Thessaloniki
Aerial view of famous White Tower of Thessaloniki at sunset, Greece (Credit: Photo 117216770 © Vasilis Ververidis | Dreamstime.com

Travel to Thessaloniki the crossroads of great civilizations

A longtime intriguing melting pot of cultures and influences, the port city is a gateway to Southeast Europe

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.OVERVIEW

Dubbed “The Bride of the Thermaic Gulf”, Thessaloniki, is ancient home to kings and philosophers, a crossroads of trade routes, a gateway between two continents, a geopolitical keystone, a place marked by multiculturalism and blessed with natural beauty. The only European city to boast an urban population for an uninterrupted 2,500 years, Thessaloniki witnesses a seamless blend of ancient and modern.

The regional unit stretches from the Thermaic Gulf in the southwest to the Strymonic Gulf in the east and is built on fertile grounds resting beside the Rivers of Axios, Gallikos and Loudias, as well as the lakes Koroneia and Volvi. Its privileged geographic location had profound influence on the course of its history and identity.

Whether you’re interested in ancient ruins, Byzantine architecture, incredible museums, charming neighborhoods, breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea, fabulous food or simply soaking up a laid-back lifestyle, Thessaloniki has something to offer for every traveler.




AT A GLANCE

Regional unit’s capital: Thessaloniki Regional unit’s area: 3,683 km2 Regional unit’s population (2021): 1,091,424 Density: 300/km2  Time Zone: UTC+2 Climate: Hot Mediterranean summers and cool to mild winters in low-lying areas and plains. Winter weather is very common in areas 500m above sea level and into the mountains.

ADMINISTRATION

The Thessaloniki regional unit is subdivided into 14 municipalities:

MUNICIPALITIES

 THESSALONIKI   AMPELOKIPOI-MENEMENI   CHALKIDONA   DELTA   KALAMARIA   KORDELIO-EVOSMOS    LAGKADAS   NEAPOLI-SYKIES   ORAIOKASTRO   PAVLOS MELAS   PYLAIA-CHORTIATIS    THERMAIKOS   THERMI   VOLVI



MUNICIPALITY OF THESSALONIKI

Area: 19.307 km2 Population (2011): 324,766 Density: 17,000/km2 Website: http://www.thessaloniki.gr

.HISTORY

Founded in 315 BC by King Cassander of Macedonia, who named it after his wife Thessalonike, the half sister of Alexander the Great, the city through its long and omnipresent history has been many things: Imperial capital, commercial and cultural crossroads, strategic military base, East-West gateway. In fact, Thessaloniki is honorarily called co-capital, for its historical and administrative importance. In 168 BC the Kingdom of Macedonia fell under Roman control. The city became an important trade center and enjoyed a period of prosperity with its economic expansion continuing all through the Byzantine Times, as Constantine the Great made Thessaloniki Byzantium’s second city. In 1430 the city fell to the Ottomans.

During the Ottoman rule, the city’s population of Muslims and Jews grew with some 30,000 Jews settling in 1492 after being expelled from Spain. Thessaloniki was liberated by the Greek Army from the Turks on October 26th, 1912, during the outbreak of the First Balkan War. That day, it was the feast of the city’s patron saint, Saint Demetrius. In 1923, a mass influx of refugees to the city follows the Greek defeats in Asia Minor, The city’s Muslim inhabitants leave Thessaloniki. In the Second World War, bombing destroyed many parts of the city.

During the German occupation which lasted till 1944, almost the entire Jewish population of the city perished.  After the war, Thessaloniki was rebuilt with large-scale development of new infrastructure and industry throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Today, Thessaloniki, is a 23-centuries old cosmopolitan city, a commercial, business and transportation hub and an increasingly attractive destination. The city is also home to largest university in Greece (and a student population of some 150,000). In six words: Thessaloniki is many cities in one.

