Away from the capital of Greece, in the middle of the North, lies the second-largest city in the country. With a historical existence spanning from late Roman times, Thessaloniki is a charming, complex, and diverse mix of monuments and alternative urban attractions. Especially for visitors who crave for historical information. Here are some of the top attractions that show the life of Thessaloniki through centuries.
Arch of Galerius
One of the most well – known monuments as well as a major meeting point for locals. The remnants of a triple arch, stands in 12.5 meters in height, as a reminder of the victory over the Sassanid Persians in 279 AD of Roman emperor Galerius. Even though most of the marble panels have been lost, you can still see Emperor Galerius guiding pomp with Persian enemies, along with camels and elephants.
The triple Arch of Galerius was once connected via a processional road to a Rotunda, built at 306 AD, after the order of the Roman Emperor. The UNESCO – listed building has undergone many alterations through centuries, as it has been changed from a pagan temple to a Christian church and later to a mosque. Today, it is accessible to the visitor who seeks to admire Rotunda with a dome 30 meters above the floor and newly restored early Christan mosaics.
The presence of Romans has not been limited only in the creation of Rotunda and the Arch. A few blocks from the center of the city, the Aristotelous Square, the ruins of a Roman Forum – Agora were discovered, dated back to the 2nd century AD. A complex designed in a rectangular shape with various buildings like a small theater, shops, Roman baths, and a paved square, probably used as the center of Thessaloniki’s public life.
But the most well – known attraction of the city can be found near the waterfront. With a diameter of 23 meters, the tower is 34 meters in height, the White Tower is Thessaloniki’s signature monument. Built in the late 15th century, it was once used as a fort and later as a garrison, earning the nickname of the “Tower of Blood” during Ottoman times. Today you can enjoy a 360 – degree view of the city from the top.
Thessaloniki may not have the same Acropolis as Athens, but there is the main fortress at the northeastern side built during the Byzantine period. After the conquer of the city, Ottomans maintained its military purpose until the late 19th century when it became a prison. As of today, it offers spectacular panoramic views of the Thermaic Gulf and the rest of the city.
There are also some very cool places to visit too!
The youthful profile, the relaxing vibe, the cultural aura, and the historical richness of Thessaloniki, have managed to attract more and more visitors each year. Those who want to see something different away from the capital, others who want to enjoy its finest cuisine and for some who want to live its nightlife. Thessaloniki has managed to create different neighborhoods, each one with something unique to offer.
Thessaloniki’s city center, with shops, cafes, and beautiful architecture, Aristotelous Square has been named after the known philosopher with his statue. After the big fire of 1917, it was redesigned by the French Architect Ernest Hebrard as a long way from the sea up to the Roman Agora. Ideal to start your wandering in Thessaloniki as you take a look at Olympus over the horizon.
Once a place that used to house stores selling oil byproducts (thus its name – ladi means oil in Greek) with not the best reputation, today is known for its nightlife. Visitors have many choices from cafes, bars, restaurants, and clubs while it is filled with young people who are on the lookout for the best deals for entertainment. Some bars have special offers in beer, karaoke stations, and live concerts.
Mostly a student hub, due to its proximity to the university area with many hip stores and cafes. Navarinou is a neighborhood built upon where once Roman emperor Galerius’ palace was built, today only in ruins. Here you can enjoy a coffee while you are doing sightseeing or grab a gyro sandwich as you wander up and down the pedestrian area.
In the northern part of the city, is located the oldest district of Thessaloniki. As you walk the steep road, you will encounter old mansions and two – story houses, built with the Macedonian style. Even though the Great fire of 1917 had destroyed many parts of the city, Ano Poli had survived and maintained its traditional character with narrow street paved streets and corners.
The latest addition to Thessaloniki’s extraordinary beauty is its Waterfront area. A long open air space spanning from the harbor to Thessaloniki’s concert hall. Along its way, visitors can appreciate the emblematic monument of White Tower, the statue of Alexander the Great, the charming Umbrellas sculpture, and will relax in many green spaces. Quite popular with photographers and Instagrammers, the Waterfront of Thessaloniki never ceases to amaze.
Let’s now see the UNESCO listed Places too!
The co-capital of Greece, as Northers like to call Thessaloniki, has been associated for a long time with the Byzantine culture. As a result, many churches have been built throughout the city, creating the architectural identity of the place. Each one with unique characteristics that have granted them a place within the list of UNESCO heritage monuments. You don’t need to be religious to visit those places, just to be artistic – curious.
Most prominent church with existence since the 8th century, Haghia Sophia got the same name as the one in Constantinopole/Istanbul. There have been many alterations since it was changed to a mosque after the capture of Thessaloniki in 1230 by the Ottomans until its liberation in 1912. Mosaics from the 9th and 11th centuries can still be admired around this enormous church.
As the patron saint of Thessaloniki, Aghios Demetrios (Saint Demetrius) has his Byzantine church, built close to the Roman Agora. This marvelous five – aisled basilica was built earlier than Haghia Sophia, in the fifth century. This place never stops to amaze with its varicolored marble columns, beautiful mosaics, and remained frescoes, as well as with the crypt that can be found under the church with remains of a Roman road used during the antiquity.
