Thessaloniki Travel Guide
Although it may not have as many impressive monuments as Athens, Thessaloniki has some wonderful museums and is far more agreeable than the sprawling metropolis that is Greece’s first city. Despite the ravages of wars, earthquakes and the great fire of 1917 part of the old city remains standing around the Byzantine fortress on the slopes of Hortiatis. Here is the Kastra or Turkish quarter it is still possible to experience the some of the city’s former character. Here the streets are steep and narrow, flanked by timber-framed buildings with overhanging upper floors and tiny-whitewashed houses. Doors remain wide open as children play in small flower filled gardens and listen to music. At the highest point of the Kastra it is possible to enjoy the very best views of modern Thessaloniki and Theremaic Gulf by which it stands.
To the west of the city near the coast stands Thessaloniki’s symbol, the White Tower. The 15th century building is the most prominent landmark and houses the Byzantine Museum, which is crammed with magnificent frescos and icons. By far the most impressive of the many museums here is the Archaeological Museum, which holds the contents of the tomb of Philip II of Macedon. Here you’ll find breathtakingly beautiful gold jewellery, fine bronze and terracotta vases and, most impressive of all a solid gold casket with lion’s feet that contained the bones of Philip II. The strangest exhibit is the reassembled skeleton itself.
Although badly damaged during the great fire the fifth century church of Agios Dimitri was completely rebuilt in 1948 according the original plans. Built on the spot where the Saint was martyred it is the largest church in Greece and contains five of the finest mosaics to be found in the city. The city’s oldest Church is the Rotonda. Built in the third century as part of his Palace Complex, it was intended as a mausoleum for Galerius but never used. Other features of the Palace that remain are the Arch with its base relief portraying battle scenes with the Persians and the Complex’s main building’s the Palace, the Octagon and the Hippodrome.
Thessaloniki is surrounded by places of great beauty and historic interest the most famous and certainly the most impressive is, of course, the legendary Mount Olympus, home of the gods of ancient Greece. The highest mountain in the country it is also Greece’s first national park. A favourite destination for trekkers because of the wealth and variety of plant life and the spectacular forests filled with wildlife the mountain can be conquered in two days but it takes several more to really do Olympus justice.
The length of the city’s coastline makes it a magnate for sun seekers and offers a terrific choice of different types of beach each one leading to warm crystal clear waters. The best swimming is to be found at Aretson, Perca, Nei Epivates and the resort at Agia Triada where the facilities include restaurant, bar, supermarket, children’s playground and various sporting activities. Short distances south of Thessaloniki are some of the finest beaches in all of Greece at the peninsula of Halidiki. Unfortunately they are also amongst the most popular, which means unless you like crowds of young holidaymakers, noisy bars, motorbikes and nightclubs they are best avoided.
Thessaloniki has a reputation for being amongst the most fashionable places in Greece with the women classed as the most chic. Consequently the shopping here is great with a truly impressive variety of high fashion outlets selling, clothing, shoes and jewellery. As you would expect the entertainments and nightlife are also of a particularly high standard with and excellent choice of restaurants serving both traditional Greek and International cuisine. The bars and ouzeries are myriad, many playing music into the early hours. You can listen to hard rock, classical, disco or even bouzouki music. And if you fancy something a little less raucous there are several cinemas most of which show first run English Language movies.
The amazing thing about a trip to Thessaloniki is the variety of attractions it has on offer. Not only does it have everything you would expect from a beach holiday you also get the benefits of both city and rural holidays. The food is good and cheap as is the drink. The people are generally friendly and the weather is superb. Young or old, single or married with kids, hyperactive or hopelessly lethargic… there really is something for everyone.
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