A complete travel guide to Thessaloniki from the team at Greeklist.
1. Introduction to Thessaloniki
Embark on a spellbinding journey to Thessaloniki, where the ancient whispers of civilizations past echo through time, and the pulse of modernity harmonizes with the tales etched in its cobblestone streets. Nestled at the crossroads of civilizations, this Greek gem invites you to a symphony of history, culture, and boundless adventure.
In Thessaloniki, also known as Salonica, the past dances with the present, creating an atmosphere where centuries intertwine effortlessly. From the grandeur of the White Tower to the labyrinthine charm of Ano Poli, every step resonates with the footsteps of Byzantine Emperors and the voices of ancient philosophers.
Prepare to be captivated by the allure of Thessaloniki, where the echoes of history, the aroma of delectable cuisine, and the promise of undiscovered adventures beckon you into a realm where every moment is a poetic stanza in the epic tale of this extraordinary city.
2. Thessaloniki: A Brief History
Nestled beside the shimmering waters of the North Aegean, Thessaloniki stands as a living testament to the eons it has witnessed. Once a bustling hub of the Macedonian Kingdom of Alexander the Great, the city found its true character under the Roman Empire, flourishing as an essential center of commerce and culture. A pivotal moment in its history arrived during the Byzantine era, when Thessaloniki became a jewel in the Byzantine crown, adorned with grand churches, imposing walls, and a cultural legacy that resonates to this day.
The echoes of conquests and triumphs did not cease as the Ottoman Empire left its indelible mark on Thessaloniki in the 15th century. Mosques, hammams, and markets sprung forth, weaving a rich tapestry of Eastern influence into the city’s fabric. In the early 20th century, Thessaloniki witnessed the tides of change as it was liberated by King George I of Greece, and became a part of modern Greece. The city played a pivotal role in the Balkan Wars, emerging victorious and solidifying its place as a beacon of Greek identity.
In the embrace of the 21st century, modern Thessaloniki, the queen of Northern Greece, thrives as a dynamic metropolis, seamlessly blending its rich heritage with contemporary vitality, vibrant cultural scenes, and a cosmopolitan spirit that beckons visitors to explore its diverse and ever-evolving landscape.
3. 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.
4. Best Time to Visit Thessaloniki from the UK
For pleasant weather and optimal exploration, plan your visit between late spring and early autumn. The months of May to September offer a delightful Mediterranean climate, making it ideal for wandering through Thessaloniki’s streets and enjoying outdoor attractions.
You can check 10-day weather conditions for Thessaloniki here.
4. Top Destinations and Attractions in Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki, a city where the echoes of history harmonize with the vibrant rhythm of contemporary life. As you traverse its enchanting streets, you’ll discover a mosaic of cultural treasures, from ancient monuments and Byzantine churches to lively markets and waterfront promenades. Let the spirit of Thessaloniki captivate you as you embark on a journey through time and modernity, where every corner reveals a story waiting to be unveiled!
Here are the top-20 places to visit in Thessaloniki:
- Aristotelous Square: The heart of Thessaloniki, a bustling hub where the energy of the city pulses through its vibrant streets.
- White Tower: Ascend the iconic White Tower (known as “Lefkos Pyrgos” in Greek), not just for its breathtaking views but to unlock the city’s secrets held within its historic walls.
- The Thessaloniki Waterfront (Paralia): Stretching along the Thermaikos Gulf, with scenic views, vibrant cafes, and a captivating atmosphere that encapsulates the city’s maritime allure.
- Rotonda: A multifaceted masterpiece that has witnessed the passage of empires, echoing with the voices of centuries.
- Ladadika District: A historic lively area filled with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, perfect for exploring the nightlife.
- Church of Agios Dimitrios: A basilica honouring Saint Demetrius, the city’s patron, with impressive mosaics.
- Kapani Market: An authentic market where locals shop for fresh food and local specialties.
- Navarinou Square: A dynamic square known for its vibrant atmosphere, cafes, and cultural events.
