Layered with history, imbued with culture, and offering up some incredible cuisine, Thessaloniki is a port city that has all the vibrancy you’d expect from Greece’s second city. Once “the co-capital” of the Byzantine Empire along with Constantinople, the city is known for its energetic festivals as much as its ancient sites and there is a lot to consider when it comes to working out what to see in Thessaloniki.
King Cassander of Macedon founded the city and named it after his wife — a sister of Alexander the Great. It rose to become the most vital city in this Greek region.
Add a Mediterranean climate, attractive streets to explore, a beautiful waterfront, and the bonus of being a university town with excellent nightlife, and it’s easy to see why Thessaloniki is so popular with visitors and locals alike.
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When to visit Thessaloniki
Like much of Greece the best time to visit Thessaloniki is April to October. High season, like, like everywhere, is late June to early September, although it does not tend to get as busy as the islands and Athens. It is also generally somewhat cheaper.
Winter can still be a good time to visit Thessaloniki. It is a city that is open year-round and is a gateway to many for the ski-fields near Mt Olympus and other parts of Northern Greece.
Where is Thessaloniki?
Situated on the Thermaic Gulf in the northwest of the Aegean Sea, Thessaloniki is the biggest city in the geographic and administrative region of Macedonia, as well as its capital.
It is the 2nd largest city in Greece and some 520kms north of Athens.
How to get to Thessaloniki
Luckily for travellers in Greece, Thessaloniki is not only a port city but also something of a travel hub.
It’s well connected by road and rail and boasts an international airport, which connects to around 38 countries and more than 60 foreign cities, with direct flights to islands around Greece.
The New Railway Station is the city’s main passenger terminal and is located on Monastiriou Street. From here, you can travel all over northern Greece’s rail network, connect to the south, or travel on the suburban line.
Thessaloniki’s Intercity Bus Station KTEL means travellers can connect with the city on long-distance transport, along 800 routes to 41 bus stations and five international destinations, including Germany and Bulgaria.
Thessaloniki’s port – more than 2,300 years old – is a major destination for cruise ships, ferries and other sea-faring vessels. Naturally, there are many other places around the Greek continent served by the port.
Athens to Thessaloniki
Chances are that your first port of call in Greece will be Athens. Luckily, getting from the capital in the south to Thessaloniki in the north is fairly straightforward. There are multiple options for you to choose from.
The quickest way is to take a direct flight. There are multiple flights scheduled throughout the day. A train is also an option. It takes around six hours but is less straightforward.
If you are planning on hiring a car in Greece, you could drive to Thessaloniki. It takes approximately five and a half hours; you can pick up a rental car at Athens airport.
Buses, on the other hand, run direct from Athens to Thessaloniki, leaving roughly once every three hours and taking just under six hours.
Flights to Thessaloniki
There are several flights a day with Aegean /Olympic Airlines and others offered by Sky Express, Ryan Air and Hahn Air, especially during peak periods.
Check Skyscanner for schedules and prices.
Where to stay in Thessaloniki
The northern Greek city of Thessaloniki is an enticing destination that has, in recent years, been gaining even more attention with its youthful atmosphere, easygoing vibe, and exciting cultural events. That’s without mentioning its electric nightlife and internationally acclaimed food scene.
Being a big urban area, there are many places to stay in Thessaloniki; the neighbourhoods are as diverse as the city itself.
The main ones are:
Situated close to Thessaloniki’s port, Ladadika is a historic district that was once an important hub of marketplaces. Today, it’s a hotspot for entertainment, featuring streets lined with bars, local tavernas, and a wide selection of eateries.
One of the most well-known neighbourhoods in the city, it’s popular with tourists and locals.
Visitors are charmed not only by its colourful, Neoclassical buildings and pedestrianised streets but also by its lively atmosphere – the epitome of past and present mixed together.
The Old Town itself isn’t just a living museum; the “city above the city” is a great place to stay, too.
Quieter than Ladadika, but with all the history, basing yourself in Ano Poli means being surrounded by captivating architecture, breathtaking views, and cosy tavernas. It certainly embodies the spirit of the old city.
A romantic network of cobblestoned roads and rambling hillside houses, Ano Poli is a great place to stay in Thessaloniki if you’re looking for charm and serenity. This a great option for couples; the sun setting over the ocean makes for a romantic evening setting.
If romance is what you’re looking for, but you don’t really want peace and quiet to go with it, Thessaloniki’s waterfront area is the place to stay.
The sea is an integral part of the city, so it makes sense to base yourself where the fortunes of the city were made over the years.
Partially developed by French architect Ernest Hebrard after the 1917 fire, the waterfront is a pleasant, attractive district, complete with a cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Stroll along its pretty promenade, duck into a streetside cafe, admire the beautiful residential homes, or simply gaze at one of the many sculptures along the way. There’s the White Tower, a statue of Alexander the Great, and the more modern “Umbrellas” soaring into the sky.
Navarinou Square is close to the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Naturally, it’s a popular hangout for students. This is where you’ll find street artists, cool coffee shops, buskers, and students out and about enjoying all the fun of the area.
A great place for people-watching, this hipster enclave boasts cheap (and lively!) bars, second-hand bookstores, and everything that comes with having the reputation of being the city’s “cool” district.
There’s also lashings of history; sections of the eastern part of Thessaloniki’s city walls survive to this day, as do the ruins of the even more ancient Imperial Roman Palace.
Self-contained accommodation in Thessaloniki
There are some fantastic self-catering options in Thessaloniki that are perfect for families and groups looking for a bit of privacy and independence.
