the essential guide to Thessaloniki, Greece

After sharing with you all the delicious things I ate in Thessaloniki, it’s time for a more comprehensive guide! To recap: Thessaloniki is Greece’s second-largest city located in the region of Macedonia in Northern Greece. Unlike Athens, Thessaloniki wasn’t a famous city in ancient times, as the Macedonian Kings had chosen different cities as their base: Aeges, Phillipi, Pydna. The city flourished under Roman rule and even more during the Byzantine era. The Byzantine legacy is prominent all over the city and its monuments constitute part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

Things to see and do in Thessaloniki

Archaeological Museum

The Archaeological Museum houses individual works of art as well as excavation findings from the wider region of Macedonia. The exhibits are organized in 6 distinct collections: Prehistoric Macedonia, Genesis of the Cities, Macedonia from 7th century BC to late antiquity, Thessaloniki: a Macedonian metropolis, Macedonian Gold (probably the best part of the exhibits) and Field, House, Garden, Place.

Museum of Byzantine Culture

Museum of Byzantine culture Thessaloniki Museum of Byzantine culture Thessaloniki

The Museum of Byzantine Culture opened its doors back in 1994 and is housed in an exquisite building designed by architect and painter Kyriakos Krokos. The museum is organized in 11 halls where the aspects of Byzantine and post-Byzantine culture are presented through exhibits from Thessaloniki and the region of Macedonia. Artifacts date from 4th century BC up to the 19th century.

The White Tower

The White Tower is Thessaloniki’s symbol or “logo” so to speak. The current tower replaced an old Byzantine fortification, which was reconstructed by the Ottomans to fortify the city’s harbor; it became a notorious prison and scene of mass executions during the period of Ottoman rule. It was substantially remodeled and its exterior was whitewashed after Greece annexed the city in 1912.

Although I’ve visited Thessaloniki many times due to having family there, I’d never been up to the White Tower until now. The views from the Tower, especially towards the sea side promenade, are amazing. The next spot though will provide you with even better vistas over the city.

The Telecommunications (OTE) Tower

View from Telecommunications tower

The OTE Tower (OTE stands for Greek Telecommunications Organization) is another symbolic site, built in 1970 in the entrance of Thessaloniki’s Exhibition Center, where the Thessaloniki International Fair, an annual commercial exhibition event, takes place. The Tower has a rotating café on the 5th floor. The view is amazing (360 degrees as well) but the café needs renovation. Nearby you’ll also find the Macedonian Museum of Modern Art, the first modern art museum in Greece.

Byzantine and Roman monuments

There are two monuments that remain from the Roman era: Galerius arch – also known as Kamara (pictured above on the right) – and the Roman forum. During the Byzantine era, many churches were built in Thessaloniki and some of them are included in  UNESCO’s  World Heritage Sites List. One of these churches is Hagia Sofia (pictured above on the left) which was built in 7th century AD.

Aristotelous Square

This is Thessaloniki’s “central square”, which opens up to the sea providing a marvelous line of sight to Mount Olympus (home of the Ancient Gods), which you can spot on a totally clear day. The square was designed by French architect and urban planner Ernest Hébrard, after a major fire destroyed large part of Thessaloniki in 1917. It took its final form in the 60’s when the “twin” buildings of Electra Palace Hotel and Olympion cinema were completed. The aerial image of the place was used in an Absolut Vodka print advertisement a few years back.

Seaside Promenade (Palaia & Nea Paralia)

Nikis avenue at dusk, Thessaloniki

The seaside promenade starts at the Port and ends at the Thessaloniki Concert Hall. The old part of the promenade (Port to White Tower) was created in 1873 after the demolition of the city’s southern walls.

The “new” part from the White Tower to Concert Hall was formed in the late 50’s with the creation of a new boulevard parallel to the sea front. Walking along the promenade you’ll come across the Royal Theater, a statue of Alexander the Great on his horse, a sculpture with Umbrellas by George Zoggolopoulos – a renowned Greek sculptor – and thematic gardens that are part of the promenade’s redevelopment project.

Thessaloniki’s Architecture

As a sucker for eclectistic architecture and intricate details I couldn’t resist snapping many of Thessaloniki’s beautiful buildings. This is just a small sample of the buildings I shot, located in the city center.

Shopping

Thessaloniki offers many shopping options from luxury brands to high street brands, to intimate boutiques. Tsimiski street is the main shopping street, where you will find stores like Zara, H&M, and department stores. Parallel to Tsimiski street and closer to the sea front there are Mitropoleos and Proxenou Koromila streets, with shoe and accessories stores, as well as small boutiques and luxury brands like Louis Vuitton. Of course, you can wander off these main hubs: you will definitely come across various interesting shops in the surrounding area.

Where to eat

outside Sugar Angel cafe

Take a look at the foodie guide with all the places I visited during my latest visit in Thessaloniki (and recommend) on my previous post for your reading (and viewing) pleasure.

Suggested excursions

Thessaloniki is located centrally within the region of Macedonia and is ideal for many excursions in nearby cities, beaches, and archaeological sites.

Sani resort, Chalkidiki

Chalkidiki is the region with the characteristic 3 peninsulas that you see on the map, southeast of Thessaloniki. The first two peninsulas have beautiful beaches, hotels, and resorts such as  Sani, Pefkochori, Paliouri, Chanioti and Poseidi in the Kassandra peninsula and Vourvourou, Porto Koufo, Paradise and Nikiti in Sithonia peninsula. The 3rd peninsula is Mount Athos (also known as Holy Mountain) which has 20 monasteries and is a semi-autonomous region. Access is heavily restricted and monitored and only men can visit Mount Athos.

Vergina is probably the most significant archaeological site in the region of Macedonia. In the late 70s Prof. Manolis Andronikos discovered total 4 tombs with valuable (golden) artifacts, as two of the tombs were not raided. One of those non-raided tombs is attributed (after much research) to Phillip II, father of Alexander the Great.

Mount Olympus is Greece’s tallest mountain (2918m) and “house” of the ancient Greek gods. The mountain has many hiking trails and on its feet, you’ll find the archaeological site of Dion, which was a significant city in ancient Macedonia.

Kavala, Greece

Kavala is a major city in northern Greece located 165 km east of Thessaloniki. The city’s history begins in the antiquity; it grew dramatically during the Roman and Byzantine era thanks to the proximity to Via Egnatia (a road that ran from the Adriatic Sea to Constantinople – present-day Istanbul). Kavala was the first European city to be visited by Apostle Paul and is also the birthplace of  Mohamed Ali Pasha, the founder of modern Egypt, who created a Koranic school in the city. This school ceased to operate in the 1930s and nowadays is restored and operates as a luxury hotel, called Imaret.

If you do make your way to Vergina then Edessa and Naoussa are pretty close to visit too, especially if you like water! You see, Edessa has impressive waterfalls (well, for Greece’s standards) and Naoussa, has a beautiful park/forest called Aghios Nikolaos where you can walk around and dine in the nearby restaurants while watching (and hearing) the water flow.

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