A history buff’s dream location, Greece’s ‘arts city’ is home to breathtaking ancient architecture, incredible food and a thriving cultural scene
Found in the north of Greece, 520km above Athens, Thessaloniki is the country’s second largest city – a modern metropolis with a remarkable history and incredible food scene. The city, which is connected by direct flights from London, has an abundance of world-class architectural wonders, among them 15 Unesco World Heritage Sites. Here’s why it is the perfect city break.
Ancient sitesBlessed with incredible archaeological sites, Thessaloniki is a history buff’s dream. Its ancient forum (Agora), constructed by the Romans, dates back to the late 2nd or the early 3rd century AD, and is perhaps the blockbuster site. Visitors will discover squares, porticoes, additional buildings and the odeum (293-395 AD), the palace complex of Roman emperor Galerius Maximianus, the thermae, hippodrome, temples and other monuments and moveable finds (among them mosaics of exquisite art), brought to light in excavations and surveys. In the south square is the famous Stoa of the Idols, which was two-storeyed and lavishly decorated.
Nearby, you will find the triumphal Arch of Galerius (also known as Kamara), also built under the Roman Empire, where as The Rotunda, which is a stone’s throw away, is an early 4th century building, which was later converted into a Christian church.
The Old City (or Ano Poli or Upper Town), a district by turns quiet and lively, youthful and classic, is dominated by the Eptapyrgio, the Byzantine and Ottoman fortress that overlooks the city. The historic area boasts an old-time charm with its mansions, stone-paved alleys and breathtaking views over the city. Ano Poli is home to Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments and churches listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as the 5th century Church of Osios David and the 14th century Vlatadon Monastery with its peaceful gardens.
The historical quarter of the Ladadika used to be the central market and bazaar and now boasts some of the city’s best shopping, tavernas and bars. A favourite among visitors and the city’s student population, the area will give you a taste of true Thessalonian entertainment.
The city is also home to traditional markets – the Modiano, which is housed in a rectangular building built in 1922, with pedimented facade and glass roof, is perhaps the most impressive of all.
You can walk along the streets and alleys of the city and see the imposing monuments of the Byzantine Period and visit churches of outstanding architecture, such as Panagia (Virgin Mary) Acheiropoietos and Agios Dimitrios, which form an intrinsic part of Thessaloniki’s urban structure. Landmarks defining each neighbourhood add to the city’s special character.
Cultural centreIn November, Thessaloniki – sometimes called the ‘arts city’ – becomes the centre of international filmmaking when Greek and foreign artists arrive in great numbers. The Thessaloniki International Film Festival, which was established in 1969, is the centre of Greek film production. Each year, a special tribute is made to an outstanding film director, while locals, students and visitors flood in.