Yasso (Hello) – Want to experience some authentic Greek food, Greek history, and Greek Culture, then I suggest a trip to Greece’s Second City, Thessaloniki. To tell you the truth, I never really had this on my “bucket list” but I have grown to love this Greek hidden gem. This year I completed my third trip to this Greek culture hub. Many may wonder if Thessaloniki is worth visiting and I believe it is an astounding yes!

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Thessaloniki is a great place to visit if you are going to Greece, either as a primary destination, a side trip from Athens, or a cruise. It is the 2nd largest city in Greece after Athens, with Thessalaniki’s population of close to 815,000 in 2023. It is in the Macedonia Region of the country that is rich in history. Located on the Aegean Sea on the Thermaic Gulf, Thessaloniki is on the water with beautiful beaches to enjoy. Given its location in northern Greece, it has a large train station to access Europe.

Given it’s a smaller city than Athens, it was quite affordable. You can visit some great historical sites in a less crowded atmosphere and it is only 310 miles from Athens so it is easy to get here as I will discuss later. Year-round you can enjoy the outdoors, although it is cooler in winter months and it can get some frosty days. The average temperature is 59.7 degrees and summer/fall is the best time to visit. (especially as the summer tourists start to leave). My trips to Thessaloniki were fantastic and now I will share some thoughts on the city’s weather, history, food, things to do, and adventures,  \

When is the perfect time to visit Thessaloniki? Summer and Fall 

I have visited Thessaloniki several times going back to 2016, once on a cruise, once by plane, and once a few years ago as the typical college traveler going around the country via train. Celestyal Cruise Line (www.celestyal.com) has a Mediterranean cruise with one stop in this marvelous city of Thessaloniki that I enjoyed greatly. After that fascinating voyage, I knew I had to go back again to explore even more of this wonderful city. It is easy to go to Thessaloniki by bus, train, plane, or car. Numerous trains run daily from Athens with prices starting at $15, it takes approximately 4.5 hours (the city is only 311 miles from Athens). My trips were in the summer / early fall time. 

Thessaloniki’s Weather 

The hottest month is generally July with an average temperature of 77 degrees, August could range from 70 F to 93 F degrees. Although being on the waterfront, you may get some nice sea breezes too. 

I do love the summer since that is my favorite time of the year, so I would come here during that time given the access to beaches and islands. Many locals suggested shoulder season is also great since many of the summer tourist crowds have thinned. From what I have heard, January is the coldest month, while November would be the rainiest month, so plan your outfits according to the seasons if you plan to visit then. 

A Brief History of Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki, like most of Greece, has a very long history and I will try to provide you with a brief history and highlights of this great city. It became a free city of the Romans under Mark Anthony in 315 BC. Thessaloniki was also at one time one of the wealthiest cities in the Byzantine Empire, just after Constantinople, which had a significant impact on the architecture and paintings in the city and churches. Later it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1430. Thessaloniki was important since it was a seaport and the Ottomans ruled it for nearly five centuries. 

Thessaloniki was also a popular city on the trade route to places like Rome and Turkey. During the 16th-20th century the city’s Jewish citizens were the majority of the population, (many had to leave Spain at one time and settled here). Thessaloniki later passed from the Ottoman Empire to the Kingdom of Greece on November 12, 1912, and it was officially annexed by Greece in 1913. Thus, as you go through the city you will see the influence of the various numerous churches, Byzantine monuments, and UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Thessaloniki During World War 2

Sadly in 1917, a lot of the center of Thessaloniki’s old city was destroyed by fire. Later in World War II, Fascist Italy damaged over 800 buildings. While Italy failed at its invasion of Thessaloniki, Nazi Germany did occupy the city in 1941. Of the 45,000 Jewish sent to Auschwitz, most did not survive (reportedly only 4%). During my research on this city, given the number of Jews that died they at one time called Thessaloniki the City of Ghosts.   

Despite some tough times the city endured, Thessaloniki was the city where the Greek “Freedom” resistance was started during WWII and has become one of the primary business and trade cities in Southeastern Europe, with much trade taking place with the Balkan countries. Given its great location, with a seaport and access to Europe, the city continues to strive and many consider Thessaloniki the Cultural Hub and Gastronomical Hub of Greece.    


Like all of Greece, the Euro is the country’s currency.

Languages – What language do they speak in Thessaloniki?

As the saying goes, “It’s all Greek to me”. Well, the official language is Greek, but in large cities like Thessaloniki and Athens, many speak English. In Thessaloniki, we had no issues with using English. But like anywhere you visit, it’s great learning a few words in Greek since it is a friendly place and appreciated.

