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Thessaloniki, Greece - 2023 Guide

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Thessaloniki is a Greek city located in the northern region of the country and is known for its unique blend of beauty, history, culture, and chaos. The city is also known for its delicious cuisine and stunning views of the sea. Additionally, Thessaloniki has an international airport that serves as an easy entry point to explore the central and northern regions of mainland Greece.

Thessaloniki is a city with multiple neighborhoods, each with its own character. You can get a great view of the city at sunset from the Byzantine walls. It has a mix of modern and ancient architecture, such as the Arch of Galerius and the popular shopping place Egnatia, as well as the cool cocktail bars near the famous White Tower located at the waterfront. The revitalized waterfront is perfect for walking and cycling, and the city offers a lot of lively music and nightlife after dark.

A little bit of history

Thessaloniki, Greece was founded in 315 BC by King Cassander of Macedonia. The city was named after Thessaloniki, wife of Cassander and half-sister of Alexander the Great. 

Thessaloniki was named after her father, King Phillip II of Macedonia, and it means “victory of the Thessalians” in Greek. The name was chosen to commemorate King Phillip II’s victory over the Phocians, with help from Thessalian horsemen.


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Roman times

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Arch of Galerius in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki became an important urban center in the 2nd century BC when it was fortified and made the capital of one of the Roman districts of Macedonia following the Roman conquest of Greece. The Romans also constructed a large harbor, setting the foundation for the city’s expansion. Additionally, a Jewish community was established in Thessaloniki during the 1st century AD. 

After his visit to the synagogue, Apostle Paul established a Christian church and wrote two letters to the Thessalonian Christian community, which are currently referred to as the Epistles to the Thessalonians.

Byzantine times

After Constantinople became the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Thessaloniki became the second largest city. Its population grew and trade became the main occupation. In 620 AD, an earthquake damaged several buildings including the Roman market, but the city was able to recover. 

In the seventh century, the Slavs tried to occupy Thessaloniki without success. To prevent future attacks, the Byzantines sent two brothers, Cyril and Methodius, who were from Thessaloniki and later became saints of the Greek Orthodox Church, to teach the Slavs about Christianity.

Throughout its history, Thessaloniki faced various difficulties such as raids from Saracen pirates in 904 AD and being conquered by the Crusaders in 1204. Nevertheless, the city eventually managed to recover and regain its freedom in 1246. Despite these obstacles, Thessaloniki thrived as a center of trade and culture, showcasing impressive churches and artworks created by learned scholars of that era.

Ottoman occupation

Thessaloniki was sold to the Venetians by the Byzantine Emperors during the early 15th century as they were unable to protect the city from the Ottoman Empire. Although the Ottomans subsequently captured and occupied it for five centuries, they restored the Castle and built various mosques and baths, which remain standing today. 

The city prospered and advanced during Ottoman governance, accommodating people of various religions, including Greek Orthodox, Muslims, and Jews.


On October 27th, 1912, Thessaloniki was liberated from Turkish rule during the First Balkan War. King George I of Greece settled there to emphasize Greek ownership of the city but was assassinated in March 1913 near the White Tower. 

Later, in 1916 during World War I, Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos established a new government and declared Thessaloniki the capital of the Greek state to show his opposition to the pro-German king and Greece’s support of the Allied forces.

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Roman Market in Thessaloniki

Recent times

From 1941 to 1944, the city was occupied by Nazi troops during World War II. The bombings caused extensive damage, and the majority of the Jewish population lost their lives. However, the city was reconstructed after the war and turned into a contemporary European city. Subsequently, business and trade thrived in the city.

On June 20th, 1978, Thessaloniki experienced a 6.5 magnitude earthquake that caused significant damage to many buildings, including some important Byzantine monuments, and resulted in the loss of 40 lives. Despite the devastation, Thessaloniki was able to make a recovery.

Thessaloniki’s sites were declared World Heritage Monuments by UNESCO in 1988. In 1997, Thessaloniki was recognized as the European City of Culture. Despite its ancient history, Thessaloniki is now a modern city with a robust economy. Nevertheless, visitors can still enjoy the city’s numerous old sites that are scattered throughout.

The best things to do in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki boasts a wealth of historical sites that are definitely worth visiting. Many of these sites are of considerable importance, dating back to both Roman and Byzantine eras. Notable examples include the Roman Arch of Galerius, the Monument of Rotonda, the Church of Saint Demetrius, and the Medieval Castle.

 However, the White Tower, located conveniently at the renowned Beach Promenade, is the top attraction in Thessaloniki and its most distinguished monument.

If you’re looking for active holiday opportunities in the city center of Thessaloniki, it can be a bit challenging. However, the city’s main attractions are sightseeing and shopping. Luckily, Thessaloniki’s landmarks are conveniently located around Aristotle Square, which is considered the heart of the city and can be easily explored on foot.

