Is Thessaloniki Worth Visiting? Plus 23 Things To Do Once There

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Post author Nick

Written by our local expert Nick

Nick is is digital nomad originally from Athens, Greece. You will now find him exploring the Greek islands, Bulgaria and beyond.

We’ve put together this local guide to help you answer the question, “Is Thessaloniki worth visiting?” weighing up the pros and cons of a trip to this great place.

In this Thessaloniki blog post, we include information like when the best time to visit Thessaloniki is, how to get to Thessaloniki, what to do in Thessaloniki in 2 days, and much more.

Read on to find out if a Thessaloniki trip is worth it for you.

Greece Travel Blog_Is It Worth Visiting Thessaloniki Greece

Thessaloniki often flies under foreign tourists’ radar as Thessaloniki is located in the northern part of Greece (on the mainland) and is not among the most popular and famous Greek vacation spots.

Nonetheless, Thessaloniki, located in mainland Greece, is a wonderful city that you’ll undoubtedly want to visit. It is located in the Central Macedonia region in northern Greece. Thessaloniki will surprise you with lots of cultural activities and vibrant nightlife.

So, is Thessaloniki worth visiting? Yes or no?

Let’s discover it!

What Makes Thessaloniki Is Worth Visiting

Thessaloniki, sea view from Aretsou in Spirng

When planning a trip to a Greek city, only a few people wonder if their next vacation should be to Athens or Thessaloniki. Athens is indeed an incredible place to visit, but if you are looking for something less “classic,” you really should give Thessaloniki a chance.

As Greece’s second-largest city, there are many reasons why Thessaloniki is worth at least a few days on your Greece trip

It is a gorgeous and bustling coastal city with lots to offer regarding history, culture, and nightlife.

With a history of 3,000 years, Thessaloniki offers many UNESCO World Heritage sites and countless museums, all set in a stunning landscape; after all, Thessaloniki is located near the beautiful Aegean Sea, which laps at the shores of the busy promenade. 

The city was a crossroads of cultures because it was positioned on important trading routes, which is why, today, Thessaloniki is one of the most multicultural places in Greece.

Delicious local foods, lively markets, great shopping venues, and a buzzing nightlife scene only add to the reasons that make Thessaloniki a wonderful place to visit.

The city is also an excellent base for exploring the surrounding area, with fantastic day trip options.

In sum, Thessaloniki is a beautiful trip idea for history and art buffs, foodies, and those who enjoy shopping and a vibrant atmosphere!

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Reasons Why Thessaloniki Is Great (Or Not) – The Second-Largest City In Greece

If you’re planning to visit Thessaloniki, there are some pros and cons to know beforehand. Here is a list of advantages and disadvantages you should think about when deciding if Thessaloniki is worth a visit or not for you:

Pros – reasons to visit Thessaloniki

  • Rich in historical sights and museums: Thessaloniki is well-known for its incredible sights and museums. The city boasts many archeological and historic and is also packed with museums.
  • Great for shopping: Thessaloniki is one of the top Greek destinations for shopping. The city has many shopping streets, large malls, and local markets. You’ll find everything your heart desires, from international fashion to local handicrafts.
  • Vibrant nightlife: Thanks to its large student population, Thessaloniki is a fantastic place to have a good time. There’s something for everyone, from dance clubs to chic loungers and low-key bars.
  • Family-friendly: Thessaloniki is a great family-friendly destination. The city has several attractions for kids, such as Dinosaur Park and the Museum of Illusions.
  • Affordable: Thessaloniki is relatively affordable compared to more touristy spots in Greece. The city is famous among backpackers for the presence of low-budget accommodation, food, and nightlife opportunities.

Cons – reasons to skip Thessaloniki

  • Less attractive beach: Although Thessaloniki is on the water, it isn’t famous for its beaches. The areas outside the city have beaches you can visit and enjoy time in, but they lack the charm that characterizes beaches in other parts of Greece.
  • The language barrier is noticeable: although Thessaloniki is a developed and tourist-friendly city, English isn’t that widely spoken. Thus, you might encounter difficulty communicating with locals outside the tourist and hospitality sectors.
  • Less popular with couples: Greece has perfect couple spots, especially its gorgeous islands. Thessaloniki isn’t a spot usually chosen by couples for a vacation, and it definitely lacks that ‘romantic atmosphere’ that you will find, let’s say, in Santorini. Nonetheless, the city offers so many activities and excellent eateries that couples will surely appreciate a visit here.