Thessaloniki late 1800s (Credit: Philly boy92, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

. POINTS OF INTEREST

Palia Paralia (Old Waterfront): Running along Nikis Avenue from the Port to the White Tower, it is ideal for a stroll. You can also enjoy a relaxing trip on Thermaikos Gulf with boats that offer mini-cruises. They are moored in front of the White Tower.

White Tower: Located on the seaside promenade, the White Tower, once a prison and place of execution, built in the 15th century by the Ottoman Turks, is the city’s most emblematic landmark and the most photographed tourist site. 

Roman Agora: The ancient Roman-era forum of the city is located at the upper side of Aristotelous Square. The large two-terraced Roman forum is featuring two-storey stoas, two Roman baths, and a small theater,which was also used for gladiatorial games.

Aristotelous Square: One of Thessaloniki’s most recognizable areas, which was designed by Ernest Hébrard, the popular square named after Aristotelis (the Ancient Greek philosopher and mentor of Alexander the Great) is overlooking the Thermaic Gulf, and majestic Mt. Olympus when the weather is clear. 

Ladadika neighbourhood: Located near the Port of Thessaloniki, for centuries Ladadika was one of the most important market places of the city. Its name came about from the many olive oil shops of the area. The former warehouses have been converted into cafes, restaurants and bars.

Ano Poli: Right by the Byzantine Walls, Ano Poli (Upper Town), the heritage listed district north of Thessaloniki’s city centre, is actually the Old Town of Thessaloniki. Enjoy cobblestone alleys and the Tower of Trigonio, Thessaloniki’s premier viewpoint.

Nea Paralia (New Waterfront): A 3.5km promenade along the sea, stretching from Makedonia Palace to the Concert Hall. On your way you will admire the equestrian statue of Alexander the Great by Vangelis Moustakas and the sculpture “Umbrellas” by George Zongolopoulos. Nea Paralia is one of the most attractive public spaces in Greece.

Port: Thessaloniki is one of the few cities in the world whose port is a part of its urban fabric, a prime destination for culture. The MOMus Photography Museum, the Thessaloniki Cinema Museum and the MOMus Experimental Center for the Arts are all located there.

Sheih Sou Forest: The vast suburban hilltop is Thessaloniki’s green lung and serves the city’s residents as a recreational and relaxation area. Sheih Sou, also known as Kedrinos Lofos, is home to two amphitheatrical open-air theaters overlooking the city (Theatro Dasous or Forest Theater and Theatro Gaias or Earth Theater), hiking and biking trails, and two impressive lookout points that overlook the city Thermaikos gulf, Mount Olympus, and the surrounding mountains. The forest will please anyone looking for some escape.

Sheih Sou Forest, Thessaloniki (Credit: EntaXoyas, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

OTE Tower: One of the tallest structures in Greece (76m), the futuristic Tower built within the grounds of the Thessaloniki International Fair, has a slowly rotating cafe/bar on the fourth floor where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city.

Arch of Galerius (Kamara): The early 4th-century AD monument was built to commemorate the Roman emperor Galerius’s campaigns against the Persians. The original structure featured three arches; however, only two full arches and part of the third survive to this day. Not far from Kamara, at Navarinou Square, is the massive imperial palace complex which Galerius, commissioned when he made Thessaloniki the capital of his portion of the Roman Empire.

.GASTRONOMY

Thessaloniki might be Greece’s second city, but it’s widely considered its culinary capital. In 2021, UNESCO granted an entirely new category of award to the city, naming it a ‘City of Gastronomy’ within the Creative Cities Network. Thessaloniki hosts more than 5,000 businesses offering food services with an annual turnover of USD 430 million and with the sector employing over 50,000 employees.

Bougatsa: A breakfast pastry, filled with custard, wrapped with phyllo and dusted with confectionery sugar and cinnamon, although there are savory variations with cheese, minced meat or spinach.

Koulouri: A very popular snack, the traditional koulouri is a sesame springled bagel, the locals grab from vendors scattered around Tsimiski and Mitropoleos.

