Dotted with historic sights but still stylishly modern, Greece’s second city is a destination worth visiting. The New York Times named it one of their top destinations for 2016. The laid-back yet vibrant atmosphere of the city is its calling card, but in case you need more reasons to visit, here’s why Thessaloniki deserves to be on your bucket list.
Sprawling around the coastline of the Thermaic Gulf, Thessaloniki is full of unique landmarks. The shore spans from the ferry harbour to the White Tower, and the many Byzantine churches and vestiges of past life sprinkled throughout the city and its historical districts make it a great place for sightseeing.
Ancient ruins are rooted in the middle of the city, including the UNESCO sites the Roman Agora, the Arch of Galerius, the Rotonda, the Byzantine Baths and the Crypt of Agios Demetrios. To learn more about the history of the area, there are a range of museums such as the Museum of Byzantine Culture, the Archeological Museum and the Cinema Museum of Thessaloniki – built to raise the city’s status as Cultural Capital of Europe in 1997. What’s more, there are loads of astonishing churches (make sure to visit Hagia Sophia). There’s so much that you won’t have time to see and experience it all in one day so make the most of all the affordable accommodation the city offers.
Thessaloniki’s cuisine is known across the country for its quality and variety. Because of its past, the city’s gastronomy boasts flavours from Pontus, Asia Minor and Constantinople, as well as Arab and Armenian influences that infuse traditional dishes with exotic nuances. You may easily find yourself eager to order the entire menu, but relax, the city is also perfect for long walks, so you can burn off the calories later.
This beautiful, walkable area is located off Thessaloniki harbour and is an eating and drinking hotspot. Named after the numerous olive oil shops that used to populate the area, it was the bazaar and central market of the city under Ottoman rule. Now, it’s peppered with charming tavernas, restaurants, bars and clubs.
It may not have as many options as its big sister Athens, but Thessaloniki still has a good selection of high-end boutiques and fast-fashion retailers. Although the majority are on Tsimikis street, the nearby streets of Pavlou Mela and Mitropoleos are home to some designer boutiques. Fair warning: you may actually find yourself shopping till you drop.
Thessaloniki has its own stunning vantage point, the Eptapyrgio Castle. This ancient fortress perched on the hilltop overlooks the entire city and offers views of the Gulf. Whether you visit by day or night, it is an attraction you shouldn’t miss. On your way back, discover the quaint streets and drop by one of the delightful mezedopoleio (restaurants) to enjoy some local cuisine.
One of the first things that will strike you in Thessaloniki is the juxtaposition of buildings of different styles and influences. Throughout its history, the city was home to Greeks, Jews, Ottomans and refugees from Asia, to name but a few. These architectural vestiges are still visible today and are a real sight to marvel at while you’re walking the city. Check out Thessaloniki Walking Tours to find a route to inspire you.
Just 10km (6mi) away, the Axios-Loudias-Aliakmonas National Park – one of the most important wetland systems in Greece and greater Europe – offers refuge from the city to those looking to connect with nature. Covering an area of 38,800ha (95,876ac), it is ideal for an escape into the wild.
You may have figured it out already, but Thessaloniki deserves its place on any foodie’s bucket list. One of the main items that must be tried and adopted is the bougatsa. This (usually) sweet phyllo pie has, like so many other Greek specialities, a long history, and is now considered the ultimate Thessalonian breakfast. Make sure to pop by Serraikon, one of the oldest bougatsa shops in town, to try this local delicacy.