Although there are tons of things to do in Thessaloniki or Salonika, Greece’s second-largest city, it is not as widely known to tourists as Athens is. Thessaloniki, founded in 315 BC, is a beautiful, vibrant city, a great academic and financial center of all the Northern Greece.
As it is built around the Thermaikos Gulf and the Aegean sea, strolling by the sea or having a meal at a seafront restaurant is one of the best things to do in Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki’s center is an exciting and multicolored place to walk. It is full of historical buildings built by the Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and the Jewish. The city’s Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments are listed as UNESCO sites.
As you stroll by the Thessaloniki top sites, the mouth-watering aroma of sweet bougatsa (cream pie) or loukoumades (dough with honey and cinnamon) is an extra boost to your senses.
The city is Greek’s favorite foodie destination, with tiny places offering delicious street food and old areas being food-tasting destinations, like Ladadika. Thessaloniki is also famous for its nightlife and has a great choice for shopping, with small shops selling unique clothes and accessories.
Find in this post, the best things to do in Thessaloniki Greece, the must-visit UNESCO sites, the museums, the food destinations, how to get to the city, and where best to stay.
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When you visit Thessaloniki Greece I recommend spending as many days as possible to experience all the top Thessaloniki attractions. There are quite a few lovely day trips to venture and explore the beauties of Northern Greece. You can find 7 of the best day trips from Thessaloniki below!
Walk Along the Beautiful Seafront
One of the best things to do in Thessaloniki is to enjoy the 4 km lovely walk by the seafront. It begins where the Old Port used to be and passes by some unique landmarks of the city.
You pass by the Aristotelous square built after the catastrophic fire in 1917 by the architect Ernest Hébrard. There are two imposing neoclassic buildings at its entrance, Olympion on the right side and the impressive 5-star Electra Palace Thessaloniki on the left side. There are also plenty of cafes and shops to visit in the square.
The next monument you will see as you walk by the seafront is Thessaloniki’s famous landmark, the White Tower. The White Tower, which is a museum today, has 6 floors where photographs, videos, and objects describe Thessaloniki’s long cultural and gastronomic history. If you get all the way to the top terrace you can admire the stunning view of the city and the Thermaikos Gulf.
As you continue your stroll, you discover all kinds of exhibits, art objects, statues, and sculptures such as the Statue of Great Alexander. Alexander the Great, son of King Phillip the Second, had a sister with the name Thessaloniki, just like the city.
History Tip: The capital of Macedonia was Vergina between 808 and 399 BC and Pella from 399 until 168 BC when Macedonia was conquered by the Romans. If you would like to visit both sites you can book this excellent full-day trip to Vergina and Pella from Thessaloniki.
The Umbrellas sculpture is another famous landmark and a very popular meeting point to admire the Thessaloniki sunset. Grab a drink, sit by the deck, and enjoy one of the best things to do in Thessaloniki, watch the sun going down in a magical sunset!
The beachfront route continues all the way to New Beach, passing the impressive Makedonia Palace Hotel, and the fountains, all the way to the Megaron Music Hall Square. This is a wonderful walk filled with many beautiful sights while right across from the sea the peak of Olympus mountain is visible in the sky.
Explore the UNESCO Byzantine Monuments
Thessaloniki is one of the top places to visit in Greece!
As the city was located comparatively close to the Byzantine center of Constantinople, and played a significant role in spreading Christianity. It also played an active role in artistic trends originating in Constantinople. You can witness the great masterpieces of Early Christian art in the ancient Rotunda, Agios Demetrios Church, and Hosios David (Latomou Monastery).
Rotunda (One of the top things to do in Thessaloniki)
Rotunda was built by Roman Emperor Galerius in 306 AD as a temple of Zeus or as the Mausoleum for Galerius, its use is not clear to historians. In Galerius times there was a road connecting Rotunda with the triumphal arch of Galerius which stands today just a few meters off Rotunda.
