About the city
Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece with a population of around 1 million and is situated by the sea in the North East of the country. It has a thriving student community, with 100,000 of those being at the Aristotle University which is situated in the heart of the city. Thessaloniki is a hive of activity with restaurants, bars and coffee shops down the sea front. Some bars and night clubs stay open until 6AM. A wonderful permanent outdoor market lies in the centre of the city where you can buy all sorts of fresh vegetables, fruit, meat and fish, amongst other items. There are also plenty of cultural sites to visit such as museums (e.g. The Byzantine Museum, The Archaeological Museum) and ruins (e.g. the Roman Market, Rotunda). If you want an escape from the hustle and bustle, you can walk up the hill to another part of the city called Ano Poli (Άνω Πόλη). In this peaceful spot you can see a breath-taking view over Thessaloniki and find many traditional houses.
My experience in Thessaloniki
Summing up my varied experience in a few words is a very difficult task. During my time there I experienced riots, Greek hospitals, strikes and my hat being stolen! I also met some kind and fun Greek people, went swimming in the sea and enjoyed day trips. There is a one word answer to some up my experience: adventure.
What to pack
Whilst packing my suitcase, an Athenian friend told me to pack scarfs, hats, raincoats and an umbrella for my stay in Thessaloniki. Thinking he was somewhat exaggerating, I put some warm clothes and a raincoat into my suitcase just in case. Thank goodness I did. You are in for a bumpy ride weather wise. I would advise you to pack coats, a raincoat, umbrella and jumpers for the winter months and Thessaloniki’s unpredictable weather (and yes it rains even in summer!). For summer, make sure you have sun cream and light thin cotton clothes. If you burn like me, make sure you have something to cover you up and bring a hat. A vocab book is useful so you can write down any words you see or hear as not to forget them, and take a scrap book so you don't forget your experience.
Where to stay
- Finding accommodation posed me a huge problem because renting a flat in Thessaloniki for less than a year is not possible. I ended up in a small yet very central studio flat for 420 Euros a month, including all bills and internet, which was great because I paid per night and it meant I didn’t have to pay for a certain number of months. It can also be a great way to meet people because 6 studios shared one corridor. Bedding is included for an extra €5 per month.
- Halls: You can ask in your application form to be put into halls. You will be put into an Erasmus hall near the sea but rather far from the university. They are very basic and you may have to share your room. Bathrooms and a kitchen are shared, there is one fridge per floor and only one room in the whole halls with internet access.
- If you are going to Greece for a year I would recommend you get a flat or share with Greeks. If you email the Erasmus office they are able to send you a long list of available rooms. Unfortunately there are no websites in Greece to help you find flatmates which is a great shame.
Aristotle University has a massive campus which stretches for about 1 mile. The buildings are a bit shabby but there is a lovely patch of green in the centre where you can relax and read a book. Each building also has a cafeteria with cheap food and drink – you can even get a latte in the cafeteria in the Philology Block (they are very rare in Greece). While I was there I was able to get free meals with my ‘Passo’ (student card) at the university canteen. The food was very healthy and I did get tired of the cabbage towards the end, but I saved a lot of money. Unfortunately with the financial situation in Greece they are considering closing the canteen. But don’t fear you: can still save yourself money at another university canteen near some of the halls where there is a great choice of dishes for €1! The people working at the Erasmus office are really helpful – make sure you ask them to explain to you the registration procedure carefully (bring a pen and paper) as it is somewhat complicated and I personally found it very confusing as all the forms for obtaining your student card are in Greek. You can contact Nikoleta at the European office by emailing her at:
Modern Greek Language School
I spent more time at the language school than at the Aristotle University. If you are doing a Modern Greek language course at your university and you have an option to take a course at the language school you should definitely take advantage of it because as an Erasmus student you do not have to pay the fees! I had a brilliant time at there because I met people from all over Europe and made some great friends. We all talked in Greek together (unlike in halls where literally nobody is learning Greek) which was great practise because you don't get embarrassed about your mistakes. The language school also organised guided tours, trips to museums and a barbecue for us. One afternoon we got quite tipsy on wine and did Greek dancing round and round the courtyard. It is a great atmosphere in which to learn the language because it was relaxed and interactive, but most importantly, with 20 hours a week of classes, you improve a great deal.
Five great places to grab a bite
- There are a few traditional Greek restaurants nestled in the Aristotle market where you can find tasty Greek food at a good price. It is always best to order small plates of food and share them (mezes) so you can try everything.
- If you would like a nice snack or light lunch there is chain of bakeries called ‘Τερκενλης’ (terkenlis) with stores scattered all over the city. The crepes are delicious and there is a huge variety of desserts. You can also order some to go. You can try a variety of small Greek desserts such as baklava and kataifi. Or, if you are slightly hungry, just pop in – they are always giving out freebies. So free meals at the university and free cakes at a bakery – what more could any student want?!
- If you speak Greek (the menu is on a board and changes daily) and want something fresh and a bit different try the restaurant ‘Ο Οινοχοος’ (O Eenohos) which is near Rotonda. They have a variety of delicious salads, vegetable dishes and meat. It is a great place to go if you are vegetarian.
- Mangio is an Italian restaurant on the sea front with very friendly staff and a very varied menu. Have a glass of wine, some sea food and look out at the harbour at sunset. That’s the life!
- The small independent bakeries have the best sweets. Thessaloniki is famous for its μπουγατσα (bougatsa) which is a super tasty pastry, with custard, cream and cinnamon. I can honestly say it’s the tastiest thing I have ever eaten and my bougatsa fix always cheered me up. Have one on me!
How to fill your spare time
- Absorb some culture: Thessaloniki has fantastic museums which are beautifully set out. You can visit them free with a student card. The Archeological Museum is full of beautiful sculptures and the Byzantine Museum has some incredible artefacts. The museums are a great place for a wander. Thessaloniki boasts some impressive Ancient, Roman and Byzantine sites such as the Rotonda and the Roman Market. In the centre of the city you will find ‘Καμαρα’ (Kamara) which is a Roman arch and is used as a meeting place.
- Shopping: The main high street is Tsimiski but, for a whole day of shopping head down to the new shopping centre on the outskirts of the city – Mediterranean Cosmos. It also has a food court, a go-kart track and even a small fairground. Make sure to go in February and August to catch the drastic sales.
- Be like a native and go to lots of coffee shops as it is a great way to chat to new friends. Just to warn you coffee is expensive – normally €4.50 for a latte but in Greek company you will probably end up sitting there for a few hours. The coffee shop on the top floor balcony of the Electra Palace hotel with a lovely view of the sea and Aristotelous Square was a personal favourite.
- If you are lucky enough to be there in the summer and you would like something novel take an excursion on one of the bar boats. You do not have to pay to go on a boat but must buy a drink. The pirate boat is the cheapest one.
- There are plenty of excursions from Thessaloniki such as Edessa (beautiful waterfalls), Kavala (nice little seaside town) and variety of beaches in Halkidiki. There is a beach a one hour bus journey away but it is unimpressive. Those in Halkidiki, especially at the end of the first foot or the second foot, are cleaner and more attractive. You can get there via the Halkidiki bus terminal (ΚΤΕΛ).
Last few words…
By choosing Thessaloniki as your year abroad destination you are in for a treat. Make sure you take advantage of all the wonderful things and people the city has to offer you.