- 17 February 2021
Thessaloniki, the byzantine and mediterranean city with a lively character
Thessaloniki is the second most important city in Greece after its capital, Athens. Situated in the north of the country, it sits on the waterfront. Thessaloniki is destined to become one of the trendiest touristic destinations, thanks to the new airport that will make it easier to reach it, and to its strategic position next to Halkidiki, the summer beach destination, and thanks to its social life and the rich Mediterranean cuisine.
I would like to describe some key activities as what to see in the city and its suburbs, and what to do in the morning and at night.
What to see in Thessaloniki from a historical point of view
The starting point is definitely the White Tower, the symbol of the city. The tower, once used as an ottoman prison, is 34 m high. You can climb the stairs to the top in order to admire the city’s waterfront and an unobstructed view of the gulf of Thermaikos and Mount Olympus, which is situated across the gulf.
The city boasts a lot of museums and archaeological sites like the Rotunda, an UNESCO world heritage monument built to serve as a temple and can only be compared architecturally to the Pantheon in Rome. Galerius’s Arch of triumph known also as “Kamara” which is nearby is another landmark to visit, just like is the beautiful Basilica of Agia Sophia, based on the Agia Sophia of Constantinople.
You can also go up to the old city of Thessaloniki, known as “Ano Poli”, where you can see that it still has the old architecture of the byzantine and ottoman eras and it offers a view of the modern city center and the gulf of Thermaikos.
Another historical place is Aristotele’s square that represents the city center. The square has the statue of the philosopher Aristoteles and it takes its name from him. Around this square you can go for a walk or do some shopping or have a coffee or eat. My suggestion is to have a refreshment at the rooftop of the newly renovated Electra Palace Hotel, so you can have a view of the square.
A relaxing walk at the seafront
Walking at the seafront of Thessaloniki is one of the favourite activities of the locals. The city is full of buildings and heavily trafficked streets. The seafront represents the area where you can get some fresh air and detach from the sounds of a busy city and relax.
There are almost 5 km to walk or bike that connect the city center to the nearest residential neighbourhood. There are plenty of playgrounds, sportsgrounds of basketball and tennis and some bars. Not very far from the White Tower you will find the work of art named the “Umbrellas”, one of the most photographed points at the seafront.
A suggestion is to enjoy an aperitif at sunset (even though in Greece it’s coffee time!) while the sun sets in the sea. If the skies are clear, you can alternatively enjoy a boat ride (duration of approximately 30-40 minutes, starting point at the White Tower) to get a glimpse of the city from another point of view.
Thessaloniki is full of potential for fun
University city. A city full of life until sunrise. Having fun at Thessaloniki is the main attraction for young people. In every corner you will find bars and clubs. There are pedestrian areas dedicated almost exclusively to them, like Ladadika neighbourhood and Valaoritou street.
A category of itself for night entertainment are the famous Greek “Bouzoukia”, that are nothing less of clubs with a stage for live performances of professional singers and dancers, while the customers either sit at tables or are standing and dancing.
You will be impressed by the number of people that flock outside bars, some of those with external seating spaces and some are at rooftops with panoramic views. At a weekend afternoon the bars are overcrowded and it’s not easy to find a place to sit. You should pay attention to the different night hours: don’t be taken by surprise if at eleven o’clock at night the bars are almost empty, because the young people go out later.
The Greek taverns and fresh fish
The Greek cuisine is dominant at almost every tavern and restaurant in the city center. Some of those are concentrated at the Ladadika neighbourhood, but I wouldn’t look for a place to eat exclusively there. The best restaurants are sometimes found just outside the city center.
The vicinity to the sea contributes to craving for fresh fish to eat (like fish to grill, octopus, calamari, mussels, etc), but the majority of the restaurants specialize in meat.
The new tendencies like doing brunch, finger food and Asian food are not unknown here. My suggestion still remains that you taste the Greek cuisine of Thessaloniki by treating yourself to many appetizers of meat, fish or vegetarian accompanied by a glass of ouzo, instead of one dish alone.
There are many places to discover around Thessaloniki and the sea at Halkidiki
The city of Thessaloniki can be a starting point for some excursions in northern Greece, like:
- The archaeological site of Pella, where Alexander the Great was born and Vergina the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia, where among other treasures you can visit the royal tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great.
- The monasteries on the picks of rock cliffs, better known as Meteora. Not very near (around 3 hours’ drive) for a one-day trip, it’s better considering sleeping one night there.
- Mount Olympus: it is the Twelve Greek Gods mountain if you enjoy mountain excursions, and at its foot you can visit villages like Litochoro and the ancient theatre of Dion.
If one the other hand you are a sea lover, Thessaloniki is undoubtedly your starting point (at least your arrival airport!) for the Halkidiki Peninsulas, a beach paradise with crystal clear waters.
Thessaloniki can offer a bit of everything, from history to entertainment. Once a year you can visit the annual cinema festival. Another important date is October the 28th, when an imposing military parade is held and of course, if you visit during Christmas and New Year’s Eves you can see the whole city partying all day.
It is the perfect logistical point to combine a short visit during a vacation by the sea; I consider that one day to tour the city and one night are more than enough during summer. It is also the right city for an alternative weekend, thanks to the new low-cost flights from Europe.
The city knows how to welcome you with its particular character and more importantly, with its lively character.
Travel Blogger for passion. I offer my authentic experience in the world of travel.