Travel Guide: Thessaloniki Christmas 2023 Unforgettable Extravaganza – Discover the Magic!

A complete Christmas 2023 guide to Thessaloniki from the team at Greeklist

1. Introduction

Welcome to Thessaloniki, a city that transforms into a dazzling winter wonderland during the Christmas season! Nestled along the azure waters of the Thermaic Gulf, this enchanting Greek metropolis beckons travellers with its rich history, cultural tapestry, and a festive spirit that lights up the night. Thessaloniki, the bustling heart of Macedonia, promises a Christmas experience for 2023 like no other, where ancient traditions blend seamlessly with modern celebrations.

As the second-largest city in Greece, Thessaloniki boasts a unique charm that comes alive during the holiday season. The air is filled with the tantalising aroma of festive delicacies, and the cityscape is adorned with twinkling lights, turning every corner into a magical tableau of yuletide joy. From the historical landmarks that narrate tales of bygone eras to the lively markets pulsating with the energy of the present, Thessaloniki is a captivating destination for those seeking an immersive Christmas adventure.

2. Getting to Thessaloniki from United Kingdom

Fly a 3-hour flight from the UK to Thessaloniki, landing at the modern and efficient Thessaloniki International Airport. With seamless services and excellent connectivity, the transition from arrival to exploration in this captivating Greek city is effortlessly smooth, inviting you to embrace the festive spirit of Thessaloniki.

Direct Flights from UK to Thessaloniki 

For quick & direct flights, Skyscanner indicates enticing return fares, with prices starting as low as £303, available from London only.

Connecting Flights from UK to Thessaloniki 

If you seek flexibility or potential cost savings, Skyscanner indicates enticing return fares, with prices starting as low as £216, departures are available from 4 UK cities: London, Manchester, Newcastle and Birmingham.

3. Greek Christmas Customs & Traditions

Immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Greek Christmas customs, where the air resonates with the harmonious melodies of Kalanta carolers, Christopsomo bread takes on a sacred role as a centrepiece in festive gatherings, and coastal landscapes burst into life with the vibrant tradition of decorating boats. Welcome to the enchanting world of Thessaloniki’s holiday celebrations, where each tradition weaves a unique thread into the cultural fabric of this lively city:

  • Podariko: A traditional Greek practice, can be interpreted as “favourable step.” In adherence to this custom, it is customary for the initial person crossing the threshold of your home on January 1st to symbolise good luck. The emphasis lies on entering with the right foot first. Commonly, Greeks opt for a child to be the first to step in, symbolising hopes for abundance and positive blessings in the approaching year.
  • Kalanta (Christmas Carols): During this festive custom, children and occasionally adults venture from house to house, melodiously singing traditional Greek Christmas carols. In return for their musical merriment, these carolers are often greeted with treats, sweets, or even modest gifts. This heartwarming practice serves as a joyous means to share holiday cheer and commemorate the birth of Jesus.
  • Gift-Giving on New Year’s Day: In Greece, the tradition of exchanging gifts is closely tied to New Year’s Day, distinguishing it from the Christmas Eve custom prevalent in other cultures. Saint Basil (Agios Vasilios) takes centre stage in this tradition of gift-giving. On the eve of December 31st, children excitedly anticipate the arrival of gifts bestowed by Saint Basil, and families partake in the joyous exchange of presents as they usher in the new year.
  • Christopsomo: or “Christ’s Bread,” holds a special place in Christmas traditions. This unique bread, baked exclusively for Christmas, becomes a labor of love for families. Adorned with symbols and religious designs, Christopsomo is more than just a culinary creation; it’s a representation of the holiday’s significance. The bread is sanctified during a special Christmas service at the church, and on Christmas Day, it becomes a focal point of family celebrations, being shared and savoured among loved ones
  • Karavaki (Christmas Boat Decoration): A distinctive tradition observed in coastal areas of Greece. During the holiday season, it is customary to embellish small boats or model boats as part of the festive decorations. This practice beautifully echoes Greece’s profound maritime heritage, offering a poignant reminder of the sea’s integral role in the country’s rich culture and history. The adorned boats not only add a nautical flair to Christmas decorations but also symbolise the deep connection between the Greek people and their seafaring traditions.
  • Vasilopita: The Greek New Year’s cake named after Saint Basil the Great is a delightful tradition. Often cut at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, this cake is imbued with symbolism and good fortune. Hidden within its layers is a coin called “flouri,” representing luck for the fortunate person who discovers it in their slice. As the cake is sliced and shared, it becomes a ritual of bestowing blessings for prosperity and joy in the forthcoming year, creating a sweet and meaningful start to the New Year celebration..
  • Epiphany Celebration – Blessing of the Waters: Also known known as “Theophania” in Greece, is a profound event in the Christian calendar, marked by the “Blessing of the Waters” ceremony. This significant ritual commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. On January 6th, during the Epiphany service, a priest performs the sacred act of blessing a body of water, which could be the sea, a river, or a lake. This symbolic ceremony not only pays homage to a pivotal moment in Christian history but also holds spiritual significance as the blessed water is then used for the sanctification of homes and individuals, symbolising purification and the renewal of faith.
  • Kourabiedes & Melomakarona: Delightful staples of Greek Christmas cuisine. Kourabiedes, Greek butter cookies, are often crafted into crescent shapes, generously dusted with powdered sugar. On the other hand, Melomakarona are Christmas cookies infused with honey, featuring a spiced dough and adorned with chopped walnuts. Both treats hold a special place in Greek holiday traditions, gracing festive tables with their distinctive flavors and textures

