Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki (Greek: Θεσσαλονίκη, Turkish: Selanik, Serbian, Bulgarian, Macedonian: Солун, Solun) is the capital of the region of Central Macedonia, 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.

Aerial view of Thessaloniki

Understand

Orientation

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 either vertical to the sea. 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.

Tourist Information

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 M-F 8AM-8PM, Sa 8:30AM-2PM, Sun closed. If you find it closed, walk up to Aristotelous and buy a map from Iannos bookshop. You can also visit the OASTH website.

Get in

The New Railway Station is called so because it replaced the old one. Completed in the 1960s to a pre-war design it is hardly "new" in the 21st century, but the name stuck and is used officially

By train

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.

International connections to Thessaloniki were suspended in February 2011 due to the worsening financial situation in Greece. However, in May 2014 train service to/from Belgrade and Sofia resumed, and there is currently one train per day between Thessaloniki and Sofia/Belgrade.

There are normally employees at all major stations to facilitate transportation of disabled persons.

Discounts

Be aware of these discounts and insist on them even if the TRAINOSE employee does not mention them at first.

By bus

Thessaloniki is connected via the intercity KTEL bus network with every corner of Greece.

Prominent long-distance bus connections

Macedonia Airport enjoys a seaside location, making approaches quite scenic

By plane

The airport of Thessaloniki is called Macedonia International Airport (IATA: SKG) and lies 15 km south of the city center. The airport sees highly seasonal traffic, obviously peaking in the summer months. International destinations particularly well served include the major airports of Germany, as well as former Soviet Union countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan or Latvia.

The domestic flight network is quite extensive, with most flights provided by either Aegean Airlines, its regional subsidiary Olympic Air and 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 airport in Athens, 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 EU 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 solid shoving and aggravation.

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 78, a 24x7 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 78N and runs every 30 minutes. A ticket costs €2 for one trip (see Get around: By bus). It's about a 40-min ride from the airport to the city centre. There is ticket machine on every bus (; note though that exact change is needed.

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 center costs about €15-20. It's hard to find one during peak hours (7AM-8AM, 2PM-4PM and 7PM-9PM), so plan early.

By car

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.

Get around

An OASTH bus leaving towards the A.S. IKEA terminal

By bus

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 5AM until right 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).

Tickets

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:

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.

By bicycle

Bicycle lanes often do not exist, even in main roads. Sometimes, there are bicycle lanes on the sidewalk. 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 of Thessaloniki is the city's landmark

See

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).


Seafront and lower town

The traditional central food market, with hundreds of stalls selling meat, fish, fruit, vegetables (sometimes cheek-by-jowl, an unnerving experience for North Americans), cheap clothes and shoes, flowers, herbs and spices, between Aristotele Square and Venizelou street.

Take a walk along the long seafront promenade (about 12 km altogether). See the Roman Forum excavations.

Upper town

Visit the upper town for its traditional old houses, small cobbled streets, Byzantine citadel, the Eptapyrgion fort. Next to the Rotunda, see the Arch of Triumph of Galerius and the ruins of his palace.

The Agia Sofia church

Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments

On no account should you miss the Byzantine churches built between the 5th and 14th century ACE, some of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

The Ancient Forum

Museums and galleries

Thessaloniki is home to many museums, mostly archaeological and ethnographic. The two big archaeological museums are in the city centre, under the OTE Tower at the CHANTH Square.

Thessaloniki's 'Ano Poli' (Old City)

Do

Thessaloniki has a very active nightlife, as a 2007 New York Times article called it "Seattle of the Balkans". The very lively and youth-oriented international film festival is held in November, the International Trade Fair in September.

Yachting

Thermaikos Gulf is a challenging place for yachting and sailing. Many days there are strong North winds but with low waves making sailing a fun and joy for all sailors. There are three sailing clubs in Thessaloniki and world championships take place here every year. Thessaloniki has several marinas with a new one containing 182 mooring places under construction in the centre of the city and next to Aistotelous square. There are many Yacht charter companies renting sailing yachts.

Buy

Clothing

For fashion, Proxenou Koromila, Mitropoleos and Tsimiski. You won't find many bargains, but the shopping area is conveniently small and full of cafes when you get too tired. For cheaper clothing, check out Egnatia street.

Books

Books and maps in various languages can be bought in stores such as:

Also in the 9th International Book Fair, that is held annually in late spring.

Buy food

You can buy local food products, such as olive oil, sometimes at significally lower prices than in nearby countries.

For eating out see the eat section below

Modiano market

For food specialities, go to Modiano market and try the Terpsis and Omega delicatessens (the most famous is Kosmas, but it specialises in Asian food). Any Greek will expect you to bring back sweets from Salonica, so try tsoureki, plaited sweetened breads for which Terkenlis is famous, and desserts (baklava and galaktoboureko) e.g. or Nikiforou on Venizelou street. The most famous of the baklava joints is Hatzis, but fame has not made it any better - it's become overpriced and not as good as in previous years.

For a morning or late-night snack, try Bougatsa pies: cream (sweet) or cheese (savoury) filling.

Sweets and pastry

If you like sweets, there are 3 typical pastry-shops you should try, typical of this city:

Best winter dessert: baked quince.

Eat

This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:
Budget Under €15
Mid-range €15-€20
Splurge €20-€30 and up

Greeks consider Thessaloniki a gourmet city - but bear in mind that this refers to the excellent local specialities and cheap-and-cheerful ouzo taverns rather than to haute cuisine or a range of foreign restaurants. The latter are best avoided in Thessaloniki.

