Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki

Here the remote past is in close contact with the bright present, the richest historical heritage of different epochs is intertwined with unique masterpieces of architecture and culture, opening a new page in history of the capital of Northern Greece. The abundance of historical and cultural points of interest, architectural zest, wonderful nature, fantastic cuisine and boundless Greek hospitality are just a small part of what the guests of Thessaloniki meet in this city.

An amazing and multifaceted Thessaloniki fascinates at first appearance. Every corner of the city is steeped in history, and at the same time, the city in a magically easy way maintains a modern pace of life and renovates in tune with the times. Here everyone can find something interesting and, for sure, would like to continue the acquaintance with the city endlessly.   

Specifics of the city

Thessaloniki has a very long promenade, which stretches for about 7 km. It is the center of attraction for locals and tourists alike. On any sunny day a lot of people go out for a walk and enjoy the sea air. Be sure to wait for the sunset! The sun sets behind the majestic Olympus, illuminating the whole city with golden light and gathering delighted spectators.

The diverse city of Thessaloniki skillfully combines antique sites and architectural structures of different times. Among the variety of historical monuments, you will notice the abundance of temples, due to which Thessaloniki is often called “the city of a thousand churches”. Here in 49 A.D. apostle Paul began to preach Christianity to the inhabitants of Greece.

The main temple of the city is the basilica of Saint Dimitry, which was built in the distant IV century. It is dedicated to the patron Saint of Thessaloniki. The church of Saint Sophia, Panagia Chalkeon, the Cathedral of St. Gregory Palamas and many other places of the city are no less remarkable too. They withstood the repeated attacks and natural disasters in order to bring joy and calmness to the believers and pilgrims from all over the world to this day.    

So, welcome to Thessaloniki — the city with abundance of historical monuments, unique architecture, fantastic cuisine and generous Greek hospitality. Let it open in a special way for you, so that the vacation, which you spend here, will bring only warm and positive memories!

History

Thessaloniki was founded in the distant IV century B.C. and has always been considered to be a strategically important point. In different times, the city was a large economic and political centre, being situated at the intersection of the main trade ways, one of which Via Egnatia was — the main road of Ancient Rome, which connected Constantinople and Rome. In the middle of the II century B.C., the city appeared under the rule of the Romans, and after the Byzantine Empire was formed Thessaloniki gained its real significance.   

During next several centuries, Thessaloniki was repeatedly attacked and subjected to siege by the Goths, Slavs, Saracens, Bulgarians and Normans. At the end of the XIV century, the city was occupied by the Turks and later returned to the Venetians, but not for a long time. In 1430, Thessaloniki came into possession of the Ottoman Empire and remained under its reign up to 1912, when the city was won back by the Greeks during the first Balkan War. In 1917, shortly after the liberation of Thessaloniki from the Ottoman rule, the city was seized by a great fire, which destroyed a major part of it, including numerous historical and architectural monuments. It was the reconstruction of the city after this greatest fire that brought a new image to the city, preserved to this day.

Despite the numerous events in the history of this long-suffering city, an incredible variety of historical, architectural and archeological monuments, which carefully preserved traces of the rule of several civilizations, survived in Thessaloniki to nowadays.

How to get

Thessaloniki is the second largest city of Greece. It has a favorable location, which allows tourists to get to it by any means. Some kilometres from the city there is an airport “Macedonia” — one the largest air hubs of the country, which accommodates flights of both local and international airlines. Airline service connects Thessaloniki with Great Britain, Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Austria and other countries.

Taking to consideration that Thessaloniki is a major port city, it is possible to get here by the sea. However, this kind of transport connection is rather low developed: ferries connect Thessaloniki with archipelago of Northern Sporades and Northern Aegean islands, as well as with the major Greek port “Piraeus”, which is located in the southwestern part of Attica, 14 kilometres from Athens. If you arrive by private yacht, you can stay at the port of Aretsou. It is located in the prestigious district of Kalamaria, with easy access to the center of Thessaloniki by cab.

