The best way to make such an excursion is to turn to thessaloniki airport transfer companies which can configure the excursion program according to your wishes.
When planning your holidays in Greece, do not forget to include Thessaloniki in the worth seeing destinations! Υou can visit many interesting attractions and enjoy the relaxed pace of this wonderful city.
Thessaloniki is a city built by the seaside. It offers many different entertainment and fun options. This text presents both the city’s most popular tourist destinations as well as the places chosen by the locals for their outings.
Where Thessaloniki is located
Thessaloniki is located in the region of Central Macedonia, in Northern Greece. In order to reach Thessaloniki, guests can use the international and domestic flights to Macedonia Airport (Thessaloniki Airport SKG), the train station as well as the KTEL (long-distance transport).
Many people choose Thessaloniki for a short vacation before heading to Halkidiki. Halkidiki is famous for its fantastic beaches and tourist infrastructure. Every year it attracts a large number of tourists who want to enjoy the turquoise waters and relax.
Why Thessaloniki is so special
Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece after the capital Athens. The main features of the city are its multiculturalism and its charming character. With an appearance obviously influenced by the Byzantine era, Thessaloniki is characterized by a combination of modern big city and traditional architecture.
Thessaloniki offers a variety of attractions. It is worth mentioning that the city has fifteen monuments of World Heritage Sites, recognized by Unesco. There are also remarkable museums, galleries, theaters and cultural sites open to the public.
The city is famous for its excellent food and vibrant nightlife. Thousands of students come every year to study at local universities giving the city energy and rhythm.
The History of Thessaloniki
Many different time periods have influenced the formation of the city. Like most Greek cities, Thessaloniki has a long and rich history. It was founded by Kassandros in 316-315 B.C. who was a general of Alexander the Great. Thessaloniki owes its name to Kassandro’s wife and half-sister of Alexander the Great.
In the 2nd century B.C. the first walls were built around the city in order to protect it from its enemies. Nevertheless, Thessaloniki was conquered by the Romans while the Kingdom of Macedonia was destroyed. Many of today’s attractions such as the Rotonda, the Gallery Arch and the Roman market belong to Roman times.
Strategic location made Thessaloniki a key financial and commercial center, while its port also played a very important role. The city’s citadel was completed in 55 B.C.
Christianity in Thessaloniki
Apostle Paul brought Christianity in Thessaloniki around 50 A.D. Thessaloniki welcomed the Apostle Paul warmer than Athens but it took about 4 hundred years to complete the first Christian church, Agios Dimitrios. The large basilica of Agios Dimitrios, with its exceptional catacombs, survives to this day, while it took its name from the patron saint of the city. At that time, Thessaloniki was a really vital city, the second in a row after Konstantinoupolis.
The Byzantine era
The collapse of the Roman Empire was followed by the Byzantine era, which played an important role in the formation of Thessaloniki. Many monuments of the Byzantine era are preserved to this day. During this time the city was attacked by Slavs, Saracens and Bulgarians. Apart from the external attacks, Thessaloniki suffered severe damage from the earthquake of 620 A.D. Many buildings were destroyed and many areas of the city had to be rebuilt.
Between the 10th and 12th century A.D. relative peace prevailed apart from few attacks by the Bulgarians and the Normans.
The 13th century came with the Franks of the 4th Crusade ruling Constantinople. Consequently, Thessaloniki came into the hands of the Latins for the first time. In the years that followed, different conquerors passed through the city. Nevertheless, trade as well as oriental art flourished throughout that time, and this can be seen today in some of the city’s most important churches, such as Agia Sophia.
The Ottomans in Thessaloniki
In 1430 Thessaloniki fell to the Ottomans. A large part of the city’s population were Jews and of course Muslims. As a result, many Christian Orthodox churches were converted into mosques since the Greek population decreased.
During Ottoman rule, the White Tower, the current symbol of the city, was built. This is a paradox since it was used by the Ottomans as a prison and was called the Red Tower. Only when its use changed and it was exterior painted, did it get its current name.
The Great Fire
In 1917 a large fire destroyed a great part of Thessaloniki and especially its center. The few buildings that survived the disaster were those made of stone. Mosques and baths as well as various Ottoman buildings of the Upper City are preserved to this day and many of them can be visited.
After the big fire, a quarter of the city’s population, mostly Jews, were left without residence. Many of them later left Thessaloniki for other countries and locations. In 1921, with the exchange of populations and the influx of people from Turkey, the population of the city returned to its previous levels. The areas of Thessaloniki that were completely destroyed, were rebuilt, according to a new, modern design.
Significant changes in the image of the city brought the Balkan wars as well as the two world wars.
What to see in Thessaloniki
After the historical information of the city, one can understand that Thessaloniki is like an open archeological site. Everywhere in the city there are Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman buildings which every visitor can admire by simply taking a walk through the streets and alleys, especially in the historical center. With this in mind, here is a presentation of the sights of Thessaloniki.
