Thessaloniki is nestled in the heart of the Thermaic Gulf. It is the commercial and cultural centre of Northern Greece. It is the second largest city in Greece, after Athens, and it has a long, interesting history and a rich cultural heritage.
What is Thessaloniki famous for?
If you are planning a holiday in Macedonia Greece in either Halkidiki, Kavala, or Pieria a stop in Thessaloniki for a day or two should be on your bucket list. The city of Thessaloniki is a remarkably interesting city, and the long waterfront is the most popular spot during the summer months. Both tourists and locals enjoy long walks, to take in the sea view and beautiful sunset. Along the waterfront you will find Aristotle Square, right at the city centre. Around this huge square is the commercial centre of Thessaloniki with shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and the famous pastry shops. It is also here at the waterfront you will find some of the best hotels in the city of Thessaloniki.
Where is Thessaloniki?
Thessaloniki is the capital of the geographic region of Macedonia, the administrative region of Central Macedonia and the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace in Northern Greece.
Map of Thessaloniki, Halkidiki and Pieria
Thessaloniki – What to see?
Arriving in Thessaloniki you soon realize that this great city has an exciting history. Wandering around town, you will come across several monuments dating back to the Byzantine and Roman eras. Find a list of the most important sights in Thessaloniki here:
- The White Tower – is the most important landmark of Thessaloniki and the most photographed one. You will find it at the port.• Kamara, the Arch of Galerius – is yet another popular site in the city. It is an arch constructed by the Roman general Galerius in the 305 century A.D. to commemorate the final victory over the Persians. The victory is the main theme of the carved scenes on the arch, connecting the Palace of Galerius and the Rotunda.
- Rotunda Monument – is an impressive circular building in the city centre. The rotunda was also constructed by the Roman general Galerius around 300 A.D. During history, the rotunda has served as a Christian church, as a mosque, and today as a sculpture museum.
- The Roman Agora (Market) – is located close to the city centre. It was functioning for 8 centuries, from the 5th century B.C., when the town was founded until the early Byzantine times, in the 5th century A.D. Excavations have revealed a theatre, an arched street, a square, a mint, and a marketplace.
- The Church of Agios Dimitrios – is the most famous church in Thessaloniki. Saint Demetrius is the patron saint of the town and its celebration day on October 26th is a local holiday. It was built in Byzantine times on the exact location where Saint Demetrius martyred, specifically in the basement of the church where he was tortured for his faith and died.
- Other Thessaloniki churches worth visiting – Church of Agia Sofia (located in the city centre), church of Agios Nikolaos Orfanos (Old Town Ano Poli), church of Panagia Halkeon (near the Roman Agora), Monastery of Vlatadon (Old Town Ano Poli), church of the Holy Apostles (town centre), church of Panagia Acheropoietos (town centre), church of Saint Gregorios Palamas, the Metropolitan Church of Thessaloniki (in between the White Tower and Aristotle Square, at the waterfront)
- Castle of Thessaloniki – in Old Town Ano Poli is also known as Yedi Kule or Heptapyrgion (meaning: seven towers). It is a fortress from the Byzantine and the Ottoman periods, it has been used as the seat of the garrison commander until late 19th century and finally as a prison until 1989.
- Bey Hamam – an old Ottoman bathhouse located in Egnatia Street, next to the church of Panagia Halkeon. Bey Hamam means “the Baths of Paradise” and was originally built by Sultan Murad II in 1444.
- Concert Hall – is located at the waterfront. One of the two buildings hosting the Concert Hall was designed be the Japanese architect Arata Isozaki.
- Archaeological Museum – the permanent exhibitions are dedicated to various periods of time and aspects concerning Macedonia. The way of life and socialization of the tribes from prehistoric times till today are presented here.
- Other museums in Thessaloniki – Museum of Macedonian Struggle (Aristotle Square), Balkan Wars Museum (village of Yefira), Byzantine Museum (near the White Tower), Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art (near the White Tower), Waterworks Museum (Western Thessaloniki), Cinema Museum (at the city waterfront), Ataturk Museum (Old Town Ano Poli), and the Jewish Museum (near Aristotle Square)
Thessaloniki – What to do there?