Best Time to Visit Thessaloniki, Greece

When planning a Thessaloniki holiday, you might wonder when is the best to go.

Thessaloniki borders the Mediterranean climate, with hot and humid summers and chilly and wet winters. So, the best times to visit Thessaloniki are spring and early summer, and then fall before it gets too cold. In these periods, the weather is perfect, and the city is animated by festivities and festivals that will go into the list of the many things you will need to do in the city!

All in all, Thessaloniki is wonderful at any time of the year, but if you don’t vibe well with the too-hot/too-cold, you should stick with visiting the city in the periods mentioned above.

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How To Reach Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is pretty easy to visit from Europe as it has an international airport with air connections from nearly anywhere in the continent.

If you are visiting Thessaloniki from outside Europe, you might need to fly into Athens and then take a national flight from Athens to Thessaloniki. The two cities are also conveniently connected by train, with the train ride being around seven hours.

Another option to access Thessaloniki from Athens is by car: in a little over five hours, you can get from one city to another! Making a road trip will also allow you to discover beautiful places on the way, like the ancient site of Delphi or the monasteries of Meteora.

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Archaeological Sites To See In Thessaloniki

Among the best things to do in Thessaloniki, where life is absolutely vibrant, is to visit its many archeological sites, including the Aagora of Thessaloniki. The city is packed with ancient buildings and monuments with a history that goes thousands of years back. Here is a list of some of Thessaloniki’s most famous archeological sites.

1. White Tower

Things to do in Thessaloniki Greece - White Tower square the night, in Thessaloniki, Greece

The very symbol of the city, the White Tower, stands right on the waterside promenade. Built in the 16th century by the Ottomans, this building’s original purpose was to be a fortress, and it has held different functions over time, like being used as a garrison and a prison.

The White Tower is impressive, with its 33,90 meters height and six floors, with the upper one offering a perfect spot to enjoy a view of the city.

Today, the White Tower houses the Byzantine Museum of Thessaloniki.

Don’t miss visiting to see the top of the tower at night, when it is lit up and makes the waterfront boulevard even more beautiful.

2. The Rotunda

One of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites you will find in Thessaloniki, the Rotunda (or Rotonda) is a critical Roman-era monument.

Built in 306 CE by the Roman tetrarch Galerius as his mausoleum, the cylindrical structure is part of a larger complex, which includes the Palace of Galerius and the Arch of Galerius.

The Roman emperor was never buried here, and the Rotunda was converted into an Orthodox church in the 4th century and into a mosque ten centuries later before being used again as an Orthodox church.

The beauty of the building is indeed in the various uses it had over time that you can admire in its architectural elements, like the colorful Orthodox mosaics and the tall minaret on the side.

3. Arch Of Galerius

Things to do in Thessaloniki Greece - Things to do in Thessaloniki Greece - Arch of Galerius and Rotunda in Thessaloniki

Another unmissable monument in Thessaloniki is the Arch of Galerius, better known as the Kamara. This quadruple arch was built to celebrate the victory of Emperor Galerius over the Persians and was connected to his palace.

Only two of the arch’s original pillars are still standing, and on both, you can see the marble sculptural panels with masonry symbolism. In particular, the pillars depict the wars of Galerius against the Persians and images that celebrate the unity of the tetrarchy with a depiction of tetrarchs standing together.

4. Galerius Palace

Only ruins are left of this once-stunning Roman palace. Emperor Galerius chose Thessaloniki as his seat and thus decorated the city in true Roman fashion with imposing buildings and structures.

Where today stands Navarinou Square, which has been excavated as a significant part of the Galerius Palace complex. Stroll around the area to see the ruins of massive walls, a large internal courtyard, corridors, and rooms with beautiful mosaic floors.

