White Tower Waterfront view, Thessaoniki

Thessaloniki Greece Cruise Port: Your Essential DIY Port Guide

With its vibrant atmosphere, rich historical tapestry, and stunning waterfront, Thessaloniki is a hidden gem on the Mediterranean cruise circuit. Greece’s second-largest city (after Athens), it remains somewhat off the beaten path for many cruisers, yet its allure is undeniable and growing. Primarily a port for Celebrity Cruises, with occasional visits from Azamara Cruises and NCL, Thessaloniki offers a unique blend of ancient wonders and modern charm.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a port day in Thessaloniki, prepare to dive into a captivating city where Byzantine treasures sit alongside lively markets and a buzzing cafe culture. This DIY guide will empower you to make the most of your time ashore, exploring Thessaloniki’s highlights with ease and independence.

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Thessaloniki Cruise Port: Is a DIY Excursion Easy? ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž (Straightforward)

If you’re wondering if tackling Thessaloniki on your own is a good idea, let me put your mind at ease. Thessaloniki cruise port is perfect for DIY cruisers, and here’s why:

  • City Centre Stroll: The iconic White Tower is a doable 30-minute walk, but the main square is a mere 10-15 minutes away. Get those steps in!
  • Bus Breeze: Finding the local bus stop is a 5-minute mission. From there, hop on a bus and you’ll be exploring the White Tower and Upper Town in no time.
  • The “Almost” Hop-On-Hop-Off: Okay, route #50 isn’t technically hop-on-hop-off, but this tourist-friendly bus hits all the major sights and is super affordable at โ‚ฌ1.80 a trip. Budget-friendly sightseeing for the win!

Thessaloniki Cruise Port Essentials: All You Need to Know

  • Cruise Port Address: Averof, Thessaloniki 546 26, Greece – the Port is within walking distance of the city centre
  • Currency: Euros
  • Language: Greek
  • Official websites: Transportation of Thessaloniki (OASTH) has bus routes & live bus information.
  • Recommended Transport App: Use Google Maps to navigate around the city centre. If you’d like to catch a bus, then I would use OASTH’s web page instead of downloading its own app (due to the app’s limited features).
  • eSIM for roaming in Greece: For a great data connection without the huge roaming fees, use an eSim data pack from Airalo. I always recommend having a smartphone with a valid plan when youโ€™re at port touring independently. Get US$3 off your first eSIM data pack from Airalo when you use ROXANN1666 when you sign up or apply it at checkout
  • My Map of Thessaloniki: ๐Ÿ‘‡ Click on upper right hand corner to see a bigger map. If map is not loading, click here to see directly on Google Maps.

Thessaloniki Cruise Port to City Centre: Getting your Bearings

Here’s some tips to get your bearings quickly and navigate to where you want to go:

  • Walkers – Navigate using the waterfront: Outside the port, find the main road along the waterfront. You’ll soon find yourself at one of the city’s main squares. From there, it’s easy to navigate to all the sights
  • Less Keen Walkers: Walk past the ferry terminal and take a left. You’ll be at “Limani” bus stop. This is around 5 minutes walk from the cruise port. Bus #3 will take you to White Tower, #23 will take you to Upper Town.

Note bus ticket quirks:

  • No change given on board: You can buy a ticket at an automated ticket machine on board buses but no change is given. Fares are โ‚ฌ0.90 for adults, โ‚ฌ0.45 for kids and seniors 65+. Save your ๐Ÿ’ถ coins to spend on bus tickets at Thessaloniki! ๐Ÿ˜…
  • OATH ticket booths: Official bus ticket booths do exist around the city. I’ve marked a few of them on my map above. But note that these are closed on weekends. If you’re visiting Thessaloniki on weekends, your best bet is to find a small newsagent and enquire whether they sell bus tickets.

