Thessaloniki is fuelled by optimism, hedonism and just a dash of chaos. Greece’s thriving second city has monuments and museums to thrill history-lovers, it is mostly walkable and has a more upbeat quality than the capital.
The centre is laced with historic sights, from the Byzantine walls threading its romantic Upper Town to the imposing Rotunda. This is a city where old and new cohabit wonderfully: the Arch of Galerius, an intricate 4th-century monument, overlooks the busy shopping drag of Egnatia, while Thessaloniki’s most famous sight, the White Tower, anchors a waterfront packed with cocktail bars. By night, the city reverberates with music and nightlife, powered by an excitable stream of international students and backpackers.
For a port city, Thessaloniki’s dearth of beaches and island-ferry links is confounding. Nonetheless, the city’s excellent bus connections make it a natural base for travel across sprawling northern Greece. That is, if you ever tire of exploring Thessaloniki's monuments, galleries and raucous bars.
For detailed information about the city’s sightseeing & useful info you may download the city guide.
- Arts & CultureOpen or Close
Thessaloniki itself never doubted its own cultural identity and its millennia of existence, it stands there since 315BC. No wonder it was chosen as the co-reigning city of the Byzantine Empire alongside Constantinople – to prove just that there are several Paleochristian monuments, constituting a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Historically one of Europe’s oldest and most multiethnic cities, Thessaloniki is home to architectural marvels that testify to its centrality in Byzantine, Ottoman and Sephardic Jewish history. The city is anchored by Aristotelous Square, where curved, columned facades open to the waterfront in one direction and frame views of the historic Ano Poli (Upper City) in the other.
Though it has only about one million people, compared with Athens’s five million, Salonika is widely considered the cultural capital of Greece. Festivals abound, most notably the International Film Festival and the Dimitria Festival which draw hoards of buffs to the city each October and November. It has also produced many of the country’s most acclaimed bands, visual artists and designers.
With a student-strong population of 150,000 (Aristotle University is the largest in the Balkans), Thessaloniki boasts an under-30s creative movement seen nowhere else in the recession-stricken home of ancient tragedy and democracy.
Exhibitions and Concerts can been installed and staged in known Byzantine, Ottoman and Jewish landmarks. Contemporary works that address the modern Mediterranean’s mesh of cultures can be found installed at Yeni Djami, a former mosque built for a community of converted Jews, at the Bey Hamam, an Ottoman-era bathhouse, in Alatza Imaret, a 15th-century Ottoman mosque and hospice once famed for its colorful minaret. 30 Museums extend to the metropolitan area, including the State Museum of Contemporary Art, which houses the Costakis Collection, one of the world’s best assemblages of Russian avant-garde art.
A wealth of Byzantine chapels, Ottoman architecture, crumbling synagogues, resonate at every turn.
Miraculously, most of these monuments survived the fire that ravaged the city in 1917. Ano Poli, the Upper Town and old Turkish Quarter, is all that remains of 19th century 'Thessaloniki'.
Fancy Mansions of the 1st quarter of the 20th century can be seen at the eastern part of the city with unique architectural elements that forms a characteristic Architectural style, housing cultural centres and exhibition halls.
Many Cultural multi function spaces are not only run and manned by hip and trendy cutting-edge alternative artists, they are also creative nuclei for the city’s cultural scene.
Thessaloniki is truly unique in the sense that it intricately marries its thousands-year-old multicultural heritage with cutting-edge art performances and cinematic avant-garde.
Find out more about Thessaloniki's history here.
- Sights in ThessalonikiOpen or Close
Macedonia's major prehistoric and ancient Macedonian and Hellenistic finds are housed in this museum, bar Vergina's gold tomb finds, which are exhibited in Vergina. Highlights include the Derveni Crater (330–320 BC) a huge, ornate Hellenistic bronze-and-tin vase. Used for mixing wine and water, and later as a funerary urn, it’s marked by intricate relief carvings of Dionysos, along with mythical figures, animals and ivy vines. The Derveni Treasure contains Greece’s oldest surviving papyrus piece (320–250 BC). The lower-floor exhibit, Pre-Historic Thessaloniki, boasts prehistoric implements from the Petralona Cave north of Halkidiki, plus neolithic and Bronze Age daggers, pottery and tools.
Church of Agios Dimitrios
This enormous 5th-century structure honours Thessaloniki’s patron saint. A Roman soldier, Dimitrios was killed around AD 306 at this former Roman bath site by order of Emperor Galerius, infamous persecutor of Christians. The martyrdom site is now an underground crypt. Dimitrios’ relics occupy a silver reliquary inside. The Ottomans made Agios Dimitrios a mosque, and plastered over frescoes that were again revealed after the 1913 Greek reconquest. While the city's devastating fire of 1917 was very damaging, five 8th-century mosaics survive, spanning the altar.
