10 Things You Need To Do When In Thessaloniki
What things do you want to do in Thessaloniki? We have got you covered!
Thessaloniki is the second-largest city of Greece and is located in the northern part of the country. In Greek it is usually referred to as “Symprotevousa”, which literally means co-capital, making (us) the citizens really proud! Geographically the city is located on the Thermaic Gulf, at the northwest corner of the Aegean Sea, with over 1 million inhabitants.
We want to try to make you feel like a local by giving you some tips on the must see of the area so that you don’t miss a thing of this beautiful city.
So, here is the list with the 10 things you should do to make the experience of this trip unforgettable.
Walking Through The Seafront
Thessaloniki has one of the largest seafronts in Europe. A long route that gently follows the outline of the sea, this is the beating heart of the city, where people walk, cycle or run every day. Along the waterfront, there are what locals call, 12 thematic parks that cover the needs of young and old. There are gardens to relax at, small lakes and waterfalls, places to take your pets to get some exercise, as well as basketball and tennis courts. Walking through the seafront, you will pass by some of the most famous monuments of the city such as the White Tower, the Statue of Alexander the Great, the Port of Thessaloniki, the Royal Theater and the Concert Hall.
My personal favorite thing is grabbing a coffee (or a mojito, no one judges!) and enjoying it on the grass, under the White Tower while gazing at the stunning sunset across the Thermaic Gulf.
Take A Picture at The Umbrellas
If you do make your way to the waterfront, do not leave without taking a picture at the famous Umbrellas Sculpture. The sculptor who made this piece of art is Aggelos Zoggolopoulos and it was set in 1997, when Thessaloniki was the cultural capital of Europe. At night, the umbrellas are illuminated with different colours, which make a perfect backdrop for your photos. You will even find locals lining up!
Exploring the Roman Route
During the Roman years (around 168 BC), Thessaloniki was an important metropolis and a commercial, political and military center. The buildings that remain from the era, comprise a passage through history that unfolds in front of you. For history lovers, the must see monuments of that period are:
The Hippodrome, which was part of the Galerius Palace Complex and is located in Hippodromiou Square.
Local Tip: don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Municipal Library, which was constructed around where the Hippodrome was once located. Then, you can cross by The Administrative Complex in the Kyprion Agoniston (Cypriot Fighters Square), which is a complex of buildings dating back to the 3rd century B.C.
Walking through Aristotelous Square you will find The Roman Forum. It was the social and religious forum of the Roman Thessaloniki which now includes the large rectangular square, the ground floor of the double underground cryptic Galleria, the Odeon, the mint, the city’s registry, as well as the circular baths. For more information, you can visit the Roman Forum Museum.
Local Tip: if you happen to visit around August, you should definitely attend the Urban Picnic Festival which takes place on the Roman Forum grounds. You will have the chance to attend a concert or watch a movie under the full August moon, which you can combine with a nice picnic.
Another one of the most famous monuments of Thessaloniki is the Triumphal Arch of Caesar Gallerius (Kamara in Greek, which means “arch”). The arch was constructed to commemorate Galerius’s victory over the Persians between the years 295-305 AD.
But the Arch is also famous as THE meeting point for the locals. So if you are planning on setting a date with a local you should probably familiarize yourself with it.
Crossing down Navarinou Square from Kamara, you will find yourself in front of an open-air archaeological museum, the Palace of the Roman Caesar Gaius Valerius Galerius. Construction for the monument began in the late 3rd– early 4th century AD and was part of the Galerian Complex.
View The Sunset at Ano Poli (Upper Town)
Ano Poli is a district of Thessaloniki that you definitely must see. Completely different from the city center, Ano Poli is like a city from the past, with picturesque colourful buildings, old houses, narrow streets, small gardens and squares. The neighbourhoods around the area are surrounded by the ancient walls of Thessaloniki, eternal defenders of security. The Eptapyrgio or Yedi Koule, as was the Ottoman name of the prison that is in the area, is in the northeastern part of the Acropolis and the Trigonou Tower (Triangle Tower). We urge you to enjoy a coffee or any Greek delicacy at the many coffee shops and restaurants in the area that offer a panoramic view of the whole city.
Discover The Secrets Beneath The Temple Of Saint Demetrius
As you may know, Greece’s official religion is Christian Orthodox. Therefore, there are many beautiful churches and monasteries almost everywhere around the city, which are worth visiting.
