The second largest city in Greece, Thessaloniki, is also one of the country’s top tourist destinations.
It’s a very vibrant city, well known for its nightlife. Still, it’s also full of attractions and has an attractive coastal location, so you can combine your city sightseeing with days on the beach or enjoying the waterfront.
The city is also the country’s cultural capital and is renowned for its festivals.
The locals have always known that Thessaloniki had a great nightlife, but tourists have discovered the party atmosphere more recently.
You don’t have to go to a club to have a good evening.
There are café-bars all over the city with a lively atmosphere, while trendy bars are abundant on the waterfront.
Of course, there are nightclubs with the typical dance music you’d expect, but there are also other themed nightclubs such as rock, jazz, and traditional Greek.
The Old Town
Known as Ano Poli, the old town of Thessaloniki is a popular part for wandering around, and it’s one of the oldest remaining sections of the city.
In 1917 a Great Fire destroyed most of the city but missed this part, so while the newly constructed city features deco art architecture from the period following the fire, Ano Poli still has its older architecture.
The streets are narrower here and have more character; there are cobbled streets and traditional old houses.
As the city’s highest point, you’ll also find a Byzantine fortress at the top of Ano Poli called the Heptapyrgion.
The views from up here, over the city and the bay, are impressive.
The White Tower
The White Tower is a must-see landmark because it is an important historical monument and the symbol of Thessaloniki.
Set on the waterfront, the Ottomans built the White Tower to replace an earlier Byzantine fort.
During the Ottoman rule, the tower served as a prison and was notorious for its terrible treatment and executions.
In an attempt to rid the tower of its demons, it was whitewashed when the Greeks took over in 1912.
The tower is open today as a museum.
In addition to the White Tower, Thessaloniki has several museums dedicated to the city’s history.
The most famous and renowned are the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki and the Museum of Byzantine Culture.
The former has many artefacts and exhibits relating to the long history of the city and Macedonia as a whole.
At the same time, the latter focuses specifically on Byzantine culture and its impact on the city.
Once you’ve visited the Byzantine Museum, you should head for the numerous churches dotted around the city from this period.
They date between the 5th and 14th centuries AD and include more extensive and smaller beautiful churches.
Picture of Agios Demetrios
Among the most significant are Agia Sofia from the 9th century and Agios Demetrios from the 7th century, which is part of a more fabulous World Heritage Site and is said to be the largest basilica in Greece.
Hotels in Thessaloniki
The Excelsior is a 5 Star boutique hotel located close to the city’s business, shopping and leisure heart.
It is also Thessaloniki’s one and only member of the “Small Luxury Hotels of the World”.
The Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki is quite a different alternative.
It’s set close to the airport, so it’s outside the city centre, and it has more of a resort feel with its lush gardens, large swimming pools, and many facilities.
How to get here
As the second largest city in the country, Thessaloniki has good transportation links.
It is the capital of Central Macedonia and is located at the northern end of the Thermaic Gulf, a large gulf in the Aegean Sea.
You’ll travel by air to the Thessaloniki International Airport, about 15 kilometres from the city centre and is linked to the city via 24-hour bus services or taxis.
All flights to Thessaloniki arrive from other European cities, so you cannot fly direct from outside of Europe (except from Tel Aviv).
However, once you reach Europe, there’s a good selection of airlines.
Aegean Airlines is one of the leading airlines to use the airport, with services from Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, and Milan and a seasonal service from Tel Aviv.
British Airways flies seasonally from Gatwick, and Ryanair has a good selection of European routes.
Being on the coast, Thessaloniki could also be visited as part of a luxury yacht charter exploring the beautiful Aegean Sea and its coastline!
Thessaloniki is a large city but has a relatively good public transit system.
Weather and climate
Thessaloniki has a humid subtropical climate which gives the city quite a distinction in temperatures between summer and winter.
With colder winters than expected, Thessaloniki is more of a summer destination.
Summers are hot and sunny, with an average high of around 31C in July and August and a small amount of rainfall.
There’s more rain, sometimes falling as snow, over the winter, but temperatures stay pleasant through October, with colder weather beginning in November.
It doesn’t get freezing in Thessaloniki, so you can still sightsee in the winter if you wrap up.
The average high in January is just over 9C.
Five Festivals in Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki is known for its vibrant culture and lively festivals.
From religious celebrations to cultural events, Thessaloniki hosts various festivals that attract locals and tourists worldwide.
Here are some of the most popular festivals in Thessaloniki:
1. Thessaloniki International Film Festival
Held annually in November, the Thessaloniki International Film Festival is one of Southeast Europe’s most significant film festivals.
The festival features diverse films worldwide, including feature-length and short films, documentaries, and experimental films.
The festival also includes workshops, seminars, and masterclasses for filmmakers.
2. Thessaloniki International Book Fair
The Thessaloniki International Book Fair is an annual May event attracting book lovers from all over Greece.
The fair features book presentations, workshops, seminars, and book signings and readings by famous Greek and international authors.
3. Dimitria Festival
The Dimitria Festival is one of the oldest festivals in Thessaloniki, celebrating the city’s rich cultural heritage.
The festival is in October and features music concerts, dance performances, theatre shows, and art exhibitions.
4. Thessaloniki Food Festival
The Thessaloniki Food Festival is a culinary event held in September, showcasing the city’s delicious local cuisine.
The festival features food tastings, cooking demonstrations, and workshops by renowned chefs and food experts.
5. International Festival of Street Theatre
The International Festival of Street Theatre is an annual event held in June, featuring street performances by artists worldwide.
The festival includes theatre, dance, music, and circus performances, as well as workshops and seminars for aspiring street performers.
Overall, Thessaloniki’s festivals offer a unique opportunity to experience the city’s rich culture and traditions.
Whether interested in film, literature, food, or the performing arts, there’s something for everyone at Thessaloniki’s festivals.