Thessaloniki City Break: How To Enjoy Three Days of Bliss
Few places in Greece are better for a city break than the cosmopolitan gem that is Greece’s second largest city. And we’ve designed the perfect itinerary.
9 am – Heavenly Homemade Breakfast
Starting the day with a serving of hot flaky bougatsa is a Thessaloniki ritual, and there is none better than that made at Bantis. This small family shop is one of the last places still making bougatsa with hand-stretched phyllo – a classic technique from Asia Minor.
The fresh homemade fillings (cheese, spinach, mince and, of course, sweet cream) are divine – but with phyllo so tender and delicate, you might just want it sketo (plain) – the choice of true connoisseurs.
11 am – The White Tower
Starting with the very symbol of Thessaloniki may seem a little obvious, but bear with us; this really is an ideal place to get to know the city, as the White Tower has been made into an atmospheric museum. It is aimed chiefly at the local audience so exhibits are in Greek, although audio is available for foreign visitors.
The story of the city unfolds like a fairy tale over successive levels: the city’s history, the stories behind its landmarks, first-hand accounts, and nostalgic reminiscences. In the tower’s crown enjoy a virtual taste of Thessaloniki’s famous flavors: via video displays watch how to make the city’s famous dishes, like manti (dumplings from Asia Minor).
The observation area is decked out with plaques and maps explaining the views and sites of interest in all directions. Overall an excellent introduction to the city, ideal orientation point and, honestly, also the ultimate photo opportunity.
1 pm – Lunch at Zithos
After the White Tower, you don’t need to go far for the ideal lunch spot. In the square right across from the White Tower, all the charm of the famous cafe Dore lives on in the restaurant Zithos Dore. A broad menu of classic dishes with an elegant touch, good prices, and a fine beer selection have made this a great favorite with locals for over 20 years.
3 pm – Masters of Modern Art
The Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art was born of the inspiring efforts and generosity of a community of art lovers. Today it houses an exciting collection of works by significant 20th century and contemporary Greek and international artists (such as Niki de St. Phalle, Giannis Gaitis and many more), along with temporary thematic exhibitions.
5 pm: Culture (and Cocktails) with a view
On the western edge of the seafront is the first pier of the harbor. Now a hub of the city’s cultural life, the original charm of its industrial character has been left entirely intact. Some of the warehouses have been converted into museums: the Museum of Cinematography, open now, is in warehouse A (the Museum of Photography reopens with a new exhibition September 20th, and The Center for Contemporary Art reopens September 30th for the Biennale).
Afterwards, enjoy a drink with Thessaloniki’s finest view at the Orizontes Roof Garden at the Electra Palace.
9 pm: Dinner in the Ladadika
In Thessaloniki, you’re always spoiled for choice when it comes to dining. The district Ladadika is full of places ranging from casual to elegant and a lively destination in its own right. A fun option on Friday and Saturday nights is an Argentinian dinner at El Correo, followed by complimentary tango lessons with Thessaloniki’s most popular Argentinian instructor.
Above Egnatia road, the Ano (Upper) Ladadika is also full of options – some classic and some brand new. Akadimia is an elegant choice – eclectic antique décor and an inventive, Mediterranean-based menu. Most noteworthy are the Sephardic dishes they make for special occasions, honoring the city’s rich Jewish heritage.
Alternatively, for a truly exclusive evening, Ioanna Theodorakaki of Duck Private Cheffing can create a meal exclusively for your party with the freshest local, seasonal products. Reservations a must.
Into the evening: romantic drinks
Nightcap – Overlooking the sunken gardens of Agios Ioannis are some of the most romantic tables in town. Stylish Cin Cin with its superbly mixed original cocktails is one of the latest additions to the city’s nightlife.
10 am: Morning in the Exoches
Villa Bianca – During the Belle Epoque, the city’s affluent Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived in harmony in the grand villas of the area known as ‘Exoches’ – a region outside the old city walls that, at the time, was a leafy, open neighborhood with grand villas and gardens.
One of the loveliest homes, Pierro Arrigoni’s Art Nouveau Villa or Casa Bianca, is now the Municipal Art Gallery of Thessaloniki, which hosts thematic contemporary exhibitions, a permanent collection of beautiful works by the late 19th C artist Nikolaos Gyzis of the Munich school, and rare Byzantine icons.
