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Thessaloniki is a loud and vibrant city. It’s got a great student population which helps give it that young, energetic, international, and alternative edge. It’s a city that can cater for the shopaholic, food critic, sports fan, and party-goer all within the same 5km radius. There is a lot of history here that should not be ignored but don’t fall into the trap of thinking this is the be all and end all of northern Greece. There are so many great locations not too far out of the city that should receive your time and consideration as well.
Top Two ‘Must See’s’ of the City
The top 2 must see’s (in my opinion) in no particular order are:
1) The Kastra (as referred to by locals) from about sunset into the evening. This remaining structure has a top-view that stretches over the whole of Thessaloniki and is great for some sundowners with friends or a romatic look-out point with not just a friend.
2) The paralia. I say this because it’s actually a cheat answer. The paralia is about 3kms long and should you walk along it you’ll get the sea on one side and the city on the other. You’ll be able to see sights ranging from Ladadika, Artistotelos Square, the iconic White Tower (“Lefkos Pyrgos”), and the famous motion art sculpture “Ombrelles” (selfie must have) – to restaurants, boats for cruises, cocktail bars, and sporting grounds.
Food & Restaurants
Wow! Where do I even start? Seafood, tavernes, Chinese, Mexican, ALL OF THE BAKERIES, Lebanese, vegan, Cypriot, sushi, burgers, pizzas, gyros, crepes. Thessaloniki is one big food court. I haven’t had a bad meal here yet. Some great tavernes with a great vibe are in Ladadika (they’re just not the cheapest), and you can find all of the above quite easily. I would suggest ‘Kitchen Bar’ for a cosmopolitan vibe and Greek menu. And if you do get confused with all the bakeries here, start off with ‘Terkenlis’, basically the standard go to. The specialty here in Thessaloniki is “Bougatsa” – so do make sure you try this – also very easy to find.
I’m not going to lie to you. I have taken it easy since I got here.
BUT 1) I would suggest hopping onto one of the boats docked along the paralia (free entrance but you have to buy a drink) and having some cocktails while you watch the sun go down against the city of Thessaloniki from out on the water.
2) Start with any taverna in Ladadika that will have live bouzoukia (to line your stomach) then, depending on what you feel like, you can try any of the pubs within Ladadika or walk down the street (like 30 seconds) to any of the clubs along the water or close to the harbour/paralia. Your options here are endless and easily accessible. However, some places do require that you put your name on the online “guest list” beforehand – so just pre-plan this if you have a specific place in mind.
There are no Ubers here unfortunately. But to catch a taxi is really easy, they’re very quick and not too expensive. The bus (when not on strike) also operates well and costs 1 Euro if you buy your tickets from any periptero – usually easy to find or otherwise, ask a local to direct you.
Recommended Number of Days To Visit
This is a tough one. I’m assuming if you’ve made it all the way to Greece you have a limited number of days and there’s just so much to see and all of the islands to visit. Depending on what you like out of your travels you can spend a good 2 to 5 days here. But a minimum of 2 to experience the inner city of Thessaloniki.
Recommended Area to Stay In
To get the real feel of Thessaloniki you need to stay in the “kentro” (“centre”). The city is constantly alive and buzzing and to make sure you don’t miss out, I would suggest anywhere between Ladadika and Lefkos Pyrgos.
Beautiful Churches Worth Visiting
Meteora has some small but incredible monasteries. But there are two “must-see” churches in Thessaloniki city centre: Agios Dimitrios (quite a large, important and historic church as it is also dedicated to the Patron saint of the city) and Agia Sofia which is opposite the Arch of Galerius.
Recommended Nearby Day Trips
Definitely do what you can to get to Meteora. I cannot describe how beautiful it is there. You also have Mount Olympus close by (yes it’s not near Athens), Edessa for the waterfalls, and Kavala or Chalkidiki for out-of-town beach vibes.
Suggested 3 Day Itinerary
Assuming you arrive at 9am on a Friday:
Day 1 – Drop everything off at your hotel that is quite central and make your way to Aristotelos Square. You could possibly have your first coffee here or walk along the sea-front (paralia) and find a place that looks out onto the water. Do some shopping along Tsimiski street or walk up to the Arch of Galerius where you can also see the vibrant student life, Agias Sofias and Agios Dimitrios along the way. Head over to Ladadika for a dinner at any taverna you can find space at and that will hopefully have some live bouzoukia. Ouzo or Tsipouro is a must. Afterwards, take a walk to get your night pictures of the Ombrelles and Lefkos Pyrgos (which you most likely would have stumbled across during the day).
Day 2 – If there are no festivals of some sort happening in the city (i.e food or documentary etc) take your walk along the whole paralia. Rent a bike (wooden, 2 seater or 4 seater). You could perhaps also fit in what you didn’t manage to do from day 1. I’d get your boat tour in and then make your way up to the kastro and watch the sun set and the day view turn into a night view from the top of the city.
Day 3 – Head to Meteora (either through a guided tour group or on your own) and make a day of it by visiting a town or village you’ll pass along the way. The base of Mount Olympus included.
Any Extra Information
Thessaloniki is not a huge and inaccessible city. You can easily and safely walk around if you have the time. You can also rent a bike to get from one side of the paralia to the other. Unfortunately, there isn’t a reliable bus app when it comes to times but you can download “OASTH bus” to get a general indication of which busses stop and which stops. Do not try buy a student bus ticket if you do not have a valid student card as you will be fined if caught. The city is a different experience in the morning, a different experience in the afternoon, and a different experience at night. So try catch all of these times.
Let us know your experience and thoughts on Thessaloniki in the comments box below!
City guide to Thessaloniki written by Andrea Spyron, past president of NAHYSOSA (2015-2016) currently temporarily residing in Thessaloniki whilst studying at the University. Photographs belong to her.