Directions – How to Get to Thessaloniki, Greece? 

Directions depend on where you are coming from, but one of the primary ways to get to Thessaloniki is the international airport. There are also trains, buses, and ferries to and from other islands, Italy, cities, etc. For the most recent trip, I flew into the city via my flight from London to Thessaloniki via British Airways (www.BritishAirways.com).

Thessaloniki Airport, officially Makedonia Airport (Code- SKG) www.skg-airport.gr

This is an international airport and depending on where you are coming from, you can fly into here or Athens. The quickest way from Athens is via the airport. I flew into the city on my second trip.

Train Station called “New Railway Station”  www.ose.gr/en

The train station in Thessaloniki is the largest in Greece. This is also a major connection to Athens and other parts of Europe. Train schedules and ticket info can be found on their site. 

Bus – Thessaloniki Macedonia InterCity Bus Station

This is the central bus station in the city. See the site for more info, but there are buses to places like Greece, Halkidiki, Meteora, etc. I have taken the bus to Thessaloniki before from Bulgaria, but there are also popular routes you can find to and from Thessaloniki from Bookaway.com.

Athens to Thessaloniki by bus is about 4 hrs 45 minutes and costs about $51.

Skopje to Thessaloniki by bus is about 3 hrs 45 minutes and costs about $36.

These are just a few routes, but it definitely makes it hassle free to book in advance.

By Ferry

There are various ferries to different cities and islands since this is a port city. You can also take a ferry to Athens. To check the schedules you may want to check out FerryHopper. www.FerryHopper.com 

By Cruise Ship

Another great way to get to Thessaloniki is on a cruise. As I mentioned above, my trip last year to Thessaloniki was either by Celestyal Cruises cruise there with a great shore excursion, which I loved, or if you prefer just walking on your own. The tours pointed out some great places to see that I may have missed on my own. It also gave me time to explore a bit on my own. This made me want to come and see more of this glorious city that I had missed in the past and highly recommend it. The staff of Celestyal was so nice and we loved a smaller ship to get familiar with the great fun, knowledgeable staff.

Best Tours To Do in Thessaloniki

  • Food Tour: Food tours are one of my favorites. Notably, there are so many and you can check them out on Get Your Guide. Book through www.GetYourGuide.com. I went on an amazing food tour that brought us through the Thessaloniki Market, learning how bougatsa is made, and even getting to taste unique desserts and food such as the world-famous gyro. 

Day 3 with @visitthessaloniki visiting the street food and nightlife of Thessaloniki Greece with @traverseevents @visitgreecegr Who knew this was a hidden gem in Europe? #visitthessaloniki #visitgreece #greektravel #greekfood #streetfoodtour #foodietravel #thessalonikinightout #europetrip #presstrip @travelsofsarahfay1

♬ Chill Like That – Sunday Scaries & PiCKUPLiNES
  • Walking Tours: There are also a plethora of tours as well on GetYoutGuide. The best part about Thessaloniki is it is way less touristy than Athens, which means you can get a private guided walking tour for 2 for just under $100. There are so many Thessaloniki historical landmarks and sights that it is great to have a local guide to learn the history of Thessaloniki. 
  • Bike Tour: An exciting way to see a city is by bike tour (while working off some of the great food). I did that with Let’s Meet in Thessaloniki 

Thessaloniki has a long bike path also along the waterfront that is quite enjoyable, you will see things like the White Tower and even a Pirate Ship as you peddle down that path. While Let’s Meet has great bike tours, they also have an array of tours in Thessaloniki. Truly loved it while working off my calories.

  • Hop-On / Hop-Off Bus Tour: Another great way to see a city is via the bus tour. This is a terrific way to get highlights and stop and visit or return to one of the locations depending on how much time you have in your schedule. A great way to see this historic city. 

Things to Do and Places to Visit in Thessaloniki

Throughout the city, there is so much to do in terms of your interests, from visiting historic places and museums, hitting the blue ocean, eating delicious local food, and seeing the fantastic city as described below. Besides specific tours, here are some suggestions on things not to miss  

The White Tower

On the shoreline of the city is the great White Tower, the #1 Icon of the city. The White Tower is a monument and museum. Originally this was a fortification by the Ottoman Empire during the 12th century that was replaced by the current owner. At one time this was part of a prison as well. Now you can pay to enter to go into the 111-foot tower that houses a museum. This icon is also located on the 3-mile walkway along the city’s waterfront that includes various gardens and monuments, including this and the Alexander the Great Garden. You will see many locals and tourists riding along the bike path along the walkway as you enjoy this area. (The famous Pirate Ship is nearby that you can take a cruise on described later.)   


