Day 6: in the morning we left direction of Thessaloniki (10). We did not stop anywhere on the way but there would be several options (see below) how to extend your stay in the north. The question in general is as well if you want to go to Thessaloniki as there might be more beautiful cities but we visited a friend there and thought it was amazing there and with the tips of the locals I can definitely recommend going there.
We were lucky and got a tour from a friend through the town with a lot of historical and recent information about Greece, its people and so on. Many spots we would have otherwise never found.
Walk at the seaside: just start from the old harbour/pier or from the Aristotle square and walk towards the white tower, it is the symbol of Thessaloniki. Around the tower you will be msot probably annoyed by many people trying to sell you shit, either check the tower or just continue along the seaside and you will reach a Alexander the Great statue. In the distance the Olympus mountain range might be visible.
Further you will find some modern art (umbrellas) and also many benches to have a rest and enjoy the view. If you know Cyril and Methodius (Cyril and Methodius were brothers, born in the 9th century in Thessaloniki and they created the Glagolitic script, the oldest known Slavic alphabet. Later Cyrillic alphabet was named after Saint Cyril. They were sent to Greater Moravia, evangelized the Slavs and brought them the alphabet) it will be worth continuing even further till the Temples of Cyril and Methodius which is a beautiful Greek orthodox church and in front there is a monument for the two saints.
Castle: Quite some walk from the centre but the view if worth it. On the way you can pass the Arch of Galerius, the Roman Rotunda and next to the castle walls there are some small shops (and also proper restaurants) to provide yourself with some drinks to have a relaxed evening sitting on the wall and having a proper view. For GPS search for the Trigonion tower, there is all the infrastructure and during night you will find many, many young people occupying all stairs, benches,...
Nightlife: due to Covid not too much nightlife happening in 2020 but once life is back to normal going from Pl. Katouni to Egiptou street (as well the neighbouring streets) will give you the best options for bars, clubs etc.
Best pita/gyros we enjoyed at our whole stay (and we tried many, many different ones): Mpoukia Souvlaki (English menu, English homepage)
Most famous sweet shop: Terkenlis. From there we got our tsoureki, a brioche covered in an insanely thick and awesome layer of either black or white chocolate and Terkenlis is really famous for these.
Another great sweet shop: Trigona Elenidi. From there you need to get their "trigono"!
Taverna: Kourmpeti/Kourbeti: great food and not that expensive.
With these tips you should survive some time in Thessaloniki and get some calorie bombs!
Beach: although Thessaloniki is located at the seaside there is no beach to swim around the city centre. But from the port/pier (also some museums and restaurants there) leaves a boat regularly to a beach.
Politics: every September the Greek prime minister is having a speech about the state of the economy in Thessaloniki. Along with this (as usual in Greece) come big demonstrations, left/far left demonstrating for a more human migration policy, against the economy policies; far right demonstrating in favour of getting some land in today´s Turkey back and nowadays some other against vaccination. Surprisingly next to anarchists and nationalists the vaccination deniers still seemed to me as the strangest group. Trash bins usually burn, police completely over equipped (for reasons though) and also demonstrators coming partly with helmets and gasmasks show you some different protest culture than in Central Europe. In the back of the following picture you see the Alexander the Great statue and several protestors with Greek flags, Greek nationalists who are demonstrating to get some parts of today´s Turkey back.
Day 7: After already seeing the Olympus mountains from the shoreline in Thessaloniki, we started in the morning towards Litochoro (11). It is only about an hour driving and would indeed is super nice is, that you can first go a big swimming into the sea around Litochoro (we went to Plaka and parked here) and then continue to the begin of the hikes in the Olympus national park.
Beach at Plaka with the Mt. Olympus in the background. From the beach it is just a short ride to Litochoro and the hiking areas, perfect after a hot hike.
