Thessaloniki is a vibrant city, seamlessly blending contemporary living with rich historical narratives. Since its establishment in 315 BC, it has been a mosaic of various races and cultures, all leaving indelible imprints over the years. From its ties to the Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires, Thessaloniki carries echoes of each era, harmoniously woven into the fabric of this modern metropolis.
Simply strolling through the city’s streets unveils captivating glimpses of its history, culture, and architectural grandeur. Yet to help you make the most of your Thessaloniki experience, we’ve curated a list of top attractions that promise to enrich your stay in this intriguing city.
The White Tower serves as a symbolic beacon of Thessaloniki’s rich history. Majestically positioned along the city’s waterfront, this striking edifice now houses a museum. It stands on the site of an ancient Byzantine fort, which was later reconstructed by the Ottoman Empire to strengthen the city’s harbor defenses.
During Ottoman rule, the tower was ominously used as a prison and execution site for dissidents, earning it the nickname “red tower”. However, after Greece reclaimed the city during the Balkan Wars in 1912, the tower underwent a transformative makeover. It was whitewashed, both literally and symbolically, in an attempt to erase the haunting memories of its past.
The White Tower’s architectural prowess is evident in its cylindrical drum structure, rising 34 meters high and crowned with a 6-meter turret. Today, it welcomes the public, showcasing an exhibition that celebrates Thessaloniki and its captivating history. The exhibition includes a timeline that chronicles the city’s significant events.
Complete your visit by ascending to the tower’s summit, where breathtaking panoramic views of the city await. Further information and visiting hours can be found here.
Aristotelous Square, the largest and most prominent plaza in Thessaloniki, is a hub of activity nestled in the city’s heart, stretching all the way to its waterfront. This expansive, welcoming public space, ensconced by 12 architecturally impressive buildings, is the brainchild of French architect Ernest Hébrard. While his vision was conceived in 1918, most of the square’s construction didn’t take place until the 1950s.
In his design, Hébrard skillfully blended elements of Byzantine and Western architecture, creating a unique aesthetic that distanced the city from its Ottoman past and nurtured a stronger connection to its Byzantine heritage. Since its inception, the square has become an iconic symbol of the city, housing architectural gems like the Olympion Theatre cinema, which serves as the venue for the renowned Thessaloniki International Film Festival.
The Arch of Galerius, affectionately known as “Kamara” (Greek for arch structures) among locals, along with its adjacent Rotunda (or “Rotonda” in Greek, meaning circularly shaped objects), stand as architectural testaments to the 4th century AD. These monumental structures were erected during the reign of the Roman Emperor Galerius, serving as integral components of his palatial complex. The palace was linked to the city by a road that cut through the arch, rising above the city’s primary thoroughfare.
The Rotunda mirrors the architectural style of Rome’s Pantheon due to its circular construction crowned with an oculus. It holds the distinction of being the oldest among Thessaloniki’s churches and has seen numerous transformations over the centuries. Initially envisioned as Galerius’s Mausoleum, it later served as a polytheistic temple, possibly dedicated to Zeus, a Christian basilica, a Muslim mosque, and finally, a Christian church once again. Currently, it’s an archaeological site where remnants of its Muslim period, including the minaret, coexist with ancient ruins.
As a melting pot of diverse cultural influences and one of the city’s most fascinating sights, the Rotunda is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Church of Agios Dimitrios, named after Thessaloniki’s patron saint, holds a poignant history. Saint Demetrios himself was martyred beneath this sacred space, an area that has since been converted into a crypt. Dating back to the Byzantine Era, this church forms an integral part of the Paleochristian and Byzantine Monuments of the city, earning a spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list in 1988.
Another historical gem is the Agia Sofia Church, translated as “Holy Wisdom”. As one of the city’s most ancient places of worship, it dates back to the 3rd century. This venerable church is also enshrined in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, a testament to its historical and architectural significance.
Situated in the northern sector of the city, Ano Poli serves as a captivating time capsule. Accessible either by foot or by bus (22, 23), it remains the sole area to have survived the expansive fire of 1917, providing a glimpse into Thessaloniki’s past while offering sweeping aerial vistas of the modern cityscape.