Museum of Byzantine Culture
This fascinating museum has plenty of treasures to please Byzantine buffs, plus simple explanations to introduce the empire to total beginners. More than 3000 Byzantine objects, including mosaics, intriguing tomb paintings, jewellery and glassware are showcased with characterful asides about daily life. You'll be confidently discerning early-Christian from late-Byzantine icons in no time.
Rotunda of Galerius
In AD 306 Roman emperor Galerius built this stocky 30m-high brick structure as his future mausoleum. But instead of being laid to rest within the 6m-thick walls of the Rotunda, he was buried in today's Serbia after succumbing to an unpleasant disease that still puzzles historians today. Later, Constantine the Great made the Rotunda Thessaloniki's first church (Agios Georgios; observe dragon-slaying St George above the door). The Ottomans made it a mosque (note the restored minaret).
Monastery of Vlatadon
Near Ano Poli’s Byzantine Walls, the salmon-coloured arches of this secluded monastery are a relaxing place for a stroll. Thought to have been founded around 1351 by the pious brothers Vlatades, this monastery was significant for Hesychasm, a controversial movement based around solitary spiritual reflection. Its foremost 14th-century proponent, St Gregory Palamas, is depicted in a fresco here. A now-lost imperial chrysobull (gold-sealed decree) of the Byzantine Empress indicates Anna Paleologina endowed Vlatadon, which still preserves a rich archive of documents dating to the 15th century.
Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki
This touching museum is housed in one of the few Jewish buildings to survive the great fire of 1917, the former office of Jewish newspaper L'Independent. The museum traces the city's Jewish heritage through the 15th-century Sephardic immigrations and its peak period of creativity in the 16th century, before the community was brutally annihilated during the Holocaust. The upper floor has a timeline of Jewish life in Thessaloniki. The ground floor is split between a collection of photos and Jewish gravestones on one side, and a moving hall of remembrance on the other.
Church of Agia Sofia
Candlelight twinkling from gold chandeliers pierces the gloom in this functioning 8th-century church, modelled on its İstanbul namesake. The dome has a striking mosaic of the Ascension of Christ. Built over a previous 3rd-century church, it's notable for the cross-basilica style associated with middle-Byzantine architecture. The narthex and south aisle were used as a burial place for dignitaries from the 10th century. Like many Thessaloniki churches, it spent a period as a mosque (1535–1912) before returning to Christian worship.
Thessaloniki's most famous landmark, the 34m-high White Tower has a harrowing history as a prison and torture chamber. In 1826 Ottoman sultan Mahmud II massacred rebellious janissaries (elite troops of forcibly Islamicised Christian boys) here. After the 1913 Greek reconquest, the ‘bloody tower’ was whitewashed to expunge this grisly past. Grab a free audio guide to help navigate the multimedia displays in the tower, then drink in views of the bay from the top.
Noesis Science Center & Technology Museum
Although 6km east of town, this fascinating museum of science and technology, old and new, is worth visiting. There's a planetarium, a giant-screen cinema and simulator for the kids, while the exhibition of ancient Greek technology shows just how ingenious the ancients really were. Out of summer, it opens at 1pm on weekends.
Read more about Thessaloniki attractions here (by lonelyplanet.com), or find out about Thessaloniki's and Unesco's monuments in the city (by thessaloniki.gr). Also there is a full list of the city's museums here (by thessaloniki.gr).
- Scents, Flavors & NightlifeOpen or Close
Thessaloniki is a famous destination for every food lover because of the wide variety of options available. After a flavor trip throughout the city you will realize that this is the point where West meets East! Traditional Greek cuisine along with many Balkan and Eastern influences will offer you a unique dining experience. These wonderful mix of so many recipes and flavors along with the traditional cuisines is what makes this city unique when you are hungry!
Many traditional taverns can be found all over the city, especially in places like Upper Town or Athonos Sq,. Some more sophisticated restaurants can be found at the well known Ladadika, while in certain areas like Kalamaria you'll have the chance to enjoy fresh fish and seafood as well as famous Greek dishes and international cuisine.
If you are interested in exploring the Greek fast food culture you will discover that it is incredibly rich and delicious! Apart from the traditional Bagels, you should definitely try Mpougatsa for breakfast. Mpougatsa is a delicious sweet pie filled with cream and served with flour sugar and cinnamon. It's the perfect way to start your day (along with coffee of course...) . You can continue your gastronomic journey later by trying the traditional Gyros or Souvlaki which can be found in every corner of the city!
