Top Things to do in Thessaloniki
If Athens is the heart of Greece, then the northern capital Thessaloniki is often called its soul. It’s a perfect day trip for tourist from Halkidiki, as its only within an hour’s drive. They come here for excursions, entertainment and shopping.
Thessaloniki is a city with many museums. You can see the monuments of the ancient, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman eras. Archaeological excavations are still taking place on almost every street. The early Christian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki are outstanding examples of architecture and art that had a major impact on Christianity in the Balkans and beyond.
You’ll need more than a day to explore Thessaloniki in detail, but for now we’ve identified the best 10 must-see places.
1. The White Tower, Thessaloniki
The majestic, 34-meter-high White Tower is a symbol of the city. Thanks to its convenient location at the beginning of the long seaside promenade, the White Tower is a popular meeting point for locals and tourists.
The name of the tower has a sad history behind it. During the Ottoman period, the tower was used as a prison where many Greeks were executed. After Greece gained independence, the “bloody” tower was painted white to forget its horrible past. Although the whitewash has long since crumbled away, the name has remained.
On the 7 floors of the tower, there is now a new multimedia museum that tells you the history of Thessaloniki. Gradually, in a circle, you climb up to the observation deck of the tower, from where a wonderful view of the city and the Thermaikos Gulf opens up.
The White Tower opening hours
- 08:00 — 20:00 (summer season)
- 09:00 — 16:00 (winter season)
The White Tower closed
- January 1, March 25, May 1, Sunday Easter, December 25 and 26.
The White Tower free admission days
- 18.04 – International Monuments Day
The White Tower ticket price
- from 01.04 till 31.10 – € 6 (children under 5 years are free, from 6 to 25 years – € 3)
- from 01.11 till 31.03 – € 3 (children under 5 years are free)
2. The Church of Saint Demetrius of Solunsky, Thessaloniki
The majestic temple, located in the centre of the city, was built in the 5th century in honour of Demetrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. Demetrius lived in Thessaloniki in the 3rd century, was a Roman proconsul, but was baptized, preached and did not hide his faith. He was martyred in this place in 306 by order of the emperor Galerius Maximian, who was famous for his persecution of Christians.
The relics of the Saint were probably taken to Italy in the 12th century and returned to Thessaloniki only in 1978. The relics are housed in a silver shrine located in the underground crypt of the temple. The crypt is open throughout the day and during special services on Friday evenings.
During Ottoman rule, the Turks turned the church into a mosque and plastered the frescoes. Later the plaster was removed and the frescoes, which are masterpieces of early Christian art, became visible again. In fact, the saint is not only loved and venerated by the Greeks. Pilgrimages to the holy relics are made from all parts of the world, and miracles still happen nowadays.
Church of Saint Demetrius opening hours:
- Monday, Wednesday, Thursday: 8.00-14.30
- Friday: 8.00-13.30 and 19.00-22.00 (liturgy)
- Saturday, Sunday: 7.30-14.30
- Tuesday: closed
- Admission to the Church of Saint Demetrius is free.
3. Roman Agora or Forum, Thessaloniki
Right next to the church of St. Demetrius is the Roman Agora, which occupied an area of about two hectares in the centre of the Roman city. It was built from the end of the 2nd century in place of the market that existed here before.
Public buildings, shops, an amphitheater that could hold 2500 spectators were built according to a unified architectural concept. The complex was the economic and commercial center of the city, but also had an administrative and entertainment character.
Nowadays, you can see the walls of the close-standing shops and fragments of mosaics on the floor. Of the market buildings a covered gallery has been restored, where exhibitions are held. An amphitheatre with a capacity of 350 people has also been restored, where concerts are held in the summer.
Roman Agora opening hour
- 08.30-15.30, closed on Tuesday
Roman Agora ticket price
- Full ticket – € 2, reduced – € 1
4. The Rotunda and The Arch of Galerius, Thessaloniki
The Rotunda, as well as the Arch of Galerius, are part of the palace complex of Emperor Galerius and are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
At the end of the 3rd century, Thessaloniki was one of the important financial and administrative centre of the Roman Empire. Therefore, it was decided to build a large Palace Complex in the city, which consisted of a palace, reception rooms, a hippodrome and a rotunda. All the buildings were connected by a street decorated with columns, which passed through the triumphal arch.
