Are you scratching your head, debating where to stay in Thessaloniki? It’s an understandable conundrum. As Greece’s second largest city, with its various neighbourhoods rambling along the Thermaic Gulf coast, it is a city of ancient history and architectural contrasts.
A city of the old and the new. Of buildings and monuments dating back to the 4th century, and sprawling contemporary shopping malls and hotels that would hold their own in any large, modern city the world over.
The city hosts the Thessaloniki Film Festival, numerous trade fairs, and various cultural events. It has some attractive beaches, luxurious hotels, and fabulous restaurants.
A wealthy vibrant city, it has a significantly young population, which manifests itself in chic, modern young women, smart trendy young men, and a pleasant bustling, yet laid back lifestyle.
Little wonder then, that deciding where to stay in Thessaloniki can cause so many headaches. Read on, for our pick of the five best places to stay in Thessaloniki.
Where to Stay in Thessaloniki: 5 Best Areas
1. The City Centre, where to stay in Thessaloniki for first time visitors
Thessaloniki is situated in the north of Greece, and just a 30-minute drive from its international airport. Whether you’re on a short city break, or longer holiday, the city centre is a great place to start your adventure.
The area is made up of the two main squares of Aristotelous and Eleftherias, and four main avenues of, Nikis, Tsimiski, Egnatia, and Agiou Dimitriou, all running parallel to the coastline and close to the busy waterfront and marina.
The impressive Aristotelous Square is the real centre of things. Twelve impressive buildings stand sentinel around the square’s borders, while numerous terraced cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops enjoy a brisk lunchtime trade in the sunshine.
It is also home to the Olympian Theatre cinema, main venue of the annual Thessaloniki Film Festival.
For a little window shopping or retail therapy, Tsimiski Avenue is lined with trendy boutiques, fashion outlets, department stores, book shops, independent traders, bars, cafes, and delicatessens. While Mitropoleos Avenue is the place to head for your designer outlets.
If historic architecture is your thing, you are close to the White Tower. Thessaloniki’s main landmark, the tower was built in 1535, and during the Ottoman occupation was used as a prison.
It became known as The Red Tower, or Tower of Blood, due to the number of deaths from torture and execution that took place within its walls. One local story goes that in 1890, a prisoner offered to whitewash the tower in exchange for his freedom, and it became known as The White Tower.
The tower is now a popular museum depicting the history of the city, and has a viewing platform at the top where you can enjoy panoramic views across the city rooftops and out to sea.
From the White Tower, make your way to the waterfront, and its 5km long promenade. Don’t be put off by its length.
A busy, vibrant daytime attraction and major night-time area, it is lined with international eateries, café-bars, seafood restaurants, shops, museums, and other visitor attractions.
If you walk far enough, you will find the Photography Museum, and the Thessaloniki Concert Hall.
You will also pass the entrances to over a dozen themed gardens, such as the Alexander the Great Garden, The Garden of the Afternoon Sun, and the Garden of the Mediterranean. All with things to keep the kids busy, while you enjoy a cooling drink.
Around the city centre are a plethora of museums for all interests, including The Archaeological Museum, The Jewish Museum, The Olympic Museum, The War Museum, and The Contemporary Art Centre of Thessaloniki.
Places of worship and archaeological sites haven’t been forgotten, with churches around the city dating back to the 5th century, and archaeological sites dating back to 305 A.D.
Take a break to visit Hagios Demetrios, the Church of St. Demetrios, where the city’s patron saint was martyred. A mosque for over 400-years, seven underground rooms and old Roman baths were discovered in the 1940s, and have been converted into a museum.
Visit the Rotunda and Arch of Galerius, dating from 303 AD.
If you enjoy busy night-time restaurants and tavernas, good food and buzzing late-night bars, then head for the waterfront.
Accommodation in the city centre area is plentiful, with an excellent choice of budget hostels and apartments up to sumptuous 4 and 5-star hotels.
- ($$$) The Excelsior Small Luxury Hotels of the World
- ($$) Colors Urban Hotel Thessaloniki
- ($) Park Hotel
2. Ladadika, where to stay in Thessaloniki for nightlife
Even if you’re on a short city break where time is of the essence, make sure a visit to Ladadika is at the top of your to-do list.
One of Thessaloniki’s most historic districts and close to the port, Ladadika, part of the city-centre, was originally a market area.
Believed to date back to the pre-Ottoman era, merchants off-loaded their goods in the port, and set up shop selling olive oil related products. Translated into English, Ladadika means ‘with oil’.