Patsas (tripe soup): A soup made of cow head broth or a mix of cow head, feet, and beef tripe. It can also be made with pig’s head and legs. The dish was launched in Thessaloniki in 1933 by refugees from Asia Minor and still has many loyal fans.

Soutzoukakia: Served with “boukovo” pepper flakes, soutzoukakia are oblong-shaped beef meatballs, and were brought from the city of Smyrna (now Izmir) by Greek refugees in 1922.

Fish and seafood: Thanks to the fish market in Michaniona, you can find in Thessaloniki’s fish taverns and restaurants salted or smoked mackerel, anchovies, taramosalata from white roe, delicious cuttlefish, shrimp pilaf, octopus salad. To accompany your meal you can choose ouzo or tsipouro.

Frappé coffee: Frappé was invented in the Thessaloniki International Fair in 1957 and is a stereotypical Thessalonian coffee drink which has spread throughout the country to become a hallmark of the Greek coffee culture.

Trigona “triangles” Panoramatos: For desert lovers, this cone of multiple sheets of baked fyllo filled with rich custard is a must. Deeply embedded in the city’s culinary DNA.

Trigona Panoramatos dessert originating from the Panorama area of Thessaloniki (Credit: Catlemur, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Tsoureki: Traditional festive braided brioche loaf available in most bakeries and pastry shops.

WINES

Vineyards surrounding Thessaloniki are home to native grape varieties including the white Malagousia and Assyrtiko, and red Xinomavro, Mavroudi and Limnio.

.SHOPPING

The main shopping streets are Tsimiski, Ermou, Egnatia, Mitropoleos lined with boutiques with exclusive local brands and representatives of many of the major international brands.

Modiano Market – or the “Central Food Market of Thessaloniki” is one of the city’s most characteristic landmarks. Originally designed by Eli Modiano- son of banker Saul Modiano- in 1925, it has relaunched after an impressive makeover earlier this year. Featuring 117 stores and food stalls, among which there are delicatessens, artisanal products, traditional delights but also ready-to-eat delicacies, street food, cafés, restaurants, bars and other venues.

Kapani: The city’s large open-air farmers’ market full of butchers, fishmongers, fruit and vegetables sellers. You can also find clothing and useful household items.

Bit Bazaar: If you are an antique lover, don’t miss the outdoor Bit Bazaar flea market which started in the 1920s by Greek refugees from Asia Minor. Find treasures from the past, with everything from vintage furniture to old jewelry. It is located north of Aristotelous square, about 300m east of the Roman Forum.

.FEASTS, FESTIVALS & EVENTS

Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF): Since its foundation in 1926,  TIF is the most important event in the city annually, by means of economic development. It reflects the momentum and trends of domestic and international entrepreneurship bus also hosts and organizes several entertainment events for all ages. TIF attracts major political attention and it is customary for the Prime Minister of Greece to outline his administration’s policies for the next year. It is held every September.

Dimitria festival: Named after the city’s patron saint of St. Demetrius and originating from the most ancient trade fair of the same name, Dimitria is the largest cultural & intellectual festival in Thessaloniki & Northern Greece. It focuses on a wide range of events including music, theatre, dance, local happenings, and exhibitions. It is held in early Autumn.

Thessaloniki International Film Festival (TIFF): Now in its 64th year, the TIFF,  the most important film festival in Greece  attracts world-class film-makers and film lovers to an annual 11-day celebration every November. One of the Balkans’ primary showcases of new and emerging filmmakers.

Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (TDF): Held every March, TDF is a leading force in Southeast Europe. celebrating the art of documentary through a program of multi-awarded films, masterclasses by acclaimed film industry professionals, events and iniciatives.

Thessaloniki Book Fair: Organized by the Hellenic Foundation for Culture in cooperation with Greek Publishers, this annual fair, is a treat for book enthusiasts. Usually held in May, it is a point of reference for books and literature from Greece, the Balkans, Western Europe, the Southeastern Mediterranean and from all over the world.

.RELIGIOUS SITES

Remember to dress modestly when visiting religious sites.

