Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki features most of the capital’s advantages, such as a wide market and vast choices in cultural events. It lacks of Athens’ hassles, including the hectic lifestyle, with Thessalonians being known for dealing with any dilemma over a long “frappe” (Greek iced coffee). A major college city, it offers lively nightlife, along with a variety of inexpensive dining and entertainment options. Salonica, bears a great history, shards of which pop out every other corner during a long stroll.
- I Tourist Information
- II Get in
- III Getting around
- IV Historic Center
- V Ano Poli (Upper Town) and Acropolis
- VI Telecommunications in Thessaloniki
- VII Stay safe in Thessaloniki
- VIII Stay healthy in Thessaloniki
- IX Go next
- X Fly to Thessaloniki
- XI Hotels in Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki (Greek: Θεσσαλονίκη, Turkish: Selanik, Serbian, Bulgarian, Macedonian: Солун, Solun) is the capital of the region of Central Macedonia, Greece, and is, at about one million inhabitants, the second largest city in the country. More importantly, it is a city with a continuous 3,000-year history, preserving relics of its Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman past and of its formerly dominant Jewish population. Its Byzantine churches, in particular, are included in UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
Thessaloniki lies on the northern fringe of the Thermaic Gulf on its eastern coast and is bound by Mount Chortiatis on its southeast. The metropolitan area, with population of about 1 million, can be divided roughly in 3 parts: The northwestern, the central and the southeastern.
The central part, corresponding to the region that used to be inside the Byzantine walls and can in turn be divided in the “Ano Poli” (Upper City) region which lies on the hillside that is actually the southwest end of Chortiatis, and the part of the city located between the Upper City and the sea.
The later is the “center” of Thessaloniki, as most commercial, entertainment and educational facilities can be found here, while this part of the city remains a dense populated residential area. It is the area surrounded by the seafront to the southwest, Olibiados street to the northeast, Dimokratias square to the northwest and the University campus and the facilities of Thessaloniki International Fair to the southeast. Most places with tourist interest are either in the center or very close to it.
Most roads in the center are either parallel or perpendicular to the coastline. A simple rule that helps the visitor is that if the a street goes downhill, then following it will lead you to the sea. The biggest parallel streets to the sea starting from the sea are Leoforos Nikis, Tsimiski Ioanni, Egnatia, Agiou Dimitriou and Kassandrou. The main vertical to the sea streets, starting from northwest, are Dragoumi Ionos, Venizelou Eleftheriou, Aristotelous, Agias Sofias and Ethinikis Aminis.
There are tourist info and ticket booths at the central bus stations. You can get a free bus line chart there. The tourist information office is at Tsimiski 136, a few minutes from the White Tower. It is open Monday to Friday 8AM-8PM, Sa 09:30-16:00 at winter and 08:00-20:00 at summer, Sun closed. If you find it closed, walk up to Aristotelous and buy a map from Iannos bookshop.
|Note: The international train D335 between Belgrade and Thessaloniki have been intermittently cancelled, sometimes – but not always – replaced by bus, due to major track works on the Serbian side. This is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. On a more positive note, this will result in faster travel times when track works are finished.|
The Greek Railway Company is called OSE (ΟΣΕ). The trains are operated under the name TrainOSE. There are daily regional trains to Veroia-Edessa and Katerini-Larissa, three trains to Florina, six InterCity (IC) trains and one night-train to Athens via Platy-Katerini-Larissa-Palaiofarsalos-Domokos-Leianokladi-Leivadia-Thiva-Oinoi-SKA-Athens (approx 5h20min), two trains to Kilkis-Serres-Drama-Xanthi-Komotini-Alexandroupoli and one train to Karditsa-Trikala-Kalampaka.
There is a once-daily train service to/from Belgrade and Sofia.
There are normally employees at all major stations to facilitate transportation of disabled persons.
Ask for these discounts even if the TRAINOSE employee does not mention them:
- Children (ages 4-12) get a 50% discount.
- Youth under 26 and elderly over 65 get a 25% discount (not on ICE).