4. Iconic Places to Visit in Thessaloniki during Christmas

Bask in the festive glow as you explore the enchanting White Tower, Aristotelous Square, and the majestic Rotonda, adorned with sparkling Christmas lights. Let the holiday spirit guide you through the dazzling illumination, creating a magical atmosphere. Immerse yourself in the charm of Thessaloniki’s waterfront, where breathtaking views and vibrant festive displays add an extra layer of Christmas magic to this picturesque cityscape.

  • Aristotelous Square: The central square of Thessaloniki comes alive with festive lights, a large Christmas tree, and a vibrant atmosphere. Enjoy shopping, dining, and street performances.
  • White Tower: Αn iconic symbol of the city, the White Tower is beautifully illuminated during Christmas. Take in panoramic views of Thessaloniki from this historic landmark.
  • Rotonda: Explore the Rotonda, an ancient monument with a rich history. Admire its grandeur and the surrounding gardens adorned with festive decorations.
  • Ladadika District: This historic district transforms into a lively hub of Christmas festivities. Stroll through the cobblestone streets, enjoy live music, and explore the charming shops.
  • Modiano Market: Experience the true essence of Thessaloniki at its markets. Modiano market burst with life, offering local products, handmade crafts, and festive treats.
  • Navarinou Square: Known for its artistic flair, Navarinou Square hosts Christmas events and markets. Enjoy the creative installations and join in the merriment.
  • Ano Poli (Upper Town): Wander through the narrow streets of Ano Poli, the city’s historic upper town. Admire the traditional architecture and discover hidden gems in this charming neighbourhood.
  • Heptapyrgion (Yedi Kule): Venture to Heptapyrgion, the city’s fortress, for breathtaking views of Thessaloniki adorned in festive lights. The medieval fortress offers a unique perspective on the city’s Christmas ambiance.
  • Thessaloniki Waterfront: Take a stroll along the waterfront and enjoy the stunning views of the sea. The waterfront is often decorated with festive lights, creating a magical setting for a leisurely walk
  • Dikastirion Square: Adorned with festive lights, captivates visitors with its holiday charm. Discover the magic as the square transforms into a winter wonderland, offering a delightful blend of history and Christmas spirit in the heart of Thessaloniki.

Did you know that each street  and square in Thessaloniki has its own history? Check here and learn what every name means!

5. Christmas Day trips from in Thessaloniki

Discover the festive magic surrounding Thessaloniki with enchanting day trips during Christmas. Immerse yourself in ancient history at Vergina, adorned with seasonal charm. Explore the winter wonderland of Edessa’s waterfalls or experience the cozy atmosphere in lit-up Kastoria. Unveil the holiday spirit in nearby towns, each offering a unique blend of history, nature, and festive cheer, all in a distance between 50 minutes to 2 hours by car!

6. Beautiful Churches to visit in Thessaloniki during Christmas

Amidst the ancient streets of Thessaloniki, where history whispers through Byzantine domes and centuries-old walls, the spirit of Christmas awakens in the hallowed embrace of sacred Orthodox spaces. From the timeless Hagia Sophia to the vibrant Church of Saint Demetrius, the city’s churches resonate with the joyous echoes of the season, inviting all to bask in the beauty of faith and festive celebration.