Olympus national park info
Most hikes start from Litochoro or from somewhere around there. To find the right time is not that easy: most popular months are September and October. In summer it can be very hot, in spring/winter there is snow and it would be for ski alpinism. As long as there is no snow it is mainly normal hiking area, to the main peak it includes rock scrambling/climbing though and you should definitely have some experience using your hands when getting up rocks. Olympus is the name of the whole mountain range, the highest peak is called Mytikas and 2918m high.
Visitor´s center: after leaving Litochoro and when driving closer to the start of the hikes we saw the Olympus national park information center. As there was still time we stopped by there and I can see it was more than worth it: the exhibition is pretty new, a lot of info, very modern and highly recommendable. It is for free, maybe plan around an hour to check it out (English and Greek).
Prionia (1100m)- Spilios Agapitos Refuge (2040m) - Skala - Mytikas (1918m) : this is the most popular and also easiest to organize hike. Prionia is a parking lot at the end of the street coming from Litochoro, includes some restaurants and other infrastructure.
Would recommend it as a two days trip but for very fit people it´s also doable in a day (1800m vertical metres!); starting in the afternoon up to the refuge (make sure to get a reservation before, especially during weekends in early fall it will be packed with Greeks who want to ascent their highest mountain. The owner had German ancestors so communication in Greek, German and English all work perfect and from the huts we have seen it was the best organized and easiest to book. You get super-fast responses to adjust the trip in case something is booked out). You need a sleeping bag (hut sleeping bag) but in case you have non you can also purchase a one use one at the reception. Food and drinks are served and were good!The hut and its water reservoir:
Evening view from the hut towards the peaks.
The common trip is going up via Skala to Mytikas and then just going back down. Easy to organize and to find, just make sure you´re aware of weather (sun/heat, snow, wetness) and the length (it will be still a long descent if you do not want to sleep a second day up the mountain).
When starting early there is the hope for a great sunset but we got disappointed. Instead fast moving, nice cloud formations.
Thanks to our host in Vitsa we (actually he) came up with a better and less overcrowded suggestion:
Gortsia - Petrostrouga - Muses Plateau - Mytikas - (Muses Plateau) - Spilios Agapitos Refuge - Prionia - Gortsia: Gortsia is another parking lot between Litochoro and Prionia. It will be definitely a two days trip: for the first day either sleep at the Petrostrouga hut (Thessos recommended this as it is the smallest and therefore most cosy one on Olympus mountain with a view towards Thessaloniki but it was unfortunately booked out and we could not check it ourselves) or at one of the two at the Muses Plateau (Posos Apostolidis and Christos Kakkalos refuge; camping is there possible as well, can just get quite cold during night. These two huts did not have warm blankets due to Covid, so there a proper sleeping bag is needed; at Spilios Agapitos Refuge we were lucky to get warm blankets). For the Mytikas peak you will most likely go/scramble through the rock couloir Louki. Nearly everyone has a helmet and you can borrow it at one of the huts at the plateau (and then return it there again), we started super early when it was still dark so were the first one on that that day in the couloir and then it is also possible to go without helmet. But at the last metres several unexperienced groups roped to their guide passed us and we were happy that we were nearly down because they kicked loose quite some rocks. So either bringing a helmet already or borrowing it there. After returning you can either return the same way back to the car or choose to go along the mountain (called Zonaria) to the Spilios Agapitos Refuge, down to Prionia and then either walking or hitch hiking to Gortsia parking. Hitchhiking along the street is super easy, no crossroads, everyone going the same directions and for us it was super easy getting a ride for the few kilometres.
Due to the fact that all these huts were reserved we adapted both common above mentioned paths and did the following:
Parking at Gortsia - Hitchhiking to Prionia - Spilios Agapitos Refuge - Skala - Mytikas - Muses Plateau - (Petrostrouga) - Gortsia: in the afternoon up to hut A, as the Spilios Agapitos Refuge is also called, and in the next morning starting very early as a long day is ahead of you. We left the hut at 5:30 and therefore also skipped breakfast, at this time it is still super cold in September (bring gloves!) und unfortunately due to clouds we neither had a proper sunrise, via Skala we went to Mytikas peak.