- Disabled people and their escort get a 50% discount.
- Groups get a 30%-50% discount.
- Two-way trips also get a discount.
Thessaloniki is connected via the intercity KTEL bus network with every corner of Greece.
Prominent long-distance bus connections
- Athens/Volos – KTEL Buses from/to Athens and Volos make the trip from/to Thessaloniki in about 6 hr 30 min and 2 hr 30 min, respectively, the former including a 20 min stop at a roadside restaurant, usually near Lamia, with toilet facilities. Buses are air-conditioned, and some offer WiFi internet access.
- Belgrade – There are a number of weekly departures to Belgrade (Serbia) from Thessaloniki and Athens, in the arrangement of the Greek and Serbian Agency. Ticket price in one direction from Thessaloniki to Belgrade is about €45
- Tirana – There are a number of buses to Thessaloniki and Athens every day, departing from most major Albanian cities. You can catch a bus from Tirana or Shkodra and travel all the way south, making stops in most major Albanian and Greek cities. Since buses stop to pick up and drop passengers in most major cities, you can catch the bus at those cities en route.
- Skopje – A number of local travel agencies in Skopje also arrange transport to Thessaloniki daily by car or minibus. These generally leave around 05:00, and cost around €25 for a day return (returning at 17:00) or a single (i.e. €50 if you want to come back on a different day from when you leave) The travel agent at the back of the shopping mall by the Central Square arranges this departing from beside the Holiday Inn. Others depart from the bus station, or other locations around the city. Simeonidis tours, N⁰ 14, 26th October St. There is one bus daily departing for Thessaloniki from the central bus station in Skopje and it takes about 5 hr to Thessaloniki. It departs at 06:00. Reservations are recommended.
- Sofia – There are at least four daily buses from Sofia, Bulgaria which pass through Thessaloniki, plus several non-daily. Prices are generally around 50BGN (€25). See here for more info.
The domestic flight network is quite extensive, with most flights provided by either Aegean Airlines, its regional subsidiary Olympic Air, or Astra Airlines, an operator of subsidized public-service-obligation flights to less frequently served destinations. Domestic connections are also partially seasonal, and encompass a range of Greek Islands.
Apart from those, the majority of flights are charter and seasonal flights by holiday specialists. There is also substantial low-fare traffic by pretty much all major low-fare carriers in Europe, with Ryanair having a base at the airport and the largest number of connections out of those. When it comes to traditional international airlines, the airport is mainly served by those belonging to the Star Alliance, which also includes Aegean and Olympic, such as Austrian, Turkish and Swiss.
The airport is not as well served as the Athens airport, to which it is connected by multiple daily flights taking around 50 minutes, provided by multiple airlines. Aegean’s frequent shuttle flights are of particular interest, as they can be booked on a common ticket with an Aegean or other Star Alliance flight to other destinations in Europe and beyond.
If you are departing from SKG on an international flight taking you out of the Schengen zone, bear in mind that there are only four passport control booths (with one dedicated solely to EU citizens), so the queues to access the extra-Schengen gates (12 through 19) even when they are all operating can exceed 40 minutes at peak times, and it’s 40 minutes of shoving and aggravation. one you are through passport control, facilities are limited, so if you plan to eat, fill a drinking water bottle, or use toilets without queuing, do this before passport control.
A taxi ride may be a quicker, but much more expensive way to get to the city than the bus
Connection to the city centre
The airport is 15 km south of the city centre. The public transit connection is provided by bus line X1, a 24×7 service between the airport, the New Railway Station and the Macedonia InterCity Bus Terminal. Frequency is between 15 min and 30 min during the day. At night, the bus number changes to N1 and runs every 30 minutes. A ticket costs €2 for one trip (see Get around: By bus). Tickets can be bought at a vending booth at the airport bus stop or at ticket machines on the buses. However, for these exact change is needed. The ride from the airport to the city centre takes around 40 minutes. Buses can get very packed so do not expect a very comfortable ride.
