Eight Top Must-see Sights in Thessaloniki
By Chrissa Krassa
Every city has its secrets. And to truly get to know a place, visitors should take the time to uncover that destination’s unique secrets.
Such is certainly the case with the historic city of Thessaloniki in beautiful Greece. Though its most famous attraction is undoubtedly the majestic White Tower, a perfectly preserved 15th century fortification, there are many other places in the city that travelers should take the time to see. In this way, not only will you discover the special charm possessed by this ancient city, you’ll also get to experience a more authentic side of Greece that is typically only seen by those who know the city well – the locals.
The following is my list of some of the top must-see sights in Thessaloniki which every visitor should make time to explore.
Thessaloniki’s spectacular seafront stretches over five full kilometers, and is one of the country’s most popular promenades. Visit pretty much any time of the year and you’ll see the locals out for a stroll (unless of course it’s raining, in which case they’ll be indoors enjoying the superb food available at places like Mavri Thalassa).
In between visiting attractions such as the White Tower and the old fortifications, be sure to take the time to walk this historic and always bustling waterfront. The best place to start your walk is at the Harbour, then make your way to the Concert Hall. You’ll be glad you did!
Thessaloniki possesses one of the largest commercial ports in all of Greece – and one of the oldest, with historians believing it to have been in service since 316 BC. Serving as the gateway to the city for vessels of all types ever since, the Port is an area the locals love to walk around. Here you’ll find several great restaurants, bars, and cafés to enjoy, an especially lovely experience due to the wonderful views over the beautiful Thermaikos Gulf.
Aristotelous Square is undoubtedly the most beautiful public space in the city. Designed by the great architect Ernest Hébrard, its central location has meant it has long been one of the most popular of Thessaloniki’s meeting points, not only for the locals, but also for those visitors who are ‘in the know’. Here you’ll also find a selection of shops, restaurants, bars, and cafés, all part of an exciting and vibrant atmosphere that makes this a great place to meet and interact with the locals.
The Catacomb of St John the Baptist
In the very center of the city, on St Sophia Street, is a ‘hidden’ location that is all too often overlooked by tourists – a temple dedicated to St John the Baptist. Those who do take the time to discover this marvelous temple will be rewarded by a distinctive architectural gem along with a lovely garden, together forming a small oasis in an otherwise bustling city center.
Just below the temple, you’ll find an interesting underground arcade area consisting of a variety of catacombs that are well worth visiting. During the great catastrophe that came to be known as the ‘Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917’, some two thirds of the city was destroyed, including the area around the temple. Miraculously, the temple itself survived intact, one of the only parts of the city center to do so.
The Umbrellas is a famous sculpture by George Zongolopoulos, one of the country’s most influential artists, that was selected to represent Greece at the 45th Biennale of Venice in Italy, one of the world’s top art exhibitions. Eventually, this impressive sculpture – regarded one of the artist’s most famous works – was placed on the beachfront in Thessaloniki in 1997.
Since then, the Umbrellas has become one of the most famous attractions of the city, and has proven a big draw for tourists and locals alike, who love to have their photograph taken here.
The Concert Hall
Located at the waterfront and occupying 18 acres of land adjacent the promenade at 25 March Street, Thessaloniki’s elegant yet modern looking Concert Hall is designed to meet all the requirements of a modern conference and entertainment center. Designed by leading architect Arata Isozaki, the building was opened in 2000 and continues to dazzle with its fine lines and shimmering glass and metal elements.
One of the best-known neighborhoods in the center of Thessaloniki, Ladadika is famous as the city’s entertainment district. Here you will find many excellent restaurants at which to experience genuine Greek cuisine, along with numerous cafés and bars, most of them open until late into the night. It’s conveniently located next to the Port of Thessaloniki, and is also popular for both locals and the city’s many visitors.
The Vlatadon Monastery was founded in the 14th century and continues to function as a place of religion and worship to this day. According to Greek Orthodox tradition, it was built at the point where the Apostle Paul taught or resided. It is unquestionably one of the most famous historical and religious monuments in the city, and is a must-visit when in Thessaloniki. From here you’ll also be rewarded with beautiful views over the city from above.
Chrissa Krassa has been involved in the tourism sector since 2000 as the Director of the Philoxenia Tourism Exhibition. She is co-founder of Top Tourism, a non-profit company promoting Greek tourism and culture. She is also ambassador for Greece to the World Food Travel Association.