Larissa, a river-side farming town in central Greece, has for decades been skirted, if not snubbed, by tourists and policymakers alike as being a city without any particular interest.
The country’s fourth most populous city with its own university, medical school, two hospitals, more than seven specialty museums, dozens of rural villages, Larissa is also a major agricultural center and transport hub linking by road and rail the cities of Volos, Thessaloniki, and Athens.
Add to this that Larissa is also the capital of the fertile Thessaly Region, which in ancient times was known as Aeolia and featured in Homer’s Odyssey. It is thus an uninterruptedly populated city since antiquity, making its archaeological and historical monuments and sites highly sought-after experiences.
And yet, this bustling town of some 282,000 people, including hundreds of university students from across Greece, is still struggling to win over a segment of the millions of travelers who visit Greece each year, and particularly the “favored” neighboring destinations.
Local stakeholders in tourism and trade are now joining forces to change this. On a recent visit to Larissa and the surrounding region, which included the Elassona municipality and Mt Olympus – all part of the Larissa Regional Unit – GTP Headlines had a chance to experience first-hand a fascinating travel destination and learn more about plans to get the word out.
What Do You Know About Larissa?
“People don’t know anything about Larissa, perhaps only that it is the city of coffee,” says Panos Sapkas, Larissa vice mayor of culture and science.
“And yet this is a city of museums, everything from a puppet and national resistance museum to museums dedicated to military veterinary services and culture,” Sapkas tells GTP Headlines.
Indeed, Larissa annually hosts one of the country’s largest storytelling and puppet festivals, an impressive Christmas park, an international film festival, a science festival, the Pinios music festival, as well as an umami festival and a comics fest, to name but a few.
In addition to that, last year, the Chamber Music Society of the New York Lincoln Center filmed a segment of its popular “Live from Lincoln Center” series at Larissa’s ancient theater in the heart of the city.
So Why is Larissa Still Failing to Attract Visitors?
“There are several reasons. First of all, we never really seriously got down to actively promoting the city outward. And hotel infrastructure is also an issue that must be addressed,” admits Sapkas.
“We only started actively thinking about promotion when we decided [in 2015] to vie for European Cultural Capital 2021 [which went to Elefsina]. That said, we are now focusing our efforts on creating a tourism strategy that will be centered on the city’s museums, historic landmarks, and cultural events,” Sapkas tells GTP Headlines.
“Our goal is to promote Larissa as a city break destination which can offer a wide array of cultural experiences most of which are within walking distance while at the same time serve as a base for exploration of the surrounding region,” he adds.
It should be noted that Larissa was the first city in Greece to create a pedestrian walkway, which is also the country’s longest and bustling with life thanks in large part to the hundreds of university students living in town and the sheer number of trendy cafes, stylish bars, and sophisticated restaurants.
Organized by Alpha Marketing Greece, our trip included a day event at the city’s pride and joy, the Diachronic Museum of Larissa, where experts from the areas of culture, archaeology, local government, and tourism discussed ways to formulate a combined tourism product based on Larissa’s cultural routes bringing together the region’s culture, destinations, gastronomy, and history.
The Mt Olympus Connection
Besides its museums, historical sites, landmarks, (and stylish market, I would add), Larissa stakeholders are looking to tap into one of the region’s most famous trademarks: Mount Olympus.
Greece’s highest mountain, the Olympus range with all its boundless beauty is shared by the regional units of Pieria and Larissa and a handful of municipalities.
Elassona is situated at the foot of the great mountain, which according to myth was home to the 12 Greek gods. This municipality, through of great strategic importance in the past due to its key location between the famed Thessaly Plain and Macedonia, is today only starting to claim its piece of the tourist pie.
Speaking to GTP Headlines, Elassona Mayor Nikos Gatsas underlines the importance of cooperation and coordination among local governments in order to successfully promote the region as a whole.
“Achieving cooperation between municipalities needs lots of hard work and a crystal clear goal.”Elassona Mayor Nikos Gatsas
“In order to achieve better results close cooperation among the municipalities of the Larissa Regional Unit, or at least of those around Olympus is vital,” says Gatsas.
Elassona’s 43-year-old mayor believes in synergies.
“Achieving cooperation between municipalities needs lots of hard work and a crystal clear goal,” he tells GTP Headlines, adding that “when people with a vision and love for their homeland work together, miracles can happen”. In the meantime, the Elassona municipality is preparing a promotional tourism strategy to initially reach out to Greek travelers wishing to become acquainted with Mt Olympus, and later to international visitors.