The second largest city in Greece, Thessaloniki is a perfect economic destination for a short (or long) holiday in the city, including museums, shopping and nightlife.
Still little known to tourists, Thessaloniki (Greek Thessaloniki), the second largest city in Greece, is a perfect destination for a city break away from the usual tourist itineraries. There is enough art and culture to keep you busy for several days, including ancient ruins, museums ranging from the classical era to contemporary art, majestic churches, imposing Byzantine walls and an enigmatic tower, but if you want a more frivolous holiday you can explore the shopping districts, the elegant squares and the pleasant promenade. Young, energetic and optimistic, Thessaloniki will not have the iconic charm of Athens but knows how to entertain its visitors, with clubs to spend evenings drinking one or more drinks and important cultural events such as the International Film Festival of Thessaloniki.
If the heat is unbearable you just need to get on a ferry or a bus to reach the nearby beaches or the more remote Chalkidiki.
Where is Thessaloniki?
Thessaloniki is the main city of Macedonia, northern region of mainland Greece. It stands on a bay of the homonymous gulf and is bathed by the Aegean Sea.
Streets and squares The pulsating heart of Thessaloniki is the central and monumental Piazza Aristotle, stretching out towards the sea. The area around the square is full of bars, souvenir shops, bookshops and boutiques; you can then continue shopping in the main streets of Tsimiski, Mitropoleos, Egnatia and the Nikis coast.
If you just want to walk, the promenade is the best place, cooler and with many bars to have a drink. Churches The huge church of Agios Dimitrios is almost a symbol of the city: dedicated to the patron saint, this ancient church dating back to the fifth century was built in the place of the martyrdom of Saint Dimitrius, killed by order of a Roman emperor during the persecutions of the early Christians .
Only five of the splendid frescoes that decorated the church survived the 1917 fire: you can admire them above the altar. Built in the VIII century on an early Christian temple of the III century, the Church of Santa Sofia recalls in the name and in the project the most famous Agia Sofia in Istanbul.
Take a look at the exceptional mosaic depicting the Ascension of Christ in the dome. Monuments and historical sites The most famous monument of Thessaloniki is the White Tower: built as a defensive tower in the fifteenth century on the remains of a pre-existing Byzantine tower, was used by the Ottomans as a prison and torture chamber and this earned the unflattering nickname of Torre del Blood. Today the tower, 34 meters high, houses a museum dedicated to the history of Thessaloniki; you can climb to the top to enjoy a panoramic view of the city. At the intersection of Via Egnatia with Via Gounari you can see the remains of the Arch of Galerius, built around 300 BC to celebrate an important victory over the Persians.
Originally it consisted of four pillars supporting a dome, but today what remains are only three pillars; the sculptural decorations depict scenes of the victorious campaign of Galerius against the Persians. Another testimony of Roman domination in Thessaloniki are the remains of the Roman agora (or forum), which you can see north of Piazza Aristotle.
Do not miss the fortress that dominates the city from above and the Byzantine walls, built in the fourth century BC and fortified by the emperor Theodosius. Museums Although Thessaloniki can not compete with Athens for the quantity and prestige of its ancient museums, the city boasts a good number of art and history museums that are worth a visit:
Archaeological Museum: in the heart of the historical center of Thessaloniki there is the most important museum of northern Greece and one of the largest in the country, which exhibits exhibits and works of art from prehistory to late antiquity. The highlight of the collection is the crater of Derveni, a bronze vase used as a funeral urn, famous for its extraordinary decorations with scenes of Dionysian dances.
Museum of the Macedonian Struggle: bulwark of Greek nationalism, this museum will tell you about battles and fights that drove away from Greece, Turks and Ottomans. You will see rare maps, weapons, uniforms, vintage photographs and other documents.
Museum of Byzantine Culture: exhibits a collection of over 3000 objects of Byzantine art including mosaics, jewels, glassware and funerary paintings. With its well-kept information panels it will guide you to discover this extraordinary culture.
Atatürk's House: museum dedicated to the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal, who was born in Thessaloniki. The museum, which exhibits objects that belonged to the famous politician, is formally part of the Turkish consulate: an identity document will be required to enter.
Jewish Museum: a moving museum housed in one of the few Jewish buildings that survived the 1917 fire that tells the story of the Jews in Thessaloniki, from the first immigrations in the fifteenth century, to the period of maximum creativity of the seventeenth century to the brutal massacre that took place during the Holocaust.
Cinema Museum: small museum dedicated to the history of Greek cinema.
Museum of Photography: an old port warehouse is transformed into a photographic museum that hosts temporary and permanent exhibitions.
CACT - Contemporary Art Center Thessaloniki: this cultural center, dedicated to new trends in contemporary art, is also housed in a warehouse. Organize temporary exhibitions and events.
Despite being a seaside town with a port and a promenade, Thessaloniki is not a seaside resort: there are no city beaches. Having said that, it is possible to add a couple of hours of relax to the seaside to the nearby beaches. With a few euros you can take a ferry that leaves from the city pier and stops at several beaches in the area, all less than 50 minutes away. They are mostly equipped beaches, with bars and restaurants: they will not be the most beautiful beaches in Greece, but the sea is cleaner than well-known localities of our Adriatic. If you are willing to move further, you can reach the Chalkidiki peninsula by bus, but organize your day well otherwise you risk spending it all by bus (or worse waiting under a scorching sun).
Thessaloniki is a lively metropolis that does not go to sleep when the sun goes down. The aperitif is almost a sacred ritual, celebrated by locals with joy: if you want to join them the best place is the seafront, between Aristotelou square and the port, with its wide selection of bars and cocktail lounges. The evening continues with dinner, which according to the Greek tradition is consumed very late and is an important moment of socialization.
Choose one of the typical taverns around the covered market for a fun evening with mezedes and traditional music. You may decide to stop here, as it will already be late, but the night in Thessaloniki continues in the outskirts of the suburb of Kalamaria or, in the summer months, in the clubs of the coast, all less than an hour's drive away.
Reaching Thessaloniki could not be easier: it is in fact connected to Italy by direct flights departing from various cities. It can also be reached by bus from Athens but it is a rather long journey, between five and seven hours.