Thessaloniki in a Day
When most people think of Thessaloniki its probably in relation to the international airport serving the tourist areas of Halkidiki in northern Greece. However, the second of city of Greece, in the northwest corner of the Aegean Sea, has a lot to offer those that take the time to tear themselves away from the beaches. So we have put together our 10 top sights in Thessaloniki which you can see in a day.
A bit about the city
Thessaloniki was first built around 315BC and unusually the city name hasn’t changed since. Hence it has a long history which includes strong Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman influences. Disaster struck in 1917 when a major fire destroyed two thirds of the city including 9,500 houses, leaving more than 70,000 people homeless. After being largely rebuilt, the centre quickly became cosmopolitan and an established luxury shopping area. Even at this time cars and trams ran the length of the main streets. It hasn’t looked back since.
So it is a city with bags of history and 15 world heritage sites in the area alone, to go with its attraction as a current modern city. Which means picking 10 top sights in Thessaloniki isn’t easy, but here we go …
1. Stroll the Waterfront
Stroll along the new waterfront (the Paralia) by beginning at the Zongolopoulos Umbrellas and head towards the city centre. The Umbrellas, by the Greek sculpture Zongolopoulos were erected here in Thessaloniki in 1997, the year that the city was European Capital of Culture. The sculpture is easily recognisable and is now an important reference point in the city for the public. In other words you cant miss it!
2. Alexander the Great Statue
As you head along the waterfront you’ll come to the Alexander the Great Statue. Unveiled in 1974 it is considered by some to be the tallest monument in Greece at 11 metres tall including the base. Weighing in at an impressive 5 tons the statue represents Alexander riding his famous horse Bucephalus. You will easily find it between the White Tower and the Zongolopoulos Umbrellas.
The legends of Alexander the 3rd, who became known as Alexander the Great, date from 356BC, the year of his birth. He had the privilege of being educated by Aristotle one of the geatest philosophers of all time. After he inherited the throne from his father in 336BC he went on to unite Greece and conquer the Persian Empire.
3. The White Tower
Visit the White Tower on the waterfront, which is known as the Paralia. The tower is now the most iconic landmark in the city and features on pretty much all the advertisements you can find.
It was built in 1430 as part of the city’s defenses and the original stone steps still remain to take you to the top for views of the sea front, if you have the time and the inclnation. It is now used as an extension to the Byzantine Culture Museum.
4. Aristoteleous and Tsimiski Streets
Aristoteleous and Tsimiski are two of he oldest streets in the centre of Thessaloniki and still two of the busiest. Tsimiski runs parallel to the waterfront and dates from the 1920s when it was largely rebuilt following the large fire which levelled a lot of the city. Today it is home to shops, boutiques, high end international department stores and Fokas, the biggest Greek department store in the city centre. There is also a wide selection of bars and restaurants.
Aristoteleous Street, previously known as Ethnon Avenue, runs at right angles to the waterfront and Tsimiski Street and connects the Square at the waterfront with the upper Square. It is mainly pedestrianised and lined with upmarket shops, restaurants and hotels. Because of this it is a great place to spend some time absorbing the atmosphere of the city and watching the world go by.
5. Modiano and Kapani Markets
Modiano and Kapani are two of the oldest market areas in the city. They cover a fair area and have plenty of places to rest and have something to eat and drink. They ooze history and character and provide great photo opportunities. So if you want to get a feel for the beating heart of the city then dont miss a wander round these markets.
If you only get to one of them make it Modiano. It was built between 1922 and 1930. It is the main market and is spread over several blocks. You can buy pretty much anything you would expect to find in a traditional market, including meat, fish, cheese, vegetables, spices and flowers.
6. The Trigonion Tower Fortress
Enjoy the views from Trigonion Tower Fortress. Built in the city’s Byzantine era in the 16th century, the tower was part of the long walls that circled and formed the defenses of the old town. From the top you get stunning views across the bay and the city.
Unfortunately it can be a bit of a walk from the waterfront to get there. Alternatively you can get the number 50 tourist bus for a 2 euro fare or take a taxi for the short uphill ride. On a clear day you’ll also get decent views looking east to Mount Olympus, the highest point in Greece.
7. The Heptapyrgion
The Heptapyrgion fortress, also known as the fortress of the seven towers, sits at the northeast corner of the city’s acropolis. The northern towers of the Heptapyrgion date back to the fortification of the city in the late 4th century, while the southern five are believed to have been built in the twelfth century.
The building was a military base until the late nineteenth century when it became a prison. It stayed that way for the next 100 years. Today, it is a popular tourist attraction with superb views over the city and the port. As with the Trogonian Tower fortress, which it is fairly close to, it can be a bit of a hike from the waterfront, so consider the bus or a taxi to save time and your feet.
8. Church of Agios Dimitrios
The church of Agios Dimitrios is the largest in Greece. It had to be entirely rebuilt after the fire in 1917. The golden light that flows through the windows on a sunny day is outstanding. Take a wander around the church and visit the crypt, originally a Roman bath, which dates from the 3rd century AD. According to legend this is the site of the imprisonment and murder of the city’s patron saint, Saint Dimitrios.
9. The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum in Thessaloniki was only discovered in 1966 during excavation work for a new court house, which then had to be found another site. Understandably, given Thessaloniki’s history, archaelogical finds can often affect new building works. The Forum in its day would have been the economic, political, social and religious centre of the city.
Also, there is a hidden museum within the Forum, located underground. The entrance is not that obvious, although if you are looking for it you’ll find it.
10. Louloudadika District
Louloudadika District (the Flower Market) is a small area in the historic city centre which takes its name from the old outdoor florists that were there. Unfortunately only 4 continue to run today. However, in the 1950s there were 11 shops selling all sorts of flowers and their fame reached to the provincial cities.
Today, its remains a traditional corner of the city centre with food shops, restaurants and cafes. Its very close to the Modiano Market and the historic but now lively areas of Valaortiou and Ladadiki. So its well worth a visit if you are close at hand to see what it has to offer.
Is a Day Enough?
There are a number of top sights in Thessaloniki that we have not included in our top 10, such as the Arch of Galerius, Aghia Sofia Church and Casa Bianca, the most famous of Thessaloniki’s mansions and now the Municipal Art Gallery. Basically there is simply too much to see in a day. So we have tried to pick out 10 sights that we think are achievable in a day and are worth visiting. They should give you a good flavour of the city. However, allow at least a couple of days to take in the top sights of Thessaloniki to really get under its skin.
The Greece Travel Guide
If you are thinking about visiting the region check out our Greece Travel Guide which will give you a flavour of the country and help you prepare to make the most of your time there.
Looking for More?
If you are looking for some further reading then below you’ll find more of our articles on Greece. For related reading check out the Tag links as well at the bottom of the page.
More Reading on Greece
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