Northern Greece is a surprising destination for nature lovers. The whole of northern Greece offers the travel a much broader Greek experience than the one that we usually associate with the famous antiquities and the charms of the Greek islands. You'll of course find marvelous antiquities here, and also you'll discover the gem-like islands of the North Aegean. But you'll also find fascinating natural destinations inland, adding an unexpected element to your visit.
Everyone has heard of Mt. Olympus of course, but did you realize how simple it is to visit when you are staying in Thessaloniki
? Besides this famous nature destination, there are other natural treasures that are far less known, and therefore ready to be explored on your own for a great sense of discovery. There are protected wetlands, rich forests, pristine lakes, glorious waterfalls, and even rich natural hot springs. All of these fantastic destinations are a short drive Thessaloniki. Some are less than two hours, and others are even much closer
Thessaloniki, an Urban Center Surrounded by Natural Wonders
All these nature destinations in Northern Greece are an easy distance from Thessaloniki . Many budget airlines service the Thessaloniki Makedonia airport (SKG), which is also close to the city center. Thessaloniki is also just over 4 hours' by train from Athens.
Thessaloniki is both an ideal home base for your excursions, and a top destination in itself. Carve out some time for this fabulous city itself - a major urban center and port. You'll find here ruins and monuments from its 23 impressive centuries of history, plus dynamic contemporary culture. But, much more to the point, Thessaloniki has an amazing lifestyle, full of culture and leisure. This city is famous not only throughout Greece, but actually even worldwide for its great nightlife. Furthermore, even Greeks themselves are quick to say that Thessaloniki has some of Greece's very best food. Best of all, this is a very budget-friendly city. Thessaloniki makes an ideal city break, as well as a very convenient central starting point for your adventures.
Mt. Olympus is directly across the Bay of Thermaikos from Thessaloniki. You can see it rising majestically in the distance, just 60 km away as the crow flies. It's an easy drive south of less than an hour. You'll come to the village of Litochoro, in the foothills of Mt. Olympus, next to the sacred ancient site Dion. This is a charming mountain village, with Olympus towering over it.
The really great thing about Mt. Olympus is that it's a destination for serious climbers and avid and enthusiastic climbers, but also even for people in good shape who have little experience but don't mind a strenuous uphill walk. The reason for this is that you can get a full taste of the Mt. Olympus experience without ascending to the very summit. Just above the village of Litochoro is Prionia. Here you can park your car, and there is a small mountain shelter for traditional dishes. From Prionia, a path ascends to the well-known shelter Spilios Agaptos (otherwise locally called Zolotas). This takes you from an elevation of 1100 meters / 3610 feet to 2100 meters / 6890 feet on a gorgeous wooded path. This is one of the most popular paths on Mt. Olympus
, and is part of the European E4 trail.
Many hikers then spend the night at Spilios Agapitos, setting off for the summit the next morning. The lodge is charming and rustic, extremely professionally run. Rooms are bunk rooms, some with many beds. You may be in a room with other hikers. The food at the shelter is also rustic, and absolutely delicious. Some stay here and then simply descend the next morning. One can also go from Prionia to Spilios Agapitos and back in the same day, but it's a long day and needs an early start.
The Axios Delta National Park
The river Axios flows directly south of Thessaloniki, and it is a fertile and incredible wetland. This enormous park
of nearly 40,000 acres The Axios Delta National Park enjoys a spectacular biodiversity. Nearly 300 species of birds make a home here at some point during the year, dining off of the creatures in the lagoons and sheltering in the tall grassses. Great flocks of flamingos are a common sight here, as are many other long-legged water-birds. There are also pelicans, various raptors, and all manner of ducks among the many many species. And birds are not the only creatures to enjoy here - water buffalo love to come and graze. They are a beautiful sight. And those shacks you see built on stilts in the bay of Thermaikos - those are for mussel cultivating.
An information center in the village of Chalastra can provide you with maps and excellent eco routes perfect for exploring. Ornithologists love the region of course. If you'd like to join them or have a first time bird watching experience, you can visit the Nea Agathoupoli Bird Watching tower. This is a fantastic place to take a long walk in an extraordinary setting - truly one of the most interesting nature destinations in northern Greece.
A gorgeous drive of two hours from Thessaloniki brings through the lush mountainous region of Siatista, to the shores of Lake Orestiada. The lake charmingly takes its name from the Oreads, or more commonly known as Orestiadas - the mountain nymphs of Greek mythology. It's not much of a stretch to imagine the nymphs would have loved it here. The Government of Greece agrees with the nymphs; the Ministry of Culture has designated Lake Orestiada "Monument of Natural Beauty.