On the other hand, if you’re a shopaholic, Thessaloniki is a paradise for you. The city center is home to the shopping triangle, which includes Egnatia Str, Nikis Str, and Venizelou Str. There, you can find a mix of big shopping outlets and family-owned shops. 

Thessaloniki has two big malls – Mediterranean Cosmos near the airport and One Salonica Shopping Centre. There are also traditional markets, like the famous Bezesteni Market, that you should check out.

Trigonion Tower and the Castle in Thessaloniki

These are the must-see sites in Thessaloniki that you shouldn’t miss.

White Tower

Thessaloniki’s White Tower is a well-known landmark situated along the beach promenade. Originally constructed by the Ottomans in the 16th century, it has functioned as a fortress, a prison, and a university workshop throughout its history. Today, it functions as a museum.

Arch of Galerius

The Arch of Galerius, also called Kamara, was constructed in Thessaloniki in 305 AD as a tribute to Roman commander Galerius for his conquest over the Persians. The arch features engraved illustrations that depict this triumph. While it was previously linked to the Palace of Galerius and the Rotonda, Kamara is currently a popular pathway and meeting area in Thessaloniki.

Rotonda Monument

The Rotonda in Thessaloniki is a round building constructed by Roman general Galerius in 300 AD. Initially, it served as a pagan monument. However, in the late 4th century AD, it was turned into a Christian church and decorated with stunning frescoes.

 Later, the Ottomans took control of Thessaloniki and transformed the Rotonda into a mosque. It was transformed back into a church in the early 19th century and then used as a museum to exhibit sculptures.

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Rotonda Monument in Thessaloniki

Church of Agios Dimitrios

The Church of Agios Dimitrios, which pays tribute to the patron saint of Thessaloniki, is the most popular church in the area. Locals observe his feast day on October 26th, which is also a holiday. 

The church has a long history that dates back to the Byzantine era and is located on the same site where Saint Demetrius was martyred. The church’s basement is the very place where he suffered and died for his faith.

Archaeological Museum

The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki opened in September 2006, after restoring an old building. It showcases the lifestyle and culture of people who lived in Thessaloniki and the broader area of Macedonia from prehistoric times till the present. 

The museum has permanent exhibits on various subjects covering different periods in Macedonian history. Visitors can also benefit from educational programs tailored to university students and children.


The Castle of Thessaloniki, also called Yedi Kule or Heptapyrgion, is an ancient fortress that was built during both the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. It sits atop the Old Town (Ano Poli) and was primarily used as the headquarters for the garrison commander until the late 1800s. Subsequently, it was converted into a detention center and remained in operation until 1989.

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Panorama of Thessaloniki

Church of Agia Sofia

Located in the city center of Thessaloniki, this church holds great historical importance. While it’s unclear when it was built, it is believed to have been modeled after the Church of Saint Sofia in Constantinople, which shares a similar architectural style. There are even some who speculate that both churches were designed by the same architect, Anthemios.

Roman Market

The Roman Market was situated close to the city center and functioned for 800 years, starting from when the town was established in the 5th century BC until the early Byzantine period in the 5th century AD. The remains of various structures including a theater, square, arched street, mint, and marketplace have been found by archaeologists. Currently, the excavation and restoration work is in progress.

Museum for Macedonian Struggle

The Museum of Macedonian Struggle is situated in Thessaloniki and occupies a 19th-century Neoclassical-style building designed by the renowned German architect Ernst Ziller. 

Its exhibits include valuable artifacts highlighting the challenges faced by Macedonian and Northern Greek communities in their fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire and their inclusion in Greece.

Balkan Wars Museum

The Balkan Wars during the early 20th century hold great importance to Thessaloniki and the region of Macedonia. In 1912, Thessaloniki was freed from Ottoman rule that had been in place for five centuries during the 1st Balkan War.

 To honor these historic events, the Museum of the Balkan Wars was founded in 1999. The museum is located in a restored mansion in Yefira village, roughly 25 km away from Thessaloniki.

Byzantine Museum

The Byzantine Museum in Thessaloniki was established in 1989 and was opened to the public in 1993. It has 11 rooms that showcase both permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as educational programs. Some of the exhibits can also be found in Thessaloniki’s iconic White Tower.

Church of Agios Nikolaos Orfanos

One of the oldest churches in Thessaloniki is located in Ano Poli. It was built during the 14th century and is home to valuable Byzantine-era frescoes.

Bey Hamam

Bey Hamam is a historic bathhouse located on Egnatia Street, next to the church of Panagia Halkeon. It was built by Sultan Murad II in 1444 and is often called “the Baths of Paradise.” This beautiful structure is considered one of the most significant relics from the time of Ottoman control in Thessaloniki.

Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art

The Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art is located at the Helexpo Exhibition Centre on Egnatia St. Its mission is to display contemporary art from Greece and around the globe, and to enrich the cultural landscape of Greece.

Waterworks Museum

The Waterworks Museum is situated in the old water supply structure that was operational between 1894 and 1978. It exhibits the history of water supply in Thessaloniki.