Last but not least, the city has some of the most famous bakeries and patisseries in Greece! Be sure to check the triangular cream filled pastry called Trigona Panoramatos and of course the beloved Tsoureki which is a sweet, egg enriched bread offered in countless variations like filled with chestnut cream and covered in white chocolate! Of course this is just the beginning. There are way too many sweet creations available inspired from Ottoman, refugee or traditional Greek recipes!
If you think that everyone in Thessaloniki is rushing somewhere all day, just wait until nightfall. It seems like everyone in town tops at a favorite cafe on the way home from work and then heads out to dinner -- this, before or after taking in a play or concert at one of the city's many theaters, concert halls, and nightclubs and ars with live entertainment. Though many publications list events and posters splattered everywhere announce them, almost all will all be Greek to you.
Ask for information at your hotel. Thessaloniki boasts great nightlife during those long months when more famous Greek destinations are deep in hibernation.
Meanwhile, the city seems festooned with enough bars and clubs to serve a population twice its size, yet all of them are crowded to the bursting point -- and more open every year. For some of the liveliest nightlife in town, try one of the cafes in the waterfront Ladidika district, or along the harbour and the shoreline on Nikis Street, or head inland to Athoonos Square, or sample the cafes on pedestrianised Zefxidos and Iktinos streets. Mitropoleos street and the narrow streets around as well as the area around White tower has a lot to offer to night fun lovers.
Plenty of night spots that best embodies this special entertainment vibe that only Thessaloniki got, cafes, bars, music spaces and galleries all in one, home to quirky experimental acts, from ambient pop to electronica. Many go-to spots for Thessaloniki's hard-partying artistic set.
Demetria Festival -- October 26, St. Dimitrios's day is celebrated all over Greece, but in Thessaloniki, the celebration lasts for weeks. The festival, which gets bigger every year, now includes many theatrical and musical events.
The International Film Festival draws hoards of film buffs to the city every November. Thessaloniki hosted twice the Biennale of the young artists of the Mediterranean countries and 2011 WOMEX (World Music Expo) left a mark Best of all, get a local with similar tastes to give you some tips.
- Arround ThessalonikiOpen or Close
Thessaloniki is surrounded by extraordinary landscapes and locations that can inspire every visitor with their natural beauty.
The north part of the city is covered by woods on the hill slopes, while in the district of Polichni in the North-East, there are six watermills still standing since Byzantine times, reflecting pre-industrial technology. Further on in the same direction, Mount Chortiatis is a wonderful destination for a day outdoors. In the southern part of the city, there is the organized marina of Aretsou, a convenient and pleasant mooring spot for recreational craft, an ideal starting point for a trip to Halkidiki or the quaint islands of the Vories Sporades. Thermaikos Gulf and the picturesque beaches of Perea, Nei Epivates and Agia Triada, are the traditional privileged resorts for holiday- makers from Greece and abroad, as they are easily accessible by road along the gulf coastline, forming indeed two green zones for the city.
In the South-East, along the gulf, stands Mt. Olympus in its divine grandeur, home of the ancient deities, with its unique flora. According to Homer, on the peak of Mt. Olympus stood Zeus’ palace, the roof of which (the sky dome) was made of copper and stretched over the whole of the earth. At the feet of Mt. Olympus, in the city of Dion, the Macedonians erected their temples to worship their gods.Archaeological excavations unearthed Zeus’ temple, part of the old city, the baths, its theatres, etc. A visit to the site can be combinedwith a relaxing excursion to the white, sandy beaches of Pieria or to other beautiful destinations nearby.
Pella, the ancient capital of the Macedonian state, where Alexander the Great was born and reigned, is another archaeological – and not only – site. The ruins of Alexander the Great’s palace are there, within whichone can admire exquisite mosaics of greathistorical significance.
Vergina, an ancient city of world acclaim due to its famous royal tombs of the 4th century B.C. and its model archaeological museum,is a site where one can admire, next to the remains of King Philip II, precious exhibits reflecting the wealth, grandeur and glory of the Macedonian Kingdom.
To the South-East of Thessaloniki lies Halkidiki, a charming peninsula ending in three fingers, famous for its wonderful beaches, tiny islands and small bays. Visitors can find almost everything they desire there. Of specialinterest is the prehistoric cave of Petralona, replete with stalagmites and stalactites, where the fossilized skull of Archanthropus,dating to 200,000 B.C., was found. Furthermore,one can visit archaeological sites at Olynthos, Potidea, Stagira and Toroni, or any of the local villages. Nightlife in the big resorts is particularly inviting.
