Photo by Tilemahos Efthimiadis  –  Link

Thessaloniki

Greece

The second largest city in Greece has had a tumultuous past, with a fire in 1917 destroying a good proportion of buildings, and bombings in 1940 damaging many more. That same decade, the Nazis took over Thessaloniki, transporting the city's Jews to camps and effectively eliminating what was once a big Jewish population.

What these events left in their wake, however, was a modern Greek city with a stunning seaside location, a pleasantly walkable centre and a laid-back attitude that's contagious and intoxicating. An exotic blend of Roman, Christian, Byzantine and Venetian influences converge here, resulting in a uniquely diverse culture and some of the best restaurants in the country. Plus, Thessaloniki is the gateway to the Halkidiki region, known for its stunning forests and lovely beaches that are perfect for an off-the-beaten-path sunny holiday.

History

To get a sense of the city's history, take a walking tour starting in Aristotelous Square, one of the main public squares. Wander over to the Roman Forum, an ancient forum complex with two Roman baths and a theatre that was once used for gladiatorial games. Next, head to the White Tower, which is part of the Byzantine Walls that surround the city. The domed Rotonda, built in the early 4th century, was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Galerius. It has been used throughout history as a temple, a Christian basilica, a Muslim mosque and finally a Christian church.

Meanwhile, the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle is an informative cultural institute that's worth visiting if you want to know more about Thessaloniki's recent history and the cultural identity of Macedonia.

Beaches

When you've had enough of history and culture, take a trip southeast of Thessaloniki to Halkidiki, three peninsulas that are home to some of the best beaches in Greece. Kassandra is a beautiful stretch of sand surrounded by pine forests, popular restaurants and buzzing bars. If you prefer something a bit more secluded, navigate your way a bit further out to the sheltered Achlada beach (note that you'll have to bring your own towels and chair here).

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