Despite the fact that there are tons of things to do in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city is not on everyone’s radar. To Greeks, Thessaloniki is a legendary student destination with a cool, relaxed vibe that distinguishes the city from the rest of the country. But, many tourists haven’t even heard of it!
This port city has 3,000 years of history, and its early Christian and Byzantine architecture are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Not to mention, the influences of Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and Jews give Thessaloniki a very unique character.
Having lived in Greece for almost six years, I can testify to the fact that Thessaloniki is a dynamic city well worth visiting. It really has it all — tons of interesting history, a beautiful seaside, and exciting nightlife.
As a traveller, you may be wondering what to do in Thessaloniki, which is where I come in. After reading this article, you’ll be surprised by the variety of things to do here.
Here it goes, my list of the 15 best things to do in Thessaloniki!
Table of Contents
- 1. Visit The White Tower
- 2. Take a Walk Along The Seafront
- 3. Explore Aristotelous Square
- 4. Learn About The City’s Jewish History at The Jewish Museum
- 5. See The Roman Agora (One of The Top Things To Do in Thessaloniki)
- 6. Visit Agios Dimitrios Basilica
- 7. Take a Hike Through Thessaloniki’s Old Town: Ano Poli (Upper Town)
- 8. Check Out The Eptapyrgio (Yedikule)
- 9. See The Atatürk House
- 10. Visit The Rotunda (One of The Main Things To Do in Thessaloniki)
- 11. Take a Free Walking Tour
- 12. Experience Ladadika (One of The Coolest Things To Do in Thessaloniki)
- 13. Tour The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
- 14. See The Old Hamams (and Soak at The New Ones)
- 15. Go For Drinks in The Student Area Around Kamara/Rotunda
- Day Trips From Thessaloniki
- Now You Know What To Do in Thessaloniki!
1. Visit The White Tower
The fortified White Tower on the seafront is Thessaloniki’s main landmark, which houses an exhibition about the city’s Byzantine history.
During Ottoman times, the White Tower was used as a prison and supposedly called “Blood Tower” due to the many executions that took place there. It got the name “White Tower” after it was painted white, although today it has a yellowish colour.
From the White Tower, you have a lovely view of the entire city and the Mediterranean Sea. If you have only a few hours in Thessaloniki, a visit to the White Tower would be the one thing you should definitely make time for. And because of its central location, you’ll probably want to start any trip to Thessaloniki here.
The White Tower is definitely one of the top things to see in Thessaloniki and at only €4, it’s quite an affordable attraction as well. The museum is open every day from 9 am to 4 pm, and in the summer, the hours extend from 8 am to 8 pm. If you’re not keen on climbing up the tower, you could also just look at it from the outside.
2. Take a Walk Along The Seafront
At the seafront, you can enjoy a lovely walk along the promenade, one of the best places to visit in Thessaloniki. I remember being fascinated that I had finally found a place in Greece where I could walk for hours without being disturbed by cars or motorbikes!
You could easily spend several hours on Thessaloniki’s waterfront, especially if the weather is particularly nice. If you walk south from the White Tower along the promenade you will pass by the statue of Alexander the Great who was born in Pella, about 1.5 hours from Thessaloniki. A trip to Pella is a great day trip from Thessaloniki. Learn more about that trip, here.
Thessaloniki’s waterfront is also home to one of the city’s most instagrammable spots — the cute umbrella sculpture. If you keep walking farther south, you’ll see several small parks, such as the Garden of Sands and Garden of Remembrance.
The view of Thessaloniki’s port from the promenade is amazing, and farther north you will find tons of bars, cafés, and restaurants. If you’re into cycling, Thessaloniki’s promenade is probably the best place in all of Greece to be able to ride your bike for several kilometres without worrying about cars. Parents with children will appreciate this car-free zone as well.
3. Explore Aristotelous Square
The city’s biggest square is one of the most popular places to visit in Thessaloniki and a great place to stop for a coffee. This is the modern center of the city and a major meeting place. You will find various cafés and restaurants in this pedestrian zone.
