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: Byzantine churches, castles, mosques, architectural wonders that bear witness to a rich multicultural past. But what attractions in Thessaloniki should you be sure to put on your list of things to do?
The architectural diamonds
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 clock tower, the Catholic Church, the building that houses the State Conservatory, the Law Court Square, the large sundial on Tsimiski’s sidewalk, the Biliris and Alexiadis buildings of 1922. Other must-sees include the Thessaloniki Concert Hall, the Royal Theatre that was built in 1940 by the architect Constantine Doxiadis and the Garden Theatre – lessons in architecture from a city that knows the meaning of beauty.
The splendour 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 Acheiropoietos, built in the 5th century upon the ruins of Roman baths, only to be turned into a Muslim mosque in 1320 after Thessaloniki surrendered to the Ottomans. And don’t forget Panagia Halkeon, which was built in 1028 and became a mosque in 1430.
Travel to the Old City (Ano Poli)
It’s so easy to travel back in time by simply climbing up to the Old City (Ano Poli). See the refugee houses, courtyards with flower pots, washing lines, stone paths, Byzantine churches, castles and walls. Watch the unforgettable sunset from Trigonio Tower and visit the Gedi Koule Castle to see some interesting exhibits. 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. Their history is unknown and mysterious and 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 were restored in 1997 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 from all over the world to attend 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!