Thessaloniki (aka ‘Salonica’) is the second largest city in Greece and the capital of Macedonia, in the north of the country. It is a fascinating city, known for its rich history, diversity and great food and its a very affordable destination too. Its a place that really deserves three or four days to explore and some cruise companies such as  Celestyal, MSC Cruise and Royal Carribean have added it to some of their itineraries as its proven to be a popular choice! Read here about how to make the most of just one day in Thessaloniki.

things to do in thessaloniki

Where is Thessaloniki and what is it known for?

Thessaloniki is located in the northern part of the country on the Thermaic Gulf, which is part of the Aegean Sea.

It is known for several key aspects:

Historical and Cultural Significance: Often called ‘The City of Ghosts’ Thessaloniki has a rich history dating back to its founding in 315 BC. It was an important city in the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires and is home to numerous historical monuments and sites, including ruins, churches, and  architecture. The Rotunda, the Arch of Galerius, and the White Tower are some of its most famous landmarks.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Thessaloniki’s early Christian and Byzantine monuments are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These include several churches, the city’s walls, and other significant historical buildings.

Vibrant Cultural Scene: Thessaloniki is known for its lively cultural scene, with numerous festivals, concerts, and events held throughout the year. The Thessaloniki International Film Festival and the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair are two of the city’s major annual events.

Cuisine: The city is famous for its diverse and delicious cuisine, influenced by its multicultural history. Traditional Greek dishes, as well as influences from the Middle East and the Balkans, can be found in the city’s numerous restaurants and tavernas.

Further reading: Top Things to do in Thessaloniki

Where do the cruise ships dock in Thessaloniki?

Cruise ships docking in Thessaloniki typically berth at the Port of Thessaloniki, which is one of the major ports in Greece and serves as a key hub for both commercial and passenger ships. The port is conveniently located close to the city center, making it accessible and ideal for tourists arriving by sea.

Disembarkation procedure in Thessaloniki

The cruise ship arrives and berths at the designated pier in the Port of Thessaloniki. The exact location within the port can vary depending on the ship’s size and the port’s traffic on that day.

Clearance by Authorities: Before passengers can disembark, the ship must be cleared by local customs and immigration authorities. This process is typically handled by the cruise line in coordination with the port authorities.

Announcements and Instructions: The cruise ship staff will make announcements and provide instructions regarding the disembarkation process. This usually includes information about timing, exit points, and any necessary documentation.

Disembarking the Ship: Passengers are allowed to disembark once clearance has been given and the ship is securely docked. Disembarkation might be done in groups or decks to manage the flow of passengers.

Passport Control and Customs: Passengers may need to go through passport control and customs, depending on their nationality and the regulations in place. EU citizens might have a more straightforward process.

Transportation and Tours: Upon exiting the terminal, passengers can find various transportation options, including taxis, buses, and potentially shuttle services provided by the cruise line. For those who have booked excursions, tour operators typically meet groups at the port.

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    How to get around Thessaloniki

    Cruise ship passengers visiting Thessaloniki have several options for getting around the city:

    Walking: Thessaloniki is a compact and walkable city, especially around the central area where many of the major attractions are located. The waterfront promenade, Aristotelous Square, and several historical sites are within easy walking distance from the cruise port.

    Public Transportation: Thessaloniki has an efficient public transportation system, including buses and the newly constructed metro (still partially under development as of the last update). The bus network covers most parts of the city and is a convenient way to reach different areas. The main bus company is OASTH, and tickets can be purchased at kiosks or on the bus.

    Taxis: Taxis are widely available in Thessaloniki and are a convenient way to get around the city. They can be hailed on the street, found at taxi ranks, or booked in advance. Taxis in Thessaloniki are relatively affordable, but it’s good to ensure that the meter is running or agree on a fare before starting the trip.

    Bicycle Rentals: Thessaloniki has bike rental services and bike-sharing programs, making it easy for visitors to explore the city on two wheels and even three and four. There are designated bike lanes and scenic routes, particularly along the waterfront.

    Car Rentals: For those who prefer more flexibility, car rental services are available. This option is ideal for visitors who want to explore areas outside the city or take day trips to nearby attractions.

    Guided Tours: There are various guided tour options, including walking tours, bus tours, and private guided tours. These tours can provide a comprehensive overview of Thessaloniki’s history, culture, and main attractions.

    Hop-On Hop-Off Buses: Thessaloniki offers hop-on-hop-off bus tours that allow passengers to explore the city at their own pace. These buses stop at major tourist sites, and passengers can get on and off as they please.

    Thessaloniki esplanade bike

    One Day in Thessaloniki Activities

    It is likely your cruise will offer several shore excursions that you can do.

    The downside to these tours is that they are usually more expensive than doing them independently, and typically result in large crowds of people descending on the same attractions simultaneously.

    It also means you will be bound to the times dictated by the tour which may be at a slower pace than you would like, or perhaps too rushed.

    The three most popular tours offered by local operators that we recommend are:

    A walking food tour

    As the ‘food capital’ of Greece you should not miss this! Explore the amazing markets and food emporiums with a local guide and taste the local delicacies and drinks. You will learn where they come from, how they are grown or made, how they are used, and lots more.

    Thessaloniki has some of the best open air markets in Greece and there are lots of amazing food providers and specialist shops around them.

