This second largest city in Greece dates back to 315 BC and was once the richest city of the Byzantine Empire. Through several thousand years, Thessaloniki has attained a large collection of iconic buildings from Byzantine, Paleochristian, Roman, Ancient Greek, Ottoman, and Sephardic Jewish origins.
It has been known as a vibrant center of festivals and culture, and has one of the most inventive nightlife scenes in Greece. Anyone who visits Thessaloniki with a love of history and archaeology or world religions will be astounded by the many monuments to discover here.
Indulging in divine Greek gastronomy, basking in the city’s rich heritage, and dancing the night away to live music are just a few essential things to do in Thessaloniki. So let’s dive deeper into the mesmerizing capital of Central Macedonia and explore some of the city’s most captivating tourist attractions.
Map of Tourist Attractions in Thessaloniki
18. Church of Agios Nikolaos Orphanos
Located in the old town of Thessaloniki, the Church of Agios Nikolaos Orphanos is a stunning example of Byzantine architecture. This small church was built in the early 14th century and is dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of orphans and sailors. The name “Orphanos” comes from the founder of the church, who was known for his charity work with orphans.
The church stands out for its exquisite frescoes adorning both the exterior and interior walls. These frescoes, preserved in excellent condition, depict scenes from the Bible and the lives of the saints. Its captivating artwork showcases the elaborate techniques and masterful skill of the Palaiologan Renaissance.
When visiting this historical gem, don’t forget to explore its serene garden, which is a little oasis amidst the bustling city. It is an ideal spot to reflect on the beauty and history of the church.
17. Monument of Alexander The Great
Thessaloniki has no shortage of wonderful historical attractions to explore. One such attraction is the majestic Monument of Alexander The Great. This iconic statue is a must-visit when in the city.
The monument is located at the waterfront on the Nea Paralia promenade. It was created by the famous sculptor Evangelos Moustakas in 1974 and honors one of history’s greatest military leaders, Alexander the Great. The imposing bronze statue stands at approximately 6 meters tall, proudly depicting the legendary king on his horse, Bucephalus.
Visitors to the monument can take advantage of its excellent location to capture the perfect photo. The Thessaloniki waterfront with its stunning sea views serves as the ideal backdrop for the statue.
16. Ataturk Museum
If you’re interested in history, the Ataturk Museum is must-visit destination in Thessaloniki. The museum is dedicated to the life and work of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.
The museum is located in the house where Ataturk was born in 1881, and it showcases personal items, photographs, and documents related to his life and accomplishments. The exhibits are well-curated and provide insight into the life of this important historical figure.
Some of the highlights of the museum include Ataturk’s childhood bedroom, which has been preserved as it was when he lived there and a collection of his personal belongings.
Visitors to the museum can take a self-guided tour, or they can opt for a guided tour for a more in-depth experience. The museum is open daily, and admission is free.
15. War Museum of Thessaloniki
The War Museum of Thessaloniki is a fitting tribute to the city’s rich military history. It provides an in-depth look at conflicts involving Greece and the Balkan region.
The museum features exhibits that showcase the military history of Greece from ancient times to the present day. Visitors can learn about the battles, weapons, and tactics used by Greek soldiers throughout history. The museum also features exhibits on the role of Greece in World War I and World War II.
One of the highlights of the museum is the outdoor exhibit, which features tanks, artillery, and other military vehicles used by the Greek army. You can get up close to these vehicles and even climb inside some of them.
14. Nea Paralia
This large pedestrian waterfront in the eastern urban district represents one of the best public projects in Greece in the past twenty years. Small in depth but very long, the promenade runs for about 3,5 km (2,2 miles) from the White Tower to Megaro Mousikis and offers a great space in between the sea and the city.
It has become one of the most popular locations for a stroll in all of Thessaloniki. The promenade also offers bike and boat rentals along its flanks, as well as a number of delicious restaurants and lively bars.
13. Church of Hosios David
Located in the old town of Thessaloniki, the Church of Hosios David is a truly enchanting destination for spiritual seekers and history buffs alike. This small yet awe-inspiring church dates back to the 5th century and has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its impressive mosaics and rich history.
Upon entering, you’ll be greeted with a mysterious ambience, as traces of candlelight flicker against the ancient walls. The church’s main attraction is its breathtaking mosaic, which depicts Ezekiel’s vision of Christ – a unique and rare subject in Byzantine art. Marvel at the intricate details and the mesmerizing golden background, which seems to represent divine light.