Church of Panagia Halkeon

The Panagia Chalkeon church in the Byzantine style is situated in the southwestern region of the Roman Agora archaeological site. It was named after the Greek title for Virgin Mary, who was believed to protect the cooper workers that once worked in the surrounding area.

Agios Dimitrios Church in Thessaloniki

Monastery of  Vlatadon

The town of Thessaloniki has only one monastery, located in Ano Poli. The Transfiguration of Christ is the monastery’s dedicated purpose, and it was originally constructed in the 14th century. Presently, only the main church or catholicon remains.

Cinema Museum

The purpose of the museum is to collect, preserve, and exhibit items related to the history of Greek cinema. The collection, which originates from Nikos Bililis, a cinematographer from Thessaloniki, forms the basis of the museum.

Church of the Holy Apostles

The church from the 14th century in Byzantine style features a cruciform layout, five domes, and stunning brickwork adorned with intricate patterns.

Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki can be found in the town center, occupying one of the rare remaining Jewish buildings that wasn’t destroyed during the 1917 fire. Its exhibits aim to present the extensive history and culture of Jews who resided in Thessaloniki starting from the 15th century. 

Jews first arrived in the area, coming from Spain in 1492, and had managed to blend in with the local community, prospering for many years. However, the Nazis obliterated 96% of the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki in World War II, leaving the community today very small.

Church of Panagia Acheropoietos

The church is called “Virgin Mary Not Made by Human Hands” in Greek and is a notable ancient Christian structure located in Thessaloniki. Among the oldest churches in Greece, it was built on a Roman bath site in the 5th century AD, but has undergone several reconstructions over time.

Church of Saint Gregorios Palamas

The building you are looking at is the Metropolitan Church of Thessaloniki. It is devoted to Saint Gregory Palamas, an Archbishop from the 13th century who is highly regarded as a saint in the Orthodox Church. 

The church is situated in Agias Sofias square and can be recognized by its unique red round dome. It holds two annual celebrations: one on November 14th, the day the saint passed away, and another on the second Sunday of Lent.

Ataturk Museum

Kemal Ataturk, born in 1881, is known as the founder of modern Turkey. He was born in a three-storey house located in the center of the Old Town of Thessaloniki while it was under Turkish rule. 

The house, constructed in 1870, was gifted to the Turkish state by the Municipality of Thessaloniki in 1935. Today, visitors can tour the museum and view the rooms where Ataturk spent his childhood until 1912 when the town was liberated and became part of Greece.

Villa Allatini

There are many Neoclassical villas and mansions in the southwestern suburb of Kalamaria that were built in the 19th century by Italian architects. An example of one of these notable historic homes is Villa Allatini, which was designed by architect Vitaliano Poselli and constructed in 1896.

The climate

Thessaloniki’s climate is affected by its position on the Aegean Sea which leads to a blend of various climates. Being situated in a transitional zone, the city shows characteristics of both Mediterranean and semi-arid climates with semi-arid climate being close to the outskirts. 

The average annual rainfall in the area stands at 450 mm (17.7 inches). Thessaloniki usually gets 20 to 30 mm (0.79 to 1.18 inches) of rain during the summer. Winters are generally dry, with frosty mornings being typical. Although snow does occur during the winter months, it only lasts for a few days at most. 

Fog happens frequently, around 193 days per year. In Thessaloniki, the lowest temperature on record is -14°C (7°F), and it usually has 32 days per year with temperatures below zero. January is the coldest month in downtown Thessaloniki, with an average temperature of 8°C (46°F). During the winter months of December and January, there is also an average wind speed of 26 km/h (16 mph).

Thessaloniki’s Promenade and White Tower

In Thessaloniki, summer temperatures can get very hot, with some days reaching 30°C (86°F) and even up to 40°C (104°F). This lasts around 32 days. There is little rain, but occasional thunderstorms. 

Heat waves are common. The hottest months are July and August, with an average temperature of 28°C (82°F) for the entire day. The highest temperature ever recorded in the city was 44°C (111°F).

Bottom Line

If you’re retired or an expat and want a city that’s not too chaotic, Thessaloniki is a great choice. It’s conveniently located and you can easily visit places like Central and North Greece, islands like Corfu, Thasos, and Sporades, and nearby countries like Bulgaria and Turkey. Just note that there are some neighborhoods in Thessaloniki that you should avoid for safety reasons.

Thessaloniki benefits from the contributions of young people and students from the three universities located in the city, making it a vibrant place. You can find plenty of affordable and delicious food options at numerous restaurants, tavernas, and bars, which are cheaper than those in Mykonos or Santorini. Real estate has also experienced a significant increase as many foreigners are settling here, even to get a golden visa.

Thessaloniki offers a great work-life balance due to the abundance of leisure activities available after work. For instance, you can take a leisurely stroll along the beach promenade or visit nearby city attractions such as the White Tower or Rotonda, all within easy walking distance.

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