Number 1 in that list should be the church of Saint (Aghios) Demetrius, dedicated to the patron saint of the city. The church was first built after 313 AD. In 1492, during the Ottoman years, it was converted into a mosque. After the liberation of the city in 1912, the church was re-opened, but unfortunately was almost entirely destroyed in 1917 by the great fire that burnt almost the whole historical center of Thessaloniki. From an architectural point of view, the church is a fine sample of the Byzantine years. It is a five-aisled basilica with narthex and transept, characterized by beautiful paintings, mosaics and marble decorations. From the year 1988, the church of Saint Demetrius is part of the site Palaeochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki and also on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
What’s even more interesting to visit is the Crypt, which is located beneath the transept of the church and in the late Byzantine years was the center of the Saint’s miraculous myrrh production. According to tradition, the Saint was imprisoned here and died in 303 AD. Since 1988, the place has been restored and converted into a museum where a collection of sculptures, capitals, closure slabs and vessels from the Church of St. Demetrius can be visited. Don’t miss the opportunity to discover the secrets beneath the temple.
The Shopping Districts and Markets of the City
While you are strolling around the beautiful city center of Thessaloniki, you will have the chance to explore the many shopping districts.
You can start from Tsimiski street, which is the heart of the marketplace of Thessaloniki. There you can find a variety of shops ranging from clothing to electronic gadgets. Moving towards Mitropoleos and Proxenou Koromila streets you can find the latest fashion creations of international brand names and designers. Parallel to Tsimiski street, you will come across Ermou and Egnatia streets where you can find an equally huge variety of shops in more reasonable prices.
If you want to get to know Thessaloniki beyond the surface level, and experience the everyday life of its citizens, you should visit the two most famous traditional markets in the city: Kapani and Modiano.
Kapani has been serving the needs of locals since the Ottoman occupation. There you can find a great variety of products, such as meat, fish, spices, fruits and vegetables, as well as clothing, ecclesiastical items and souvenirs. We urge you to stroll around and try some of the products such as olive oils, feta cheese, herbs and “mountain tea” (which is a Greek variety of green tea).
Modiano market is the largest enclosed market of the city and was built by the architecture Eli Modiano in 1992.
Local Tip: next to Modiano is Louloudadika market, which is an outdoor flower market. Here you can enjoy your freshly blended Greek coffee with a colorful and fragrant view!
Join a Festival
Thessaloniki’s administration authorities have invested in the evolution of the cultural identity of the city. The result of that are the many festivals that take place in the city throughout the year. Some of the most famous are:
Thessaloniki International Book Fair, for book gems.
Thessaloniki Street Mode Festival, which is a youth festival where you can experience the street culture, street art and graffiti, action sports, concerts etc.
Thessaloniki International Film Festival, the top film festival of South East Europe and the oldest in the Balkans.
Voroina Festival, which is a wine and spirits tasting festival.
Local Tip: Thessaloniki International Fair, which places emphasis on business, entrepreneurship and new technologies since 1930.
If you are visiting Thessaloniki during the summertime, you should take a one-day road trip to the peninsula of Halkidiki. You will find perfect emerald crystal waters, cosmopolitan beaches as well as picturesque coves, lush forests and a unique diverse landscape of sand and pine.
The citizens of Thessaloniki use a phrase “like Halkidiki, nowhere else”, which means in free translation that this land is incomparable with any other place.
On the other hand, if you are not such a sea lover but a nature lover, you can go for a hike to Chortiatis Mountain, which is just 20 klm away from the city center.
Taste Traditional Greek Dishes
One of the many things the city is famous for is its gastronomic culture and the devotion to good food. Do not miss the chance to have a lunch at a traditional Greek Taverna in Ladadika or Tsinari Squares. There you can enjoy fresh meat and fish, famous tzatziki and souvlaki and other great flavors, accompanied by a glass of ouzo.
As for dessert, Thessaloniki is well known for its pastries. The most famous is bougatsa, which is a semolina custard pastry. It’s the perfect way to start your day with, and one of the most common breakfast choices. It is usually filled with sweet cream, but you can find savory version of bougatsa stuffed with feta cheese, spinach or mince.
In addition, don’t leave the city without tasting the famous tsoureki from Terkenlis Patisserie. Tsoureki is a traditional plaited brioche bread that Greeks prepare for Easter. But its taste is so good that we decided to keep it around all year long. At Terkenlis Patisserie you can find Tsoureki filled with chestnut cream, which is really close to what heaven should be like. Just try it!
Blend in With The Locals
Last but not least in our list with what the things you should do when you visit Thessaloniki is to get to know the locals. People of Thessaloniki have a reputation for being very open-hearted and welcoming. Do not hesitate to make some new friends here and understand the magnitude of the Greek spirit.
- These are just a few of the things that we recommend you do while in Thessaloniki. Is there anything you would add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!
Hello! My name is Erilda Goga, but they all call me Eri and I am living in Thessaloniki, northern Greece. Although not my actual hometown, Greece has stolen my heart and made me feel like home for the past 20 years. I am a recent graduate of International and European Studies Department with interests in politics, human rights, books, and travelling. Travelling through Europe made me want to learn more about other cultures and more important made me appreciate even more the beauties of Greece.