Thessaloniki's churches are a clear case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Although Ayia Sofia and Ayios Dimitrios are the two best known, and so important to the city that we give each two stars, the smaller, less well-known churches may give you the greatest pleasure. Most Greek Orthodox churches are built either in the basilica style, which is a rectangle with side aisles or the domed cross-in-square form, which is just what its name says.
Many of these churches keep irregular hours, often closing from about 1 to 5pm. The best way to see them is on one or more morning excursions. You can easily spend a week visiting these churches. Alternatively, you can visit the better-known ones in a rigorous day. Admission to all churches is free. A small donation in the alms box is appreciated; it is usually found near the door or where votive candles are sold. Greeks move around fairly freely in church during many services, but it's not a good idea to be an obvious sightseer during a service.
Dress Appropriately & Keep an Eye on the Time! - Casual attire such as short skirts on women, shorts or sleeveless shirts on men or women, is generally considered disrespectful in Greek churches, which are, of course, primarily places of worship. Most churches both in downtown Thessaloniki and in the Upper City (Ano Poli) close from about 1 to 5pm.
Churches in the Upper City (Ano Poli)
Visiting these churches has a real bonus: You get to explore the narrow streets and lanes of the oldest section of Thessaloniki, once the home of many of its Turkish residents. In fact, many Thessalonians still call Ano Poli by the name Tsinari, the Turkish name of a massive plane tree that once grew here. The neighborhood is a maze of cobbled streets, with streetside fountains, old-fashioned corner groceries, cafes, some neighborhood hangouts, and some chic destination spots. Many of the wooden houses have upper floors that project out over the ground floor and overhang the street. This was a clever way of getting as much space into a house on as little land as available. In the 1960s, Ano Poli was practically falling down and might easily have been torn down and "modernized" -- a fate that befell many of the old-fashioned small houses in Athens's once charming narrow streets on the slopes of Mount Lykabettus. Fortunately, before the property developers pounced, young artists and students, along with many foreign residents of Thessaloniki, moved into Ano Poli. These settlers were lured up to the heights above town both by the neighborhood's charm and by its low housing costs. Today, an Ano Poli address is considered very chic.
When you visit the churches of Ano Poli, be prepared to get lost at least once. Don't fret: You'll probably discover a wonderful little cafe, a church tucked away in a nicely tended garden, or a courtyard with a marble fountain while you try to find your way. If you like fortifications, you'll love the remains of the massive Byzantine Eptapirigion (Seven-Gated) Walls that girdle Ano Poli. The walls, built and rebuilt between the 4th and 15th centuries, are often flood-lit at night.
Taking the bus (no. 22 or 23 from Eleftherias Sq.) to the Upper City is an easy ride. You can then wander back downhill.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.