Ano Poli bears historical significance as the site where key defensive structures were erected during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. A substantial portion of the Byzantine defensive walls remains well-preserved, presenting visitors with a unique opportunity to experience Thessaloniki’s Acropolis and castles. The Byzantine Church of Agios Nikolaos and the Monastery of Vlatadon, both constructed in the 14th century A.D., are among the oldest edifices in Ano Poli and are undeniably worth a visit.
A pivotal component of Thessaloniki’s Acropolis is the Heptapyrgion, Greek for “Seven Towers”. Also known by its Ottoman name, Yedi Kule, it is a fortification that harks back to the Byzantine and Ottoman eras. Despite its name suggesting seven towers, the Heptapyrgion actually boasts ten towers. Its name is likely derived from the Yedikule Fortress in Istanbul.
Thessaloniki’s picturesque seafront is the city’s signature feature: a vibrant waterfront promenade that embodies the quintessential Thessalonian ambience under the commanding presence of the iconic statue of Alexander the Great. Delight in the twelve beautifully curated gardens that line the renewed Paralia, marvel at the celebrated “Umbrellas” sculpture, and immerse yourself in the city’s most breathtaking sunset. As the sun gently sinks into the horizon, casting a vibrant palette of hues against the backdrop of Mount Olympus – the mythical abode of the revered Greek Gods – the promenade transforms into an enchanting spectacle of beauty.
After savouring your Greek coffee or a frappe, prepare yourself for the bustling and vibrant Modiano and Kapani Markets. The unique architecture, a plethora of goods, exotic scents, and multicultural culinary offerings will immerse you in a stimulating, novel shopping experience.
Constructed in 1922 by the Italian-Jewish architect Eli Modiano, at a time when the Jewish community was flourishing in Thessaloniki, the Modiano Market is an enclosed marketplace nestled in the city centre. It spans an entire city block with stalls showcasing fresh seafood, meat, bakeries, and coffee shops. The market is also a social hub, hosting taverns and bars, making it a convivial meeting point rather than just a standard marketplace.
Kapani Market (also known as Viali), dates back to the Ottoman era and continues to serve locals to this day. Its diverse and high-quality products, coupled with the dynamic atmosphere of the ever-evolving city of Thessaloniki, will undoubtedly capture your heart.
A cherished spot among locals and travellers alike, Athonos Square is an essential destination in Thessaloniki. Historically, this square was a bustling hub for artisans and craftsmen, where unique handmade wooden and straw furniture, toys, and various other trinkets were available. Today, it is brimming with a diverse range of taverns, each with their own unique style and charm, inviting visitors to unwind, sip ouzo, and savour some of the finest “meze” in the city.
In the evenings, several venues offer live Greek music, providing a taste of Thessaloniki’s famed nightlife. Take a leisurely stroll around the area, find your perfect spot, and allow the rich aromas, delicious flavours, and vibrant sounds to sweep you off your feet in this bustling hub.
Only a stone’s throw away from your apartment at Thess Residences stands the Holy Apostles, an eminent example of Byzantine churches from the 14th century. Initially serving as the central church, or ‘katholikon’, of an early monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it was subsequently devoted to the twelve Apostles. This architectural gem, embellished with five domes, is a testament to the magnificence of religious structures of the time.
Inside, you’ll discover an array of 14th-century mosaics that have withstood the test of time, gracing various parts of the church. Visitors are encouraged to take their time, explore, and admire these enduring pieces of historical artistry.
Just a brisk five-minute walk from Thess Residences immerses you in the kaleidoscopic sights and delightful scents of Bit Bazaar, a vibrant market pulsating with life. Frequented by locals for their everyday shopping and young people seeking a lively spot for drinks and ‘meze’, Bit Bazaar, unlike the Athonos Square and Ladadika area, remains a hidden gem nestled amongst towering structures.
The charm of Bit Bazaar’s clandestine appeal lies in its multiple entrances discreetly tucked away amidst the city’s architectural giants. The bazaar’s historic buildings once served as a sanctuary for Asian Minor refugees, providing both a home and ground-floor space for their trades. Today, these establishments have transformed into quaint antique shops, housing an array of unique and rare artifacts, adding another layer to the diverse character of this city treasure.