An aerial view of Thessaloniki's promenade.

7 reasons why you should visit Thessaloniki, Greece

Planning a trip to Thessaloniki? Here are our top picks...

Stay: The Caravan

Walking tour: Customised tour with a local

Food tour: Open market walking tour

Day trip: Mount Olympus

Meteora tour: Full-day tour

If you’re wondering if Thessaloniki is worth visiting, this off-the-radar destination in Greece has more than 3,000 years of history, a food scene to rival Athens, and transport links to some of the best Greek Islands. 

The second-largest city after Athens, Thessaloniki is located in Northern Greece in the area known as Central Macedonia. The Old Town isn’t short of UNESCO World Heritage sites, with old trading routes making this one of the most multicultural places in Greece.

The Aegean Sea laps at the busy promenade, and the locals enjoy long meals with friends in trendy waterside restaurants.

People walking in Aristotelous Square in Thessaloniki, Greece

1. Thessaloniki is a walkable city

You can walk almost everywhere in Thessaloniki. Though public transport is good, you are much more likely to discover hidden gems when seeing the city on foot.

Much of the old city was destroyed by fire in 1917, but you can still see the old Greek houses when wandering the streets of Ana Poli. Head to the Vlatadon Monastery, Trigoniou (Chain) Tower, and Castra Τerrace Βar, for some of the best views in Thessaloniki

The best way to get a feel for Thessaloniki is by walking its wide promenade that runs almost the whole length of the city front. It’s busy at any time of day, but at sunset, the city gathers along the seafront.

The Central Aristotelous Square is a good place to get your bearings, while Thessaloniki’s White Tower, the Alexander the Great Garden, and Zongolopoulos’ modern art installation ‘Umbrellas’ make great spots to visit along the way. 

Find a waterfront restaurant like Pepper & Backroom, a steakhouse that serves up Angus beef pasta with truffle sauce, or try the converted warehouse Kitchen Bar for casual dining.

The Arch of Galerius in Thessaloniki, Greece.

2. Thessaloniki is full of Byzantine, Roman and Greek ruins

Formerly known as Salonika, Thessaloniki has been home to many of the great civilizations of Greece and has a long list of UNESCO sites to prove it. Head to the Roman Agora of Thessaloniki, the mosaicked Rotunda, and the intricate reliefs of the Arch of Galerius to see some of the earliest Christian monuments in the Eastern Roman Empire.

As impressive as its namesake in Istanbul, if not more atmospheric, in my opinion, the Holy Church of Hagia Sophia is one of the oldest churches in Thessaloniki, dating back to the 7th century.

Its dull lighting, Byzantine frescoes, and burning scented candles make it feel like you are entering a place long-since lost to the passage of time.

Green space and boutiques in Tsimiski Street, Thessaloniki.

3. There are many things to do in Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is a university city and a popular place for young Greeks to come and live. Even if you had no interest in history, it's still a city worth visiting. 

Head to independent Greek designers and international boutiques on Tsimiski Street, stop at Bezesteni Market to load up on herbs, spices and sweets, and for nightlife, make a beeline for the lively Ladidika district.

Thessaloniki is a very liveable city that makes a great base for digital nomads and expats. Without the tourist crowds of Athens, you really get an authentic feel for modern Greek life in Thessaloniki. It’s a world away from the rural lifestyle of the islands.

Bougatsa, a traditional pastry from Thessaloniki, Greece.

4. Thessaloniki is the birthplace of the Bougatsa

The traditional Greek dessert, made with creamy custard wrapped in crispy phyllo pastry, is a staple for breakfast here. Usually served sprinkled with melted butter, icing sugar, and a dash of cinnamon, locals are rightly proud of this original Thessaloniki pastry. Of course, other Greek delights like baklava, loukoumades, koulouri and spanakopita have to be tested too (for fairness).

UNESCO named Thessaloniki as a Creative City of Gastronomy, and it’s not hard to see why when you see the lush mountain valleys and clear blue waters surrounding the city. Locally sourced is more than a buzzword here; it's something people have been doing for centuries. 