At an elevation of 680 meters/2230 feet, and surrounded by mountains made of limestone, this is a pristine destination for nature lovers. This natural lake is fed by several small rivers. In turn, lake Orestiada feeds the Aliakmonas river, Greece's longest. Lake Orestiada is teeming with aquatic life. Anglers fish from the lake's shores or take traditional fishing boats into the deeper waters, hauling in pike, carp, and other sweetwater fish specialties.
Do bring your binoculars. Above the water's surface, dramatic birds of prey like the Eagle and the Hawk fly. There are also Dalmatian Pelicans, Great White Egrets, the Glossy Ibis, the Pygmy Cormorant, and other delightful avian species sharing the water with ducks and graceful swans. Mammals too love this natural paradise: the shores around the lake abound with excellent hiking trails, and you'll share the surrounding woods with deer, foxes, goats, and hares.
Lake Orestiada is a rare destination - easily reached but under the radar of many tourists, guaranteeing you an authentic and unspoiled experience of the splendid nature of Northern Greece.
The Hot Springs of Sidirokastro
No one ever thinks of Greece as being a great destination for thermal therapeutic springs - maybe because the seas get all the attention. But the fast is, Northern Greece has several quality thermal water destinations, and one of the warmest and most exptic is Sidirokastro.
Across from stunning mount Beles, in the Serres region, there is a wonderful hydrotherapy center, set among refreshing pines. The rich thermal waters contain mineral elements that render them beneficial in the treatment of a number of ailments - musculoskeletal, gynaecological, urological, and rheumatological. However, you do not need to be suffering from an ailment to get tremendous benefit from a soak here.
The waters are among northern Greece's warmest, at 40 degrees Celcius/104 Fahrenheit - so take them in small doses. It's incredibly relaxing to bathe here.
These waters are known from the Byzantine era. And the Ottomans, who loved hamams, took great advantage of them too. The bath complexes have many old historic elements, guaranteeing you a deeply atmospheric wellness experience.
The Great Karanos Falls of Edessa
The gorgeous town of Edessa, with its traditional stone architecture, is on a cliff high above a fertile plain in the heart of the Pella region. The sound of water fills the cobblestoned streets of edessa like music. The waters also makes the town shady and refreshing - a great place to cool off in the summer heat.
The highlight here is the famous Karanos waterfall. Cascading from a height of 70 meters - 230 feet, these marvelous falls are not only beautiful, but extremely powerful.The water power now goes to the national power company, but it once powered the mills for which Edessa was famous - most especially the hemp rope factory. This is a beautiful industrial space of the early 20th century, and worth a visit.
While you are in Edessa, take time to explore the unspoiled surrounding region. You can stop at beautiful Lake Vritta, or even visit majestic Mt. Kaimaktsalan - also called the Voras Mountains. Kaimak is "cream' in Turkish - an allusion to its snowy peaks and a fanciful name that has stuck.
At 2,528 meters/8,294 feet, Mt. Kaimaktsalan is one of Greece's highest mountains. It's a very popular and fantastic skiing destination. At the ski center, you can rent all the equipment you need to enjoy the slopes. Moreover, you'll find lift ticket prices to be extremely budget friendly. No one usually thinks of Greece as a prime skiing destination. Think outside the box for your next winter holiday, and you may save a great deal of money and - it goes almost without saying - eat great food and drink delicious wines after your day on the slopes.
The Wine Roads of Northern Greece
Are vineyards a nature destination? We think yes, absolutely, and so will you when you drink in the terroir of Northern Greece. The Wine Roads of Northern Greece is an organization of passionate individual vineyards, such as Ktima Gerovassiliou and Porto Carras. Many of them also focus on the revival and cultivation of indigenous grape varieties. This means that as you taste the landscape, you taste history, too.
Wineries are grouped geographically, and you can visit several on a wine excursion. The vineyards are beautiful destinations, and the surrounding landscape guarantees you a spectacular road trip.
The Nature Destinations of Northern Greece
Northern Greece is a fantastic destination for any interest. From Thessaloniki, there are a number of exciting day trips
, ideal for exploring the rich cultural and natural heritage of the region.
For the nature lover, this is an incredible part of Greece for its diversity and beauty. Of course, the beaches of Halkidiki draw the most tourists in the high season. That means that these fantastic destinations in Northern Greece give you the opportunity to have a different kind of experience - away from the crowds. They also make a great addition to a Thessaloniki City Break combined with a classic beach holiday, for a complete Greek experience.
If you have a limited amount of time for your journey, see our advice about how much time to spend here:
Should I spend 1, 2, or 3 days in Thessaloniki?, Should I spend 3, 4, or 5 days in Thessaloniki? and Is Thessaloniki Worth Visiting?