Getting there & away
Thessaloniki is Northern Greece’s transport hub and the gateway to the Balkans. Major European airlines and budget airlines fly regularly. Ferries to the Sporades, Cyclades, northeastern Aegean islands and Crete also depart from Thessaloniki.
Four weekly ferries serve the Sporadic islands of Skiathos (€17.70, seven hours) and Skopelos (€19.90, nine hours); three continue to Alonnisos (€23.20, 10 hours).
Boats serve Chios three times weekly (€34.20, 19 hours) via Limnos (€22.10, eight hours, five times weekly) and Lesvos (€34.40, 14 hours, five times weekly). One boat weekly continues to Samos (€39.20, 20 hours). The Dodecanese are also served once weekly, to Kalymnos (€41.90, 21 hours), then Kos (€43.80, 22 hours) and Rhodes (€52.40, 26 hours). In summer, two boats weekly serve Iraklio, Crete (€45.60, 26 hours).
Get tickets from port-area travel agencies, like the helpful Polaris Travel Services (2310 548 655; fax 2310 548 290; Navarhou Koundourioti 19; 8am-8.30pm), which also has a second, central office (2310 278 613; fax 2310 265 728; email@example.com; Egnatia 81; 8am-8.30pm) near Agias Sofias on Egnatia.
Most Thessaloniki buses depart from the giant space pod known as the main bus station (2310 595 408; Monastiriou 319), located 3km west of the centre. Meant to correct the former chaos of individual stations for individual destinations, the new station has succeeded magnificently in putting all that chaos into one room; there are now different windows selling tickets to specific destinations, meaning the worker at one window cannot sell you a ticket for or give information about anything other than his/her specified destination. There’s no general information booth and this enhances the station’s unpleasant, stressful nature.
Buses for the Halkidiki Peninsula leave from the Halkidiki bus terminal (2310 316 555; www.in-ktel.gr), on Thessaloniki’s eastern outskirts. Take bus 2 or 31 to the Botsari stop from either the train station or anywhere along Egnatia; at Botsari, the line terminates and you take bus 36 for the final 10 minutes. With traffic, it’s about one hour from the train station to the Halkidiki station.
OSE (2310 599 100; Aristotelous 26) runs buses to Sofia (€19.10, seven hours, two to four times daily). Buses serve İstanbul (€44, 12 hours, 7.15am Tuesday to Sunday, 2am daily) and Tirana (€28, twice daily). Get tickets at the small office on the train station’s eastern side. For buses to Korça (Korysta) in Albania (€20, six hours, 9am, 7.30pm and 1.30am), see Alvavel (2310 535 990; Giannitson 31) across from the station.
Much cheaper, often more comfortable and not always slower than the bus, the train can get you anywhere in mainland Greece (except Kastoria, Halkidiki, Kavala and Epiros) and to all neighbouring countries (except Albania). Further, Thessaloniki’s train station (2310 517 517; Monastiriou) is closer to the centre than the bus station. Get tickets at the station or from OSE (2310 598 120; Aristotelous 18).
There are regular trains and intercity (IC or ICE) trains; the latter are substantially more expensive, and slightly faster, than the former. Prices given are for the regular trains. Book in advance for Athens, especially for the cheap train. There are usually long lines at the station, so don’t leave it till the last minute to get a ticket.
Five regular trains daily serve Athens (€15.20, 6¾ hours) via Larisa (€5, two hours), which has connections to Volos (€7, 4½ hours). The Athens intercity is much more expensive (€35.50) but not significantly faster (5½ hours).
Some 14 daily trains service Veria (€2.10, one hour) and Edessa (€4.50, 1½ hours); of these, five continue on to Amyndeo (for Kastoria bus connections) before terminating at Florina (€5.30, 2¾ hours), which has bus connections to the Prespa Lakes.
Thessaloniki–Thrace trains go five times daily to Orestiada (€12.30, 8½ hours), via Xanthi (€7, four hours), Komotini (€8.20, 4½ hours) and Alexandroupoli (€10, six hours).
Thessaloniki’s train station has a National Bank of Greece, a post office, a couple of ATMs, cardphones and an OTE (telephone office), kiosks and a restaurant (6am to 10pm). There are automatic luggage machines (€3 base price) or a check-in storage room (€3 per item per day), which closes after 10pm. For the latter, present your train ticket when depositing luggage.
A daily old workhorse train leaving Thessaloniki at 8.20am plies the northern route through the ex-Yugoslav Republics of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, serving their respective capitals of Skopje (€12, 4½ hours), Belgrade (€30, 13 hours), Zagreb (€54, 20 hours) and finally Ljublana (€58, 24 hours). The evening train at 6.50pm serves Skopje and Belgrade only. These trains stop in every town and village along the way and are frequently late. Note that the departure times of these trains change in winter and summer, so always double-check in advance.
Three daily trains connect Thessaloniki with Sofia (€15.40, six hours) via Kilkis in Greece and Blagoevgrad in Bulgaria. Two leave early (6.16am and 5.47am) and the third at midnight; this midnight train continues to Budapest.
Trains to İstanbul (€48, two daily) follow the Thracian route, passing through Alexandroupoli en route to Pythio, where you change trains before entering Turkey. A direct train, the Filia Dostluk Express, leaves at 8.35pm from Thessaloniki and returns from İstanbul at 8pm. The journey takes 11½ hours. A 2nd-class sleeper car costs €48.20, a 1st-class one €84.90.
The airport (2310 473 212) is 16km southeast. Olympic Airlines (2310 368 666; www.olympicairlines.com; Navarhou Koundourioti 1-3) is near the port, and Aegean Airlines (2310 280 050; www.aegeanair.com; Venizelou 2) is on Plateia Eleftherias.
Olympic Airlines operates over 15 domestic routes. These are the more important ones: Athens (€45 to €105, 55 minutes, seven daily); Limnos (€65, 50 minutes, daily); and Mytilini (€87, one hour 50 minutes, six weekly). It also has two to four flights weekly to Kerkyra (€75, 55 minutes), Iraklio (€100, 1½ hours), Mykonos (€95, one hour), Hania (€105, 2½ hours), Chios (€80, 2¾ hours), Skyros (€58, 40 minutes) and Samos (€90). Some flights are via intermediate airports.
Aegean Airlines has 12 daily flights to Athens (€66 to €93), and with lesser frequency to Mytilini (€80), Rhodes (€110) and Santorini (€105). Remember Travel (2310 246 026; firstname.lastname@example.org; Egnatia 119), just off Kamara, is a central travel agency for plane tickets with good post-sale customer service.