Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, has long been overshadowed by Athens. While this has been a point of contention for the city’s residents, it is a source of pride as well. The people of Thessaloniki argue that the city boasts superior food and nightlife, and an authentically Greek feel which Athens lacks. Based on my recent visit to Thessaloniki, it is hard to argue with these claims!
Despite being outside most tourists’ itineraries, Thessaloniki maintains an outward profile. Thessaloniki was the European Cultural Capital in 1997 and will be the European Youth Capital in 2014, and hosts the Thessaloniki Film Festival, the Thessaloniki International Book Festival, and other marquee events.
Thessaloniki is pedestrian and bicycle friendly. It is a compact city, with green spaces and a long, beautiful waterfront which is perfect for a stroll or a bicycle ride. And what one will discover when walking the city are numerous delightful restaurants and cafés. One can start the day with the city’s renowned breakfast treat: bougatsa, a baked pastry which comes in a variety of different flavors, which are all delicious!
Sightseeing can begin with the city’s main attraction, the Lefkos Pirgos, which contains a museum, and from the top of which you can enjoy spectacular city views. Nearby, the Archaeological Museum contains historical exhibits from Ancient Greece and particularly Macedonia, while the Museum of Byzantine Art houses beautiful artifacts from the city’s Byzantine past.
Nighttime in Thessaloniki features a plethora of dining and entertainment options. Thessaloniki, as the home to two universities, has a youthful feel—and this is reflected in the city’s bars and cafés. Trendy cafés can be found along the waterfront and Plateia Aristotelous, while artsy cafés are found in Plateia Navarinou and the charming Ladadika quarter.
Outside the center, Ano Poli, a pleasant old quarter of Thessaloniki, features great city views and tavernas which specialize in grilled meats. Ano Poli is perfect for exploration by foot, as one can walk the winding streets and feel that they are in a small village! Meanwhile, the coastal neighborhood of Kalamaria boasts excellent seafood restaurants and youthful cafés.
Adding to Thessaloniki’s appeal is its proximity to other attractions, including the historic site of Vergina, the monasteries of Agion Oros, and the beaches of Halkidiki. And just as all of these sights are accessible from Thessaloniki, the city is easily reached from the rest of Greece and from major European hubs by air. Ferry routes connect Thessaloniki to many islands, while bus and train routes link Thessaloniki to Athens.
In recent years, Thessaloniki has made tremendous efforts to promote itself as the preeminent tourist destination of the Balkans. These efforts have not gone unnoticed, as even The New York Times has commented on Thessaloniki’s emerging status as a tourism hub. Yet the city maintains an authentic feel and a small town aesthetic. Now is the time to experience Thessaloniki for yourself, and to discover what the city’s locals have long known about their hometown.
Information about the author
Ph.D. Student & Assistant Instructor, Department of Radio-Television-Film
University of Texas at Austin