People like to go shopping in the streets and markets close to the square, and you will definitely pass by here more than once during your time in Thessaloniki. Aristotelous Square is one of the most famous squares in all of Greece and one of the most famous spots in the city. If you visit during Christmas or New Year’s Eve this is a great place to see how the locals celebrate.
Don’t forget to take a quick photo of the statue of Aristotle after whom the square was named. But, keep in mind that the square is also famous for the fact that political protests usually take place here. During a rally or protest, you might want to avoid the square.
4. Learn About The City’s Jewish History at The Jewish Museum
The Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki presents the history of the Jewish community in Greece’s second-largest city. The Jewish community in Thessaloniki was particularly strong during the Ottoman Empire when Jewish refugees arrived from Spain and Portugal where they faced severe persecution.
Jews made up the biggest community in Thessaloniki until the Great Fire in 1917 when many Jews left the country. During the Second World War, almost the entire Jewish population of Thessaloniki was deported to Auschwitz. Today, only about 1,200 Jews still live in Thessaloniki which still makes it the second-largest Jewish community in Greece.
While the community is very small today, its impact on the history of Thessaloniki is enormous.
The Jewish Museum on Agia Mina street is open from Tuesday to Sunday, and tickets are an affordable €5. In 2020 the Jewish Museum is scheduled to move to a bigger building, so it’s best to check their website for the latest news. If you’re wondering what to do in Thessaloniki that is not on everyone’s list, this museum is for you.
5. See The Roman Agora (One of The Top Things To Do in Thessaloniki)
One of the best things to see in Thessaloniki are the excavations of the Roman Agora of Thessaloniki (also known as the Roman Forum). This ancient Roman market is located close to Aristotelous Square and houses the remains of a theater and two Roman baths.
The best part is that it continues underground where you can find out more about the Roman Forum in its own museum. If you have any interest in archaeology at all, a visit to the museum is a must — especially since one of the two Roman baths is still buried underneath the city. In the summer, going underground can be a great place to escape the heat!
In any case, it’s certainly impressive to see this ancient square in the middle of the modern city of Thessaloniki. The museum is open from Monday to Saturday between 8 am and 3 pm, and you can get in for €4.
6. Visit Agios Dimitrios Basilica
Thessaloniki’s main church, Agios Dimitrios, is one of the top places to visit in Thessaloniki. The basilica burned down almost completely in the Great Fire of Thessaloniki in 1917, but enormous reconstruction efforts returned the church to its splendour. Inside the church, you can even find unique mosaics that survived the fire.
Agios Dimitrios Church is located just a few steps from the Roman Forum so be sure to combine the two. Dimitrios is Thessaloniki’s patron saint which explains the basilica’s importance. You can see the place where he supposedly died in the crypt underground.
And, because of Thessaloniki’s interesting history, you can even see the remains of a Roman bathhouse on which the church was built. This church presents a great overview of the city’s history. Photography is allowed, and as it’s a church, entrance is free.
7. Take a Hike Through Thessaloniki’s Old Town: Ano Poli (Upper Town)
The most beautiful part of Thessaloniki is certainly its old town, or Upper Town. You can go for a stroll through the cobblestone alleys and will see the traditional Balkan houses that date back to Ottoman times. A walk in the picturesque Upper Town is one of the activities in Thessaloniki that are free and can be done at any time of day.
This part of Thessaloniki survived the 1917 fire and therefore kept its traditional look and feel. Plus, you can find old churches and towers here and remains of the old Byzantine walls. You could spend hours exploring this gorgeous neighbourhood.
To many Greeks, Ano Poli is the most authentic neighbourhood of Thessaloniki. It’s here, that you can find traditional taverns playing rebetiko music, not for tourists, but for the locals. Enjoy getting lost is the maze of streets in Thessaloniki’s oldest neighbourhood.