During the Paleochristianic (first years of Christianity) Rotunda was converted into a church and this is where all the remarkable painting ensembles, mosaics, and frescoes that you see today come from.
In 1590/1 AD it was converted into a mosque by Sheikh Suleiman Hortaji Efendi but was restored as a monument after Thessaloniki was liberated from the Ottomans in October 1912. Rotunda is open daily, except on Tuesdays from 8.00 to 20.00.
Agios Demetrios Church
2.5 km northeast of Rotunda is another UNESCO monument, the Church of Agios Demetrios, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. Emperor Galerius was a ferocious prosecutor of Christians, killing as many as he could. Demetrios, when he admitted being a Christian was soon jailed, tortured, and assassinated by Galerius soldiers.
The Church was built in 415 AD at the place where Saint Demetrios was killed. The Church today contains some very old frescoes and mosaics, of exceptional artistic and religious value.
The crypt is at the rear of the church on the right-hand side of the church. There are exhibits with various vases, clay, glass, or metal, and remains of frescoes, inscriptions, and sculptures, mainly from the 5th-century temple.
The church is free to enter and it is wheelchair accessible.
Hosios David Chruch (Latomou Monastery)
The monastery is in Ano Poli of Thessaloniki, 1.5 km far from Rotunda near Vlatadon monastery, and was built in the 5th century. The monastery of Latomou is characterized as one of the most important monuments, due to the unique early Christian mosaic decoration and the Byzantine frescoes (12th century) that adorn the church.
One of the most remarkable mosaics is the one that depicts a vision of the prophet Ezekiel with the young Christ sitting on a colorful arc of light. The Monastery is open daily from 10 – 17.00 except Mondays. It has a free entrance with a dress code: entrance is not allowed to those who wear shorts, short skirts, and sleeveless blouses.
Dine at Ladadika (one of the coolest things to do in Thessaloniki)
The old Ladadika area, near the old port and in the western part of the city, was until 40 years ago the center of wholesale trade for Thessaloniki. Today is probably the most popular area in Thessaloniki, especially in the evenings with all those small taverns, cafes, and bars coming alive.
A pedestrian-only area, with cobblestone alleys and century-old neoclassic buildings, Ladadika is full of bars and stylish taverns – with or without live music – all with excellent food, mostly Greek recipes. Ladadika is very close to Aristotelous square and I suggest you either walk to the area or take a taxi, parking is very difficult in this part of the city.
Explore the Roman Agora of Thessaloniki Greece
Ancient Agora is one of the most important Roman monuments of Thessaloniki, located on the north side of Aristotelous Square. Built at the end of the 2nd century AD, it was a central point of public life in ancient Thessaloniki.
It covers a large area with the ruins of the Library, a Theater, an Odeon, and a double underground vaulted gallery that contains a small museum dedicated to the long history and archaeological findings of the site. During summer, the Odeon hosts contemporary cultural events such as concerts or theatrical plays. It is open daily from 9-15.00.
- Related Article: the Roman Agora of Athens
Try Local Cakes and Desserts
Thessaloniki and generally speaking the north of Greece is notorious for its delicious sweets and cakes, with recipes going back hundreds of years or being inspired by Asia Minor. You can buy some of the best pastries in central confectioneries that are specialized in local cakes and phyllo pies such as Bougatsa.
Pastry shops that I highly recommend to visit and taste their goods are:
- Konstantinidis at Pavlou Mela 7, with the best mille-feuille in Thessaloniki
- Choureal at Paleon Patron Germanou 7, specialized in profiterole and eclairs
- Elenidis at Dimitriou Gounari 13, specialized in Panorama triangles
- Terkenlis, the best tsoureki in Greece at Tsimiski Av. 30
- Zachari, at Lord Byron 7, specialized in lemon tarts and chocolate salami
- Bantis at Panagias Faneromenis 33 st and Anoteron at Agiou Dimitriou 59 st. for incredible Bougatsa
Discover Renovated Modiano Agora
Agora Modiano, a historical beautiful building built by Jewish Eli Modiano in 1922, is a large covered market that reopened again in December 2022 after being renovated.