    You will taste delicious things such as the local Bougatsa – cheese or custard pastries, koulouri – the local street food ‘pretzel’ and a wide array of dairy, seafood, nuts and herbs, and more!

    Visit Sithonia Peninsula

    Sithonia, also known as Longos, is a peninsula on the larger peninsula of Chalkidiki in Greece. 

    This is a breathtaking part of Greece and is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country!

    This bus tour takes you to 4 beautiful beaches as well as a couple of lovely towns, known for their charm and tradition.

    The tour offers relaxation, adventure, or cultural immersion, and is an unforgettable experience that showcases the best of Sithonia’s natural wonders and cultural treasures. It could well be the highlight of your cruise as far as beaches in Greece go.

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    Interior Mainland Day Trips from Thessaloniki

    Northern Greece is home to some of the most incredible sites in all of Europe and Thessaloniki is the gateway to most.

    While some of these can be a long day they are wildly successful for a reason – the destinations truly are amazing. The main ones are:


    The Monasteries of Meteora tower over the fertile plains of Thessaly built incredibly on stunning rock formations projecting up out of the ground.

    The word “Meteora,” means “hovering in the air” and Meteora is also often described as stunning works of architecture set in a landscape that is as unique as it is breath-taking. The six monasteries of Meteora are still in use today and can be visited by the public, whilst others are popular for sightseeing externally by hikers and photographers.

    They also represent an important part of Greek history and the link between the early formation of Christian doctrine and the Turkish occupation of Greece during the 11th century AD. 

    If your ship has a long layover in Thessaloniki then joining a guided tour to Meteora is a great option.

    Dion and Mount Olympus

    Explore the archaeological park of Dion and see the Hellenistic-era theatre which was known for hosting plays by the ancient philosopher Euripides in the past and now hosts the Olympus Festival.

    Visit the Museum of Dion to see statues and admire mosaic work in the House of Dionysus. Stop to purchase lunch in one of the traditional restaurants in the village before continuing to Olympus and discovering the culture and the traditional heritage of the mythical mountain of Olympus where the 12 gods of ancient Greece lived.

    Take a nature hike along the Enipeas River to admire views of the Enipeas Gorge. and enjoy lunch at a picturesque village nearby.

    This is a beautiful day trip that combines nature and the tranquility of the valleys and mountains as well as the rich history of Ancient Greece.

    Pozar Thermal Baths and Edessa

    About 90 minutes north-west of Thessaloniki are the beautiful Pozar Thermal Baths and the Ancient City of Edessa.

    Edessa is a small city north of Thessaloniki and the capital of the regional unit of Pella. According to ancient sources Edessa was were Caranus established the first capital of Macedonia. It has a rich and colourful history having veen occupied at times by the Persians, the Byzantines, the Romans and the Ottomans.

    At one point it was the centre of Greek and Assyrian theology and philosophy and home to the famed School of Edessa.

    The baths at the hot springs  have healing properties and are naturally heated to a temperature of 37° Celsius. Known for its amazing taste, the water is also said to help with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, skin conditions, poor circulation, respiratory problems, and other issues.

    This tour includes lunch at a small village and a visit to the spectacular waterfalls nearby.

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    Pozar Hot Springs

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    One day in Thessaloniki Itinerary – self guided

    Thessaloniki is a fascinating city and, while there are some amazing day trips, it really would be a shame to miss seeing it.

    It is easy to get around and many of the most interesting sites are all within a short walk from each other.

    As a food mecca, there are also many places where you can have some amazing food.

    7- 8 am –  Disembark. Walk along the harbour front and stop for coffee at Aristotelous Square.

    8-10 am – Explore the various Agora (markets). These open at 7 am so it makes sense to visit them first.

    The Kapani and Modiano Markets are the most popular and considered two of the best in Greece. They are right next to each other and the Modiano is now housed in a big modern indoor building that opened in 2023. It has to be one of the best in Europe!

    10-1 pm – Explore the historical sites and museums. Start at the Museum of Macedonian Struggle and on to the iconic White Tower.

    Also, wander around the harbourfront here where you will find the much photographed Umbrellas Sculpture and the Statue of Alexander the Great.

    If time permits, visit the Museum of Byzantine Civilization or the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. The Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art is also right next door. These are all excellent and one of the many reasons Thessaloniki is worth several days!

    13 pm – Lunch! There are so many choices. Along the waterfront, we love Garcon which is very chic and they make a mean cocktail too. Order the Moussaka fritters!

    In the Old Town To Tsai ThessalonikiArgofageio and Trigona Elenidi are where you will find some of the best Greek food in town and The Greek is also one of our favourites, near the White Tower.

    3 pm – Get a taxi up to Ano Poli ( Old Town). This is the highest point in the city, and provides incredible views. There are old squares to explore, cobbled streets lined with centuries-old homes, and large portions of the city’s ancient walls, still intact.

    It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and retains much of its traditional Greek and Ottoman architecture.

    5 pm – If you still have the energy walk back to your ship or hotel, downhill, via the Ataturk Museum, The Holy Church of Demetrius, the Roman Forum and the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki.

    7 pm – If you have time for dinner we recommend Mamaloulka – something of an institution in Salonica and right near the Port.

    9pm – return to Ship

    Further reading : Things to do in Thessaloniki

    what to see in Thessaloniki

    To Elleniko (The Greek)

    what to see in Thessaloniki