Magical History Tour: 48 Hours in Thessaloniki

Magical History Tour: 48 Hours in Thessaloniki


When it comes to history, Thessaloniki is a destination with an incredible amount to offer. The second largest city in Greece, it was founded in 315 BC, which means it has a past that spans more than two millennia. Unsurprisingly, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is full to the brim with Byzantine monuments and Roman and Ottoman architecture, as well as some sites of great religious significance – for example, the earliest known letter by Paul the Apostle was written to the early Christian church in Thessaloniki.

With so much history on offer, it’s quite a tough ask to fit everything in to just 48 hours. However, here are some of the highlights that should be included on every magical history tour of this wonderful spot:

The White Tower is probably Thessaloniki’s most famous monument and whilst it no longer sports the whitewash that gave it its name, it has played host to many of the city’s most infamous – and often bloody – historical events, such as the 1826 massacre of the janissaries, who were forcibly Islamicised Christian boys.

With Thessaloniki having been such an important part of the Byzantine Empire, the Museum of Byzantine Culture is a must visit during a historical trip in the city. The dramatic presentation of the Byzantine artifacts (more than 3,000 in total) provides an enormously atmospheric look back at the era that covered early Christian to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Expect to see icons, frescoes, ceramics and statutes all expertly presenting with a running text storyboard.

The fifth century Church of Agios Dimitrios is quite a sight to behold with its imposing size and unique brickwork. The building is named in honour of Thessaloniki’s patron saint – Saint Dimitrios – who was a Roman soldier killed on the same site in 303. The basilica here is famous for six mosaic panels depicting St Dimitrios with various officials and children, and the spooky crypt is definitely worth a visit – to see the very spot on which Saint Dimitrios was martyred.

The Palace of Galerius is one of four monuments in the area that are associated with the early fourth century Roman emperor who gave the palace its name. The palace is in ruins, but good quality ruins, with walls, columns and some fascinating mosaics sprawled across what were once grand and imposing floors, marking out a throne room, temples, fountains and dormitories. Also sharing the emperor’s name are the Arch of Galerius and the Galerius Rotunda, both of which are impressive surviving buildings – the Rotunda in particular has some impressive frescoes.

Bey Hamam (also known as ‘the Baths of Paradise’) is Thessaloniki’s oldest Turkish bath and although there’s little chance of getting a rub down here (the space is now used for art shows), it’s still a great place to visit to get a sense of one of the area’s oldest traditions. Interestingly, the structure of these particular baths was built to house both men and women’s facilities, although the men’s were by far the more spacious and luxurious and the two were kept entirely separate.

For a short stay in Thessaloniki choose a city centre hotel to allow easy access to local attractions (and to let you crash back at your hotel for a couple of hours when the midday sun becomes too unbearable for sightseeing). For budget travellers the Hotel Orestias Kastorias is a good option offering clean rooms, friendly staff and views over the city at budget rates or for the more discerning tourist the Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki hotel offers all the ammenities you’d expect from a 5 star resort as well as easy access to the city center.

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Thessaloniki is a fascinating and exciting place to visit with an incredible history that provides a great spark for the imagination. Taking two days to uncover some of its mysteries is time well spent, whether you’re a history buff or not.

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