What to do in Thessaloniki?
To visit Thessaloniki is to discover the second largest city in Greece. Dynamic and cultural, it has many historic buildings and several interesting museums.
So that you do not miss any place of interest in Thessaloniki, I have prepared this complete guide for you. I first give you the 12 things to see in the city and the surroundings and a program to visit Thessaloniki in 1, 2 or 3 days.
At the end of the article, I have also selected the best accommodations for you .
So what to do in Thessaloniki?
Visit Thessaloniki: the must-sees
1. The White Tower
Among the must-see places in Thessaloniki, I suggest you start with the White Tower.
It is the emblem and the most famous building of the city. Built in 1535, the tower was once surrounded by walls, it served as a prison under the Ottoman occupation. As many torture sessions and executions took place there, it then responded to the sweet nickname of “The Bloody Tower”. Nice isn’t it!
It was only in 1890 that it was renamed “the White Tower ”, after it was completely repainted white by a prisoner in exchange for his freedom. There is also another version of the story that it was the Greeks who renamed it themselves in 1913.
Today, the 34-meter-tall tower houses the City History Museum. And since it is aptly named, you can learn more about the history of Thessaloniki from Roman times to the present day.
I advise you to go up to the top floor of the tower, you can contemplate the 360° view of the city, the sea and even Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece.
Tips for your Thessaloniki itinerary:
If you want to visit Thessaloniki with a guide, I advise you to choose a private tour with a local. You can opt for a visit of 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 hours with a fully customizable itinerary according to your desires.
And for those who don’t want to walk, book this guided bike tour by clicking here!
2. The Waterfront
A walk along the seaside is a must during a stay in Thessaloniki.
Recently renovated and refurbished, the promenade runs along the sea for almost 5 km. It begins near the photography museum, passes through the White Tower and continues to the city’s concert hall.
You will find many bars and restaurants all along. They are very lively and frequented by both tourists and locals. It’s a bit like Cannes‘ “la croisette” or Nice‘s “promenade des Anglais” in the Greek version.
Do not miss to see the sculpture of the Umbrellas, a modern work, which is located a little after the White Tower.
During the walk, you can also take breaks in the themed gardens :
- Alexander’s garden
- The garden of the setting sun
- The sand garden
- The Mediterranean garden
- That of sculptures, sound or water…
There are more than a dozen and for all tastes. It’s also very nice to do with children: there are a few play areas where they can relax if they are tired of visiting.
The waterfront can also be cycled along the cycle path. If the experience tempts you, there are rental companies nearby.
This is the perfect place to take an evening stroll in Thessaloniki, when it’s a bit cooler.
3. Archaeological Sites
If you like history and old stones, there are some historical sites to see in Thessaloniki:
- The Ancient Agora: social and religious center of the city during the Hellenistic and Roman periods.
- The Arch of Galerius, also called “Kamara” was built in 305 AD to pay homage to the victorious Persian emperor. Only 2 of the original pillars and an arch remain. They are decorated with war scenes.
- The rotunda of Galerius was originally built to serve as a mausoleum for the emperor and later converted into a church and a mosque. It is one of the oldest monuments in Thessaloniki.
- The Palace of Galerius, a Roman palace of which there is not much left but which was part of a huge complex with the rotunda and the arch. It is located in Navarinou Square.
4. Museums of Thessaloniki
Let’s continue this guide of places of interest to visit in Thessaloniki with a bit of cultural tourism!
The city has many museums and on very varied themes:
- The Archaeological Museum and its collection of ancient, Hellenic and Macedonian remains discovered in the vicinity of Thessaloniki and in Macedonia
- The Museum of Byzantine Culture and its 3,000 objects, jewels and mosaics relating to the Byzantine Empire
- The Jewish museum which traces the arrival of the Jewish community in Thessaloniki and its history, especially during the Second World War
- The photography museum where you will see old photos of Greece but also more contemporary ones
- The Olympic Games Museum to discover the history of the games from Antiquity to the present day
- The Cinema Museum on how films are made and the history of Greek cinema
- Thessaloniki Contemporary Art Center and its contemporary installations
- The War Museum and its collection of Greek weapons, medals and uniforms.
- Thessaloniki Museum of Illusions
5. Thessaloniki Churches
If you do not know what to do in Thessaloniki, I now suggest you go and contemplate the churches of the city.
What are the churches to see:
- Agios Dimitros is the most famous church in Thessaloniki, it is dedicated to the patron saint of the city, Saint Dimitri. His relics are kept inside, in the crypt.
- Panagia Achiropiitos, a 5th century Byzantine church with beautiful frescoes
- Agia Sofia (Hagia Sophia) built in the 8th century and inspired by the church of the same name in Istanbul, Turkey. It is one of the most beautiful Byzantine churches in Thessaloniki.
