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Five Must-Try Snacks in Thessaloníki


Include a classic rail journey from Zurich to Interlaken on your next trip to Switzerland

Image: Yadid Levy


Tour the sweetest treats in Greece’s second-largest city.


I came for the bougatsa. The flaky breakfast pastry – traditionally made with phyllo dough that’s rolled, tossed, and turned until it’s thin enough to see through, then filled with custard cream and baked – is one of the most sought-after treats in Thessaloníki, and Bougatsa Bantis, a tiny shop up the hill from the waterfront, is the best place to try it. I ordered all of the four flavors on offer, savoring every strata of crunch.


Overlooking the Thermaic Gulf in northern Greece, Thessaloníki is the country’s second-largest metropolis, but its first UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy – an honor it earned in 2021, thanks to a culinary reputation marked by centuries of aristocratic, conquering, crusading, and immigrant inhabitants and their melting pot of recipes and traditions. While the surrounding remnants of ancient civilizations and archaeological sites such as Meteora and Pella remain well preserved, Thessaloníki’s food scene constantly reinvents itself, while always staying true to its roots. Those bougatses are just one of many delicious layers to uncover.


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Thessaloníki’s seafront promenade.

Yadid Levy


Thessaloníki is becoming more popular with North American travelers, says Mina Agnos, president of Virtuoso tour connection Greece by Travelive. “The city is very Greek,” Agnos says, “but its diverse history – from Frankish and Ottoman settlers to Arab traders and Jewish people fleeing the Spanish Inquisition – comes through in the culture and cuisine.”


My stay in Thessaloníki was short – a stop on my family’s spring-break road trip through the Balkans – but I packed it with pastry. Fortunately for me (and travelers aboard one of the many ships that call on the city during Greece- and Turkey-centric sailings), Thessaloníki’s best restaurants are mostly concentrated in the walkable Old City along the waterfront, making this delicious snacking – and dining – crawl an easy endeavor.


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A Bougatsa Bantis pastry.

Yadid Levy


Pastry Pioneers: Bougatsa Bantis


Dimitris Bantis opened Bougatsa Bantis in 1969, setting out to make the Byzantine-era pastry recipes his father brought to Thessaloníki in the 1920s as a refugee from Turkey. His son, Philippos, runs the shop today, one of the few bakeries in the city that make their own dough by hand daily. While Bantis also sells a few other sweet and savory pies, it’s the bougatsa you’re here for. The shop makes four traditional flavors – semolina custard, mixed cheeses, ground veal, and spinach with leeks – daily, but on the weekends, it adds more-creative options to the rows in the glass display cases, such as figs with wine and Gruyère-like graviera cheese, or chocolate and tahini.


Dessert Goals: Trigona Elenidi


In 1959, Pontic Greek refugee Georgios Elenidis tried to boost business at his family’s milk shop by turning his product into a satiny custard, which he sold in syrup-dipped cones of baked phyllo. It worked, and today, the trigona rivals the bougatsa as one of Thessaloníki’s most beloved pastries. In Trigona Elenidi’s minimalist shop along the wide waterfront promenade, I ended up in line behind parents ordering a box of 30 for a party, their kids ogling the empty, palm-size triangles on the marble counter, watching as each one was piped full of custard to order. That made-to-order ethos cements the shop’s reputation as the first and best, keeping the pastry crisp enough to shatter into the pillow of thick, rich filling.



Agora Modiano.

Yadid Levy


Hall of Treats: Agora Modiano


After a massive fire in 1917 destroyed a swath of Thessaloníki, the star of the city’s ambitious rebuild was the sprawling Agora Modiano, its first covered food market. For decades, the cathedral-esque space (the market was built over a former synagogue) served as a culinary core before vendors gradually began to close in the early 2000s as the building fell into disrepair. The market reopened in 2022 following an extensive renovation, inviting visitors to once again stroll beneath its steel-and-glass ceiling and browse some 45 shops, including En Karpo, known for its cookies and almond pastels, and the Chatzis Dessert Shop, one of the best spots for hanum burek, a flaky cinnamon and walnut pie.


Fresh off the Block: Mia Feta


At the world’s first feta bar, the flights come on cheese platters, not in wine glasses. The space is the creation of the Kourellas family, who founded Greece’s first organic dairy in 1960 and opened Mia to showcase its locally produced cheeses. The family’s famous feta is featured throughout the menu – crumbled and smoked with fava beans and wild greens, whipped into a mousse in a nettle risotto – but diners can also sample lesser-known local cheeses in tastings arranged by age, animal, and style. Thick, spreadable anevato cheese shone in a dish of veal carpaccio with tomato marmalade and balsamic vinegar cream, then showed up again later for dessert: a platter of five kinds of cheese, including a nutty, cave-aged graviera, the same style Philippos Bantis puts into his fig bougatses.


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The fifteenth-century White Tower.

Yadid Levy


Dinner Theater: Olympos Naoussa


Thessaloníki faces the water, its buildings perched on a hillside like audience members in an ancient amphitheater. The star of the show each evening is the sun sinking over the Thermaic Gulf, and the best seats are at Olympos Naoussa. The fine-dining stalwart was the city’s go-to for prominent families and glamorous visitors between 1927 and 1993 (save for a brief interlude when German forces used it as a cabaret hall during World War II). New owners gave the space a thorough makeover in 2022, carrying on the name and paying homage to the building’s original belle epoque design. My glass of salmon-hued xinomavro matched an early stage of the sunset, and the sun’s rays glinted off a brass Sputnik chandelier as servers in starched coats poured white asparagus velouté over scallops tableside. Later, I ordered an armenovil – a caramelized almond semifreddo over a crisp golden cookie that the menu described as a deconstructed nougat. The dessert, a spin on a local favorite ice-cream cake, was a proper finale for a Thessaloníki introduction.


How to Get to Thessaloníki


Greece by Travelive




Virtuoso advisors can work with on-site tour connection Greece by Travelive to arrange bespoke travel in Thessaloníki – the city is often part of a northern Greece ancient history deep-dive or an Athens add-on. Spend a few nights at the new 127-room One&Only Aesthesis on the Athenian Riviera, then hop a one-hour flight to Thessaloníki for museum visits, market tours, and private pastry tastings. Departures: Any day through 2025.   


Crystal




Dive into Greece and Turkey on Crystal’s 17-night Istanbul-to-Athens sailing. The 740-passenger Crystal Serenity stops for an overnight in Thessaloníki, where travelers can head to nearby Pella or Mount Olympus or strike out on their own for bougatsa. Additional calls include Kusadasi, Mykonos, Páros, and more. Departure: May 2.


Celebrity Cruises



A full day in Thessaloníki is one of six calls on Celebrity Cruises’ seven-night Greece-centric voyage, round-trip from Athens on the 2,170-passenger Celebrity Infinity. Cruisers take a cooking class in Mykonos, stay late in Santorini to see the sunset, and sip tsipouro (a grape-distilled spirit) in Volos. Departures: Multiple dates, May 25 through August 17.


Viking Ocean Cruises



Viking Ocean Cruises’ ten-night round-trip-from-Athens jaunt in the Aegean on the 930-passenger Viking Venus focuses on Greece’s ancient treasures. A low-season departure translates to fewer crowds at the Acropolis and on Santorini’s narrow streets, while a day in Thessaloníki allows time for visits to the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Aigai or a guided tour focused on exploring the city’s Jewish heritage. Departure: February 3, 2025.



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