Even the lower classes lived graciously out here: the individual houses of the Ouziel Complex housed the tram company’s workers in style.
1 pm: Lunch at Panellinion
Panellinion is a perennial favorite, housed in a cozy stone building. The restaurant is a draw for artists, writers, and many others, offering classic and modern Greek dishes made with impeccable ingredients (they even produce their own vegetables), and a lively atmosphere.
3 pm – Visit the era-straddling Roman Agora
All of Thessaloniki’s eras stylishly converge around the Roman Agora, currently the most vibrant and creative stretch of town. The ancient world comes to life at Seikilo through authentic replicas of age-old instruments that can be held, played and even purchased. (They also make ancient board games like “Pettia”).
Meanwhile next door, contemporary Greek and international art thrives at Nitra Gallery. Bord de l’eau – an oasis of style in a stoa off Egnatia street – is a design studio by day and a chic bar late by night, with surreally beautiful works including beguiling animal-shaped rings made from sterling silver.
The nearby 2 Concept Store combines coffee and drinks with vintage furniture, restored with juicy verve (don’t miss their gallery space). Mid-century charm also reigns at popular cafe/bar Freideriko’s, while the airy black and white elegance of Loux strikes a more classic mood.
This cultural potpourri is enriched by a backdrop of gorgeous neoclassical and art deco buildings, and punctuated by key landmarks – the Achriropoietos, Panagia Chalkeon, Agios Dimitrios, the Bey Hammam (closed since 1968, but you can have a coffee on the roof), the Alkazar, the Monastirion Synagogue, Vitaliano Poselli’s Konaki (which now houses the General Secretariat of Macedonia and Thrace), and of course the Roman Agora itself.
6 pm: Sweets from Asia Minor at Chatzis
Since the days when Venizelous street was called Sabri Pasha, Chatzis has specialized in authentic Constantinople-style pastries, going so far as to maintain their own herd of buffalo to do so.
Come here for the syrupy pastry, kataifi with a slab of ekmek (from those buffalos), taouk yiouksou – pudding with chicken breast (totally delicious), or kunefe – served hot, crisp, and oozing with cheese, a pitcher of syrup on the side.
9 pm and later: Valaoritou
Downtown’s liveliest quarter, the Valaoritou district makes the perfect evening destination. Start with dinner at the playful Tria Gournounakia (The Three Little Pigs), then head up to Urania‘s rooftop terrace next door for some of the city’s best original cocktails.
A sublime slice at Poselli, a pizzeria named after one of Thessaloniki’s favorite architects caps an evening of bar hopping.
11 am – Faith and Beauty
Thessaloniki is steeped in Byzantine glory, 13 of her churches are designated as UNESCO world heritage sites, some of them famous landmarks. Others are worth seeking out, like the mysterious and intimate 5th century Osios David, tucked away in the hills of Ano Poli. The apse’s mosaic of the vision of Ezekiel with a rare depiction of Christ as an adolescent is a delight for enthusiasts of religious iconology and a beauty to behold.
Winding down through the charming alleys of Ano Poli (map in hand) eventually brings you to the Alaca Imaret. This late 15th century mosque wedged among the apartment buildings is a sumptuous surprise, its two high domes decorated with arabesques, trompe-l’oeil tapestry, and faux windows looking onto an imaginary forest.
1:00 pm – Nea Folia
You can spot this out of the way, unassuming half basement from the line outside the door. Impeccable gourmet dishes made with traditional ingredients, served in ample portions in a cozy and casual atmosphere are worth the wait. Bliss.
3:00 pm – The Rotunda
Thessaloniki’s own “Pantheon” is at last free of scaffolding inside, and it’s a beauty: 30 m high, with glowing, freshly restored mosaics.
Crowning the Galerian complex, the early 4th century Rotonda soon became the church of St. George, then in 1591 the Mosque of Hortaz Effendi (acquiring the fountains outside and the city’s only remaining minaret). One of Thessaloniki’s most regal structures, it’s the perfect end to your stay.