South of Thessaloniki, Kalamaria is a suburb established in the 1920s with the arrival of Anatolian and Georgian refugees from the Greco-Turkish War.
In Greece Kalamaria is known for Palataki, a Neoclassical mansion on a headland, once favoured as a residence by the Greek Royal Family and several Greek Prime Ministers, but now in need of renovation.
At the very north of the municipality begins the Nea Paralia, a long promenade completed 2013 and leads all the way to Thessaloniki’s White Tower through a chain of themed parks.
Close at hand around Kalamaria are beaches, natural beauty spots, and the largest mall in southeastern Europe.
The centre of Thessaloniki and its ancient monuments and museums is always in easy reach from Kalamaria.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Kalamaria:
1. Walls of Thessaloniki
No sooner had Thessaloniki been founded in the 4th century BC it was shielded by walls.
The defences standing today have their roots in the Byzantine period at the end of the 4th century AD. At one time the walls were eight kilometres long, rising to ten metres in height and with a thickness of five metres at certain points.
At the eastern corner of the city there’s a powerful remnant standing tall.
The Tower of Trigonion is a more recent construction, dating to the second half of the 1600s and put up by the Ottomans at a vital strategic position to withstand artillery bombardment.
From here you can strike out west on a walk through parkland in the shadow the wall, inspecting stonework that dates back 1,600 years.
2. Thessaloniki Science Centre and Technology Museum
Close to the Mediterranean Cosmos mall, a couple of minutes outside Kalamaria is a science museum that was given a major overhaul in 1998. In a new building designed by French architect Denis Laming, facilities from that time include the Cosmotheatre, with 300 seats and the largest flat screen in Greece.
There’s also a Digital Planetarium with a dome 25 metres in diameter, and a motion simulator theatre with three platforms.
The main exhibition concentrates on topics like mechanics, optics, magnetism and electricity, and also recounts the technological leaps made by the Ancient Greeks in the fields of engineering, shipbuilding and construction.
3. Nea Paralia
Starting at the Thessaloniki Concert Hall on the water in Kalamaria, you can begin a seafront walk all the way to the White Tower.
The best thing is that for the whole walk you won’t have to cross a single road.
Nea Paralia was a long-term project to revamp Thessaloniki’s waterfront, finished in 2013 and linking 12 seafront parks, each with a different theme.
These have names like the Music Garden, Water Garden, Garden of Ross, Garden of Sand and Garden of Shade.
Along the whole route the water is edged by a wide boardwalk (you’ll find lots of fishers by day). Next to this is a concrete path plotted to make it easier and safer for cyclists to get around.
Facing west, the sunsets are magical on the Nea Paralia and there are a few bars where you can watch the sun going down.
4. Hagios Demetrios
Sitting over the very spot where the city’s patron saint Demtrius of Thessaloniki was martyred, Hagios Demetrios dates back to the 7th century.
And from this time there are six astounding mosaic panels, showing Demtrius with children and the people responsible for the reconstruction of the church.
One of the images has an inscription praising heaven for saving Thessaloniki’s citizens from a Slavic raid in 612. The crypt under the church had been forgotten for the 400 years that Hagios Demetrios served as a mosque, but excavations in the 1930s and 40s revealed the Roman baths where the saint was imprisoned and killed, a Roman well, sculptures and architecture from the church’s 4th and 5th-century origins.
All of this can be visited in seven underground rooms, which are arranged as a museum.
5. White Tower
At the end of the Nea Paralia you’ll be met by Thessaloniki’s prime landmark, a six-storey circular tower put up by the Ottomans after their army captured the city in the 15th century.
For the next 400 years this was a place of real notoriety as a prison where mass executions took place, earning it the gruesome nickname “Tower of Blood”. The tower has a branch of the Museum of Byzantine Culture, detailing the history of Thessaloniki, with a timeline and artefacts.
You can also go up the spiral staircase to survey the Thermaic Gulf and Mount Chortiatis to the southeast.
6. Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum
In a country of outstanding archaeological museums, Thessaloniki’s is one of the best, showcasing the artefacts recovered from around the city but also the Macedonia region.
These begin in prehistory, encompassing the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods.
If you’re pressed for time, there are a couple of things you can’t leave without seeing.
One is the Derveni Krater, found in 1962 in a tomb in Derveni.
This giant vessel weights 40 kg and is made from a tin and bronze alloy and embellished with satyrs, animals and depictions of Ariadne and Dionysus.
The same dig brought to light the Derveni Papyrus, composed at the end of the 5th century and carrying a philosophical treatise from the circle of the pre-Socratic Anaxagoras.
