Layered with history, imbued with culture, and offering up some incredible cuisine, Thessaloniki is a port city that has all the vibrancy you’d expect from Greece’s second city. Once “the co-capital” of the Byzantine Empire along with Constantinople, the city is known for its energetic festivals as much as its ancient sites and there is a lot to consider when it comes to working out what to see in Thessaloniki.

Boasting not only ancient Greek heritage (having been founded in 315 BC), Thessaloniki was also once an important city for the Romans.

King Cassander of Macedon founded the city and named it after his wife — a sister of Alexander the Great. It rose to become the most vital city of this Greek region.

Add a Mediterranean climate, attractive streets to explore, a beautiful waterfront, and the bonus of being a university town with excellent nightlife, and it’s easy to see why Thessaloniki is so popular with visitors and locals alike.

things to do in thessaloniki
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things to do in thessaloniki

Where is Thessaloniki?

Situated on the Thermaic Gulf in the northwest of the Aegean Sea, Thessaloniki is the biggest city in the geographic and administrative region of Macedonia, as well as its capital.

It is the 2nd largest city in Greece and some 520kms north of Athens.

How to get to Thessaloniki

Luckily for travellers in Greece, Thessaloniki is not only a port city but also something of a travel hub.

It’s well connected by road and rail and boasts an international airport, which connects to around 38 countries and more than 60 foreign cities, with direct flights to islands around Greece.

The New Railway Station is the city’s main passenger terminal and is located on Monastiriou Street. From here, you can travel all over northern Greece’s rail network, connect to the south, or travel on the suburban line.

Thessaloniki’s Intercity Bus Station KTEL means travellers can connect with the city on long-distance transport, along 800 routes to 41 bus stations and five international destinations, including Germany and Bulgaria.

 Thessaloniki’s port – more than 2,300 years old – is a major destination for cruise ships, ferries and other sea-faring vessels. Naturally, there are many other places around the Greek continent served by the port.

Athens to Thessaloniki

Chances are that your first port of call in Greece will be Athens. Luckily, getting from the capital in the south to Thessaloniki in the north is fairly straightforward. There are multiple options for you to choose from.

The quickest way is to take a direct flight. There are multiple flights scheduled throughout the day. A train is also an option. It takes around six hours but is less straightforward.

If you are planning on hiring a car in Greece, you could drive to Thessaloniki. It takes approximately five and a half hours; you can pick up a rental car at Athens airport.

Buses, on the other hand, run direct from Athens to Thessaloniki, leaving roughly once every three hours and taking just under six hours.

Flights to Thessaloniki

There are several flights a day with Aegean /Olympic Airlines and others offered by Sky Express, Ryan Air and Hahn Air, especially during peak periods.

Check Skyscanner for schedules and prices.

 

where to stay in thessaloniki

Where to stay in Thessaloniki

 

The northern Greek city of Thessaloniki is an enticing destination that has, in recent years, been gaining even more attention with its youthful atmosphere, easygoing vibe, and exciting cultural events. That’s without mentioning its electric nightlife and internationally acclaimed food scene.

Being a big urban area, there are many places to stay in Thessaloniki; the neighbourhoods are as diverse as the city itself.

Ladadika

Situated close to Thessaloniki’s port, Ladadika is a historic district that was once an important hub of marketplaces. Today, it’s a hotspot for entertainment, featuring streets lined with bars, local tavernas, and a wide selection of eateries.

One of the most well-known neighbourhoods in the city, it’s popular with tourists and locals.

Visitors are charmed not only by its colourful, Neoclassical buildings and pedestrianised streets but also by its lively atmosphere – the epitome of past and present mixed together.

Ano Poli

The Old Town itself isn’t just a living museum; the “city above the city” is a great place to stay, too.

Quieter than Ladadika, but with all the history, basing yourself in Ano Poli means being surrounded by captivating architecture, breathtaking views, and cosy tavernas. It certainly embodies the spirit of the old city.

