Thessaloniki is easy to fall in love with – it has beauty, chaos, history and culture, a remarkable cuisine and wonderful, vast sea views. This is Greece’s second city, which, like the rest of the country, has suffered the hit of the economic crisis, but the streets remain full of life and vibrancy.
The different neighbourhoods are little worlds unto themselves, and when you climb up to the Byzantine walls and take in the whole of Thessaloniki at sunset, you see what a sprawling, organic city it is. 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. The revamped waterfront area breathes life and is great for walking and cycling. By night, the city reverberates with music and nightlife.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Thessaloniki.
Macedonia's prehistory, Hellenistic and Roman periods are charted in this wonderful museum, home to many of the region's major archaeological discoveries. Highlights include goldwork from various hoards and graves, and the Derveni Krater (330–320 BC), a huge, ornate Hellenistic bronze-and-tin vase marked by intricate relief carvings of Dionysos, along with mythical figures, animals and ivy vines. The Derveni Papyrus, Greece’s oldest surviving papyrus piece (320–250 BC), is recognised by Unesco as Europe's oldest 'book'.
Thessaloniki's iconic landmark, the 34m-high White Tower has a harrowing history as a prison and place of execution. Built by the Ottomans in the 15th century, it was here in 1826 that Sultan Mahmud II massacred the garrison of rebellious janissaries (forcibly Islamicised elite troops). One story goes that the structure was known as the Tower of Blood until a prisoner painted the tower white in exchange for his liberty in 1883, when it was renamed Lefkos Pyrgos (White Tower).
Thessaloniki's New Waterfront is evidence that architecture can improve urban life through intelligent redesign of the space in which it is lived. Recipient of numerous awards for its architects Prodromos Nikiforidis and Bernard Cuomo, this 3.5km walkway extends from the White Tower to the Thessaloniki Concert Hall. Completed in 2013, it has been embraced by Thessalonikans with absolute delight as the perfect place to promenade, rollerblade, bike, play, eat ice cream or just enjoy peripatetic conversation.
MuseumMuseum of Byzantine Culture
This fascinating museum has plenty of treasures to please Byzantine buffs, plus simple explanations to introduce this long-lived empire and its culture to total beginners. More than 3000 Byzantine objects, including mosaics, intriguing tomb paintings, icons, 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. Temporary exhibitions might focus on anything from satirical maps to the work of Cretan writer and mystic Nikos Kazantzakis.
MonasteryMonastery of Vlatadon
Believed to have been founded around 1351 on the place where Paul preached in Thessaloniki, this secluded monastery blends fascinating history with some of the best views of the city. Listed by Unesco, it is thought to have been significant for Hesychasm, a controversial movement whose foremost 14th-century proponent, St Gregory Palamas, is depicted in a fresco here. You can explore the grounds, the ancient church, a museum of icons, and an aviary filled with peacocks.
ChurchChurch of Agios Dimitrios
This enormous 7th-century basilica 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 a crypt; Dimitrios’ remains 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 fire of 1917 was very damaging, five 8th-century mosaics survive.
MonumentArch of Galerius
South of the Rotunda on Egnatia, the Arch of Galerius (AD 303) celebrates the eponymous emperor's victory over the Persians in martial scenes carved into the marble panels that face its masonry core. Known locally as Kamara, this landmark is also the city's main meeting spot. The Arch originally had four main and four supporting pillars, with eight gates and arches, and a dome – only two of the central arches and one supporting arch can be seen today.
Historic BuildingRotunda of Galerius
In AD 306 Roman emperor Galerius built this harmonious 30m-high dome, comparable to Rome's Pantheon and possibly intended as his mausoleum. Marking the momentous arrival of Christianity as the religion of Empire, the Rotunda became Thessaloniki's first church (Agios Georgios; observe dragon-slaying St George above the door). The Ottomans in turn made it a mosque (hence the restored minaret), but since the Greek reconquest of 1912 it has served both sacred and secular purposes.
A former Byzantine fortress repurposed as a prison by the Ottomans and only decommissioned in 1989, the Eptapyrgion (‘Seven Towers’) is a grim reminder of Thessaloniki’s penal past, recounted in the Greek blues songs known as rembetika. Reached by a steep walk to the heights of Ano Poli, it's perfectly preserved, allowing access to some towers (of which there are actually 10), communal blocks and isolation cells, and displaying historical information and scattered artworks.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Thessaloniki.