Elegant and refined, the lady of the North is a modern city full of vigour and life which welcomes those wishing to learn about its history and culture, or to have fun, relax and explore the latest trends in fashion. The city boasts twenty three centuries of fascinating history as seen in the monuments and architecture, a history which has deeply influenced the local cuisine as well; and you can get a glimpse of it all even if you stay in Thessaloniki only for a few hours.
Thessaloniki is the ideal destination if a weekend excursion or a three-day trip is what you have in mind. Here are a few tips about how to best spend your time in this city even if you only have a few hours available. Go shopping down town, take a walk along the seafront and see Kastra [the Castles], enjoy the food in well-known local tavernas in the market area or along the old beachfront (Palia Paralia) and visit the city museums. Note that distances are short enough, so you’ll have time for it all and you’ll do it at an easy pace.
The locals and visitors’ favourite promenade is right next to waterfront facing Thermaikos Gulf. Originally it stretched for 1.5km along the old beachfront (Palia Paralia), from the harbour to the White Tower (previously known as Tower of the Lion). Today, the promenade area covers 4km as it stretches along the New Beachfront (Nea Paralia) past Makedonia Palace Hotel, and up to the Thessaloniki Concert Hall. A walk by the seafront early in the day or in the evening is now even more enjoyable than it was in the past as the whole area has been reconstructed and new theme parks have been built along Nea Paralia, with fountains and impressive sculptures such as the well-known Umbrellas by Zongolopoulos.
A walk by ‘Kastra’ [the Castles] has a charm of its own as the old fortified city walls stand intact along the old town perimeter; from the top, the city view is amazing. In the Old Town (the Upper part) you will see the traditional old houses, the Byzantine Bath house (the only one still defying time), as well as some great cafés and restaurants where you can sense the atmosphere of bygone times.
Thessaloniki is famous for its shopping areas. The main shopping streets are Tsimiski St. and Mitropoleos St. as well as all the streets crossing them. Visit also Aristotelous Sq. and Aristotelous St. where you will see street vendors selling their merchandise next to shops, cafés, ouzo tavernas and monuments. It’s also worth noting that the grand Aristotelous Square was designed by architect Ernest Hébrard, following the fire that almost burned the whole city down in 1917. Impressive buildings were then constructed on both sides of the square. And if clothes and accessories are not the only things you have planned on buying, then a visit to Modiano and Kapani Arcades is recommended! It’s a good opportunity if you wish to get a glimpse of the town’s past. Once you’re there, you think that time has stopped as merchants and customers follow the old-fashioned traditional street market ways. These are the biggest shopping malls in town where ample quantities, good prices and a large variety of goods are to be found. Apart from the shopping spree though, you can also enjoy a coffee break or a meal in the traditional tavernas here, in the old part of town.
Thessaloniki’s culinary tradition is something locals take very seriously. Local tavernas, restaurants and pastry shops are famous across the country. The old Ladadika district located by the town’s west gate used to be the heart of wholesale trade a good 40 years ago. Today this district is famed for the culinary delights offered in the small or bigger eateries and bars – some of them with live music – housed in the renovated old shops lining the brick-laid alleys of the area.
Recently built eating places are located in the vicinity of the Stock Exchange Square; they line the narrow streets that cross or are parallel to Iasonidou St. and Ermou St. You can taste mouthwatering local dishes and have a drink in bars and night clubs having a good time until the wee hours of the morning.
Apart from local culinary delights, shopping and entertainment options, Thessaloniki is where you can go on a memorable cultural spree. It is a city boasting 35 museums and 12 galleries, and the numbers are impressive in proportion to the population. Contemporary art has had a home here since 1979, when Alexandros Iolas, a renowned Greek collector, has donated his collection of Andy Warhol, Max Ernst, Max Beckmann, Fluxus and other works of art to the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art.
Visit the Archaeological Museum, the singular Museum of Byzantine Culture, the modern White Tower Museum, the Archaeological Museum of the Ancient (Roman) Forum and the palace of Galerius, the Folklife & Ethnological Museum of Macedonia – Thrace, the Byzantine churches of Agia Sofia and Agios Dimitrios, Alaca Imaret Mosque, Yeni Tzami [New Mosque], the spacious Eleftheria Square, the Jewish Holocaust Monument, the Arch of Galerius on Egnatia St. (a.k.a. Kamara) and take a couple of pictures by the statue of Alexander the Great next to the seafront. See a list of Thessaloniki's Museum here.