The Rotunda has a shape completely unusual for Greece – cylindrical. Its height is almost 30 meters, the inner diameter is 25 meters.
During the Roman period, it was used as a place of worship for Zeus. In 400, the Rotunda was transformed into a Christian church and decorated with unique mosaics, some of which have survived to the present day. 1200 years later, during the Ottoman Empire, a minaret was added to the building and the rotunda was converted into a mosque. In 1912, after the liberation of the city from the Turks, the Rotunda became a Christian church again, and since 1920 it has housed collections of Christian and Byzantine sculptures. After the restoration was completed, a museum was opened in the Rotunda, but a church service is held here once a month.
The Rotunda opening hours
- 08.30-15.30, closed on Tuesday
The Rotunda ticket price
- Full ticket – € 2, reduced – € 1
The Arch of Galerius (Kamara)
The Arch of Galerius or Kamara, was built in honour of the triumphant victory of Emperor Galerius over the Persians. It is located on the busy central street of Egnatia.
Of the original eight columns, only three remain today. The central arched opening is about 10 meters wide and 12.5 meters high. The width of the side openings of the arch is about 5 meters.
On four central pillars are marble panels with relief images. The bas-reliefs depict Roman soldiers fighting against the Persians. One can see figures of men, camels and horses, battle scenes and sacrifices. In the centre, the Emperor himself and the imperial family. Pay attention to the disproportionate figures. The Persian soldiers are much smaller compared to the Roman ones, while the figure of Emperor Galerius is significantly larger than all the other participants.
5. Kastro (Ano Poli), Thessaloniki
The narrow, winding streets of Kastro, also called Ano Poli (Upper Town), are filled with pastel-colored traditional houses with projecting upper floors. The walls of Kastro were built during Emperor Theodosius in the 5th century and were intended to resemble the walls of Constantinople.
You will enjoy the walk here as the old fortress walls have remained untouched by time. At the top, you have a breathtaking view of the whole city and the Thermaikos Gulf. In Kastro, there are several good old-style tavernas and excellent cafes.
6. Aristotle Square, Thessaloniki
Aristotle Square is, certainly, the central and busiest square in Thessaloniki. It was designed by the French architect Ernest Emprar in 1917, immediately after the great fire in the city center.
On both sides of the square, there are two buildings with a semicircular façade, one of which is a 5* hotel Electra Palace.
From the south, the square opens onto a long city promenade with panoramic views of the Thermaikos Gulf. And walking along the pedestrian zone on the south side of the square, one reaches the Ancient Agora, the Roman Forum and the Church of St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki.
Above all, in the square is a monument to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, the founder of the natural sciences and teacher of Alexander the Great. According to legend, whoever rubs the big toe of Aristotle’s left foot will become smart and wise, almost like the philosopher himself. There are always a lot of people who want to join in, so sometimes there is a queue, and the finger itself is rubbed to a high gloss.
7. Ladadika area, Thessaloniki
If you walk from Aristotle Square along the promenade to the right, you will find yourself in Ladadika, one of the oldest part of the city. Definitely, the most charming and vivid districts of Thessaloniki.
The district got its name from the Greek word “ladi” – “oil”. In the middle of the 19th century, there were warehouses with olive oil and wholesale. The old shops have been restored, but the architectural style of the 19th-century buildings has been preserved.
Today Ladadika is the hot spot of the city’s party and food life. During the day you can enjoy a coffee or a snack here. In the evening, tavernas rush in to treat locals and guests of the city to delicious traditional Greek cuisine. And at night, numerous clubs and bars invite you to enjoy a varied nightlife, discos and concerts with live music. There are entertainments here to suit all tastes and budgets. Take a walk in the evening hours, when the streets are lit with romantic yellow light, and feel its atmosphere.