5. The Roman Forum – Roman Agora Of Thessaloniki

The central square in every Roman city, the forum is where all the social and religious activities took place in ancient times.

It is debated by archeologists when the marketplace was built in Thessaloniki since it follows the traditional architecture for this type of place.

The original structure of the forum can still be seen as it has been preserved quite well. Among the main features that will surely strike you are the Odeon (small theater) and the Stoa, a covered walkway.

Thessaloniki’s Museums

If you are into museums, you will be spoilt with choices in Thessaloniki! The city has more museums than the ones you can visit in a week, displaying everything from archaeological findings to contemporary art forms.

Here are the best museums in Thessaloniki, in my opinion.

6. The Archaeological Museum

Completely renovated in 2003, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki is housed in a 1960s-designed building. The permanent collection is divided into six thematic units showcasing distinctive works of art and excavation finds from around Thessaloniki and the Macedonian region.

The museum is organized following the newest technical and museological techniques, and it’s a great spot to learn about all aspects of personal and public life in antiquity.

7. The Museum Of Byzantine Culture

Opened in 1994, the Museum of Byzantine Culture houses several artifacts from the Byzantine and post-Byzantine periods.

Admire arts, jewelry, and mosaics to discover more about locals’ everyday life and how political ideologies, religious practices, social changes, and upheavals left their marks on different objects.

The museum also operates to preserve archeological materials and promote the research and divulgation of Byzantine and Postbyzantine culture.

8. The Jewish Museum Of Thessaloniki

Located in the very heart of Thessaloniki, the Jewish Museum is hosted in a rare Jewish building that survived the city’s great fire where the old city was destroyed.

Step inside the museum to learn the history of the local Jewish community. The permanent collection includes objects that have not been destroyed during the Holocaust, from photographs, religious objects, rare books in Hebrew, and family memorabilia.

9. Cinema Museum

Housed inside a historic-listed warehouse on the first pier of Thessaloniki harbor, the Cinema Museum is a great spot to explore past and present Greek cinema and how movies are made.

The museum’s exhibits include movie machinery such as projectors, old cinema equipment and material, photographs, hand-produced cinema posters, and a cinema archive.

The best part of this museum is that it proposes shows of excerpts of movies that take place in a special room specially designed for this purpose.

10. Museum Of Illusions

Let your imagination run wild inside the captivating Museum of Illusions. This museum is filled with optical illusions, interactive exhibits, and 3D art that will entertain the whole family.

You won’t only have an amusing time taking pictures and playing with the museum’s exhibits, but you will also learn more about human vision, perception, and brain work.

Churches Of Thessaloniki

There are lots of things to do in Thessaloniki, and among the unmissable attractions are the city’s churches. All were listed as World Heritage Sites in 1988, and visiting the most beautiful Thessaloniki churches is a way to appreciate the city’s past and culture more deeply.

11. Church Of St. Demetrios

Things to do in Thessaloniki Greece - Greek orthodox church interior, Saint Dimitrios of Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki’s most famous church, The Church of St. Demetrios, is dedicated to the city’s patron saint, Saint Demetrius.

The church is large and boasts beautiful features. In particular, don’t miss the mosaics depicting the Saint, the finely-sculpted capitals of the columns, and the marble decorations all around.

Descend on the church’s crypt to see Saint Demetrius’ relics, who is said to have been martyred in that exact spot during the persecution of Christians by Emperor Galerius.

12. Church of Acheiropoietos

The Church of Acheiropoietos is a big Byzantine church built in the 5th century, and it is just a short walk from the Church of St. Demetrios.

Once inside, you can marvel at some significant features, like eye-catching green marble columns and 13th-century frescoes. The church also boasts the opportunity to see the remains of floor mosaics from the Roman period.

13. Church Of St. Sophia

Also known as Hagia Sofia, this church is among the top tourist attractions of Thessaloniki. This impressive Byzantine church was built in the 7th century and is based on the namesake church of Istanbul.

The Church of St. Sophia is by far one of the oldest in the city, and inside, it has beautiful mosaics and paintings. Particularly noteworthy is the ‘iconostasis,’ the screens that separate the sanctuary from the nave, which are decorated with jaw-dropping gilded shapes and painted portraits.