Attention: Bus number 79 from the airport does not get you to the city centre but to A.S. IKEA bus terminal in the city’s east side.
A taxi ride from the city centre costs about €15-20. It’s hard to find one during peak hours (07:00-08:00, 14:00-16:00 and 19:00-21:00), so plan early.
A luggage storage room is available on the arrival floor. As of 2016, fees start from €3 (storing a small bag for 6 hours).
A hiking trail
If you’d like some exercise before, after or between your flights, you can spend this time on a fairly pleasant river- and sea-side trail. It starts about 600 m from the terminal, where the airport’s main access road crosses a small river (40°31’40.8″N 22°59’04.3″E). From there, a trail follows the river’s right (NE) bank toward the north-west for about 1 km, until the river enters the sea; watch for water birds. From the river’s mouth, the trail follows the sea coast to the NE and N for about 1 km, until it reaches the mouth of another little river. While not an official beach, swimming in the sea is possible. From that point, one can continue east for about 500 m along a small residential street named Floridas, until reaching the main highway (Leoforos Georgikis Scholis) just south of the Lidl store (40°32’44.6″N 22°59’05.2″E). From there, two shopping centers, Hondos and IKEA (both with air conditioning, soft chairs, food, and free WiFi) are within walking distance. From the IKEA bus terminal (40°32’53.3″N 22°59’02.6″E) you can take one of the bus lines to the city center (e.g. bus number 2) paying the standard one journey ticket price which is cheaper than taking the bus 78/78N directly from the airport (see Get around: By bus). The trail takes about an hour one-way and of course can be done in the other direction if you are arriving from the city center at the IKEA bus terminal and have some time to kill before your flight.
- Athens about 5 hr (Highway A1, E75)
- Belgrade in Serbia about 7 hr (A1, E75)
- Istanbul in Turkey about 8 hr (A2, E90)
- Tirana in Northeastern Albania about 6 hr (Α29 and Α2)
- Sofia in Northwest Bulgaria about 4 hr (Α25, Ε79)
- Constanta in Romania about 8 hr.
One of the burdens for visitors and inhabitants alike is finding parking, so be prepared to either spend a lot of time looking for a place or pay for space in the parking lot (starting from €4 for 3 hr). Don’t assume you’re safe from paying a fine just because locals flagrantly flout parking laws. Traffic congestion is a problem, largely due to double-parked cars, but generally fellow drivers and passers-by are helpful in showing you the way if you’re lost.
The Thessalonian metro system is under construction and estimated to open in 2016. However, a comprehensive bus network serves the city quite efficiently. Additionally, several points of interest are within walking distance from one another.
The city’s bus company is called OASTH and runs a total of 80 different bus lines, which are the only public transportation within the city. Maps of the bus routes are available on OASTH’s website . Bus services usually operate from 05:00 until just after midnight.
Bus number 50 (“cultural line”) follows a figure-of-8 route past all the major tourist sights. There is an English speaking guide aboard, who provides you with maps and information. The whole route takes 50 min, and it departs every hour on the hour from the White Tower. The connection to the airport is provided by bus 78, which runs as 78N in the night (the only night bus line in the city).
This being Greece, the bus drivers go on strike occasionally (as it happened in August 2016). Notices about strikes may appear (in Greek only, naturally) at the bus stops information panels.
Tickets can be bought at OASTH’s ticket outlets and on the buses. Certain types of tickets (see below) are also available at various other sales points. There are five types of tickets available:
- One journey ticket: €1.00 from OASTH’s ticket outlets or other selling points, €1.10 on the bus; valid for one journey on all lines except 50, 78 and 78N.
- Two journey ticket: €1.20 from OASTH’s ticket outlets or other selling points, €1.30 on the bus; valid for two journeys on all lines except 50, 78 and 78N, the second journey starting within 70 minutes of the first.
- Three journey ticket: €1.50 from OASTH’s ticket outlets or on the bus; valid for three journeys on all lines except 50, 78 and 78N, the third journey starting within 90 minutes of the first.