Once you are here, one of the best ways to explore local delicious Thessaloniki’s cuisine is through taste and a food tour. Wander around the city centre of Thessaloniki and try out different types of food in the colourful local open markets placed all over the city centre, such as “Kapani Street”. You’ll find a great variety of herbs and spices as well as a diversity of meat, cheese delicacies and much more. Try it out!
8. Thermaikos Gulf Cruise, Thessaloniki
If you want to explore Thessaloniki from the sea, the most pleasant and inexpensive way is to take a small cruise.
There are several ships moored on the waterfront next to the White Tower. Stylized as a pirates ship, on which you can take a 30-minute walk along the Thermaikos Gulf. During the season, the ships take turns making the trip every 30 minutes, so you won’t have to wait long.
The cruise is free, you just for a drink at the bar of the ship for € 5 – 10 and you can enjoy the beautiful view and take nice photos.
9. Skyline Сafé Bar, OTE Tower, Thessaloniki
The most famous café bar in Thessaloniki, SKYLINE, is located on the top floor of the tower of OTE, the main telecommunications company in Greece.
The main feature of the bar is a gradual rotation of the tower which lasts 60 minutes, at a height of about 150 meters. During this time you can see every corner of one of the oldest cities in Europe – Thessaloniki.
In an elegant environment, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the main attractions of Thessaloniki during the day and the most beautiful sunset of the city in the evening. Click here to book a ticket.
10. The Umbrellas Installation, Thessaloniki
Near the White Tower and the monument to Alexander the Great, you will see the unusual construction of the Umbrellas. Installed here in the late 1990s, the installation blends harmoniously with the overall look of the embankment and immediately liked by locals.
Of course, it’s one of the most photographed spots in Thessaloniki. Tourists line up to take atmospheric photos in front of the umbrellas, and thousands of such photos can be found on social media.
Conceived by the author, sculptor Georgos Zongolopoulos, the installation symbolizes the salvation of the entire modern world. It consists of 39 umbrellas (originally there were 40, but one was missing) with clear domes, gone with a gust of wind and floating above the Greek sky. When it gets dark, the installation is romantically lit, perfect to take the best photos.
Hop-in Hop-off Bus
Although Thessaloniki is not a very large city, the distances between sights are still big. The most convenient way to get around the city is by taking a sightseeing double-decker bus that goes to all the main historical points of the city, with an audio guide in English, Italian, French, Spanish, German and Russian.
You can check the schedule and book tickets here.
How to get to Thessaloniki
Flight to Thessaloniki
You should take a flight from your country to Thessaloniki International airport. We suggest you to use JETRADAR which is one of the largest online search engines for flights all over the world. This service helps to compare airfares from hundreds of airlines and dozens of travel agencies and systems and book the cheapest tickets available.
Transfer from Thessaloniki Airport
Arriving in the country for the first time, or not, it is important to see a person, who is waiting especially for you upon arrival at the airport. It gives you confidence that you will reach your destination, avoiding all troubles, long waits in the taxi queue, and possible overcharges. Our prices include all fares, VAT, and any lawful charge; therefore, you know that what you pay is the final price for your transfer. The comfort and safety will be provided, which is especially important if you are travelling with children. That’s why we offer transfer services with professional drivers and a modern car fleet. All cars and minivans are equipped with air conditioning and drinking water.
Rent-a-car in Thessaloniki
To find the perfect car for your trip, we recommend checking out DISCOVER CARS. It is a leader in online car rental reservations. It compares car rental deals from many companies so that you can choose which is best for your trip. Many websites hide fees and extra costs from you. DISCOVER CARS includes all mandatory fees, taxes, and extras in the quoted price so there won’t be any surprises when you arrive at the rental desk.
Which Greek Islands you can get from Thessaloniki
Travelling from Thessaloniki to the Greek Islands by ferry
The seasonal ferry connects Thessaloniki with some Greek Islands. There is one ferry a week going from Thessaloniki to the Aegean Islands: Chios, Fourni, Ikaria, Lemnos, Lesbos, Samos and Cycladic Islands: Mykonos, Syros. Another ferry is going soon to connect Thessaloniki with Sporades: Skiathos, Skopelos, Alonissos.
You can check the schedule and buy your ferry tickets here:
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