The best of Thessaloniki’s legendary nightlife scene
Warm, diverse, young-hearted, vibrant and eternally welcoming, Thessaloniki knows just how to have fun. It is a product of its ever-evolving mix of influences, never shy to reinvent itself, particularly around its food & drink scene, which is at the heart of its emergence as one of Europe’s hottest city break destinations.
You can just walk around until you find a place that grabs your fancy… designer store, meze restaurant, taverna or perhaps a wine, beer or cocktail bar. But it’s also worth knowing a few of the neighbourhoods that give it its edge, especially the ones where outdoor tables are buzzing from early-spring till late-autumn.
Perhaps you’ll choose according to the style of music that’s playing… pop, rock, indie, soul, jazz or rebetiko (Greek folk). It’s the sort of place the same bar can be grinding coffee beans and attracting a lively brunch crowd by day, before switching to crushed ice and lemon slices and letting a mixologist loose with a cocktail menu by night. And in Thessaloniki, night really does mean night.
One of Thessaloniki’s main shopping streets has also evolved into a prime entertainment spot. Running parallel to the waterfront, Mitropoleos St has its own special atmosphere, with neoclassical buildings converted into elegant bars, cafes and shops and an array of restaurants. You’ll probably make the choice of where to eat from browsing the pavement tables, many with elegantly presented dishes using delicious-looking ingredients.
One of Thessaloniki’s most popular neighbourhoods and the definition of urban cool. Located west of the city centre, near the port, Ladadika was a commercial district known for selling wholesale oil products (ladi is oil in Greek) before gradually becoming rundown. Then came a renovation and pedestrianization project in the 1980s, on and around Aigyptou Street, transforming warehouses into tavernas, bistros, pubs, wine bars and even nightclubs and, in so doing, spawning one of Thessaloniki’s hippest neighbourhoods. And as an extra tip, check out Emboriou Square (just above Tsimiski St) for other tasteful wine bars and eateries.
The fun goes on long into the night in Valaoritou (a street that’s also become a byword for a neighbourhood). You’ll find a whole range of bars, each with its own musical style and decor, and buildings whose architecture represents the old Thessaloniki. The city’s Catholic Church and State Conservatory are found here, as is the Malakopi Arcade, whose handful of bars and pubs have their own unique atmosphere. You’ll also find plenty of old shops in what is essentially the city’s commercial district (including Ermou St) that have been turned into restaurants and cafes.
Here’s a little treasure you might miss if you don’t know where to look. Bit Bazaar is a tiny district that once housed Greek refugees returning from Asia Minor in the 1920s. It’s hidden away between Olympou, Venizelou and Tositsa streets, in a central square with small two-storey houses. Some of the antique shops for which the bazaar was famous are still here, but you’ll also find shops converted into cafes, tavernas and bars with alternative music. If you can’t find it, just ask. It’s become a favourite student hangout.
You can’t come to Thessaloniki without strolling along the waterfront. It’s not just an iconic walk along the Thermaic Gulf – stretching from the Ladadika district past the White Tower and all the way to Thessaloniki Concert Hall (Megaro Mousikis) – but it’s also a favourite hangout for residents and visitors and the location of a seemingly endless line of restaurants, cafes and bars. The liveliest stretches are around Aristotelous Square and the White Tower, but there are also plenty of tucked-away meze bars and cafes.
Ano Poli and the castles
For a different view of Thessaloniki, head to the narrow streets and Venetian castles of the Upper Town. Take your time to explore, noting the traditional Macedonian architecture (stone-paved streets, squares and two-storey houses) in one of the city’s oldest districts. It will make the delicacies in the traditional cafes and tavernas of the Tsinari neighbourhood, and around the Trigoniou Tower, Pasha’s Gardens and Heptapyrgion, even more enjoyable. For an extra special treat, find yourself an ouzerie or bar with a terrace and drink up the view of the city and Thermaic Gulf.
- Thessaloniki is an excellent city break destination all year round and is a natural stopover during holidays in the wider region.
- The city has a vibrant student life, so is especially enjoyable from October to May.