Church of Saint Demetrius: Built in the 4th century, this is the city’s largest church and the main sanctuary dedicated to its patron saint, Agios Dimitrios. Following the Great Fire of 1917, it took decades to restore the church  which has retained some features that are of incomparable historical and artistic interest.it is one of several monuments in Thessaloniki listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Church of Aghia Sofia(The Wisdom of God): One of the oldest churches in the city still standing today with imposing architecture, beautiful wall paintings and elaborate mosaics.  Built as a miniature of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in the 7th century,  it is part of the Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki that have been listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

Church of Agios Nikolaos Orfanos: Located in a quiet area behind the Northeast section of the city’s walls. The temple was built at the beginning of the 14th century. The walls are filled with wonderful paintings that will take your breath. Its courtyard is full of olive trees, and cypresses.

Vlatades Monastery (Moni Vlatadon): Located in the Northern part of Ano Poli and built in the 14th century it is one of the oldest and most important Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki. By the mid-twentieth century the monastery became a meeting place for scholars and academics of the city.

Monastirioton Synagogue (קהל קדוש מונאסטירליס): Built in 1927 in the center of the city, being a testament for the Jewish presence’s history there in the last century, it is fully operating up until today.

.KEY MUSEUMS & CULTURAL HUBS

Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki: One of the largest museums in Greece, it offers an extremely detailed walk through Macedonian history, housing an extensive collection of golden artwork from the royal palaces of Aigai and Pella, unique treasures.

White Tower: Within the tower runs a museum showcasing Thessaloniki’s history from its foundation up to 1922. On the rooftop, be treated to a 360-degree view of the Thermaic Gulf and the city landscape.

Museum of Byzantine Culture: One of the city’s most famous museums, showcasing the city’s glorious Byzantine past. Icons, ecclesiastical prints, embroidery, books, sculptures.

MoMus: Visit Thessaloniki’s port where the customs and warehouse buildings (built in 1910) are home to the MOMus Photography Museum, the Thessaloniki Cinema Museum and the MOMus Experimental Center for the Arts.

Olympic Museum: Dedicated to the history of the Olympic Games with interactive exhibits.

Atatürk Museum: The historic house where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of modern-day Turkey, was born, is now part of the Turkish consulate complex.

Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki: Housed in a beautiful 20th-century shopping arcade, which belongs to the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki, the museum is devoted to the history of Sephardic Jews and Jewish life in the city.

Thessaloniki Concert Hall: Opened in 2000, the complex has two main buildings: M1 and M2, in more contemporary style by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. The venue hosts concerts, theater productions, and other artistic performances.

Thessaloniki Concert Hall (Credit: Tilemahos Efthimiadis on Flickr)

Municipal Art Gallery: Casa Bianca, one of the most beautiful and historic eclecticistic mansions of Thessaloniki designed by architect Pietro Arrigoni, hosts the Municipal Art Gallery. The gallery has more than 1,000 works in its collection and organises regular (mainly retrospective) exhibitions of Greek artists.

.MAJOR EDUCATIONAL & RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS

1. Aristotle University of Thessaloniki 2.University of Macedonia 3.International Hellenic University 4.Alexander Technological Educational Institute of Thessaloniki

.TRANSPORT

Thessaloniki Airport “Makedonia: An international airport with daily flights from Athens, European capitals.

Port: With a history of 2,300 years, is one of the five Greek ports belonging to the Core Network of the Trans-European Transport Network and a designated Port of International Interest. The Port has ferry connections with the Northeast Aegean, the Cyclades, and the Sporades Islands.

Buses: International and regional bus links are provided by KTEL at its Macedonia InterCity Bus Terminal, located to the west of the city centre.

Railway: Train services within Greece link the city with other parts of the country, from its central railway passenger station, called the “New railway station” located at the western end of Thessaloniki’s city centre.

Motorways: Thessaloniki lies on the crossroads of the A1/E75, A2/E90 and A25 motorways; which connect the city with other parts of the country, as well as neighbouring countries.


TO DO & TO GO