Compared with other countries of Europe, the railway communication in Greece also has a low level of development. The railway lines connect northern capital of Greece with Sophia, Belgrade, Bucharest and Skopje, as well as with the Greek cities of Athens, Edessa, Larissa, Alexandroupolis and Kalambaka. Recently a new high-speed train between Athens and Thessaloniki was launched — it covers the distance between these cities just for 4 hours. 

You can get to Thessaloniki by bus from Turkey, Bulgaria, Albania, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, and also from Athens and almost any Greek city. 

How to move?

Public transport in Thessaloniki is represented by buses — the bus stops anywhere in the city and about 70 bus routes allow you to get easily to any place in the city. The buses are supplied with air conditioners. The routes are planned such a way that some part of the transport is headed for “centre-west” direction and another part — for “centre-east” direction. Traveling by public transport, you should take into account that one-way traffic is customary for Thessaloniki, so you should look for the backward direction bus stops on the parallel streets. Those who would like to see the city without extra expenses can use a tourist bus No.50 — its route includes many places of interest in the city.  

The tickets are sold in a special kiosk or in a vending machine inside the bus. One trip by the city bus will cost 1€. There are special lower rates f you make two or more trips in a certain time. The fare for children under 18 is half that for adults.

If you are going to make several trips by bus, it is worth buying a travel card for several trips. After entering the bus, validate the ticket, even in case you have a travel card. If you buy a ticket from a vending machine, keep in mind that it only accepts coins and does not give change.

Quite soon, it is planned to open the underground in the city — it is a very long-expected event. It was prevented by numerous construction stops, which were a result of discovering of large number of historical sites and artifacts in the places where the subway had to be constructed. 

For those who don’t like to depend on city bus schedule, there is a taxi in Thessaloniki. A blue-and-white car will pick you up from any point and take to the appointed place. You can call the car by phone or use the Free now app; you can also catch a cab in the street or find it at specialized parking lots. If you call a taxi for a certain time, be ready to extra pay for this service, as well as for the idle period while waiting for the client. The fare in Greek taxi also depends on the time of day — at night it is half as much as during the daytime, and it depends on the calendar day — on holidays the rate also increases.    

If you are going to use the transport only to get from the airport to the hotel and vice versa, individual transfer will be a perfect variant for you. You can book it in advance with a fixed price. By the time you arrive to the airport, the driver with the nameplate will be waiting for you in the arrivals lounge. He will guide you to the car, help you with your luggage and then comfortably deliver you to your destination. 

What to see?

An amazing city of Thessaloniki, the appearance of which has been created for thousands of years and now clearly demonstrates the traces of rule of various peoples, is divided into two conditional parts. In the northern part, on the hill, there is an old area of Thessaloniki — Ano Poli, or the Upper City, which miraculously survived after the Great fire of 1917. This area is in stark contrast to the modern part of the city: traditional Balkan architecture with elements of neoclassicism, vivid reminders of the Byzantine past, narrow cobbled streets and, of course, the most important historical sites — the Fortress walls and the buildings of Heptapyrgion and Trigonio, the Vlatadon and Latomou monasteries, the museum of Ataturk and basilica of Saint Demetrios. Here you can find many traditional taverns, small souvenir shops, and the observation decks offer a sweeping view of Thessaloniki and Thermaikos Gulf.

Going down from Ano Poli, the streets gradually widen and lengthen into newer part of the city, which rose from its ashes after the fire that engulfed most of Thessaloniki in 1917. Here among the modern shops and office buildings just on every street you can meet an ancient evidence of different events in the history of the city — ancient Roman Agora, the Arch of Galerius, Rotunda, the church of St. Sofia, the basilica Acheiropoietos, lots of museums and monuments.

Going down to the sea, we appear on the city waterfront — Leoforos Nikis, the most crowded and easily recognizable street of the city, which stretches along the Thermaikos Gulf from the port to the architectural landmark of Thessaloniki — the White Tower. From the promenade, you can get to the main square of the city — the Aristotelous square, which was designed by French architect Ernest Hebrard and became the only embodiment of his unique project of restoration of the city after the fire.  

What to do?

