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When people picture a holiday in Greece, Mykonos and Santorini spring to mind. While these islands get the most fanfare and Athens is a stop for most tourists (even if just transiting), there is a lot more to see in this country. Thessaloniki is Greece’s second-largest city. It’s the capitol of the region known as Macedonia and home to over one-million residents. Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman rulers all left their mark and what is left is a cosmopolitan city with great food, nightlife, and lots to explore.
Here are five things you can’t miss on your visit.
5. Vlatadon Monastery
When you want to feel like you’ve left the city, head here. Vlatadon Monastery was built in the 14th century and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. If the 14th century isn’t old enough, it’s said that in 50/51 AD, Paul the Apostle preached where the church is currently located. The grounds are peaceful with several small buildings, gardens, chickens, white peacocks, sheep, and even deer. It’s a nice break from the crowds and a good place to sit and relax.
Can’t Miss: look for the gilded paintings and mosaics inside the chapel.
Address: Eptapirgiou 64, Thessaloniki 546 34, Greece
Heptapyrgion, Eptapyrgio, or also known by its Ottoman name of Yedi Kule was an Ottoman-era fortress from the 12th century. It became a prison in the 1890s and stayed open until 1989. For many years, the prison was the main penitentiary and it incarcerated all those convicted, regardless of their gender or crime. Restoration began in the 1970s and is still ongoing.
3. Kapani Market
If a city has a market, I’m going to be there. Kapani Market has a rather dark history as the marketplace became the site of martyrdom in 1821, when Turks hung five Christian leaders here. Thankfully, it’s now a bustling place of commerce with produce, meat, fish, and lots of souvenirs. This is Thessaloniki’s most crowded market and it provides a good mix for both locals and tourists.
Can’t Miss: watch the old timers haggle for meat and seafood as butchers cut up their wares with cigarettes precariously dangling from their lips.
Address: Vlali, Thessaloniki 546 24, Greece
2. Kalamitsi Beach
If you have a car, it’s worth taking the two-hour drive to the Halkadiki region and Kalamitsi Beach. The white sand beach and crystal clear water are very popular and you’ll find the shore crowded with Greek and foreign tourists. There are restaurants, shops, bars, and even chair/umbrella rentals here. This beautiful cove is located at the southern tip of Sithonia and a nice play to spend the day.
Can’t Miss: Hike up the hill for panoramic views of the area and the hippy commune that has its own beach on the other side of the bay.
Address: No Specific address available but Google Maps got us there.
1. The White Tower
The symbol of Thessaloniki is also a light workout when climbing up inside. The White Tower is not the steepest tower I’ve climbed but it’s worth the short trek to the top. During Ottoman rule, the tower was a notorious prison and the place for executions. It was then known as the Red Tower or Tower of Blood. Today it’s a museum with great views of the waterfront. In 1912, Greece took custody of the tower and whitewashed it. After climbing up and taking in the view, leave some time to stroll the waterfront.
Can’t Miss: take in the waterfront to check out the sculptures and touristy pirate ships in the water. The views from the top are gorgeous.
Address: Thessaloniki 546 21, Greece
Come for the history and stay for the beaches. These are my can’t miss picks for Thessaloniki.
Bonus Hotel Pick: We stayed at two hotels in Thessaloniki. One in the city (The Excelsior Hotel) and one outside. I would recommend both. The Excelsior was a convenient walk to many attractions while the Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki had great elite recognition and beautiful grounds. It’s a resort versus a city hotel and both have their plusses and minuses. I’d recommend splitting your time like we did for the best of both. And, they both can earn you Hyatt points.
Address: Excelsior Hotel: 10 Komninon & 23 Mitropoleos Av, Thessaloniki 546 24, Greece | Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki: 13 kilometres -Perea, 570 01, Greece
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