Heptapyrgion also known by its Ottoman Turkish name of YediKule, is the massive Byzantine citadel and the Ottoman fortress and is on the city’s Acropolis on the northeast top of the hill. From 1898 to 1989 this location was used as a prison. Many of the tall walls remain and from here you can get a great view of the city below. While the citadel has archaeological work in process, there are some typical streets and houses within it. The second cafe noted in the Restaurant section below is located in the citadel. It was great to see a view of the city below, pose for pics, etc. Many churches also can be seen throughout the old city. It was great to start high up at the fortress during the morning and work your way down to the old city below. 

Rotunda of Galerius (known as the Rotunda)

This popular landmark is a large circular building built by the Romans in the 4th century. Originally it was to be built as a mausoleum for Emperor Galerius, but then changed to a temple, then a Christian basilica and Muslim mosque, then back to a Christian church. As you enter it, you can see what has been changed through the refitting of the building. When we went, they were refurbishing the building, but you could see some of the artwork on the inside of the top of the dome. It is said to be the oldest church not only in the city but in the world, per some publications in Greece.  

Arch of Galerius (also called the Kamara)

This arch is south of the Rotunda and was constructed in 305 AD. While only two columns and an arch remain, it is a massive structure with great marble panels that represents the victory over the Persians.

The Galerius Palace

Limited ruins are remaining, but this is an ancient Roman palace that was part of the complex that included the Rotunda, Wall/Arches, located on Navainous Square. 

Ancient Agora Square, Roman Forum, and the Stoas of Attios

Each ancient city in Greece had an agora, a place where the citizens could gather and it is generally the center of political and public life. Thessaloniki’s Agora was constructed in the 1st century AD. In the 1960s during construction in the city, the ancient Roman era forum was unexpectedly found toward the upper end of Aristotelous Square. They discover the two-layer forum that included 2 Roman baths (one still under the city) and a theater used for Gladiator games. Based on research they believe it was built in the 2nd century and was used until the 6th century. Also in the Agora is the Stoa of Attios, which was a long covered walkway constructed by King Attalios who ruled in 159-138 BC. It was rebuilt and now houses the Museum of the Ancient Agora of Thessaloniki. www.archaeologicalmueseums.gr

Pirate Ship Thessaloniki aka Arabella Cruise Bar

To get another great view of the city, I recommend a ride on the Pirate Ship if you have time. You will easily see it if you are near the White Tower. The ride is free, except you must purchase a drink. This is considered a monument and was tested during World War II. The prices start around 8 Euros for the ½ hour ride, but I did love it and they had a good selection of drinks (frappe, soda, etc.) making it worth it. www.arebellaship.gr


As noted in this guide, there are various museums. Some places like the Rotunda, have a small fee to enter, but most were very affordable. Other museums include

Museum of Byzantine Culture www.mbp.gr

Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki www.gmth.gr

Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki www.amgh.gr

Selfie Museum Thessaloniki www.selfie-museum.gr

Thessaloniki Beaches

When you are in Greece it is hard to resist the beach, and luckily there are quite a few near Thessaloniki. Here are a few beaches nearby Thessaloniki.

Perea Beach – is located 10.6 miles from Thessaloniki and it is also the closest to the airport. This is a long thin strip of beach and the area does get tourists and locals and is known for its nightlife too.

Agia Triada Beach – located 20 miles south of Thessaloniki 

Epanomi Beach – located 15.5 miles south of Thessaloniki heading toward Halkidiki.

Asprovalta Beach – This beach is about 50 miles east of Thessaloniki. While this is a resort and far from town, it is closer to other wonderful places like Halkidiki and Kavala.

The Churches of Thessaloniki

There are numerous beautiful historic churches/temples with many built between the 5th to 16th centuries. 11 churches are recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I found that Agios Pavlos has the most beautiful sitting up on the hill. Agios Demetrius is the most famous church and is dedicated to Saint Dimitri, the patron saint of the city and it includes a relic from him in the crypt. The crypt or catacombs here are a favorite of many visitors since the saint was imprisoned here and later martyred here. Then there is one of the oldest, Agios Sofia which was built in the 8th century, and modeled after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul Turkey.  

Church of Demetrius Thessaloniki

Originally a mosque built during the Ottoman Empire, it was later converted into a Greek Orthodox Church in 1912. These are fine examples of some great houses of worship and an integral part of the culture of Greece and its people. For fans of Byzantine art and architecture, you may want to visit the 14th-century Church of Pantelejmon as a great example.   

