Last Updated on 12/21/22 by Rose Palmer
I was excited to experience the other side of Greece, the Greece beyond Athens and the Cycladic islands in the Aegean.
After a lovely Greek Island cruise followed by a few days in Athens, I was ready to explore Greece off the beaten path. I had read that Halkidiki had its share of Greek historic sights as well as an unlimited variety of beautiful beaches – my perfect combination for an ideal getaway.
Halkidiki is a peninsula in northern Greece that is part of the Central Macedonia region. Off this big peninsula, three smaller peninsula fingers jut out into the Aegean. Each of these smaller peninsula fingers, Mt. Athos, Sithonia and Kassandra, has its own geography and personality that I was eager to discover.
My Halkidiki Road Trip Itinerary
- Day 1 – Travel to Halkidiki from Athens
- Day 2 – Discover ancient history at Olynthos and the UNESCO listed Archeological Site of Philippi
- Day 3 – Explore the beaches of the Sithonia Peninsula
- Day 4 – Take a cruise to explore the UNESCO listed Mt. Athos and then head to the Kassandra Peninsula
- Day 5 – Beach and pool time and a thermal bath
- Day 6 – Relax with more beach and pool time
- Day 7 – continue on to next travel destination
Day 1 – Travel to Halkidiki
I chose to drive from Athens to the Halkidiki peninsula, but it would be just as easy to fly there – the Thessaloniki airport is the gateway for this region of Greece. I picked up a rental car at the Athens airport and then drove the 6 hours to Halkidiki.
The drive was easy, even in the rain. The main motorway that runs between Athens and Thessaloniki is a well maintained, multi-lane toll highway. Speed limits were clearly posted, though I usually did not reach the 120 km/hr (75 mi/hr) max speed. I stayed in the right hand lane and did not mind letting all the faster cars pass me.
The highway was well maintained and had many rest stops available with very modern and clean space age looking rest rooms. Toll stops were frequent but it was easy to pay with my credit card – I just had to make sure I was going through an open lane with an attendant in the booth.
If you do not want to drive, there are also many direct flights from Athens to Thessaloniki, and from there it is an easy and quick 1 hour drive to the Halkidiki peninsula.
The Leonidas Memorial at Thermopylae
Two hours into the drive, I stopped at the Memorial of Leonidas and the 300 Spartans in Thermopylae. The memorial and associated museum was right next to the highway which made it easy to get to.
In 480 BC the pass at Thermopylae became a critical battleground between the small defending Greek army and the massive, invading Persian army. The Greeks were led by Spartan King Leonidas who through his leadership managed to hold off the invaders for three days.
Ultimately, it was the treachery of a local resident who led the Persians via a shepherd trail through the hills which allowed them to get behind the Greek troops. Despite being outflanked, Leonidas and his remaining men fought to the death to protect the pass. Though the Greeks lost this battle, their deaths inspired the rest of the Greek army to eventually oust the Persians from their homeland.
Even though the Battle at Thermopylae happened 2500 years ago, it continues to inspire to this day, providing an example of the heroic persistence of a few against the overwhelming odds of many. The 2007 movie “The 300” was based on these events.
The stop to see the Leonidas statue and the museum was a nice stretch of the legs. The Museum had a modern digital display in English that explained the details of the battle over the course of the three days. The attached café also made for a nice lunch break.
The Philoxenia Hotel
My first day’s drive ended as I checked in to the Philoxenia Hotel, which was ideally situated at the top of the Sithonia peninsula. This was my home for the next three nights as I explored this part of Halkidiki.
The Philoxenia Hotel had everything I needed for my stay. The room was clean and comfortable, the bathroom was updated, there was a small fridge and plenty of charging outlets.
The resort had two pools though I did not get a chance to use them since I was out exploring all day. It was also within an easy walk to the beach which had many beach bars and restaurants.
The resort also offered a large buffet restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The food choices were extensive and seemed to appeal to the varied international clientele that were staying at the hotel.
Day 2 – Discover ancient history at Olynthos and the UNESCO listed Archeological Site of Philippi
A Visit to Olynthos
Just a short 20 minute drive from the Philoxenia Hotel was the archeological site of Olynthos. The reconstructed site shows the orderly layout in which the city was originally designed. Many plaques describe the architecture of the buildings as they would have been when the city was inhabited.