Excursions and attractions

It is not necessary to learn the unusual and very rich in events centuries-old history of one of the major cities of Greece by textbooks or documentaries. Once you set for a walk along the streets of the city, which are impregnated with the spirit of history, as the pictures of the remote past rise to the view.

Here you can see the ancient Greek market square, which is surrounded by the buildings of state establishments and various craft workshops. Next to it there is a two-level forum built in the times of Ancient Rome with a well-preserved spectators seatings of the Roman theatre of Odeon. And here there is a Triumph Arch of the Roman emperor Galerius, built in favour of his victory over the Sassanid Kingdom, and Rotunda — these are the parts of a great palace complex of emperor Galerius. 

Going up the Aristotle street, we get to the basilica of Saint Demetrios. This ancient church, which is dedicated to the patron Saint of Thessaloniki, was built in the distant IV century on the ruins of Roman baths. Nowadays we can see not only a well-preserved building of the church itself but also the crypt under it. The walk along the waterfront will take you to the popular symbol of Thessaloniki — the White Tower. The events of 600 years period float before eyes: the capture of Thessaloniki by the Turks, the construction of the White Tower, Trigonion and other defensive fortifications, the people’s rebellion against the Ottoman rule and terrible bloody executions of the rebels, and then a triumphant liberation from a 500-year domination of the Turkish rule.  

Along the waterfront in a memorial park not far from the White Tower there are monuments to the outstanding Greek figures — the monument to Aristotle on the square with the same name, Alexander the Great and his father Philip II, Eleftherios Venizelos and many others.

In numerous museums, not only historical events come to life but also the traditions of Greek people: Archeological, Museum of Byzantine Culture, Jewish and Ataturk museums, the museum of struggle for Makedonia and the White Tower vividly demonstrate different stages of Thessaloniki history.  

Having walked enough in the northern capital of Greece, you can go on fascinating excursions to the nearby cities and historical monuments of the Halkidiki peninsula. It would be great to visit the archeological park of an ancient town of Dion at the foot of Olympus, spectacular Meteora monasteries, and the Royal tomb of Philip II in Vergina, plunge into the waters of healing thermal springs of Loutra Pozar and breathe in the romance of the impetuous waterfalls of Edessa.      

The rest by the sea

Well, what can be the summer rest without swimming in the gentle sea under the hot sunbeams? Sea breezes, which bring freshness to Thessaloniki from Thermaikos bay, simply beckons to a cozy beach closer to the cool waters of Aegean Sea. 

From Thessaloniki, you can go for the sea rest to one of the beaches on the outskirts of the city. The tourists with children often choose the picturesque beach of Perea or Agia Triada that is situated 20 kilometres from the city. Clear water, golden sand, well-developed infrastructure — there is no better place for a rest with your family! In summer, there is a boat from the center of Thessaloniki: one stop is at the port and another at the White Tower. The trip lasts about 50 minutes. Tickets cost about 7 euros one way. You can buy a 10-trip season ticket for a better price. See more information and buy tickets online at the website.

Just 30 kilometres separate Thessaloniki from Nea Michaniona — a quiet place with amazing panoramic view for a calm rest far away from the city bustle. If you prefer active water sports, go to Angelochori or Epanomi where you will have a wonderful chance to practice windsurfing and kitesurfing. 

Halkidiki peninsula is a real paradise for a beach rest to fit any taste. You can get from Thessaloniki to the most of peninsula resorts even by bus. Among the popular places for rest there are Kalithea, Pefkohori, Hanioti, Nikiti, Vourvourou and others.       

Shopping

For those who like to spend their free time walking in the shopping centres, Thessaloniki is a perfect place. There are two seasons of mega sales and discounts — a couple of weeks in the second half of January and also from the middle of July to the end of summer.  