8. Check Out The Eptapyrgio (Yedikule)
If you head farther up from the Upper Town, you will reach the Eptapyrgio fortress which gained notoriety when right-wing totalitarian Greek regimes imprisoned political prisoners there. This inner part of the wall was built by the Byzantines but got its name (“Seven Towers”) when the first Ottoman governor added additional towers.
The fortress itself is quite impressive to look at, but the view from here is spectacular as it’s the highest point in the city. While the view from the White Tower cannot be beaten, you get a different perspective from the Eptapyrgio — which is located on Thessaloniki’s ancient Acropolis.
What I found even more impressive are the old prison corridors which connect the place to Greek rebetiko music. “Yedikule” is one of the most famous rebetiko songs, and the protagonist is a prisoner in this famous prison. The doors and cells are a haunting reminder of what happened here in the 20th century.
9. See The Atatürk House
For something a little less touristy, visit the birth house of the most famous person from Thessaloniki, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The building now houses the General Consulate of Turkey, the state which Mustafa Kemal founded. This may not be of interest to everyone, but as an ethnic Turk, I was very moved by my visit here.
Most of the furniture here is still original, and there are even some of Atatürk’s and his family’s belongings. It’s one of the places to visit in Thessaloniki if you want to see something that’s not on everyone’s radar.
Even if you’re not interested in Atatürk and his life, there is another reason to visit his birth house — it’s an excellent way to see one of the traditional houses in the Upper Town from the inside. It’s open every day from 10 am to 5 pm, and entrance is free.
10. Visit The Rotunda (One of The Main Things To Do in Thessaloniki)
When you head back down towards the modern center of the city, you’ll spot the ancient Rotunda. It’s one of the oldest things to see in Thessaloniki and used to be a Roman temple, then a church, and later a mosque. Earthquakes have caused serious damage to the building, but some of the mosaics inside have been restored.
Just a few steps from the Rotunda you’ll find another Roman monument, the Arch of Galerius. It commemorates the Roman victory over the Persians and is also known as Kamara. This used to be Thessaloniki’s main entrance gate, walking through it is one of the activities in Thessaloniki that will connect you all the way back to Roman times.
The early Christian mosaics in the Rotunda are absolutely stunning. Together with the Arch of Galerius, the Rotunda is considered one of the most important places to visit in Thessaloniki. It’s open every day between 8 am and 5 pm in the winter and until 7 pm in the summer.
11. Take a Free Walking Tour
I firmly believe that free walking tours are one of the best ways to get to know a new city. Nowadays, free walking tours with a local guide are popular in most major cities. Why pay for a tour when someone will offer it for free and you only tip the guide based on how good the tour was?! Of course, the same is true for Thessaloniki.
Being a major student city, you can definitely find a young and dynamic guide who will passionately tell you about their fascinating city. This will certainly provide the right balance between archaeological sites and the more modern aspects of life in Greece’s second-largest city.
Free walking tours usually last between two to three hours and introduce you to the major landmarks. That way, you get some background information about things you have already seen or are planning to see later. There are a couple of companies you can choose from — FreeTour and GuruWalk both have good ratings.
12. Experience Ladadika (One of The Coolest Things To Do in Thessaloniki)
If you ask any Greek person what to do in Thessaloniki they will certainly tell you to explore Ladadika. This charming neighbourhood close to the port is full of restaurants and bars. As is often the case with these neighbourhoods, it used to have a bad reputation but is now super trendy.
Ladadika has everything the traveller could hope for in a big European city — cobblestone streets, colourful old houses, and lots of traditional food and music. In fact, the neighbourhood is so alive that many consider it the best party district in all of Greece. But, that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy a walk through the area during the day as well.
The neighbourhood was named for the oil shops that used to be concentrated in the area. During Ottoman times, the main market was located here as well. Like the promenade and Aristotelous Square, it’s a pedestrian-only zone which any visitor to Greece will appreciate. This neighbourhood is one of the top places to visit in Thessaloniki, don’t miss it.
