Unique Places to Visit Near Thessaloniki, Greece: Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus, the legendary home of the Greek Gods and the tallest mountain in Greece, is starkly visible on a clear day from the city of Thessaloniki. In autumn and winter it gleams in its shroud of snow, but in spring the snow begins to melt, and by summer it is accessible to stalwart climbers. If you visit northern Greece and feel you have the spunk and strength to attempt it, climbing Olympus is a wonderful experience.
First of all, you must plan ahead. Do you want to try to climb it in one day, which is possible only for the fittest individuals, or do you want to make it a two-day trek, and stop about halfway up at a rest house on the way, stay overnight, and summit on the second day? If you are based out of Thessaloniki and try the one-day climb you must leave in the dark hours of the early morning and begin the attempt before daybreak, or you will not be able to make it back down before dark. Even if you plan the more leisurely two-day option you should start early, as at midday the summer sun on the bare-rock parts of the slope is blistering hot.
How to Get There
To reach the base of the mountain from Thessaloniki you take the national highway towards Athens. You will pass the city of Katerini, and then go through a beautiful stretch of road with the Aegean Sea on your left and rolling hills on your right. Clear signs along the highway will lead you to the proper exit, and more signs will guide you along the smaller roads to the parking area at the beginning of the trail.
What to Take
Whether you plan a quick or slow climb, bring plenty of water or you will quickly become dehydrated, and plenty of food because you will get ravenously hungry. There's nothing like a climb up a steep mountain to build up a terrific appetite. And food never tastes so good as when it is a reward for such strenuous effort. Bring a camera, of course, because you will come across terrific panoramic views.
The First Leg
There is a trail and clear signs all the way from the parking lot at the beginning to the summit. On extremely steep slopes steps are carved out of the rock. But that does not mean that it is an easy stroll. It is arduous; in the heat of the sun it can feel like you are walking forever and cannot take another step. The first leg of the climb, about halfway to the top, takes four or five hours, depending on what shape you're in and how fast you can climb. If that's all you can handle and you have no overwhelming desire to get to the summit, you can rest for a few hours at that point and then return. There is a rest house/hostel with a small restaurant. You can buy either packaged food or fresh hot fare; it is expensive, because it all has to be packed in. You can sit and relax and enjoy the view, eat the lunch you have brought and supplement it with food or drinks from the restaurant, and then return.
Onward to the Summit
If you have begun early enough you can continue onward after your rest, another four hours or so, spend a brief time at the summit, and then hike down, hoping to make it all the way before dark. Or you can stay at the hostel, rest up, and summit in the morning with plenty of time left for your descent. The hostel is run by the government, and there is little chance you will find vacancies on the spot; you must book in advance through the Greek government tourist office. Don't expect to find much help on line; the last I checked there was very little help or information. You should write to them or go in to their office yourself well in advance of your trip.
Worth a Try
All in all, though, despite the difficulty of the undertaking, despite the thirst and the hunger and the heat, it is a journey worth taking. Mount Olympus is not just any mountain – it is replete with the residue of mythology. Who could not be moved standing on the site of the home of the gods that helped shape the literature and legend of western civilization? Give it a try. You won't regret it.