- Nikolas Orfanos Church (Saint Nicholas the Orphan) a small 14th century Byzantine church
- Ossios David, built in the 5th century. They have beautiful mosaics in good condition.
- The church of Agios Pavlos on the heights of the city.
6. Ana Poli: Thessaloniki’s Old Town
During your Thessaloniki itinerary, I recommend that you go for a walk in the old town.
The Ana Poli district is located in the upper part of the city and represents the historical center of Thessaloniki. It is the only one to have survived the great fire which took place in 1917 and which destroyed a good part of the city.
It is surrounded by Byzantine walls and is a real citadel (kastro). There are many architectural elements dating back to the Byzantine era as well as the Ottoman occupation. A stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets is the best way to discover Ana Poli.
Not to be missed in Ana Poli:
- The Tower of Trigonion. Built under Venetian occupation, it is also known as the “Tower of Artillery” because it served as a storage place for gunpowder and arsenal.
- La Portara located in the northern part of the walls and decorated with ceramics and inscriptions
- The Eptapyrgion, an old fort that served as a prison and which has 7 towers
- The monastery of Vlatadon which allows you to contemplate one of the most beautiful panoramas of Thessaloniki. Founded in 1351, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- The churches of Saint Nicholas, Saint Catherine and Ossios David which I have already mentioned above
- Pasha Gardens, beautiful gardens located next to Agios Dimitrios Hospital. Well appointed with fountains, it offers a lovely view of the city.
Tips for your Thessaloniki itinerary:
The best place to watch the sunset in Thessaloniki is at the Trigonion Tower.
Where to go in Thessaloniki to stock up on local products?
In the markets of Modiano and Kapriani of course!
These are the 2 main markets of the city, and they are also located next to each other.
This is where you will find the best products of Thessaloniki. Stock up on olives, spices, herbs, good Greek cheeses and even meat or fish. You will also find several typical taverns here , ideal for lunch.
They are located towards Ermou Street and open every day except Sunday. Be careful, like a lot of places in Greece, they close around 2 p.m. and re-open at the end of the day.
Tips for your Thessaloniki itinerary:
For foodies, I advise you to book a culinary tour of the traditional markets of Thessaloniki with a guide. The perfect opportunity to discover Greek culture and especially taste the many local specialties!
8. Go Shopping
Have you already done all the activities I suggest and don’t know what to do in Thessaloniki? Then it’s time to do some shopping!
And there is something for everyone and for every budget.
For luxury and high-end boutiques, go to Proxenou and Mitropoleos streets as well as the streets perpendicular to them, including Morgenthau, Lassani or Chrisostomou.
For classic and international shops, it is on Tsimiki, Ermou and Egnatias streets that you will find what you are looking for.
Finally, for a more vintage and thrift style, the small streets in the center are recommended: Aghias Theodoras, Issavron and Zefxidos.
9. Go Out at Night
Thessaloniki is one of the best places to go out at night in Greece!
Mainly a student city, its population is very young and the nightlife is particularly developed there.
Whether during the week or at the weekend, you will always find a nice and lively bar where you can have a drink. The districts of Ladadika and Valaoritou are the most famous and frequented.
Trendy bars, nightclubs, live music, you can party all night long if you wish.
For a slightly more chic and romantic atmosphere, I also recommend the Skyline Bar. It is located at the very top of the OTE tower and allows you to enjoy a 360° view of the entire city thanks to its rotating platform.
This is one of the best places in town to have an aperitif while admiring the sunset.
To enjoy a romantic meal to the sound of live music while admiring the view, you must book in advance.
What to do and visit around Thessaloniki?
If you spend several days in Thessaloniki and have toured the city, I recommend that you visit the surroundings. There are several sites to see nearby as well as very beautiful beaches.
The archaeological site of Pella is a 50-minute drive from Thessaloniki.
It is the ancient capital of the Ancient Kingdom of Macedonia (not to be confused with the Republic of Macedonia) and the birthplace of Alexander the Great. Excavations on the site have revealed a vast agora of 70,000 square meters with multiple shrines, shops and several large residences.
The best preserved is the house of Dionysos with its columns surrounding the courtyard and its geometric mosaics on the ground made with small pebbles. The house of the abduction of Hélène also presents some very beautiful mosaics.
You can admire all the objects found in Pella in the archaeological museum which is on the site. Modern and well done, it allows you to imagine the organization of the city and to discover its history through several sections devoted to religion, crafts or political life.
Entrance to the archaeological site + visit to the museum costs €8. Pella is open every day (except Mondays) from 9 am.
