Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece, with more than a million inhabitants in its metropolitan area. It is also the capital of Macedonia and the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace.
But Thessaloniki is more. It is Greece’s second major industrial and commercial center; it has a vibrant cultural life and boasts a rich Byzantine heritage. Several festivals take place during the year while the largest university of Greece, Aristotle University, is located in the city. What’s more, Thessaloniki is also home to the largest bi-annual meeting of the Greek diaspora. All these characteristics clearly show why there’s always something to do in the city. Let’s take a look at those things you cannot miss in Thessaloniki… plus some bizarre ideas that will add excitement to the experience.
Seven Classic Things to Do in Thessaloniki
Walk down the seaside promenade
A relaxed stroll by the sea allows you to take in the atmosphere as well as get a glimpse of several city landmarks: The White Tower, the Music Hall, Aristotelous Square, and the Harbor, which has had a significant part in the history of the city and its importance has not diminished over the years.
Climb the White Tower
Certainly one of the most iconic views in town, the White Tower of Thessaloniki used to function as a prison during the Ottoman Empire and it was not called White, but Red Tower. It used to be surrounded by long defensive walls that were demolished at the beginning of the 20th century. The tower is open to the public offering a unique panoramic view from the top. Inside the Tower, there is a museum devoted to the city’s history and many other aspects of Thessaloniki.
Visit the Castle
One of the most beloved sights of the city is the Castle of Thessaloniki and the history it carries with it. It is also known as Yedi Kule or Eptapyrgio and it’s on a hill on top of the Old Town. Built during the Byzantine era, over the rests of the Roman Walls, the elevated positions allows for amazing views of the city as well as the Aegean sea.
Head to the Flower District
Louloudadika (from louloudi, flower in Greek) is a marvelous area in the center of the city, right where Komninon and V. Irakliou streets meet. Tiny shops and stands located all over the place sell colorful flowers and plants, a stroll early in the morning includes attractive fragrances and a colorful scenario. Taking a break in one of the local bars should be part of the experience.
Check the Museum of Byzantine Culture
Close to the City Hall, it is possible to admire one of the best museums in Greece, a state-of-the-art structure, with award-winning architecture that allows the visitors to experience the three permanent exhibitions choosing according to personal interests and curiosity.
Stroll around Aristotelous Square
Close enough to the sea but also lined up with places to enjoy coffee as well as the views, Artistotelous Square could be defined as the living room of the city. The place shaped by the classic architecture of magnificent buildings, an area to see and to be seen, home to elegant shops, cafeterias, and ice cream parlors.
Shop in the Markets
As in any important European city, Thessaloniki offers an authentic experience in all that is related to its food and its traditions through the stalls of Modiano, one of the most traditional markets in towns. Right in the center of the city, this cross-shaped building is famous for popular products such as cheese, spices, meat, and fish. There are also small taverns inside serving simple and convenient dishes. Kapani, instead, is another historic landmark of Thessaloniki, the oldest open market of the city offering a wide range of products with honest prices.
Three Odd Places to Visit in Town
The Ancient Brothel
A 2,000 thousand-year-old brothel and an adjacent bath can be visited in Thessaloniki. The brothel is part of a museum only open to an adult audience. Archeological findings have brought light to a circular bathhouse with a sauna, pools for hot and cold water as well as an adjacent bath and a tavern on a lower level. Artifacts found also include erotic pottery and a vessel depicting Aphrodite.
The Train Cemetery
Several railroad cars can be found in the suburb of Nea Ionia, not far from the center of Thessaloniki. Decaying trains and steam machines are still standing lonely on their railways. The carts have been rusting on the spot since the 1980s, abandoned and continuously exposed to the weather conditions and the scrap smuggling business.
This mosque was the last one to be built in Thessaloniki during the last years of the Ottoman empire. The New Mosque or Yeni Camii was built for the Dönmeh, Islamic crypto-Jews whose ancestors had converted to follow Sabbatai Zevi, a Sephardic rabbi from Smyrna who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah. The Sultan Zevi was arrested and given the choice of either becoming Muslim or being executed.
After converting to Islam, many of his followers did the same. They became the powerful Thessaloniki community of the Dönmeh (the converts) and built this mosque for themselves in 1902. The former mosque is now an exhibition center.
Where to stay in Thessaloniki
One of the best ideas when looking for a place to stay in Thessaloniki is to choose the waterfront promenade, also known as Nea Paralia, which is also close to many of the attractions the city offers. The Metropolitan Hotel is a three-star hotel that has been recently renewed, obtaining different international certifications. Convenient and comfortable, it is close to the Opera House, the Byzantine Museum as well as the Archaeological Museum. Its brilliant location allows for guests to reach the hotel by cycling or on foot, while it also offers parking facilities for its guests. Visit the hotel website to find out more about where to stay in Thessaloniki.