bike, tour bus or in our case, Max, our trusty BMW bike. to be enjoyed.
Get there: There is a train from Athens to Meteora (Kalabaka) that would save travel time. It takes 4 hours and is very scenic.
Great Meteoron Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Savior
The Great Meteoron Holy Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Savior, or The Great Monastery for short, is the monastery most people know and one of the easiest to get to, but it does require you to climb a few stairs. It is not wheelchair accessible and be aware that it can be a strenuous walk. Inside is a museum with numerous exhibits from the Byzantine era, and because these buildings were so inaccessible, many items that would normally have been destroyed during WWII were safely stored here with the monks.
Varlaam Monastery was next on our list and was more accessible but no less inspiring. These monasteries were built in the 13th and 14th centuries Century, it used to be 24. If you walk through the gorge, it is a clear testament to mankind’s ingenuity that these structures were built so beautifully with primitive tools and by lifting material from the ground or using a cable across the gorge.
Pro Tip: These monasteries have strict dress codes, especially for women, and you must cover your hair and legs.
This area is a hiker’s paradise and well worth at least 3 days or more to see it all. Even the less energetic could enjoy Meteora for several days and not get bored.
More than a city, Halkidiki is actually a region and includes three peninsulas: Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos. They jut out like the letter M from the northern part of Greece, and each landmass juts out into the lovely Aegean. Between the main part of the country and the three fingers, Halkidiki has over 500 kilometers (300 miles) of coastline.
The whole Halkidiki area is a nature lover’s dream! It offers forested forests, miles of water and coastline, fishing and camping. But it also offers an amazing story.
One of the best options for history lovers is the archaeological site of Olynthos, a fairly large city, well laid out and dating back to around 3000 BC. Founded. It was advanced for its time and built with efforts to make it energy efficient. It was home to a two-story design and advanced sewage systems.
The capital of this area, Polygyros, recently opened the Archaeological Museum of Polygyros, which was exquisite in its design and layout.
Pro tip: For anyone who has time for a longer vacation or short break, Halkidiki region is a great place to spend most of their time. You will enjoy beaches galore, mountains, lakes, rivers and everything in between.