The churches in Thessaloniki are countless, but here is our top-5 pick:

  • Church of Hagia Sophia (Saint Sophia): This church is not to be confused with the famous Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Thessaloniki’s Hagia Sophia is an ancient church with a rich history dating back to the 8th century. It features impressive architecture and beautiful Byzantine mosaics.
  • Church of Agios Dimitrios (Saint Dimitrius): Dedicated to the patron saint of Thessaloniki, this church is one of the most significant religious sites in the city. It has a long history, with the original structure dating back to the 4th century. The church is known for its stunning architecture and vibrant frescoes.
  • Church of Agios Nikolaos Orphanos (Saint Nicholas): This small church is a hidden gem in Thessaloniki. Dating back to the 14th century, it features well-preserved frescoes that depict scenes from the life of Saint Nicholas. The church has a serene atmosphere and is a lovely place to visit during the Christmas season.
  • Church of Panagia Chalkeon (Virgin Mary): Dating back to the 11th century, this church is known for its elegant architecture and impressive frescoes. The name “Chalkeon” means “of copper,” and it is believed to refer to the copper workshops that were once located in the area.
  • Vlatadon Monastery: Located in Thessaloniki, this monastery dates back to the 14th century. It is dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary and is known for its historical significance and Byzantine architecture.

7.Great places to eat in Thessaloniki during Christmas

Thessaloniki offers a variety of dining options, and during Christmas, you can experience the festive atmosphere at many charming restaurants. Here are some recommendations for the best places to eat in Thessaloniki during the Christmas season.

Thessaloniki is often referred to as “The Queen of Food”! Check here for more places to eat!

Are you hungry? Why dont you see here our guide in Greek cuisine?

8. Guide for Christmas 2023-2024 activities in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki, being a vibrant city, has various festive activities, markets, and celebrations during the Christmas season. Check our following picks and enjoy your holiday season in Thessaloniki!

9. Accommodation options in Thessaloniki

Choose from a range of accommodation options, including luxury hotels, boutique guesthouses, and budget-friendly hostels. Consider staying in the city center for easy access to Christmas attractions.

Here is our Top-10 hotel list for Thessaloniki.

Find more Greeklist exclusive Hotel deals for Thessaloniki and HotelBrain here!

10. Local Transportation and Getting Around in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki has a well-developed transportation system that includes various options for getting around the city. Here are the main modes of local transportation in Thessaloniki:

  • Public Buses (OASTH): Thessaloniki has an extensive bus network operated by the Organization of Urban Transportation of Thessaloniki (OASTH). Buses cover the city and its suburbs, providing a cost-effective way to travel. You can find information on routes, schedules, and ticket prices on the OASTH website or at bus stops.
  • Taxis: Taxis are readily available throughout the city. You can either hail a taxi on the street or find them at designated taxi stands. Taxis are a convenient option for door-to-door transportation.
  • Bike Sharing: Thessaloniki has a bike-sharing system called “EasyBike.” You can rent a bicycle from various locations in the city using a smartphone app. It’s an eco-friendly and healthy way to explore Thessaloniki, especially in areas with bike lanes.
  • Car Rentals: If you prefer the flexibility of driving yourself, you can rent a car from various rental agencies in Thessaloniki. Keep in mind that traffic and parking in the city centre can be challenging, so it’s advisable to use public transportation or park in designated areas.
  • Motorcycle Rentals: Discover Thessaloniki’s cultural richness with the convenience of a motorcycle, navigating its historic thoroughfares and scenic routes, offering a refined and efficient mode of transportation for an enhanced exploration of the city.
  • Walking: Thessaloniki is a pedestrian-friendly city, especially in the central areas. Many of the main attractions, shops, and restaurants are within walking distance of each other, making it enjoyable to explore on foot.

11. Safety and Travel Tips for Thessaloniki

Stay safe by being aware of your surroundings, and following local guidelines in the second largest city of Greece. Carry a copy of important documents and have emergency numbers handy.