 A romantic network of cobblestoned roads and rambling hillside houses, Ano Poli is a great place to stay in Thessaloniki if you’re looking for charm and serenity. This a great option for couples; the sun setting over the ocean makes for a romantic evening setting.

The Waterfront

If romance is what you’re looking for, but you don’t really want peace and quiet to go with it, Thessaloniki’s waterfront area is the place to stay.

The sea is an integral part of the city, so it makes sense to base yourself where the fortunes of the city were made over the years.

Partially developed by French architect Ernest Hebrard after the 1917 fire, the waterfront is a pleasant, attractive district, complete with a cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Stroll along its pretty promenade, duck into a streetside cafe, admire the beautiful residential homes, or simply gaze at one of the many sculptures along the way. There’s the White Tower, a statue of Alexander the Great, and the more modern “Umbrellas” soaring into the sky.

Navarinou Square

Navarinou Square is close to the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Naturally, it’s a popular hangout for students. This is where you’ll find street artists, cool coffee shops, buskers, and students out and about enjoying all the fun of the area.

 A great place for people-watching, this hipster enclave boasts cheap (and lively!) bars, second-hand bookstores, and everything that comes with having the reputation of being the city’s “cool” district.

There’s also lashings of history; sections of the eastern part of Thessaloniki’s city walls survive to this day, as do the ruins of the even more ancient Imperial Roman Palace.

Airbnb in Thessaloniki

There are some fantastic self-catering options in Thessaloniki that are perfect for families and groups looking for a bit of privacy and independence.

This big renovated apartment is in the heart of the historical centre and can sleep up to 10 guests and is hard to beat. Another fantastic is Niki’s apartment which is right on the waterfront on Nikis Avenue and can sleep 7 in funky, retro style.

For couples, this Penthouse is a fun choice with panoramic views of the city and a very glamorous design!

 

where to stay in Thessaloniki

Niki’s waterfront apartment

Our favourite hotels in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is home to some seriously cool hotels. And great value for money too compared to many European cities!

The Caravan is a small B&B in a renovated neoclassical building in one of Thessaloniki’s most interesting neighbourhoods. It has a luxe-boho vibe and rave reviews from its guests.

Not far from it are The Modernist and The Excelsior, both oozing charm and luxury at a great price and renowned for their wonderful service and hospitality.

The Met Hotel has a stunning rooftop pool with views over the city while Electra Palace Hotel is considered the premier Hotel of Thessaloniki and is housed in one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.

where to stay in Thessaloniki
things to do in Thessaloniki

Where to eat in Thessaloniki

 

Like the hotel scene, the restaurant and bar scene in Thessaloniki is vibrant too and there are many seriously cool tavernas, cafes and bars to be found across the city.

There is a palatable renaissance in the dining choices with trends towards gastronomy and degustation rather than traditional tavernas, although there are plenty of them still to be found too.

In the Old Town To Tsai Thessaloniki, Argofageio and Trigona Elenidi are where you will find some of the best Greek food in town while Clochard, P22 and Grada Nuevo are our picks for special occasion fine-dining.

For families and groups, Prytanio and Zorba are cheap and cheerful and always a fun night out.

rOOTS is serving up some of the best Vegetarian and Vegan food in Thessaloniki as is The Saint Stores, while Marea Sea Spirit is considered by many to be the go-to place for Seafood.

The bar scene will not disappoint with Vogastsikou 3 a great choice if you are after some live music too while Skyline is a rotating bar with 360-degree views of the entire city!

 

 

things to do in thessaloniki

Things to do in Thessaloniki, Greece

 

Thessaloniki has a host of things to do that reveal its fascinating, layered past. You’ll find ancient ruins, the UNESCO-recognised Old Town, museums, a bustling waterfront, and cultural events. Here are some of the best things to do in Thessaloniki.