The UNESCO recognized cultural heritage sites
In 1988 UNESCO included 15 monuments of the Early Christian and Byzantine periods in the list of World Heritage Sites. Specifically these are:
The Byzantine Walls: The Walls of Thessaloniki were originally built in the 2nd century B.C. Several times they had to be rebuilt and repaired by the Romans as well as the Byzantines and the Ottomans.
The total length of the walls reached a total of 8 km, but only about half of them have been saved. Inside the walls is the Eptapyrgio, which was used as a prison until 1989. Today it is open to the public as a museum – archaeological site and often hosts exhibitions and cultural activities. From the high walls of Eptapyrgio one can admire the amazing view of Thessaloniki.
The Basilica of Agios Dimitrios: The Basilica of Agios Dimitrios is located on the site of an early Christian sanctuary, which was destroyed during the earthquake of 620 A.D. while it was later restored. The basilica also suffered significant damage in the Great Fire in 1917, but managed to survive. Several of the fifth century mosaics still adorn the magnificent church dedicated to the patron saint of the city, Agios Dimitrios. The crypt also functions as a museum, exhibition space, where sculptures, capitals and vases from the various phases of the temple’s history are exhibited.
The Rotonda of Thessaloniki: The Rotonda, which relatively recently opened to the general public, was built by the Romans around 304 A.D. and was later expanded and functioned as a Christian church. Although a part of it was destroyed in the earthquake of 620 AD. many of the original mosaics are preserved and give us a sense of the original image of the temple. It is worth visiting Rotonda for its excellent acoustics. Today the space is given for selected concerts and exhibitions while scheduled Orthodox Christian services are held.
Byzantine churches of Thessaloniki: Walking in the streets of the city it is almost impossible not to find yourself in front of one of the recognized early Christian, Byzantine monuments of UNESCO. During the Ottoman period many churches were turned into mosques and many works of art were covered with plaster. Fortunately, maintenance work reveals many of these art products.
If you stay several days in Thessaloniki it is worth visiting some, if not all the monuments. Even if you are not interested in Byzantine architecture, you will definitely find the mosaics and frescoes quite impressive.
To find them open to the public and to be able to see the interior of these monuments it is better to arrange your visit during the morning hours. These churches are:
The Holy Temple of Saint David / Latomou Monastery. Located in the Upper Town of Thessaloniki and features an impressive 6th century mosaic and 12th century frescoes. It is worth mentioning the unique fresco of the Pantocrator in which Jesus is depicted at a young age.
The church of Agia Sophia with the wonderful frescoes. It was built in the 8th century, replacing the early Christian church that pre-existed in the same area. Its design was based on the famous Agia Sophia located in Konstantinoupolis. The exquisite mosaics belong to different time periods.
The Monastery of Vlatadon is located just outside the walls of the Acropolis. Built in the 14th century, it is the only Byzantine monastery in Thessaloniki that is still functional and used today.
The Basilica of the Acheiropoietos, built in the 5th century. It is almost completely preserved while the original mosaics are still visible.
Panagia Halkeon is located near the Roman Agora. It was built in 1028 AD.
The Church of Agion Apostolon has a wonderful mosaic and is also located in the historic center of Thessaloniki.
The church of Agios Panteleimon, is a small church which is located within walking distance of the Rotonda and the Gallerious Arch. Some of the murals are still preserved.
The Church of Agios Nikolaos Orfanos, is located in Upper Town. Some of the most impressive Byzantine works of art are located inside this Temple while its picturesque courtyard transports you to other, older eras.
The Church of Agia Ekaterini dates from the 13th-14th century. Most of the murals have unfortunately not been saved. Nevertheless it has excellent architecture.
The Church of Sotiros is a small church built in the 14th century.
The church of Profitis Ilias on Olympiados Street has a magnificent architecture.
Finally, the Byzantine baths are a great example of fully functional baths of this period.
Ancient or Roman Agora
It was created by the Romans during the first century AD. It was the area where all commercial, economic, religious and social activities took place. Agora was active until the fourth century. Then the city center was gradually relocated to the east. Inside the Roman Agora you can see the old theater that has been restored as well as the remains of underground passages and other special constructions. In the Roman Agora there is also a museum, built partly underground.
The Galerius Palace complex
If someone walks through Navarino Square one can’t miss the ruins of the Galerius palace. The huge, luxurious construction was made by the emperor Galerius, who realized from an early age the importance of the city and wanted to build a royal residence equal to the city’s significance. The complex included many buildings, which can be seen from above to this day, as an archaeological site. In addition to the Roman monuments, Navarino Square is famous as a meeting place for students and has many fast food shops.
Above the square is the Arch of the Gallery, known to the locals as Kamara. It was built at the beginning of the 4th century AD. Many of its decorative elements represent the victories of Galerius against the Persians.