- Ano Poli (Upper Town): A charming historic district with narrow cobblestone streets, traditional houses, and stunning views of the city.
- Modiano Market: Experience the true essence of Thessaloniki at its markets. Modiano market burst with life, offering local products, handmade crafts, and festive treats.
- Museum of the Macedonian Struggle: Offering a compelling journey through the region’s history, chronicling the Macedonian struggle for independence with immersive exhibits and artifacts.
- Roman Forum: The ancient Roman agora with ruins and archaeological remains.
- Heptapyrgion: Meaning “Fortress of Seven Towers” in Greek, is a large fortress situated on the northeastern corner of the city’s acropolis
- Vlatadon Monastery: A historic monastery with a peaceful atmosphere in Ano Poli
- Dikastirion Square: Surrounded by historic buildings, bustling cafes, and the vibrant energy of daily life, the square serves as a lively meeting point and a hub for both locals and visitors
- Arch of Galerius (Kamara): An ancient marvel adorned with intricate reliefs that whisper tales of a bygone era.
- Olympic Museum of Thessaloniki: Dedicated to the history of the Olympic Games with interactive exhibits.
- Byzantine Walls: These majestic ancient city walls offer a glimpse into Thessaloniki’s Byzantine history.
- Church of Panagia Chalkeon: A Byzantine church dedicated to Virgin Mary, known for its distinctive brickwork and beautiful interior frescoes.
- Palataki (Old Royal Palace):An elegant neoclassical building that once served as the royal palace, now housing government offices and offering architectural charm.
Fun Fact: In Thessaloniki, each street and square name has its own history! Check it here.
6. The Best Beaches of Thessaloniki
While Thessaloniki itself is a bustling metropolis, its coastal vicinity unveils a treasure trove of captivating beaches, each with its own unique charm. Venture beyond the city limits, and you’ll discover pristine sandy stretches, azure waters, and the promise of rejuvenation.
Join us on a journey to explore some of the finest coastal escapes that beckon just a short sojourn from Thessaloniki:
- Peraia Beach: Located about 25 kilometers southeast of Thessaloniki, Peraia is a well-organized beach with sandy shores and clear waters. There are numerous beach bars, restaurants, and cafes along the coastline.
- Nea Iraklia: Situated approximately 40 kilometers southeast of Thessaloniki, Nea Iraklia offers a picturesque beach with a mix of sand and pebbles. The area is known for its relaxing atmosphere.
- Epanomi Beach: Located about 30 kilometers southeast of Thessaloniki and boasts a long sandy beach. It is a popular destination with both locals and visitors, offering various beachfront facilities.
- Agia Triada Beach: Around 20 kilometers southeast of Thessaloniki, Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) is known for its sandy beach and crystal-clear waters. It’s a family-friendly destination with several seaside tavernas.
- Nea Plagia Beach: Situated about 45 kilometers southeast of Thessaloniki and is known for its organized beach with umbrellas and sunbeds. It’s a relatively quiet spot, ideal for those seeking a more peaceful environment.
7. Best places to eat in Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki, a culinary tapestry woven with the threads of tradition, innovation, and an irresistible Mediterranean flair. In the gastronomic symphony of this vibrant city, every dish is a note, and every bite is a melody that resonates through time. As you navigate the cobblestone streets and lively markets, prepare to embark on a culinary odyssey where ancient recipes meet modern creativity, and where dining transcends mere sustenance to become a celebration of flavors.
