Ancient sites, shopping, seaside, frapes and pastries, Thessaloniki has it all. We spent 4 nights, 3 days in Thessaloniki right at the beginning of summer. It was hot and dry and full of interesting things to see. Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece and has a rich and interesting history. Not many to tourists visit Thessaloniki, instead choosing to visit more popular sites such as Athens or Meteora. In our opinion this just adds to the list of reasons why Thessaloniki should be on your list.
Getting to Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki is a big city with a big international airport. It is easy to reach the city by bus, train, car, plane and even ferry. It also makes a good base to access the rest of Greece, including getting ferries to Greek islands. We got the bus from Ioanina and then after our stay, got the train to Athens. There were plenty of buses each day so we were able to travel at a reasonable time.
Getting around Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki has a wonderful bus system and that is very regular and easy to use. The bus drivers are all very helpful and are ready to assist lost travelers.
We got a wee bit confused on our first day as Maps.Me was determined to take us to the wrong location and accidentally stayed on the bus till the end of the line. When the bus driver told us to get off we showed him the address and he pointed to the same bus, going in the direction we’d just come. He said, “show the driver and he’ll tell you when you get off”. We hoped on the bus and waited for the driver to finish his break and get back on. When he hoped on and Daniel hurried up with our map he said “it’s alright, your last driver already told me”.
Thessaloniki is also very walkable. We only used the bus to get from the bus station and to the train station. The rest of the time we walked. We were lucky to be staying centrally and everything we wanted to see was within about 3km.
As usual we went for an Airbnb cheap option. Cheap but very central, which makes all the difference with how much we do with our time. We had a nice big room in someone’s apartment. The only downside was sharing a king single, it was like being a teenager again, but with less ‘in love tollerance’ and more ‘move over its hot’.
Highlights of Thessaloniki
In Thessaloniki we did a lot of sight seeing. It was great, without many other tourists we were often the only ones visiting a sight or there would be a group of local school kids who would hoon through.
Take a walk along the Promenade
We highly recommend this as an evening activity. All the locals are doing it so why not follow? Around 7-8pm when it was cooled down a bit everyone seems to go out to socialise and expercise. It was a great time to view the harbour without roasting and we really enjoyed people watching and enjoying the view.
Picnic on the promenade
Another real highlight of our time in Thessaloniki was getting some snacks and drinks from the supermarket and finding a glorious spot to enjoy them. Infact we did this two days running, it was that good. We had a lovely tree on the promenade where we could sit in the shade and watch the harbour with the sun going down.
If you are following this blog, you will know that I am fairly obsessed with markets. Thessaloniki currently wins as my favourite market of Europe. This market was in the heart of Thessaloniki.
You could buy everything you wanted for very reasonable prices, we’re talking 1kg of apricots for €1 or 1kg of peaches for €0.50. We brought tonnes of olives, fruit, vegetables, fresh meat and sensational Turkish delight. The Turkish delight came in so many flavours that we got one of each: walnut, almond, vanilla, rose, mint, strawberry, tropical fruits and more.
Enjoy local bread and pastries
Much of the local cuisine seems to be filled pastries. Hundreds of little shops are selling flakey treats filled with local cheeses and meats and the bakeries have a steady supply of fresh bread. Daniel feels that they both make a pretty good breakfast.
Thessaloniki has a wonderful array of shops to meet everyone’s shopping needs. There are cheap clothing shops and wonderful boutiques with very stylish gear. This is also a great way to escape the heat for a spot of air-conditioning. I was very excited with the purchase of a funky banana t-shirt. This was very restrained of me!
Take a ‘free’ cruise on the harbour
This was one of those things we planned to do but ended up on the promenade with piles of olives and fruit and Daniel’s beloved Weiss beer. In front of the white tower there are a few boats that very regularly tour the harbour for 30 minutes. There is no cost to go on but you must buy an expensive drink (€5 for a beer). It seemed like a fun little thing to do, probably at sunset.
