What to do in Athens and Thessaloniki: A guide to Wizz Air Abu Dhabi's first destinations

The airline will fly direct from Abu Dhabi to the Greek cities, with fares from Dh129

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi will being flying on Friday, January 15, after delaying launch plans due to the pandemic.

The low-cost airline has earmarked the Greek capital of Athens as its inaugural destination and flights are already on sale with low-cost fares from Dh129.

Filled with ancient history, sandy beaches and Mediterranean cuisine, Greece is open for tourism so long as travellers have a negative Covid-19 test result and complete a passenger locator form.

Wizz Air Abu Dhabi will fly to Athens twice weekly, on Mondays and Fridays. Low-cost fares from Abu Dhabi include fees and one carry-on bag, but if you want to take more luggage, you'll have to pay extra.

The airline will also be flying to Greece's second-largest city as its next destination. Flights from Abu Dhabi to Thessaloniki are set to begin just a few weeks after the airline's launch, on Thursday, February 4. Fares to the Greek port city will start from Dh149 for a one-way flight and will operate twice weekly on Thursdays and Sundays.

What can you see, eat and do in Athens?

An ancient city that is considered the birthplace of western civilisation, Athens is fewer than six hours from the UAE by plane.

With something for everyone, Athens also has a near perfect year-round climate. It’s a popular choice for a city break that fuses archaeological sites with contemporary cultural attractions, not to mention some of the world’s best cuisine.

History-laden Athens is home to world-renowned sites such as the Acropolis, the Pantheon and the Temple of Poseidon. Hike up Filopappou Hill for sunset views over the Acropolis then head to Lycabettus Hill for views that reach all the way to the ocean.

Athenians also love art and there are plenty of theatres and musical hubs in the city for those craving culture. Wander around Thissio, with its street art and wall murals, or explore Psiri, a district thriving with galleries, studios, taverns and coffee shops. Athens is also one of the few European capitals to have a coastline. The majority of sun seekers head to the other Greek islands, but there are lots of sandy coves and pebbled shorelines for travellers that want a day at the seaside in the country’s capital.

Why travel to Thessaloniki?

Greece's second largest city is first when it comes to food. In keeping with what the country is known for, the port city offers travellers plenty of historic sites but also has a thriving reputation as one of the country's best places for foodies.

The walkable city spans the coastline of the Thermaic Gulf and has plenty to offer visitors. Wander the salt-weathered streets to see Byzantine churches, Roman ruins and Unesco-listed landmarks. Don't miss the Hagia Sophia, one of Greece's most famous churches.

Known across Greece as the place to go for the biggest variety of cuisines, the city’s gastronomy blends Greek, Slavic, Ottoman and Arabic flavours. For some worthwhile shopping, head to Tsimikis Street which is filled with boutiques and independent stores. Finally, views to remember await at Eptapyrgio Castle. The ancient fortress is perched on a hilltop and offers daytime views as far as the eye can see or night-time vistas peppered with twinkling city lights.

Here are five other destinations Wizz Air Abu Dhabi previously said it plans to fly to:

Larnaca, Cyprus: Best for beaches and Cypriot hospitality

Larnaca is typically used as a jumping-off point for the rest of the country, but stay a while and you’ll discover the city has its own charm. Wizz Air Abu Dhabi previously said it would fly twice per week to the port city in the south of Cyprus.

Larnaca has some fabulous beaches thanks to a 75-kilometre coastline with sandy spots, perfect for family seaside trips, as well as beaches ideal for kitesurfing, windsurfing and jet-skiing.

The city is also conveniently compact, which makes sightseeing fun. Visit Larnaca Castle and stop at the Church of Saint Lazarus – don’t miss the Hala Sultan Tekke, an ancient mosque on the west bank of the Larnaca Salt Lake. In fact, this entire region is a good day trip, and consists of four lakes that are a popular feeding ground for pink flamingos in the winter months. The rest of the year, there are good hiking opportunities and worthwhile views across to Stavrovouni Mountain.

Divers can also find favour in Larnaca with its pleasant year-round sea temperatures and the Zenobia Wreck, one of the best wreck dives in the Mediterranean. Outside the city boundaries, the region of Larnaca is dotted with picturesque villages and stunning countryside views. And everywhere travellers go, they‘ll be met by warm Cypriot hospitality that typically comes with lashings of traditional cuisine inspired by Arabic, Greek and Turkish fare – eating in Cyprus is serious business.

Yerevan, Armenia: Best for adventure and value for money

The pink city, as Yerevan is nicknamed, is Armenia’s intricate capital where al fresco European cafe culture and tree-lined boulevards sit side by side with age-old taverns, Soviet-era architecture and a vintage car scene that rivals Havana.

