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The second city of Greece lies like an amphitheater around the Bay of Thessaloníki. When Alexander the Great founded the city in 316 BC he named it after his sister. The main squares of the city - Platia Elefterias and Platia Aristotelous - are both at the waterside and surrounded by restaurants, cafes and terraces.
The symbol of the city is the Byzantine White Tower at the seaside which was originally part of the city wall. On the roof you'll find a cafe where you can enjoy stunning views of both city and bay. If you take the stairs up, you'll be passing dark cells: the tower was once a prison. There is also a museum about the history of the city with multimedia presentations and maps of Thessaloníki in earlier times.
The legacy of the Byzantine period is reflected in the many churches in the city. Most are found along the narrow cobbled streets of the old upper town. The domed church of St. George dates back to the fourth century, originally built as a mausoleum for the Roman emperor Galerius. The Agia Sofia was built in the eighth century and it is no coincidence that it has the same name as the famous church in Istanbul, it is a copy of it.
The Agios Nikolaos Orfanos from the fourteenth century is decorated with beautiful frescoes.
Located near the Dikasterion square is an amphitheater from the Roman era, the best preserved remain from the Forum. Finds from excavations can be seen in the Archeological Museum, near the White Tower. The museum houses a vast collection of art and artifacts from prehistoric and Roman times. Masterpieces are the treasures from the tomb of the father of Alexander the Great, Philip II of Macedonia, which was discovered in 1977. Special as well is the papyrus from the third century BC.
On the seaside you'll further find the Folklore and Ethnological Museum of Macedonia and Thrace. It's housed in a building from the beginning of the last century, in which the Art Nouveau style is clearly recognizable. Spread over four floors, the museum offers a fascinating overview of the cultures: clothing with intricate embroidery, utensils, musical instruments, weapons and art objects made of wood and metal.
In the west of the city, inside a former convent, you'll find the Museum of Modern Art. The museum has a large collection of works by Russian avant-garde artists, that were brought together by George Costakis, a Greek born in Moscow and who lived there most of his life. He became interested in Russian modern art and started collecting works. This way, he saved the artworks from the greedy hands of Stalin, who had forbidden avant-garde art.
The highest mountain of Greece, the Olympus, is situated nearly fifty kilometers south west of Thessaloníki. The home of the gods in Greek mythology is 2917 meters high. There are various routes that lead to the summit, through a fantastic mountain area with rich flora and fauna.
Near the Olympus you will find archeological sites, including the by far the most interesting one, Vergina. This is where Philip of Macedonia built his palace and a theater, and where he was buried. That grave was discovered in 1977. There are many more graves in the area, some dating back to the Iron Age. In Pella you can look at the remains of the former capital of Macedonia and Dion - at the foot of the Olympus - was an important religious site.
Chalkidiki is a peninsula, southeast of Thessaloníki with a remarkable shape resembling a hand with three fingers. Located on the southern part of one of these headlands, Athos, is the domain of 1,800 Greek Orthodox monks who live in twenty monasteries. That part in its entity is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and only accessible by boat and open to men only. The monasteries that resemble castles, are beautifully decorated with frescoes and mosaics. You will need official permission to visit.
Several parking garages have been built in recent years in Thessaloníki and it's not difficult to find a vacant space for your rental car in them. South of the Museum of Byzantine Culture, not far from the White Tower, you can find a municipal parking lot where you can park for free. From there it's a twenty minute walk to the city center. This parking area is not safe at night!
Makedonia Airport is the international airport of Thessaloníki, located 15 kilometer south of the city. Many airplanes make an in between stop here on the way to or from the Greek capital Athens. With a rental car you can best get to the airport from town taking Leoforos Konstantinou Karamanli, that merges into a highway towards Kallikrateia.