Thessaloniki is a city that invites you to walk it every hour of the day, with tree-lined avenues and a vibrant atmosphere. The central hub is Aristotelous Square, with a view of the sea and dozens of cafes, perfect for people-watching. Steeped in culture, it’s famous in Greece for its food and nightlife scene and extrovert locals. So, what are the most memorable experiences you can look forward to in Greece’s big-hearted city of the north?
The White Tower
Sturdy and imposing, the White Tower has been gazing over Thessaloniki’s waterfront since the 16th century. Known over the years as the Kalamaria Fortress, Janissaries Tower and Blood Tower, the one-time prison was sanctified when it was symbolically painted white in 1890 by the Ottomans. Inside, there is a multimedia museum that narrates the city’s history.
Strolling along the old waterfront, you’ll feel the intoxicating mix of past and present mingling in the air. Beginning at the warehouses of the port and moving along Nikis Avenue, you eventually reach the White Tower. You’ll pass families, bicycles and couples hand-in-hand and hear the sound the street vendors hawking sunflower seeds as you go. But nothing beats the feeling of the Thermaic Gulf at sunset.
Kamara - Rotunda
Thessaloniki’s triumphal Arch of Galerius is part of a 4th-century AD building complex that includes the Rotunda and palatial ensemble at Navarino Square. Centuries later, the area known as Kamara is now the domain of students, of which there are plenty in Thessaloniki. It’s a must on any open sights walking tour of the city, but it’s also worth staying a while. Periods of study are interspersed with lively student discussions over coffee, buzzing bar life and regular visits to the tattoo studios. Next to the ancient ruins, youngsters play the guitar and drink beer, giving the area the feel of a local ‘Barceloneta’. Where else can you find an archaeological site so fully integrated into the modern life of a city?
This grand church honours the patron saint of Thessaloniki, who is celebrated on October 26. Discover the mystical atmosphere of this beautiful church with its unusual shrine. It’s been on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites since 1988.
Sweets like bougatsa
Thessaloniki is nicknamed ‘sweet mother’ for a good reason. You’ll try traditional Eastern sweets, with buffalo cream and gossamer-thin phyllo pastry. In the afternoons, even the young crowds take a turn towards the traditional bakeries and patisseries.
Its two best-known sweet shops – Terkenli (with tsoureki, a braided sweetened bread) and Hatzis (syrupy sweets) have made history. With buzzing food markets and great traditional and modern eateries, Thessaloniki’s food scene is legendary, but its sweet treats last longest in the memory.
Shop till you drop
Time for some shopping. The couture houses and designer labels are primarily located on Proxenou Koromila Street and Mitropoleos Avenue, crossed by the likes of Morgentaou, Mitropolitou Iosif, Chrysostomou Smyrnis, Lassani, Agia Sofia and Karolou Dil streets. For more commercial stores, head to Tsimiki, Ermou and Egnatia streets. And for new age and alternative styles, you’ll find boutiques along all the side streets of the centre and on the pedestrian avenues like Zefxidos, Georgiou Stavrou and Isavron streets.
Stone, brick and wood. The old commercial facilities of the portside Ladadika district provide a retro background to a lively, modern hangout. Their renovation in 1996 marked the moment when everything went decidedly trendy. Come for a coffee, nibble or cocktail at the stylish bars and restaurants in one of the most avant-garde neighbourhoods in the city.
A meeting place for cinema aficionados
Every November, thousands of cinephiles descend upon the city for the renowned International Film Festival, which began in 1960 and became international in 1992 by including in its programme films from all over the world. The festival’s main venues are the iconic Olympion Cinema on Aristotelous Square and the warehouses at the port.
In Thessaloniki, the next bar you stop at is never the last. As the music plays on and the drinks flow, you find yourself in a city that never sleeps (just saying). Vintage or industrial, 20s-era speakeasy or progressive… Thessaloniki’s nightlife is full of trailblazing bars and clubs for all styles.
Thessaloniki is teeming with important museums. Don’t miss the Archaeological Museum, with finds from the civilisation of ancient Macedonia, from the prehistoric to the Christian eras. The city’s gem is the Museum of Byzantine Culture. After walking through its galleries, have a coffee at its excellent cafe-restaurant. And there’s more… the Jewish Museum, the Museum for the Macedonian Struggle, the Thessaloniki History Centre, the State Museum of Contemporary Art, the Folk and Ethnographic Museum, the Thessaloniki Olympic Museum, the Art Gallery of the Society for Macedonian Studies, the War Museum and the Teloglion Foundation of Art. It’s a city that adores history, culture and modern art.
Neoclassical buildings and designer hospitality
There are plenty of choices when it comes to where to stay. Large and luxurious neoclassical buildings converted to hotels are surrounded by chic cafes and stylish restaurants. As are art and boutique hotels and guest villas with high-standards of service. Whatever your reason for travelling to the city – business or pleasure – you’re in for a treat.