During the hot 2019 summer in Sofia, one Saturday morning I went to get a haircut. After, I decided that during this weekend I wanted to have a gyros and walk by the beach. So I go my backpack, passport and went to the bus station. I took the Arda Tur bus to Thessaloniki, the second biggest city of Greece. The bus ride was about six hours, we were at the border for perhaps 20 minutes.
During the ride I booked a hotel in the center. I chose Hotel Luxembourg. It was perfect for my needs as a solo traveler. It's a quite compact hotel with wooden floors. And as Thessaloniki is a city with great nightlife, you might be awoken in the middle of the night by people coming back from the center. It's best to bring earplugs, always. I got a smoking room, which I didn't quite like, nut I was too tired to do anything and just took a shower and went to sleep. Breakfast was fine.
Thessaloniki is on the Thermaic Gulf, in the northwest corner of the Aegean Sea. It doesn't really have a beach, you need to go outside of town for that. Also the boulevard, which is right in the center, is on the water immediately. You could basically dive right in, it was the first time for me to see a city so close to the water. It was great to stroll along the boulevard, and that's where I truly noticed that Thessaloniki is a major city. It has over a million people in its metropolitan area. Likewise, it's Greece's cultural, culinary and transport hub. Being the second city, it still has a lot going for it that Athens doesn't. Arguably, Thessaloniki is nicer than Athens. At least in my experience. It's compact and easily accessible, whereas Athens is probably a place you need to know better. It has a lot going on but you need to 'search' for the spots.
One thing where Athens clearly beats Thessaloniki is its public transport. To be frank, in Thessaloniki the transport sucks. It consists of old buses that are infrequent and don't stick to the schedules. Athens has a fantastic metro and tram that takes you all around. However, Thessaloniki will have a metro line opening "soon". One of these years (2020)? The thing is that with Greece, and especially Thessaloniki, if you start digging you find stuff. So renovations or constructions with underground work always take significantly longer.
The city is indeed really lively. It's absolutely packed with restaurants and bars. Especially the seafood and local specialties are said to be amazing, so don't just settle for a gyros. Or maybe just one. The main boulevad along the sea is always crowded. It goes past the White Tower, the defense tower that's still standing. It was built by the Ottomans in 1430. As for the beach, I visited Peraia. There;s a boat leaving from the White Tower (although I don't know exactly where). I took the bus to go to Peraia (changing at Ikea) and only took the boat back. You can take bus 2, 3 or 8 to Ikea and then change to line 72. Just get off aywhere by the sea that looks nice. The boat goes back from the pier at Marina Neo Epivates and gets you to Thessaloniki (First Pier, then boat probably goes to White Tower and back to Peraia).
The boat trip itself was fantastic, there's a bar on board and they play music. Also there's a quick introduction, an explanation about the area and some jokes from the captain. All a wonderful atmosphere while watching the sunset. A true bargain for 5 EUR. Toilets are available as well.
What else I liked is going a bit uphill and browse by the old city walls. You'll suddenly notice you're high up and have a good view over the city. There are plenty of little churches and restaurants to keep you entertained for the day. Then walk back by the Rotunda Church, a place of worship from Roman times. At night on Sunday I left back for the bus to Sofia. The area around the station is quite shady so best take a taxi, especially at night. Otherwise Thessaloniki is definitely a city I recommend visiting!