The ten best day trips from Thessaloniki include visits to Mount Athos and Mount Olympus, and to archaeological sites such as Dion, Pella, and Vergina
This is our alphabetical list of the ten best day trips from Thessaloniki, including the distance from the city and the best ways to get there. Many of the sites already have their own pages on Greece Travel Secrets, so we provide links to those too.
The site of Ancient Dion and the modern town of Dion are just over an hour’s drive southwest from Thessaloniki, along the A1/E75 road towards Athens. You should allow a full day for this as the site is fascinating and there’s also an archaeological museum in the town, a two-minute drive or five-minute walk away. As well as beautiful mosaics, statues and other remains the lush site is a haven for wildlife. Read more on our main Dion page.
The three-pronged peninsula of Halkidiki, or Chalkidiki, is about an hour’s drive southeast from Thessaloniki, depending of course on where you’re going as it covers an area of 2,918 sq km (1,127 sq mi). Take the road out towards the airport and basically you keep going. The two western-most peninsulas, Kassandra and Sithonia, are filled with holiday resorts and are great places to escape to if you want to chill out on the beach. See our separate Halkidiki page for more information. The third peninsula is Mount Athos, the so-called Monks’ Republic. See below.
Drive an hour due east of Thessaloniki and you reach Lake Volvi, one of several lakes that are easily accessible from the city. The quickest route is to first drive north out of the city on the E02 road which then swings west towards Kavala. You’ll first pass the Limni Koronia (Lake Koronia) before reaching Lake Volvi.
We recommend this as it’s the second-largest lake in Greece at 12 miles (19 km) long and 6-8 miles (9.7-12.9 km) wide. It’s a wetlands area that is good for birdwatching, or you can also enjoy watersports here. Head to the village of Volvi on the northern shore to wander round and have lunch overlooking the lake for a full day out.
Mount Athos is the eastern-most of the three peninsulas making up the southern part of Halkidiki, and you cannot visit this without prior permission. Women are not allowed to visit at all. However, there are some very enjoyable boat trips that take you around Mount Athos and enable you to see some of the twenty inhabited monasteries that look spectacular. See our Mount Athos page.
To see Mount Olympus, legendary home of the Greek Gods and the highest mountain in Greece (2,917m/9,570ft), take the A1 towards Athens and you’ll reach the little town of Litochoro, the main base for visiting the mountain, in just over an hour. This is where you can find out about hiking options, which obviously depend on how much time you have and how fit you are. Getting to the top is a two-day effort with one night in a mountain hut, so is not for the inexperienced. Read more on our Mount Olympus page.
Ancient Pella is a 40-minute drive northwest of the city, along the main E02 road that goes to Edessa. It was a hugely important city that was made capital of the Macedonian state in the late 5th century BC. It was the birthplace of Alexander the Great. There’s one main archaeological site to the south of the modern town, with other remains around the town, and an archaeological museum in the town. Allow the best part of a day, including travel time. See our main Pella page for more.
The Petralona Cave is an hour’s drive southeast from Thessaloniki in the northern part of the Halkidiki (or Chalkidiki) peninsula. Follow the signs for the Makedonia Airport but then continue on the main road past the airport. The cave was discovered by accident in 1959 and extends for about 1,500m (4,921ft), of which you can see about 400m (1,312ft).
In 1960 the most significant find of the cave was made, the Petralona skull. This has been dated to 150,000-200,000 years old, though it could be a great deal older. Whichever it is, the cave is still one of the oldest archaeological sites in the whole of Europe. For more information visit the Petralona Cave website.
Pikrolimni is a lake that’s a 45-minute drive northwest of Thessaloniki, leaving the city along Monastiriou and after about 15-20 minutes look for the sign marking a right turn towards Kilkis. The lake covers an area of 450 hectares (1,112 acres) and is filled with salts that are believed to have healing and cosmetic properties with a concentration three times that of the Dead Sea in Isarel/Jordan.
As a result, there is a Mud Therapy Centre here, though the therapies are only available in the summer. There’s also a hotel, a bar, and a restaurant. It’s not a day out for everyone, but certainly is if you love your spa therapies.
The ancient site and royal tombs of Vergina are about an hour’s drive west of Athens initially on the A1 road towards Athens then turning off onto the A2/E90 exit towards Kozani and Veria. Just before Veria you exit onto the road for Kouloura which takes you to Vergina. We recommend using satnav as last time we drove there it was not clearly signposted.
Vergina is a comparatively new site, only discovered in 1977. But what a discovery it was, by the archaeologist Professor Manolis Andronikos. What he found was the royal tomb of King Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. The tomb contained the king’s intact skeleton. There are other tombs here too, and the site has been turned into a marvellous museum. See our Vergina page for more details.
Veroia is about a 15-minute drive from Vergina, retracing your steps back to the A2 road and continuing on it. It’s a historic town and worth a visit if you have the time. It’s an easy lunch stop before or after seeing the tombs, and has some 50 Byzantine churches to seek out.