Walking Tour: Thessaloniki
- Start Ano Poli
- End Port
- Length 8km; six hours
Start around 9am, as many churches close by noon. Avoid Mondays, when most sites are closed.
Begin at the city's highest and most scenic point, the grimly fascinating Byzantine-fortress-turned-Turkish prison known as the Eptapyrgion. From here, follow your nose downhill to the unmissable Kastra, easternmost end of the Byzantine Walls, admiring the mighty Alysseos Tower and the handsome Anna Palaiologina Gate. Once inside the walls, and in Ano Poli, follow them west on the main road Eptapyrgio. Crossing Akropoleos, look on your left for the entrance to the lofty Monastery of Vlatadon.
Rejoin Eptapyrgio and continue west, following more ragged Byzantine walls. Turn left at Argonafton, and immediately left again to follow the stairs on Sthenonos. At the bottom of the stairs, veer right along Dimitriou Poliorkitou. Look out for the easy-to-miss narrow way Lycia, branching to the left, and follow it down to Unesco-listed Church of Osios David – a sign for the church marks the stairway. This 5th-century gem is resplendent with rare frescoes.
From here, wander labyrinthine Ano Poli eastwards along its small and charming streets. The most direct route follows Fotiou across Akropoleos, turning left onto Krispou. The road wiggles over Theotokopoulou into Eolou, and then hits Moreas. Dogleg right down Moreas, then left into Kodrou to find the 14th-century Church of Nikolaos Orfanos. Burnished angels, masterpieces of devotional fresco, blaze from the walls of this intimate Byzantine church.
Take Irodotou south; once you cross Olympiados and reach Kassandrou, you’re well and truly back in the big city.
Dodge the pedestrian bustle for a few blocks west along Kassandrou and turn south on Agiou Nikolaou. You’ll see the bulging red-domed roof of Yeni Hammam, a restored 17th-century Turkish bath, in front of you. A few steps south of Yeni Hammam is the burly 7th-century Church of Agios Dimitrios, occupying its own square and sheltering relics of St Dimitrios within.
Venture south on Agnostou Stratiotou across Olympou and you’ll see the ruin of the Roman Forum, with a backdrop of modern tower blocks. After marvelling at the contrast of ancient and new, double back to Agiou Dimitriou and proceed east 10 blocks to Atatürk House on your left, inside the Turkish consulate. This high-security attraction seems forbidding, but actually contains a very diverting museum.
A block further east on Agiou Dimitriou, turn right on Dimitriou Gounari; at the end you’ll find the imposing and newly renovated Rotunda of Galerius. Amble downhill along the path towards the statue-studded 3rd-century Arch of Galerius, created to commemorate Galerius’ victory over the Persian army. After crossing busy Egnatia, meander down the pedestrianised street until you see a square dominated by low, excavated walls. The ruins may look scant, but they are remnants of the once-vast Palace of Galerius.
Continue following gravity’s pull downhill. Cross Tsimiski and, at Plateia Fanarioton, veer left to see the iconic White Tower. Thessaloniki’s waterfront icon was once a notorious prison, but now harbours a multimedia museum. Next wander west for a waterside stroll on Leoforos Nikis, a strip graced with some of the swankiest bars and most effervescent nightlife in the city.
Leave the water by turning right up Agias Sofias towards the impressive Church of Agia Sofia. If your energy is low after craning your neck at its mosaic-decorated inner dome, double back down Agias Sofias for a quick sugar rush at Blé, before returning to Tsimiski to proceed west.
Soon you’ll hit Aristotelous; Plateia Aristotelous is to the left. After exploring the square, head north on Aristotelous, then turn left on Irakliou: between here and Ermou you’ll discover Modiano Market, full of fish on ice and trays of olives and cheese.
Nibble your way through Modiano before rejoining Ermou. You’ll cross busy main drag Venizelou. Next turn towards the sea once more by pacing down Ionos Dragoumi, through the former florists' market, the Louloudadika district, now overflowing with clothes shops, bars and restaurants. If your feet are sore, end here with a visit to the excellent Jewish Museum, just to the left on Agiou Mina.
Further down Ionos Dragoumi, at the Tsimiski intersection, note the splendid National Bank of Greece building; after it, turn right onto Mitropoleos and zigzag your way into the Ladadika district, once comprising olive-oil warehouses and now home to atmospheric restaurants and bars. Complete the tour with a well-deserved late lunch at one of Ladadika’s eateries. Otherwise, finish with sea views by walking south to Kountouriotou towards the beautified port.