Thessaloniki has been a crossroad between the east and the west for the largest part of its history. Nowadays a modern and vibrant metropolis, the city has inherited treasures that reveal its profound cosmopolitan character through the centuries, and provide a remarkable atmosphere and beauty.
An easy way to get around is to use the ‘hop on – hop off’ bus that is operated by the City of Thessaloniki. It runs every 40 minutes, stopping at 8 major places of interest and providing free commentary in 8 different languages. Tickets cost €9 for the whole day, or €6 for a single tour which lasts 70 minutes. There is also a train guided tour that is available on an hourly basis, and takes you through the historic city center, providing a joyful ride – especially for kids.
There is also a cultural bus line no. 50 operated by OASTH, which stands for the Organization of Urban Transport of Thessaloniki. Tickets cost €2 and the bus runs every hour stoping at 15 designated places of interest.
Cycling in Thessaloniki can be a very enjoyable experience, particularly during the summer since the weather is wonderful most of the times. The city has a beautiful (and flat) waterfront that extends more than 10 kms. There is a bike sharing system which is cheap and very easy to use.
Places of Interest
Every neighbourhood in the city center features a Roman, Byzantine or post-Byzantine monument, remnant of bygone eras, which make Thessaloniki practically an open-air museum of timeless varied cultures.
- The Ancient Agora (Roman Forum) is located in the heart of the city and occupies an area of about two hectares. It was set inside a rectangular stone-paved square and comprised arcades and large public edifices. The whole eastern side of the site has been nowadays uncovered, consisting of the Square with the eastern and southern arcades, the Cryptoporticus, the Mint, the Bathhouse and the Odeon.
- The Triumphal Arch of Galerius (Kamara) was built at the end of the 3rd century in order to celebrate the victory of Emperor Galerius over the Sassanid Persians. The central arch was about 9.7 metres wide and 12.5 metres high and spanned the portion of the Via Egnatia, the major east-west Roman road that connected Dyrrhacium to Byzantium.
- The Galerian Palatial Complex was built on the verge of the 4th century. A significant part has been excavated, bringing into the light beautiful peristyles, a large internal courtyard, corridors and rooms with stunning mosaic floors.
- The Rotunda is 16 centuries old, and one of the oldest buildings in the city. It was erected by Emperor Galerius as a temple, either of Cabeiros, or Zeus. It was later converted into a Christian church, and was decorated with marvellous mosaics. When Thessaloniki was conquered by the Ottomans it became a mosque. Its minaret is the only one surviving in the city today.
- The church of Acheiropoietos (5th century) is the oldest surviving church in the city. The surviving parts of the church include the original marble pavement of the central nave and fragments of fifth century decorative mosaics.
- The church of Agios Dimitrios (7th century), dedicated to the city’s patron saint, is renowned for its mosaics and contains a museum situated inside the church’s Crypt – the place where St Dimitrios was martyred.
- The church of Hagia Sophia (8th century) is one of the major churches in Thessaloniki. It has been constructed based on the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, and constitutes a typical example of a domed transitional cruciform church with ambulatory.
- The church of Panagia Chalkeon (11th century) has a ground plan of a classic “cross-in-square” form, which was a typical architectural setting during that period of time. The exterior contains a variety of arches and pilasters, which can be traced to Constantinopolitan influence.
- The Walls of Thessaloniki were established in the late 4th century. They surrounded the city for about one and a half millennia, when large parts of the walls were destroyed by the Ottoman authorities as part of their plan to restructure the city.
- The monastery of Vlatades, or Moni Vlatadon (14th century) is the only one surviving today from the Byzantine period. According to local tradition, it was built in the place where Apostle Paul preached and lived during his stay in the city. The monastery lies at an altitude of about 120 meters and has a nice view of Thessaloniki.
- The White Tower (15th century) is the hallmark of the city nowadays, and once guarded the eastern end of the city’s sea walls. During the Ottoman era the tower was used as a prison. Today it houses a permanent exhibition dedicated to the history of the city through various periods.
- The Yeni Cami (New Mosque) (1902) is an important monument and was originally built for Jews who converted to Islam. It is used today as an exhibition space.
- The Bezesteni (15th century) is a rectangular building with lead-covered domes and four entrances. It was built in the late fifteenth century, operating mainly as a cloth market.