Right in the centre of the city antique and souvenir shops are situated, as well as the shops of brand clothes, shoes, sports goods, perfumes and even children’s toys. The main trade centres are located in a square that is bounded by the streets of Tsimiski, Mitropoleos, Egnatia, they are crossed by Venizelou and Agias Sofias streets. Tsimiski is the most popular street with famous brands like Zara, Marks & Spencer, H&M, Benetton. At the intersection with Aristotle Square there is Notos Gallery shopping center, where you will find Gant, Lacoste, Nautica, Desigual and others. On Mitropoleos Street there are mostly premium brands: Max Mara, Pinko, Dsquared...although you can also find Greek boutiques.

On the outskirts of the city there are large trade centres. On the east side, near the airport, are Mediterranean Cosmos and Mega Outlet, and on the west side of town is the brand outlet One Salonica.

Do you like to buy local delicacies? The largest market in Thessaloniki, Modiano, is located in the center. It was renovated in 2022 and immediately became a famous landmark. Here you can buy food from local farmers such as fruits and vegetables, honey, olives and olive oil, spices, wine, cheese. On the top floor is a food court.

Next to Modiano is the more traditional Kapani food market. There you will find a large selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, seafood, meat and olives.

Holidays and events

Since the Greeks are committed Christians, the holy days are celebrated everywhere and by everyone. The largest of them are Easter, Dormition of the Theotokos, Protection of the Theotokos, Christmas and no less important day for all the citizens — the day of patron Saint of Thessaloniki Demetrios Solunski, when the day of the city is also celebrated. The major national holidays are October 28 — the “Ohi Day”, which is an anniversary of refusal given in response to the Italian ultimatum, after which the country entered the World War II. One more holiday is parad of military equipment and public festivals on March 25 — on the Independence Day, the anniversary of the beginning of rebellion against the Ottoman rule in 1821. Christmas and New Year holidays are celebrated with great eclat, keeping up vivid local traditions and customs.       

In addition to the national and calendar holidays, various carnivals and festivals take place in Thessaloniki. The carnival season starts three weeks before Easter and it is a wide-scale and vivid event all over Greece. One of the new and unusual events taking place in Thessaloniki is Koudunofori — a festive procession with music, dancing and singing, during which the Greeks are dressed into national costumes with little bells ringing in all kinds of ways.   

The annual film festival gathers talented young filmmakers from all over the world in the northern capital of Greece and it is one of the major events of Balkan peninsula.

Where to stay?

Most of the holidaymakers who came to Thessaloniki for their vacation prefer to stay at a hotel. More than 100 hotels of different comfort levels offer the guests of the city a comfortable service and acceptable prices. Among the most popular five-star hotels are Makedonia Palace, Electra Palace Thessaloniki, The Met Hotel, Excelsior, Daios Luxury Living and many others. For the guests with more simple requirements to the living conditions there are hotels of three-star and four-star level in Thessaloniki, many of them are situated directly in the centre of the city — for example, Hotel Olympia Thessaloniki, Anatolia Hotel, Astoria, City Hotel Thessaloniki. Recently there have been many small boutique hotels with excellent service: Bahar Boutique, Colors Urban Hotel, Antigon, Blue Bottle, The Caravan, Zeus is Loose.

Those who are coming for a long term, often rent apartments. This variant of vacation is very popular among the holidaymakers with families or big companies.

It is advisable not to choose a place to stay that is much to the west of Aristotle Square (which is the center of the city). Dimokratias Square can be a reference point. Draw a mental line perpendicular to the sea and choose areas east of it. Although to the west there are many attractive proposals, keep in mind that the areas there are more depressed and disadvantaged. Also, if you do not like ascents, look below Agiou Dimitriou Street.

What to taste?

Without tasting traditional Greek dishes it is impossible to consider your trip to Thessaloniki a complete vacation. Almost in every dish there are vegetables, herbs, olive oil, as well as meat and seafood. By the way, it is generally accepted in Greece that the client can choose himself a fish or any other product for cooking just before it will be cooked. The largest variety of seafood dishes you can find in fish taverns, which most often are located on the coast.

