Солун / Thessaloniki

The first impression of Thessaloniki might not be the best – terrible traffic, noisy streets, run-down buildings and not particularly clean… But if you can swallow these things, you will find its magic and it will definitely charm you! Many traces of different influences and peoples are intertwined here. There is something of Romans, Byzantines, Bulgarians, Ottomans, Jews and others. It was founded in 315 BC. by the Macedonian Tsar Kassandar, who called it after his wife Thessalonike – the sister of Alexander the Great. Today, the city is cosmopolitan and pleasant to visit in any season! It skillfully combines historical landmarks, coastal carefreeness and modern lifestyle.

Where is located and how to get there

Thessaloniki is the main city in the region of Macedonia (northern Greece) and the second largest in the country. It has its own airport that serves multiple destinations throughout Europe. From there, the city center can be reached by bus line 78 (every 30 minutes, the ticket is around 2 euro) or by taxi (around 20 euro). If you are planning a tour of the area, it’s better to rent a car directly from the airport, because the main offices of the rent-a-car companies are located there.

See car rental options in Greece

If you are traveling from Bulgaria, like us, the best option is a car! Sofia is less than 300 km away, covered in about 3 hours and 30 minutes, and Burgas is 580 km away (about 6 hours and 30 minutes). The toll fees from the two border crossings to Thessaloniki are respectively: from the Kulata – around 4 euro and from Makaza – around 15 euro. We have traveled both routes, the road being mainly highway and very easy to pass. But it’s good to keep in mind that the traffic in the city itself is atrocious to say the least and parking is extremely difficult.

Where to stay

Thessaloniki has an abundance of accommodation! After three visits to the city and staying in different places and areas, we managed to narrow down the best option for overnight stays. If you come without a car, the central area, especially Aristotelous Square, would guarantee you a perfect location. But with a car it’s a bit more complicated…

That’s why I recommend #FLH K4 0 City Apartments – great location, walking distance from the center and the possibility to reserve a parking space in an open parking lot in the immediate vicinity. Getting there is very convenient from the entrance of the city, you don’t need to go around unnecessarily. They have fabulously renovated apartments on a whole floor of an old building. They provided us with a baby cot free of charge, everything was very clean, new furniture and spacious rooms. A small minus is the noise from the nearby main boulevard, but in Thessaloniki this is common…

See more places to stay in Thessaloniki


Aristotelous Square

The main square of Thessaloniki is an ideal starting point for visiting everything interesting! A major fire destroyed almost the entire city in 1917, so French architect Ernest Hébrard drew up a plan to rebuild it with a modern European look and “French” design. In the end, not all the ideas for Aristotelous Square were realized and in the 1950s it was completed in its current form. Elegant, spacious and open to the sea, it’s the most lively place in Thessaloniki and hosts all kinds of events, celebrations, rallies and more. On it you will find many restaurants, all kinds of shops, one of the best hotels in Thessaloniki (Electra Palace) and of course… the ancient philosopher sitting on a pedestal, staring at the endless blue sea.

Ladadika district

Ladadika district is very close to the port and in the past there was an olive oil market there, hence its name – “ladi” (λάδι) means “oil” in Greek. After the aforementioned fire, this area was almost totally abandoned until 1985, when it was declared a cultural heritage site by the state for its unique 19th-century architectural style. Today it is a lively place housing cafes, bars, taverns and restaurants! Its cobbled streets are pleasant to walk during the day and crowded with merry people in the evening.

Karipi Street and Modiano Market

Another attraction with delicious tavernas is the secret Karipi Street. Decorated with all manner of quirky objects, the establishments here are a popular location for photos fit for the most discerning Instagram profiles. We guarantee that one of them also offers insanely delicious food – The Rouga (read more in “Places to eat in Thessaloniki“).

Modiano Market (Agora Modiano) is a historical place, it was the central food market of Thessaloniki! It was built by the Jewish engineer Eli Modiano on the remains of the former synagogue, destroyed by the great fire. Although classified as a historical monument, the market almost died in 2016 when most of the shops were abandoned… For nearly 6 years, the locals have been anxiously awaiting the changes in ownership and its complete restoration, so that they can see it alive again in 2022!

Today it is home to 75 stores offering a huge variety of tastes. Even if you decide to just walk through it, you won’t regret it! But I’m sure you will be tempted to try one of the great baked goods of our favorite bakery 72H Artisanal or the appetizing looking lokums and halva. You can stock up on spices for the home, wine, tahini, olive oil and what not…

The churches of Thessaloniki

Among the most important cultural monuments in the city are the early Christian and Byzantine churches, some of which entered the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1988. Perhaps the most beautiful mosaics are housed in the church of Saint Demetrius (Agios Dimitrios). According to legend, it was in this place that Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki was killed in 305 by the Romans. Initially, a small oratory was built in the 4th century, and subsequently in the 5th century a three-nave basilica, the structure of which was completely transformed into a five-nave in the 7th century. During the Ottoman rule in Thessaloniki, the church was converted into a mosque, and a fire in 1917 destroyed a large part of it… She was restored a several decades later, in 1949.

:idea Born in the 3rd century in Thessaloniki the saint is the protector of the city, and his relics are kept in the temple. Saint Demetrius’s day (October 26) celebrations are spectacular and include an impressive procession through the main streets!

Another important Byzantine church bearing the honorary title of “Thessaloniki’s Cathedral” is Saint Sophia (Agia Sofia). It was built in the late 7th and early 8th centuries, on the ruins of a 3rd century basilica that was probably destroyed by an earthquake. It’s believed to have been built on the model of its namesake from Constantinople.

