Best Things to do in Thessaloniki
· ·

16 Best Things to do in Thessaloniki For First-Timers

The vibrant metropolis of Thessaloniki in northern Greece is known for its rich tapestry of ancient ruins, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and bustling nightlife.

I had looked for flights to Thessaloniki in previous years, but somehow always ended up traveling to different destinations. This year, however, the time had come and together with my sister, I spent a few nights in the city.

Are you planning your trip to Thessaloniki at the last minute?

Here are the best tours and accommodations in the city!

🇬🇷 Best Tours & Experiences in Thessaloniki

🛌 Best Hotels in Thessaloniki

Well, if I had known what a cool place it is, I probably would have gone there sooner!

From its ancient roots as a crossroads of civilizations to its modern-day status as a bustling metropolis, Thessaloniki truly offers something for everyone. We had an absolute blast discovering all the city’s different facets!

To ensure you have an equally fantastic experience as well, I’ve put together this comprehensive list featuring everything we did during our stay.

So grab your passport and get ready to explore the 16 best things to do in Thessaloniki!

(This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a certain percentage of a sale if you purchase after clicking.)

1. Visit The Old Port

A blend of cultural heritage and modern entertainment – that’s what the old port of Thessaloniki offers. Once the bustling heart of the city’s maritime trade, the port area has been transformed into a lively district.

Things to do in Thessaloniki

The picturesque waterfront promenade lined with an array of cafés, bars, and restaurants makes an ideal spot for a walk, providing stunning views of the Thermaic Gulf.

The warehouses that once stored goods have been repurposed into trendy art galleries and cultural spaces, including the renowned Thessaloniki Cinema Museum and the Museum of Photography.

Thessaloniki Cinema Museum
Thessaloniki Cinema Museum

Whether you’re looking to relax at the sea, marvel at photographic works, or enjoy a glass (or two) of Greek wine at Kitchenbar Restaurant, you will surely fall for the charm of the old port!

2. Stroll Along The Seafront Promenade

Extending 5 kilometers from the port to the Music Hall, the seafront promenade of Thessaloniki offers an ideal setting for a leisurely stroll on a beautiful day.

The promenade actually consists of two parts, the Old Promenade (Palia Paralia) and the New Promenade (Nea Paralia).

Palia Paralia
Nea Paralia

Easily accessible by bus or foot from the city center, the promenade invites for a refreshing seaside stroll. You can also enjoy some cycling in the designated bike lanes or have a break at one of the many green areas.

Along the way, you’ll also spot various statues such as the statue of Alexander The Great, the legendary king of Macedonia, or the Umbrella installation.

3. Climb up The Iconic White Tower

Every city has at least one iconic landmark that makes it instantly recognizable. In Paris it is the Eiffel Tower, in Rome the Colosseum, and in Barcelona the Sagrada Familia.

In the case of Thessaloniki, it is the White Tower, which is not only a great historical building but also offers a fantastic 360-degree view over the city.

Located right at the waterfront, the tower was built in the 15th century after the fall of Thessaloniki to the Ottomans.

Over the centuries, it served multiple purposes: in the 19th century, it was used as a prison and place of execution, while during World War I, one floor was used to store antiquities from excavations.

Today, the tower houses a museum with exhibitions that show the history of Thessaloniki from its founding to the present day across multiple floors.

Once at the top, the roof terrace offers a wonderful view of the city and the Thermaic Gulf.

There’s a small fee of €3, which includes access to both the museum and the roof.

Tours you might find interesting:

Powered by GetYourGuide

4. Click Photos of The Umbrellas

As briefly mentioned earlier, there’s a sculpture along the seafront promenade that is simply called “Umbrellas”.

This stainless steel artwork consists of nothing more than – yes, you guessed it – umbrellas and was created by George Zongolopoulos in 1997 when Thessaloniki was the European Capital of Culture.

Nowadays, the 40 umbrellas that span over 13 meters high from a wooden platform are one of the most photographed places in the entire city.

While already impressive by day, they’re even more magical lit up with an off-white light at night.

There’s no entrance fee and it’s possible to visit the sculpture at any time at your own pace and leisure.

5. Check out The Arch of Galerius & Rotunda

Thessaloniki boasts numerous historic sites, including the Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda.

The Arch of Galerius is a stunning monument located just a 15-minute walk from the White Tower and the promenade. It was built in the 4th century after the victory of the Roman Emperor Galerius over the Persians.

Initially, the arch consisted of eight pillars, but only three remain. Despite this, the beautiful marble and intricate carvings depicting scenes from mythology and ancient Greek history can still be admired today.

Arch of Galerius

Just a few steps from the arch lies the Rotunda, another ancient Roman monument that was originally intended to serve as Galerius’s mausoleum.

After Galerius’s death and his burial somewhere else, the Rotunda has undergone various transformations. It has served as a Christian church for more than 1,200 years and a mosque during Ottoman rule.

