Ancient Thessaloniki, or Salonica, rewards those who wander – travellers who follow their noses into bakeries and backstreets, through secretive doorways and down into crypts. The city certainly has its sights, but its key pleasures are browsing the stalls at a spice-filled market, hopping between cafes drinking excellent espresso and feeling the breeze ripple off the sea. Try these 10 for starters.
Top 10 things to do on a city break in Thessaloniki, Greece
1. Café: Estrella
Estrella World Street Food, tucked behind Thessaloniki’s 8th century Agia Sofia, has a menu most definitely of the moment. Chef Dimitris Koparanis is a culinary inventionist, constantly creating photogenic/bonkers fusions. It started with the bougatsan – a croissant filled with the thick custard of a traditional Greek bougatsa (layered filo pie). New oddities appear all the time, from French eclairs made with Greek tahini and mastic to pork-infused gruyère popcorn.
Opening times: Monday to Saturday 8am-11pm, Sunday until 10.30pm Address: 48 Pavlou Mela Str., +30 2310 272 045
2. Snack: koulouri
Breakfast on the go like a proper “Thessalonikios”. Stalls on many a street corner sell fresh-baked koulouri – pretzel-like sesame dough rings – which were allegedly invented in the city. A bready bargain at a few cents a pop.
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3. District: Ano Poli
The Upper Town is sweaty to get to (unless you hop on the no. 23 bus). Βut this is the most atmospheric jumbly bit of the city, largely undamaged by the great fire of 1917. Up here you can amble amid Ottoman alleys, visit the Vlatadon Monastery (built on the spot where St Paul preached in AD 51) and be spooked by the creepy Eptapyrgio, a run-down Venetian fortress that served as a prison until 1988.
4. Hang-out: Navarinou Square
Thessaloniki has the largest student population in Greece and a resultant youthful vibe. And many of those youths – as well as street artists and people-watchers of all ages – like to hang out on pedestrianised Dimitriou Gounari. Linger in Navarinou Square, at the heart of the thoroughfare and home to the ruins of the Roman Galerius Palace. Then nip down to Elenidis, a no-frills bakery serving the city’s best trigona panoramatos – cream-filled triangles of tooth-decaying sweetness.
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5. Bar: To Palio Hamam
An arty café-bar in the heart of the city, To Palio Hamam (The Old Hammam) is just a stone’s throw away from Thessaloniki’s oldest Turkish baths, which provide the atmospheric backdrop. Visit here before hitting the sights for a flavour-rich traditional Greek coffee, or later in the evening for a daquiri, among other cocktails and selected wines, on the breezy rooftop bar. The illuminated Ottoman domes at night create a magical ambiance.
Opening times: Monday to Sunday 9am to 3am Address: Isavron 5, Thessaloniki 546 22, Greece
6. Lookout: White Tower
The solid, stocky White Tower which guards the waterfront like an oversized bouncer is the symbol of Thessaloniki. Built by the Ottomans, the 34 metre-tall turret once punctuated a protective sea wall. It also served as a prison where thousands of rebels were slaughtered; at that time, it was known as the Red Tower. It’s not so bloody now – there’s a museum inside and good views from the top which, on a clear day, extend to Mount Olympus.
Opening times: Monday to Sunday 8am-8pm Admission prices: 8€, concessions 4€ (1st April-31st October), 4€ (1st November-31st March)
7. Walk: Waterfront
The centre of slope-stacked Thessaloniki slides down to the Thermaic Gulf and its land-meets-sea edging used to be pretty tatty. But in late 2013 a regenerated waterfront reopened: 5km of shoreline has been spruced up, freshly paved for walkers and cyclists, interspersed with alfresco art and backed by a series of thematic parks. It’s the place to prom of a summer’s evening – and in winter too, if you can brave the chill Vardaris wind.
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8. Market: Modiano & Kapani
These two clusters of commerce, Modiano and Kapani (Vlali) markets virtually segue into each other. Between them, they purvey the very best produce from Thessaloniki: fish fresh off the boats, creamy cheeses, olives of all sorts and sizes and piles of herbs and spices. Small tavernas and bars line the edges serving thick coffee and breakfast bougatsa (filo pastry filled with semolina cream).
Address: Modiano Market, Vasileos Irakliou St & Egnatia Avenue, Thessaloniki Kapani Market, Olimpou 74, Thessaloniki 546 31
9. Beach: Epanomi
A day trip to Epanomi beach is one of the best things to do near Thessaloniki. It’s only about 25km from the city centre to Epanomi. If you don’t rent a car, a short bus ride or a doable cycle, using that regenerated waterfront for good measure. That’s just 25km to swap the car-honk and city bluster for a Blue Flag sandy beach, turquoise seas and a cheery strip of cafes and bars.
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10. Alternative attraction: The Mind Trap
Mind Trap purports to be ‘the largest escape room in Europe’. Take the cranky lift up to a floor of deep-red walls and secretive doors to test your mettle against the fiendishly tricksy tests within. Solve riddles, break locks and perform increasingly tough tasks to win your way out.
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10 best things to see and do in Thessaloniki
|3. District||Ano Poli|
|4. Hang-out||Navarinou Square|
|5. Bar||To Palio Hamam|
|6. Lookout||White Tower|
|8. Market||Modiano & Kapani|
|10. Alternative attraction||The Mind Trap|
*Revised September 2019. Prices correct at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.