- The Alaca Imaret mosque (15th century) was also operated as a poor people’s house and an ieratical school. Today it is used for cultural events and temporary exhibitions.
There are many other monuments that can be found in the city dating back to the Ottoman era.
Thessaloniki has several fascinating museums. The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki is one of the most beautiful and important museums in Greece. It comprises 7 permanent exhibition units which are structured thematically and represent all aspects of private and public life in antiquity. (Opening hours: Monday-Sunday 08:00 – 15:00; entrance fee: €8)
The Museum of Byzantine Culture is also unique and presents various aspects of life during the Byzantine and post-Byzantine periods, including arts, ideology, social structure and religion. (Opening hours: Monday – Sunday 08:00 – 15:00; entrance fee: €8)
The Center of Contemporary Art is located at the port of Thessaloniki and supports all forms and kinds of innovative artistic activity, using planning tactics which have been implemented in several thematic actions. (Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10:00 – 18:00; entrance fee €2)
The Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki displays photographs and artefacts concerning the history of the Jewish people in Thessaloniki since the foundation of the city and up to World War II. For more than 200 years Thessaloniki was the city with the largest Jewish population in the world, gaining the name “Mother of Israel” at the time. (Opening hours: Tuesday, Friday and Sunday 11:00 – 14:00. Wednesday and Thursday 11:00 – 14:00 & 17:00 – 20:00; entrance fee: free)
The Museum of Ancient, Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Musical Instruments is housed in a restored three-storey building, located in ‘Ladadika’ (oil shops), which is an area opposite the port’s central gate that contains some of the most colourful buildings in the city. Remarkably, visitors of the museum can have the opportunity to hear the sound produced by some of the instruments.
A list of other museums in Thessaloniki is provided below:
- Thessaloniki Olympic Museum; (Opening hours: Monday – Friday 09:00 – 19:00, Saturday 10:00 – 16:00, Sunday 10:00 – 14:00; entrance fee: €2.5)
- Museum of Photography; (Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday 11:00 – 19:00; entrance fee: €2)
- State Museum of Contemporary Art; (Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10:00 – 16:00; entrance fee: €3)
- Thessaloniki Science Centre and Technology Museum; (Opening hours: Monday – Friday 09:00 – 14:30, Saturday 13:00 – 21:00, Sunday 11:00 – 19:00; entrance fee: €7)
- The Museum of the Macedonian Struggle; (Opening hours: Monday – Friday 09:00 – 14:00, Saturday 10:00 – 14:00; entrance fee: €2)
- Folklife & Ethnological Museum of Macedonia-Thrace; (Opening hours: Monday, Tuesday, Friday 09:00 – 15:30, Wednesday 09:30 – 21:30, Saturday, Sunday 09:00 – 15:30; entrance fee: €2)
- The War Museum; (Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday 09:00 – 19:00, Sunday 09:00 – 17:00; entrance fee: €3)
- Railway Museum of Thessaloniki; (Opening hours: Monday – Friday 09:00 – 13:00; entrance fee: €2)
- Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art; (Opening hours: Tuesday & Friday 10:00 – 18:00, Wednesday 10:00 – 22:00, Saturday 10:00 – 18:00, Sunday 11:00 – 15:00; entrance fee: €4)
- National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation; (Opening hours: Tuesday 09:00 – 16:00, Wednesday – Thursday 14:00 – 21:00, Friday – Saturday 10:00 – 18:00; entrance fee: free)
- Thessaloniki Cinema Museum; (Opening hours: Weekdays 10:00 – 14:00, 18:00 – 20:30, Saturday, Sunday 10:00 – 14:00; entrance fee: €2)
- The Hellenic Pharmaceutical Museum; (Opening hours: Monday – Friday 08:00 – 14:00; entrance fee: free)
- House of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk; (Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 – 17:00; entrance fee: free)
- Municipal Gallery of Thessaloniki; (Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 – 18:00; entrance fee: free)
- The Ancient Roman Forum Museum of Thessaloniki. (Opening hours: everyday day 08:00 – 15:00; entrance fee: free).
Thessaloniki is an amalgam of old, neoclassical and new buildings. In the early 1900′s Thessaloniki was home to a highly mobile and cosmopolitan class of wealthy merchants. As a result, the city has many buildings of a fin-de-siecle style such as Art Nouveau and Eclecticism, trends which arrived in Thessaloniki as soon as they came into vogue in Western Europe.