Should you visit Thessaloniki? Absolutely! Here’s why Thessaloniki is one of the best cities in Greece, and why it should be on your travel list.
Why Visit Thessaloniki Greece
Thessaloniki is Greece’s second-largest city. It is located to the north of the country, in the region of Greece called Central Macedonia, and is built right on Thermaikos Gulf.
Thessaloniki often flies under the radar with foreign visitors. Which is a shame, as the buzzing coastal city is full of history, culture and colorful markets. In fact, it’s one of the most amazing cities in Greece.
Visitors can explore Thessaloniki’s archaeological sites and museums, sample the delicious local cuisine, and enjoy its lively art and nightlife scene. The city is also a great base for exploring the surrounding region, with plenty of day trip options available.
In a nutshell, Thessaloniki is a great city for history buffs, foodies, shopaholics, and anyone who enjoys a lively scene. Here are all the reasons why Thessaloniki is absolutely worth a visit!
1. Thessaloniki is an amazingly lively city
Thessaloniki is one of the liveliest cities in Greece. This is partly due to the large number of university students living here, and roaming the city’s streets throughout day and night.
There is always something going on in Thessaloniki. From festivals and exhibitions to gigs and live performances, the charming coastal city never sleeps!
2. The Thessaloniki waterfront is one of the most iconic spots in Greece
One of the most beautiful spots in Thessaloniki is the city’s promenade, which stretches for over 6 kilometers along the seafront. Here is where locals come to walk, cycle, jog, or just hang out.
The waterfront is a great place to take a leisurely stroll, sit on a bench, and watch the world go by. You can also have a look at various statues and artworks, of which the most famous is the Umbrellas installation by the acclaimed Greek sculptor George Zongolopoulos.
If you have some extra time, you can hop on the little pirate boats sailing around the Gulf. It’s a fun activity, especially if you are travelling with kids!
3. Thessaloniki has an incredibly rich history
Thessaloniki has a long and rich history, dating back to the ancient times. It was founded in 316 / 315 BC by King Cassander of Macedon, and was an important cultural center during the Roman and the Byzantine Era. Its port was a major trade hub, connecting the East with the West.
After surviving numerous attacks by various invaders over the centuries, Thessaloniki was seized by the Ottomans in 1430. It remained occupied until 1912, when it was liberated by the Greek army.
At that time, Thessaloniki was a flourishing city with a large multicultural population of Jewish, Ottoman and Greek people. In 1917, the Great Fire destroyed a part of the city, which resulted in the displacement of many residents.
Today, visitors can see reminders of Thessaloniki’s fascinating history all around the city. Ancient ruins sit side by side with trendy bars and cafes, and Byzantine churches blend in with traditional taverns, busy Ottoman markets and wonderful neoclassical buildings.
One thing that might put you off in Thessaloniki are the rather bland blocks of flats. Many of them were built quite hastily in the ’60s and ’70s, when low prices were more important than aesthetics and style. Still, there are so many beautiful churches and refurbished buildings everywhere, that you may not even notice the blocks of flats!
History buffs will be thrilled to visit some of the archaeological sites and museums in Thessaloniki, such as the following:
The White Tower
The iconic monument is the city’s landmark. It was built in the 15th century by the Ottomans, and was used as a fortress, a prison, and a execution site over the centuries.
Today, it houses a museum exhibiting the city’s rich history. Go all the way to the top for some gorgeous views!
The Roman sites
Thessaloniki flourished during the Roman Era. Visitors can see the remains of the Galerius Palace, the Roman Agora, the Arch of Galerius, and the impressive Rotunda, which was later transformed into a Christian temple.
The UNESCO Byzantine churches and monuments
The Byzantine monuments and churches of Thessaloniki were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1988. They are scattered all around the city, so if you want to visit all of them get ready for a very long walk.
Don’t miss the restored church of Agios Dimitrios, with its impressive crypt. Also, make sure you pass by the Byzantine church of Agia Sofia, the church of Acheiropoiitos, and Vlatadon Monastery.
Ano Poli, the old town of Thessaloniki, sits on a hill overlooking the city centre. Here is where you will find Heptapyrgion, a massive fortress which was originally used by the Byzantines.
During the times of the Ottoman Empire, the Heptapyrgion was transformed into a prison. It was maintained for several decades after Thessaloniki was liberated, and eventually closed down in 1989. It is an eerie, sad place to explore.