Visit The Rotunda

One of the most famous and oldest churches and monuments is the Rotunda of St. George which was built in 366 AD by the Romans. If you visit it, just so you know the interior was empty when we visited since they were refurbishing. You will see the “church” went through several changes and religions. Outside the building, you will see the fountains which they likely cleaned before going into worship centuries ago. 

Originally it was constructed by Emperor Galerius to be his grave, but the use shifted to a temple by the Romans (although we do not know what “god” it was dedicated to). This was centrally located and as you go down the hill you arrive at a famous gate (the Arch of Galerius).  

How to visit the Rotunda 

There was a combination ticket is 15 euros to visit the Museum of Byzantine Culture, the Museum of the White Tower, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, and the Monument of the Rotunda. The ticket costs 15 euros and is valid for 3 days.

How to get around Thessaloniki

We found getting around the city to be fairly easy. If you do walk it, you may want to get a ride to the famous fortress and walk down the hill to the other areas in the town center (especially if you have issues walking). 

  • Bus – KTEL city bus line: The city does have buses and you caN find schedules and information at www.ktelmacedonia.gr
  • Metro / Subway: The city does have a metro system. Although I did not need to use it while I was there, it’s another option to get around town. www.emetro.gr
  • Scooters / Rental Cars / Bikes – All are available. 
  • Walk – Many of the historic places, monuments, historic ruins, and churches are walkable. 

Food, Restaurants, and Cafes in Thessaloniki  

There are many restaurants and cafes in the city with so many Greek foods to try along the way as you explore. Here are just a few of Thessaloniki’s best restaurants. Thessaloniki food is some of the best in Greece so be sure to come hungry. It is no wonder why Thessaloniki is called the culinary capital of Greece. 

Mamalouka SKG

Thessaloniki is the city of gastronomy and Mamalouka is a great example serving great Greek and Mediterranean cuisine transformed with their pure fresh ingredients. This “food from the soul “ is served in a great setting. The grilled squid is a great option, but they also have vegetarian options and seafood is quite popular here. I highly recommend Mamalouka. I had a lively dinner here, later at night a DJ started playing on the weekend, and the vibes were amazing. Instagram – @mamalouka.gr 

Kivotos Ton Gefseon

Kivitis is another great place to have some delicious Greek and Mediterranean dishes. We had a great early dinner here. Given the weather, they had an outdoor area to sit and eat. It felt like we were seeing many Greek families sitting and having a Sunday meal since many had pushed tables together to have a feast. The food was great; so were the staff. It’s not far from the Rotunda and we stumbled onto it as we passed by, seeing all the families enjoying their dinners. It was an enjoyable respite, with tables with colorful table coverings and trees providing some shade. Instagram – @kivotos_ton_gesfseon 

Mocabayo Street Coffee Bar

If you go all the way up to the Fortress walls at the top of the city, enter the gate and you can find Mocabayo. Originally we stopped for a quick cappuccino and then discovered this colorful cafe and different drinks and street options too. This helped quench our thirst and the food provided a quick pick-me-up. 

Ntomino Cafe Bar Cafe

Ntomino Cafe is near the Rotunda was such a great cafe for a snack, cafe Fredo, and a local spot as well. Here you can get the vibe of a university city. 

Accommodations and Hotels in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is a great vacation destination and has hotels, inns, hostels, and AirBnBs for all budgets and types of travelers. One way to compare prices is to check www.booking.com

If you are looking for Thessaloniki’s Luxury Hotels Check Out 

  • Hotel Onoma – This 4+ star hotel is marvelous with the rooftop Cloud Bar overlooking the city with its seasonal pool, free wifi, electric car parking stations, and more (pet friendly too). There are a variety of room types depending on your needs, I truly loved my stay here. This has a unique, hip concept and is also great for “O-Nomads” delivering some of the newer technology to enhance your stay here. Instagram handle @onoma_hotel www.onomahotel.com
  • S Hotel Boutique Thessaloniki – This boutique hotel has 27 rooms and suites and may also be a good alternative located near the historic sea wall of the old town. It’s located on a beautiful street so you can stroll through the area. Part of the wall to the city was built in the 4th century by the Ottomans and was discovered during the building construction and is now an exhibit (with a glass floor over it).   www.shotel.gr

Thessaloniki Hostels for Budget Travelers 

  • Hostels There are numerous hostels in Thessaloniki, but two of the higher-rated ones are Zeus is Loose Hostel and the Jetpack Alternative based on reviews on Hostel World. Notably, the airport is a bit of a ride from the hostels and to the areas most will explore. A taxi would be around ½ hour, but some buses reportedly run each ½ hour and take approximately 50 minutes. Both of these hostels have private rooms, but be sure to check the House Rules for any age restrictions, etc. www.hostelworld.com
  • Vrbo is great if you are looking for more of a homey feel as a digital nomad. 