Among the traditional dishes it is certainly necessary to taste small kebabs “souvlaki” which are cooked from lamb or pork, and also baked lamb ribs “Paidakia”. If you want to have a bite on the run, you can order “Gyros” — a local type of shawarma, which is cooked in a flat cake with addition of French fries. As for soups, the Greeks prefer lentil “fakes” and haricot soup “fasolada”. Among the snacks, it is worth to taste “tirokafteri” from cheese with hot pepper, squid “kalamarakia”, “taramasalata” from smoked cod caviar with olives and herbs, as well as snack-sauce “tzatziki”. The salad that we use to call “Greek” here is called “horiatiki”. Besides it, order a traditional “moussaka” — eggplant, minced meat, tomatoes, potatoes and cheese under the “Bechamel sauce”. And of course you can’t do without traditional confectionery and desserts — honey balls “loukoumades”, pudding of rice, dried fruit and nuts “Rizogalo” and baklava, which according to the rules must consist of 33 layers of dough. Popular stiff drinks include anisette “ouzo” and new wine “retsina”. Among hot drinks, the Greeks prefer various kinds of coffee.

There are many places in the city where the dishes of traditional Greek cuisine are perfectly cooked. The major part of these establishments are situated in the historical area of the city Ladadika, where among numerous cafes, taverns and restaurants you can choose a nice place to relax and have a delicious lunch. During the day, the aromas of delicious Greek dishes fill the air; live music sounds from everywhere and invites guests to enjoy a fantastic lunch. And in the evening Ladadika turns into a large youth night club with lots of dancefloors and bars.   

Many modern coffee shops, fast foods and amazing sweetshops are located around the Aristotelous square. Taverns on the Afonos square and in the narrow streets near Kapani Market are popular with locals. Not far from the market we also recommend Rouga Tavern: it is located in a small alley, which only a knowing person can find, and offers a cozy traditional interior combined with classic dishes in a slightly unusual version. Stop by Tsir Tsir Meze as well. It serves both delicious regular-sized dishes and small "meze," that is, appetizers. Thus, you can try many different dishes a little at a time. Everything is very tasty and quite budget-friendly. And if you walk into the "corridor" between the buildings, you can find a whole "secret" street with small eateries. It looks very authentic!

Are you near the White Tower? Just a couple of years ago a pedestrian street appeared here, on which, of course, restaurants have settled. We recommend the To Elliniko Tavern. Not far away, in the area behind the church of Agia Sofia you will find a lot of interesting cafes and bars, like for example Donkey Garden, which specializes in breakfast and brunch. And if you set for a walk along the streets and places of interest of the old city to the district of Ano Poli, then you will have a chance to enjoy a delicious lunch in one of traditional taverns with a sweeping view of Thessaloniki, Thermaikos Gulf and mount Olympus. Orient yourself to Ektos Ton Teixon.

For the inhabitants of the eastern districts and Kalamaria in particular, there are their own places of gastronomic bliss. Sofouli Street offers elegant restaurants for a delicious dinner in a pleasant environment. Want to dine right on the edge of the sea? Head to Miami near the port of Aretsu. You'll love not only the romantic atmosphere, but also the exquisite dishes of the freshest seafood: langoustine tartare, lobster ceviche, scallops, tuna, seafood pasta...and much more. Not far away is Remvi Restaurant. Enjoy the luxurious atmosphere and great food: mussels in sauce, oysters, grilled cheese in a crispy crust with jam, spaghetti with shrimp are our favorites. Mavri Thalassa is also known for its excellent quality and variety of flavors.

Useful info

Want to be always online and have the Internet at your fingertips to navigate your way around? You can buy a SIM-card in the mobile phone shops in Thessaloniki. The most popular are Cosmote and Vodafone. For this, you need a passport or any other ID document. Better choose the prepaid plans which called kartokinito: when buying, a part of the sum is withdrawn by the operator, and the rest of money is placed on your account.You only need to pay by buying the necessary communication package, recharging the account yourself through the app.

Free Wi-Fi and the one without a password can be found almost in any cafe. To start using it you need to ask the waiter or manager of the establishment for password. 

In Thessaloniki it is not necessary to have a car to get around or even take a cab. The most beautiful buildings, the most interesting restaurants and attractions are located in small streets that are easier to explore on foot.