Greece offers a diverse range of experiences beyond just its islands and beaches, and Thessaloniki is a prime example of this. This city is a fascinating blend of ancient history and modernity, making it a unique destination to explore.
Visitors will discover a rich tapestry of culture in Thessaloniki, with influences from Greek, Armenian, Ottoman and Jewish traditions evident on every corner. The city is a melting pot of history, culture and modernism, making it a must-visit destination in Greece.
The sights, the architecture, and the food are testaments of all the great empires that have influenced the way locals live today.
Continue reading to know what to do in Thessaloniki on one day and make the best out of your visit.
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What to Do in Thessaloniki on One Day
Thessaloniki, the capital of Central Macedonia, is a city with much to discover.
While one day may not be enough to take in all it has to offer fully, this comprehensive guide will help you make the most of your time by highlighting the best places to visit, where to dine, what to do, and where to stay.
Whether you’re in Thessaloniki for a short visit or an extended stay, this guide will help you make the most of your experience.
Where to go in Thessaloniki
The White Tower
The White Tower is probably the most iconic landmark of Thessaloniki. Ottomans built the tower in the early 16th century as a replacement for an old Byzantine fortification. This way, they could strengthen the city’s harbour.
Its past is quite dark, as it was a place for the execution and torture of traitors. As a result, the locals used to call it “The Red Tower” or “Tower of Blood”. Still, during the Ottoman rule around 1890, they stopped using the tower as a prison, and there were efforts to modernize that area.
Also, a Jewish prisoner called Nathan Guidili whitewashed the tower. This act gained him his freedom. The white has faded since, but the name remains.
Currently, you can visit a museum and exhibition inside the tower. You can as well climb it to the top to get a nice view of the city.
The Aristotelous Square is the main square of Thessaloniki. You can enjoy a very eclectic view from there, as it combines elements from Byzantine and Western architecture. In addition, it is right in front of the sea, so you can even spot Mount Olympus when the sky is clear.
Major social and political events take place in the square. Locals attend large rallies and political debates here. They also organize their festivals, carnivals and Christmas celebrations in Aristotelous Square.
It is an important tourist attraction but also attracts many young locals because the square has many cafes and bars.
This is a large promenade that goes from the Port to the Thessaloniki Concert Hall. Stroll along the seaside to get a view of the beautiful architecture that Thessaloniki has to offer.
You’ll come across a famous sculpture of Alexander the Great in his horse, the Royal Theater, an artistic set-up with Umbrellas by George Zoggolopoulos (a Greek sculptor), and thematic gardens.
Arch of Galerius
Thessaloniki is full of Roman structures, and the Arch of Galerius is one of the most recognizable in the city. Built during the early 4th century, it was part of an imperial precinct connected to the Emperor’s palace.
Most of the monument has disappeared, but some of them are still standing in the middle of the modern city, reminding us of old times.
If you observe closely, you’ll see many stories carved on the arch. For example, the clearest figures are a representation of Galerius’ victory over the Sassanid king.
The Rotunda is very close to the Arch of Galerius. They were both parts of the same complex connected to the emperor’s palace. Romans built it after Thessaloniki became one of the four capitals of the Roman tetrarchy.
It is a massive construction and very interesting to see. It still preserves some mosaics from the time it was a Christian church. Ottomans converted it into a mosque in 1590, but in 1912 the government reinstated it as a church. The minaret is still standing, though.
The entrance fee is only 1 euro, so there is really no excuse to miss this wonderful structure!
This famous church is listed as UNESCO World Heritage. Protospatharios Christophoros and his family built the church in the year 1028 in replacement of a pagan temple of worship.
Another particularity of the Church of the Panagia Chalkeon is that it has now sunk below the level of the city. This is probably because of earth deposits laid down after the big fire of 1917. There is a lot of interest in the painted decoration, even considering they are not in perfect condition.
Ancient Roman Agora
The Ancient Roman Agora is a two-level forum that was built over an ancient Greek agora. Archaeological excavations discovered it in 1966.
It is not known how old exactly this forum is, but it must be at least 1500 years old. The ancient agora was built in the centre of the city, according to the Roman model used in many provinces. It was used as the political, social and religious centre of Thessaloniki for many years.
Only the eastern side is uncovered. There are discoveries of mosaics, apses, water piping, coins, and statues, among other objects of historical value. Don’t miss the hidden museum located underground!
Currently, the best-preserved area is the Odeon, or Odeum, an ancient theatre which is now sometimes used for concerts.
Agios Demetrios is considered the most important church of Thessaloniki. The temple is a perfect representation of Byzantine religious architecture of the early period of the Empire. It was built in the 7th century and has undergone many changes.
The Ottomans turned it into a mosque, and it was restored after the big fire of 1917. After the fire, many older mosaics from the 7th century were revealed.
The church is also known because of its ancient underground crypt! It was re-discovered after the fire of 1917 and is now used as a museum. According to the Orthodox tradition, Saint Demetrios was imprisoned in this crypt and died in 303 AD. It’s a must when thinking about what to do in Thessaloniki.
If you are Turkish or a Turkish history enthusiast, you would probably like to pay a visit to Atatürk Museum. You can find the museum inside the Turkish consulate.
The place used to be the house where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was born and raised. He was the founder of the modern secular Republic of Turkey and is considered one of the most important personalities in the country.
The museum is dedicated to his life and achievements. Because it’s inside the consulate, you first need to ring a bell, and then security will open the door. There is no entrance fee.
It is possible to walk between all the places that I have mentioned. However, they are not super close to each other. If you can’t walk that much or prefer not to, there are other options you might want to consider.
Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Bus Tour – This bus allows you to stop at eight main attractions and go back to the bus when you finish exploring the place (it goes by every 30 minutes). It is cheap and convenient, plus it includes an audio guide to explain the importance of each site.
Half-day Tour to the main landmarks – The tour starts by picking you up from your hotel or Airbnb and then takes you to all the major landmarks of Thessaloniki. Includes a professional tour guide so you can get a better understanding of the city.
Where to Eat in Thessaloniki
Located in the Ladadika district, the restaurant offers authentic Mediterranean and Greek cuisine in Thessaloniki.
High School Pizza Bar, as the name suggests, is a casual restaurant specialising in pizza and fine wine varieties and cocktails. It is right in front of the sea promenade, so the view is unbeatable.
Primarily known for its desserts and drinks, Kitchen Bar is inside the Harbor, offering a spectacular view. The comfortable environment and beautiful decorations let you relax by the sea while experiencing great flavours.
You can spend a big part of your day learning about the rich cuisine of Thessaloniki. Try new, exciting dishes and find out about the history behind them. Here are a couple of suggestions:
Walking Food tour – Learn the history of the open markets and the famous traditional Greek taverns. You will taste a variety of culinary treasures.
Food and Culture Tour – Taste a wide variety of drinks and bites. Learn about Thessaloniki’s unique culture as you walk through ancient streets and interact with local restaurateurs and fellow food lovers.
Where to Stay in Thessaloniki
Budget Hotels in Thessaloniki
There are shared and private rooms
Good location with breakfast included.
Outstanding Hotels in Thessaloniki
Beautiful decoration and perfect location.
Boutique hotel in the heart of the city.
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