- Four journey ticket: €2.00 from OASTH’s ticket outlets or on the bus; valid for four journeys on all lines except 50, 78 and 78N, the fourth journey starting within 120 minutes of the first.
- Airport line (78/78N) / Cultural line (50) ticket: €2.00 from OASTH’s ticket outlets or on the bus; valid only on lines 50, 78 and 78N.
Students, persons aged over 65, and persons with over 67% disability get a 50% discount if they have the documents required by OASTH to prove it. Accompanied children under the age of six ride for free.
1, 3, 6 and 12-month cards for unlimited journeys on all lines (including the Airport line 78/78N and the Cultural line 50) are also available. Note that they are valid from the first day of the month the where issued until the last day of the month / third month / sixth month / year. A photo-ID and a recent photograph are required to issue such cards. An one-month card costs €30.
Bicycle lanes often do not exist, even on main roads. Sometimes, there are bicycle lanes on the pavement. You should always be very careful.
ThessBike is a bike sharing system with stations mainly near the center of the town. More stations located in other areas are being planned. You can either become a subscriber or pay per hour. In general, expect to pay €1 per hour.
The White Tower is Thessaloniki’s most well-recognized landmark. Standing near the waterfront, it is no longer white; its name dates back to the early 20th century when it was whitewashed to wash out its bloody past. A massive massacre had taken place in the tower in 1826, during the domination of Ottoman Sultan Mahmud. Nowadays a small museum and a café are housed inside its grounds.
The Roman remains of Galerius Rotunda, Galerius Palace and the Arch of Galerius sit by the two sides of Egnatia Avenue. Little is left from the Roman Emperor’s palace, but the Rotunda, which was initially constructed to be his mausoleum, is quite well-preserved. The large circle structure was never used as a tomb after all; however, it served as the city’s first Christian church, as well as a mosque during Ottoman era. Today the square beside the Rotunda becomes lively in the evenings, as it is a meeting spot for Thessalonian youth.
The nearby Arch of Galerius was erected at the beginning of 3rd century to celebrate the emperor’s triumph over the Persians. Not far from Galerius’ structures, you will come across the ruins of the Roman Forum, where you can admire some of the interesting floor mosaics.
Thessaloniki’s Archaeological Museum is a must-see for any visitor. If you are on a strict schedule, go straight for the “Gold of Macedon” exhibit. Fascinating jewellery and other artefacts retrieved from royal tombs, from the period between 6th and 2nd century BC, are on display here. The rest of the museum houses collections which cover prehistoric times to Hellenistic period.
The northernmost Byzantine walls of the city and parts of the western walls are still standing, as is the city’s symbol – the White Tower. The rest of the walls are in the picturesque Upper Town which offers a spectacular view over the bay, especially in the late afternoon.
The city is also known as “the mother of Israel”, due to the once flourishing Jewish community here, which existed from the Roman period and grew substantially after the Ottoman Empire took in Jewish refugees expelled Spain, Portugal, and Spanish territories in Italy; these Jews are known as “Sephardim”. Sephardi Jews formed a significant percentage of the city’s population and infrastructure until World War II, when, in spring 1943, almost all were deported by the Nazis to the extermination camp at Auschwitz, never to return. However, there are still two Synagogues, and you can see the Jewish Museum.
Also interesting are the Turkish public baths Bey Hamam, the Bezesteni (Ottoman closed market for jewellery and precious materials) the Alatza Imaret (Ottoman poorhouse) and Hamza Bey Camii (both restored and used for exhibitions).
Ano Poli (Upper Town) and Acropolis
Acropolis, also known as Eptapyrgio, or Yedi Koule, refers to the upper part of the city which includes a Venetian castle with seven towers. Currently serving as a cultural center, the castle used to house the city’s prison from the 18th century until 1988. The municipal area between the Acropolis and Aggiou Dimitriou Street, Ano Poli, features scenic narrow backstreets, charming houses of the early 20th century and lovely backyards.