Day Trips from Thessaloniki

There are numerous places you can visit for the day from Thessaloniki. My suggestions are:

  • Halkidiki – is known for its great beaches. I just loved it and Halkidiki is worth the trip. Halkidiki is also in the north of Greece and is divided into 3 peninsulas called Sithonia, Kassandra, and Mount Athos, often called the 3 Sisters. It is a popular place for the locals of Thessaloniki and offers quite beautiful Blue Flag beaches. Notably, there are public buses from Thessaloniki to Halkidiki, but a bus tour may be quicker depending on your circumstances.
  • Meteora Monasteries – the marvelous monasteries in the sky (see my guide on it). A day trip from Thessaloniki to Meteora would be a great way to see this marvelous place. 

  • Mount Olympus – one of the most famous places in ancient mythology and where you can enjoy nature at the same time. Our first stop visiting Mount Olympus brought us to beautiful waterfalls. We cooled off at Orlias Waterfalls. Then I visited the Cave of Agios Dionysios where you can see a monastery, and after a short hike a small church on the cliff side of a cave. 

When you ask me if I would see where the Greek goes called home when I was a history nerd and loved reading Greek Mythology I would have not believed I would be seeing these places in real life. Traveling around Greece you find some unique destinations from its cities to its nature. I fell in love with @Visit Greece and @Thessaloniki Travel (ad) #hosted #visitthessaloniki #thessalonikigreece #mountolympus #orliaswaterfalls #enipeasgorge #vacationvibes #greecetravel #visitgreece

♬ Go Solo (feat. Tom Rosenthal) – Zwette
  • Pozar Thermal Baths – relax in a thermal bath and have lunch, see ancient Edessa an ancient city founded during the Hellenistic period and part of Upper Mesopotamia.  
  • Lake Kerkini National Park is located close to the border of Greece and Bulgaria. While it is an artificial lake created in 1932, it is one of the best birding areas in Europe and sits 100 km from Thessaloniki. Kerkini village is also a cute spot to relax and take in the scenery as well as a Greek coffee. 

Is Thessaloniki Safe?  

Yes, based on my experience, I felt very safe traveling around the city. Of course, all tourists should be careful on any trip, but overall it is a safe place. Like always watch for simple things like petty crime, protect your wallet, purse, and valuables. I felt safe as a solo traveler and solo woman traveler. Also, if you are going out at night or arrive late at the airport, you may want to take a cab. 

How long should you stay in Thessaloniki?

This depends on your travel style and whether or not you use Thessaloniki as a home base. It’s a great location for day trips to such places as Mount Olympus, Meteora, Halkidiki, and others too. There are also some great beaches in the area for beach lovers too, I would take 1- 3 days to see the historic town and some churches. There are many churches and other historic monuments that can take some time depending on your preferences and there are many UNESCO sites.   

Thessaloniki or Athens – which is better?  

Whatever length of trip you take, Thessaloniki does have something to offer many since it is near the sea, has many beaches throughout the area, as well as great day trips. This city is a cultural hub, has a great history that can be explored and I have enjoyed seeing and enjoying the local folks. I do like Athens too, it is closer to the islands and does have some amazing places to see like the Parthenon, etc.

While I wouldn’t miss places like the Parthenon, Acropolis, and Agora, Thessaloniki offers a smaller version of it at a less hectic pace, so you may want to try a few days here if you have time. One other factor is that Thessaloniki is more affordable than Athens. Either way, I am glad I spent the time exploring this marvelous city. Many ask, “Is Thessaloniki worth visiting?” well I say definitely YES! Hope you enjoyed it and will share my Thessaloniki Travel Guide with others. Antio Sas! (i.e. Goodbye) If you want to explore Athens, Greece check out my guide here!

Fun Fact on Thessaloniki

For 400 years starting back in the 16th century, Thessaloniki’s largest group in the city was Jewish. Due to this, it was referred to as the “Mother of Israel” or the “Jerusalem of the Balkans”. (You may remember reading about Apostle Paul, who visited this area since it was safer for the people that were Jewish during the reign of the Romans.)  

Other Resources: 





June 28, 2023

All Rights Reserved by Sarah Errafay 

If you are wondering if Thessaloniki is worth visiting? It is and you can enjoy amazing food, cultural sights, and amazing hotels.

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