Thessaloniki is a contemporary, vivid historical city with many different things to see and do. Founded in 315 BC and inhabited ever since by all kinds of races and cultures, it formed part of the Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empire and holds traces of all of them, mixed yet harmonically paired in the everyday life of this modern metropolis.
Although a simple walk in the city can reveal true wonders of history, culture and architecture, we have selected some of the top places to see, in order to enjoy your time and stay in Thessaloniki at the fullest.
The White Tower is an iconic landmark of Thessaloniki. Placed on the waterfront of the city, this tall and impressive structure is now a museum and stands in the place of an old Byzantine fortification that the Ottoman Empire reconstructed to fortify the city’s harbour. During the Ottoman times the tower was used as a prison and mass execution site for those opposing to the Empire thus called “red tower”. When Greece regained control of the city during the Balkan Wars in 1912, the tower was remodeled and its exterior was whitewashed in order to “cleanse” the horrific events that took place in its interior. The White Tower is shaped in the form of a 34m tall cylindrical drum on top of which lies a 6m turret. It is open to the public and hosts an exhibition dedicated to Thessaloniki and its history as well as a timeline featuring major events of the city. End your day on top of the Tower and take in the amazing panoramic views to the entire city. More info and opening hours here.
Aristotelous (Aristotle) Square is the biggest and main square of Thessaloniki. Located in the heart of the city and right on its waterfront, this large and liberating public space surrounded by 12 beautiful buildings was designed by the French architect Ernest Hébrard in 1918, however most of the construction took place in the 50’s. Ernest Hébrard used elements from Byzantine and Western architecture in an attempt to take some distance from the Ottoman Empire and build a stronger connection to the Byzantine Empire. The square became synonymous to the city ever since featuring some architectural marvels like the Olympion Theatre cinema which hosts the Thessaloniki International Film Festival.
The Arch of Galerius, widely known among the locals as Kamara (Greek for arch structures) and its neighboring Rotunda (or Rotonda, Greek for circularly shaped objects) are both 4th century AD monuments built during the reign of the Roman emperor Galerius as elements of his palace. The palace was connected to the city by a road that traversed the arch and rose above the main road of the city. Rotunda or Rotonda resembles the structure of the Pantheon in Rome due to the circular structure with an oculus on the top. It is the oldest of Thessaloniki’s churches and has undergone multiple modifications. Initially designed to be the Galileu’s Masoleum, it then became a polytheist temple probably dedicated to Zeus, a Christian basilica, a Muslim mosque and again a Christian church (and archaeological site) with the minaret from its muslim period preserved together with some ancient ruins. A multicultural structure and one of the most interesting sights in the city, Rotunda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Thessaloniki’s patron saint, Agios Dimitrios (Greek for Saint Demetrios), martyred right underneath this church in what has nowadays transformed into a crypt. The Church dates back to the Byzantine Era, forms part of the Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of the city and was placed on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1988.
Agia Sofia Church (meaning Holy Wisdom) is one of the oldest churches in the city, dating all the way back to the 3rd century and is also included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
Located in the northern part of the city, Ano Poli is reachable either on foot or by bus (22, 23) and it is the only part of the city that survived the big fire of 1917. A travel back in time boasting unobstructed aerial views of the entire contemporary Thessaloniki.
Ano Poli is the place where the city’s main defensive structures were built during the Byzantine and Ottoman period. A large part of the Byzantine defensive walls has been well preserved offering visitors a well-deserved experience of Thessaloniki’s Acropolis and castles. The Byzantine church of Agios Nikolaos and the Monastery of Vlatadon, both built in the 14th century A.D., are some of the oldest buildings in Ano Poli and definitely a must-see. A significant part of Thessaloniki’s acropolis is the Heptapyrgion (Seven Towers in Greek) or, as also known by its Ottoman name, Yedi Kule, a Byzantine and Ottoman fortress. Opposing to its name Heptapyrgion hosts ten towers instead of seven and was probably named after the Yedikule Fortress in Istanbul.
The seafront is Thessaloniki’s trademark: the waterfront promenade, the typical Thessalonian walk where the emblematic statue of Alexander the Great rules! Enjoy the 12 gardens along the new Paralia, the famous “Umbrellas” sculpture and watch the most amazing Thessalonian sunset. The stunning pallet of colours make the promenade an idyllic spot as the sun slowly dives in the horizon, behind Mount Olympus, home to the 12 famous Greek Gods.
Enjoy your Greek coffee or your frappe and then you are ready for the noisy Modiano and Kapani Markets. The architecture, the thousand goods, the smells, the multicultural cookings they will all introduce you to a different, exciting way of shopping.
Built by the Italian-Jewish architect Eli Modiano in 1922, at a time when the Jewish community in Thessaloniki was still thriving, Modiano Market is an enclosed market in the center of the city. It takes up an entire square block with stalls devoted to fresh fish, meat, bakeries, coffee shops. It also hosts taverns and bars making more of a place of social gathering and chatting rather than just a simple market.
Kapani Market (or Viali) has been serving the locals ever since the Ottoman times. The variety and quality of products alongside the atmosphere of the ever-evolving city of Thessaloniki will most definitely steal your heart.
Cherished by both locals and travellers, Athonos square is definitely a place to be in Thessaloniki. A place where various small businesses and craftsmen were gathered offering unique handmade wooden and straw chairs, tables, toys and various other ornaments. The area today is filled with taverns of all kinds and styles welcoming guests to relax and enjoy their ouzo while devouring some of the best “meze” in town. Various events with live Greek music take place at night in various taverns and restaurants offering a taste of what the renowned Thessalonian nightlife is. Stroll around the area, find your best match and let yourself be carried away by the aromas, flavours and sounds of this vibrant spot.
One of the most representative samples of Byzantine churches dating back to the 14th century, Holy Apostles is located only a few steps away from your apartment at Thess Residences. The church must have been the “katholikon” part of an older monastery that was built to honour Virgin Mary and was then devoted to the twelve Apostles. A marvel of religious architecture, Holy Apostles church features 5 domes and some mosaics that date back to the 14th century, still preserved in parts of the church that visitors can see and admire.
A short 5-minute walk from Thess Residences will take you to the wonderful mixture of smells and colors of Bit Bazaar, a vibrant market where locals do their shopping and youngsters hang out for a drink or “meze”. Bit Bazaar, unlike Athonos square and Ladadika area, is well hidden among tall buildings and although there are various “entrances” to the place, it is one of the hidden gems of the city. Originally the destination where many citizens from Asia Minor found refuge, Bit Bazaar’s buildings served both as their new homes but also hosted their shops at the ground floor operating today as antique shops with some really rare objects.