See the White Tower of Thessaloniki

The icon of the city, the White Tower sits on Thessaloniki’s storied waterfront and has a very long history.

Though dating back to the 12th century, with Byzantine roots, the modern iteration was remodelled after Greece gained control of Thessaloniki from the Ottoman Empire in 1912.

The site of executions during Ottoman occupation, it was also a prison and lookout for the sea walls of the city, which were demolished in 1866.

Today, the White Tower is a museum of Byzantine culture. This is the place to come to learn about the history of Thessaloniki in a genuine part of the city’s history!

 

Learn about the past at one of Thessaloniki’s museums

Thessaloniki has no shortage of incredible museums, that’s for sure.

One of the best that the city has to offer is the Museum of Byzantine Culture; it’s by far the most important spot in the city for learning about Thessaloniki’s past as “co-capital” of the Byzantine Empire.

Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, however, offers the most comprehensive look at the city’s history, going back much further than its illustrious Byzantine past.

 

See the Old Town

For a more hands-on tour of the city’s history, Ano Poli — literally “Upper Town” —  is the place to go.

While much of the city was destroyed in the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917, Ano Poli remained. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it retains much of its traditional Greek and Ottoman architecture and makes for a charming place to wander around.

The clue is in the name: Ano Poli is the highest point in the city, and provides incredible views. There are old squares to explore, cobbled streets lined with centuries-old homes, and large portions of the city’s ancient walls, still intact.

 

Pay a visit to the Arch of Galerius and Rotonda

Built in the early 4th century AD, the Rotonda is a cylindrical building. More than its age and old shape, however, is the importance of its use.

Commissioned by the Roman Emperor, Galerius and built in 306 AD, it was part of his palatial precinct but is now thought to have been intended as his mausoleum.

In the years that followed, it became a church and remains one at present – Saint George Church.

This is one of the most well-preserved examples of an early Christian church and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as is the Arch of Galleries.

The arch, leading up to the Rotonda, was built in 298 AD. It would have been opulent in its heyday, with eight pillars, sculptured reliefs, and marble panels.

Though in ruins today, it is still an impressive sight. 

Thessaloniki Beaches

Not far from Thessaloniki – about an hours drive – is the Halkidiki peninsula which is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Europe. Think silky white sand and clear turquoise water in abundance!

At Thessaloniki itself, there are a few beaches that are easy to access and have excellent facilities. Asprovalta Beach is our pick of these although it is the further-est away. Agia Triada and Perea Beach are close to town and are both very nice, with good tavernas nearby and plenty of sunbeds and umbrellas.

Thessaloniki Tours

There are a number of excellent tours you can do of Thessaloniki and the surrounding areas that will really help you make the most of this fascinating city.

Tours of Thessaloniki city

In Thessaloniki itself, there is a hop-on-hop-off bus that takes in the highlights of the city at your own pace.

To really explore the food scene a walking tour with a local is the way to learn real tips and insights as well as visiting some of the best food providores and outlets in the city.

Day trips from Thessaloniki

One of the most popular day trips involves the stunning nearby beaches and bays. A half-day sailing cruise to Shipwreck Bay is a crowd favourite while a must-do is a Day Trip to Halkidiki with a Mt Athos Cruise ( women are not allowed to visit Mt Athos so this is the only way they can see this truly fascinating peninsula and its monasteries).

A visit to the Pozar Thermal Baths is another must-do as is a trip to the Vergina and the Kingdom of Macedonia.

Further afield is Dion and Mt Olympus, the homes of all the Greek Gods and a fascinating day trip as is Meteora, a place many people say is the highlight of all of Greece!

Tours to Thessaloniki

If you are coming from elsewhere in Greece or even from a neighbouring country it is possible to do a tour to Thessaloniki.

There are day trips from Sophia to Thessaloniki a 5-day tour from Athens and even a wonderful Balkan Trail tour that ends in Split, Croatia.

things to do in thessaloniki
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