Discover our tour of Macedonia in Greece.
You can’t separate them: Macedonia and Alexander the Great go hand in hand, and Alexander will always be in the first breath of any discussion of why you should come. But did anyone tell you how beautiful his kingdom is? Rugged mountains, their steep slopes thick with trees, make it a tough land to dominate, hard to weld together. They provide a perfect backdrop for the fertile plains of the Macedonian lowlands, the core of the ancient kingdom, a place to develop a deep and distinct culture and produce fine treasure. Beyond the plains there are the deep blue waters of the Aegean Sea, inviting for us, and a gateway to the islands, but often a threat for Macedonians. And there you have the twin attractions: desperately beautiful country with a history threaded with triumphs and turbulence as Macedonians alternately rise to political and cultural dominance or fight invaders – or each other – for the wealth of the land.
It was this dividable land that was definitively brought together and harnessed by King Philip II of Macedon. Our tour will show you the scale of that achievement, right up to the very spot of his dramatic end. You’ll see where Alexander spent his formative years in his father’s kingdom and the wealth that surrounded their Argead dynasty, the profits of conquest fit for the warrior descendants of heroes.
Between the sun-drenched beaches and the snow-dusted mountains, Macedonia has a wealth of sites, well-known and obscure, not only from the time of Philip and Alexander but also of their distant ancestors, and those of the later masters of the region – Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders and Ottomans. As well as world-famous highlights like the royal tombs at Vergina and the embattled imperial splendour of Byzantine Thessaloniki, you’ll come to the great sanctuary of Zeus at Dion in the shadow of Mount Olympus and the towering ruins of Philippi with its enormous Late Roman basilicas. They are matched by a throng of lesser-known marvels: one of Europe’s oldest lake settlements at Dispilio, the seat of long-forgotten Iron Age warrior kings at Aiani, and a marvellously-preserved Classical Greek island city on Thasos. You’ll explore the remains of private homes, two millennia old and more, room by room at Olynthos, a great late Classical city doomed at Philip’s hands; you’ll be entranced by a medieval fairytale town rising from a misty lake at Kastoria – and so much more…but for the rest, you’ll need to give in to the temptations of reading the itinerary…
Following the principles of our acclaimed Exploring tours, the best-prepared land tours available, Peter Sommer Travels has crafted an unforgettable itinerary in this extraordinary part of the world, a tour ideal either for the first-time visitor to Macedonia, or as a profound deepening of the experience, revelatory even for those who have travelled there before. Meticulous attention has gone into every detail: superb accommodation in selected characterful locations, fascinating in their own right; excellent meals that reflect the full spectrum of the local tradition, wine-tastings highlighting this ancient product of the area, and a succession of site visits offering insights into the breadth of the region’s culture and history, eagerly brought to you by our trademark team of expert guides.
In addition to our scheduled tours of Macedonia, we also offer bespoke private tours of this wonderful region, just as we do for all of our tours in Greece.
Our tours receive an average rating of 5 out of 5 from 754 reviews, according to AITO reviews.
Day 1: Arrival in Thessaloniki. Transfer from the airport (about 30 minutes away) to our hotel in the impressive historic centre, the political and cultural capital of Northern Greece. Our welcome dinner takes place in the midst of twenty-three centuries of rich history.
Day 2: After temporarily saying goodbye to Thessaloniki, we explore the heartland of ancient Macedonia, the lands that became the core of her power under Philip II. Our first stop is not far. A hidden gem in unprepossessing industrial surroundings: our first Macedonian tomb and one of the finest, its brilliantly-preserved subterranean façade vividly painted with images of warriors and nobles at a feast.
We move on to Pella, the city chosen by Philip as his capital, the birthplace of Alexander. This carefully-planned city illustrates the new ambition of Macedonia, with vast, refined houses orbiting a huge and extravagant agora. We’ll take in the excellent site museum, including the famous pebble mosaics with their evocative celebration of the hunting prowess of Macedonia’s transformative generations.