If you are interested in history, this is one of the most interesting places to see around Thessaloniki.
Vergina is the second archaeological site to visit around Thessaloniki. It is a 1 hour drive.
The city of Aigai (Vergina is the modern Greek name) is in fact the first capital of the kingdom of Macedonia, before it was dethroned by Pella. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The excavations at Vergina have revealed several key pieces of information about the culture and history of the ancient Macedonians.
The most important remains are the monumental palace where the royal apartments were located, the Aegean theater (where Philip II was assassinated), the walls and the royal necropolis which notably houses the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great.
The Vergina Royal Tombs Museum is quite original as it is located under the tumulus where the tombs were discovered. You will therefore have to descend underground to the entrance of the royal tombs.
You can admire the rich wall paintings as well as funerary objects but the highlight of the show is the treasure from the tomb of Philip II with his shield, his armour, a chest and a golden crown.
Tips for your Thessaloniki itinerary:
If you don’t have a car, I advise you to opt for a day trip from Thessaloniki. This allows you to visit Vergina and Pella in 1 day. Transportation is included in the cost.
12. Chalcidice (Halkidiki)
Where to go to the beach near Thessaloniki?
The nearest and above all the most beautiful beaches around Thessaloniki are in the peninsula of Chalkidiki. The peninsula is then itself divided into 3 other peninsulas:
- The Kassandra Peninsula
- The Sithonia Peninsula
- Mount Athos peninsula
It is on the first 2 that you will find many beaches with turquoise water. They are almost all furnished with a private area where you can rent deckchairs and parasols.
In this area you will find many seaside resorts and luxury hotels. Nearby, there are also spas, casinos and golf courses. Trendy and chic atmosphere at the rendezvous.
As for the peninsula of Mount Athos, it is the farthest from Thessaloniki but access to it is highly regulated. This is where more than 2,000 monks who are part of the Monastic Republic of Mount Athos live. Only men have the right to enter the territory and only after obtaining a special permit at least 6 months in advance.
The best way for others and these ladies to discover Mount Athos is to take a cruise to see some of the monasteries.
Day trips are organized from Thessaloniki and include: transport by bus to Ouranoupoli to catch the boat, a cruise to Mount Athos and a swimming and relaxing break on one of the beaches of Chalkidiki.
How many days to visit Thessaloniki?
Spending 2 days in Thessaloniki is a good time to visit the city.
In fact, one day is even enough if you only want to discover the main places of interest and have a fairly complete overview of the city. No problem to visit Thessaloniki on foot, the distances are short and the things to see fairly grouped together.
But if you also want to visit some of the museums, then it is better to devote 2 days to visit the city.
If you stay 3 days or more in Thessaloniki, you will also have time to take a tour of the surroundings.
1 Day Thessaloniki Itinerary
If you only have one day to visit Thessaloniki on foot, here is the program I suggest:
- Soak up local flavors as you pass through the Modiano market
- Cross Egnatia Street where there are many shops
- Join the Roman Agora
- Visit the Church of Agios Dimitros
- Go up to the Ana Poli district with a passage through the Ossios David church and the Vlatades monastery
- Walk along the walls to the Trigonion tower
- Push the walk to the level of the Agios Pavlos church which dominates the city
- Enjoy a bit of relaxation in the Pacha Gardens
- Going back down Elenis Zogafrou Street, take a short detour to see Nikolas Orfanos Church
- Walk past the Rotunda, Arch and Palace of Galerius
- Go see the iconic monument of Thessaloniki: the White Tower
- Enjoy a lovely walk along the waterfront
- In the evening, if you want to go out, join the districts of Ladadika and Valaoritou
If you are really in a hurry and do not want to visit Thessaloniki on foot, I recommend you to opt for the tourist bus tour.
You can choose to get off whenever you want to see certain monuments and will have explanations in French thanks to an audio guide. The hop-on hop-off bus tour costs only €10 per person and you can book it by clicking directly here.
2 Days Thessaloniki Itinerary
If you have 2 days in Thessaloniki, take the previous itinerary for the first day and add to it the visit of certain museums according to your centers of interest.
You can also take my 1-day program and insert one or two museum visits into it. For the second day, finish your city tour and visit other museums.
Tips for your Thessaloniki itinerary:
It is possible to combine the visit of different museums according to their geographical location:
Close to the White Tower, you will find:
- The Archaeological Museum
- The Museum of Byzantine Culture
- The War Museum
- The Olympic Games Museum
On the port docks, near the Ladadika district, you can visit:
- The cinema museum
- The photography museum
- The contemporary art center
3 Days Thessaloniki Itinerary
In 3 days in Thessaloniki, I advise you to go and explore the surroundings!