If you like walking, by all means walk all the way up to the Heptapyrgion, past the Byzantine Walls and the old Pasha’s Gardens. The views of the city are just fantastic!
Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
The Archaeological Museum in Thessaloniki is one of the most important museums in Greece. It houses an extensive collection of artifacts, such as the Aravissos Hoard, tombs, statues, mosaic floors and the impressive Derveni Papyrus, the oldest surviving book in Europe.
The Museum of Byzantine Culture
Every history lover should definitely spend some time in the Museum of Byzantine Culture, an atmospheric museum which has received numerous awards. Apart from seeing the precious exhibits, you will also learn a lot about the Byzantine culture.
The Jewish Museum
A museum featuring the history of the thriving Jewish population of the city. Among others, you can see religious objects, books, family heirlooms, letters, photos, and various other documents highlighting the importance of Jewish people in Thessaloniki’s history.
This is just a small selection of the historical sites and museums you can find in Thessaloniki. If you want to find out more about the city’s past, make sure to add some of these places to your itinerary.
4. Thessaloniki is full of art and culture
Apart from being a historical city, Thessaloniki is also home to many art museums, galleries, and cultural organisations. Four of these museums belong to the Metropolitan Organisation of Museums of Visual Arts of Thessaloniki (MOMus).
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOMus)
A massive art museum showcasing contemporary art by various artists. It manages private and state art collections, and organizes the Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art.
The Museum of Modern Art – Costakis Collection (MOMus)
This museum aims to study, preserve and promote modern art and avant-garde art. There is a selection of works by both Greek and international artists.
Thessaloniki Museum of Photography (MOMus)
The photography museum aims to study and promote the art of photography with rotating exhibitions. Its vast collections and archives go back to 1890.
Experimental Center for the Arts (MOMus)
A cutting-edge museum promoting contemporary experimental art and supporting young artists and innovative projects.
Thessaloniki Cinema Museum
Established in 1997, this compact museum gives an overview of the development of Greek cinema over the years. The collection of displays includes photos, posters, projections, images and various relevant objects.
Apart from these art museums, the city is brimming with small, independent galleries. You will discover several as you wander around the city center – just keep your eyes open!
5. The local food in Thessaloniki is out of this world
If you like Greek food, you will absolutely fall in love with Thessaloniki. There is something about this city that just makes everything taste better – and the portions are huge!
The city is famous for its koulouri, a semi-sweet bread with sesame seeds, its bougatsa, a type of pastry, and the souvlaki, which is similar to a kebab. However, do not hesitate to taste everything you come across.
Even better, take a food tour and learn more about the city’s thriving food markets and multicultural culinary legacy! You can book it here: Thessaloniki food tour
For more information on Greek dishes, check out this article: Food of Greece.
6. Thessaloniki has amazing nightlife
Thessaloniki’s nightlife is famous all around Greece. There are plenty of all-day-cafes, bars and clubs everywhere in the city. The significant student population ensures that there is always a party going on somewhere!
Two of the most lively areas of the city are the famous Ladadika, and the nearby Valaoritou Street. You will also find plenty of nightlife on Nikis street, right on the seafront.
If you are visiting in summer, you can also head out to the coastal resorts close to the city, and enjoy the seasonal bars and clubs.
7. Thessaloniki has excellent shopping
Thessaloniki is an fantastic place if you like shopping. As the commercial center is compact, you can easily walk around the various shops and markets, and shop till you drop.
Tsimiski street is the main shopping area. Here, you’ll find the most famous chain stores and high street shops in Greece. There are also a few local boutique shops with original items, and a couple of department stores.
For budget clothes / shoes and a few thrift stores, head to Egnatia street. This has traditionally been a place for students to go shopping. The stores around Navarinou Square will have you covered for souvenirs, hippy clothes, inexpensive accessories, and all sorts of tattoos and alternative jewelry.
Head to Kapani food market for tasty, inexpensive products, and Bezesteni market, for a mix of cheap clothes, household items, tools, and a bit of everything.
Finally, for deli products and treats, check out the renovated Modiano market, which is scheduled to re-open in late 2022. I can’t wait to visit myself!
8. There are some cool urban beaches close to Thessaloniki
A short drive to the south of Thessaloniki, a little past the airport, you will find the coastal areas of Peraia and Neoi Epivates. Here, you can enjoy the shallow, sandy beaches, and a wide selections of cafes, bars and restaurants.
Further away, you can find Nea Michaniona, Nea Kallikrateia, and the region of Chalkidiki, which has some of the most beautiful beaches on mainland Greece.