Here are some recommendations for the best places to eat in Thessaloniki:
- Navarino Creperie: Crepes, Cafe, Street Food, Vegan & Vegetarian Options, Gluten Free Options
- Mavri Thalassa: Seafood, Mediterranean, European, Greek, Vegetarian Options
- Olympos Naoussa: Greek, Mediterranean
- Clochard: Greek, Mediterranean, Vegetarian Friendly
- Tripia Potiria: Steakhouse, Seafood, Mediterranean, Greek, Healthy, Vegetarian Options
- Stáfylos Gi:Greek, Healthy, Dinner & Drinks
- Nea Diagonios: Mediterranean, Barbecue, Greek
- To Nidri: Seafood, Greek
- Bougatsa Bantis: Greek, Vegetarian & Vegan Options
- Tarantino Sandwiches & Fries: Barbecue, Grill, American, Fast Food, Street Food
- Terkenlis 1948: Coffee, Greek Sweets
- Prytanio: Mediterranean, Greek, Healthy, Vegan & Vegetarian Options, Gluten Free Options
- Mantarini Roastery & More: American, European, Greek, Eastern European, Mediterranean, Barbecue
Check here for more places to eat!
5 Must-try dishes in Thessaloniki
Here is our top-5 pick of dishes and pastries that you must try during your stay in Thessaloniki:
- Souvlaki: Savor the quintessential Greek street food, souvlaki. Grilled meat skewers, usually made with pork or chicken, are served in with fried potatos and tzatziki.
- Moussaka: Experience moussaka, a hearty casserole made with layers of eggplant, minced meat (usually beef or lamb), tomatoes, and béchamel sauce. This baked dish is a delicious representation of Greek comfort food.
- Mezedes with Ouzo: A delightful assortment of small dishes served as appetizers or snacks in Greek cuisine. These flavorful bites are perfect for sharing and sampling various tastes and usually are served with Ouzo.
- Koulouri: Enjoy a koulouri, a round bread covered in sesame seeds, often found at street vendors or bakeries. It’s a popular snack and a perfect companion to a morning coffee.
- Bougatsa: Indulge in the city’s iconic pastry, bougatsa. Layers of thin dough are filled with either sweet custard, cheese, or minced meat, creating a delightful treat often dusted with powdered sugar.
For an extensive guide in Greek cuisine, check here!
8. Everyday Activities in Thessaloniki:
Step into the heartbeat of Thessaloniki, where the ordinary transforms into the extraordinary. In the rhythm of everyday life, this vibrant city unfolds a tapestry of experiences that dance between the historical and the contemporary, the traditional and the avant-garde. Join the lively cadence of this Mediterranean gem, where each moment is an invitation to immerse yourself in the captivating essence of everyday Thessaloniki.
Here are ten daily activities you can enjoy within the city of Thessaloniki:
- Visit to Archaeological Museum of Thessalonikι: Home to a mesmerising collection of artifacts spanning millennia, this cultural gem invites you to unravel the intricate history of Macedonia and witness the beauty of ancient artistry.
- Thessaloniki Concert Hall: Attend a cultural event or performance at the Thessaloniki Concert Hall, a modern venue that hosts concerts, theater productions, and other artistic performances
- Visit to the OTE Tower:This iconic landmark offers not just breathtaking panoramic views of the city and sea, but also an immersive experience as you traverse its observation deck.
- Thessaloniki by Night Tour: Witness the city’s vibrant nocturnal allure. As the sun sets, explore the illuminated waterfront, stroll through lively squares, and experience the dynamic nightlife.
- Walking Tour around the city: Embark on a captivating walking tour through Thessaloniki’s historic heart, where ancient ruins, Byzantine walls, and lively markets unfold, revealing the city’s rich tapestry of culture and history at every turn
- Shopping at Modiano Market: Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of Modiano market. This bustling market is perfect for exploring local produce, spices, and traditional Greek products.
- Photography Tour: Capture the beauty of Thessaloniki with a photography tour. Explore the city’s illuminated landmarks and learn techniques to capture stunning shots.
- Thessaloniki Urban Cycling: Rent a bike and explore the city on two wheels. Thessaloniki has bike-friendly paths and lanes, allowing you to discover its neighborhoods at your own pace.
- Greek Cooking Class: Learn the secrets of Greek cuisine by participating in a cooking class. From moussaka to souvlaki, you can master the art of preparing authentic Greek dishes.
- Boat Tour of Thermaikos Gulf: Enjoy a relaxing boat tour of Thermaikos Gulf. You can choose from sunset cruises, morning excursions, or even fishing trips, depending on your preference.