Though relatively small in size, the church houses plenty of other gems including an ancient cistern, revealing the site’s former life as a Roman bath. There is also a beautiful, serene courtyard that offers a peaceful retreat.
12. Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki
If you’re interested in learning about the history of the Sephardic Jewish community in Thessaloniki, the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki is a must-visit tourist attraction. The museum is located in the heart of the city and is housed in a beautiful, restored building that was once the site of a Jewish elementary school.
The museum’s exhibits cover a range of topics related to the Jewish community in Thessaloniki, including their history, culture, and traditions. You’ll find a variety of artifacts on display, including religious objects, photographs, and documents that provide insight into the daily lives of the city’s Jewish residents.
One of the most moving exhibits in the museum is the Holocaust Memorial Room, which pays tribute to the thousands of Jews from Thessaloniki who were deported to concentration camps during World War II. The room is a somber reminder of the atrocities committed during the war and serves as a powerful tribute to those who lost their lives.
11. Arch of Galerius
The Arch of Galerius (or Kamara) is probably the most distinctive Roman structure of Thessaloniki. It is also one of the most popular attractions in Thessaloniki along with the White Tower.
The arch was commissioned as a triumphal monument by emperor Galerius in order to celebrate the victorious campaign against the Sassanid Persians in 298 A.D. and the capture of their capital Ctesiphon. In its initial form the Arch had four main pillars and four secondary.
Today only two of the main pillars and one secondary pillar are still standing. Visitors can still see the beautifully carved battle sequences on the remaining pillars of the archway.
10. Vlatadon Monastery
Whisk yourself away to a serene and historic destination, the Vlatadon Monastery. Situated in the Ano Poli neighborhood, this 14th-century Byzantine monastery offers breathtaking views and a taste of the region’s rich past.
An integral part of the city’s history, the Vlatadon Monastery is famed for being built on the site where St. Paul preached during his visit to Thessaloniki. Besides the religious significance, the monastery boasts numerous beautiful frescoes and well-preserved architecture.
Observe the intricate and stunning frescoes adorning the monastery’s walls; they are exquisite examples of Byzantine artistry. Don’t forget to climb up to the balconies and terraces for a panoramic view of Thessaloniki and the surrounding areas.
Although the monastery is still home to a small community of monks, certain sections remain open to the public. Ensure you respect their customs and dress modestly when visiting this sacred space.
9. Ladadika District
One of the most popular things to do in Thessaloniki is a trip to the vibrant Ladadika District. This colorful quarter was once a hub for oil merchants, and its name is derived from the Greek word “ladi,” meaning oil. Today, Ladadika is a trendy hotspot where you can indulge in delicious food, drinks, and nightlife.
Take a stroll through the cobblestoned streets and admire the preserved neoclassical buildings. The area boasts a mix of lively tavernas, modern bars, and cozy cafés.
Ladadika is also home to various events and festivals throughout the year. The Thessaloniki Street Party in March and the city’s International Film Festival in November enhance the district’s appeal.
Don’t forget to bring your camera, as the lively atmosphere and Instagram-worthy alleys filled with street art make for excellent photo opportunities.
8. Museum of Byzantine Culture
This large, extensive museum covers thousands of artifacts from Prechristian and Byzantine times. These include frescoes, mosaics and wall paintings, rescued arches from historic buildings, ceramics and textiles. Much of the museum’s permanent display themes focus on early Christians, their rituals, beliefs, and daily life.
There are several early Christian tombs and graves that were excavated in Thessaloniki on display here. The museum offers both guided and unguided tours for adults, as well as educational programs geared toward school children.
7. Aristotelous Square
This main city square was designed in 1918 by French Architect Ernest Hebrard, though much of today’s square, particularly the Electra hotel and the movie theater, was recreated in the fifties. It was a move from the narrow, crowded, unplanned streets that came from centuries of Ottoman empire build-outs to a more modern plan, under the guidance of Hebrard.
The square came to fruition just after a fire in 1917, and marked a major shift in the archaeological evolution of the city. Today, the square is home to many celebrations and public gatherings.