Olynthos was settled in the 7th century BCE and thrived for a few hundred years until it seemed to threaten the power base of the Macedonian King Philip II. In 348 BCE Philip invaded the city, razed it to the ground and sold the population into slavery. The city never recovered after that.
The UNESCO Archeological Site of Philippi
An easy two hour drive from my hotel took me to one of Greece’s most important UNESCO World Heritage sites, another piece of history related to King Philip of Macedon. The Archeological Site of Philippi preserves 16 centuries of cultural evolution that spans three major periods of local history: Hellinistic, Roman and Christian.
It was a pleasant afternoon exploring the ruins and museum and learning about the history of the site. You can read all about my visit in my story Beyond the Archeological Site of Philippi, Greece.
Day 3 – Explore the history and beaches of Sithonia
With about 100 beaches lining its coastline, the Sithonia peninsula is a beach lover’s dream. With only one day to experience its treasures, I had to be selective. A major road circumnavigates the coast of the peninsula and I used this to find my adventures.
My first swim break was at the lovely Koviou beach where I set down my towel and got a taste of the refreshing sea. I then continued my drive and stopped at a few more of the many other beaches that line the squiggly coastline, ending with a fabulous sunset at Karydi beach.
Besides beaches, there is also plenty of history on this peninsula, because this is Greece and there are historic sites everywhere. I made a brief stop at the Basilica of Sophronios in the town of Nikiti to see the remains of a 4th century church with a beautifully preserved floor mosaic.
The ancient castle of Toroni was also a very picturesque location near the point of the peninsula.
You can find all the details of my Sithonia day of discovery in my post Discovering the Best Beaches in Sithonia, Greece, With a Grain of History on the Side.
Day 4 – Mt. Athos and then drive to Kassandra
Halkidiki’s northern most peninsula finger is Mount Athos. Unlike its two neighbors, Mt. Athos cannot be visited easily by tourists and women cannot step foot on land there at all.
Mt. Athos has been a religious and pilgrimage site for the Christian Orthodox church for over a millennium. The mountainous geography houses 20 monasteries that is home to male monks only – females have never been allowed here. Even male visitors are limited each day and need to apply for a permit to see the monasteries in person.
Mt. Athos is also one of Greece’s many UNESCO listed World Heritage sites. Tour boats take tourists along the western coast of the peninsula where the waters are more calm. For me it was an easy drive to the coastal town of Ouranopoulis from where I took a dedicated Mt. Athos tour. The boat cruised along the shoreline and back for about 3 hours and allowed us to see eight of the monasteries from a distance.
To learn all about my Mt. Athos tour, please read my post How to Visit Mt. Athos Greece – Even If You Are a Female.
From Ouranopoulis it was an easy few hours drive to my final Halkkidiki stop – the Blue Bay Hotel on the Kassandra peninsula.
Day 5 and 6 – Pool and Beach time on the Kassandra peninsula
The two days I spent relaxing at the Blue Bay Hotel were a lovely little break in the middle of my busy 4 week Greece tour. The resort had everything I needed: a beautiful and comfortable room looking out over the ocean, an on site restaurant that provided delicious meals all day and two pools with plenty of lounging options.
I did take a little time to drive around Kassandra to get a flavor for this area of Halkidiki, but mostly, I just enjoyed the sun, warm breezes and an occasional dip in the water.
After these two days, I felt rejuvenated and ready to tackle the rest of my very busy Greece travel schedule. Lesson learned – plan some down time in the middle of a long trip.
I’ve written in more detail about my stay at the Blue Bay Hotel in my story My Perfect Two Day Halkidiki Resort Experience.
It was truly a pleasure to tour this lesser traveled region of Greece and discover its historic places, culinary delights and relaxing beaches. I highly recommend adding a trip to Halkidiki to your Greek road trip itinerary.
Day 7 – Travel to nearby Thessaloniki
From Halkidiki, my Greece road trip took me to nearby Thessaloniki where I spent three days exploring the sights in Greece’s second largest city. You can read all about it in my post How I spent a Wonderful 3 days in thessaloniki, Greece.
Please note that my visit to Halkidiki was part of the promo campaign “Urban Centers of Central Macedonia, Greece” and my stay was hosted by the Philoxenia Hotel. All content and opinions are my own and are a reflection of my personal experiences.
Other Greece stories you may also enjoy reading:
Two days on the island of Hydra: My Lovely Two Days on Hydra Island, Greece
A Greek island sailing cruise with Running On Waves: Cruising in Style to the Most Beautiful Islands in Greece
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