Insider Tip: Cultural Bus Route #50 starts at the White Tower and does a loop of the city’s main sights in about an hour. It’s NOT a hop-on-hop off bus. It’s not a double-decker bus with an open top. There’s also no “all-day-pass” that allows you to hop on and hop off. You pay per trip but at โ‚ฌ1.80 a trip, it’s a great deal! If you find yourself around the White Tower with an hour to spare, then this is a fun ride! There’s a ticket seller onboard who will give change on this route. Download the official route #50 brochure here.

Top Things to See & Do Near Thessaloniki Cruise Port

1. White Tower

White Tower at Thessaloniki Greece
Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

The White Tower stands as Thessaloniki’s most recognizable symbol. This cylindrical 15th-century Ottoman structure commands a stunning position on the waterfront, offering panoramic city and sea views from its seventh floor balcony.

Inside, the tower houses a museum dedicated to Thessaloniki’s fascinating history since its founding in 316 B.C. till the present. Explore exhibits that showcase Byzantine rule, Ottoman influences, and the city’s evolution into a modern metropolis.

  • How to Get There:
    • Walk: About 30 minutes walk from Thessaloniki cruise port, at a leisurely pace and on flat ground, along the waterfront
    • Bus: Closest bus stop is about 5 minutes away – see my Thessaloniki map above. Be sure to have change for your bus fare, as no change given!
  • Opening Hours: 8am to 8pm daily from June to October. 8:30am to 3:30pm November to May.
  • Tickets: โ‚ฌ6 for adults, โ‚ฌ3 for kids.
  • Note: The tower is small and it is capacity constrained. Only 70 visitors are allowed at one time and there’s no toilets or baggage storage. There are also no lifts to the upper floors, so this is not suitable for those with limited mobility.

If you’re a history buff, then the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki and the Museum of Byzantine Culture are a few minutes’ walk from the White Tower.

2. Rotunda

Exterior of Thessaloniki Rotunda
Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

Initially constructed in the early 4th century AD by the Roman Emperor Galerius, its original purpose remains debated by scholars. Some believe it was intended as his mausoleum, while others suggest it may have been designed as a grand temple.

Regardless of its original intent, the Rotunda is a testament to Roman architectural prowess. Its circular structure, massive dome, and thick walls exude a sense of enduring strength. In the late 4th century, the Rotunda was converted into a Christian church, adorned with some of the finest surviving examples of early Christian mosaics. It’s now a UNESCO heritage monument.

  • How to Get There:
    • Walk: Around 30 minutes walk From Thessaloniki cruise port. Most scenic route is along the waterfront and then walk inland once you reach the White Tower.
    • Bus: Catch Bus #15 from Limani stop, get off at “Hospital” stop. I’ve marked the stops on my map above.
  • Opening Hours: Closed Tuesdays. 8:30am to 3:30pm other days. โ‚ฌ2 entry.

3. Holy Church of Hagia Sophia

Interior of the 9th century dome of Hagia Sophia church in Thessaloniki
9th century Dome of Hagia Sophia Thessaloniki, Evilemperorzorg at English Wikipedia

Hagia Sophia, or the Church of Holy Wisdom, stands as one of Thessaloniki’s most significant Byzantine monuments. Built in the 8th century AD, it was inspired by the monumental Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), which had been constructed centuries earlier under Emperor Justinian.

Thessaloniki’s Hagia Sophia, while smaller in scale, reflects the same architectural principles, showcasing a grand dome and the characteristic basilica layout. It’s also UNESCO heritage listed.

  • How to get there: Around 5 minutes’ walk from the Rotunda.
  • Opening Hours: 8am to 7pm daily. Visit in mornings if you can. I’ve read reports that it’s sometimes closed in the afternoons, before re-opening in early evenings. Entry is free. Dress modestly.

If you’d like to visit another church, there’s two other famous Byzantine churches in Thessaloniki close by: the Holy Church of Agios Dimitrios and the Holy Church of the Virgin Mary Achieiropoietos. Both are Greek Orthodox churches and are open daily in AM only for sightseeing.