  • Emergency Numbers: Save these emergency numbers:
  1. the local police (100), 
  2. medical emergency (166)
  3. fire department (199).
  4. British Consulate in Thessaloniki (+30 2310278006)
  • Healthcare Awareness: While we wish you a healthy and incident-free visit, it’s wise to acquaint yourself with nearby medical services and pharmacies, providing peace of mind for any unforeseen circumstances during your stay
  • Christmas Shopping Schedule: Starting on December 15th,  shops will stay open from 09:00 until 21:00 on weekdays and from 09:00 until 18:00 on Saturdays. Shops will also be open on Sundays, from 11:00 until 18:00, on December 17th, 24th, and 31th. Shops will be closed on December 25th & 26th and January 1st & 2nd. 
  • Restaurants and Cafeterias Christmas Schedule: While most restaurants  remain open, it’s common for many to have reduced hours or close on Christmas Day and sometimes on Christmas Eve. It’s advisable to check with specific restaurants in the area you plan to visit and make reservations if possible
  • Language: While English is commonly spoken, adding a few basic Greek phrases to your repertoire can enrich your interactions and demonstrate respect for the local language. Be sure to extend warm wishes to everyone by saying “Kala Hristougena” (Merry Christmas) and “Kali Hronia” (Happy New Year)! It’s a delightful way to connect with locals and embrace the festive spirit in Thessaloniki.
  • Embrace the Festive Spirit: Thessaloniki is beautifully decorated during Christmas, so take time to explore the festive markets, such as the one at Aristotelous Square. Enjoy the holiday lights and decorations.
  • Try Local Treats: Indulge in seasonal delights like kourabiedes (Christmas cookies) and melomakarona (honey cookies). Don’t forget to sip on a cup of warm Greek coffee or a glass of  wine.
  • Visit Ano Poli: Venture to the charming Ano Poli (Upper Town) for a different perspective of the city. The narrow streets and traditional houses are particularly enchanting during the holiday season.
  • Be Weather-Ready: Thessaloniki can be chilly in December, so pack accordingly. Bring layers, a warm jacket, and comfortable shoes for exploring the city’s hilly terrain. Check the weather here.
  • Experience Greek Christmas Traditions: Attend local events or church services to experience Greek Christmas traditions. Many churches host special services and concerts during the holiday season.
  • Connect with Locals: Strike up conversations with locals. Greeks are known for their hospitality, and you might get insider tips on hidden gems or events happening during your visit.

12. Interesting FAQs about Thessaloniki – Christmas Edition!

  • What makes Thessaloniki a unique destination for Christmas celebrations?

Thessaloniki’s unique blend of history, culture, and modernity creates a charming and distinctive Christmas atmosphere. The city’s rich traditions and warm hospitality make it a special destination for holiday celebrations.

  • What does the name “Thessaloniki” mean?

The name has its roots in ancient history. It is believed the city  to be named after Thessalonike of Macedonia, who was the half-sister of Alexander the Great. Thessalonike was born to King Philip II of Macedonia  and his Thessalian wife, Nicesipolis, around 352 BCE.

  • How many days should I spend in Thessaloniki during Christmas?

Spend 3-5 days in Thessaloniki during Christmas, revelling in festive markets, cultural delights, and the warm embrace of this historical city adorned in holiday splendour. 

  • How easy is it to explore Thessaloniki on foot?

Thessaloniki’s compact city centre makes it very pedestrian-friendly, allowing visitors to explore historical sites, cafes, and shops on foot.

  • Which are the must-visit Christmas markets in Thessaloniki?

Modiano and Navarinou squares host popular Christmas markets, offering a variety of handmade crafts, local delicacies, and festive goods.

  • What is the historical significance of Thessaloniki?

Thessaloniki has a rich history dating back to ancient times and has been a crossroads of various civilizations, including Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and modern Greek.

  • Is English widely spoken in Thessaloniki?

Yes, English is commonly spoken in tourist areas and by the younger population. However, learning a few basic Greek phrases can enhance your experience.

  • Is there a specific date or event that marks the beginning of the holiday season?

Locals often start celebrating Christmas on December 6th, the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Family gatherings, festive meals, and exchanging of gifts are common traditions.

  • Does it snow in Thessaloniki in December?

Although the weather in Thessaloniki is the typical Mediterranean one, characterized by hot summers and mild winters, some snow can fall in December and January.

13. Conclusion

Thessaloniki’s cultural treasures stand proudly against the winter backdrop, offering a unique blend of tradition and modernity. The White Tower, illuminated in a soft glow, becomes a beacon of hope and unity, symbolizing the resilience of this ancient city.

In Thessaloniki, Christmas isn’t just a holiday; it’s a celebration of life, love, and the enduring spirit of this remarkable city. As you bid farewell to the twinkling lights and the echoes of laughter, you carry with you not just memories but the enchanting essence of a Christmas spent in Thessaloniki – a gift that lingers in your heart long after the season has passed!

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