In the market, you will find 80 small shops with high-quality food in a multicultural market that will bring together unique flavors and products from all over the world. Pastries, cheeses, loaves of bread, biscuits, pies, olives, fresh vegetables, and fruit, you can find it all here.
Address: Ermou 24, central Thessaloniki
Explore the Jewish Monuments (one of the main things to do in Thessaloniki)
The Jews, until the second world war, had formed the largest religious group in Thessaloniki which was often named “New Jerusalem” and “Madre de Israel”. Some of the most important Jewish monuments that you can visit are:
- The Jewish Museum
- Monasteriote Synagogue
- Saul Gallery and Modiano Market, both built by architect Eli Modiano
- The Holocaust Memorial
- Jahudi Hamam
- Synagogue of Thessaloniki Yad Lezikaron
Read here the dedicated posts on the Jewish Monuments of Thessaloniki with tons of historical details and info on how to get to the monuments:
Stroll Picturesque Ano Poli (Upper City)
Ano Poli is the oldest and most authentic part of Thessaloniki that will definitely charm you as soon as you get there. As you walk the narrow cobbled and winding streets, you will pass by traditional fountains and vines and small picturesque houses with lace curtains on the windows.
There are many houses built by Greek refugees after the destruction of Smyrni in 1922, numerous churches and monasteries, and the Byzantine Eptapyrgio or the Yedi Kule, a fortified building that operated as a (cruel with inhuman conditions) prison from 1890 to 1989 but it is a museum today.
In Ano Town, apart from the traditional houses of its inhabitants, the visitor will also find the unique Byzantine Bathhouse, as well as excellent coffee or food outlets, which have kept the aesthetics of another era.
You can get to Ano Poli in Thessaloniki by taking the public small 14-seat bus no 22 from Aristotelous Sq at Egnatia st.
Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki is one of the largest and most important museums in Greece. It plays a significant role in the understanding of the entire history of ancient Macedonia with a huge collection of gold funerary objects from Macedonian burial sites, and an open area to see up close the ancient Roman residencies.
Open daily from 8.30-15.30. Address 6 Manoli Andronikou Street. Museum Website.
Museum and Ticket Info: Across from the archaeological museum sits the fascinating Byzantine Culture Museum that I suggest you also visit. You can buy a combo ticket of €15 which offers entrance to the Archeology and Byzantine Museums, Rotunda, and White Tower, to be used in 3 days.
Have a Cafe at the Rotating OTE Tower
Very close to the archaeological museum of Thessaloniki Greece, you will find the OTE Tower, another famous landmark of the city, visible from afar. If you go to the top of the building you can enjoy a coffee or a meal with an impressive view of Thessaloniki. But the coolest part of it is that while you are drinking your coffee, the Tower is making one complete rotation in 60 minutes!
OTE Tower is one of the most fun things to do in Thessaloniki!
Visit the House of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish secular state was born in Thessaloniki in 1881 in a house in Apostolou Pavlou st. The municipality of Thessaloniki gave the house to the Turkish Consulate and today it has been turned into a museum.
The building, apart from its historical value, is distinguished for its architectural aesthetics as an authentic surviving Ottoman monument. The house has been furnished with original furniture of Ataturk time.
The museum contains personal items, documents, and photo frames from meetings with world leaders and moments in Ataturk’s life. However, the most prominent object is the wax figure of Kemal which attracts the most attention and the most photographs. The entrance is free but you will have to make an appointment with the Turkish consulate.
If you are interested in the Ottoman history of the city then you should visit the Hamza Bey mosque or Alkazar an emblematic local building. The mosque was built in 1467/1468 by the daughter of the military commander Hamza Bey and is the oldest Islamic religious house in Thessaloniki.
