Are you traveling to Thessaloniki and wondering what to do? Even with just one day you can visit all the most important sites and have a great meal or two. Don’t miss out on this fabulous itinerary.
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Whether stopping in port during a cruise adventure or on a road trip through mainland Greece, Thessaloniki is a must-see city. Plan the perfect day trip visiting the fascinating historical sites, relaxing in a seaside cafe, and enjoying some delicious fresh seafood.
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We love Thessaloniki for its rich history and vibrant city life. In fact, we’ve been a couple of times, and we just keep going back. There is so much history, and plenty of places to visit and things to do. We love the fact that it hosts a lot of students and has such a laid-back vibe.
It’s also an incredibly easy place to get to, especially if you’re doing a bit of train travel through Eastern Europe.
Thessaloniki was next on our road trip, and after we left Meteora, we were ready for a somewhat down day. We took the whole day to get to Thessaloniki, stopping in Vergina and having lunch on the Platamona beach, so we were up for a good day of sightseeing!
Is Thessaloniki Worth a Visit?
Yes! Thessaloniki is well worth a visit. With its modern and relaxed vibe, you’ll most certainly fall in love with it, as we have.
Thessaloniki is a sprawling city, founded in 315 BC and named after Alexander the Great’s half-sister. It’s just as enjoyable to wander the streets looking at all the beautiful Byzantine churches as it is to sit at one of the many colorful and trendy cafés in Ladadika or along the waterfront. You definitely won’t be disappointed.
When Is the Best Time to Go?
There really is no bad time to visit Thessaloniki. The weather, like many of its Mediterranean neighbors, is mild most of the year.
As you can see from the charts below, the temperature in the winter rarely drops below freezing, even though it can get a bit breezy, you can still enjoy a good walk with a warm jacket.
In summer, temperatures can hover in the mid-80s to 90s for a number of days in a row, which is great for the beach.
Is it Safe?
Overall, Thessaloniki is a safe place to travel. According to the US State Department, tourists should be aware that pick-pocketing and other types of theft happen occasionally.
The best way to counter being targeted is to leave valuables at home, stay aware of your surroundings at all times, and limit your use of the metro. It’s also a good idea to stay with someone or in small groups if you plan on being out late at night.
Churches in Thessaloniki
The Byzantine era in Greece was very prolific, and the churches are spectacular. You can find other places that have wonderful examples as well. We loved visiting Mystras and exploring all the things to do in Kastoria, but truly the best of the best can be found in Thessaloniki.
It is a world heritage city due to its abundance of amazing Byzantine Churches, so stopping by at least a few of these on your one-day outing should definitely be included. It’s easy to see them by walking around, but to visit them all would take much more than one day.
UNESCO lumped all the Paleochristian and Byzantine sites into one category and inscribed them on the world heritage list in 2010. Almost all the major attractions you will want to visit are included on the list of Roman and Byzantine sites. The ones we recommend to see on a one-day walking tour are noted with the orange tags below on our google map.
- Byzantine City Walls
- Byzantine Bath
- Church of Acheiropoietos
- Church of St. Demetrios
- Latomou Monastery
- Church of St. Sophia
- Church of Panagia Chalkeon
- Church of St. Panteleimon
- Church of the Holy Apostles
- Church of St. Nicholas Orphanos
- Church of St. Catherine
- Church of Christ Saviour
- Blatades Monastery (Valaton)
- Church of Prophet Elijah
Converting to Christianity early on, Thessaloniki was one of the largest cities in Byzantium, which is one of the reasons so many amazing churches have been preserved. Each one of them has its own character and personality (along with the caretakers).
There are Byzantine churches all over Greece and Bulgaria, and it doesn’t take long to recognize them. They are usually not very large, compactly built with brick. The arches are rounded above the windows and doors, where there is usually some type of brick or glass filigree as decoration. Some of the larger churches won’t necessarily follow this design, but almost all the smaller ones do.
The two churches we recommend you visit, arguably the most important, are the Church of St. Demetrios and the Cathedral of Agia Sophia (Church of St. Sophia).
The Church of St. Demetrious’ interior includes a special rotunda just to hold the disputed remains of St. Demetrius himself, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. The remains are purported to be authenticated after they began to seep myrrh from some of the bones.
People line up single file to enter the chapel where they go in individually to kiss the icons and pray. St. Demetrius is one of the saints of soldiers and ranks up there with St. George.
The second church, or rather cathedral, is the Church of St. Sophia, named after her larger and more famous cousin in Istanbul. Since Thessaloniki was the second most important city in the Byzantine empire, it was customary to have such an important church built here.
For me, the church did not disappoint. It has beautiful golden chandeliers molded in the shapes of birds, beautiful frescoes, and icons that shine through its dark interior.
There are many more, as you can see, that are also worth visiting. We loved the Church of St. Panteleimon, Valaton Monastery, and the Church of Christ Saviour, which we called the “crooked” church. We’ve included these on our walking map if you have time to do more.
Thessaloniki is such an old city, one with a long and vibrant history. This is mirrored in all the wonderful sites you can visit, and most are within walking distance of each other.