The landlocked city is just more than four hours from the UAE capital by air, and Wizz Air Abu Dhabi previously said it planned to fly there twice a week.

As far as city breaks in Europe go, Yerevan offers some of the best value for money coupled with an impressively efficient metro system that makes sightseeing around town a breeze.

It’s swathed in history with remnants of ancient empires ripe for exploring, but without the crowds many other European cities attract. Visit historical treasures such as Republic Square with its pink-toned buildings that earned the city its moniker, or the Matenadaran – home to the world's largest repository of Armenian manuscripts. The Unesco World Heritage-listed Geghard Monastery is also worth a trip.

Yerevan is a growing contender in Europe’s adventure travel circuit and has plenty to offer those seeking outdoor thrills. From the country’s longest zip-line where visitors can speed through the air at 140 kilometres per hour, to paragliding, mountain biking and hiking. Caving is also on offer at Mozrov Cave, which features 700 metres of underground exploration filled with stalactites, stalagmites, columns draperies and rim stone dams.

Alexandria, Egypt: Best for history-steeped exploration

The Mediterranean port city of Alexandria has an extraordinary history that is well worth exploring and flights from Abu Dhabi to Borg El Arab will take four-and-a-half hours when the low-cost airline launches the route.

Founded by Alexander the Great and loved by Queen Cleopatra, the city is home to the Lighthouse of Alexandria, once considered one of the seven wonders of the world. The Great Library in Alexandria – previously torched and rebuilt – was considered the source of human knowledge. There are archaeological sites, museums and mosques aplenty, but history aside, there’s lots more to do in Egypt’s cultural capital.

Head to the corniche, a waterfront promenade that stretches along the Mediterranean Sea and truly comes alive in the evening. Visit Mamoura Beach for traditional seaside vibes and a stroll along the cobblestone boardwalk. Scuba divers can explore history beneath the waves with dive sites offering ancient wrecks and ruins from the pharaohs, Romans and Greeks. And a trip to Egypt wouldn't be complete without a shopping stop at the souk. The city's Souq District offers rows upon rows of stalls, shops and stands selling everything imaginable – just don't forget to bargain.

Odessa, Ukraine: Best for coastal Black Sea vibes

Ukraine’s Odessa used to be the cultural centre of Soviet Russia and is now a thriving summertime playground filled with fascinating architecture that looks more Mediterranean than eastern European. The flight time from Abu Dhabi is five and half hours.

Entirely walkable, travellers planning a trip should pack comfortable footwear and head out to visit the Duke monument, Deribasovskaya Street and the Mother-in-Law footbridge, where you can hang your own love padlock. Don’t miss the city’s most famous landmark – the towering concrete Potemkin Steps, which sweep right down to the Black Sea – and sample traditional food, such as the vivid purple Ukrainian Borscht. Culture fans will want to check out Odessa Opera House. This Italian baroque-style theatre is the oldest in the country, the original building dates back to 1803.

When it comes to beaches, there are plenty to choose from. Arcadia is the most famous and located in the nightlife centre of the city. For more laid-back vibes, try Chernomorska Riviera Beach or Cleaton Beach in the Frantsuz’ky boulevard.

Kutaisi, Georgia: Best for canyons, cathedrals and cable cars

Less touristy than Tbilisi or Batumi, Kutaisi in Georgia's west is a charming city that is carving its niche on the international tourist trail. From Abu Dhabi, flights take four-and-a-half hours to the capital of the Imereti region – an area that's famous for its beautiful landscapes and ancient heritage. There's a lovely year-round climate with August to October being the driest months and summertime a good pick for balmy outdoor evenings.

History buffs will love Kutaisi, with its wealth of places to discover. Start at the centuries-old Bagrati Cathedral, perched on a hilltop overlooking the city. On the outskirts of the city, Gelati Monastery is also worth checking out. The building was built between the 12th and 13th centuries after it was ordered by King David, Georgia’s most powerful royal. Back in the city, get a bird’s-eye view of the glistening Rioni river at sundown as you travel by Soviet era-style cable car to the retro-steeped amusement park. The park is nothing special, but the ride up and back is definitely worthwhile.

One of the city's biggest tourist attractions is the Prometheus cave. Located 40 metres below sea level, the 1.8-kilometre cave is a place to go underground boating and visit the "hall of love" – a cavern that's also used as a local wedding venue. Canyoning trips to Martvili with its waterfalls and Okatse with its skywalks are must-dos for adventure seekers.