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Travel

My Great Greek Adventure: Tips & Tricks for Υour Trip to Greece – Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece and has a population of over eight-hundred thousand. It is considered the capital of the Macedonian region of Northern Greece. The city was first established in 315 B.C. by King Cassander of Macedonia.  Throughout generations spanning some millennia, Thessaloniki has welcomed a diverse array of visitors and settlers. It was also not shielded from the wars and occupations that gripped Greece. As the main city to the north, Thessaloniki then and still, plays an important role in trade and communication.  For some time after the fall of the Greek ruling party, it became part of the Roman republic and later the Roman Empire. 

The Romans and later the Ottomans realized the value of the city’s location and the use of its port.  Vast construction projects and the demand for industrialization began to change the shape of the city, both during and after it was occupied. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the diverse population of Thessaloniki grew exponentially. New city centers were built following devastating fires, railroads connected the city to the rest of the country and even the continent, and its port was a vital stop for traders. It was officially liberated and declared part of Greece in 1912 as a result of the First Balkan War. 

The name Thessaloniki comes from the city’s ancient origins when its founder King Cassander of Macedonia named it after his beloved wife Thessalonike, who was also sister to Alexander the Great. Great leaders and spiritual figures have passed through this ancient city. Thessaloniki has early roots in Christianity, as it was visited by Paul the Apostle and was a center for the practice of the religion. The city has a long and tangled history of fighting for its freedom and liberty as with the rest of Greece. As Patras was the site of the first revolution for Greek Independence in 1821, Thessaloniki was the first to rebel against Nazi Germany and its occupation of the city during World War Two. After the war, Thessaloniki began to rebuild, this time with more structured street planning and designated areas for factories and industry. By the end of the 20th century the city was recognized as a major travel destination and secured its cultural and historical artifacts as UNESCO-protected. 

The most notable and picturesque area of Thessaloniki is its legendary seafront. Today there is an organized walkway or promenade that stretches along the whole length of the city, right along the water. The street running next to the walkway is called Leoforou Nikis, and only some decades ago dominated the whole space. The length of the seafront that is open to the public for their leisure, measures five kilometers. The most historic part of this grand walk is located between the industrial port to the west and the famous White Tower of Thessaloniki. Along this area of walkway, there are countless restaurants, cafes, and bars.  These occupy the street level space of the architecturally beautiful buildings that line this prestigious stretch of Leoforou Nikis. This portion of the waterfront is considered the oldest of the whole area.

The marker for the old walkway and the newer developments is the White Tower. The White Tower is situated at the center of the city and remains a significant landmark, often being the image most closely linked to the city of Thessaloniki. The structure we see today was built in the 15th century on the ruins of a Byzantine fortress. It was most notably used as a fort, with great walls surrounding it, and later a prison. Today, the inside of the tower has been converted into a museum and is open to the public for an economical ticket of less than ten Euro. As you continue to walk along the seafront past the White Tower and the large statue of Alexander the Great, you will see a unique art instillation. The Umbrellas by Zongolopoulos, are a series of tall umbrella shaped pillars, built right there along the new portion of the promenade. It is a popular spot for photos, as the sea and city make the perfect backdrop next to this piece of art.  Continuing past The Umbrellas towards the neighborhood of Agia Triada, this part of the seafront has been renovated and built with more parks and green space. Many of these parks are dedicated also as memorials to great events and figures of Greece and Macedonia. In this area are high end hotels like Makedonia Palace, as well as trendy restaurants and bars.

Thessaloniki has more to offer than just its incredible sea front. A popular meeting place is Aristotelous square, dating back to 1918 after the extensive restoration of the city that followed a devastating fire. Around the square are luxury hotels and buildings, all made with a neoclassical architecture style. Towards the eastern edge of the city is the neighborhood Kastra. Here you will find the ruined walls of the forts that’s once wrapped around the city from the Byzantine age and older. Follow Eptapirgiou street to enter the town within these walls, where there are many options for dining and drinks. A walk around this area is worthwhile, because you get an excellent view of all of Thessaloniki below. Young people frequent this area and like to climb the old walls, to get an even better view from up higher. The houses in these neighborhoods within and surrounding the walls are very closely built, and gives the vibe of a close-knit village.

Thessaloniki is a major European city, offering both innovation and industry, as well as art and culture. It has quiet homey neighborhoods like Kalamaria by the sea and Panorama up on the slopes of the mountain that borders the city. Its universities are some of the biggest in the country and are respected throughout Europe and the world. It is about a five- hour drive from Athens, or you could take the high speed train or fly into Thessaloniki airport. Thessaloniki has a unique charm and is a contrast to Athens.  Be sure to try a gyro sandwich the northern way with ketchup and mustard while you are there!

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