TICKETS, ACTIVITIES & THINGS TO DO:
Thessaloniki has much more than sightseeing to offer. It will spoil you rotten with its great food at the many beautiful restaurants. The city waterfront especially has a lot to offer when it comes to relaxing at coffee shops, pastry shops, and restaurants while enjoying the sunset and the city coming to life. Have a coffee at Aristotle Square and visit Ladadika to taste the local delicacies! Do not miss the opportunity to go time travelling in Old Town, Ano Poli on top of the city. Thessaloniki is perfect for endless strolls, shopping, and city exploration.
Thessaloniki Beach Guide
Near Thessaloniki you will find hundreds of stunning beaches in Halkidiki as well as in the Olympus riviera, but if you want to spend just a few hours at the beach going for a swim, you will find a few beautiful beaches really close to the city of Thessaloniki. We have picked 3 beaches for you below.
- Perea beach – Organized, sandy and family friendly beach located 17 km south of Thessaloniki. It is a beautiful seaside town with a lively nightlife, attracting locals and tourists. Perea is situated close to the airport of Thessaloniki.
- Agia Triada beach – Organized, sandy and family friendly beach located 20 km south of Thessaloniki on the way to Halkidiki. It is frequently connected to the city centre by public transport.
- Epanomi beach – Organized, sandy and family friendly, located 25 km south of Thessaloniki on the way to Halkidiki.
Thessaloniki – Where to stay?
Holiday resorts near Thessaloniki
Near Thessaloniki you find Halkidiki. Halkidiki (or Chalkidiki) is the most popular summer holiday destination in all northern Greece. Halkidiki peninsula is famous for its cosmopolitan seaside resorts, exotic beaches, and the stunning green landscape. The peninsula is divided into three smaller peninsulas, often referred to as ‘fingers’. Staying in Halkidiki you have a perfect opportunity to explore Thessaloniki for a day or two.
Following the National Road Athens-Thessaloniki south you will soon reach Mt Olympus to your right and the Olympus riviera to your left. This is yet another perfect opportunity for staying in beautiful seaside resorts near gorgeous sandy beaches and exiting activities in the mountains.
Thessaloniki – How many days to stay?
You should at least stay two or three days if you want to see the most important sights and enjoy an evening or two in this festive city with its beautiful waterfront and tempting delicacies in the many restaurants. You could also stay in nearby Halkidiki or Olympus riviera and go to Thessaloniki on day trips.
Thessaloniki – How to get there?
The location of Thessaloniki in the northern part of Greece makes it a perfect base for excursions in northern and central Greece. The location of Thessaloniki in the Thermaic Gulf in Northern Greece makes it a perfect hub for excursions in Macedonia Greece. There are several ways to reach Thessaloniki, depending on where you are coming from and what kind of holiday you prefer, you can choose between the options here:
You can fly directly to Thessaloniki Airport “Makedonia”, which is located just 20 km away from the city centre. The airport is operating domestic as well as international flights all year. At the entrance of the airport, you will find taxis for your transfer.
You can also reach Thessaloniki by car from the National Road Athens-Thessaloniki from any part of the Greek mainland. The distance between Thessaloniki and Athens is approx. 500 km. If you do not have your own car you can choose to rent a car for your local trips.
Another way to reach Thessaloniki is by bus. The KTEL buses to Thessaloniki are arriving from various locations in Macedonia and from Athens several times daily. Find further information about the timetables and the routes
It is also easy to reach Thessaloniki by train from many places in mainland Greece and from other Balkan countries. Trains from Athens depart from Larissa station. Get information about routes, timetables, and ticket prices
Finally, you just might reach Thessaloniki by ferry or choose to leave for the Aegean islands from the port of Thessaloniki. It is the largest port in Macedonia and one of the largest in all of Greece. You will find ferry connections to both the Sporades islands as well as the Cyclades archipelago.