We then drive to our next base, the ancient city of Edessa, set on rocky heights from which waterfalls fountain forth over a glorious plain artistically broken by rugged green hills: a perfect vista to gaze down over.
Day 3: We explore Macedonia’s southern frontier, an often-contested route into and out of the kingdom as the balance of power shifted.
A leap forward in time leaves us in no doubt that the embattled nature of this region remained a constant long after the ancient world. We visit the brute mass of the sprawling crusader castle of Platamon, latched onto a great crag overlooking the coast. Here, we first encounter the shattering of the Byzantine Empire by the Fourth Crusade which would see Macedonia bear the brunt of decades of strife, for which Platamon offers a potent symbol.
After lunch, we return to the days of ancient Macedonian power at the royal ceremonial and religious centre of Dion, a great city dominated by the eastern slopes of Mount Olympus. Under the gaze of Cloud-Gathering Zeus himself we visit this enormous site, filled with shrines and temples, some still being excavated. We see many of the already uncovered monuments, including the theatre where Alexander first assembled his troops and sought divine favour for the fateful expedition that would plunge into the empire of the Persians and change the world forever.
Day 4: To understand Macedonia’s early history, and the scale of the task its kings had of welding the country together, you have to leave the plains. And so we head into Upper Macedonia and what was once the capital of the semi-independent kingdom of Elimia, Aiani. Reading the ancient historians, one could come away with the impression these fringe territories which proved so difficult for the Macedonian kings to control before the fourth century were barbarous, backward and wild. Our visit to Aiani’s excellent museum quickly shows this isn’t the case: the splendid artefacts here, and the royal tombs not far away, show these kingdoms had much more to them than we once thought, and make their role in Macedonian history far more explicable.
After lunch in Aiani, we drive on towards our next base, Kastoria. But there’s time for a stop first at Dispilio, one of the most extensively-studied prehistoric settlements in the country where lakeside houses on the tranquil shores of Orestiada, now visible as full-scale reconstructions, revealed organic material dating back to its Neolithic occupation over millennia, 8,000 to 5,000 years ago.
Shortly after, we reach Kastoria, further up the lake, wreathed by hills and studded with tiers of wonderfully aesthetic historic houses. We stay the night in traditional Ottoman-era mansions amid this almost unbelievably charming ensemble.
Day 5: Kastoria is on a near-island in the lake, a tree-strewn verdant neck of land set delightfully ablaze by a spill of red terracotta-tiled roofs. Its position at the very edge of the Byzantine Empire gave it special political and military significance, leading to its adornment with an astonishing wealth of Byzantine churches from the tenth to fourteenth centuries, distinguished by superb decorative brickwork and a wealth of fresco decoration. We visit some of the finest and also admire the brand-new Byzantine Museum whose excellent displays throw light on this important imperial outpost.
In the afternoon, we stop for a wine-tasting at a famous estate in the Amyntaio region before making our way to Naousa, at the margin of hill and plain. A perfect base from which to view Philip’s kingdom.
Day 6: Now we understand the story of its rise to prominence, we return to the heartland of Philip’s realm.
Here, Alexander spent his formative years, and so our first visit is to the Nymphaion, an idyllic shrine to the water deities at Mieza which Aristotle chose as the school for the prince and other sons of Macedonia’s elite. We’ll experience the space that formed a generation who would go on to found empires and reshape the history of continents, famed not just in war, but for patronising scientists and poets, establishing great libraries and exploring a new, wider world.
We next take in the new Vergina museum, which has an extraordinary range of displays covering Macedonia’s rise to power, including the lavish burials of early rulers from the royal tombs and the magnificently impressive façade of the palace from which its Hellenistic kings ruled.
This might well be enough for a satisfying day, but in some ways is made mere prelude to the overture which follows:
The Tomb of Philip. Undoubtedly one of the greatest highlights of the trip, we enter the great mound at Vergina, laid over the first cluster of royal tombs discovered here by Manolis Andronikos at the end of the 1970s. The subterranean interior, now one of the finest archaeological museums in the world, allows us to visit the unbelievably rich and historically unsurpassed finds laid out right by the tombs in which they were found. Here we came as close as is now possible to the epoch-making Philip, to Alexander’s son and others from the peak of Macedonia power in an absolutely transformative and unforgettable experience. More words would be useless – even alone, this visit will make the tour a once in a lifetime experience.