Church of the Acheiropoietos
Due to an ancient Christian tradition, the icon of Panaghia Hodegetria that once resided in the church was believed to be made by divine, thus the name “Acheiropoietos” (not made by hands). This basilica is a great example of Byzantine magnificence and impressive architecture dated back to late 5th century AD. Beautiful frescoes and mosaics can still be admired by visitors.
Another notable UNESCO World Heritage moment, the temple of Hosios David is another great architectural example that has been reconsecrated as a Greek Orthodox church after being converted also to a mosque during Ottoman occupation. A remnant of this period, the base of the minaret, can still be seen today along with admirable fresco decorations and rich mosaics on the walls.
Located in Ano Poli, this monastery is one of the oldest UNESCO – listed monuments in Thessaloniki with major importance. It has been founded by Empress Anna Palaiologina on the spot where it is believed that Paul preached in Thessaloniki around mid 14th century AD. Today, there can be found many portable Byzantine icons, an extraordinary old church, and an aviary filled with peacocks. From the Vlatadon Monastery, you can have some of the best views of the city.
What about some exciting festivals? (See below)
Thessaloniki has made a name for itself with its gastronomic traditions, cultural sites, and magical vibe. Having the largest university campus in the country, students have given an alternative and a rather young image to the city while they want to be modern and stylish. Thus many of the greatest festivals in Greece are being held in Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki International Film Festival
One of the most well – known festivals in Greece, the TIFF is the paradise for any cinephile. For a week, usually during mid-November, the whole city lives in a cinematic atmosphere. During this event, viewers have the change to watch movies from Greek and foreign filmmakers in several venues across the city. Always with an opening and closing party, as well as with many talks and side events for the public.
Thessaloniki Food Festival
For many, Thessaloniki is considered the culinary capital of Greece. Spices and smells, recipes from all over the country as well as from many corners of the world. Thessaloniki Food Festival has emerged as a haven for food lovers where anyone can explore its rich and flavorful gastronomy while several restaurants showcase and promote their special dishes. Usually, during May.
Reworks Music Festival
Way different than any common music festival. RMF is a festival that encompasses a great variety of music genres. Here you will listen to experimental and contemporary dance music, as well as DJs from all over the world who travel in Thessaloniki so to play with Greek ones on the same scene. It has been loved both by locals and visitors who seek something different in September.
Thessaloniki International Book Fair
A newly established event that also takes place during May in an attempt to strengthen the love for contemporary literature, not only within the Greek borders but also from other places. Each year there is a theme for an honored country that attracts many writers, literary agents, publishers, and anyone fond of books.
Street Mode Festival
Urban culture has been part of modern life, as it appears with many expressions through music, dance, street art, and more. A festival that is quite popular among youngsters, Street Mode encompasses all these characteristics into a unique feast with different art performances, such as parkour shows, MC battles, and live stages with music bands. Surely, not something you would like to miss.
Of course, there is also the possibility that you would like to visit close places of the city!
As a livable and alternative city, full of wonders, Thessaloniki has so many things to see and do. But also, it is a great base to explore the rest of Northern Greece with attractions at a few hours’ distance. Because Greece has much more to offer than the capital and the islands.
Vergina to Meteora
About an hour away from Thessaloniki, visit the small village of Vergina, which became internationally famous in 1977, when archaeologists unearthed what they claimed was the burial site of the Kings of Macedonia, including the tomb of Philippe II, father of Alexander the Great. Then, head to the “hanging from the sky” monasteries on Meteora, those magnificent huge rocks, on which the most priceless historical and religious treasures have been built.
Under Mount Olympus, Dion
Not far from Vergina, at the footsteps of the mountain of the Greek Gods, lies the religious center of the Ancient Macedonians, Dion. Visitors tend to explore the ruins of the ancient place, dedicated to the worship of Zeus. This is where sacrifices were made to Gods by Alexander the Great before his legendary expedition.
Egnatia to the West, Philippi
A site that was recently added to the UNESCO Heritage list with a history starting from 356 BC with the foundation of King Philip II. Within a few hours from Thessaloniki, visitors can admire the remains of a glorious city with theater, baptistery, acropolis, the ruins of a huge basilica and arena. This is where St Paul was hosted as he entered Europe and held the first Christian Baptism.
Into the blue of Toroneos Gulf
Since Greece is not only ruins, but beautiful places and especially near the sea, a traveler to Thessaloniki can also enjoy the deepest color of blue waters not far from the city in Chalkidiki. Known among locals, a cruise trip around Toroneos Gulf and the coastline of the Sithonia and Kassandra peninsulas could be the best choice for sunbathing and swimming.
So close to the center of Orthodoxy, Mount Athos
This trip seems like it has a different vibe. A mysterious and miraculous place with monasteries built since the early Byzantine times within nature where only men are allowed to enter with a specific certification. But it is possible to admire them even from the water as you sail over the Aegean Sea and take glimpses of their exceptional architecture.