Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki, is also one of the country’s top tourist destinations.
It’s a very vibrant city, well known for its nightlife, but it’s full of attractions too and has an appealing coastal location so you can combine your city sightseeing with days on the beach or enjoying the waterfront scene.
The city is also the cultural capital of the country and is renowned for its festivals.
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.
Travelling by air you’ll come into the Thessaloniki International Airport Macedonia which is 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, there’s a very good selection of airlines to choose from once you reach Europe.
Aegean Airlines is one of the main airlines to use the airport, with services from Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, Milan, and also a seasonal service from Tel Aviv.
British Airways flies seasonally from Gatwick, and Ryanair has a good selection of European routes to choose from.
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.
Right now (2013) bus is the only option though a Metro system is under construction so this will help to ease traffic problems.
If you don’t like using buses ordinarily consider using the Tourist Line (Bus number 50) as this takes a figure-of-eight loop past all the major tourist attractions and sights of the city and is an affordable option. There are private tour bus lines as well which take a similar route.
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 you might expect, Thessaloniki is definitely more of a summer destination. Summers are hot and sunny with an average high 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 to October with colder weather beginning from November.
It doesn’t get really cold in Thessaloniki, so you could still sightsee in the winter if you wrap up. The average high in January is just over 9C.
Hotels in Thessaloniki
The Excelsior is a 5 Star boutique hotel and is centrally located close to the business, shopping and leisure heart of the city. It is even 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 lots of facilities. There’s a complimentary airport shuttle, and the city is just a short drive.
The locals have always known that Thessaloniki had a great nightlife but the party atmosphere is only more recently being discovered by tourists. Lonely planet rated the city the fifth-best party city in the world in 2010.
You don’t have to go to a club to have a good evening. There are café-bars all over the city that have a lively atmosphere, while on the waterfront trendy bars are abundant. Of course there are nightclubs as well with the typical dance music that you’d expect, but there are also other themed nightclubs such as rock, jazz, and traditional Greek.
Some great Attractions
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 art deco 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 highest point of the city 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 really impressive.
The White Tower
The White Tower is a must-see landmark because not only is it an important historical monument, it is the symbol of Thessaloniki. Set on the waterfront the White Tower was built by the Ottomans 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 a number of museums dedicated to the city’s history, with the most famous and renowned being 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 of Macedonia as a whole, while the latter focuses specifically on the Byzantine culture and its impact on the city.
Once you’ve visited the Byzantine Museum you should head for the numerous churches from this period that you’ll find dotted around the city.
They date from between the 5th and 14th centuries AD and include larger as well as 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 greater World Heritage Site and is said to be the largest basilica in Greece.