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Greece’s Thessaloniki is the perfect city for a 48-hour break, with its unique and interesting history, unrivalled food, cool hotels and outdoor spots from which to take in the vibrant atmosphere.
Whether you choose to spend your days wandering the streets of Ano Poli, the old town, with its historic houses and colourful coffee shops; while away evenings along the harbour as musicians strum gentle music and locals meet to gossip; or discover interesting and unique museums to take in some art or do a little Grecian learning, Thessaloniki never disappoints. There are also ample shopping opportunities, beautiful parks and incredible views of the city from the high acropolis. To top it all off, you can satisfy the appetite you worked up with cold Greek coffees, delicious traditional meals like Thessaloniki’s famous mezze (small dishes) and rooftop cocktails. The atmosphere of the city is vibrant yet there’s so much to enjoy that’s wonderfully, traditionally Greek.
Start your morning at the Anthokomiki Parko (sometimes called the Padion Areos), a huge green park in the city centre. Enjoy breakfast in the outdoor café, then stroll by the pretty pond, playground and fountain. It’s on Leoforos Stratou or Avenue of the Military, as it was originally a shooting field for Ottoman army barracks. Afterwards, head to the Byzantine Museum to learn about the culture of medieval Thessaloniki and understand the architecture you’ll later see. Nature and history – the perfect morning.
Much of Thessaloniki was destroyed in the great fire of 1917 – but not neighbour Ano Poli, known as the Old Town or Upper Town. Explore the winding, cobbled streets with colourful preserved houses, UNESCO-protected churches and historical sites like the impressive Heptapyrgion Fortress. The latter is perched on the acropolis, providing amazing views of the city and bay below. After, treat yourself to a rooftop drink at hostel Little Big House – which is also a great place to stay the night.
Pro tip: Thessaloniki is all very walkable but there are taxis and regular local bus services. Hire a bike to get around at a more leisurely pace.
Many of the best traditional restaurants are in Ano Poli. Eateries line the Tsinari area, frequented by locals and tourists which creates an atmosphere both authentic and vibrant. We like Igglas, for traditional food with a modern twist including the area’s famous mezze (small plates). Skip over to La Rosa Negra on Chapsa street for a unique night of Latin music and dancing, then rest your head at one of the area’s excellent hotels.
Pro tip: Grab some Greek retsina to drink while you watch the sunset like a local from Ano Poli’s high acropolis.
You can’t visit Greece without sampling the pastries at one of the many delicious bakeries. Thessaloniki is known as a foodies’ heaven and its bougatsa – breakfast pastries – are especially popular. Visit famous city-centre bakery Café Estrella (on P. Mela) at breakfast time for trigona, a syrupy pastry filled with cream. Walk it off with a spot of shopping on nearby Tsimiski Street, lined with high-street and department stores.
Thessaloniki has a long and complex history that’s left behind many fascinating sites to see. Start with lunch at Aristotelous Square to breathe in Thessaloniki life. After, visit the nearby statue of Alexander the Great, the prominent White Tower with its fascinating and bloody history, the Arch of Galeus with its intricate carvings, and the Rotunda – one of the oldest monuments in the city that’s been a Roman mausoleum, a mosque and a Christian church. For lunch, try the Modiano Market (off Egnatia) with endless fresh Greek produce.
These historical sites are all near the waterfront, which really comes to life at night. After your day of learning, relax with an evening stroll down the promenade as the sun sets over the blue Aegean: the most Greek of sights. Stop for dinner with a view – Agioli is best – then sip cocktails or beers at Thermaikos Bar as the sky becomes a blanket of stars. Lastly, congratulate yourself – you’ve truly experienced the wonder of Greece.