An opportunity open only to male visitors is an excursion to the third finger of Halkidiki Peninsula, which for more than a thousand years, has been the territory of the Greek Monastic State of “Mt. Athos”, the residence of monks of various orders. This is a unique land containing invaluable items and treasures of incalculable historical value. There is no doubt that despite its cosmopolitan atmosphere, Halkidiki can well provide moments ofincomparable relaxation.
- Getting to Thessaloniki and awayOpen or Close
Transport Options by Air
Thessaloniki’s airport, Macedonia (SKG), accommodates frequent flights from national and international destinations. From there you can reach the city by bus, taxi, or using Private transportation directly to your hotel. If you prefer using public transportation, there are two bus routes available that connect the airport to the city center; Buses No 78 and 78N. Bus 78 runs half-hourly from the airport, heading west through the city to the main bus station (KTEL Makedonia) via the train station. Tickets cost €2 from the airport to the bus station; €1.10 for short journeys. Taxis to the airport cost €15 to €20, even more from midnight until 5am.
Land Transport options
Thessaloniki’s main bus station, KTEL Makedonia, is 3km west of the centre. Each destination has its own specific ticket counter, signposted in Greek and English.
For Athens only, avoid the trip by going instead to Monastiriou bus station – an easy-to-miss office opposite the train station – where Athens-bound buses start before calling in at KTEL Makedonia. Additional discounts to regular fares apply for kids, students, special-needs travellers, retirees and soldiers (well, Greek ones, anyway). Travellers can leave luggage at KTEL Makedonia (€1 to €7 for 24 hours).
Buses leave for Halkidiki from the eastern Thessaloniki Halkidiki bus terminal. The terminal is out towards the airport, reached via city buses 45A or 45B. From the main bus station, buses stop en route at the train station and Plateia Aristotelous. With waiting time and traffic, this 'express' service to the bus terminal can take more than an hour. Then there's the trip to Halkidiki itself. The whole production can take three to six hours. It's wiser to rent a car for your entire Halkidiki trip or at least take a taxi (€10 to €15) to Halkidiki bus terminal.
Direct trains serve Athens (€55.40, 5¼ hours, seven daily), Litohoro (€9, one hour, 10 daily) and Larisa (€14 to €21, two hours, 15 daily). Several daily trains serve Veria, Edessa and Florina (mostly via Platy). Only two daily trains currently serve Xanthi, Komotini and Alexandroupoli in Thrace.
Thessaloniki’s train station has ill-kept downstairs toilets, ATMs, a post office, card phones and small modern eateries, plus an Orthodox chapel. Self-serve luggage storage lockers start from €3. Additionally, a staffed luggage storage room (€3 per item per day) operates until 10pm daily – show your train ticket when depositing luggage.
- Useful InformationOpen or Close
Moving Arround - Local Transportation
The ideal way of discovering Thessaloniki is on foot, as it is an absolutely walkable city. Visit the Old Town, the center of the town, the port and of course the Waterfront and Nea Paralia with the great sunset views. These are only a few of the many places in Thessaloniki one can discover on foot and a really great way to spend your day.
Bus Public Transport (OASTH): Taking a bus is the best way to move inside the city except when visiting the Upper Town ("Ano Poli") and the Castles area. You can buy a ticket for a single route (1,00€ /0.50€ for students), a 70 minute two-ride ticket (1.20€/ 0.60€ for students), a 90 minute three-ride ticket (1,50€ / 0,80€) or a 120 minute 4-ride ticket (2,00€/1,00€).
Tickets can be bought at the outlets of OASTH (Organization of Urban Transportation of Thessaloniki city) and the kiosks scattered all around the city (“períptera" in greek). You can also buy a ticket from an automatic vendor inside the bus, with slightly higher fares – be sure to keep in mind that the automatic vendor doesn't give back change.
For a more complete experience, we recommend you using the Cultural Transfer Line of OASTH, which will enable you to visit some of the major tourist attractions of Thessaloniki (2,00€/1,00€).
Taxi: Taxi service in Thessaloniki is plentiful and economic. Taxis can easily be found everywhere in the city, the city airport, port and railway station. Taxis are available at most hotels or can easily be ordered by hotel reception staff. Taxi companies operate 24-hour call centers, ready to receive your order or make an advance booking for you.
