When you think of Greece… you usually think of “Athens, Santorini, Mykonos, etc”.
Thessaloniki rarely comes up, which makes you wonder…
Is Thessaloniki worth visiting?
This Greek city is actually the second most populated city in the country. Thessaloniki is a popular spot for local Greek students to study university and live out their college days. It’s a vibrant city as it’s full of young college students yet it’s very relaxed at the same time. Thessaloniki has this really cool mix to experience!
Thessaloniki is rich in history, has its own local Greek delicacies and offers visitors stunning waterfront views. But is it actually worth all the hassle to fly/take the train from Athens to visit Thessaloniki?
In this blog post, we are going to share 7x reasons why Thessaloniki is worth visiting…or not! Honestly, not every place is worth your time, money and effort. But Thessaloniki might just be that exception!
When To Visit Thessaloniki, Greece?
Greek weather is pretty perfect for most of the year. The islands can still be warm all the way up till December and the winter isn’t as harsh as the northern countries in Europe. But what about the weather in Thessaloniki?
Thessaloniki’s weather is quite different than the Greek islands. While the city does have a harbor, it can get pretty cold in the winter. The tours run all year long and it wouldn’t be so bad to visit during the winter (if you can stand the cold, unlike us). If you visit during peak summer, there will be tons of people and the accommodation prices will double or even triple. Greece can get hot like really hot which might not mean a great visit if you’re sweating bullets just walking around for 10 minutes lol.
The best time to visit Thessaloniki is during the shoulder months (May, June, September, and October). Well, that’s the best time to visit Europe in general. If you visit Thessaloniki during this time – you’ll get pretty good weather. The kind where it’s not too hot and not too cold but just right!
The best part? There will also be fewer crowds of people around.
We visited Thessaloniki in October and it wasn’t really crowded. We felt like there was this strong mix of local Greeks living their lives and tourists visiting the city. That’s one of the cool things that make Thessaloniki worth visiting! There will be fewer tourist traps and more of the normal Greek life around you.
How Many Days To Spend In Thessaloniki?
We think 3 days is just the right amount of time to spend in Thessaloniki. The city felt big but if you stay within the city center, it’s really only a 30-minute walk from one end of the promenade to the other. In saying that, you could definitely fill your days, take it a little slower and stretch out all the things to do and see in a week.
If it’s your first time in Thessaloniki, we recommend staying more than 1 night for sure. There’s a good amount to see and you don’t get to enjoy it as much if you’re rushing through. A weekend getaway (2 nights) is also possible but you’ll have jam-packed days if you want to see everything Thessaloniki has to offer. It’s also very easy to get from the airport to the city center of Thessaloniki. The airport bus is only €2 per way and it’s very frequent!
3 days is a great balance between seeing all the tourist attractions vs relaxing enough to soak up the atmosphere. Wondering what to do for 3 days in Thessaloniki? We’ve got a complete 3-day Thessaloniki itinerary to help you out!
7x Reasons Thessaloniki Is Worth Visiting
When we first visited Greece, we didn’t even really know about Thessaloniki. Now after visiting Greece for the 3rd time in 4 years – we finally made it to Thessaloniki! We have heard great things about it, more so from a digital nomad perspective but also wanted to check out this bustling city.
At first, I thought that there was no need to travel around mainland Greece. The main thing most tourists (us included) do in Greece is going straight for the islands which lives up to the hype. And you should go and see Santorini, Paros and all the other beautiful islands.
You might still be asking yourself, is Thessaloniki worth visiting?
Here’s 7x reasons why we think you should add Thessaloniki to your Greece Bucketlist!
1. Thessaloniki has a beautiful waterfront promenade.
Can’t get enough of waterfront views?
You’ll think Thessaloniki is worth visiting because it has a beautiful promenade that stretches across the city. Matthew and I loved walking along the water at sunset. If you’ve been to Greece, you know they’ve got great sunsets too!
Along the promenade, there are park benches you can sit at to admire the ocean. Whenever there’s a promenade, we try to get takeaway food and just sit with our feet dangling close to the water. One of our favorite things we did was grab some gyros for dinner, walked the promenade, found a spot and enjoyed the sunset.
Strolling the promenade at sunset (or sunrise – you early birds) is one of the top reasons Thessaloniki is worth visiting!