14. Church Of Panagia Chalkeon

The Church of Panagia Chalkeon is one of the most striking churches in Thessaloniki from the outside. Its structure is just magnificent, with its many arches and three domes over the roof.

Built in the 11th century in classic Byzantine Empire style, the Church of Panagia Chalkeon seems pretty large from the outside. Once you step inside you will instead find yourself in an intimate setting made beautiful by the many golden decorations.

15. Church Of St. Panteleimon

Located between the Rotunda and the Church of St. Sophia, the Church of St. Panteleimon is an awesome example of a late Byzantine building.

Dating back to the late 13th century, this church has exposed brick walls, and it is pretty small. What makes this church worth visiting is the huge central chandelier hanging in the main room, which seems to fill up the whole space.

Thessaloniki’s Old Town

Among the places to see in Thessaloniki you really shouldn’t miss is the Old Town. Known as Ana Poli, the district in Thessaloniki’s upper city is surrounded by imposing Byzantine-era walls. Ana Poli was Thessaloniki’s citadel (Kastro), and the neighborhood is perfect to stroll around and discover typical architecture and historic buildings.

Ana Poli was one of the few parts of the city that escaped the Great Fire of 1917, when much of the city was destroyed by fire. It now remains the same enchanting labyrinth of the past, with a unique atmosphere.

Ana Poli’s main points of interest are:

16. Trigoniou Tower

Things to do in Thessaloniki Greece - View
Thessaloniki, Greece – Trigonion Tower

One of the towers along the Old Town walls, this tower was built under the Venetian occupation. It’s one of the best viewpoints in the city.

17. The Heptapyrgion

This ancient fortress and former prison dates back to the 14th century. As the name suggests, it boasts seven towers and is one of the city’s historic landmarks.

18. Byzantine Baths

In operation for over eight centuries, this is the city’s only historic bathhouse still standing. Step inside to see the original structure, like the changing rooms and the various pools that used to be filled with hot or cold water.

19. Alaja Imaret Mosque

The only intact mosque after the 1917 fire, the inside is particularly spectacular, with the two high domes painted in arabesques and draperies, all in a gold-like color.

Thessaloniki’s Markets

If you are wondering “What Thessaloniki is also famous for,” the answer is “its markets.”

Visiting the city’s markets is a must-do to experience Thessaloniki’s most authentic shopping.

20. Modiano Market

Turkish spice - Egyptian Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Turkey. Egyptian spice market

Located between Vasileos Irakliou Street and Egnatia Avenue, in the very heart of Thessaloniki, Modiano Market features a beautiful glass roof under which you will find a multitude of stalls selling a wide variety of goods, from freshly caught seafood to locally-produced cheeses to fragrant spices.

Inside the market hall, there are also a few taverns where you can taste traditional dishes masterfully prepared, I guarantee!

21. Kapani Markets

Things to do in Thessaloniki Greece - Thessaloniki, Greece - March 04 2016: Kapani open public market

Just across the street from Modiano Market, next to Aristotelous Square, is another famous city market, Kapani. Locals’ favorite shopping venue for fresh ingredients, Kapani Market, boasts an atmosphere that resembles the one in eastern bazaars.

The food shops are interspersed with colorful tavernas where you can sit to taste local delicacies.

22. Bezenteni Market

Near Kapani Market is yet another unmissable market venue, Bedesteni Market. It mainly sells accessories like jewelry, handmade textiles, and carpets. What’s really special about Bedesteni Market is its structure. It’s a typical enclosed Ottoman Empire-style market with a six dome-roof, one of the only three of this type still surviving in Greece.

23. Bit Bazaar

North of Aristotelous Square and east of the Roman Forum is the Bit Bazaar. Founded in 1928, this market is where to shop for antiques and second-hand items. The building’s inner courtyard is dominated by tavernas and bars, which are very popular among university students.

Shopping In Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is heaven for shopaholics who love buying for beautiful items to bring home with them at the end of a holiday. The city features many shopping venues, from large shopping malls to local stores to shopping streets.

