Thessaloniki is fuelled by optimism, hedonism and just a dash of chaos. Greece’s thriving second city has monuments and museums to thrill history-lovers, it is mostly walkable and has a more upbeat quality than the capital. The centre is laced with historic sights, from the Byzantine walls threading its romantic Upper Town to the imposing Rotunda.
The popular Halkidiki Peninsula has three tendrils stretching into the Aegean Sea. Kassandra and Sithonia draw crowds to their blissful beaches and growing adventure travel scene. Meanwhile Athos is the mysterious monks' republic. Being closest to Thessaloniki, Kassandra is more built up with better nightlife (though it has good beaches, too).
Energetic Ioannina (ih-o-ah-nih-nah or yah-nih-nah) somehow harnesses Epiros’ best drinking and dining, a wonderfully variegated history and lakeshore serenity into one thoroughly enjoyable city. The skyline boasts a stately fortress, jutting minarets and Byzantine arches, all backed by brooding mountains.
Port city Kavala, often used as a gateway to the northeastern Aegean Islands, is hitting its stride as a destination in its own right. Cultural highlights include the aqueduct of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, quality museums of history and industry, and fascinating Ottoman buildings scattered through its pastel-hued old town, Panagia.
Athos offers an unforgettable, immersive experience into a 1000-year-old spiritual tradition – if you're male, that is. While main town Ouranoupoli is open to all, just south is a border enclosing the all-male monastic community of Mt Athos from the rest of the world. Land entry is prohibited between secular and monastic Athos.
Your adventures might not equal those of Alexander the Great (yet), but arriving in his namesake town Alexandroupoli (ah-lex-an-dhroo-po-lih) will elicit an intrepid thrill. For this, eastern Thrace's largest town, is an axis for travel to Turkey, Bulgaria and (in summer) Samothraki island, meaning it's lapped by different culinary and cultural influences.
Traditional sweet shops, bazaar banter and neck-craning minarets create a powerful allure in Komotini. Capital of the Rhodopi regional unit, Komotini lies 50km east of Xanthi and just south of the Nymfaia forest. Multicultural Komotini enjoys a mix of giddy student-centered nightlife around Plateia Eirinis, some Byzantine ruins and a few interesting museums.
With its ruined castle perched above a sandy bay, Parga has spectacular views that set it apart from other northern Greece beach towns. The fragrances of citrus trees, olive oils and sea breeze emanate through this friendly town, while the puttering of scooters provides a gentle soundtrack in the winding streets of its old quarter.
The Zagorohoria's 46 traditional stone-and-slate villages, tucked into the Pindos range, offer atmospheric accommodation, crisp alpine air, sublime views and myriad local legends. Once connected only by mountain paths and stone bridges, they're now connected by paved roads, some of which enjoy spectacular twists and turns.
Kastoria doesn't simply border the wilderness: it's practically submerged in nature. The city is nearly marooned within glassy Lake Orestiada. Enveloped by the lake, Kastoria gives the sense it might weigh anchor and drift away. This peaceable location invigorates Kastoria's outdoor activities; 9km circuits of the lake are popular among hikers and cyclists.
A little exploration is required to uncover the historic neighbourhoods and cultural riches of Veria. Around 75km west of Thessaloniki, this small city has colourful, crumbling old quarters, polished museums and enough excellent eateries to detain a gourmand for days. Veria is also a good spot to linger en route to Vergina's tombs or the ski areas at Mt Vermio.
Ambling along Xanthi’s historic streets, the fragrance of traditional sweets wafting on the breeze, it’s impossible not to be charmed by this ebullient Thracian city. The old quarter is justly famous for its tilting timbered Ottoman houses, most of them formerly owned by tobacco barons.