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Panoramic view of the city of Kastoria and Orestiada lake in Northern Greece

Northern Greece: A Road Trip Through Nature and History

Rent a car in Thessaloniki and get ready for a  Northern Greece  road trip involving waterfalls, lakes, bears, birds and a time travel to ancient Macedonia of Alexander the Great. There are a lot of opportunities for bird watching, hiking in the forest and to discover mountainous Northern Greece. The key element of this road trip is water: waterfalls, lakes joining the borders of Northern Greece with neighbouring countries, rivers running through towns and traditional villages.

Itinerary:Thessaloniki-Edessa-Florina-Prespa-Kastoria-Nymfaio-Naoussa-Vergina-Nea Agathoupoli and return to Thessaloniki

Duration: 5 – 6 days

Distance: 518 km

Northern Greece Road Trip Day 1. Thessaloniki

Dedicate your first day to explore the city of Thessaloniki. Walk in the city center around the central squares  of Aristotelous and Eleftherias, the Arch of Galerius on Egnatia, to the busy waterfront where locals meet, and to the 15th century White Tower,  the landmark of Thessaloniki.

The neighborhood of Kalamaria  to the east of the city center is known for the tavernas and restaurants.  This is  where you can enjoy ouzo and local tastes by the sea. The area of Ladadika, closer to the center is a better option for restaurants and bars at nighttime.

Make sure that you visit Ano Poli, the old town of Thessaloniki, with the cobbled streets and the Byzantine walls for panoramic views of Thermaikos Gulf.  The Archaeological museum  and  the Museum of Byzantine Culture will take you through the history of the wider area.

 

View of Thessaloniki and Pagasitikos Gulf from Ano Poli

 

Northern Greece Road Trip Day 2. Edessa waterfalls and Florina

Rent a car in Thessaloniki and head off to Edessa, famous for the impressive waterfalls. Park your car to explore the town on foot and visit the open – air Water Museum at the northeast of Edessa to admire the natural sculptures created by waterfalls over 70 meters high.

Edesseos river continues through the city center in smaller streams. Walk up the cobble street leading from Varosi, the old part of the town, to the Open Air Water Museum and to the Longos archaeological site of Ancient Edessa.

Bird and nature lovers: Do not miss the wetland of Agra-Vryta-Nisi, 8 km west of Edessa. It is an artificial water reservoir built during the 50s, where more than 140 bird species have been recorded such as swans, coots, little grebes and little bitterns, as well as the ferruginous duck. 

Enjoy your lunch in town, along the streams of Edesseos, before you continue your road trip towards Florina. At  700 meters altitude,  surrounded by Mount Varnountas and Vitsi, Florina, is a beautiful town with the traditional mansions and old neighborhoods built around the banks of Sakoulevas River.

Visit the Archaeological Museum of Florina, and relax at the pedestrian street of Pavlou Mela where locals meet. Spend the night here.

Thessaloniki – Edessa  106 km,   Edessa – Florina 77 km

 

Waterfalls of the Open Air Water Museum, Edessa, Greece

 

Northern Greece Road Trip Day 3. Small and Great Prespa Lake

Today our Northern Greece road trip continues towards the magical area of Prespa in the border between Greece, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Albania. The area consists of two lakes, the Small and the Great Prespa, separated by a narrow strip of land. Due to its great ecological importance, a wide area around Small Prespa and the ancient cedar forest near Mt Devas, is listed as an International Protected Wetland by the Ramsar Convention. Water, mountains, fishermen, pelicans, cormorants, reeds and aquatic plants, covered by morning mist create an amazing, peaceful scenery.

Drive to the main villages of the area, Laimos and Agios Germanos, located at the east coast of the lakes. Laimos (Greek for “neck” ), is the administrative center of the area, located at the narrowest point of a valley at the foot of Varnoundas Mountain. Visit the information center of the Prespa National Park Management Body on the square of Agios Germanos, to learn about the ecological importance and the history of the area.

Cross over to the west side and drive to the small traditional settlement of Psarades (=Greek for fishermen). Once you get here ask for a boat trip out on the Great Prespa Lake to visit the hermitages along the coast. If you prefer to walk, it is only a short way to the headland of Roti  where you can have a better view of Albania and the Great lake.

For a 360 degree view of Prespa, visit Agios Achilios village, on the inhabited island of the small lake. Park your car on the mainland coast and cross the 850 m pedestrian bridge to the village. Once there, make sure that you also visit the ruins of the 10th century basilica.

Nature lovers: We strongly recommend that you spend the night in of the guesthouses in Prespa to allow time for bird watching or hiking in the peaceful forest.