Minimum taxi fare is 3,10 € [ A double fare is applicable at night (24:00 – 05:00)]. Most taxis currently use satellite navigator systems that facilitate a fast and easy transfer to any destination in the city.
Bicycle: Discover Thessaloniki by means of riding a bicycle! City touring becomes even more enjoyable through a network of bicycle lanes bearing the special marking! The bike sharing system in the Municipality of Thessaloniki, named I-BIKE, of THESSBIKE company, holds eight stations and a fleet of 200 bicycles, including two seat, four seat, electric bikes and vehicles for the handicapped. Another company in the field of renting bikes is BikeIT, based in Nea Paralia of Thessaloniki, where you can select from a wide range of bicycle types.
Time and Currency
Greece belongs to the Eastern-European time zone and it is two hours (+2) ahead of Greenwich Time.
Greece is a Member-State of the European Union and uses its uniform currency – the Euro.
Currency exchange rates are clearly displayed in every bank that accepts currency exchange, while credit card holders may acquire money from the ATMs of the collaborating banks. Greek banks are open for the public from 8:00 to 14:30 Mondays to Thursdays and from 8:00 to 13:30 on Fridays. They are closed on Public Holidays.
Euros can also be exchanged for notes of other foreign currencies at exchange offices that are situated at the airport and certain main ports, in the larger cities, as well as at many tourist destinations. A passport is required when exchanging currencies.
The national official language is Greek. However most of the people speak and understand other languages like English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
Weather & Climate
Thessaloniki enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate, with its location in northern Greece resulting in the region receiving more rain than other areas of the country, and seeing lower temperatures during the winter. Summers in Thessaloniki are generally hot and dry, and the area receives an abundance of sunshine even during the low season. July and August are the hottest months, with temperatures reaching an average of 27C, and the sun shining for over 10 hours a day. The summer frequently sees highs of 30C, however these very hot days are cooled by the strong winds that blow from the north, which begin in June and start to die down in September.
You should definitely visit Tsimiski Avenue in the city center. It is by far the most popular commercial street of Thessaloniki with hundreds of fashion stores and boutiques. Many famous brands have their local outlets there. A good alternative would be "Mitropoleos" st. located on the south of Tsimiski Avenue.
The shops’ opening hours are not pre-determined.
In general terms, the regular shopping hours on weekdays are 09:00 – 21:00 and Saturdays 09:00 – 15:00.
Malls and big stores operate:
- Monday-Friday: 09:00 – 21:00
- Saturday: 09:00 – 18:00 or 20:00
Shops, boutiques and other commercial markets, operate:
- Monday/ Wednesday/ Saturday: 09:00 – 15:00
- Tuesday/ Thursday/Friday: 09:00 – 14:30 and 17:30 – 21:00
Health & Safety
In order to have access to necessary health care, tourists from member states of the European Union (EU) wishing to visit Greece must be holders of the European Health Card (EHIC) or any other legal Community document issued by their competent social security agency. You can find more information about the EHIC here.
In these cases, the necessary treatment in Greece is provided by:
- the IKA (Social Security Institute) Health Units (polyclinics) or doctor's offices in the region;
- Regional clinics (former rural clinics) or the Health Centres of the National Health System; and
- the outpatients' departments of the hospitals on contract
In order to have access to necessary health care, tourists from countries other than the member states of the European Union wishing to visit Greece must consult their social security agency for information before travelling.
Useful Phone Numbers
- Thessaloniki area code (30) 2310
- European Emergency Number 112
- Police 100
- Tourist Police (+30) 2310554874
- Fire Department 199
- Ambulance 166
- SOS Doctors : 1016
- Duty Hospitals and Clinics: 1434
- Pharmacies: 1434
- Railway Customer Service Centre 14511
- Urban Transportation 11085
- Intercity coaches (+30) 2310595400
- TAXI 18300, 18180, 18288
- Airport (+30) 2310985000
- Telephone directory enquiries - Local 11888
- Time 14844
- Theatres & cinemas 1422
Internet Access and free WiFi spots
There is a big number of Internet cafes which provide Internet access at reasonable prices.
Free WiFi spots: http://free-wifi.gr/en/find-free-hotspots/thessalonikis
Electrical Plug/Outlet and Voltage
- Voltage: 220-240 Volts (U.S./Canada are 110-120 Volts)
- Primary Socket Type: Europlug, Schuko
- Multi-voltage appliances (laptops, etc.): Plug adapter
- Click socket type links to view adapter for that type
- 110-120V electronics: Plug adapter + step-down transformer
- Hair dryers, curling irons, etc.: Plug adapter + voltage converter