If you think that everyone in Thessaloniki is rushing somewhere all day, just wait until nightfall. It seems like everyone in town stops at a favorite cafe on the way home from work and then heads out to dinner -- this, before or after taking in a play or concert at one of the city's many theaters, concert halls, and nightclubs with live entertainment. Though many publications list events and posters splattered everywhere announce them, almost all will all be Greek (or possibly Russian or Japanese) to you. Ask for information at your hotel, or stop by the office of the Greek National Tourism Organization (EOT), 136 Tsimiski (tel. 2310/221-100; www.mintour.gr).
Meanwhile, the city seems festooned with enough bars and clubs to serve a population twice its size, yet all of them are crowded to the bursting point -- and more open every year. For some of the liveliest nightlife in town, try one of the cafes in the waterfront Ladidika district, or along the harbor on Nikis Street, or head inland to Athoonos Square, or sample the cafes on pedestrianized Zefxidos and Iktinos streets.
The Performing Arts
Kratiko Theatro (State Theatre of Northern Greece) has two venues. In winter, it stages plays in the Royal State Theatre, next to the White Tower (tel. 2310/860-966); in summer, it stages plays at Theatro Dasous (Forest Theatre), an open-air amphitheater in the forested hilltop area east of the Upper City (tel. 2310/245-307). The company presents ancient and modern Greek plays, as well as Greek translations of foreign plays by authors as varied as Christopher Marlowe and Arthur Miller.
In summer, the Forest Theatre, which has a marvelous view of the city, also hosts lively, well-attended concerts by popular Greek singers and composers, as well as performances by visiting ballet companies.
Thessaloniki's splendid Megaron Mousikis (Concert Hall), 25 Martiou and Paralia (tel. 2310/895-800; www.tch.gr), opened in 2000; in 2009, the excellent Thessaloniki State Orchestra celebrated its 50th anniversary. Check with your hotel concierge or at the hall for a concert schedule. Aristotle University Concert Hall also hosts concerts (it's on Nea Egnatia, opposite the northern entrance of the International Trade Fairgrounds) September through May (tel. 2310/283-343).
Demetria Festival -- October 26, St. Dimitrios's day is celebrated all over Greece, but in Thessaloniki, the celebration lasts for weeks. The festival, which gets bigger every year, started with a Greek film festival and now includes many theatrical and musical events.
The Feast of Sts. Constantine & Eleni (May 21) -- On or around the feast of the first Christian emperor and his mother, villagers in Ayia Eleni (80km/50 miles northeast of Thessaloniki) and at Langadas (12km/7 miles northeast of Thessaloniki) engage in pirovassia (fire dancing). Crowds come from all over Macedonia to see the faithful dance over a bed of hot coals. When they're done, they feast on the roasted black bull sacrificed earlier in the day. In case you're wondering -- yes, much of what's done here preserves pre-Christian rites.
International Trade Fair Festival -- This takes place every year during the first 2 weeks in September and draws businesspeople from around the world. The international fairgrounds have lots of exhibits, so hotel rooms are hard to find -- and expensive (often double normal prices).
The Bar, Club & Music Scene
In July and August, many of Thessaloniki's best bars and clubs shut down. Some immediately reopen branches along a section of the road leading east along the coast, about a mile before the airport. This, plus the fact that new or newly decorated and renamed venues are constantly opening while others go out of fashion and close, makes it virtually impossible to recommend any with certainty. No one ever answers the phone at these places and most addresses are not visible, so I am not listing either.
Most of these places are open virtually 24 hours a day; some have gaggles of unattached but alert singles looking for action in its many manifestations. Others are teeming with more staid locals. In short, take a stroll; start with harborside Nikis Street and you'll eventually spot the bar scene that suits you best.
In town, in the summer of 2011, Greek friends of mine were heading to bars like Urban and the improbably named Pasta Flora Darling! on Zefxidos Street, but they were pretty sure they'll be looking for new spots in a year or two. On the Ladadika waterfront, by the State Museum of Contemporary Art (www.greekstatemuseum.gr; housing a surprising collection of contemporary Russian paintings), you can begin or end your revels with breakfast at the Kitchen Bar in Warehouse B.
A couple of neighborhoods churn out new favorites in nightlife year after year. In Ladadika, try the spots along Katouni Street and around Agia Sophia Square, check out Zefkidos Street. Keep going west and you pass from Ladadika into the neighborhood of Xyladika, where lots of warehouses and shops around the old railroad station are being converted into bars and galleries. You'll probably enjoy exploring Xyladika more with Greek friends than on your own. Along Nikis Street, check out Elvis, which often has a D.J, Tribeca, DaDA, Thermaikos, the oddly named Pollock, and the drop-dead understatedly elegant Daios (often with jazz Fri-Sat). Best of all, get a local with similar tastes to give you some tips.
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.