Awesome Reasons Why Thessaloniki Should Be on Your Bucket List

The White Tower of Thessaloniki is one of the must-sees of the city
The White Tower of Thessaloniki is one of the must-sees of the city | © Zoonar GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
Anna Kambourakis

Fabulous food; rich cultural heritage; stunning scenery – Greece’s second-largest city has it all. We’ve rounded up the very best of Thessaloniki to make sure you don’t miss out on this seaside star.

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Athens may get the headlines, but for food, shopping and access to the Aegean, Thessaloniki punches well above its weight. This is a year-round destination, with a youthful energy all of its own – and there’s always something to do and see. From ancient archaeological sites to contemporary art exhibitions, explore on foot and take your pick of the cafes, bakeries and independent shops and restaurants that line the streets in this bustling port city.

It has a rich history

Like so many cities in Greece, the history of Thessaloniki can be read through the different architectural styles found throughout the city. From the Roman period, you’ve got the remarkably well-preserved Roman Agora in the center of town, as well as the Rotunda and Arch of Galerius. The signature style of the Byzantine empire is found throughout the city but especially at Agios Demetrios church and the Byzantine Baths, both protected Unesco sites and not to be missed.

Bougatsa for Breakfast

You will smell bougatsa before you see it. The heavenly scent of flaky layers of filo pastry, warm custard filling, topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar fills the streets at daybreak. When you’re in Thessaloniki, you’re never too far from a bougatsa joint. Make a pilgrimage to try the famous pastry at Bantis, O Anoteron and Serraikón; they each have their own secret recipe, best enjoyed with a cup of strong Greek coffee.

It’s a foodie’s paradise

It’s not all about bougatsa, however. Thessaloniki is well known for its amazing and varied street food, pastries and late-night eats, but it also has incredible fine dining. Its culinary heritage is as rich as its history, with influences from both Europe and Asia. Expect bags of bold flavours, spices and fresh ingredients sourced from the vast agricultural sprawl around the city. Most restaurants do their own spin on mixed meze dishes, best enjoyed with a glass of local wine.

It has top shopping on tap

In the shopping district surrounding Tsimiski Street, you’ll find a mix of big brand shops and boutiques to offer whatever you need. Seek out independent Greek designers for handbags, jewelry and unique clothing – younger shoppers will love the modern graphic designs printed on t-shirts and vintage pieces from up-and-coming artists. Meanwhile, Bezesteni Market is a great stop to load up on herbs, spices and sweets to stock your kitchen at home, or to pass on as gifts.

It’s a cultural powerhouse

One of the best things about visiting Thessaloniki is that every period in the city’s history has its own museum. For the Ancient Greek and Roman period, visit the Thessaloniki Archeological Museum. The Museum of Byzantine Culture is breathtaking with its beautiful mosaics and iconography. Then fast-forward to present time and see how the creative heart of Thessaloniki continues to pulse at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art.

It’s a gateway to the Aegean Sea

Arguably Thessaloniki’s best asset is its seaside location. The promenade is the place to be in the evenings, for a sunny stroll, ice cream in hand. During the day, jump aboard one of the many harbour cruises to get the magical view of the city from the sea. Or go further and take a ferry from the port of Thessaloniki to the Sporades, Cyclades, or Northern Aegean Islands. It’s a great way to fit in a Greek island on your trip.

It has its own national park

Flamingos; wild horses; water buffalo – just west of the city, Axios Delta National Park is a wildlife wonderland. It’s a bird-watchers paradise with over 300 species migrating through the area every year, while budding nature photographers will want to keep eyes peeled for the hundreds of reptile, insect and mammal species that live here.

It has heart-stopping views

RY7PF5 Thessaloniki Heptapyrgion Fortress of Seven Towers Yedi Kule Cityscape View at Night

Thessaloniki is one of the most beautiful cities in Greece. To get a full view of the landscape head up to the Eptapyrgio Castle. It’s a fantastic spot to catch the sun setting in the sea and then watching the city lights flicker below. The White Tower is another vista spot that will take your breath away, literally! There’s hundreds of stairs to the top but well worth the view of the sea and city below.

For more to do whilst you’re there, explore the top things to see and do before relaxing with a well-deserved delicious dinner in one of Thessaloniki’s best local dining spots. Whilst you’re there, why not take a trip to nearby Halkidiki?

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This is an update of an article originally by Ethel Dilouambaka.

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