When you think of Greece what comes to mind? The ancient ruins of Athens? The windmills of Mykonos? Or, the white and blue houses of Santorini? What about Halkidiki? Ever heard of it?
Don’t worry, I hadn’t either, but on a trip in June, I discovered Halkidiki is a gem destination.
The Halkidiki peninsula is in Northern Greece and a short drive from Greece’s second-largest city Thessaloniki. It resembles a hand with three fingers – Kassandra, Sithonia, and Mount Athos. A trip to Halkidiki is all about mountains, seascapes, small towns and villages, monasteries, historic sites, and a ton of beaches. In fact, in 2017, Halkidiki received 71 “Blue Flag” beaches, and the country ranked second out of 47.
(Photo credit (above): Visit Halkidiki)
Cool fact: A “Blue Flag” means a beach has been recognized for being environmentally managed and protected, clean, safe, and having high water quality, and services.
Halkidiki – Could It Be The Best Kept Secret in Greece?
After spending a week exploring Halkidiki I can say it is a magical place, and one day I hope to return. Best of all, Halkidiki is ALL small towns! The capital Polygyros has the most people at around 11,000. As a small town traveler, Halkidiki had everything I love – culture, fantastic food, small-town charms, friendly people, and a laid-back vibe whether you were at the beach or a mountain town.
If you are still wondering if you should put Halkidiki on your travel list, here are six reasons.
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Six Reasons to Visit Halkidiki
1 – Beaches
Many of us travel to warm weather destinations for we love the sea and the sand and a cold drink in our hand. With 300 days of sunshine, this type of scenario is plentiful in Halkidiki. If you drive along the coast, even in the most rugged parts, you’ll see a beach that begs exploration. A day the at the beach could be near a town or tourist hot spot where the beach bars are plentiful. Or, it could mean a more isolated location with a food truck that sells snacks and beer. Or, it could mean only you and the sea.
Travel tip: For summer travelers, the temperatures will be in the 70s and 80s, and water temperatures will be in the 70s. For winter travelers, the temperature will be in the 40s and 50s, and water temperatures will be in the 50s.
(Photo credit: Visit Halkidiki)
2 – History
Halkidiki is steeped in history and made many appearances in Greek mythology. At Petralona Cave, they discovered extinct animals that date back to 700,000 years ago, and human remains that date back to 200,000 years ago. The Ottoman and Macedonian empires also staked claims here and the famed Mount Athos monasteries date back centuries ago. Scattered throughout the area are archaeological sites such as Byzantine towers, UNESCO heritage sites, and religious ruins like the Temple of Ammon Zeus, that dates back to the 8th century B.C. as well as traditional villages. If you are a lover of philosophy, you’ll be happy to find out it is also the birthplace of Aristotle.
Cool fact: Historians estimate that Aristotle wrote about 400 books, of which only 47 have been preserved along with some writing excerpts. Aristotle died in Halkidiki and is buried where he was born in Stagira.
Travel tip: Mount Athos monasteries are still in use today and male visitors need special permission to go and females can only see them by boat.
(Photo credit: Visit Halkidiki)
3 – Food
On our flight home from Halkidiki, my husband and I both agreed that we never ate so well as we did in Greece. The area is famous for its olives, olive oils, honey, cheese, pastries, and bread. You’ll also find fresh vegetables and seafood. On our trip, we sampled them all – after all when in Greece!
Travel tip: We found most places were very generous with the portions, and my suggestion would be to plan to share meals, or not order not order everything all at once.
4 – Budget-Friendly
Since Greece currency is the Euro, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found the majority of Halkidiki and even the city of Thessaloniki to be very easy on the budget. Keep in mind, we were there in June, which is not the tourist season and therefore already has some built-in budget-friendly prices.
Keep in mind that towns that attract lots of tourists will most certainly have tourist prices. Ex. a beer will cost 5€ instead of 3€. A large water bottle at a restaurant will cost 5€ instead of 1€ at the grocery store.
In general, no matter where we went, if we ordered three to four menu items it cost around 35€ or $42 USD. If you are a budget traveler, I’d suggest splitting meals, which is very easy to do with their portion size, choose accommodation that has a full Greek breakfast, and stop by the grocery store to buy some supplemental snacks, beer, wine, and water.
Budget travel tips: 1) Spilt meals, 2) Choose a lodging with a full Greek breakfast, 3) Buy beer, wine, water and snacks at the grocery store
5 – Fewer Tourists
I mentioned earlier that we were there in June, which is right before the warmest summer months and tourist season. Compared to Greece’s more well-known destinations like Athens and Santorini, it doesn’t get as much tourist traffic, especially from Americans. In fact, we didn’t see one American the entire time we were in Halkidiki. Most of the tourists seemed to be from Northern Greece’s neighboring countries like Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania.
One of the reasons I like offseason and small town traveling is because it is not as crowded, and I totally loved this aspect of Halkidiki. As an example, Karidi Beach, one of the area’s most popular beaches (pictured below), had lots of room on the beach to lay your towel and soak in the sea.
Travel tip: In the tourist season, Karidi Beach can get very crowded and its advised to arrive early. There are no bathrooms, but there is a food truck that sells snacks and beer.
6 – Do You Speak English?
One of the things I was concerned about before I left was communication, or really, lack thereof on my part. I had a huge surprise waiting for me for around 80% of Greeks speak English! No matter where we went, someone either could speak English very well or knew enough that we could communicate. Also, everyone we met was friendly and helpful!
Ready to explore Halkidiki, Greece?
To find out more go to Visit Halkidiki.