Thessaloniki: 6 places to visit

Tiempo de lectura: 6 minutos
Thessaloniki: 6 Places to visit
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With a name as enchanting as Thessaloniki, it should come as no surprise that the city was named after a Macedonian princess. The image of Thessaloniki is one of turquoise water lapping gently on sandy shores and revellers spilling out of bars onto cobbled streets.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that Thessaloniki is your average Greek tourist town; far from it! Scratch the surface and you’ll find that Athens’ little sister is absolutely brimming with history.

One of Thessaloniki’s defining moments was the great fire of 1917, which, tragically, destroyed many of its historical sights. But this resilient town persevered, rebuilt itself and was named the European Capital of Culture in 1997, 80 years later.

Today’s Thessaloniki is a vibrant coastal metropolis with a list of fantastic places to visit as long as our arm. It was a Herculean task, but we’ve managed to whittle them down to just six of the very best. So, read on to discover our six must-see places to visit in Thessaloniki.

1. The White Tower

The White Tower is the most famous landmark in Thessaloniki and one of its top places to visit.

Where better to begin our list of Thessaloniki’s top places to visit than with the infamous White Tower? This legendary landmark has a captivating, but bloody and barbaric past. Its long and gruesome history is told through the evolution of its name.

In the 16th century, as a symbol of strength and a key part of the city’s defence strategy, it was called the Lion Tower. During the 17th century, the building was turned into a prison and became notorious for inhumane conditions, savage torture and mass executions. It became known, aptly, as the Red Tower. Both its reputation and façade were whitewashed at the end of the 19th century, resulting in its modern moniker.

Today, hordes of tourists visit this emblematic monument to take selfies, admire stunning views of the Aegean Sea and visit the tower’s small but interesting archaeological museum.

2. Ano Poli

Ano Poli (“upper town”) is Thessaloniki’s old town and it has incredible views.

As you may have guessed, Thessaloniki is known for its fascinating history and incredible views. Ano Poli, or “upper town,” has both these in abundance and should be near the top of your list of places to visit.

This, the old town of Thessaloniki, is the true heart and soul of the city. One of the few areas left unscathed by the devastating great fire, it is steeped in history. Walk through the Byzantine wall and you’ll feel transported to another time and place.

Ano Poli rewards exploration; it’s a place to get lost in winding streets and stumble upon ancient churches and crumbling monasteries. Make sure to include the utterly unpronounceable Heptapyrgion, an impressive seven-tower fortress, on your list of places to visit.

It’s a bit of a hike up the hill to Ano Poli, so if you’re feeling sluggish, we recommend finding a convenient mode of transportation. You’ll be glad you made the effort as the views from this “city above the city” are breathtaking; on a fine day, you can see all the way across the Thermaic Gulf, to the mighty Mount Olympus in the distance.

3. Church of Agios Dimitrios

The beautiful Church of Agios Dimitrios has 1700 years of history under its belt.

Yet more historic buildings beckon as you descend the hill. The beautiful Church of Agios Dimitrios, named after Thessaloniki’s patron saint, has 1700 years of history and no doubt just as many stories to share.

We dare you to venture down to the basement, where you’ll find a creepy underground crypt with an even creepier history. Legend has it that the saint himself was imprisoned and executed within its walls (being 303 AD, the details are somewhat hazy!). During the period of Ottoman rule, the crypt was buried and it resurfaced only after the great fire.

In 1988, the crypt was restored to its former glory, and today you can marvel at incredibly well-preserved relics of the time. Don’t miss the fifth-century sculptures and the remains of a hexagonal, wooden and silver ciborium, a structure that was built to house the saint’s icon and sarcophagus.

4. Arch of Galerius

The spectacular Arch of Galerius was commissioned by the Roman emperor of the same name.

Around the time the poor old patron saint was being held captive, the Roman Emperor Galerius commissioned this glorious arch, which still stands proudly in the heart of the city. It’s so old that no one knows exactly when it was built, but it’s thought to have happened between 298 and 305 AD.

The spectacular structure was intended to demonstrate the prowess of the Roman Empire and celebrate the cocky Emperor’s triumph over the Persians. And what better post-victory treat could there be than to construct an enormous arch dedicated to, well, yourself? In somewhat of a snub to Galerius, locals nowadays refer to the arch as Kamara. Sorry, Galerius!

The surrounding square has turned into a pleasant and popular leisure spot, filled to the brim with bustling bars and refined restaurants. Grab a seat and a drink, and watch the modern world go by against the backdrop of this centuries-old arch.

5. Aristotelous Square

Aristotelous Square is a piece of Thessaloniki’s history and one of the must-see places to visit on your trip.

Thessaloniki’s ancient wonders are undoubtedly one of its biggest draws. However, in the early 20th century, plans were afoot to gentrify and mould it into a modern European city.

Unfortunately, urban planning was not exactly one of the Turks’ strong suits! After 500 years of Ottoman rule, the city had haphazardly and chaotically sprawled outwards. The French architect Ernest Hébrard, called in to restore some order, proposed a chic, western-style waterfront plaza. And so was born Aristotelous Square.

The plaza is a pretty, pigeon-filled seaside space, lined with grand buildings. There’s no better place in town to sit back and contemplate existence in homage to the great Greek philosopher after whom the square was named. Modern-day Aristotelous Square hosts all Thessaloniki’s main events, be they festive celebrations or political demonstrations.

It is a piece of Thessaloniki’s history and one of the must-see places to visit on your trip.

6. Port of Thessaloniki

The Port of Thessaloniki has a colourful history.

Take a pleasant waterfront stroll west from the square and you’ll find yourself at Thessaloniki’s historic port. It was built 2300 years ago by Cassander, a ruthless general who would later become King of Macedonia and forcibly marry the princess Thessalonike.

The port’s eventful history isn’t limited to the distant past. During the First World War, it was a colourful hub for soldiers from all over the world, while towards the end of the Second World War, the port area was decimated, its buildings blown up and its ships sunk by German troops.

And does the port’s story end happily, I hear you ask? We think it does! The modern Thessaloniki port has completely reinvented itself as a cool cultural playground. Former warehouses have been converted into hip galleries and museums, while stylish bars line the cobbled streets that were once walked by kings and princesses.

Thessaloniki: a multifaceted metropolis

Thessaloniki truly has it all: elegance and charm, history and culture. If you’re looking to spend the morning climbing a hill for incredible coastal views, the afternoon visiting some of the world’s most ancient sites and the evening sipping cocktails in a seaside bar, Thessaloniki is waiting for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

There is so much to see and do in this wonderful city! We recommend an absolute minimum of 2 days. You’ll need longer if you want to do day trips, for example:

Without a doubt, our hop-on hop-off bus is the best way to get around. Hop on at any stop you like, and hop off at a stop whenever you see something you like the look of. You’ll be taken straight to all of Thessaloniki’s major sights. And you’ll get the best unobstructed views and photo opportunities from our top deck!

In a nutshell, yes. Thessaloniki is one of Greece’s more affordable destinations, especially in comparison to the Greek islands.

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