Among the best Thessaloniki places to visit for shopping are:

  • Proxenou and Mitropoleos Streets for luxury boutiques
  • Agias Theodoras, Issavron, and Zefxidos Streets to shop for vintage items
  • Egnatia Street for budget clothes/accessories and thrift stores
  • Navarinou Square for some classic souvenirs
  • Outlets in Thessaloniki like Salonica and Mega are perfect for a shopping spree within the city. for big saves on international brands

Thessaloniki’s Nightlife

Thessaloniki is popular all around Greece for its nightlife. Thanks to the university’s presence, there are plenty of nightlife opportunities all week long.

Ladadika and Valaoritou districts are the most lively, with bars and cafés running well into the night.

The two districts offer even more in terms of nighttime fun: chic cocktail bars, charming restaurants, tavernas where traditional music is played, and hot nightclubs – there is really something for everyone!

During summer, locals love spending their nights in rooftop bars and open-air cinemas.

Another popular hang pout spit is Thessaloniki seafront, boasting many restaurants, cafés and bars.

Day Trips From Thessaloniki

Should you have time for a longer vacation, there are amazing places to visit around Thessaloniki. The best way to enjoy one (or more) of these day trips is by having your own car, as it will give you the freedom to stay as long as you please.

Here is a list of the best day trips from Thessaloniki to explore the beautiful Northern Greece more.

Meteora

Meteora-Monasteries_Monastery-of-Agios-Nikolaos-Anapafsas_Greece
Monastery Of Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas

One that should really be on your list is a day trip from Thessaloniki to Meteora.

The name of this town already gives you an idea of what you will see once you step foot in it, “rocks suspended in the air.” Meteora is a magical town surrounded by huge rock formations on top of which monasteries have been built.

The monasteries seem to be floating in the sky, and 6 are easily accessible thanks to practical stairs. Two unmissable monasteries are the Monastery Gran Meteora, the largest and located at a height of 610 meters, and Aghia Triada, which was used to shoot scenes for the James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only.”

Take your time exploring these religious places and marveling at the incredible views in Thessaloniki from atop the rocks!

Mount Olympus

Best Day Trips From Thessaloniki - Mount Olympus, tallest mountain on Greece

The best place to travel back into the past, all the way to the time of the gods of the Greek Pantheon, is Mount Olympus. This majestic mountain is the mythological house of the Greek gods. It is the tallest mountain in Greece and the second tallest in the Balkans, and it’s a fantastic spot for hiking and enjoying outdoorsy adventures.

Mount Olympus rises almost straight from the Aegean Sea, and from its many viewpoints, you can marvel at breathtaking vistas that you will hardly forget.

The area also boasts beautiful waterfalls and deep caves where it was said that lesser deities, like the nymphs, were said to live.

Pella

Pella, Macedonia Greece
Pella, Greece. Photo: Wiki

If you don’t want to get too far from Thessaloniki but still want to explore the city’s surroundings, a great option is a day trip to the Archaeological site of Pella.

Only a 50-minute drive from Thessaloniki, Pella is central to the area’s history. It was the capital of Macedonia’s ancient kingdom and the birthplace of Alexander the Great.

The archaeological is huge: you can visit a 70,000-square-meter space with the vestiges of many sanctuaries, ancient shops, and houses.

The most well-preserved buildings in Pella are the House of Dionysus and the House of the Abduction of Helen, both boasting stunning mosaic floors and columned courtyards.

While in Pella, don’t miss the Archaeological Museum, where are stored the ancient objects found in the site by the archeologists.

Vergina

Another great archaeological site only 1-hour away from Thessaloniki is Vergina. Formerly named the City of Aigai, it was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia before Pella. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is among the best places to learn all about ancient Macedonians’ culture and history.

On the site, you can visit many interesting old buildings, including the royal apartments, the theatre, and the royal necropolis.

The underground of the royal necropolis houses a unique Museum of Royal Tombs of Aigai, where you can marvel at magnificent mural paintings and funerary objects.