9. Annual Activities in Thessaloniki:
Every year, Thessaloniki plays host to a dazzling array of events that paint the town with the colors of tradition, innovation, and unbridled joy. From the acclaimed Thessaloniki International Film Festival, where silver screens come alive with cinematic wonders, to the national parades, the city’s annual calendar is a symphony of cultural richness. Join the rhythm of these yearly gatherings, where ancient history meets contemporary expression, promising an exhilarating journey through the pulsating heart of Thessaloniki’s annual tapestry.
Here are some notable annual activities in Thessaloniki:
- Thessaloniki International Film Festival (TIFF): Held annually in November, TIFF is one of the most significant film festivals in Southeast Europe. It features a diverse selection of films and attracts filmmakers, industry professionals, and cinephiles from around the world.
- Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF): Taking place in September, TIF is a major trade fair that attracts businesses, entrepreneurs, and visitors. It includes exhibitions, product launches, and cultural events.
- Dimitria Festival: The Dimitria Festival is a multi-disciplinary arts festival held annually in Thessaloniki, usually taking place from September to October. It includes a diverse program of concerts, theater performances, dance shows, and art exhibitions.
- Thessaloniki Book Fair: Book enthusiasts can enjoy this annual fair, usually held in May, featuring book presentations, author discussions, and a chance to explore the latest publications.
- Street Mode Festival: This urban culture festival takes place in September and combines music, street art, and other contemporary forms of expression. It includes live music performances, graffiti exhibitions, and street food.
- Thessaloniki Beer Festival: Beer enthusiasts can enjoy this annual festival, typically held in September, featuring a wide selection of local and international craft beers, along with live music performances.
- Thessaloniki Documentary Festival: Taking place in March, this festival focuses on documentary filmmaking, showcasing thought-provoking films from around the world.
- Thessaloniki Dance Festival: Celebrating dance in all its forms, this festival features performances, workshops, and showcases by local and international dance groups. It aims to promote dance as a cultural and artistic expression.
- 25th of March Independence Day Parade: In the heart of Thessaloniki, on the 25th of March, the city becomes a canvas of Hellenic pride. As the spirited parade unfolds, Greek flags flutter in unison, and the echoes of freedom’s journey resonate through the historic streets, narrating a tale of resilience etched in the very soul of the city.
- 28th of October “Ohi Day” Parade:On the 28th of October in Thessaloniki, the city resonates with patriotic fervor as a lively parade commemorates Greece’s Ohi Day. Crowds gather along the streets, witnessing a colorful display that honors the nation’s refusal to surrender during World War II, a historic moment eternally celebrated in this vibrant procession.
Season Special: Check here our Christmas Guide for Thessaloniki!
10. Day Trips from Thessaloniki
Embark on a kaleidoscopic adventure beyond Thessaloniki’s bustling streets, where day trips are a passport to a mosaic of experiences. From the historical echoes of Vergina to the coastal charm of Kavala, each excursion is a brushstroke on the canvas of Northern Greece’s diversity.
Dive into the ancient tales of Pella, meander through the serene beauty of Kerkini Lake, or savor the flavors of local wine roads. Thessaloniki’s surrounding gems promise a tapestry of discovery, where every day trip unveils a new facet of culture, nature, and gastronomy, all within a day’s reach of this dynamic Mediterranean hub.
Here are ten places for some unforgettable day trips from Thessaloniki:
- Pella: Explore the archaeological site of Pella, the historical capital of the ancient Kingdom of Macedon. Visit the remains of the palace, agora, and admire the ancient mosaics.
- Vergina (Agai): Discover the ancient city of Aigai, the first capital of the Kingdom of Macedon. Visit the Royal Tombs of Vergina, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, is located.
- Veria: A town with a rich history and Byzantine heritage. Visit the Veria Ancient Theater, the Jewish Quarter, and the Byzantine churches.
- Naousa: This town is known for its traditional architecture and wine production. Explore the cobbled streets, visit the wineries, and enjoy the local cuisine.