The area suffered extensive damage during the 1917 fire, and over the ensuing years fell into steep decline. By the 1970s it was all but derelict, with empty stores and abandoned homes.
In 1985, the Greek Ministry of Culture declared the district one of historical interest. With the area protected, investment began to trickle back in. Buildings were restored in their original style. Shops and stores began to re-open, and houses were re-occupied.
By the mid-1990s, with its narrow, cobbled streets and paved alleyways wholly pedestrianised, Ladadika had risen from the ashes to become one of Thessaloniki’s most visited daytime districts, and an atmospheric, vibrant night time area.
As you stroll around this picturesque neighbourhood with its multi-coloured houses and businesses, be prepared to do most of your walking in the road. Every café and bar, restaurant and taverna, will have tables and chairs set up on the pavement.
Locals and visitors, young and old, will be sitting in the sunshine, enjoying a coffee or beer, snack or lunch. With no traffic to consider, and just the hushed tones of conversation in the background, you can almost taste the relaxed, laid-back atmosphere.
The evenings however, are another story. Here, the young and young at heart Thessalonian’s and visitors come to strut their stuff as the sun goes down.
With some of the best restaurants in the city, and friendly taverns on every corner, it is Thessaloniki’s favourite place to see and be seen after dark.
While Ladadika may have gained its reputation from its tavernas and bars, there are also some interesting visitor attractions around the area.
Pre-1940, the area was a predominantly Jewish enclave. As you approach Ladadika, look out for a number of impressive neoclassical mansions, once owned by wealthy Jewish merchants. The Monasteriotes Synagogue, and the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki are of particular interest.
In this area don´t miss the Museum of Photography and the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, one of the largest museums in Greece.
You are also close to the city’s main shopping areas, where you can do a little souvenir hunting, before grabbing a table for lunch and watching the world go by.
Ladadika has a good selection of reasonably priced accommodation ranging from self-catering apartments, Airbnb, and hotels from 3-star to 5-star.
3. Ano Poli, go back in time during your stay in Thessaloniki
Sitting high on the hills north of the city centre, Ano Poli is also known as the old town area of Thessaloniki. In 1917, seventy percent of the city was devastated by fire, and Ano Poli is one of just two neighbourhoods to be spared the inferno.
Best explored on foot, it is an area of winding, narrow paved roadways, and mysterious alleyways, surrounded by thick fortress walls built during Byzantium times, and now protected under UNESCO.
The alleyways are so narrow that residents of the multi-coloured, pastel painted houses, can chat to each other across the way from their upstairs windows.
You will also find traditional cafes selling real Greek coffee, tavernas offering local Greek cuisine with its various Asiatic influences, and local children playing in the streets.
Ano Poli also has plenty to keep the history buffs happy:
- Its Ottoman era houses;
- and the Trgoniou Tower, built during the Venetian era.
- The Portara Gate, one of the original gateways through the defensive wall.
- The seven towers of the Eptapirgion Fortress and one time prison,
- and the Vlatadon Monastery circa the 1350s, and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Believe it or not, considering the best you can say about the Turkish/Greek relationship is that they tolerate each other, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk the founder of modern Turkey was born in Ano Poli, and the house is now a museum of his life and aspirations.
There are a number of churches to visit, including the churches of Agios Nikolaos (patron saint of orphans and widows), the Church of Saint Catherine, and the Church of Ossios David, (another UNESCO heritage site).
For a little respite from all the sightseeing, take some time out in the pretty Pasha’s Gardens with its relaxing fountains and pretty views. Or stroll some of the paths in the Sheikh Sou forest, running alongside Ano Poli.
If your evenings out are all about sampling the local cuisine, Ano Poli is the place to do it.
Tucked tight in the narrow streets, and hiding up innocuous alleyways, you will find small family run restaurants and tavernas that have been serving up the best of local and Mediterranean dishes for decades.
Along with the excellent menus, you will enjoy the friendly ambience of traditional Greek hospitality, often with Greek dancing and music to entertain you while you dine.
A few to look out for are Igglis, where you can dine al fresco under the vine covered pergola. Nea Folia, on Aristomenous street, Old Town, serving Greek and Mediterranean dishes in a traditional setting. And Toixo Toixo, a bustling airy taverna providing open air garden dining popular with families.
In Ano Poli (Old Town), accommodation is primarily self-catering studios, one to three bed apartments, and Airbnb. On the outskirts there are some excellent hotels, close enough to Old Town that you can stroll there in a few minutes.
