A tour guide to discover the hidden places from Thessaloniki

In this interview we meet Giorgos, who studied finance, but decided to become a tour guide in Thessaloniki.

Cities we visit or where we live become postcards in our memory. The postcard of a city or a place can sometimes be more beautiful or more clear thanks to the help of tour guides. They are the ones that know their cities better. They create a secret map, showing historical monuments, but also hidden places. The beauty of Thessaloniki is not about what it shows; it is about what it hides. In Thessaloniki, Giorgos, a tour guide, shares his love for the city with the visitors. 

“Giorgos is obviously in love with his hometown and shows passion in his guiding vocation”

“Giorgios walking tour was really, really nice. He’s a fantastic storyteller and very genial”

“This is a must-do in Thessaloniki! Giorgos is a super knowledgeable, friendly guide and we barely few time passing by walking with him.

These are just some of the 600+ positive Thessaloniki Free Walks reviews on TripAdvisor. So what makes trips with Giorgos only praise? Let’s get to know the local guide… 

Can you introduce yourself and tell me how did it happen that you started your journey as a tour guide?

I studied finance, but I graduated in 2011, and I did one year doing nothing because of the financial crisis, then I found a job in a NGO with refugees and disabled people and in general vulnerable groups. Like the Roma community.

Then, I traveled to Spain, and for the first time, I found the free walking tours concept. I was already into history and I knew some things about my city. So I got inspired and thought why not to do something similar here, in Thessaloniki. And this is when I went to the first hostel, and how it slowly started in 2013.  I did some courses but mainly it was studying on my own.

What do you think about the tourism ministry lading out specific terms and conditions to regulate the tour guide profession?  

It depends on the country. For example in Portugal it’s not like this, it’s a free profession, but over here things are more strict because you need a license to give tours inside the monuments and to give receipts. When you’re outside on the street and you’re not taking, it’s the same like you’re taking your friends and showing them, for example, the White tower. Is it illegal? It always depends. And also that law was voted in 1977. So imagine a law that was voted in 1977 to apply in 2021. It’s not possible.

The other thing is that there is  difference between the tour and the free walking tour.

What is the difference? 

Because on the tour things are very strict. This is this, this is that. The free walking tour, the concept is different.  People come all around the world to interact, to meet each other – because people don’t only come for a tour. They also come to meet other people. And then the local person can show them the city. But not just in a touristic way. Let’s say in social, political, and many, many other ways.

People who go for free walking tours, most of them know what to expect. They don’t expect someone to say, “look this is this building, and it was built this year”.  For them, the more exciting thing is to see how a person lives in the city, how locals see the city – their perspective.

Giorgos shows his love for his city with visitors, Thessaloniki. Credits: Anna Zukowska 

This is a different concept than a professional tour. The other thing that I like about free walking tours, not only in Greece, is that usually there are backpackers. Most of them don’t have the budget, so they cannot afford to give a 40e or 100e for a guide. So why not let this person appreciate that they are visiting through one local that does this in his free time. Let everybody participate, not to exclude someone, because of money. So for me it’s more ethical and more flexible.

And what licensed guides think about the concept of free walking tours?

Some of the licensed tour guides have come for my tours. And specifically, they told me that it’s good that this exists. Because they cannot offer these things, on the other hand, some others don’t like it because of a licensed sector of privileges.

But let’s be honest, the person that will come for the free walking tour will not come for another tour with a tour guide. And it works both ways – the person who will come for a tour guide won’t join a free walking tour. So it’s not that someone steals the job of someone else’s.

And I repeat. It’s a pity for someone to come and not appreciate the beauty of Thessaloniki or another city.

 What do you like about the free walking tours?

The nice thing with these tours is you don’t know who will come. And there are countries that politically they don’t get along with. So for example an Israeli with an Iranian or Israeli with Syrian or let’s say Ukrainian with Russian.

You don’t know who will come. And it happens. They come, and then you see how they interact with each other. And not always but most of the times, the nice thing is that you have a stereotype in your head – he’s Turk , he’s Greek they are going to fight. No! In the beginning there’s a cold atmosphere, at the end of the tour they are like best friends. I have seen that one many times. So it is also a nice thing for me to see what are the stereotypes and what really is valid, what’s true.

Is Thessaloniki a popular tourist destination?

Thessaloniki is a city where people stop to come to another place. For example they come from Sofia. They want to go to Athens. They’ll stop in Thessaloniki. Or because of very cheap flights. Last year we have many Israelis because of the work of the previous mayor and Thessaloniki rich Jewish past. They mostly come in October, when they have many holidays.

But in general, very few people know Thessaloniki from before. They mostly come here to go to the beach – Halkidiki.

Then what is your favourite thing about the city?

First of all it is a city with many young people and it makes the refreshing city, alive city.  And also it’s not so big. It has a sea, it’s not a chaotic city so everything relatively is in a short distance. And the food is very nice. All around Greece food is good but Thessaloniki is considered the gastronomic capital of Greece.

Thessaloniki has a lot of live. Credits: Anna Zukowska 

After more than a year of closing one of the toughest lockdowns in Europe, Greece was one of the first countries in Europe to open up to tourists before the summer season. Can you tell me the difference?

It’s better than last year, but you cannot compare to summers ago. It’s not the same. But for me it is nice. Its not something bad. It’s nice to have these people and to rethink, to do new stuff. It’s not bad.

And there’s another thing – we should not be so dependent on tourism. It’s the second contribution to GDP in Greece, and we should change that one. Honestly, I don’t like it that people consider Greece just as a tourist destination. I like when people come to my country as I like to go to another country. But not like a superior who thinks he owns the place.

 Are there any negative consequences for Greece to be considered only a holiday destination?

Big companies destroying nature just to build big hotels for tourists. We’re destroying our own country in this way. And also why not to be considered a country with good technology or as a good place to work. I don’t like the stereotype that Germany is only  for work and Greece is only for fun. I want to change that one. Not to put every country in the box.

It is just that I don’t like the behaviour of some people that they don’t come for the tour because of their higher-income – I don’t like their perception of Greece as a good place, happy place. It’s a real place, not a paradise. Wherever you go, you have to respect a place.

Giorgos shares the stories of Thessaloniki

The Ano Poli tour which I took witch Giorgos is by far the best free walking tour I have ever participated in. What did I like the most? His authenticity and charisma. He gets in touch with the group very well; he is not afraid of any questions and fully tells the city’s history with real commitment.
Perhaps the best summary is that I liked the tour so much that I took part in it 3 times and now I recommend it to everyone.

If you haven’t done your free walking tour yet, find Thessaloniki Free Walks on Facebook and sign up today!

Post Author: Anna Maria Zukowska

I'm Ana - a ski instructor from Poland, who came to Greece looking for the sun. Hyperactive volunteer, trying to live less waste. I'm stepping out of my comfort zone once again to learn new skills and gain experience.

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