Culture, history, gastronomy, nightlife… Thessaloniki reveals its authenticity slice by slice.
Thessaloniki is a city with a fascinating history, which you’ll encounter with every step you take. Awaiting you are Byzantine churches and castles, Ottoman-era mosques and many more architectural wonders that bear witness to a rich multicultural past. So, what attractions should you put on your list of things to do in Greece’s preeminent city in the north?
The architectural gems
Don’t pass them by. Take note of the magnificent architectural landmarks of Thessaloniki and search them out: The Tyroloi mansion on the old waterfront, the Mandalideio building, the Exarhopoulos mansion, the old restaurant Olympos Naoussa and the YMCA building built in 1924. In the city centre, be sure to visit the old clocktower, the Catholic Church, the building that houses the State Conservatory, the Law Court Square, the large sundial on Tsimiski’s sidewalk and the Biliris and Alexiadis buildings of 1922. Other must-sees include the Thessaloniki Concert Hall, the Royal Theatre (built in 1940 by the architect Constantine Doxiadis) and the Garden Theatre.
The splendours of Byzantium
Visiting the Byzantine churches should be right at the top of your list. Agia Sofia, built at the end of the 7th century with its gorgeous courtyard, is one of Thessaloniki’s most impressive attractions, as is the Church of the Acheiropietos, built in the 5th century upon the ruins of Roman baths and turned into a Muslim mosque in 1320 after Thessaloniki was occupied by the Ottomans. And don’t forget Panagia Halkeon, which was built in 1028 and became a mosque in 1430.
The Old City (Ano Poli)
Climbing to the Old City (Ano Poli) is like travelling back in time. You’ll find stone paths with courtyards and houses with flower pots, as well as Byzantine churches, castles and fortress walls. The sunset from the Trigonio Tower is unforgettable. Meanwhile, the Byzantine churches of Agios Nikolaos tou Orfanou and Osios David have exquisite murals and a rich history. As does the Vlatadon Monastery, with its spectacular courtyard.
The Pasha’s Gardens
If you squint, you’ll think the eccentric architect Gaudi came through here. Art nouveau motifs dominate the ornate fountains and galleries throughout the Pasha Gardens. They were created by Sephardic Jews in 1904, but little more is known about their history. You’ll succumb to their mystical ambience.
The old markets
Bargain hunters, noisy vendors and overflowing stalls. The Kapani (Vlali) Market is the oldest in Thessaloniki and walking down from Egnatia Street towards the sea, after Ermou Avenue, you’ll find the covered Modiano Market, with shops and bars playing live music. On Athonos, in between the dozens of tavernas, there are greengrocers and shops selling spices, handmade furniture, jewellery and clothes.
This beautiful, covered market has been the centre of trade in Thessaloniki for centuries. The impressive rectangular building has four entrances and six lead-covered domes and was built by the Sultan Voyiazit in the 15th century.
The warehouses at the port
The old warehouses at the port of Thessaloniki, built in 1910 and designed by the architect Eli Modiano, are the most vibrant cultural centres of the city. They have been restored and today house the Museum of Photography, Cinema Museum and Contemporary Art Centre, in addition to restaurants and bars. In November, cinema aficionados convene here for the Thessaloniki International Film Festival.
The heart of Thessaloniki’s nightlife beats here. The time is 3am, just right for hopping on board one of the ‘boat bars’ – or floating bars – that make their way up and down the Thermaic Gulf. The night is still young!