13. Tour The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
As in many places in Greece, one of the main things to do in Thessaloniki is going to an archaeology museum. This is where you will find out more about Thessaloniki’s history until the Roman era. You’ll probably need around two hours here as there is so much to see in the exhibition.
The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki is located near the White Tower the statue of Alexander the Great. The exhibitions cover the period between prehistory and late antiquity. Most of the artefacts are from Thessaloniki and its vicinity.
The museum is open all week from 8 am to 8 pm, and a ticket is €8, but you might want to take advantage of the museum pass which allows entrance to the Archaeological Museum, the White Tower, the Galerian Complex, the Museum of the Roman Agora, and the Museum of Byzantine Culture. For €15 you can see all the important places to visit in Thessaloniki.
14. See The Old Hamams (and Soak at The New Ones)
Thessaloniki has some Turkish baths that you can visit: Bey Hamam, Yeni Hamam, Paşa Hamam, and Yahudi Hamam (Pazar Hamam). Sadly, none of them are still in use. So, while you can marvel at the architecture, you will not be able to experience an authentic Turkish bath there. They are now used as restaurants and for cultural events.
However, one of the most relaxing activities in Thessaloniki would be to book a treatment at the new Hammam Baths as a spa experience.
The Hamam is inspired by the traditional Turkish baths and offers various services. You can either go for a self-service visit or add on various massages or treatments. After you relax in the steam room, you get to indulge in a glass of Turkish tea and a few pieces of lokum (Turkish delight).
The self-service experience costs €25 while the basic “Ali Mama” service costs €45. Make sure to book an appointment in advance to ensure availability. For natural thermal baths, take a day trip to stunning Pozar and Edessa. Learn more about that tour here.
15. Go For Drinks in The Student Area Around Kamara/Rotunda
While the Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda are popular places to explore during the day, this is also a popular nightlife area. With its reputation as a student city, one of the main activities in Thessaloniki is definitely checking out its lively student (party) scene.
There are various bars and cafés here, which are cheaper than the ones in the Ladadika neighbourhood. If you’re in Thessaloniki in the summer, you can spend the whole night outside. If you’re on a really tight budget, you won’t have to enter a bar at all — simply get booze from a kiosk and drink it outside.
Don’t miss this area as it comes to life at night with musicians, artists, and students having an amazing time. And as usual in such neighbourhoods, you can also find the cheapest street food here.
Day Trips From Thessaloniki
While there are numerous things to see, do and eat in the city itself, there are a few great day trips you can take as well.
- Meteora Monasteries: This awe-inspiring site is UNESCO listed and is one of the top places to visit in the country. Join a full-day, highly-rated tour and see what all the fuss is about. Click here for details about the tour, and learn more in our article: Meteora Monasteries: A Guide to Greece’s Mythical Landscape.
- Mount Olympus and Dion: Learn about the culture and history of the impressive Mount Olympus, hike Enipeas gorge and enjoy lunch with a stunning view. Learn more about this popular day trip here.
- Pozar Thermal Baths and Edessa: Soak in natural thermal hot springs, gaze at the tallest waterfall in the Balkans, and enjoy lunch in a picturesque village. Find out more about this fun day trip here.
Now You Know What To Do in Thessaloniki!
With all these things to do in Thessaloniki, I’m sure you’ll have a fun and exciting trip to Greece’s second-largest city. You will get to see a lot of history but also experience the student nightlife that is typical of Thessaloniki. And you’ll learn more about the city’s multicultural past.
I love Thessaloniki because it’s quieter than Athens, the people are friendlier, service is better, and it was a lot more relaxed. And because of the many students, a lot of the things to do in Thessaloniki are either free or quite cheap. So make sure to take advantage of all these things and book your trip to Thessaloniki now.
And if you’re wondering where to go next, don’t worry, there are lots of options. From Thessaloniki, you can explore other parts in the north of Greece, such as the gorgeous Chalkidiki peninsula with its stunning beaches. Or you can travel further north to explore some of the other Balkan countries (if you ask me my absolute favourite city in the Balkans is Tirana).
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