Suitably stunned, we return to nearby Naousa for dinner.
Day 7: Having seen Macedonia become a rich and powerful kingdom under Philip, we head east for a new base to see how he expanded the kingdom far beyond its old limits. We head into the lovely Chalkidike peninsula and one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece: famed, but doomed Olynthos. An important Greek city which gave Athens and Sparta much trouble, it proved too much of a threat to Philip, who besieged and snuffed it out in 348 BC. The trauma of its abrupt end leaves us with one of the best-preserved classical cityscapes anywhere in Greece, were we can walk its grid of streets through astonishingly preserved houses two and a half millennia old, where citizens lived in peace and comfortable power. Until Philip came.
After lunch on the splendid coast of the peninsula, we head back north and make our way to Kavala, a modern port town with ancient roots, and capped by a splendid mediaeval fortress, to check-in to our hotel.
Day 8: Our day is devoted entirely to the island of Thasos, located just a few miles off the Macedonian coast in the Aegean Sea, which we reach in a captivating crossing, mount Pangaeum and the coast receding as we head for the great green hogsbacked isle over glistering waters and past islets perfectly placed to make the trip a visual treat.
We begin by heading to the southern coast at Alyki, where we’ll find an unusual shrine complex, Byzantine basilicas and a unique sprawling site which was a major source of Thasian wealth: one of her marble quarries. Thasian marble was prized across a wide part of the classical Mediterranean, and we can see the workfaces from which it was won, hewn right down into the sea. The precious cargo and the buildings it made may be long-gone, but the imprint of the workers’ hard toil is everywhere here.
Driving back north beneath the steep and majestic heights of Thasos, we return to Limeni, site of the ancient city. The city was founded by Parian Greek colonists in the seventh century BC, and rapidly became wealthy. Its remains are threaded through the modern town – a city gate with a huge, exuberant relief of a characterful Silenus, a market square bedecked with shrines and temples, and an excellent archaeological museum.
We return to Kavala in the late afternoon, the golden light making the return voyage even more pleasant.
Day 9: We leave Kavala and head north, firstly for one of the most important places of Roman Macedonia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Philippi. Founded by Philip near the mines of Pangaeum, it sprang to the forefront of historical events as the site of the defeat of Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassius, by the triumvirs Mark Antony and Octavian – the future first emperor, Augustus. The city became a Roman colony and we explore its commandingly-sited theatre and sweeping forum, filled with Latin inscriptions and proclaiming the grandeur of its Roman status. The site played another famous part in history through the visit – not trouble-free - of St Paul to one of the earliest Christian communities here. We’ll visit sites linked to that important encounter, and a mass of imposing Roman and Byzantine churches that tell Philippi’s later story.
After visiting a leading winery, we make our way to our new hotel, particularly enjoyed by previous Macedonia Explorers, in the town of Drama.
Day 10: We journey back to the Chalkidike peninsula, this time to its eastern coast and the intriguing remains of an ancient Greek city scattered across a rugged hill over a pretty bay. Great enough in themselves, what makes the remains of Stageira even more attractive for us is that this is the city in which Aristotle was born, and these are buildings which he will have known and entered before us. The city was another of Philip’s victims in 356 BC, but was rebuilt at Aristotle’s request as he became tutor to Alexander. Among the remains is a monument that has recently been suggested as his tomb and hero-shrine, giving us another close encounter with a remarkable man.
After a lunch on the lovely shore below Stageira, we head to a site associated with some other renowned figures of the classical period, the great ancient city of Amphipolis. Set on heights over a great bend in the River Strymon, Amphipolis was an imperial foundation of Athens in the run-up to the Peloponnesian War. Torn from her in a famous battle in 422, it allows us to encounter the Spartan general Brasidas and the Athenians Cleon and Thucydides at close hand. Athens never accepted the loss, and it became a bone of contention with Philip when he took the city in 357. Amphipolis became the centre of Macedonian rule in the east of the kingdom and the place where Alexander marshalled his troops in 334 en-route to his epic campaign in Asia. We see the results in the excellent site museum, including finds from the nearby tours in Greece – huge, enigmatic, mysterious and recently revealed as an exceptional archaeological site.
