Thessaloniki, Greeceís second largest city, is in the north of the country just north-west of the Halkidiki peninsula. The city proper has a population of around 400,000 and the surrounding urban area just about tops a million people.
Thessaloniki is becoming an increasingly popular place to visit, with people attracted by its history, archaeological sites, sea-front setting and lively atmosphere.
Like Athens, Thessaloniki is a modern, busy city. Closely packed concrete apartment blocks and traffic can dominate your first impressions. But, also like Athens, it is a city which really repays investigation and has numerous pleasures.
We spent two weeks here in September 2016, and discovered something new to like about the city every day.
We canít claim to be experts on Thessaloniki, but here are some of our thoughts and comments about it.
Finding your way around
As with all big cities, it takes a little while to orientate yourself.
On our visit we concentrated mainly on four areas:
- the seafront, stretching from the port to beyond the White Tower.
- Aristotelous Square, Ladadika and the markets, which contain many of the bars and restaurants popular with both locals and tourists.
- the area around the Rotunda and the Roman sites.
- Ano Poli, the old town which skirts the old Acropolis on the hill above the centre.
Thessaloniki has a long promenade along the harbour and round the bay.
Starting from the west the first stretch, roughly from the port to the White Tower, takes you along the cityís main frontage.
There are various grand buildings, many of which contain cafes and restaurants, and you pass Aristotelous Square.
Itís an interesting stroll with a wide pavement by the sea but we found it rather dominated by the main road.
Certainly we werenít tempted by any of the cafes there which open straight into the traffic.
Much more pleasant for a relaxing stroll is the promenade on the other side of the White Tower Ė Thessalonikiís iconic landmark. You leave the road behind and the promenade broadens out and runs for five kilometres with parks to one side and the sea to the other.
There are some pleasant fountains, public art and lots of benches. You can hire cycles and it is often full of people walking, jogging, fishing, sitting chatting in groups, or just gazing out to sea.
Aristotelous Square, Ladadika and the markets
This is the main tourist area of Thessaloniki. Itís at the western end of the main sweep of waterfront which runs from the docks in the west to the White Tower.
Aristotelous Square is a grand square of impressive neo classical buildings which opens up on to the seafront. There are cafes and benches, and it's a popular place to sit or stroll around.
At the top of the square, on your left with the sea behind you, is the lively meat and vegetable Modiano market. There is a smaller bit of market, and a number of restaurants, on the right of the square.
Directly inland from Aristotelous is the Old Market Square, a pleasant open space with benches, and behind this the Roman Agora.
To your left, with the sea behind you, and beyond Modiano market, is the trendy, lively area of Ladadika.
This is one of the few areas that escaped the fire of 1917, which devastated so much of the city. The old workshops and ware houses have been made into tavernas, bars and night clubs.
The Cityís big, international stores and posh shops are on the busy Tsimiski Street, which runs parallel to the sea, and cuts through Aristotelous Square about half way up.
Rotunda, Galeriusís Palace and Arch
The Rotunda, Galeriusís arch and the Roman palace and are roughly in a line going down to the seafront between the White Tower and Aristotulous Square.
These three impressive archaeological sites are linked by pedestrian streets containing shops, cafes, and tavernas.
The area is near the university and is obviously a magnet for students rather than tourists. As Greeks eat later than tourists the coffee bars are packed until around nine in the evening while the eating places are correspondingly empty until later.
The old part of Thessaloniki surrounds the castle, which is on the hill rising behind the city. It has quite a different feel Ė almost like a separate small town.
We stayed in a flat in Ano Poli, so did a lot of exploring here and got to know it well.
Coach parties come up to visit the castle and take in the spectacular views of the city and sea,
but overall the area has a local, old-fashioned feel.
Itís well worth a visit both for the different atmosphere and the views. There are shady cafes from where you get a spectacular panaroma of the city, as well as lots of decent tavernas.
You can walk up to the castle walls in about half an hour and an extra ten minutes or so will take you up to the castle itself.
This was used as a prison for much of its life and was only decommissioned in 1989. The tiny windowless cells give an idea of how unpleasant the experience must have been.
As well as the castle, there is plenty of exploring to be done around the steep, cobbled streets of the old town and there are some wonderful old churches hidden away in the back streets.
There is also an old fashioned little square with plane trees, a church, a cafe and a bakers. Close by is a supermarket and a chemists.
It took us about 30 minutes to walk up to the old town from Aristotelous Square. If you donít fancy the uphill walk a number 23 bus will take you up there in around fifteen minutes, depending on traffic.
You can pick the bus up on Plateia Elefterias just west of Aristotelous Square on the seafront.
Tickets are just over a euro and can be bought from a machine on the bus if you have the correct change.
The same bus will also drop you close to some of the Ano Polis restaurants we mention on our restaurants page