7 Best Day Trips From Thessaloniki
From Thessaloniki, you can explore northern Greece and travel to some fascinating places:
1. You can go on a day and even better on a 2-day trip to UNESCO Meteora Monasteries. Besides visiting the 6 spectacular monasteries, you can explore the beautiful nature and hike the stunning rocks. One of the best-guided tours is the Full-Day Trip to Meteora from Thessaloniki.
2. Combine a visit to the archaeological site of Dion with Mt. Olympus and hike Epinea Gorge with a Day Trip to Dion and Mountain Olympus from Thessaloniki tour.
3. Discover the remarkable UNESCO Athos Mount Monasteries with a cruise vessel with a Luxurious glass bottom tour.
4. Go to the beautiful Thasos island in a 5 Hours Sailing Cruise in North Thasos.
5. Explore Apostle Paul’s Footsteps in the full-day tour to Philippi and Kavala!
6. Take a day trip to Alexander the Great’s hometown of Vergina and Pella.
7. Go to the healing Pozar Thermal Baths and Edessa waterfalls on a day trip.
Best Hotels in Thessaloniki
Luxury hotel with a sea view
There are some fantastic hotels and apartments that you can stay in Thessaloniki Greece. I would suggest you stay centrally so that you can go around the city easily and not need to take a taxi or a bus. One of the best central hotels is the luxurious Electra Palace.
Mid-range hotel with a sea view
I love ON Residence hotel, it is the image of class, quality materials, and artistic decoration set in front of the Thermaikos Gulf. Opened in 2022, everything is new, fresh, and elegant with outstanding views.
Thessaloniki hotel for families
For families, I highly recommend The Caravan, a centrally located, brightly decorated, happy energy hotel, with outstanding service, and breakfast that provides everything you need as a family.
For more choices check my dedicated post on the best hotels and apartments in Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki Google Map
Find in this Thessaloniki Google map all the best attractions to visit in Thessaloniki!
How to Get Around the City
There is no metro in Thessaloniki right now but it is expected to start running in November 2023. Until then, the best way to go around Thessaloniki – besides walking – is the public buses, taxis, and small boats that can transport you to the seaside suburbs of the city. You can take one of the boats outside the White Tower. Check out the time schedule here.
Rentals: This is my preferred option because I love the freedom of getting wherever I want whenever I want. I use Discover Cars as they offer great prices and you can pick your car up from the airport.
How to Get to Thessaloniki from the Airport
The Thessaloniki International Airport (SKG) is 13 km far from the City Center but there might be some traffic on your way in, depending on the day.
There are 4 options to get to Thessaloniki Center from the airport:
- Airport Bus: leaves every 20-25 minutes and reaches the city center in approximately 40 minutes during the day and 50 minutes at night (around €2)
- Taxis: they are waiting right at the exit of the airport and the ride takes around 30 minutes. The cost for this ride is fixed, at 24€ during the day and 32€ during the night shift (00:00 am to 05:00 am)
- Rent a car
- Book a private transfer.
Athens to Thessaloniki Train
The train is my favorite way to travel from Athens to Thessaloniki. You can take the train from Larissa train station in Athens, which is quite central and has a metro stop going there. There are several trains leaving Athens every day that stop at Larisa, Kalabaka (Meteora town) all the way to Thessaloniki.
The train is fast ( 4 hours to reach Thessaloniki) and you get to see a lot of Greek countryside and nature. As soon as you are inside the train keep your valuables close to you at all times. There is a restaurant wagon with some food and drinks selection and there will be WC available (try to have your own paper available).
Book your seat/ buy your ticket here (official website of Hellenic Trains).
Did you visit Thessaloniki? Let me know what you think about visiting Thessaloniki in the comments, I’d love to hear whether I managed to get it onto your bucket list! Till next time, Evgenia❤️
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