Three ancient churches, which are included in Unesco’s World Heritage List, are located here. Church of Nikolaos Orfanos dates back to the 4th century, boasting some fascinating frescos. The relics of Saint Dimitrios are hidden in an underground crypt of a church of the 5th century, which took after his name. Church of Osios David was used for the secret baptism of Galerius’ daughter. Dating back to the 5th century, the church still features well-preserved mosaics and some posterior frescos.
Within the area of the Turkish Consulate one will find the house of Kemal Ataturk. Born in Thessaloniki, the Turkish progressive leader lived his early childhood in the city before he left for Istanbul. The house he was born in has now been transformed into Kemal Ataturk’s Museum, bearing the original furnishing of his family.
Telecommunications in Thessaloniki
There are many Internet cafes and bars, restaurants or coffee shops that offer free wireless internet (wi-fi).
There are also free Wi-Fi hotspots in several public places: Thessaloniki International Fair, in the park outside the White Tower, and on Aristotelous Square.
At Thessaloniki airport, go up to the restaurant on the 2nd floor for free, fast (16 Mbps) wifi (SSID “Goodbye Free Wifi”). The IKEA store (4 km north of the airport) has free WiFi as well.
Watch your pockets and travel documents as there are pickpockets, especially in buses during rush hour.
Some people may feel very uncomfortable walking in the areas near the railway station at night, as there are several brothels there.
Police number: 100
Stay healthy in Thessaloniki
Tap water is safe to drink. In some places in the city centre you might get a slight “taste” from the water. That means that the pipes in the building are getting old, so you might want to buy bottled water.
Greece is a sunny place, and if your skin is light-coloured, intense sunlight can be a serious danger. Use sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
Emergency phone number: 112
The suburb of Panorama is well heeled and has good restaurants, and spectacular views over Thessaloniki – especially at sunset.
The classic trips out of Thessaloniki are:
- Serres: The second largest city in Greece’s Macedonia region and close to the Bulgarian towns of Melnik and Bansko and Pirin National Park
- Kavala and Philippi: About 160km east of Thessaloniki is Kavala, one of the most beautiful cities of Greece and is especially recommended to visit. The ancient site of Philippi is particularly known by Apostle Paul and the first Christian baptism in Europe
- The Island Thasos is a green island with high mountains and wonderful beaches. You can visit the island on a day trip but its definitively worth to spent more days. There are ferry boats from Kavala harbor and Keramoti.
- There are 500 km of wonderful beaches on the two first fingers of Halkidikí peninsula, one of the main tourism destinations of Greece. The first “finger” from the West is called Kassandra and its the place where many Salonicans (and tourists) spend their holidays. The second “finger” called Sithonia is the most beautiful place of Halkidiki both in landscape and beaches. In the summer, the Armenistis campground (Sithonia peninsula) stages concerts and other events. Also check out the jazz and classical concerts in Sani (Kassandra peninsula). Try to schedule your visit in summer so that you’re not driving back to the city on Sunday evening. The third finger is the monastic community of Mount Athos. Mount Athos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This peninsula houses over 1,700 monks in 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries. The visit is strictly controlled and only male visitors are allowed. Tourist require a visa. But there are also sightseeing boats that offer tours around the peninsula (without landing). These do not require permits and are the only option for women who want to see Mount Athos. The boat tours start in Ouranopolis from about 10 o’clock.
- Mount Olympus coast, towards Platamonas, a very scenic region which has fallen out of favour with the trendy set but has lost no business – it is now mainly catering to tourists from Eastern Europe.
- Pella, the Macedonian capital during the time of Alexander the Great.
- Vergina, the spectacular site of the Macedonian royal tombs.
- Dion, a beautiful archeological site near Mount Olympus.
- Prespa and Doirani lakes near the borders with Albania and North Macedonia, respectively, the Prespas especially offering an austere and evocative Balkan landscape and plenty of birdwatching.
Fly to Thessaloniki
Cheap Flights to Thessaloniki
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Hotels in Thessaloniki
Hotels Thessaloniki: Popularity
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Electra Palace Thessaloniki
The Met Hotel
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