We return to Drama for a free evening in lovely surroundings.
Day 11: We bid farewell to Drama and head back to Thessaloniki for a couple of days taking in its long and epic history. Founded by Cassander, one of the successors of Alexander, in 315 BC, it has been successively a great Hellenistic city, Roman provincial capital and imperial residence, Byzantine metropolis, seat of a Crusader kingdom and an Ottoman multi-ethnic city and centre of Sephardic Jewish culture, and all have left their traces.
We begin with its Byzantine period, when it was the second city of the great empire, by viewing the mighty fortified citadel high above the city, with sweeping views down to the sea over seemingly endless Roman walls equally impressive for their extent, scale and superb preservation. We descend a little to visit the city’s emotional heart, the basilica church of St Demetrios, which still preserves celebrated decorative traces of its origins in the seventh century. when it was the seat of the city’s hopes and fears as the saint saved the city from siege after siege. After lunch, before checking into our hotel, we visit the city’s wonderful Byzantine Museum, a triumphant display of mediaeval Greek history and culture. Your afternoon and evening are then free to explore one of the greatest of European cities.
Day 12: We step back further into Thessaloniki’s history, beginning with a walking tour of an extraordinary series of related monuments in the historic centre. These all originated as part of an imperial palace complex of the early fourth century built by the emperor Galerius and vast in scope. The imposing Rotonda was perhaps begun as Galerius’ mausoleum, but has a spellbinding interior from its later life as a church, its ceiling lavishly enlivened with remarkable mosaics and drawing our gaze ever upward. We then admire the intricately-sculpted reliefs of Galerius’ arch with its story of imperial triumph – transient, as it turned out for Galerius, but we can tell that tale in front of vivid images of Persian defeat. Finally, we are dwarfed by the huge remains of the central palace complex itself, a labyrinth of halls, baths and audience chambers in towering red Roman brick, all surrounded by the modern city’s busiest quarter.
We then take a very short drive to the Archaeological museum, one of the finest in Greece. The displays are beautifully done and have some truly outstanding finds – it’s almost unfair to single out the amazing Derveni krater and the colossal treasure house of finds from the gold-rich Macedonian tombs. An amply rewarding visit for these new wonders alone, it’s also an ideal place to remind ourselves of the stellar variety of ancient finds and sweep of history we’ve encountered during our time together. No doubt we’ll have a lot to talk about in the evening while enjoying our final meal.
Day 13: The end of our Exploring Macedonia tour. Transfer to Thessaloniki airport as our trip becomes outstanding memories.
I would like to book, what else do I need to know?
For information not covered below please refer to our FAQ’s or contact us directly on firstname.lastname@example.org
Arrival and Departure Information
Arrival Airport – Thessaloniki Airport (Macedonia)
Departure Airport – Thessaloniki Airport (Macedonia)
Check in time at your hotel in Thessaloniki is after 14:00 so we recommend choosing a flight that arrives in the afternoon/early evening. Check out time is 12:00 pm. We will arrange local transfers from Thessaloniki Airport and to Thessaloniki Airport on the first and last day of the tour.
Booking Flights The cheapest way to book flights for our Exploring Macedonia tour is directly with the airline online.
If you prefer to book with a travel agent, we are happy to recommend specialists in a number of countries around the world, please contact our office for more details.
Travel Insurance: We consider adequate travel insurance to be essential. You should ensure that you take out a suitable policy, to make sure that your trip is properly covered.
For UK Nationals, travel to the EU will change from 1 January 2021. Please check the current situation regarding visa requirements before you travel. You can find more information online here.
Citizens of European Union member states, the United States, Canada and Australia do not need to apply for a visa to visit Greece for trips of less than 90 days duration.