Thessaloniki, ancient Thessalonica, is the second largest city in Greece after the capital Athens. It is located in the north of Greece and for centuries has been an important maritime hub connecting Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and Northern Macedonia.
A city with a modern mentality and in constant ferment: against a historical background, a mixture of cultures that ranges from Greek to early Christian architecture, passing through Byzantine. Thessaloniki offers cultural modernity in full development.
In this sense, the Thessaloniki International Fair and the Thessaloniki International Film Festival are very important. Among the things worth seeing in Thessaloniki, only these two events can attract thousands of tourists from all over the world.
Where is Thessaloniki located?
The second largest city by population, with more than 800,000 people in the entire urban area, Thessaloniki is located in the Greek region of Central Macedonia, in the north of the country. There is also the second main port, second only to the port of Athens.
The city is located at the end of the valley of the Axios River, which connects to the valley of Morava’s River. In the southwest, its borders connect with the Aegean Sea, which contributed to the commercial development of the city. Thessaloniki is home to two prestigious universities, including the largest Aristotle University in Greece.
What to see in Thessaloniki
Proclaimed as the cultural capital of Europe in 1997, Thessaloniki is not only a seaside city, although, of course, its main tourist point is connected with beaches and sea entertainment. It is, first of all, a cultural city, recognizable everywhere thanks to the various influences of different peoples that have dominated it throughout history.
It will be quite easy to find beautiful beaches in front of a calm and stormy sea, perhaps a little away from the port area. But before you learn how to relax, let’s get acquainted with the sights that make the second city of Greece unforgettable. Are you ready to find out what to see in Thessaloniki?
The White Tower of Thessaloniki
The symbol of the city is the White Tower, an ancient castle and a prison with a round base of six floors, built in the 15th century. Its purpose was to protect the city together with the walls from numerous attacks that occurred from the sea.
Inside today you can visit the collection of Byzantine icons and, walking up the steps separating you from the top, admire the panoramic view of the embankment.
Museums of Thessaloniki
A comprehensive overview of the historical and cultural wonders of Thessaloniki can be seen in its museums. Some of them really can’t be missed, here are the ones that are worth a visit.
Opened in 1963, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki recalls the various stages of development of the city and its surroundings since prehistoric times. The entire collection contains objects and various finds discovered throughout Macedonia during various archaeological excavations organized since 1912.
The exhibition is dedicated to the daily life of the inhabitants, so you will also find common objects or interesting paved mosaics used in a historic house in Thessaloniki. The structure is located in a beautiful palace designed by Patroklos Karantinos, an architect who was able to capture the main features of Greek modernism.
The Byzantine Museum
Installed in a building built between 1989 and 1994 by architect Kyriakos Krokos, in 2005 it received the Museum Prize, the first awarded to a museum in Greece. Inside the 11 rooms, numerous finds recall the Byzantine and post-Byzantine period of Thessaloniki, including a room dedicated to educational events organized for the youngest.
National Museum of Modern Art
If you are passionate about art, the museum will surely be interesting to you. Inside you will find more than a thousand works of art, including paintings and porcelain by avant-garde artists of the early 20th century.
The section is also dedicated to contemporary art, which also often organizes temporary exhibitions. The same structure is also responsible for organizing the Biennale of Contemporary Art, an event that has been held in the halls of the museum since 2007.
NOESIS, science center of Thessaloniki
If you think that the museums of Thessaloniki are only historical, you are mistaken. In the southernmost part of the city, you can discover a new area dedicated to science and its Technological Museum.
Almost as a demonstration that Thessaloniki is ready to look to the future, inside the pavilions, you will be able to explore the future with the help of space travel. You will also be able to quickly return to the past with an exhibition dedicated to the technologies used by the ancient Greeks. In the ancient center of Thessaloniki, there are many attractions that we can discover during a walk. Among them are the Galeria Arch, which has a history of almost 1000 years, and the tomb of the same name, located nearby, which cannot be missed. The latter is a Roman mausoleum, built by the order of Theodosius, inside which you can still visit the remains of the ancient palace and the city hippodrome.
Unfortunately, the work done over the centuries has been damaged or lost, but it’s worth going inside to admire the incredible frescoes that seem to have been made quite recently. This place is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A walk in Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki is ideal for visiting even with a simple walk. The city offers areas and attractions that are ideal for hiking. The main attractions are also located within easy reach of each other.
Just a few steps along the streets of Thessaloniki you will find monuments, elegant buildings, museums, as well as many shops, bars, and restaurants. The city of Thessaloniki is growing rapidly, and the number of places where you can spend time between one stop and another is growing year after year. This is facilitated by the metro, which has been under construction since 2006 and will facilitate communication to the most remote areas. Its commissioning, about ten kilometers underground is scheduled for 2023.
The first stop in Thessaloniki is in Valaoritou, a road near the city’s waterfront. In the past, workshops and craft workshops were located on this small avenue, and today, after a complete transformation, it has become a landmark of nightlife. Valaoritou is one of the most fashionable streets of Thessaloniki with clubs, pubs, and restaurants where you can have fun and spend the evening.