Thessaloniki – Weather and climate
Situated next to the sea, the climate of Thessaloniki is directly affected by it. The city has a Mediterranean climate that borders on a semi-arid climate. Snowfalls are sporadic but happen about every winter. Fog is common in the city, with an average of 193 foggy days in a year.
Summers in Thessaloniki are hot with rather humid nights. Maximum temperatures usually rise above 30°C, but rarely go over 40C°. Rain is seldom in summer, and mainly falls during thunderstorms. In the summer months Thessaloniki also experiences strong heat waves. The hottest month of the year in the city is July.
How big is Thessaloniki?
Thessaloniki, historically also known as Salonica, is the second-largest city in Greece, with over 1 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area. Its honorific title is “Symprotévousa”, literally “co-capital”, a reference to its historical status as the “Symvasilévousa)” or “co-reigning” city of the Byzantine Empire, alongside Constantinople.
Commercial hub in Northern Greece
Thessaloniki is Greece’s second major economic, industrial, commercial, and political centre, and a major transportation hub for the rest of southeastern Europe; its commercial port is also of great importance for Greece and the southeastern European hinterland. The city is renowned for its festivals, events, and vibrant cultural life in general, and is considered the cultural capital of Greece. Events such as the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair and the Thessaloniki International Film Festival are held annually, while the city also hosts the largest bi-annual meeting of the Greek diaspora.
Cultural capital of Greece
Thessaloniki is not only regarded as the cultural and entertainment capital of northern Greece but also the cultural capital of the country.Read more
The city’s main theaters, run by the National Theater of Northern Greece, which was established in 1961, include the Theater of the Society of Macedonian Studies, where the National Theater is based, the Royal Theater, the first base of the National Theater, Moni Lazariston, and the Earth Theater and Forest Theater, both amphitheatrical open-air theatres overlooking the city. The title of the European Capital of Culture in 1997 saw the birth of the city’s first opera and today forms an independent section of the National Theatre of Northern Greece. The opera is based at the Thessaloniki Concert Hall, one of the largest concert halls in Greece. Recently a second building was also constructed and designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. Olympion Theater, the site of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival and the Plateia Assos Odeon multiplex are the two major cinemas in downtown Thessaloniki. The city also has several multiplex cinemas in major shopping malls in the suburbs, most notably in Mediterranean Cosmos, the largest retail and entertainment development in the Balkans.
Shopping and entertainment
Thessaloniki is renowned for its major shopping streets and lively laneways. Tsimiski Street and Proxenou Koromila avenue are the city’s most famous shopping streets and are among Greece’s most expensive and exclusive high streets. The city is also home to one of Greece’s most famous and prestigious hotels, Makedonia Palace hotel, the Hyatt Regency Casino and hotel (the biggest casino in Greece and one of the biggest in Europe) and Waterland, the largest water park in southeastern Europe.Read more
The city has always been known between Greeks for its vibrant city culture, including having the most cafes and bars per-capita than any other city in Europe; and as having some of the best nightlife and entertainment in the country, thanks to its large young population and multicultural feel. Only recently has the city been exposing itself to the world and becoming more known for what it is, with Lonely Planet listing Thessaloniki as the world’s fifth-best ultimate party city.
Who founded Thessaloniki?
The city was founded around 315 B.C. by the King Cassander of Macedon, on or near the site of the ancient town of Therma and 26 other local villages. He named it after his wife Thessalonike, a half-sister of Alexander the Great and princess of Macedon as daughter of Philip II. Under the kingdom of Macedon, the city evolved to become the most important city in Macedon.Read more
After the fall of the kingdom of Macedon in 168 BC, Thessalonica became a free city of the Roman Republic. It grew to be an important trade-hub located on the Via Egnatia, the road connecting Dyrrhachium with Thessaloniki, which facilitated trade between Thessaloniki and great centers of commerce such as Rome and Byzantium. The city later became the capital of one of the four Roman districts of Macedonia. Later it became the capital of all the Greek provinces of the Roman Empire due to the city’s importance in the Balkan peninsula. When the Roman Empire was divided into the tetrarchy, Thessaloniki became the administrative capital of one of the four portions of the Empire under Galerius Maximianus Caesar, where Galerius commissioned an imperial palace, a new hippodrome, a triumphal arch, and a mausoleum among others.
