Walking Tour of Thessaloniki, Greece
Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, is a melting pot of cultures, due to its location at the crossroads between East and West. In particular, Byzantine culture is well-represented here. Despite its size, the attractions of the city are accessible by foot, since most of them are found near the waterfront. Actually, the public promenade along the waterfront is ideal for this purpose.
One of the most photogenic neighborhoods of the city is Ano Poli, with its traditional Balkan architecture and the Old Fortress (Eptapyrgion).
Thessaloniki is perhaps the best place to sample Greek cuisine. There are certainly numerous restaurants to choose from. Because of its location, seafood dishes are particularly appealing.
My walk begins at Aristotelous Square, the heart of the city, lying directly on the Thermaic Gulf, an arm of the Aegean Sea. Begin your amble by heading east, along the waterfront, on Leoforos Nikis, which leads to one of the city’s most prominent landmarks, the White Tower, once part of the fortifications of the city. Climb the stairs for a bird’s-eye view of the city and its harbor.
Now, continue east on the promenade until you reach an impressive Statue of Alexander the Great and Bucephalus, his horse. Walk north from the statue to visit the Archaeological Museum, a treasure trove of artifacts from the Neolithic Age to the present. Nearby (to the east) is the Byzantine Museum, another worthwhile place to begin.
After your visits, walk west, across HANTH Square, onto Tsimiski. On your left, at Navarino Square, are the ruins of the Palace of Galerius. After you pass Svolou, detour to the right (east) to see the location of the Roman Hippodrome and check out the nearby Church of St Anthony before proceeding.
When you reach Dimitriou Gounari, a charming, pedestrian-only thoroughfare, turn right. It leads to the Arch of Galerius, a vestige from the Roman Empire, dating to 305 AD. It spans the Via Egnatia, an ancient Roman road. Just to the north is the Rotunda, which has a storied history, as a mausoleum, a church, a mosque, and an entertainment venue. After wandering around this area a bit, walk west on Egnatia Odos to find the Church of the Metamorphosis, on your left.
Now, reverse direction on Egnatia Odos, and then turn left onto Ethnikis. Turn left again, when you reach Ayiou Dimitriou, and then bear right on Olymbiados, then turn right to walk along the old City Walls. On your left, up ahead, is Agios Nikolaos Orlanos, and, further ahead, the Tower of Trigoniou, which affords another excellent opportunity for a view of the city from above.
Next, backtrack a bit, and turn right (west) on Akripoleus, to reach the Vlatadon Monastery. From here, walk south on Vlatadon to Olimbiados, and then straight ahead on Agias Sofias. Turn right on Dimitriou to reach one of the city’s most important churches, Ayios Dimitrios. This is the largest church in Greece, and it is loaded with incredible mosaics. It probably dates to the 6th or 7th century AD, but has been extensively restored.
From the front of the church, walk south, crossing several streets, to find the Roman Forum, with its small amphitheater. Further south is Dikasteriou Square, the location of the Virgin of the Copper Workers Church, one of the city’s oldest (1028 AD).
After your visit, walk east on Egnatia Odos to Agias Sofias, and turn right. The most famous church in the city, Ayia Sophia, is on your left. It was purportedly designed to resemble its namesake in Istanbul. Here again, there are several superb mosaics.
From the church, walk west on Ermou to reach the Modiano Market, a covered bazaar, filled with a huge variety of foods, and a bustle of activity. After browsing for a while, continue west on Ermou to the Memorial for Grigoris Lambrakis, site of a political assassination which took place here in 1963.
Now, walk south on Elefthirias Venizelou, toward the waterfront, and then turn left on Leoforos Nikis, to return to Aristotelous Square, where your walking tour began.