Thessaloniki

Macedonia and Thrace

The capital of Macedonia and Greece’s second city, Thessaloníki has a lovely situation by the water, a wealth of history, many good museums, churches, and good food and drink.

Thessaloniki waterfrontOn the Waterfront

The capital of Macedonia and Greece’s second city, Thessaloníki is a vibrant metropolis, with a lovely situation by the water, and a wealth of history that does not disguise the fact that it is also very much a modern city too. It has a large student population, and a walk along the waterfront in the evening takes you past rows of bars and cafés, all filled with the animated talk of young Greeks. Here they regard themselves as superior to the Athenians, and when you have spent any amount of time in the city you can understand that its citizens have a lot of justification for making that claim.

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great StatueAlexander the Great Statue

At one end of that waterfront is a large statue of Alexander the Great, and the city gets its name from his half-sister, Thessalonike of Macedon. She was married to King Kassandros who founded the city in 315 BC, though it was done by bringing together some 25 towns with the town of Therme, which already existed here. Although it was not the Macedonian capital, when the Romans conquered Greece they made it the capital of the region they called Macedonia Prima in 146 BC.

Thessaloniki Roman Remains

The Arch of Galerius in ThessalonikiThe Arch of Galerius

The Roman remains are among the city’s attractions, and it lay on the Via Egnatia, the mighty road which linked Rome with its eastern outpost at Constantinople (now Istanbul). Thessaloníki's main street today is still called Egnatia. Just off it, at the eastern end of the city centre, you will find the Arch of Galerius, which was put up by the Emperor Galerius in 303 to commemorate his victory over the Persians some six years previously. It is covered in splendidly detailed carvings. 

Roman Arch and Rotunda in ThessalonikiRoman Arch and Rotunda

Next to the Arch of Galerius is the Rotonda, which is believed to have been built as a Mausoleum for Galerius, though it was never used as such. It has been used both as a church and as a mosque in its time, and today is used for occasional art exhibitions.

The White Tower

The White Tower in ThessalonikiThe White Tower

Close by is the city’s most famous landmark, the White Tower, which you will see on many posters and postcards. It was previously known as the Bloody Tower, because among its former uses was as a prison and a place of execution. Today it houses a fascinatingly eclectic Byzantine Museum, which extends over five floors and brings together many Byzantine objects, including mosaics and jewelry, and not merely the usual range of icons which most Byzantine Museums restrict themselves to. Be sure to walk up to the roof, too, for a good view of the city’s waterfront.

Archaeological Museum

Thessaloniki Archaeological MuseumThessaloniki Archaeological Museum

A short walk from the White Tower is one of the city’s essential visitor attractions, the Archaeological Museum. Here in a specially-built annex is the skeleton of King Philip II of Macedon, along with the golden casket in which his body was buried, and the many other splendid finds from the Royal Tomb at Vergína.

In the same room are also finds from a significant site just north of the city at Dervéni, though the best objects are on display here and a visit to the site is not as rewarding. Among those objects are the burnt remains of a roll of papyrus from the 4th century BC, and the huge Dervéni Krater, an ornately-decorated bronze vase that was used for mixing wine. The museum also has some delicate mosaics found mainly in Roman houses within the city boundaries.

Other Museums

Museum of the Macedonian Struggle in ThessalonikiMuseum of the Macedonian Struggle

There are several other smaller museums, all worth visiting. One such is the Ethnological Museum, which is housed in a 19th-century mansion east of the city centre and contains a good collection of traditional costumes and a large photographic archive, amongst many other fascinating items. One block back from the waterfront in the centre of Thessaloníki is the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle. You can read more about Thessloniki's museums here.

Thessaloniki Churches

Agia Sofia in ThessalonikiAgia Sofia

Thessaloníki has many fine churches that any curious visitor ought to seek out. A landmark in the city centre is Ágia Sofía, which is easily distinguished as it was built in the 8th century and resembles the mosque of the same name in Istanbul. It was used as a mosque from 1585 to 1912, when it was reconsecrated and used as a church, which it still is today. Note the base of a minaret that remains in one corner of the church, and see also the frescoes and mosaics that have remarkably survived from the 9th and 10th centuries.

Largest Church in Greece

Ágios Dimítrios in ThessalonikiÁgios Dimítrios

Thessaloníki can also boast the largest church in Greece, which is dedicated to the city’s patron saint, Ágios Dimítrios. Although it is a comparatively modern building, having been rebuilt in 1917 after a horrific fire which devastated the city, it is on the site where Saint Dimítrios was murdered by the Romans in 305AD for not denouncing his faith. The crypt where this happened still exists, and is a haunting place beneath the main altar. The feast day of Ágios Dimítrios is 26th October, when there are processions and festivities, and it is in general a good time to visit the city as two days later is the Greek Public Holiday of Ochi Day, cue for yet more celebrations.

Osios David

Mosaic in Osios David church in ThessalonikiThe Vision of Ezekiel

In contrast to the largest church in Greece, visitors also ought to visit in the back streets of the upper town the tiny 5th-century chapel of Ósios David. It owes its fame to the fact that behind its altar is found the finest mosaic in Thessaloníki, The Vision of Ezekiel. Even those with no interest in churches or mosaics will appreciate the beauty of this work, the way it has retained its colours, and the fact that, unusually, it depicts a clean-shaven Christ. Although the church is kept locked because of the priceless nature of the mosaic, there is usually a caretaker on site to open the doors for you.