Galerius’ Palace is part of an ancient Greek ruins that once made up a full complex. This was Daniel’s favourite tourist spot of Thessaloniki. The ruins are all in a line up a street in the shopping district with high rise buildings surrounding them. The Palace is only a hundred or so metres from the harbour and is below street level, so can also be viewed from above. It’s free to enter and there is good signage in English. We really enjoyed walking around inside the ruins, seeing the different rooms and marvelling at the cleverness of the ancient Romans.
If you continue up the street you will find another section of the palace. There is far less of this one remaining and we found it far less interesting
Arch of Galerius
From the Palace, just walk straight up the street until you find the next obvious ancient monument. The Arch of Galerius is a monument built to celebrate a victory over the Persians. It’s pretty big and impressive and I actually loved how it was just part of the street. As we took photos, students who were hanging around stared at us as if to say ‘what’s interesting about that?’.
This was easily my favourite thing to visit and was definitely worth the €2 entrance fee. This Roman, UNESCO building has had many different roles over a long history. It was originally a church, then became a mosque, before a second reincarnation into a church again. It still has its minaret and ablution fountain. The Rotunda has recently been restored and is now a monument.
I was enthralled with the incredibly high dome and walls so thick that it was almost chilly inside when outside it was 30 degrees. The remains of very intricate mosaics can be seen high up in some of the arches and on the dome. On the dome is an amazing mosaic depicting Christian martyrs.
Agios Dimitrios Church
Another church for Daniel and Chloe to marvel at and a UNESCO site. Dimitrios is the patron saint of Thessaloniki and the church is immaculate. There is even a toilet out the back, very handy if you’ve just been poisoned by gluten.
The church is full to the brim with beautiful painted icons and many locals were coming in to pray. We discovered after our visit that there was a crypt we could have visited also, with an intact Roman bath!!
The Roman Forum
Just down the road from Saint Dimitrios’ church is the Roman Forum. As with Galerius’ Palace, this is below street level so you can view it from above. Entry was €4 each which we decided to forgo as we could see it well anyway and it was about 32 degrees. Which meant shopping in air-conditioned shops was preferred.
This was highly recommend by the intended and our host. We do not pass on the same recommendations. The White Tower is at the end of the Promenade and was built by the Ottomans to protect the Harbour. Today it is a museum about the history of the city. Entry was €4 and included an audio guide. The museum was super boring. The audio guide sounded completely bored and half asleep and there were barely any artifacts to look at, just a view vague pictures. It was a shame as were really keen to learn about the cities history but it was really hard to pay attention to the sleepy guide. The view from the top was okay. It gave a good view of the surrounding harbour and streets but didn’t add much for us.
Kastra and the Byzantine walls
Our biggest recommendation for this is go earlier than we did. We didn’t manage to leave the house until about 11am to walk to Kastra and it was hot hot hot! Kastra is another UNESCO site. It is at the top of the line of monuments from the Galerius Palace. Walking up to the fort you can follow the old city walls (what we did) or you can go directly from the Rotunda.
Entry is free and it has been made super accessible with plenty of information about the building and the city. We really enjoyed climbing into each tower and finding secret nooks where soldiers would have hidden. The view from the top is pretty incredible too. You can see all of the old city walls and how far the city spreads. Well worth a visit!
Fort thing behind the Kastra
Just behind Kastra is an old keep that made up part of the city walls. It’s really interesting to have a look around as it became a prison later in life. Inside you can have a look in the cells and view the grounds from above. There is also a small exhibition of photos from just after the prison was decommissioned and lots of information about the fort’s history.
While it seems like we packed a lot into our time in Thessaloniki, we actually took it pretty slow. We slept in every day, took long lunches and made sure to devote our evenings to snacking or walking on the promenade. The only downside about Thessaloniki is that you can’t really swim in the harbour, or wouldn’t want to. It would have been nice to get in the sea as it was so hot!
We hope you are enjoyed this post. If so, like, share, comment and follow us on Instagram @twokiwisgoroaming
Next post will be about Athens!
Chloe and Daniel xx