- Edessa: known as the “City of Waters.” Admire the famous waterfalls, stroll through the town’s beautiful parks, and explore the traditional neighborhoods
- Kastoria: A bit farther away, but worth it for a day trip. Kastoria is known for its beautiful lake and well-preserved architecture. The town has a charming Christmas atmosphere.
- Kavala: Head to the coastal city of Kavala, known for its picturesque harbor, Ottoman-era architecture, and the impressive Kavala Fortress. Enjoy fresh seafood at the waterfront tavernas.
- Kerkini Lake: Nature enthusiasts will appreciate a visit to Kerkini Lake, a serene freshwater lake surrounded by mountains. It’s a haven for birdwatching and boat trips.
- Meteora: While a bit farther, a day trip to Meteora is well worth it. Marvel at the orthodox monasteries perched atop towering rock formations and enjoy breathtaking views. The journey takes around 3 hours each way.
- Mount Olympus: Embark on an adventure to Mount Olympus, Greece’s highest mountain and the mythical home of the gods. Explore its trails, enjoy the stunning views, and visit the charming nearby villages like Litochoro.
- Platamonas: Known for its picturesque setting, with a medieval castle dating back to the 12th century overlooking the town and the sea.
Special Mention: 3 day pilgrimage to Mount Athos: The sacred monastic haven in northeastern Greece. As the boat glides along the coastline, catch glimpses of ancient monasteries perched on rocky cliffs, their centuries-old secrets shrouded in the sea breeze. Though access is limited to men only, the journey unveils the sacred aura of this revered mountain, offering a unique blend of natural beauty and religious history that echoes through the ages. A visit to Mount Athos is a voyage into the heart of Byzantine heritage and serene landscapes, leaving an indelible imprint on the soul.
11. 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.
- Lazart Hotel, 5 Star
- Onoma Hotel, 5 Star
- Sun Beach Hotel, 4 Star
- Egnatia Palace, 4 Star Hotel
- The Modernist
- Anatolia Hotel, 4 Star
- Imperial Palace Hotel, 4 Star
- Royal Hotel, 4 Star
- Galaxy Art Hotel, 3 Star
- The Caravan, Boutique Hotel
12. 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): Navigating Thessaloniki is a breeze with the extensive bus network operated by the Organization of Urban Transportation of Thessaloniki (OASTH). Offering a cost-effective travel option, buses cover both the city and its suburbs.
- Taxis: Experience the convenience of door-to-door transportation with readily available taxis scattered throughout the city. Hail a cab on the street or locate them at designated taxi stands for a swift and comfortable journey.
- Bike Sharing: Embrace Thessaloniki’s eco-friendly spirit. Rent effortlessly rent a bicycle from various locations in the city, providing a healthy and sustainable way to explore, especially in areas equipped with dedicated bike lanes.
- Car Rentals: For those desiring the freedom to explore at their own pace, car rentals are readily available from diverse agencies in Thessaloniki. Keep in mind the potential challenges of traffic and parking in the city center.
- Motorcycle Rentals: Uncover Thessaloniki’s cultural richness with the agility of a motorcycle. Ideal for navigating historic streets and scenic routes, renting a motorcycle provides an efficient and stylish means of transportation, enhancing your exploration of the city.
- Just Walk!: Immerse yourself in the pedestrian-friendly charm of Thessaloniki, particularly in central areas where many main attractions, shops, and restaurants are within walking distance of each other. Enjoy the city at a leisurely pace, savoring the unique blend of history and modernity that unfolds with each step.
13. Safety and Travel Tips for Thessaloniki
Ensure your safety in the second-largest city of Greece by staying vigilant, being aware of your surroundings, and adhering to local guidelines. Keep copies of essential documents with you and have emergency contact numbers readily available for added precaution.
- Emergency Numbers: Save these emergency numbers:
- the local police (100),
- medical emergency (166)
- fire department (199).