Budget

Go for a meal in one of the many downtown ouzo restaurants (ouzeri). Accompany your ouzo or tsipouro with a battery of small dishes - by far the best way to eat in Salonica. Particularly good are the fava beans, the octopus either grilled or in wine sauce and mussels (fried, or in pilaff, or with a hot cheese sauce, saganaki). If you see "boiled vegetables' on the menu in wintertime, go ahead and order them- you'll be amazed at how good they taste. Another typical winter salad is politiki, a combination of shredded cabbage and pickles.

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Thessaloniki is by far the liveliest city in Northern Greece- maybe even the whole country. Most of the trendy bars at the old sea-front (Nikis Ave.) and around, many of the tavernas are either downtown or in the old city (Kastra). You can also find numerous bars and tavernas at Krini, an area in eastern Thessaloniki. If you want to check out what the whole bouzoukia scene is all about, try the clubs Pyli Axiou and Mamounia, at Vilka. You will also find a lot of night clubs, bars and restaurants in Ladadika, the neighbourhood with the old warehouses next to the port. The student area is around Kamara (the Arch of Galerius), home to many cheaper cafe's and bars.

If you will be in town during summer, take a ride on the floating bars plying the harbour. Every 2 hr or so they leave from the White Tower area for a short evening trip (30 min) in the Gulf of Thessaloniki. They play mostly ethnic and alternative foreign music.

A beer would cost you €3-7, an alcohol drink €5-10 and a coffee €2.50-5.

Aristotelous Square

Among the most popular places to drink a coffee or a beer are:

A street in the Ladadika neighbourhood

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

There are many hotels in the area a few blocks north of Aristotelous. Some of these are a bit upmarket, but if business is slack it is worth shopping around - they might give you a good discount rather than turn you away.

Splurge

Connect

There are many Internet cafes and bars, restaurants or coffee shops that offer free wireless internet (wi-fi).

At Thessaloniki airport, go up to the restaurant on the 2nd floor for free, fast (16 Mbps) wifi (SSID "Goodbye Free Wifi").

Stay safe

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

Tap water is safe and that's what people of the city drink. In some places in the city center you might get a slight "taste" from the water. That means that the tubes 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-colored, intense sunlight can be a serious danger. Use sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.

Emergency phone number: 166

Cope

Consulates

  • Albania: Tsimiski 43, ☎ +30 231 0257 569
  • Australia: Archeologikou Moussiou 28, ☎ +30 231 082 7494
  • Austria: Mitropoleos 46-48, ☎ +30 231 047 8300
  • Belgium: Leoforos Dodekanisou 8, ☎ +30 231 053 8157
  • Brazil: Leoforos Dodekanisou 8, ☎ +30 231 053 8157
  • Bulgaria: Abot Edmondou 1, ☎ +30 231 082 9210
  • Canada: Navarchou Koudourioti Pavlou 19, ☎ +30 231 025 6350
  • Chile: Dil Karolou 6, ☎ +30 231 023 7272
  • Croatia: Ougo Viktoros 14, ☎ +30 231 054 8203
  • Cyprus: Leoforos Nikis 37, ☎ +30 231 026 0697
  • Czech Republic: Leoforos Nikis 57, ☎ +30 231 022 2376
  • Denmark: Komninon 26, ☎ +30 231 028 4065
  • Finland: Plateon 10, ☎ +30 231 051 1191
  • France: Efzonon 27, ☎ +30 231 024 4030
  • Germany: Leoforos Megalou Alexandrou 33, ☎ +30 231 025 1120/1130
  • Hungary: Fragon 3, ☎ +30 231 055 5049
  • Ireland: Aristotelous Square 5, ☎ +30 231 046 5177
  • Japan: Leoforos Dodekanisou 24, ☎ +30 231 055 5571
  • Lithuania: Komninon 8, ☎ +30 2310 268110
  • Luxemburg: Komninon 26, ☎ +30 2310 248065
  • Mexico: Leoforos Monastiriou 311, ☎ +30 2310 270206
  • Netherlands: Industrial Area of Thessaloniki, Sindos ☎ +30 231 056 8752
  • Norway: Komninon 26, ☎ +30 231 028 4065
  • Peru: Leoforos Monastiriou 192, ☎ +30 2310 566737
  • Philippines: Leoforos Nikis 61, ☎ +30 231 055 3602
  • Poland: Tsimiski 78, ☎ +30 231 028 8205
  • Portugal: Vassileos Konstantinou 3, ☎ +30 2310 228138
  • Romania: Santas 16, Panorama, ☎ +30 231 034 0088/0089
  • Russia: Dimosthenous 5, ☎ +30 231 025 7201
  • Serbia: Komninon 4, ☎ +30 231 024 4265
  • South Korea: Navarchou Koudourioti Pavlou 19, ☎ +30 231 054 8568
  • Spain: Leoforos Nikis 3, ☎ +30 231 026 9011
  • Sweden: Komninon 26, ☎ +30 231 028 4065
  • Switzerland: Leoforos Nikis 47, ☎ +30 231 028 2214/2215
  • Turkey: Agiou Dimitriou 151, ☎ +30 231 096 5070
  • United States of America: Tsimiski 43, ☎ +30 231 024 2905/2906/2907

Go next

The classic trips out of Thessaloniki are:

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