Thessaloniki is the second most important city in Greece. Although not as famous as Athens, a trip to the capital of the Macedonian region is always surprising! Thessaloniki is a very lively city, with great historical and cultural charm.
It is pleasant to walk through the narrow streets of the old town of Kastra, with its picturesque 19th century wooden houses surrounded by walls; or walk along its seafront, where you can enjoy magnificent sunsets.
In this city guide, we will see the main attractions to see in Thessaloniki, best tours and excursions to do, where to sleep and how to get there.
- What to see in Thessaloniki
- Getting Around
- Where To Eat
- Where to stay in Thessaloniki?
- What to visit near Thessaloniki
What to see in Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki is a very cosmopolitan city overlooking a beautiful bay on the Aegean Sea, about 500 km north of Athens, very hot in the summer but full of charm and attractions. There are interesting churches, museums, ancient mosques, Roman ruins and many monuments to visit.
Among the main attractions and important historical sites to see in Thessaloniki:
The White Tower, symbol of the city
One of the symbols of Thessaloniki is at its bottom, or Kato Poli, the White Tower. This high stone bastion was part of the walls that once protected the city and according to some scholars, this monument dates back to the 15th century (although according to others it is more recent and was built in the 16th century by Sultan Murad II). Inside the tower you will find a section of the Thessaloniki Civic Museum and have the opportunity to climb to the top for a panoramic view of the city.
The White Tower had the function of a prison and a fortress. It was part of the walls of Thessaloniki until they were destroyed in 1866. The Greek army entering the city painted it white to symbolically purify it from its Ottoman past, although today it is no longer that colour but the natural colour of the stone. It is thirty meters high.
The Basilica of Hagia Sophia
The Basilica of Hagia Sophia is one of the oldest churches in the city, dating back to the 8th century and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In the early thirteenth century became the cathedral of Thessaloniki, after the arrival of the Turks was a mosque for five centuries and today is an Orthodox church. It is one of the most beautiful examples of Byzantine architecture in Greece. The entrance is free, recommended by the various icons and golden mosaics that can be admired inside.
The Church of St. Demetrius, patron saint of Thessaloniki
On Agiou Dimitriou Street is the splendid Church of Saint Demetrius. It dates back to the 5th century and was built exactly where, according to tradition, the Saint was killed. Many ancient mosaics are preserved in this church (some dating back to the creation of the church ), many of which tell the life of the saint, while other frescoes represent Christ and the Evangelists. The Church of San Demetrio has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988.
Rotunda of St. George or Tomb of Galerius
This religious building is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was originally a temple dedicated to Zeus. The circular structure was built in 306 BC at the behest of the Roman Emperor Galerius as his mausoleum; but his body never made it to this site, which became a Christian church during the 1200s, until the arrival of the Ottomans, who turned it into a mosque in 1590. When the Greeks reconquered the city in 1912, it was rebuilt as an Orthodox church, while maintaining the presence of the minaret. The Rotunda of Galerius is the oldest Christian church in Thessaloniki and, according to some studies, may be the oldest Christian church in the world.
Arch of Galerius
The Arch of Galerius was built at the end of the 3rd century and is one of the most famous monuments of Thessaloniki. It is located in the historical centre and was erected to commemorate the victory of the Roman army over the Persians. It has an impressive facade twelve meters high and thirty long, is supported by two pillars, but originally had eight in total.
Bey Hamam – Baths of Paradise
As a city with a remarkable Turkish-Ottoman past, the Turkish baths are not to be missed in Thessaloniki. This particular one, one of the most beautiful in all of Greece, was built in 1444 by Sultan Murad II. The baths remained in use under the name “Terme del Paradiso” until 1968, then they were transferred to the Greek archaeological service; after the 1978 earthquake that shook the city, the baths were restored and used until today for cultural events and short-term exhibitions.
Museum of Byzantine Culture
The Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki has eleven rooms to discover the best of Byzantine culture and in 2005 was chosen as the best museum in Europe. Frescoes, mosaics, icons, historical and religious pieces are displayed live and can be admired in every detail. You can visit the official website here: http://www.mbp.gr/en. The entrance fee to the museum is 8 ? from April to October, and 4 ? from November to March.
Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki has an interesting collection that covers almost three thousand years of Thessaloniki’s history. Many pieces come from the whole region of Macedonia: there are funerary objects, large mosaic sarcophagi, reconstructions of tombs, objects of everyday life. It is one of the best archaeological museums in Greece. The entrance fee is 8 euro. You can buy the entrance to several museums for 15 euro. For more information you can visit the museum’s website: https://www.amth.gr/en/visit.
If you love science, I recommend a visit to the Museum of Science and Technology is located in the district of Thermi in the south of the city, can be reached by taxi or bus. You will be able to see the futuristic soul of the city, visiting all the scientific exhibitions with a very fascinating section: the technology of the ancient Greeks: here some technological works are exposed according to the descriptions that the Greeks have given and that traditionally have been transmitted until our days.
The historical centre of Thessaloniki is quite compact and easy to explore on foot. To get around the city, there is a good bus network connecting the centre to the suburbs and the lively port area. The historical center of Thessaloniki is full of shops, markets and stalls.
The most important avenue for shopping, where you can find literally everything, is Tsimiki, from handmade products to brand name clothing, you can find everything. Another very commercial avenue is its parallel Egnatia.
Where To Eat
If you are interested in the nightlife in Thessaloniki, the restaurants and taverns are certainly not lacking, in particular, the Ladadikia area, near the central Piazza Aristotele, is recommended.
Thessaloniki is a port city, there are many places to eat excellent fish and seafood dishes, as well as other typical Greek dishes. The bars and discos for those who want to go later are in via Nikis, behind the pier, but also near Torre Bianca there are places to have fun and dance.
Where to stay in Thessaloniki?
Thessaloniki is a beautiful historical city that has been built around a port. Therefore, the most interesting part of the city can be found near the promenade.
Every neighborhood in Thessaloniki is special: Aristotle Square is famous for its cafes, bars and restaurants, Ladadika is known as a nightlife spot.
However, the most popular part of Thessaloniki is the seafront, ideal for finding good accommodation, taking boat trips and visiting the best of the city.
Here are the best hotels and apartments to stay in Thessaloniki:
Daios Luxury Living – Beautiful panoramic view, Torre Bianca view and beaches. Excellent location.
City Hotel Thessaloniki – Modern, a few steps from Aristotle Square.
Trilogy Experimental – Apartment for 4 people, modern, excellent area to visit the city on foot.
Mini Central Studio – Small apartment for two people, in the historical center of the city.
Thessaloniki offers very good accommodation prices compared to other big European cities. Especially if you travel in low season I recommend you to check the prices of 4 and 5 star hotels, you might find very good offers.
If you want more information you can visit our dedicated post: Best areas and nearby cities to stay in Thessaloniki.
What to visit near Thessaloniki
The Halkidiki peninsula has a very particular shape, as it is formed by three fingers: The first peninsula of the three “fingers” is called Cassandra and is the most mundane part. In fact, you will find many nightclubs and hotels there, as well as spa establishments that organize many events. From there you can also admire the impressive Mount Olympus, which rises almost three thousand meters above the landscape of this area.
Of the three peninsulas, the intermediate one is called Sithonia. It is the best option for lovers of natural beauty, since it is surrounded by a particularly impressive sea. There’s not much to see, except the coves and a few scattered villages here and there. Neos Marmaras, Sarti and Vourvourou charm the tourist who loves the colours of the Greek sea and the Mediterranean vegetation that extends to the beach. It is possible to find coves for all tastes, from the well-equipped ones, with bars and discos, to uncontaminated and wild places.
The third strip of land that forms the Halkidiki peninsula is perhaps the most difficult to reach, the whole area is a true sacred place, because it is dotted with religious structures. In the territory characterized by Mount Athos, a peak as high as it is steep, there are in fact many Orthodox monasteries. It is not accessible by car, but only by sea, so there are many organized excursions that will allow you to see the area by boat with a guide who tells some stories and anecdotes about these places.