Originally, the dome and vaults of the Rotunda were entirely adorned with mosaics, but only a handful have survived to this day.

The Rotunda is open daily except for Tuesdays, from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm in summer and winter. Admission is €6 for adults.

During our visit in March 2024, the roof was undergoing restoration and was therefore covered with scaffolding. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information on how long this would last so maybe the restoration work will have been completed by the time you visit.

6. Discover Roman Ruins Across The City

One thing I truly love about old cities like Thessaloniki or Rome is that there is something worth seeing around almost every corner.

You walk along your path unsuspectingly and suddenly you come across ancient ruins, nestled inconspicuously in between all the buildings and streets.

Maybe that’s the reason why Rome is my favorite European city …

But back to Greece and Thessaloniki, after all, there is just as much to see here!

One of the best Roman ruins not to miss is the Roman Forum of Thessaloniki, a former marketplace dating back to the 2nd century AD. 

Galerius Complex

And then there is the Palace of Galerius, also known as the Galerius Complex, constructed in the same period as the Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda.

Of course, there are countless other ruins scattered throughout the city that are just waiting to be discovered.

Time to get rid of Google Maps and set off on an adventure!

7. Enjoy The Lively Atmosphere at Aristotelous Square

Picture a vast paved area, surrounded by elegant Neoclassical buildings and a lush park in the center with views of the deep blue ocean – that’s Aristotelous Square, the vibrant heart of Thessaloniki.

With plenty of cozy cafés nearby and the iconic White Tower just a short stroll away, it’s a beloved hangout spot for both locals and tourists.

Moreover, it serves as the venue for various cultural events, concerts, and festivals throughout the year, including the renowned Thessaloniki International Film Festival.

Aristotelous Square
Best Things to do in Thessaloniki

8. Visit The Crypt at St. Demetrius Church

Another awesome thing to do in Thessaloniki is to explore the crypt of Aghios Demetrios, the city’s patron saint, at the Church of St Demetrius.

We had St. Demetrius Church on our list simply because it’s the city’s largest church and a UNESCO World Heritage. What we didn’t know before, though, is that there’s a crypt right underneath the church, and we found the entrance door almost only by coincidence.

The crypt of Aghios Demetrios was discovered in 1918 and has been transformed into an archaeological site and museum. The exhibition is dedicated to the worship of the saint and the history of the church.

It shows early Christian sculptures and Byzantine sculptures as well as various excavation finds, including coins and pottery.

9. Admire The Beauty of Hagia Sophia

Not as large as St. Demetrius Church but equally impressive is the church of Hagia Sophia. Dating back to the 7th century, it is one of the oldest churches in Thessaloniki still standing in its original structure.

Due to its exceptional Byzantine art and architecture, as well as its significance in early Christianity, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

While the exterior of the church may not be remarkable, the interior decoration with its frescoes and Byzantine icons is truly stunning.

The nave is crowned by a large dome measuring 10 meters in diameter that’s adorned with a stunning mosaic showing the Ascension.

10. Watch The Sunset From The OTE Tower

Undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Thessaloniki in the evening is watching the sunset from a high vantage point. And for that, there’s no better option than the OTE Tower.

The OTE Tower is a 76-meter-tall tower located in the Thessaloniki International Exhibition Center in central Thessaloniki, not far from the White Tower and the promenade.

Inside the tower, you find the Skyline Cafe Bar, a revolving restaurant offering a bird’s eye view of the city.

As the tower slowly rotates 360 degrees every hour, you can savor coffee, snacks, drinks, or cocktails, while taking in the unparalleled sunset views!

Best Things to do in Thessaloniki

11. Drop by The Atatürk House

Did you know that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder and leader of the modern Turkish State, was born in Greece, more precisely, in Thessaloniki?

Well, I didn’t know until we came across the information while planning our trip, and since his birthplace is only a 10-minute walk from St. Demetrius Church, we incorporated a short detour to visit it.

Atatürk House

Considered one of the most important and historic personalities of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was born in 1881 in Thessaloniki.

In 1935, the Thessaloniki city council decided to hand over the building to the Turkish State, which subsequently transformed it into a museum.

There is no entrance fee required to explore the museum, where you can view authentic furniture, personal items, and photographs illustrating different periods of Kemal Atatürk’s life.

12. Explore The Neighborhood of Tsinari

The neighborhood of Ano Poli, the old part of Thessaloniki, is popular for its enchanting mix of stone-paved alleys, traditional houses, and impressive Byzantine-era monuments.

However, one part of Ano Poli that stands out in particular is Tsinari.

The name “Tsinari” derives from the Turkish word “çınar” (plane tree), owing to the presence of a large plane tree in the area, alongside a small café holding the same name, Ouzeri Tsinari.

