As Greece’s second largest city Thessaloniki is a far cry from the sleepy towns of rural Greece. Instead visitors can expect a cultured, vibrant and exciting destination where retail therapy and excellent tapas bars are never far away. Although lacking the fame of the Athens capital Thessaloniki still offers an impressive display of ancient culture and ruins, not to mention a buzzing social scene supported by the booming student population of the prestigious local university.
Hotels are largely pitched at business and convention trade, priced accordingly and line noisy streets. Exceptional design-led renovations which offer more value and calm include the contemporary Davitel Tobacco (Agíou Dimitríou 25), a converted tobacco warehouse, and Le Palace (Tsimiskí 12), featuring natural fibre. For more comfort (and outlay), choose Domotel Les Lazaristes (Kolokotróni 16) in remoter Stavroúpoli district with free parking (a major plus), or the art deco gem Bristol Hotel (Oplopiou 2), handy for Ladádika clubs and restaurants. One of the few salubrious budget options is Orestias Kastorias (Agnóstou Stratiótou 14), with somewhat eccentric if en-suite rooms.
Thessaloniki still has ample retail therapy options, especially along main downtown street Tsimiskí, though nearby Ermoú and Mitropóleos have cheaper outlets. Mega-malls include central City Gate, and Makedonia out near the airport. Clothing outlets are especially compelling; Intervista (Tsimiskí 71) and Diamantis (men only, Tsimiskí 43) between them stock every conceivable designer label. For Greek sounds, check out Studio 52 (Dimitríou Goúnari 46), one of the oldest and best stocked record/CD shops in Greece. No self-respecting Greek will return from Thessaloniki without baked goodies from Terkenlis (12 branches, including Tsimiskí 30).
Thessaloniki is famous for its many small mezedopolía (tapas-style bars), especially in and around Platía Áthonos in the bazaar, near Platía Navarínou, or the old covered Modiáno Market. Atmospheric Meteora Vima tis Garidas (Modiáno stalls 58–60, Vasiléos Iraklíou 31) is ace for loútsos (baby barracuda) or sardines, good starters and decent wine. Unusual or downright spicy recipes were brought by refugees from Asia Minor; sample those at Apo Dhyo Horia (Platía Navarínou, Výronos 7), a tiny spot showcasing Cretan and Pondian (Black Sea) platters. Nearby, the bohemian set repairs to Loxias (Isávron 5), with windows overlooking the Navarínou ruins and a nice line in lamb sausages, mountainous salads and desserts. Hiding behind an old church, Ta Koumbarakia (Egnatia 140) is a reliable, long-running venue for cheap seafood, veggie platters and measures of tsípouro.
Thessaloniki Documentary Festival
While not quite as venerable as the Thessaloniki Film Festival, this 1999-established festival has plenty of lectures and peripheral events along with screenings.
Thessaloniki Book Fair
From a strictly Balkan bash, this has grown to attract publishers and bibliophiles from every European country; in 2013, the UK was guest country of honour, with appearances by authors like Victoria Hislop.
Thessaloniki International Trade Fair
This is an important commercial fair but you might want to avoid visiting the city at this time unless you are travelling no business – hotels get fully booked and the city is packed.
Thessaloniki Film Festival
Since 1959, this 10-day festival has become a must for filmmakers, reviewers and audiences, with a truly global scope.
Mylos Club Events
Mylos Club, the first, boldest conversion of disused Greek industrial premises into cutting-edge venues, remains a linchpin of events in town. Expect top Greek musical performers, exhibits and ‘happenings’.