What to do in the city centre

International Film Festival in Thessaloniki

Unique pleasures in one of the most beautiful cities in Greece

Thessaloniki: a modern city with a centuries-old history. Regardless of the duration of your holidays in Thessaloniki, ‘The Bride of the North’ will enchant you. Drop off your luggage and head out to explore. The city invites you to walk it every hour of the day, with its wide streets, tree-lined avenues, sidewalks, parks and squares. The central hub is Aristotelous Square, with a view of the sea and dozens of cafes, perfect for people-watching. Right on Mitropoleos Avenue is the impressive Olympion Cinema, built between 1948 and 1950 and the main venue for The International Film Festival. There is so much to do here in this city in Macedonia – it’s time to enjoy all the rest.

Thessaloniki's Iconic Trademark: The White Tower
Sturdy and imposing, it’s been towering over the city’s waterfront since the 16th century. The ‘Kalamaria Fortress’, the ‘Janissaries Tower’, the ‘Blood Tower’, once a prison, was sanctified when it was symbolically painted white in 1890 by the Ottomans. Inside, there’s a multimedia exhibit about the city’s history.

The Old Waterfront
Just one stroll along Thessaloniki’s old waterfront and you’ll immediately feel an intoxicating mix of  past and present mingling  in the air, in the sunset  and in the voices of the street vendors hawking their sunflower seeds. Begin from the warehouses at the port and on to Nikis Avenue until you reach the White Tower. Families, bicycles and couples hand-in-hand. This walk in Northern Greece is one of timeless beauty.

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Kamara – Rotunda: Student life forever
The most exciting  nights start with a rendezvous at Kamara. Here the triumphal Arch of Galerius is part of a building complex from the 4th century AD that includes the Rotunda and palatial ensemble at Navarino Square. Centuries later, the area is now the domain of students, of which there are plenty in Thessaloniki.  As tradition dictates, periods of study are interspersed  with lively discussions over coffee and backgammon, buzzing bar life  and regular visits to the tattoo studios. Next to the ancient ruins, youngsters are playing guitar and drinking beer, making this feel like the local ‘Barceloneta’. This is an archaeological site that has been fully integrated into the modern life of the city.

Agios Dimitrios
This grand church honours the patron saint of Thessaloniki, who is celebrated on October 26. Discover the mystical atmosphere at this beautiful church with its unusual shrine. It has been on Unesco’s list of World Heritage Sites since 1988. 

Sweets like bougatsa
Thessaloniki is nicknamed ‘sweet mother’ for a reason. Here you’ll try traditional Eastern sweets, with buffalo cream and gossamer-thin phyllo dough. In the afternoons, even the young crowds take a turn towards the traditional bakeries and patisseries. Its two most iconic sweet shops –Terkenli (with its tsoureki, a braided dough) and Hatzis (syrupy sweets) have made history. 

Shop till you drop
After you stop for a sweet, it’s time to go shopping and Thessaloniki is certainly the right place. Make sure you’re wearing  comfortable shoes and prepare yourself for a shopping marathon. The couture houses and designer labels are primarily located on Proxenou Koromila Street and Mitropoleos Avenue, and their cross streets – Morgentaou, Mitropolitou Iosif, Chrysostomou Smyrnis, Lassani, Agia Sofia and Karolou Dil. For more commercial stores head to Tsimiki, Ermou and Egnatia streets. And for more new age and alternative styles, you’ll find boutiques along all the side streets of the centre and on the pedestrian avenues like Zeuxidos in Agias Theodoras, Georgiou Stavrou in Nikiforou Foka and Isavron Street.

Ladadika: lots of fun
Stone, brick and wood. At Ladadika, the old commercial facilities provide a retro background to a lively, modern hangout. Their renovation in 1996 marked the moment when everything went decidedly trendy. Come for a coffee, a nibble or a cocktail at the stylish bars and restaurants in one of the most avant garde neighbourhoods in the city.

Pulsating nightlife
In Thessaloniki, the next bar you stop at is never the last. The music plays on and everyone’s a flirt. Here you have the feeling that no one ever stays home;  the city’s cool hangouts ARE their home! The hipster haunts are constantly being tweaked, following the seasons’ latest trends, and everybody follows suit. Vintage or industrial, 20s-era speakeasy or progressive;  there are trailblazing bars and clubs for all styles.

A meeting place for cinema aficionados
Every November, thousands of cinephiles descend upon the city for the renowned International Film Festival, which began in Thessaloniki in 1960 and became international in 1992 by including in its programme films from all over the world. The festival’s main venues are the iconic Olympon Cinema at Aristotelous Square and the warehouses at the port. In the evenings, everyone’s social calendar fills up with glamorous parties and events. 

Thessaloniki’s museums
Thessaloniki is teeming with important museums. Don’t miss the Archaeological Museum, with finds from the civilisation of ancient Macedonia, from the prehistoric to the Christian eras. The city’s ‘gem’ is the Museum of Byzantine Culture. After walking through its galleries have a coffee at its excellent cafe-restaurant. And there’s more, the Jewish Museum, the Museum for the Macedonian Struggle, the Thessaloniki History Centre, the State Museum of Contemporary Art, the Folk and Ethnographic Museum, the Thessaloniki Olympic Museum, the Art Gallery of the Society for Macedonian Studies, the War Museum and the Teloglion Foundation of Art. As you can see, this is a city that adores history, culture and modern art.

Neoclassical buildings and designer hospitality
You have plenty of excellent choices when it comes to where to stay in Thessaloniki. Large and luxurious neoclassical buildings that have been converted to hotels and are surrounded by chic cafes and stylish restaurants. Art hotels, boutique hotels and guest villas with high-standards of service and spas. Whatever your reason for travelling to the city – work, pleasure or tourism – you’ll find the perfect ‘home base’.

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