The latter is one of the last Ottoman-style cafés in the old town and with this unique charm, it’s no wonder it’s very well-visited around the clock.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a free seat, but luckily there are other gorgeous cafés around where you can enjoy a drink or something to eat.

Set aside enough time to wander through all the narrow streets and paved alleys of Tsinari, truly experiencing the enchanting atmosphere that makes you feel as if you’ve traveled hundreds of years back in time.

13. Enjoy The View From Trigoniou Tower

Also located in Ano Poli is the ancient city wall, featuring the renowned and magnificent Trigoniou Tower.

Built in the late 15th century to prevent an invasion, the tower is now also lovingly called “the balcony of Thessaloniki” due to the breathtaking panoramic views it offers.

There’s a deck right next to the tower featuring a few benches to relax and enjoy the view.

It’s also possible to see the tower from the inside, but there’s an entrance fee to pay. I don’t know how much as we weren’t inside and I can’t find exact prices online either.

But if, like us, you just want to enjoy the view, you can do so completely free of charge!

14. Step Back in Time at The Heptapyrgion

Something that costs money but is still worth a visit is the Heptapyrgion.

Perched atop the highest point of Thessaloniki in the neighborhood of Ano Poli and just a short walk from the Trigoniou Tower, the Heptapyrgionoffers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s rich history.

This fortress, whose name means “Fortress of Seven Towers“, has served various purposes since its construction. Originally built as a defensive structure in the Byzantine era, it later became an Ottoman prison.

Once you pay the modest €4 admission fee, you can freely stroll around the fortress to explore the old prison cells and the many courtyards and climb the towers for stunning panoramic views.

Moreover, a museum showcases the fortress’s history, including artifacts, documents, and displays about its time as a prison.

The Heptapyrgion’s well-preserved architecture and eerie atmosphere – you can almost sense the presence of the prisoners as you walk past the locked iron doors of the cells – make it a must-visit in Thessaloniki!

15. Embrace The Nightlife in Ladadika District

Thessaloniki is a city with bustling nightlife and there’s no better place to embark on nocturnal adventures than Ladadika District.

Located near the port, Ladadika was once the city’s commercial center but is now a bustling hub of restaurants, bars, and clubs.

The cobblestone streets and beautifully restored buildings create a unique backdrop for an unforgettable night out.

You can enjoy a variety of entertainment options, from cozy tavernas serving delicious Greek cuisine (I highly recommend Sourtoukw) to trendy bars like Manoir offering inventive cocktails.

There are two main streets in Ladadika, Katouni and Egiptou. Most traditional tavernas are located along Katouni while the hip bars & clubs can be found along Egiptou Street.

So whether you’re in the mood for live music, dancing, or simply relaxing with friends, Ladadika’s nightlife scene certainly has something for everyone.

16. Plan a Day Trip to Meteora

Last but not least, one of the best things to do in Thessaloniki is to plan a day trip to Meteora.

Ever since I came across a photo of Meteora in one of my travel books, I’ve been eager to visit. So when I found out that it’s just a three-hour drive from Thessaloniki, I immediately planned a trip there!

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Meteora is renowned for its surreal rock formations topped with ancient monasteries, making it one of the most stunning landmarks in Greece.

Meteora monasteries from a view point
Monastery of Agios Stefanos

It is possible to drive there yourself and visit the monasteries, but as we didn’t have a car, we booked a full-day bus trip via GetYourGuide.

During this tour, we explored two out of the remaining six monasteries, marveled at their beauty from a spectacular vantage point, and enjoyed lunch at a traditional taverna in Kalambaka.

It was an incredible feeling to finally be able to see this impressive place in real life!

Tours you might find interesting:

Powered by GetYourGuide

Find Accommodation in Thessaloniki

Do you need more info for your trip to Thessaloniki or have other questions?
Feel free to reach out!

Check out:
Where to Stay in Thessaloniki – Elisabeth Boutique Hotel
20 Beautiful & Famous Landmarks in Greece Worth Seeing
ALL Mamma Mia Filming Locations on Skopelos & Skiathos
All The Best Places to See on Skiathos Island, Greece

Like it? Pin it!

Do you want to travel like me?
Here are some of my favorite travel tips and resources:

Flights: I prefer using CheapOair or Skyscanner to book flights. The destination everywhere feature is perfect for finding some cheap deals!

Accommodation: is my favorite site to find some great hotel deals. I do love staying at a local place as well, thus I book an Airbnb every now and then.

Travel Insurance: There are many reasons why travel insurance is important and I never travel without one. I use the simple and flexible one from SafetyWing that protects me against unforeseen events.

Tours: I love taking tours to explore destinations like a local. My favorite website to book them in advance is GetYourGuide.

Camera Gear: I use a Nikon D5300 camera with an 18-105 mm and a 10-20 mm wide-angle lens to take my photos.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *