Inside the old city walls
The older part of Thessaloniki, known as Upper Town, sits on a hill overlooking Thermaikos Gulf and the modern city. Part of its charm comes from the massive byzantine walls that surround it and part from the traditional Macedonian architecture of most buildings in the neighborhood. Buses 22, 23 and 50 will get you to the top of the hill. Jump off at, or near, Acropoleos station and zigzag your way down its silent cobbled roads, among colorful sahnisi balconies, red-tile roofs, centuries-old fountains and sleepy cats. If you wish to wander through this beautiful maze with a purpose, try to find St. Nicholas Orphanos, a church whose architecture and murals will travel you back to the 14th century.
The waterfront promenade
The optical illusion of cargo ships hovering above the calm, dense waters of Thermaikos Gulf is one of the most characteristic sightings of Thessaloniki. The best way to enjoy it is by strolling along the Nea Paralia waterfront (buses 3, 5 and 6 will get you there). This is the locals’ favorite promenade -be it on foot, by bike, pushing a stroller or holding a dog leash. The partial renovation of this walk has endowed it with a contemporary playground that feels like an exciting science experiment and a peaceful garden of roses. Part of the waterfront will remain under construction through 2013 but this should not prevent you from ending your walk at the emblematic White Tower to explore Thessaloniki’s history through the interactive exhibits of this evocative city museum.
Roman arches, Byzantine churches and Turkish baths
A walk in downtown Thessaloniki can be easily made into a treasure-hunt for architectural gems hidden among the city’s contemporary buildings. If you want to take it in chronological order, start by gazing at the sculpted decorations on the Arch of Roman Emperor Galerius. Take a leap four centuries ahead by visiting Agia Sofia, a byzantine church built in resemblance to that of Constantinople. Absorb the Ottoman aura of Bey Hamam, also know as Baths of Paradise, and feel the city’s perennial commercial spirit in the Bezesteni fabrics market. Stroll down the majestic Aristotelous Square loggias, a piece of Ernest Hebrard architecture, and end your walk at the wharfs of Thessaloniki’s port, where the imposing early 20th-century Customs Building stands next to the city’s contemporary Photography and Cinema Museums.
Article and Photography by Isabella Zampetaki, Travel Writer