The Chain Tower

While in the Upper Town seek out the Chain Tower, which gives great views over the city and is a part of the Byzantine city walls, which are not complete but which can be seen in various places in this area, part of which is known as Eptapyrgíou, or ‘Seven Towers’.

Ataturk's House

Ataturk House and Museum in ThessalonikiAtaturk House and Museum

If you walk straight down towards the waterfront from the Chain Tower, you will pass close by the house where the First President of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938) was born. Inside is a small museum on the life of this remarkable man, and the rest of the house is kept as it was when Ataturk’s family lived there.

If you wish to see inside you must first go to the adjacent Turkish consulate to obtain permission. With the fragile state of affairs in the past between Greece and Turkey, and the fact that the Greeks hold Ataturk responsible for the exchange of populations that shamed Greece in 1923, Turkish officials have to be careful who they let into the house, as it has been threatened on many occasions.

See some of our other Macedonia pages...

  • Northern Greece Guide

    The Bradt Guide to Northern Greece is a detailed guide to Thessaloniki, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Thrace, The Pelion, The Sporades and the rest of Northern Greece.

  • The Royal Tombs and Archaeological Site of Vergina in Macedonia

    The archaeological site of Vergina in Macedonia is famous for the royal tombs which were the burial place of King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great.

  • The Prespa Lakes in Northern Greece

    The Prespa Lakes in northwest Greece is one of the most beautiful parts of Greece with abundant wildlife and also many ancient churches.

  • Scenic Drives in Northern Greece

    Scenic Drives in Northern Greece, Ioannina, Meteora, Kastoria, Prespa Lakes

  • Philippi

    Philippi is an ancient archaeological site near Kavala in East Macedonia and Thrace and is famous for being the place where the apostle St Paul was imprisoned.

  • The Site of Ancient Pella in Macedonia, Greece

    Pella in Macedonia is famous for its mosaics and was also the birthplace of both King Philip II and his son, Alexander the Great.

  • Museums of Thessaloniki

    The Greek city of Thessaloniki in Macedonia has an array of wonderful museums and art galleries, and here's twelve of the best.

  • Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece

    Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece and is in the Mount Olympus National Park in Macedonia, with Litochoro being the best base.

  • Mount Athos

    Visiting Mount Athos in Greece requires a permit, but you can see the monasteries on a boat trip around the peninsula, known as the Monks' Republic.

  • Mount Athos Boat Trips

    Mount Athos boat trips are very popular with visitors to Halkidiki in Greece, as they are the only way most people get to see these spectacular monasteries.

  • Macedonia and Thrace

    Macedonia and Thrace are the regions in Greece where travelers will find Thessaloniki, Mount Athos monasteries, Halkidiki and sites like Dion and Pella.

  • Kavala

    The city of Kavala in eastern Macedonia is the area's major seaport and the base for ferries to the islands of the North East Aegean, including Thasos.

  • Kastoria

    Kastoria is a lakeside town in West Macedonia which prospered with the fur trade and today has some handsome mansions, museums and many Byzantine churches.

  • Halkidikí

    Halkidiki is a three-pronged peninsula near Thessaloniki in Macedonia which comprises Mount Athos and the holiday resorts on Kassandra and Sithonia.

  • Dion

    Dion is a rather wonderful archaeological site in Macedonia, not far from Thessaloniki, with an archaeological museum nearby in the town of Dion.

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Latest Posts

  1. Greek Recovery Funds to Go into Acropolis Upgrade Works

    Twelve projects including upgrade works on the Acropolis have been cleared for funding out of “Greece 2.0” – the country’s recovery plan approved earlier this month. Alternate Finance Minister Theodor…

    Read More

  2. US Keeps Covid-19 Travel Restrictions Due to Delta Variant

    The United States will keep all existing Covid-19 travel restrictions in place due to concerns over the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announce…

    Read More

  3. Chania, in Western Crete

    Chania is the main city in Western Crete with a lovely setting and a beautiful harbour as well as several museums.

    Read More

  4. Cyprus Obliges Travelers from Greece to Undergo Testing Before Arrival

    Greece has been placed on the Covid-19 orange list of Cyprus’ colour-coded country categorization travel system, based on a new epidemiological risk assessment of countries. The new changes come into…

    Read More

  5. Greece’s Indoor Restaurants, Venues Only for the Vaccinated

    Starting Friday, July 16, indoor venues such as restaurants, bars, and theaters will only be accepting vaccinated and seated-only customers until August 31, Development and Investments Minister Adonis…

    Read More

  6. AEGEAN Begins Operation of Seasonal Base on Mykonos

    Greek carrier AEGEAN has started the operation of its seasonal base on Mykonos, aiming to enhance its flagship quality services and improve the connection of the popular Cycladic island with major int…

    Read More

  7. UK Revises Advisory for Greece, Paves Way for Travel

    The UK’s FCDO revised its travel advisory for Greece after announcing on Thursday that as of July 19 travelers from amber-listed countries would not be required to self-isolate upon return.

    Read More

  8. Greece to Launch ‘Covid Pass’ App that Checks Customer ‘Safe’ Status

    Greece said this week that starting July 15, restaurant and F&B business owners would be able to download an application that will check whether the health/vaccination status information provided by c…

    Read More

  9. Authorities Recommend Self-test for Land Travel in Greece

    Travel by road domestically in Greece will not require a negative rapid test but the presentation of a negative self-test is highly recommended, said Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias d…

    Read More

  10. Covid-19: Greece Extends Rules for Domestic Flights to the Islands

    The Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority (HCAA) has extended the travel rules for passengers of domestic flights traveling from the mainland to the islands, until 6am, on Thursday, July 15.

    Read More