7. Rotunda and Arch of Galerius
At the beginning of the 4th century Emperor Galerius commissioned two monuments in a new imperial precinct tied to his palace.
The Arch of Galerius is from 303 AD and celebrates his victory over the Sassanid Persians at the Battle of Satala.
Although only three of eight pillars are still here you can examine the reliefs which show Galerius on horseback attacking the Sassanid Shah Narseh.
Moments away stands the Rotunda, dating to 306 and intended as Galerius’ mausoleum.
The building is 25 metres in diameter, and with walls six metres thick, which explains how the structure has remained undamaged by earthquakes for so long.
It became a church in 326 and then a mosque from 1590 until 1912, and you can still find scraps of the 4th-century early-Christian mosaics on the walls.
8. Thessaloniki Concert Hall
The waterfront in the north of Kalamaria was changed forever at the start of the 2000s with the construction of Thessaloniki’s Concert Hall, made up of two separate buildings.
The brick-built M1 has the main, 1,400-seat auditorium and is a monolithic structure inspired by Thessaloniki’s Byzantine past.
Next to it is the M2, a cube-like glass edifice designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, and housing two smaller halls.
At the time this post was written in January 2018 there was an exhibition for Greek-Jewish holocaust survivors and a performance of Puccini’s Tosca.
9. Folk and Ethnological Museum of Macedonia and Thrace
Fronting the Sculpture Garden on the Nea Paralia is the Art Nouveau Villa Modiano, constructed in 1906 with a loggia overlooking the sea, and today contrasting with the high rise apartment blocks alongside it.
This is the address of a museum about pre-industrial culture in Macedonia and Thrace, with short-term exhibitions on specific topics.
The museum has assembled 15,000 objects as diverse as musical instruments, metalworking and woodcarving tools, weapons, everyday domestic items, embroidery, woven textiles and folk costume.
10. Museum of Photography
This captivating local museum has an archive going back to 1838, at the very dawn of photography.
The collection is centred on the work of photographers active in Greece in the 19th and early 20th century, like Philippos Margaritis who is known as Greece’s first photographer, and Dimitros Konstantinou and Petros Moraitis, who both specialised in photographing ancient monuments.
As well as capturing Greece and Anatolia’s ancient heritage, the museum also has photography recording some pivotal moment in Greece’s past, like the construction of its railways, the Balkan Wars and the First and Second World Wars.
11. Fragma Thermis (Thermis Dam)
Minutes east of Kalamaria is a reservoir on the Vathilakos stream, formed when a dam was built in 1993. The lake is divided into two parts, both with pine and cypress-covered shores and illuminated paths on their banks.
These large bodies of water give rise to a cooler microclimate than the neighbouring hills, and on a walk you should be able to spot waterfowl like cormorants, herons and ducks, as well as turtles, frogs and harmless snakes.
In summer, when it’s not too hot, this can be the first step on a 10-kilometre hike along the stream bed, while next to the lakes there’s also a cafe/tavern and a children’s playground.
12. Mediterranean Cosmos Shopping Centre
This mall opened on the outskirts of Kalamaria in 2005, and claims to be the largest shopping centre in southeastern Europe.
The Mediterranean Cosmos Centre all of the brands that you’d expect to find in a city centre, like Mango, H&M, Sephora, Lacoste, Foot Locker, Bershka and Oysho.
Food-wise you’ll have no shortage of options either, with the Greek favourite, Goody’s, alongside, cafes, pizza joints and an international range of fast food chains.
The mall also has an 11-screen cinema, and the good news is that most movies are shown in their original language with Greek subtitles.
13. Waterland WaterPark
On the other side of Thessaloniki Airport from Kalamaria, Waterland is a classic waterpark that will get a thumbs up from younger kids and teenagers.
On 150,000 square metres there are enough attractions for a few hours of fun, like a wave pool, a “Pirates’ Island”, the “Crazy River” tube ride, multi-lane sides where you can race your friends and winding flumes.
Parents can escape the chaos to bathe in the “Zen Pool”, while in the park’s green environs is a new zoo with llamas, roe deer, ostriches and farm animals like donkeys, sheep and goats.
14. Peraia Beach
The closest beach to Thessaloniki is 10 kilometres along the coast from Kalamaria, just past the airport.
Pereia has been modernised recently, and is now awarded the Blue Flag (the gold standard for beaches) annually.
On the eastern end the beach narrows to just a few metres wide, but is much more spacious as you head west towards the neighbouring Neoi Epivates.
All along the water is shallow, clear and calm.
Hugging the shore is a long strip of cafes, restaurants and bars, bringing a party atmosphere on summer evenings.