The iconic white tower is by far my favorite site to visit, as it is the current-day symbol of the city. Built by the Ottomans, like some other very important sites like Mystras, in the early to mid-1400’s to help fortify the city, it was later used as a prison and was the scene of a bloody massacre.
After the massacre, it was called the Red Tower, but later Greece became an independent state, they white-washed it and changed its name.
The White Tower is right on the waterfront, which of course is always fun to meander and it has quirky statues and art all around. There is a museum inside as well as a nice view from the top.
Ancient City Walls and Arch of Galerius
In some places the walls are in better shape than others, but it is an important part of Thessaloniki’s Byzantine history. You can follow the street to the Roman Arch of Galerius which is a gorgeous brick arch engraved with historic scenes.
The Rotunda is one of the oldest religious buildings in Thessaloniki, dating back to the 4th century. Inside don’t miss the beautiful mosaics and frescoes along with the impressive architecture.
Atatürk, better known as Mustafa Kemal, is one of the most famous people to come from Thessaloniki. The museum is housed in his birth house and shows an Ottoman lifestyle. It’s not necessary to enter, but it is a great little place to visit.
Dating back to the 1st century AD and lasting in importance well through the 4th century, the Roman Agora was the hub of the city. Shops, religious centers, and even a huge amphitheater were part of the social scene. Nowadays its preserved in ruins, but one can only imagine how it was to live 2000 years ago.
In the veritable center of the city, you will want to walk around this square surrounded by gorgeous architecture. Don’t hurry, stop and have a coffee!
If you love a traditional marketplace, you will want to visit Kapani. Even if you aren’t able to cook, you will still find plenty to photograph and nosh on.
Especially known for its nightlife, with fantastic cafés and taverns, Ladadika is a great little cobblestoned street to walk around and grab a coffee or a bite to eat.
Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
It goes without saying that a city as historically important as Thessaloniki would have a fantastic archaeological museum.
With six themed exhibits, the museum really highlights the different time periods the city has witnessed. Try not to miss it. It’s an especially great thing to do if you happen to be in the city on a rainy day.
A beautiful museum highlighting the contributions of Thessaloniki’s Sephardic heritage.
For more info on visiting Thessalonika, check out InThessaloniki.
One Day Itinerary Walking Map of Thessaloniki Attractions
Depending on when you get started, you will want to follow the map in order. We’ve included three restaurants that you would enjoy.
You might want to start out with a meal then walk, or just stop when you get a bit peckish. Ideally, you can see all the top sites in just a few hours, depending on how much time you spend inside each one.
Our map is color coded so that you can see the very top, must-do sites and try to get them in, no matter what. (These pins are colored orange.)
Then if you have time, we recommend the places in purple. If you have more than one day, don’t miss any of these either. And finally, the three restaurants we love are coded in yellow.
Where to Eat
Kartel Ton Geuseon located not far from the Jewish museum, but on the edge of our walk, has the best local food around. Try to make reservations ahead of time, but if not get there early.
Greeks usually eat late, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a seat during the day or evening. Kartel is a meat restaurant, try some of the traditional lamb chops or a great burger.
Restaurant Elliniko is not far from the White Tower. If you are thinking of eating here, do the walk in the opposite direction and end up here in the evening. You will love it. Try the local seafood dishes.
Restaurant Peinirládiko “To Rolói” is a great lunch stop during your walk. Penirli literally translates to cheese pockets, and somewhat like a pizza, are delicious. It’s quick, cheap, and yummy!
Where to Stay
If you do get the chance to spend more than one day in this gorgeous city, you can check out the prices on hotels here, and we’ve listed a few that we can recommend.
Makedonia Palace is your luxury choice. Located right on the waterfront, it has a gorgeous pool and delicious breakfast.
Blue Bottle Boutique Hotel, near Aristotelus Square, is a quirky, cute smaller hotel with fantastic service as a perfect mid-range option. A great breakfast and bike rental make it easy and fun to get around the city.
Orestias Kastorias is simple but super clean and friendly. It’s probably the best budget-friendly hotel in the city, and it’s located not too far from the city center.
Getting to Thessaloniki
Getting to Thessaloniki is pretty easy. We arrived once by car, and once by train, but we also know that the airport hosts some budget airlines as well. Thessaloniki is great to add to any Greece road trip, like we did.
The Thessaloniki airport has many budget airlines linking it to many European cities. To get to the city center, just take the transit bus to the Central Railway Station, about a 45 minute ride.
Athens to Thessaloniki
By Car – About a 5 and a half hour or six hour drive, a huge highway connects Athens to Thessaloniki so it’s quite easy to navigate. We’ve done this and highly recommend it.
By Train – Thessaloniki has a pretty large train station. We arrived there from Sofia, Bulgaria, but you can also get there from Athens in about the same amount of time it takes to drive. If you don’t need a car once you get there, it’s a great option.
Thessaloniki is a fantastic destination. There are plenty of things to do and see, and you are going to love the food and the laid-back vibe. We highly recommend you stay at least one day, maybe two!
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.