2. Thessaloniki has rich history and culture.
Thessaloniki was a prominent city as it was actually the capital of the Macedonian Empire. The city was founded by Alexander the Great himself when we conquered the area in 300 BC. Thessaloniki is located on the Thermaic Gulf which made it a very important port back in the day.
When you walk around Thessaloniki, you can’t avoid the many ancient monuments and archaeological sites scattered all across the streets. There are some landmarks like the Byzantine Church of St. Demetrius that dates back to the 4th century.
The most amazing ancient monument we saw was the Roman Rotunda. It’s a beautifully made historical building shaped like a dome. They have done really well in preserving the artifacts and the building’s interior and exterior facade. If you are interested, it’s only around €6 for a ticket inside. We didn’t go in as we were short on time but gazing at the building alone was enough for us!
Are you a history buff? Or maybe you just admire walking around ancient monuments and archaeological sites? Well, Thessaloniki is worth visiting then!
3. Thessaloniki is close to other popular Greek destinations.
Have you heard of these lesser-known Greek destinations?
- Sporades islands
The Meteora is a popular tourist destination because of its rock formations. The coolest part is that there are monasteries built on these rock formations which make you blink twice at what you’re witnessing. It’s out of this world and a great mainland Greece attraction for tourists to visit. A lot of people use Thessaloniki as a base to visit Meteora which is only 4 hours away.
Kavala is a beautiful town by the sea with beautiful architecture, an interesting fort and beaches scattered across the town. The islands nearby are a little less known but beautiful nonetheless.
If you want to use Thessaloniki to visit any of these places, it’s worth visiting for that reason!
4. Thessaloniki has a great local food scene.
Want to try local Greek food?
Thessaloniki is worth visiting if you want to wine and dine like a local. As this Greek city isn’t the first place on everyone’s Greece trip – it gives you the chance to experience the local culinary culture.
There is an excellent range of restaurants offering everything from traditional tavernas serving up food meze-style (small plates) to high-end restaurants serving sophisticated European cuisine.
Matthew and I were craving good Greek food as we haven’t been to Greece in about a year. I had all these places saved to eat some of our favorite dishes like moussaka, lamb, greek salad, fresh seafood, and our staple – the gyros.
Here’s a short list of our saved restaurants and cafes in Thessaloniki:
- The Greek
- MIA FETA Bar
- Treis Mazi
- Full tou Meze
- Loupino Restaurant
- Shed Specialty Coffee
- Cho Ban Coffee Brewers
Looking for drinks? You’ve got a huge selection of cafes, specialty coffee shops, cocktail bars and more for a couple of drinks out! When we walked through cobblestone streets, we frequently passed through trendy bars with great vibes.
There’s no doubt – Thessaloniki is worth visiting if you want to wine and dine like a local!
5. Thessaloniki has the best bougatsa.
It’s true, they do! It probably helps that bougatsa actually originated from Thessaloniki. Bougatsa is so iconic in Thessaloniki – people will ask you if you’ve tried it, it’s one of the first questions they will ask!
Never heard of bougatsa before?
Bougatsa is a sweet pastry that is filled with custard cream, wrapped by filo pastry and topped with icing powder and cinnamon. A lot of locals love to eat bougatsa in the morning for breakfast. There’s a famous spot called, Bougatsa Giannis, the lines can get very long if you arrive at peak bougatsa time (around 10-10:30am)!
We stumbled onto it just before they hit a rush and we were able to find some seats inside. If you can, the outdoor seating is a much nicer ambiance! Bougatsa Giannis also offers your typical Greek pastries like feta pie, meat pie and baklava.
Thessaloniki is worth visiting if you’re a foodie that loves to try the local delicacies. They say you won’t find better bougatsa than in Thessaloniki!
6. Thessaloniki has all the shopping you could want.
I was shocked at how much shopping you could get done in Thessaloniki.
They surprisingly had all the name-brand stores you would expect with some that you don’t (like Oysho) for me. H&M, Zara, Stradivarius are all across the city and it’s easy to shop to your heart’s content!
In Thessaloniki, there’s the main shopping street like most places in Europe called Tsimiski Street. It felt like a really big, central and modern city when it came to shopping.
