City of Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki is Greece's second major economic, industrial, commercial and political centre, and a major transportation hub for the rest of southeastern Europe; its commercial port is also of great importance for Greece and its southeast European hinterland.
Thessaloniki has a long history. It was the capital of Macedonia, the empire of Alexander the Great. It was also the second city in the Byzantine empire, after Constantinople. There are numerous churches from this period that still remain, some dating back to the 4th century. Today Thessaloniki is Greece's second city with a population of 1.5 million.
It has been an important trading centre for more than 2000 years and a link between western and eastern Europe. Now, with its advantageous geographical situation , it is developing into one of the main trading centres of the eastern Mediterranean.
The Modern City
Thessaloniki is a lively seaside city. Its centre is directly by the seafront, which is lined with fashionable cafe-bars, many with lavish decor. From here, on a clear day, you can see Mount Olympus, home of the Gods, 80 km away across the Thermaic Gulf. It seems much closer. Greeks like Thessaloniki. It has big city flair, but compared to Athens a much more relaxed life-style. Most of the city's attractions are reachable by foot. It is safe to walk alone at night, but if you do take a taxi it rarely costs more than 3 or 4 Euros.
This, and it being a seaside city, attract a large number of students. At present there are more than 100.000 of them. Many decide to stay on after their studies and make the city their home.
Thessaloniki is a modern city. Much of the old centre was destroyed by fire in 1917. But you find everywhere evidence of the city's long and varied past. There are extensive Roman remains, the church where St.Paul preached and the catacombs of the first Christians. The vast Rotonda, originally built as a Roman temple to Zeus, was used for 1400 years as a Christian church and for 500 years as a mosque.
The most significant buildings and typical of the town are the numerous Byzantine churches, some dating back to the fourth century, but the more modern Greek Orthodox churches are also well worth visiting. Covered with intricate frescoes they are very different from the churches in the rest of Europe.
The most notable museums are the Archeological Museum and the Byzantine Museum. There are many smaller museums which are also interesting, such as the one for ancient Greek musical instruments.
The White Tower, symbol of Thessaloniki was built by the Venetians in the 15th Century. It is now a museum that describes the history of the city. From its top you have a panoramic view of city and seafront.
Thessaloniki is good for shopping, in particular for clothes, shoes, jewellery, leather goods and accessoires. The main shopping area lies between the seafront and Egnatia Street. Here, amongst the international boutiques, are many excellent Greek shops. The shoe shops in particular are worth visiting, as are the jewellers which offer good craftsmanship at a reasonable price. Remember that many shops close for an extended lunch-break of 3 hours, but stay open later in the evening (except on mondays, wednesdays and saturdays).
You should visit the traditional markets, such as the Mondiano. Even if you don't intend to buy anything it is fun to walk around these colourful crowded halls. Amid the cries of the stall holders selling fruit, vegetables and fish you will find all kinds of curiosities.
Thessaloniki has the best selection of restaurants in Greece. It is an important part of people's lives to socialize in the restaurants, cafes and bars. You can choose from around 10.000 of them, which cater for every taste and budget .
For breakfast you can eat bougatsa. This local pastry comes with a variety of fillings, such as custard, spinach or cheese. Eaten with a cup of Greek coffee they are the perfect way to start a day.
For lunch people mostly go to a taverna or ouzeri which serve traditional Greek food. Apart from meat and fish there are usually also vegetable dishes. If you just want fast food there are many take-aways. Buy a gyros, meat cooked on a spit and served in pitta bread with a choice of fillings, a crepe or a toasted sandwich. They all cost about 2 Euros.
If you feel like indulging yourself, at any time of day, visit a patisserie. They offer a large selection of delicious sweets, many of Turkish origin.
In the evenings the choice is immense: international restaurants, greek cuisine, tavernas with traditional live music, fish and seafood restaurants next to the sea. You should also visit one of the classy bar-restaurants, even if it is just for a drink. You will find that restaurants start to fill up after 9.30 pm and stay busy until 1.30 am.
Thessaloniki offers a full calender of cultural events. The concert hall has a programme of classical music, opera and ballet. You can also see excellent theatre. During the summer months it is worth trying to attend an event in one of the open-air amphitheatres or watch a film in an outdoor cinema. Films are shown in original language with Greek subtitles. If you are a film fan you might consider coming to the International Film Festival in November. It's highly enjoyable.
And now to the nightlife. Thessaloniki's nightlife alone is reason enough for visiting the city. From the evening till the early morning the streets are teeming with activity.
The Ladadika quarter near the harbour was a trading centre for olives, oil and food for hundreds of years before deteriorating into a red light district. It is now restored and home to numerous restaurants, tavernas, bars and discotheques.
A few km's west of the centre is Mylos, an old flour mill which has been converted into a complex for international pop concerts, exhibitions and other cultural activities, including of course many places to eat and drink. It's certainly worth spending an evening here.
In Xyladika, near the station, you can hear Rebetika being sung. These expressive songs with social themes came here with the Greek refugees from Asia Minor a century ago.
For more modern Greek popular entertainment you should visit one of the nightclubs. Many of them move to open-air premises in summer. If you go to a bouzoukia club with Greek live music don't be surprised when the lady sitting near you climbs on to the table and starts to dance.
There are a number of day excursions you may like to make, either by hired car or coach. Local travel agents offer a variety of destinations throughout the year. These are good value and convenient as they start from the city centre. Here are few of them.
Halkidiki During summer months you can visit the blue-flag beaches of Halkidiki, some of the best in Greece. There are long sandy beaches, shady coves, something for every taste. Everyone will give you a tip about their favorite beach.
Vergina and Pella Two important archeological sites about one hour's drive to the west of Thessaloniki. Pella was the birthplace of Alexander the Great. Amongst the extensive ruins of the ancient city are some superlative mosaics. In Vergina you can see the exquisite golden treasures that were found in the royal tombs.
Meteora A few hours drive to the southwest of the city are the spectacular monastaries of Meteora. Perched on huge pinnicles of rock, they have been used by monks for the past 600 years. You can visit some of them by climbing long stone stairways.
Mount Athos Mount Athos, the third finger of the Halkidiki peninsular has been home to an orthodox monastic community for the last 1000 years. Women are not allowed and men only with a special licence, but a boat trip around the peninsular gives you an impression of the monastries in their unspoilt surroundings.
Lake Prespes Lake Prespes lies on the remote northern border of Greece amongst beautiful mountain scenery. It is a paradise for the naturalist. 260 species of bird have been recorded, many of them on the list of endangered species. Pelicans, including the rare dalmation pelican, fly around like large aeroplanes.