From there unlike the first option we descended town via Louki couloir to get a roundtrip. There is no option to borrow helmets in this option so either bring your own or be the first in the morning and be super careful (better using a helmet of course though!) and then going down to the Muses Plateau. We were lucky as we came late for breakfast and too early for lunch that at the Posos Apostolidis hut we got great omelette for breakfast, well deserved after being up for some hours and already having the highest Greek peak behind us.
The cook promised that the omelette is made directly by the 12 Greek gods themselves. From the Plateau you have the best view to Stefani peak which is also nicknamed, for good reasons, "Throne of Zeus".
After a break in the hut we descended further, a bit before the Petrostrouga hut we took a shortcut to reach Gortsia. Somewhere there we fucked up a bit and instead of following a marked path we went just down through the wilderness. But there definitely is a marked and good path as we found it later again. Saver might be though going via Petrostrouga hut, can have another drink or some food before being back down or even sleep another night on the mountain. The just to Gortsia and after a long day we were down again.
If you hiked black paths in the Alps, all these options are fine for you. If you are unexperienced and this is first time in the mountains plan enough time, check how your time is in comparison to the estimated times, check the vertical metres if you feel confident doing one thousand or so in a day, be cautious when climbing, check the forecast etc, etc.
Day 8: More hiking and then continuing with the car towards the south. Depending how far south you want to go or if you want to add more stuff on the way you need to decide where to sleep, just staying in Litochoro after a long hiking day and going south the next morning is one option already. We decided quite spontaneous: after reaching the car from hiking we started driving and did research just in the car. One destination on the way are the Thermopylae: not much to see there but as it is just off the highway it would be a pity to miss such a place, mainly known nowadays from the movie "300". We then drove to Kamena Vourla as it was very much on the way towards the south and internet research told that there will be beaches straight in the town.
Thermophylae/Volos region info
Originally the sea was going closer to the mountain, approximately where the road is today, so the gap between mountains and coast was much more narrow. This was the chosen fighting ground from the legendary 300 Spartans under their king Leonidas and other Greek city states against the mighty Persian forces of Xerxes. At this coastal pass the outnumbering power of Persians would come less into force and the Greeks could hold the stand for three day. The legend says that the Greek Ephialtes betrayed and showed the Persian forces a hidden shephard path through the mountains, surpassing the coast gap. This lead to the total defeat of Greek forces and today there is a small hill, where arrow heads for found and it is assumed that the last battle could have taken place. Opposite there is a Leonidas statue and also a museum (we arrived too late so it was already closed but apparently they show a nice 3D movie and the 3€ entrance fee is worth it, it is just a tiny museum in the end though). Some boards provide you with extra information, the stay will be though due to the lack of things short but as it is just off the highway it would be also a pity missing it.
If you want to extend you stay properly you have the option going to Volos and taking from there ferries to the Sporades islands. Unlike the other islands these are very green and you might know them from the Mama Mia movies. Skiathos and Skopelos are the most popular of these and also the closest to the harbour. Greek friends told us that these might be the nicest islands in their opinion because besides the beaches there is also some vegetation.
Day 9: Now the end of the Greek mainland road trip was coming closer and the only thing left in front of us was going back towards the South, this time the very south to Kap Sounion (14).
It is a big temple with an amazing view to the sea, even Peloponnese was visible! It is famous for its sunsets and just closes after sunset for that very reason. After this we brought back the car (it is quite close to the airport, but make sure to check time for sunset and time for returning the car. f the rental company is not directly at the airport and they need to give you a ride you can also ask to be brought to the second last station of the metro as you save quite some money as they charge just for the airport station extra, excluding this fee, publics are very cheap in Athens) and took the publics all the way to Piraeus to start the next morning with a ferry to some Greek islands.
The second part of our trip then was to the Cyclades islands. To have it a big better distributed click here for the info about this and info about other Greek islands.