Don’t need your usual stores you can find at home? You can search for independent, local Greek designers. They make beautiful jewelry, crafts, home goods and fashion pieces like leather sandals or bags.
Want Greek spices for your kitchen at home? You can have a complete cultural and shopping experience at Bezesteni Market. You can find sweets, herbs, spices, and more to stock up on or give away as souvenirs.
7. Thessaloniki is easy to get around.
Whether you’re catching the airport bus or walking around town – Thessaloniki is perfect for those that rely on public transport. We were able to catch a bus from Thessaloniki airport to the city center (and back) for only a few euros and it only takes 20-30 minutes!
Some people love to rent cars while visiting cities which is great and others don’t. Thessaloniki is that perfect balance! If you want to visit nearby cities like Kavala which becomes a perfect day trip option if you have a car.
If you don’t have a car, it’s easy enough to walk from one end of the city to another within a reasonable time. The bus system in Thessaloniki is clean, reliable and frequent!
Why You Might Not Think Thessaloniki Is Worth Visiting
I couldn’t just give you one side of the story, right? Let me start off by saying – there is no perfect place. While I would love to write that every city we visit is our favorite, that’s just not the reality and that’s okay!
Thessaloniki is a wonderful Greek city with iconic monuments, delicious Greek food and gorgeous views of the ocean. But was it the best Greek city we’ve been to? I’m not sure we can say that.
Here’s some reasons you might not think Thessaloniki is worth visiting:
It’s Greece’s second-largest city.
If you’ve been to Athens, it’s pretty much like your average city but with fewer iconic historical landmarks. There’s a lot of charm to Thessaloniki as you will probably be able to truly see how the local Greeks live their daily lives – without any filter or many tourists standing in your way. However, it’s still just that – a big city!
We can see it becoming a potential digital nomad destination in the future but if you’re a tourist and only have a few days in Greece – there are better islands to visit than a metropolis city!
It’s far from the popular Greek islands.
You have to travel out of your way to visit Thessaloniki. Based on its geographical location, you’re actually getting further away from the sunny, popular Greek islands.
You have to make a conscious choice to visit Thessaloniki because it isn’t on the way to any cities on the mainland and it’s much further from the islands. A lot of people land in Athens and use it as a hub to get to popular islands like Santorini or Mykonos. It was easy to get from Athens to Hydra (a close island), Athens to Santorini (by ferry) and Athens to Paros too! I’m not sure if we could have seen all those places if we were in Thessaloniki. There are hardly any ferries that travel to the Cyclades from Thessaloniki. It’s much easier to book a flight out but again – you’re still not as close as you would be in Athens!
It doesn’t have to be visited.
Can’t find an easy route to Thessaloniki? After having visited Thessaloniki ourselves, we wouldn’t say you MUST visit it. We wouldn’t go out of our way to visit the second-largest city in Greece. We were in North Macedonia for a month before we need to travel to Thessaloniki. The bus from Skopje to Thessaloniki is only about 3 hours. Our flight to Cyprus flew out from Thessaloniki Airport so we made it a weekend getaway.
I’m not sure we would have gone out of our way to visit Thessaloniki even after knowing what it’s like. It’s up to you – we still thoroughly enjoyed our time in Thessaloniki but we wouldn’t go out of our way to visit this Greek city.
Conclusion: Is Thessaloniki Worth Visiting?
Yes! In our opinion (and personal experience), we think Thessaloniki is worth visiting if you love Greece!
We absolutely love this country and we are partly biased because Greece is where we spent our honeymoon. It’s always a joy to go to Greece and we’re happy that we got to see more of the local area like Thessaloniki. It gave us great insight into how locals live and showed us what it would be like to live in Greece (for real). If you’ve already done the Cyclades and Athens – Thessaloniki is worth visiting to continue exploring this gorgeous country!
If it’s your first time in Greece, we think that you would probably enjoy Athens and the nearby islands much more. It’s just those places that you have to experience and tick off your list before you experience more of the country. Thessaloniki isn’t necessarily worth squeezing into your trip if you’ve never been to Greece before.
It all depends on you and the kind of experiences you are looking for! If you’re looking for a good time on vacation – the islands might be better suited!
In saying that… Thessaloniki is worth visiting if you want to dig deeper into Greek history, Greek food and the local culture.