It will be difficult to visit all the churches, but you can also look at Panagia Chalkeon, dedicated to the Holy Mother of God. It was built during the Macedonian dynasty, in 1028, on a former pagan temple. Copper merchants were located in the area, hence the name of the temple (“chalkos” or “χαλκός” in Greek means “copper”). And it was converted into a mosque under the Ottomans, bearing the name Kazancilar Camii in 1430 and remained so until 1912.

The semi-pedestrian street Dimitriou Gounari

Thessaloniki’s traffic is one of the most stressful things in the city and there are very few fully pedestrianized areas around the central part. One such is the semi-pedestrian street Dimitriou Gounari. It’s about 1 km long, starts from the coast and leads to some of the most iconic landmarks. If you are looking for a souvenir to remember Thessaloniki, you can find many great shops here! Just a slight detour can reveal one of my favorite views of the White Tower… A slightly different look, with an urban flavor and colorful shades from the trees at the end (the exact location is Filikis Eterias Street – HERE).

Roman traces

The Arch of Galerius, also known as “the Chamber”, was built in the period 299 – 303 to commemorate Galerius’ triumph in the battle against the Persians in 298. Of the former eight columns, three are well preserved, and they are decorated with engravings from the battles of the Roman emperor. Today, this area is a favorite meeting place for locals.

The most important historical monument in Thessaloniki is the Rotunda! It was built by order of Galerius in 306, and the original idea was to turn it into his mausoleum. Subsequently, it began to function as a Christian temple for 1200 years until it was converted into a mosque by the Ottomans. The minaret from this period of its history is the only one that has survived in Thessaloniki! Today it serves mainly as a museum and performs church services only on holidays. Entrance to visit is around 2 euro, and inside you can see some preserved mosaics, considered to be some of the best examples of early Christian art.

💡 The Rotunda is the oldest religious temple in all of Greece!

One of the most ancient sites in the city is the Roman Forum. It dates back to the 2nd century and is believed to have been active until around the 6th century. Interestingly, it was discovered by accident in the 1960s. The complex isn’t very large, being a terraced forum on two floors, including two baths and a small theater and also used for gladiator fights.

The promenade

Undoubtedly our favorite thing to do in Thessaloniki is walking along the coast! You can start with the area around the former port warehouses, where today a great relaxation area has been set aside. The part of the promenade around the center, in the stretch to the White Tower, is around 1.3 km and is among the busiest parts of the city and a perfect choice for watching the sunset. The establishments have tables facing the sea and accompany you along its entire length. The radiating carefreeness of everything around you is fascinating!

The tower is followed by another 3 km of pedestrianized space known as Nea Paralia and complemented by various green areas, children’s playgrounds and outdoor facilities. You cannot miss the imposing monument of Alexander the Great on his horse. Also the most photographed place in Thessaloniki – the art installation with the umbrellas, the work of the Greek sculptor Yorgos Zongolopoulos. They are worth visiting both during the day and at nightfall, when the orange hues of the sky shine through their mesh construction… You can read more about umbrellas and photographing the sunset around them in the article “Sunset… Umbrellas… Thessaloniki!“.

The White Tower

The symbol of Thessaloniki is the White Tower! It was built by the Ottomans in the 15th century on the remains of an ancient Byzantine tower, in order to improve the fortifications. It was mainly used as a prison where torture and mass executions took place. This earned it the nicknames “Tower of Janissaries”, “Tower of Blood” and “Red Tower”. It got its current name at the end of the 19th century, when it was whitewashed and “cleansed” of all the evils that happened there. After the Greeks regained Thessaloniki in 1912, it became a symbol of the city! You must enter it to see the museum exhibition housed there and above all to enjoy the great view from the top.

The fortress walls and the Trigonion Tower

For more impressive panoramic views and another option to meet the sunset, you can take the climb to the Trigonion Tower. The easiest guide is to follow the well-preserved fortress walls leading to the “balcony of Thessaloniki”, as the place is called. I suggest you start from the birth house of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, where many personal belongings of the founder of modern Turkey are on display.

Be prepared to sweat, because the climb is serious, but the view is worth it… Especially that of the most impressive tower of the former city fortifications. Below you is the whole city, hugging the Thermaic Gulf!

💡 You can continue the climb another 500 m up, where the Acropolis of Thessaloniki – Heptapyrgion is located. It was a prison until 1989, but today it’s open for visits.

The Old Town (Ano Poli)

If you have chosen to climb along the walls, then definitely make the descent down through the cobbled streets of the Old Town (Ano Poli). The Upper Town, as this neighborhood is known, is the only residential part of Thessaloniki that survived the fire of 1917 and remained intact from the subsequent reconstructions of the city. Some of the old townhouses have been renovated, but still carry the spirit of the bygone era. Charming squares are hidden in the narrow streets! Before embarking on its exploration, spend a few minutes on the platform in the courtyard of the Vlatadon Monastery (HERE) to admire another point of view of the panorama over the city.

The culinary scene

Thessaloniki is an abundance of culinary offers! There are restaurants and bars on almost every corner… It’s worth spending a few days just wandering around nice places to eat and drink. Start the day at a bakery, strolling the streets of the city with a cup of coffee, or with a lazy brunch where you can try something more modern. Lunch on foot – gyros or souvlaki, with a wonderful view on a bench around the White Tower. And maybe fresh seafood, with a glass of homemade wine. The evenings are for the taverns, with live music and lots of atmosphere. But the most difficult thing for me is to describe to you all the sweet delights lurking everywhere… You can read about some Places to eat in Thessaloniki that we visited and liked.