In 379 when the Roman Prefecture of Illyricum was divided between the East and West Roman Empires, Thessaloniki became the capital of the new Prefecture of Illyricum. With the fall of Rome in 476, Thessaloniki became the second-largest city of the Eastern Roman Empire.
History of Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki is home to numerous notable Byzantine monuments, including the Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as several Roman, Ottoman and Sephardic Jewish structures. With a history of over 2,300 years, it is one of Europe’s oldest cities. The city’s main university, Aristotle University, is the largest in Greece and in the Balkans.Read more
The Church of Saint Demetrius, or Agios Demetrios, is the main sanctuary dedicated to Saint Demetrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki, dating from a time when it was the second largest city of the Byzantine Empire. It is part of the site Palaeochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO since 1988.
The first church on the spot was constructed in the early 4th century AD, replacing a Roman bath. A century later, a prefect named Leontios replaced the small oratory with a larger, three-aisled basilica. Repeatedly gutted by fires, the church eventually was reconstructed as a five-aisled basilica in 629–634. This was the surviving form of the church much as it is today. The most important shrine in the city, it was probably larger than the local cathedral. The historic location of the latter is now unknown.
The White Tower of Thessaloniki is a monument and museum on the waterfront of the city of Thessaloniki, capital of the region of Macedonia in northern Greece and a symbol of Greek sovereignty over Macedonia. The present tower replaced an old Byzantine fortification which was mentioned around the 12th century and reconstructed by the Ottomans to fortify the city’s harbour, it became a notorious prison and scene of mass executions during the period of Ottoman rule. It was substantially remodeled, and its exterior was whitewashed after Greece gained control of the city in 1912. It has been adopted as the symbol of the city.
Modern history of Thessaloniki
After the war, Thessaloniki was rebuilt with large-scale development of new infrastructure and industry throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Many of its architectural treasures remain, adding value to the city a tourist destination, while several early Christian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1988. In 1997, Thessaloniki was celebrated as the European Capital of Culture, sponsoring events across the city and the region, while in 2004 the city hosted several the football events as part of the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Today Thessaloniki has become one of the most important trade and business hubs in southeastern Europe, with its port, the port of Thessaloniki being one of the largest in the Aegean and facilitating trade throughout the Balkan hinterland. The city also forms one of the largest student centres in southeastern Europe, it is host to the largest student population in Greece.
Thessaloniki – earthquakes and fires
Thessaloniki lies on the northern fringe of the Thermaic Gulf on its eastern coast and is bound by Mount Chortiatis on its southeast. Its proximity to imposing mountain ranges, hills, and fault lines, especially towards its southeast have historically made the city prone to geological changes.Read more
Since medieval times, Thessaloniki was hit by strong earthquakes in 1759, 1902, 1978 and 1995. On 19–20 June 1978, the city suffered a series of powerful earthquakes, registering 5.5 and 6.5 on the Richter scale. The tremors caused considerable damage to several buildings and ancient monuments, but the city withstood the catastrophe without any major problems. One apartment building in central Thessaloniki collapsed during the second earthquake, killing many, raising the final death toll to 51.
Most of the old center of the city was destroyed by the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917, which started accidentally by an unattended kitchen fire on the 18th of August 1917. The fire swept through the centre of the city, leaving 72,000 people homeless; according to the Pallis Report, most of them were Jewish (50,000). As many businesses were destroyed, it resulted to 70% of the population being unemployed, while also a few religious structures of the three major faiths were lost. Nearly one-quarter of the total population of approximately 271,157 became homeless. Following the fire, the government prohibited quick rebuilding, so it could implement the new redesign of the city according to the European-style urban plan prepared by a group of architects, including the British Thomas Mawson, headed by French architect Ernest Hébrard. It is indicative that the Jewish community’s properties were reduced from a value of 6.5 million Greek drachmas to 750,000.