This spacious 4 bedroom/2 bathroom apartment is in the heart of the historical centre and can sleep up to 7 guests and is hard to beat. There’s also this fantastic sunny apartment right next to Agia Sofia which can sleep 10 , or Nikis Apartment which is right on the waterfront on Nikis Avenue and can sleep 7 in funky, retro style.
For two-bedroom apartments, this riviera view suite is spacious and well appointed and is right near the ferry terminal and all the major sites.
For couples, this apartment in Ladakia is a fun choice with sea views, a hot tub and a short walk to everything, Or this luxury suite is in the heart of the city, right near the markets, and has a great jacuzzi too.
Niki’s waterfront apartment
Our favourite hotels in Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki is home to some seriously cool hotels. And great value for money too compared to many European cities!
The Caravan is a small B&B in a renovated neoclassical building in one of Thessaloniki’s most interesting neighbourhoods. It has a luxe-boho vibe and rave reviews from its guests.
The Met Hotel has a stunning rooftop pool with views over the city while Electra Palace Hotel is considered the premier Hotel of Thessaloniki and is housed in one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.
Where to eat in Thessaloniki
Like the hotel scene, the restaurant and bar scene in Thessaloniki is vibrant too and there are many seriously cool tavernas, cafes and bars to be found across the city.
There is a palatable renaissance in the dining choices with trends towards gastronomy and degustation rather than traditional tavernas, although there are plenty of them still to be found too.
In the Old Town To Tsai Thessaloniki, Argofageio and Trigona Elenidi are where you will find some of the best Greek food in town while Clochard, P22 and Grada Nuevo are our picks for special occasion fine-dining.
If you want to sit on the waterfront and people watch with thousands of others then Garcon is a great spot and they make a mean cocktail too. Order the Moussaka fritters!
For families and groups, Prytanio and Zorba are cheap and cheerful and always a fun night out. We can’t stop dreaming of the ‘Thessaloniki Salad’ at The Greek which is a great spot for authentic affordable food and fast, efficient service.
Thessaloniki Salad at ‘The Greek’
The Kitchen of Agalia Menu
Things to do in Thessaloniki, Greece
Thessaloniki has a host of things to do that reveal its fascinating, layered past. You’ll find ancient ruins, the UNESCO-recognised Old Town, museums, a bustling waterfront, and cultural events. Here are some of the best things to do in Thessaloniki.
See the White Tower of Thessaloniki
The icon of the city, the White Tower sits on Thessaloniki’s storied waterfront and has a very long history.
Though dating back to the 12th century, with Byzantine roots, the modern iteration was remodelled after Greece gained control of Thessaloniki from the Ottoman Empire in 1912.
The site of executions during Ottoman occupation, it was also a prison and lookout for the sea walls of the city, which were demolished in 1866.
Today, the White Tower is a museum of Byzantine culture. This is the place to come to learn about the history of Thessaloniki in a genuine part of the city’s history!
Learn about the past at one of Thessaloniki’s museums
Thessaloniki has no shortage of incredible museums, that’s for sure.
One of the best that the city has to offer is the Museum of Byzantine Culture; it’s by far the most important spot in the city for learning about Thessaloniki’s past as “co-capital” of the Byzantine Empire.
Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, however, offers the most comprehensive look at the city’s history, going back much further than its illustrious Byzantine past.
See the Old Town
For a more hands-on tour of the city’s history, Ano Poli — literally “Upper Town” — is the place to go.
While much of the city was destroyed in the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917, Ano Poli remained. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it retains much of its traditional Greek and Ottoman architecture and makes for a charming place to wander around.
The clue is in the name: Ano Poli 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.
Pay a visit to the Arch of Galerius and Rotonda
Built in the early 4th century AD, the Rotonda is a cylindrical building. More than its age and old shape, however, is the importance of its use.
Commissioned by the Roman Emperor, Galerius and built in 306 AD, it was part of his palatial precinct but is now thought to have been intended as his mausoleum.
In the years that followed, it became a church and remains one at present – Saint George Church.
This is one of the most well-preserved examples of an early Christian church and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as is the Arch of Galleries.
The arch, leading up to the Rotonda, was built in 298 AD. It would have been opulent in its heyday, with eight pillars, sculptured reliefs, and marble panels.
Though in ruins today, it is still an impressive sight.
Not far from Thessaloniki – about an hours drive – is the Halkidiki peninsula which is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Europe. Think silky white sand and clear turquoise water in abundance!
At Thessaloniki itself, there are a few beaches that are easy to access and have excellent facilities. Asprovalta Beach is our pick of these although it is the further-est away. Agia Triada and Perea Beach are close to town and are both very nice, with good tavernas nearby and plenty of sunbeds and umbrellas.
There are a number of excellent tours you can do of Thessaloniki and the surrounding areas that will really help you make the most of this fascinating city.
Tours of Thessaloniki city
In Thessaloniki itself, there is a hop-on-hop-off bus that takes in the highlights of the city at your own pace.
To really explore the food scene a walking tour with a local is the way to learn real tips and insights as well as visiting some of the best food providores and outlets in the city.
Day trips from Thessaloniki
One of the most popular day trips involves the stunning nearby beaches and bays. A half-day sailing cruise to Shipwreck Bay is a crowd favourite while a must-do is a Day Trip to Halkidiki with a Mt Athos Cruise ( women are not allowed to visit Mt Athos so this is the only way they can see this truly fascinating peninsula and its monasteries).
Tours to Thessaloniki
If you are coming from elsewhere in Greece or even from a neighbouring country it is possible to do a tour to Thessaloniki.