Trendy restaurants and highly-rated eateries are also drawing gastronomic influences from the area as well as the many cultures that inhabit the city - making the food scene all the more exciting. Take an open market walking tour to uncover some of the best food in Thessaloniki.

Beautiful Kalamitsii Beach on the east coast of Sithonia on Halkidiki, Greece.

5. You can go Greek Island hopping from Thessaloniki

Perched on the edge of the Adriatic Sea, Thessaloniki is an ideal gateway to a Greek Island hopping trip. You can take a ferry from the port of Thessaloniki to the Sporades, Cyclades, or Northern Aegean Islands. It’s also a good base for exploring parts of Northern Greece, such as the gravity-defying rock monasteries of Meteora, or the bear sanctuary at Nymfaio.

A little closer to the city is the sprawling Axios Delta National Park, a paradise for birdwatching and nature-based tourism. Then there’s one of the best-kept secrets in Greece - the Halkidiki Peninsula.

With powdery-white beaches and luxury resorts, the peninsula is a long-standing favourite of Greek tourists. Halkidiki is also home to the Petralona Cave, the traditional villages of Arnaia and Afitos, and the monastic state of Mount Athos.

You can also take a day trip to Mount Olympus from Thessaloniki. At 2,918 metres high, it's the tallest mountain in Greece, but is more commonly known as the home of the gods in Greek mythology.

The entrance to Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum.

6. It’s a perfect city for culture vultures

With so many ruins, remains and artefacts dotted around the city, it’s unsurprising that Thessaloniki is chock full of museums. Find Greek artefacts at the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, see mosaics and jewellery from the Byzantine period in The Museum of Byzantine Culture, or for something a little more modern, there’s the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art. 

There’s also The Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki, a huge part of the city's cultural heritage, and The Thessaloniki Olympic Museum which showcases Greece as the birthplace of the sporting event. The Thessaloniki War Museum offers a fascinating look into the city’s storied modern history, while MOMus, The Museum of Cinema, and NOESIS - The Science Center & Technology Museum all explore aspects of modern culture within the city.

While it would be impossible to do them all, there definitely is something for everyone visiting Thessaloniki on a rainy day.

A cobbled street in Thessaloniki, Greece.

7. Thessaloniki is arguably nicer than Athens

Athens has its unmissable sights, but Thessaloniki is both less touristy and cheaper than the capital. Plus it has a couple of other tricks up its sleeve that make it a contender for the best city in Greece to visit.

Due to the surrounding mountains, Thessaloniki has a much milder climate than Athens with an average temperature of 30°C/32°C in the height of summer. Winters are not too cold either due to the warm Aegean Sea.

Being a young city full of students, Thessaloniki is particularly well known for its festivals. The city's streets fill up with music, fun, and laughter during popular events like the Street Mode Festival, the Urban Picnic Festival, and the gastronomical smorgasbord that is the Thessaloniki Street Food Festival. 

There is less crime targeted towards tourists in Thessaloniki too. Like many European capitals, Athens has unfortunately attracted opportunists and certain areas do feel unsafe at night. But in Thessaloniki that isn’t the case. There are few protests, the general atmosphere is extremely relaxed, and, even at night, the city is welcoming to all.

Planning a trip to Thessaloniki? Stay at The Caravan in the centre of town.

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Jo Williams

Author - Jo Williams

Jo Williams is a freelance writer with 10 years' experience working in travel and tourism. A Brit who got fed up with the 9 to 5 corporate life, she sold everything to become a full-time wanderer.

Jo has travelled to over 70 countries and worked throughout Europe for a major tour operator. She hopes to inspire you to work less and travel more.

Last Updated 16 January 2024

Chora village and the old harbour of Astypalea island in Greece


In many ways, Greece is the perfect holiday destination. From white, sandy beaches and clear waters to amazing food and historical sites, Greece has you covered.