In fact, as any person from Thessaloniki will tell you, “there is no place like Chalkidiki”!
9. There are plenty of day trip options from Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki is situated in the Macedonia region of Greece, which is famous for its stunning mountain scenery. The city is the perfect base if you want to explore the surrounding areas.
Here are some ideas for day trips from Thessaloniki:
- The Royal Tombs of Vergina, an incredible Unesco World Heritage Site and museum > BOOK HERE
- Cruise to the monasteries of Mount Athos > BOOK HERE
- Pozar thermal baths and Edessa day trip > BOOK HERE
- The archaeological site of Dion and Mount Olympus > BOOK HERE
- The amazing Meteora Monasteries > BOOK HERE
Here are some more ideas for day trips from Thessaloniki.
10. The pace of life in Thessaloniki is relaxed
Many visitors comment on the relaxed pace of everyday life in Thessaloniki. You are likely to see people hanging out in the city’s cafes, bars, parks, squares or the iconic seafront at any time of the day and night.
Yes, Thessaloniki is a fantastic city to explore. But it’s also a fantastic city to hang out, people-watch, and strike random conversations with strangers who always seem to have stacks of time for a chat.
In fact, there is even a specific term in Greek for this slow-paced life: halará 🙂
How to get to Thessaloniki
There are direct flights to Thessaloniki from several airports in Europe. Here’s how to get from Thessaloniki airport to the city center.
Alternatively, you can reach Thessaloniki on a short flight or train ride from Athens.
Where to stay in Thessaloniki
Unlike Athens, Thessaloniki is a fairly compact city. If you like walking, you can easily get everywhere on foot. There are many high-end and mid-range hotels around Aristotelous Square, Tsimiski and Agias Sofias Street.
Best time to visit Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki is wonderful at any time of the year. Yet, if you don’t tolerate heat and humidity very well, it’s probably best to avoid it in July and August.
On the other hand, winters in Thessaloniki can be very cold and wet. Still, the city remains lively, with plenty of festivals, exhibitions, special events and parties.
My favourite times of year to visit Thessaloniki are spring and autumn. Unlike the Greek islands, which can feel a little too quiet then, the charming city is buzzing with things to do, minus the touristy vibe!
Conclusion: Is Thessaloniki worth visiting? For sure!
Whether you’re interested in history and Greek culture, or simply looking for a fun city to explore for a few days,Thessaloniki is definitely worth a visit. With its abundance of things to see and do, you’ll never find yourself bored in this vibrant Greek city.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to explore Thessaloniki for yourself! If you visit, I’d love to see what you thought, so please leave a comment down below.
FAQ about Thessaloniki
Here are a few questions that readers have asked in the past:
How many days do you need for Thessaloniki?
You can get a good feel of Thessaloniki in a day or two. However, if you want to visit all the museums and enjoy the nightlife, allow for at least four or five days.
Is Athens or Thessaloniki better?
Both Athens and Thessaloniki are lovely! If you are into classical history, Athens is better, but if you are interested in Byzantine monuments, Thessaloniki is unbeatable. Athens is a big city, while Thessaloniki is quite compact, and it’s possible to walk around everywhere. Whichever city you choose, you will definitely enjoy the local culture and ambiance.
Why is Thessaloniki popular?
Thessaloniki is a fantastic city to visit for a city break or a long weekend. People visit to see ruins from the Roman and Byzantine Era, to taste the delicious food, and to enjoy its vibrant nightlife and lively atmosphere.
Is Thessaloniki a beautiful city?
Thessaloniki is a wonderfully charming coastal city, where buildings of different eras stand side by side. Whether you are interested in Roman ruins, signs of the Byzantine and Ottoman occupation, or modern architecture, Thessaloniki has you covered!
Is Thessaloniki a party city?
Thessaloniki is a lively city which several thousands of students call home, and has amazing nightlife. Areas like Ladadika, Valaoritou street or Nikis street are always busy, and there’s a buzzing atmosphere.
More guides about Greece
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- Tipping in Greece
- The evil eye in Greece
- The best Greek souvenirs
- Important Greek celebrations and festivals
- Greek food culture
Hi! I’m Vanessa from Athens. I’ve got several relatives living in Thessaloniki, so I go fairly often, and I can never get enough of it! The seafront promenade, the student vibes, the lively markets and the great food are all excellent reasons to include Thessaloniki in your Greece itinerary. Follow me on FB and Instagram for more news and photos of Greece!