6. Hagia Sophia
This church of holy wisdom is one of the oldest continually standing buildings of Thessaloniki. It was built in the 8th century in the footprints of a church that was built in the 3rd century. The church was created during the Byzantine era based on the design of its more illustrious namesake in Constantinople.
Today, it is one of the best remaining examples of the Greek domed churches of the time. Hagia Sophia’s dome bears a splendid mosaic of the Ascension, with Christ seated on a rainbow throne occupying the central medallion. Below is the Virgin Mary flanked by angels and the Apostles divided by trees.
5. Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki holds artifacts from four of the most archaeologically important historic periods of Thessaloniki and the surrounding sections of Macedonia. Pieces here represent the Hellenistic, Archaic, Classical and Roman periods.
The building itself, ironically, is built in the modern Greek architectural style. The museum also pays special attention to the historic ways in which ancient Macedonians used gold as an adornment.
Since the city dates back to prehistoric times, there is also a section that attempts to reconstruct a picture of the Thermaic gulf region that predated the city entirely.
Though commonly called the fortress of the seven towers, the Heptapyrgion is also known by its Ottoman name Yedi Kule. The fortress is located at the northeast corner of the city’s acropolis.
The northern towers are believed to date back to the fortification of the city in the late 4th century, while the southern five are believed to have been built in the twelfth century.
It served as a military installation until the late nineteenth century then spent 100 years as a prison. Today, the Heptapyrgion is a popular tourist attraction, partly because of the great views over the city and its harbor.
3. Rotunda of Galerius
The oldest monument in Thessaloniki, the Rotunda is a massive round building that was first a Roman temple, then a Christian church, then a mosque. Its walls are more than 6 meters (20 feet) thick, which is one reason why it has withstood Thessaloniki’s earthquakes.
The cylindrical structure was built in 306 as part of a large palace complex on the orders of Roman emperor Galerius. It was either intended to be his mausoleum or somewhat more likely as a temple. The building was used as a church for over 1,200 years until the city fell to the Ottomans.
In 1590 the Church of Agios Georgios was converted into a mosque. Fortunately, the mosaics that survived until then were not harmed further by this conversion; they were simply painted over. After serving three religions, the Rotunda is now a museum.
2. Agios Dimitrios Church
This large and impressive church was built on the site of an ancient Roman bath where legends say that its namesake, St Demetrius, was held prisoner, executed and dropped down a well by Roman soldiers. It is a five aisled basilica with a unique hexagonal nave known as a ciborium.
Of particular interest here is a famous six-paneled mural that is one Thessaloniki’s finest mosaics, showing St Demetrius with children and the builders of the church. This is not only one of the largest churches in the city, it is considered to be one of the most historically and religiously important houses of worship in all of Thessaloniki.
1. White Tower
This circular, whitewashed waterfront tower is the symbol of the city. Like Thessaloniki itself, the tower’s history is quite storied. Originally, it formed a corner of the city’s Byzantine and Ottoman defenses before most of the walls were demolished late in the 19th century.
During the period of Ottoman rule, it was a jail and the site of multiple tortures, and nicknamed the “tower of blood.” As an attempt to atone for this, the building was symbolically whitewashed and renamed the White Tower. It keeps that name today, even though the color is more of a buff.
Today the interior of the white tower serves as an extensive museum showing daily life in different eras of Thessaloniki. In addition to a number of artifacts, the third story has a replication of a Byzantine era home and its typical furnishings.
Best Time to Visit Thessaloniki
The most popular time of year to visit Thessaloniki is in July and August when temperatures average 31°C (88°F) and its waters are warmest. Although strolling about the center can get a bit hot, conditions are ideal for sunbathing and swimming at Halkidiki’s idyllic beaches.
Prices are at their highest however with its seafront promenade, cafes and hotels all packed with people. Countless fun concerts, art exhibitions and festivals are also held all around the seaside city.
May, June and September are also very warm, sunny months to visit. While the crowds have dissipated a bit, important events like the Thessaloniki International Fair create a very lively atmosphere. You can also still swim with fewer people now lying along its beaches.
As temperatures range from a very comfortable 15 to 21°C (59 to 70°F), April, October and November still see a fair few visitors. There are some good deals to be had while things are much quieter and calmer.
December to March is the low season though temperatures never really get too cold. If you do visit during this period, you’ll lose a bit of Thessaloniki’s vibrant feel as most cafes close their outdoor terraces.