- British Consulate in Thessaloniki (+302310278006)
- Healthcare Awareness: Thessaloniki has modern healthcare facilities.It’s wise to acquaint yourself with nearby medical services and pharmacies, providing peace of mind for any unforeseen circumstances during your stay
- Language: Although English is widely spoken, incorporating a handful of fundamental Greek phrases into your communication can enhance your engagement and show appreciation for the local language. Be sure to say Kalimera (Good Morning), Efharisto (Thank You) and Parakalo (Please)!
- Cultural Respect: Dress modestly when visiting religious sites. Cover your shoulders and knees.
- Greek Kisses:Be aware that Greeks (men and women) may greet with a kiss on both cheeks. It’s an ancient custom of warmth and respect.
- Souvenirs: Purchase authentic local products like olive oil, Komboloi (Worry Beads), or greek spices as souvenirs to support local businesses.
- Local Markets: Explore Modiano and Kapani markets for a taste of local life. Be mindful of your belongings in crowded market areas.
- Weather Considerations: – Thessaloniki experiences hot summers and cooler winters. Check the weather forecast and pack accordingly, especially if visiting during summer.
- Nightlife Safety: Thessaloniki has a vibrant nightlife. Stick to well-known areas, and be cautious of your surroundings when enjoying the city’s entertainment scene.
- Seafront Promenade: Enjoy a leisurely walk along the city’s seafront promenade. It’s a great way to relax and soak in the views of the Thermaikos Gulf.
- The famous Greek Hospitality: Initiate conversations with the locals. Greeks are renowned for their warm hospitality, and engaging with them may unveil valuable insights into hidden gems or upcoming events taking place during your stay.
- Mount Athos Visits: If you’re interested in visiting Mount Athos, plan well in advance due to access restrictions. Obtain the necessary permits through the Mount Athos Pilgrims’ Bureau.
14. Interesting FAQs about Thessaloniki
Here are 10 frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Thessaloniki:
What is the best time to visit Thessaloniki?
The spring (April to June) and fall (September to October) months offer pleasant weather with milder temperatures, making them ideal for exploring the city.
How do I get from Thessaloniki Airport to the city center?
Thessaloniki Airport is well-connected to the city center by taxis, buses, and car rentals. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes by car.
Are there beaches in Thessaloniki?
While Thessaloniki itself is not renowned for its beaches, nearby towns like Peraia and Neoi Epivates offer sandy shores and are easily accessible from the city.
What is the local cuisine like in Thessaloniki?
Thessaloniki boasts a diverse culinary scene. Try local specialties like moussaka, souvlaki, bougatsa, and fresh seafood. Don’t forget to explore the vibrant markets for a taste of local produce.
What is the nightlife like in Thessaloniki?
Thessaloniki has a lively nightlife scene with numerous bars, clubs, and tavernas. The city comes alive in the evenings, especially around Ladadika and the waterfront.
What is the voltage and plug type in Thessaloniki?
The voltage is 230V, and the standard plug type is the European two-pin plug.
What is the origin of Thessaloniki?
Was Aristotle born in Thessaloniki?
Are there secret passages connecting all the bakeries in Thessaloniki for late-night pastry cravings?
Unfortunately not, but you can easily follow the scent of freshly baked bougatsa to find the nearest bakery.
As the sun sets over the Thermaikos Gulf, Thessaloniki transforms into a city that seamlessly blends ancient allure with modern vibrancy. Whether wandering through the echoes of history in Ano Poli, savoring the city’s culinary tapestry, or immersing yourself in its cultural heartbeat, Thessaloniki invites you to dance with its rhythm.
From the sparkling waterfront to the lively markets, every corner reveals a new facet of this dynamic Mediterranean gem. As the night unfolds, Thessaloniki whispers tales of resilience, creativity, and a spirit that transcends time, leaving you enchanted and eager to return to its captivating embrace.
We say to you goodbye with the city’s most famous song called “Se anazito sti Saloniki” (I am looking for you at Thessaloniki).
Kalo taxidi! (Have a nice trip!)