The White Tower
The original use of the White Tower was as a place of imprisonment. Nevertheless, today it has been properly designed as an exhibition space, accessible to the public. It hosts an exhibition, where the history of the city from its foundation, is gradually presented. Each floor of the White Tower is dedicated to moments of history that marked Thessaloniki and to other special historical events. The presentation of the exhibition is also available in audio material in English, for foreign visitors.
The White Tower rises to a height of 6 floors. From the terrace visitors can admire the view of the city and the Thermaic Gulf.
Ano Poli Thessaloniki
The abundance of monuments, both Roman and Byzantine, which are located in Thessaloniki has already been mentioned. Many of them are located in Ano Poli, a traditional neighborhood that survived the Great Fire and with it many of today’s attractions. For those who love walks in narrow streets and are not afraid of stairs and uphills, Ano Poli offers travelers unique images of the old Thessaloniki. A more relaxing option is to go up to Ano Poli by public transport or by taxi and go down on foot, following a route that passes through the Byzantine and Roman sights. Another good choice is the cultural line 50 of public transport, which starts from the White Tower, passes in front of some important monuments and ends in Ano Poli. Then it descends, ending again at its starting point, the White Tower. It has audiovisual and printed material that is distributed to passengers in Greek and English, while the leaflets are also available in embossed Braille, for people who need it.
The museums of Thessaloniki
In Thessaloniki there are many museums that can satisfy lovers of ancient civilizations, culture or art.It is worth mentioning that there is the possibility of buying a single ticket, lasting three days in order to visit the Archaeological Museum, the Byzantine Museum, the White Tower and the Rotonda.
Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki: It is one of the biggest museums in the country. In it there are exhibits from the prehistoric to the Byzantine era. There are also exhibited finds of the wider Macedonian area.
Museum of Byzantine Culture: This museum exhibits Byzantine relics, which were found in the greater area of Thessaloniki. The eleven rooms of the museum present artifacts from different time periods and also host periodic exhibitions from time to time. Byzantine art is revealed through mosaics, murals, coins, icons, holy objects and sacred manuscripts.
Museum of the Macedonian Struggle: This museum is housed in a neoclassical building designed by German architect Ernest Ziller. The museum presents the main phases of the history of Macedonia during the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Some of the most important events that influenced Hellenism in the region are also mentioned..
Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki: The mission of this museum is to collect relics and items of the Jews of Thessaloniki that were not destroyed in the Holocaust. The history of the Jewish community in Thessaloniki from its foundation until the Second World War is exhibited in the museum. The religious, daily and economic life of the Jews of the city is also presented. The Holocaust is a separate part of the museum. There the visitors can understand the impact of the Holocaust on the Israeli Community of Thessaloniki.
Folklore & Ethnological Museum of Macedonia – Thrace: Here is presented the culture and tradition of the populations of Northern Greece. Objects from the pre-industrial era are collected, preserved and exhibited, so that the visitor can get an idea of the activity and daily life of people in previous years.
Metropolitan Organization of Museums of Fine Arts of Thessaloniki (MOMus): This organization was created after the union of four independent museums of Thessaloniki and one of Athens in order to join forces and promote more effectively modern and contemporary art, photography, sculpture and experimental arts. In Thessaloniki, four independent venues host different exhibitions. (Lazariston Monastery – Stavroupoli, Warehouse A ‘& Warehouse B1 – Port, TIF-Helexpo)
In Thessaloniki for food
A characteristic of Thessaloniki for which it is famous, is the excellent food. There are many restaurants, taverns, taverns, tsipouro restaurants and many more where you can try and enjoy local dishes. The choices are innumerable and are addressed to the financial possibilities of everyone.
Some areas of the center, such as Athonos Square, Ladadika or Bit Pazar are good and economical options. Of course each district has its own suggestions for food.
Regardless of your choices, you should not forget to try Thessaloniki bun from street vendors, Thessaloniki bougatsa with different fillings, Panorama triangles, syrups and Kazan dip.
Walk in the Old and New Beach of Thessaloniki
For decades, the people of Thessaloniki and those who visit the city choose to relax by taking a walk on the beach of Thessaloniki. The route from the port to the White Tower is about 6 km and is the Old Pedestrian Street, while after this point extends the New Beach of Thessaloniki. The Umbrellas of George Zongopoulos, a well-known urban sculpture, are also installed in Nea Paralia. There are numerous cafes and restaurants along the beach where the visitor can try the famous cuisine of the city. Of course the route alone is a pleasant experience.
The Traditional Markets in the city center
Modiano, Kapani and Bezesteni are the largest markets in the city. Countless products are sold daily in these markets and thousands of people flock to find what they need. Food, beverages, spices, clothing, household items are some of the products that can be found while taking a walk in a market. It is worth visiting at least one of these markets to better understand the culture of this multicultural city.
Nightlife of Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki is a student city. Its universities welcome thousands of students every year who, in addition to studying, want to have fun. Nightclubs are full of life and there are shops