Alexander the Great conquered an empire from his base in Thessaly. Now, Thessaloniki in northern Greece will conqueror your heart! This beautiful city at the top of the Aegean Sea is an exciting place to explore for its amazing historical sites, its excellent weather and its wonderful citizens.
Thessaloniki is the second city in Greece (behind Athens) with a metropolitan population of around 1,000,000 residents and it has an important and exciting past. The city was formed on an older site that had first been settled in the 7th Century BC. In 315 BC, Cassander, the King of Macedon following the death of Alexander the Great, founded the city and named it after his wife, who was the sister of the conqueror.
Thessaloniki literally means “Victory for Thessaly” so you can imagine that the family was proud of its success! Thessaloniki was an important city during this Hellenistic period and then during the later Roman period of rule.
Thessaloniki was an important port and also on major Roman roads throughout the later empire and thus was important throughout the Byzantine period that followed in the Middle Ages. In 1430, it was conquered by the Ottomans and was a major Muslim city ruled from Istanbul until it gained independence in 1912. Under its Ottoman name, Salonica, it was the birthplace of Kemal Atatürk who became the secular leader and moderniser of Turkey in the early 20th Century.
Today, Thessaloniki is a wonderfully cosmopolitan city that welcomes visitors from around the world that are interested in learning about this important centre of so much history. You’ll find excellent leisure facilities, fabulous food and welcoming residents in this wonderful place!
Thessaloniki is served by Macedonia International Airport and is easily accessible for international and domestic flights. Many international, regional and low cost carriers serve the city because, as in the past, it is an important transport centre for the Balkan peninsula. The airport is located 15 km (9.3 miles) southeast of the city. There is a 24-hour bus service from the airport that will provide you with direct access to the city centre for just €2.00.
The bus requires around 40 minutes to reach the centre but it is a great value. Taxis and rideshares are also available. Travelling around the city is also easy with the Thessaloniki Urban Transport Organisation (OASTH). There is an especially convenient tourist line which follows a figure-8 route past all the major sites of the city.
Thessaloniki is a treasure trove of cool sites. Here are my favourites:
- The White Tower – This 15th century tower is right on the water and is the city’s signature monument. Its cylindrical shape features on many pictures of the city. It offers a fascinating museum and impressive panoramic views of the harbour.
- Aristotelous Square – This is the perfect starting spot for a stroll around the city, this beautiful plaza sits on the waterfront and is the site of festivals and events.
- Ladadika – A brief walk away from the square you’ll find this historic district. It’s my favourite area of the city. With colourful painted houses and workshops, boutique stores and cobbled streets you’ll enjoy exploring this district.
- Archaeological Museum – This exciting museum features an enviable collection of artefacts from periods including the Ancient, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman this museum is beautifully curated.
- Museum of Byzantine Culture – This incredible museum consists of eleven galleries, showcasing the history of the Byzantine empire with a collection that was created from pieces found in and around Macedonia. Notably, there are fabrics which date back to the 4th Century AD allowing that period to come alive in your imagination.
- Rotunda – This UNESCO listed site consists of an impressive dome, 30 metres high, that was constructed around the 4th The Roman Emperor Galerius ordered it to form part of his palace but it was later converted to a Byzantine church before becoming a mosque. The early Christian mosaics are wonderful to behold.
- Arch of Galerius – This elaborate ancient monument was erected to celebrate Galerius’ victory over the Sassanid Persians and conquest of the city of Ctesiphon. The arch is reminiscent of the triumphal arches of Rome.
- The Roman Agora – Also known as the Forum, this archaeological site was excavated in 1966 and is fascinating to witness. You can visit the underground museum which is full of artefacts from the excavation. I love the restored Roman-era theatre on the site!
- The Church of Saint Paul the Apostle – This impressive Orthodox Church is on the site where Saint Paul preached to the Thessalonians in 50 AD. It is a beautiful example of monumental religious architecture.
- Agios Dimitrios Basilica – A short walk away from the forum you’ll find Thessaloniki’s main church which was painstakingly reconstructed after it burned down in 1917. Inside the church you can find stunning and unique mosaics that incredibly, survived the fire.
Here’s a Pro-tip: Thessaloniki has fifteen UNESCO World Heritage sites which is amongst the most of any city in the world!
Personally, I love Greek food! This city offers amazing restaurants for you to enjoy in the most beautiful and unique of settings. Here are my top picks:
- Negroponte – Located in the heart of the Ladadika district, this restaurant offers dishes with the freshest ingredients, picked every morning and prepared for an original daily menu. Try their fried pork with yoghurt and zucchini cakes if it’s available when you visit.
- Mavri Thalassa – This is one of the best spots to enjoy fresh fish in the city, paired with large and colourful Greek salads or vegetables. It’s a delight for your tastebuds. The restaurant has beautiful views of the marina and you can dine al fresco in wonderful weather.
- Mia Feta – This unique establishment is half restaurant and half grocery store. As the name suggests, their dishes centre around the ubiquitous cheese. I never miss an opportunity to visit this venue. My favourite is their feta and wild black truffle recipes.
The bar scene in this city never fails to impress me. Relaxed cocktail bars and high-end Greek wine venues are very popular here. These are my favourites:
- CHILAI – This classy wine bar offers over 100 local and international wines. The wines selection constantly changes based on the season. The bar also offers an excellent selection of cheeses to enhance the enjoyment of the wines.
- Aigli Geni Hamam – This super-cool dance venue is built into an old Turkish Bath or Hamam. The acoustics of this monumental architecture deliver a superior sound that drives a lively dance celebration powered by international DJs.
- Kafodeio Elliniko – This late-night coffee spot is beautifully decorated with antiques and deep red velvet curtains adorning the stage. You can enjoy live performances throughout the week from local bands, from rock to jazz.
- Skyline Café Bar – This beautiful venue set high on one of the city’s tallest buildings, rotates once per hour to offer gorgeous panoramic views over the entire region. You can capture a bird’s-eye view of the wonders of Thessaloniki from this romantic location.
Here’s another Pro-tip: Frappé, the iced coffee treat, was invented in Thessaloniki in 1957 by the representative of Nescafé in the city. This wonderfully refreshing drink helped drive the modern coffee culture throughout the entire region.
Thessaloniki has excellent boutique hotels that will impress you with their comfort and style. These are my favourites:
- The Excelsior – This gem dates back to 1925 and is conveniently located right next to Aristotelous You’ll love the view from the little balcony in your room as you sip a frappé or espresso.
- Electra Palace – This inviting property is known for its comfort, style and especially for its rooftop garden where you can sip tasty cocktails while enjoying the views.
- Daios Luxury Living Hotel – Located right on the seafront, this boutique hotel is the chic stay you deserve. Featuring luxury rooms and suites, you’ll relax in comfort and style.