Thessaloniki is Greece’s second city, tucked away on the northeastern coast of the country; the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Turks and Jews all passed through this seaside metropolis, leaving their architectural and cultural mark on today’s edgy, 21st-century university city. Stacked with quality shopping, seafood restaurants and a legendary nightlife leading off the seafront promenade, Thessaloniki comes alive at dusk as families and friends step out in their hundreds to take in the air.
The city resembles an open history book; the Roman forum and triumphal arch date from the third century AD, while the Byzantines legacy is spotted in the remaining city walls, the basilica of Agios Dimitrios Basilica and the remains of the castle. Ottoman influences kick in from the 15th century onwards; the dumpy White Tower, the hamams in the old town and the mosques were all constructed during this time. Down by the port, the intriguing, muddled streets of Ladadika were traditionally the Jewish Quarter.
With Thessaloniki’s layers of history come gastronomic influences from across the ancient world. The daily food markets in the Byzantine market halls and in the Jewish Quarter are all piled high with olives, seasonal fruit and vegetables, fresh fish and vast carcasses of meat. The local street food features savory breads like koulouri and bougatsa, and traditional dishes still include meze (Greek tapas) rounded off with a shot of ouzo.
Thessaloniki is the ideal base for exploring the delights of northern Greece, such as the 12th-century Orthodox monasteries high on their rock crags at Meteora; the ancient sacred site of Mount Olympus; and Pella, the ancient capital of Alexander the Great’s empire. The Macedonian ruins at Vergina are also close by, and many of the pottery and tool fragments excavated there are on display in Thessaloniki’s Archaeological Museum.
Thessaloniki is 312 miles (500 km) north of Athens and can be reached by car in about five and a half hours. Regular flights between the two cities take 50 minutes, while the express train journey is just under four hours. The Archaeological Museum is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with admission costs of €6 for adults and €3 for seniors and students.