Things To Do In Thessaloniki – 2 Days In Thessaloniki

Best Time To Visit Greece - Aerial view of famous snowy Aristotelous Square in Thessaloniki

Every vacation needs some planning, and one of the first things that will pop up in your mind is: How many days should you spend in Thessaloniki?

The city has so much to offer in terms of historical and cultural opportunities that you should spend a whole week in it if you want to see all its incredible attractions.

However, if you don’t have much time or are planning a Greek road trip, a weekend in Thessaloniki is enough to scrape on the city’s surface and soak up the city’s distinctive character.

Next is a Thessaloniki itinerary sample that you can follow to plan a 2-day visit to the city.

Day 1 – Look Around Thessaloniki

  • Start the morning with a traditional tsoureki and a coffee at Terkenlis.
  • Visit the Galerius complex (the Arch, the Rotounda, and the Palace)
  • Stroll around the Roman Forum
  • Marvel at the Church of St. Demetrios
  • Have lunch at Modiano Market
  • Learn more at the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum
  • Stop by the unmissable Museum of Byzantine Culture
  • Relax with a delicious dinner and take part in Thessaloniki’s vibrant nightlife at Ladadika district

Day 2 – Places To Visit In Thessaloniki

  • For breakfast, get a classic bougatsa at “Bougatsa Giannis.”
  • Visit the beautiful Church of St. Sophia
  • Pass by Aristotelous Square
  • Visit the Jewish Museum and/or the Museum of Illusions
  • Enjoy your lunch break at Kapani Market
  • Explore Ano Poli in the early afternoon
  • Back to the city center for some shopping
  • Stop by the White Tower
  • End the day with a sunset cocktail and dinner at the waterfront promenade

Visit Thessaloniki FAQs

Why is Thessaloniki worth visiting compared to other Greek cities like Athens?

Thessaloniki offers a unique blend of historical richness, vibrant nightlife, and culinary delights. Unlike Athens, it provides a more relaxed vibe with less crowded tourist spots. The city’s rich history, from its Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman past, offers a different perspective on Greek culture. If you want to know the differences between Thessaloniki and Athens, read here. 

What makes staying in Thessaloniki a good choice for travelers?

Staying in Thessaloniki means you’re in the heart of a city (the second largest city in Greece) that is relatively compact and easy to explore. With a range of accommodations, from luxury hotels to cozy B&Bs, the city caters to all types of travelers. The hospitality of the locals adds to the city’s charm.

How easy is it to get to Thessaloniki?

Thessaloniki is well connected by air, with the Thessaloniki Airport serving numerous international and domestic flights. The city is also accessible by train or bus from major cities like Athens, making it a convenient destination in Greece.

What’s the best way to get around the city of Thessaloniki?

Thessaloniki is quite compact, making it easy to get around Thessaloniki on foot. Public transportation, such as buses, is available and efficient for longer distances. Renting a car can be a good option if you plan to visit the outskirts or other destinations in Northern Greece.

How is life in Thessaloniki for a tourist?

Life in Thessaloniki is full of energy and warmth. The city offers a rich tapestry of cultural experiences, from exploring historical sites to enjoying the vibrant café culture. There’s always something happening at any time of the day.

What food in Thessaloniki should?

Thessaloniki food is a gastronomic delight. Known for its savory pastries, fresh seafood, and sweet treats, the city’s culinary scene is a must-try. Greek cities like Thessaloniki have many local tavernas and markets where you can get an authentic taste of Greek cuisine. Look for a walking tour of the best foodie spots and go early to avoid the peak tourist crowds.

Conclusion: Is Thessaloniki Worth Visiting?

So, after this long post, how do you answer the ultimate question: is Thessaloniki worth visiting? Well, it is very simple – with a big yes! So, will this be your year to visit Thessaloniki?

If you love Greece and want to discover more about its history and culture, you should definitely plan to travel to Thessaloniki.

Whatever your interests are – whether a history enthusiast, museum fanatic, shopping lover, food admirer, or a party-goer, you’ll definitely like Thessaloniki as it will surprise you! Dig deeper into Roman and Byzantine periods, get lost in charming and vibrant districts, and enjoy delicious treats for a vacation that you will remember for years.

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