Kastoria

Next destination of our Northern Greece road trip is Kastoria, situated on a promontory on the western shore of Lake Orestiada, surrounded by the mountains of Grammos and Vitsi. Drive or walk around the 7 km lake promenade to see the different corners of Kastoria. Make sure you visit the Dragon’s Cave, with the impressive stalactites and stalagmites, where the bones of  a 10,000 year old bear  were  found. At the eastern side of the peninsula stands the 12th century monastery  of Panagia Mavriotissa, one of the  76 Byzantine churches of Kastoria with impressive frescoes.

Park your car and walk in the traditional quarters of Apozari and Doultso, with the narrow streets and the two storey mansions dating back to the 17th and 18th century.  In one of these mansions you will find the Folklore Museum of Kastoria where there is a display of the rooms and cellars with the original equipment, furniture and decoration representing the daily life and work of the locals.

Florina – Prespes 39 km, Prespes-Kastoria 46 km

 

The Great Prespa lake, a natural border between Greece and neghboring countries

Northern Greece Road Trip Day 4. Nymfaio and Naoussa

Drive to the traditional village of  Nymfaio at an altitude of 1350m on Moutain Verno, surrounded by a dense forest. Stone houses, cobbled streets, unspoilt nature and the local efforts to protect its unique character has won the UNESCO Melina Mercouri International Prize for the Safeguarding and Management of Cultural Landscapes.

Nymfaio prospered in earlier times as one of the most important silversmith centers of the Balkans. Visit the Museum of Gold and Silver-smithery, Folklore, and History located in an old three-storey mansion in the centre of the village where you can admire the local architecture and discover the mining history of the area through the tool and jewelry display.

Despite its rich cultural history, Nymfaio is mostly known for its natural wealth as well as the Arcturos Environmental Centre aiming at the protection of local biodiversity while running a sanctuary for endangered bears.

For the birdwatchers among you, the artificial lake of Zazari and Cheimaditida lake close to Nymfaio are important wetlands, hosting see more than 140 species of birds.

 

View of Naoussa from St Theologos hill

 

Next stop is  Naoussa. Built amphitheatrically at the foot of Mount Vermion, beautiful Naoussa offers great views of Imathia. Arapitsa river crosses through the town giving life to old trees and dense vegetation in the parks, the most impressive one being the Municipal park, created in the 1950’s, where you can go for a stroll along the lake.

The School of Aristotle where the great ancient philosopher schooled Alexander the Great can be visited in the area of Isvoria.

3-5 Pigadia and Seli ski resorts on Mount Vermio, around 20 km from Naoussa, are two of the most popular ski resorts in Macedonia, Seli being one of the highest ones and 3-5 Pigadia the first to use artificial snow.

Naoussa is widely known for its annual International Film Festival as well as the production of dry red wines, especially Ksinomavro (Greek for “acid black”), a wine of high acidity, strong tannins and complex aromatic character varying from bright pale to deep red color.

Kastoria-Nymfaio 36 km, Nymfaio-Naoussa 97 km

 

The archaeological site of Vergina, 11 km southeast of Veria

Northern Greece Road Trip Day 5: Vergina, Nea Agathoupoli and return to Thessaloniki

Today you have the chance to travel back in the time of the Kingdom of Macedonia where Alexander the Great was proclaimed king.  11 km southeast of Veria, in the area of Vergina, lies the archaeological site of Aigai. Archaeological evidence shows that the area has been continuously inhabited from the Early Bronze Age, becoming an important cultural center during the the Early Iron Age and reaching its peak during the Classical periods (5th-4th centuries) under the Macedonian kings.

The site consists of an acropolis, shrines, and the royal palace, said to be visible from the whole Macedonian basin during the reign of Alexander’s father, Philip II. Of great historical and archaeological value is the ancient burial ground discovered in the area with many rich tombs including the tumulus of Philip II.

The finds from the excavations are exhibited in a protective shelter at the archaeological site as well as the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. The local museum currently houses Philip’s tomb while a new museum is being constructed for the palace and other important finds.

Nea Agathoupoli

On your way to Thessaloniki drive to the wetland of Nea Agathoupoli, located to the south of the Aliakmonas delta, providing an ideal home for migratory and resident bird populations as well as a place where you can enjoy the calmness of nature. Ducks, teals, northern shovelers, herons, glossy ibises, and Kentish plovers as well as the rare ferruginous ducks are only few of the species found here.

Walk around the circular coastal route around the wetland and visit the birdwatching tower of the Axios-Loudias-Aliakmonas Management Authority where you can also enjoy the view of Aliakmonas Delta and the Thermaikos gulf.

For more information on the local ecosystem drive to the Axios Delta information center at the area of Halastra, around 25 km away from the city of Thessaloniki.

Bird watchers and nature lovers, do not miss this!

Naoussa -Vergina 34 km, Vergina -Nea Agathoupoli 32 km, Nea Agathoupoli-Thessaloniki:46 km

 

Do you want to discover more of Northern Greece?

Check out our Eastern Macedonia and Thrace itinerary

 

Axios Delta, an ideal destination for bird watchers