Travelers tend to regard Thessaloniki as a charming and laidback city with a vibrant nightlife, great food, a youthful profile and a refreshing sea breeze. And yet, there is more that makes Greece’s second biggest city so cool: its landmarks, including magnificent buildings like the Rotunda and the White Tower, its port – among the biggest in southeastern Europe and an absolute sight at sunset – and the seafront promenade, providing an instant power boost to residents and visitors alike. When you combine all this with the city’s significant Ottoman, Byzantine and Jewish monuments, the nostalgic atmosphere of the old town in Ano Poli, the easy distances to cover on foot, the stylish hotels and the quaint delis, the friendly nature of the locals, and then top it all off with the world’s best pastry pie, it’s clear that Thessaloniki is one of those cities made to be loved.
It is also a city that tries extra hard to entice its residents to get out of the house. Not a weekend goes by without a packed cultural agenda of art exhibitions, events or festivals. During our visit, for example, hotels were at 95 percent capacity, and that was well before the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, one of southeastern Europe’s biggest cinema events, and before the 6th Biennale of Contemporary Art, two events that bring in thousands of visitors. On Aristotelous Square, an impressive reenactment in miniature of the 1917 fire that razed the downtown area, drew a crowd of 35,000 people in just two hours. And what’s coming up? The biggest piano festival in Greece; a festival of short films by young directors; a staging of “Swan Lake” by a leading Chinese ballet company; the Thessaloniki Animation Festival; tours of historic buildings under the city’s Open House initiative; an international architecture convention; and Philoxenia, the country’s biggest tourism expo. And that’s just October and November.
A tourism satisfaction and hotel services survey conducted recently by the Thessaloniki Hotels Association found that what attracts visitors most are the city’s plethora of entertainment options, its lively cultural scene and the easy-going attitude of its people. What’s more, visitor satisfaction just keeps rising every year, as do overnight stays: these grew from 450,000 in 2011 to 1.15 million in 2016, and then exploded to 2.15 million this year so far, thanks largely to the Airbnb market boom and a number of new youth hostels, boutique hotels and B&Bs.
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