4. Upper Toumba, where to stay in Thessaloniki on a budget
Sometimes, when you’ve spent the day queuing for different attractions, or hunting out a table for that much needed coffee or lunch, jostling with hundreds of other visitors all with the same idea, it’s good to be able to get away from it all in the evenings.
The area of Toumba sits on the eastern side of Thessaloniki, and is divided into Upper and Lower Toumba, separated by a man-made watercourse.
Today a heavily built-up area, archaeological excavations show the land was inhabited as far back as 3000 to 700 BC, and again in 800 to 200 BC, during which 25 surrounding villages were united, to form the township of Thessaloniki in 315 BC.
Prior to the mid-1920s, when Greek migrants fled Anatolia to avoid persecution and began to settle in Toumba, the area was mainly open fields. As habitation took hold in the area, in the late 1970s and 80s, it was heavily developed, to become much as you see it today.
Except for the PAOK Football Stadium, which originally opened its doors in 1959, and was heavily revamped in 2015, Toumba has little in the way of visitor attractions, and consequently fewer visitors.
Don’t let that put you off though. Upper Toumba has some great restaurants and friendly bars, where you can spend your evenings relaxing away from the busier tourist areas.
Accommodation also is varied and attractively priced, with Airbnb, self-catering apartments, and quality hotels to suit all budgets.
Don’t be put off by the lack of attractions on your doorstep. Wherever you stay in Upper-Toumba, you’re never more that two or three kilometres, a six-minute car ride, or 15-minute bus ride from the centre of town.
5. Kalamaria, an excellent base from where to explore the city
Located south-east of the city centre, Kalamaria is another suburb of Thessaloniki that dates back to prehistoric times. Although first use of the name appears in 1083, through the Byzantian and Otterman periods the area remained virtually deserted.
It was in the early 1920s, that Kalamaria, much like nearby Toumba, began to grow, with up to 100,000 Greek refugees from the Greek/Turkish war settling in the area.
Through the later years the population began to shrink, and the 1947 census showed just 14,000 residents, residing in what was now a separate administrative area of the city.
Through the 1980s and beyond, the suburb has steadily expanded, and grown today into a vibrant hub for residents and local businesses, with an increasing population of just under 95,000.
The Kalamaria district is bordered on one side by the coastline, and a number of pretty beaches where mum and dad can enjoy a little tanning time, and the kids can release some of that pent-up energy.
Bathing or swimming though, is not recommended, as the waters of the Thermaic Gulf have become increasingly polluted since the 1980s.
Nonetheless, there are a number of excellent places to visit during your stay in Thessaloniki.
The Neoclassical mansion called Palataki, sits high on the headland. Once a residence of the Greek Royal Family and various Prime Ministers, it now lies deserted, and in serious need of refurbishment.
You can visit the defensive Wall. At ten-metres high, and five-metres thick, it stretched for eight-kilometres around the city.
If modern science is your interest, a visit to the Thessaloniki Science Centre Technology Museum on the outskirts of Kalamaria is a must. The complex also includes a 300 seat auditorium with the largest flatscreen in Greece, a planetarium with 25m dome, and a motion simulator theatre.
Earlier in this blog I mentioned the 5km promenade you can stroll from the White Tower. Well, if you’re staying in Kalamaria, you can walk it from the other end, and it’s a day out that shouldn’t be missed.
Called the Nea Paralia, you can join it at the waterfront by the Thessaloniki Concert Hall. The beauty of it all, you won’t notice the distance, with so much to see and do.
You can stop off at some more of the themed gardens, such as the Water Garden, the Music Garden, the Garden of Ross, the Garden of Shade, and the Garden of Sand.
For more modern architecture, Thessaloniki’s impressive Concert Hall, sitting on the waterfront, was completed twenty-years ago, and has a 1400 seat auditorium.
During your walk you can also drop off and visit the Folk and Ethnological Museum of Macedonia and Thrace situated by the Sculpture Garden.
For a rest from all the sightseeing, just east of Kalamaria you will find the Thermis Dam, constructed in 1993, and home to a range of local wildlife and waterfowl. The park has a kiddies play area, and a café/bar selling drinks and snacks.
If you still haven’t found those take-home mementos, the Mediterranean Cosmos Shopping Centre is on the edge of town. Built in 2005, it is reputed to be the largest shopping mall in southern Europe, and a whole day can be spent shopping, eating, and exploring. Seeking out those much needed souvenirs.
Kalamaria has plenty of bars, restaurants, and fast food joints to keep the whole family happy during the evenings, and accommodation is availabel across the whole range of budgets.
So, there you have it, our take on the five best places to stay in Thessaloniki, to help you make the most of your available time in this fabulous, historic Greek city.