Dedicated to Thessaloniki’s patron saint, the Agios Dimitrios is a magnificent Byzantine basilica. The church has 7th century frescoes and mosaics dating from the 5th to the 9th century and is UNESCO heritage listed. Achieiropoietos (“not made by hands”) dates back to the 5th century, with beautiful mosaics and intricate marble columns. The church’s unique name derives from a legend that an icon of the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared within the church.

4. Waterfront Promenade & Ariestotelous Square

Thessaloniki Waterfront Promenade, Greece
Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

If you choose to walk along the waterfront promenade to the White Tower, you’ll walk past two of the city’s most famous squares – Eleftherias Square and Aristotelous Square – perfect for people watching or just to take a break and enjoy the sea breeze.

If you’re interested to visit local markets, walk along Aristotelous Street (main street leading to the Square) and you’ll find Agora Modiano and Kapani Market. The Kapani market is definitely the more traditional one whereas Agora Modiano is more upscale and modern. If you’re looking to sample local food, then head to Agora Modiano. There are artisan bakeries, delis, cheese stores etc with plenty of choices.

The Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917 forever changed the cityscape of Thessaloniki. The fire raged for 32 hours, destroying roughly two-third of the city centre. The Greek government hired French architect Ernst Hรฉbrard to design a modern urban plan. The wide avenues, grand squares and neoclassical buildings is the result of this urban plan.

5. Thessaloniki’s Upper Town (Ano Poli)

Trigonio Tower in Upper Town of Thessaloniki, Greece

Thessaloniki’s historic Upper Town survived the Great Fire of 1917, so the maze of cobbled streets, traditional Ottoman-era houses and centuries-old Byzantine monuments can still be seen. It’s a bit out of the way and (in my opinion), too far to walk from the port but it’s easily accessible by bus. Here’s what to see – they are all marked in my map above๐Ÿ‘†:

  • Heptapyrgion of Thessaloniki: Also known as Yedi Kule, this Byzantine and Ottoman-era structure is at the highest point of Upper Town. Its long history includes a period as a notorious prison. Great views of the city from here!
  • Acropolis of Thessaloniki: This hilltop Acropolis is where the ancient city of Thessaloniki originated.
  • Vlatadon Monastery: This 14th century Byzantine monastery is still in operation today. There’s lovely gardens, with beautiful frescoes and icons.
  • Walls & Towers: Remnants of the city’s ancient fortifications still encircle Ano Poli. Hike up to the impressive Trigonio Tower (Chain Tower), a 15th-century Ottoman structure offering sweeping panoramic vistas of the city, Thermaic Gulf, and even Mount Olympus on clear days.
  • Pasha Gardens: Find a tranquil oasis within the urban landscape at Pasha Gardens. This hidden gem, dotted with olive trees and flowerbeds, is a romantic spot with incredible city views. Legend has it that this is where St Paul the Apostle taught when he visited Thessaloniki around 49 or 50 AD during his second missionary journey. (The Acts of the Apostles provide an account of his time in Thessaloniki.)
  • Eastern Walls: Stroll along a section of the restored Eastern Walls. These 4th century walls formerly extended all the way to the seafront.

How to Get There:

  • Bus #23 from Thessaloniki cruise port “Limani” stop will take you directly to the Heptapyrgion – see stops marked on my map above ๐Ÿ‘†
  • Cultural Bus #50 will take you from the White Tower to Trigonio Tower, and you can walk up to the Heptapyrgion and Acropolis.

Tip: If you’re keen to see the Upper Town, I would recommend making it your first stop of the day. Catching the bus from the port and getting dropped off at the Heptapyrgion makes this an easy DIY excursion – no walking uphill! You can then gradually walk down the hill, doing stops at Trigonio Tower and Pasha’s Gardens. Alternatively, if you find yourself at the Waterfront running out of things to do in the afternoon, get the #50 bus from the White Tower.

Featured Image by Alexander from Pixabay

I hope this guide has helped you plan the perfect Thessaloniki port day! May your time in this captivating city be filled with unforgettable discoveries and a taste of authentic Greek charm. If you’ve found this information valuable, please share it with your fellow cruisers in your roll calls โ€“ let’s spread the word about exploring Thessaloniki independently!

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