As I told you, the archaeological sites of Pella and Vergina are easily accessible by car, as are the beaches of the Chalkidiki peninsula.
If you don’t have a car, I recommend choosing a day trip from Thessaloniki:
- Vergina & Pella: A day in the Greek kingdom of Macedonia – During this day, explore the 2 ancient capitals of Macedonia: the archaeological sites of Pella and Vergina. Discover the mosaics of the rich mansions and descend into the royal tombs. Round-trip bus transport is included from Thessaloniki.
- Guided tour of Meteora from Thessaloniki – During the day, you will have the chance to contemplate the fabulous monasteries of Meteora built on top of huge rocks. It’s one of my favorite places during my stay in Greece, it’s really impressive to see! The excursion allows you to visit 2 of the 6 monasteries and includes round-trip bus transport from Thessaloniki.
- Excursion to Ouranoupoli with cruise around Mount Athos – Departing from Thessaloniki, you will reach the city of Ouranoupoli by bus where the departures for the cruise around Mount Athos are. You can admire some of the monasteries from the sea and end the day with a beach break and swimming in the Chalkidiki peninsula.
- Chalkidiki Cruise with Lunch – For this day you will be picked up directly from your hotel and a bus will take you to the cruise departure. During the boat trip, you will pass by the islands of Drenia, the island of Ammouliani and the Diaporos islands, in the Chalchidic peninsula. You will of course have the opportunity to swim!
- Excursion to Dion and Mount Olympus – For this day, you will visit the archaeological site and the museum of Dion where you can notably discover the villa of Dionysos famous for its magnificent mosaics. You will continue with a walk to Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece, which in Greek mythology is considered the domain of the gods.
- Excursion to Pozar and Edessa : Direction the hot springs and the thermal baths of Pozar to enjoy a swim in the middle of nature before discovering the pretty town of Edessa and its impressive waterfall.
For a more VIP experience, you can also opt for a small group cruise (max 10 people).
On the program: discovery of superb beaches, swimming and snorkeling in a heavenly setting + an excellent typical Greek meal based on fresh products and cooked by the captain!
Accommodation in Thessaloniki
- Stay Hybrid Hostel: Youth hostel located near the districts of Ladadika and Valaoritou. Bed in dormitory from only €10! The pluses: the price, the modernity, the ideal location for going out in the evening, the rooftop.
- Plaza Hotel, Philian Hotels and Resorts: Located in the Ladadika district, just 50 meters from the seafront. Cozy double room with comfortable bedding from €60 per night, breakfast included. Most: the location to visit Thessaloniki on foot, the varied breakfast, the welcome of the staff. Our favorite for its unbeatable price/performance ratio!
- Astoria: Located 300 meters from the port and 500 meters from the Modiano market. Double room with some with a balcony from €100 per night, breakfast at €10. Most: the geographical location, the good breakfast, the pleasant staff.
- Electra Palace Thessaloniki: This 5-star hotel is located on Aristotelous Square, in the heart of the city. The establishment offers classically decorated rooms with wooden furniture from €200 per night, breakfast included. Most: the swimming pool and the restaurant on the roof with panoramic view, the location in the city center, the services. This is our recommendation for a luxury stay in Thessaloniki!
Where to eat in Thessaloniki
- Faidimos: This restaurant is located in the Valaoritou district. Typical Greek cuisine and served in a modern and really nice decor. Friendly atmosphere and warm welcome.
- Tripia Potiria: Located not far from the Agios Dimitros church, in the flea market. Here too the cuisine is good and plentiful and above all made with fresh products, the staff is friendly and the prices are really reasonable.
- Rouga: Located just off Ermou Street and towards the Jewish Museum. Large selection of starters and dishes to share, ideal for tasting a bit of everything and discovering Greek gastronomy. All for a light addition!
This is just a small selection as there are tons of restaurants and taverns in Thessaloniki. It’s really everywhere and it’s pretty cheap.
As you are in Greece, if you don’t feel like eating in a restaurant, you can also treat yourself to a chicken or pork gyros. You will have no trouble finding it.
How to get to Thessaloniki?
Thessaloniki has an international airport, so you can fly there directly.
You can also choose to go to Athens first and then reach Thessaloniki with an internal flight.
If you have rented a car in Greece, Thessaloniki is still 500 km from Athens, or 5h15 by road.
If you decide to go by car from Athens to Thessaloniki, what can be nice is to make 2 stops on the road to cut: one to visit Delphi (2h25 from Athens) and the other to see Meteora (3h15 from Delphi and 2h40 from Thessaloniki).
Spend a night at each site to rest.
And you? What are you planning to visit during your Thessaloniki itinerary?
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