These establishments most often offer live music in ideal genres for every taste. From rock to hip-hop, of course, not forgetting jazz, which is becoming increasingly popular among the upper society of the city. The atmosphere is particularly relaxed, although the street is very busy, especially in summer. What makes Valaorita even more interesting is the architecture: here you can see historical and traditional buildings that make the walk even more characteristic.
A stone’s throw away is the Ladadika district, which is developing on the busiest section of the embankment. The district is bordered on the northwest by the port, and on the southeast by the White Tower of Thessaloniki. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Ladadika was an urban landmark for trade, especially wholesale, due to the presence of various warehouses.
For several decades after the Second World War, Ladadike became worse. It has become an unattractive and run-down neighborhood, with dilapidated buildings and crime on the agenda. Fortunately, since the 80s Ladadika has been transformed, thanks to the rules that provided for its protection, given the presence of the White Tower.
Today, historical warehouses have been preserved in Ladadik, which, however, have turned into trendy restaurants, breweries, cafes, and discos. In particular, young people come to Ladadika to take advantage of numerous opportunities for entertainment and recreation.
Gastronomy is interesting. Ladadika offers visitors the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the culinary culture of Thessaloniki. In particular, over the past ten years, street food has developed, an ideal combination of gastronomy and the artistic style of the area.
Moving deep into Thessaloniki, the Upper City cannot be missed. It is presented to tourists as a balcony of Thessaloniki because of its elevated position. Thanks to this, the Upper Town is one of the most picturesque and romantic places in Thessaloniki.
Better accompanied by your partner, the Upper Town offers unforgettable views and historic buildings. There are numerous monuments and churches, including the Church of Santa Caterina and the monastery of Moni Vlatadon among the most characteristic. No less interesting are the Church of the Archangels, the Alaka Imaret Mosque, and the mausoleum of Musa Baba. If you are looking for history, culture, and views, the Upper Town is the perfect solution for you.
St. Athos Square is another landmark of the city’s nightlife and entertainment. We are talking about the main square of Thessaloniki, lively day and night, and located in the heart of the historical center. In particular, Afonos Square is dedicated to trade.
On Mount Athos Square, you can get acquainted with the craft traditions of Thessaloniki, with handmade products, including furniture, clothes, and dishes. However, the most interesting feature is related to gastronomy. Here you can buy the freshest products, including fish, vegetables or fruits, as well as countless spices, which are often the main characters of the gastronomy of Thessaloniki. The food market on Archonos Square is an interesting way to discover the historical Thessaloniki.
Religious buildings of Thessaloniki
There are many religious buildings in Thessaloniki. Don’t miss it. Church of San Dimitrio, patron saint of the city: built in the 4th century and temporarily turned into a mosque from 1430 to 1912. It dates back to the 5th century and was built, according to legend, where the saint was born. UNESCO heritage since 1988, worthy of admiration both from the outside with its facade and bell tower, and inside, where you will find numerous mosaics telling about the life of San Dimitrius.
But the real pride of Thessaloniki is undoubtedly the Hagia Sophia, an impressive example of Byzantine art, glorifying the greatness of Irene of Byzantium, the Empress mother of Constantine VI. With the ochre walls that make it indistinguishable, the building is also included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Its construction dates back to the 8th century, inspired by the eponymous Constantinople Basilica, present-day Istanbul. Over the centuries, various vicissitudes turned it first into a cathedral, then with the Ottoman conquest into a mosque, and since 1912 into a church.
Shopping in Thessaloniki
You probably already had the opportunity to discover numerous storefronts and shopping malls, if you have already walked around Thessaloniki. If you want to devote a few hours to shopping, we advise you to go to Via Tsimiski, a shopping street par excellence. Here you will find dozens of stores that can offer you everything and the highest quality. Also, take the opportunity to enjoy a pastry or cake at one of the many pastry shops you’ll find along the way. If you want to buy clothes, go to Ermoyu Street, parallel to Tsimiski, where you will find clothes and sporting goods at low prices.
Also, parallel to Tsimiski Street, we find Proxenou Koromila Street, where you can buy more expensive shoes and clothes instead. Here, too, do not fail to see a lot of pastry shops and even ice cream parlors. If you are at lunchtime, there are many fast food restaurants, bars, and places where you can eat anything, sitting comfortably or walking.
Always from the shopping street, by definition, you will be able to meet Agias Sofias Street, today a pedestrian street designed for the youngest, with modern clothes and lots of places where you can chat. Of course, then everything will be completed in Aristotle Square, the main one in Thessaloniki and recognized as the most beautiful in Greece.
2 thoughts on “What to see in Thessaloniki, Greece”
2022 was our first time in Thessaloniki and our 8th time we’ve spent our summer in Greece. From island hopping to choosing a resort and engulfing yourself in sun and fun all day long, nothing beats Greece at least for us Europeans. We had to do some digging to create an itinerary that would be perfect for both kids and adults since we traveled in a larger group but with a bit of patience it can be done. Small tip: visit the Dinosaur Park of Thessaloniki, the kids will be over the moon!
Thessaloniki is the only Greek city I visited so far. I took advantage of some fairly cheap plane tickets, booked a stay at Electra Palace and enjoyed a week in the sun with amazing weather. A huge bonus for the hotel and restaurant staff, they go above and beyond to make your stay as pleasant as possible.