Sitting on the terrace of a small Greek café, an old man with a wrinkled face looks at the last rays of sunlight illuminating the ancient walls of the city. Seen from the above, the city of Thessaloniki, steeped in history, is waiting to be discovered.
Located in Eastern Greece, Thessaloniki sits alongside the Aegean Sea. It is a market town, with a history going back to more than two millennia and carrying multiple influences. The 2400 year-old history of the city has seen each era leave behind its traces through symbols and monuments. Occupied in turns by the Greeks and Romans, Saracens and Ottomans, Thessaloniki was founded by Cassander,King of Macedonia in 315 BC, and named in honour of his wife to whom he offered the city as a token of his love.
To get there, from either Delhi or Mumbai, take the flights operated by Turkish Airlines, with a brief stopover in Istanbul. A very good connection brings you to your destination in just around eight hours – the standard duration of a flight to any European destination.
Downtown and the Waterfront
The downtown is fun to browse. You can stroll through a set of pedestrian streets lined with small shops, restaurants and cafés. And definitely ensure that you go around the Old Market, a real souk, where you are not hassled by the vendors and can peacefully look at the local products, take pictures and chat with the locals.
As we walk in the downtown, we reach the Aristotle Square, a hugely popular site facing the sea. Arcades and modern buildings adorn this place, which mainly offers you some moments of relaxation. Bringing life and dynamism to the waterfront are numerous restaurants (famous for the seafood), cafés with their large terraces, and some bars which are reputed for their nightlife.
Most hotels are concentrated around the downtown area: conveniently located in the midst of all the vibrant parts of the city, being close to the heights of the old town as well as the sea. An ideal base in the downtown area is Anatolia Hotel, which offers ideal options for families, solo traveller or professionals and individuals looking for a value for money, comfortable and modern accommodation.
Cultural and architectural heritage
At the foot of the ramparts high above which protected the city is the old town of Thessaloniki. This is completely different from the rest of the city. It is as if you found yourself in a village, with small, quirky and colourful houses and a maze of alleys.
The highlight of Thessaloniki is definitely its culture. We spent three days here already but soon realized that several days are necessary to visit all the churches, museums and monuments. Early Christian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki are listed as World Heritage by UNESCO because it is here that developed the very first Christian communities!
You also cannot miss the White Tower, known as the symbol of Thessaloniki. Its history goes back to many centuries, when it was a fort. Over the years, it was used as a military barrack and then also a prison, one which earned the unfortunate reputation for a very bloody massacre of prisoners. Since then, it was always known as the Tower of Blood. The Tower carried this stain on its history until 1912 when the Greeks decided to ‘cleanse’ the tower and its history. Today, it houses a Byzantine museum.
You also have the Bey Hamam bath or Paradise Bath, one of the most important sites of Turkish baths in Greece. It was functional until 1968 when it was converted into an archaeological monument. However, it got destroyed in 1972. It was recently restored and has become a cultural centre hosting various exhibitions. Amongst churches, the most important ones include the Church of Saint Dimitrios. As the largest of Greece, it is covered with marble and also very rich in ornaments and frescoes. The Holy Sophie Church is also one of the most visited. It has the distinction of having served as a mosque for five centuries before becoming an Orthodox Church again.
Transport and travel in and around Thessaloniki : From the airport, situated about 15 km southeast of Thessaloniki, a shuttle takes you to the city for a few euros. To move within Thessaloniki, you can take different bus lines criss-crossing the city or jump into a cab. Another attractive option is to rent a self drive car in Thessaloniki. From the harbour, several ferries connect Thessaloniki not only to several Greek islands, such as Lesbos and Chios as well as Sporades, but also to Santorini.