Thessaloniki is often described as the cultural capital of Greece, but as well as the city being the second largest in the country, it is also a main transport hub for Southeast Europe. Thessaloniki is a major economic, industrial, commercial, and political center in Greece, as well as home to a commercial port of huge importance to both Greece and its surrounding region. Thessaloniki further hosts Aristotle University, which is the largest in Greece and the Balkans, and the city is one of the world’s top tourist destinations.
Buses are currently the most popular way to get around in Thessaloniki, with the public transport system operated by Organization of Urban Transportation of Thessaloniki (OASTH). Onward travel is also available via bus from KTEL's Macedonia InterCity Bus Terminal, which is located to the west of the city center.
One of the major development projects currently taking place in Thessaloniki is the construction of a new Thessaloniki Metropolitan Railway, which is set to be ready to carry passengers for the first time in 2018. Eventually, it is expected that the railway will serve 250,000 passengers daily, transforming the transport infrastructure of the city. There are already plans in place for the line to be extended to the Macedonia InterCity Bus Terminal and Macedonia International Airport.
The latter is often also the entry point for expats new to life in Thessaloniki, as the city does not have its own airport. Intercontinental flights are not currently available from Macedonia International Airport, but expansion plans include the lengthening of one of its two runways. Plans have also been released for a new terminal building.
Thessaloniki is one of Greece's most important railway hubs, although the economic crisis had an impact on a lot of international routes, many of which are yet to be restarted. Road links are adequate but no better, with much of the infrastructure work that has been done to improve the network still failing to meet the rising demand. The city is served by the C-shaped Thessaloniki Inner Ring Road, while it is connected to the rest of Greece by the A1/E75, A2/E90, and A25 motorways.
Finally, Thessaloniki is also a hugely important commercial port and its passenger terminal is one of the largest in the world, serving over 150,000 every year. Work is ongoing to transform Thessaloniki into a major tourist port for cruising around the Mediterranean.
Thessaloniki is regarded as Greece's cultural capital, with the theater and the opera both popular with the local and expat population. Thessaloniki is also believed to have the most cafes and bars per capita of any city in Europe, with Tsimiski Street and Proxenou Koromil among the best streets for shopping in Greece.
The central city gardens of Palios Zoologikos Kipos are a lovely place to while away an afternoon, while the city's annual floral expo is held at Pedio tou Areos. The city is also close to the Seich Sou forest national park, and expats living in Thessaloniki can also find a zoo nearby.
Thessaloniki can boast a rich and diverse history and the cultural options reflect that, with many museums and galleries scattered around the city, including the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki and the Museum of Byzantine Culture, which are two of its best known tourist attractions. Expats living in Thessaloniki may also wish to visit the Thessaloniki Science Center and Technology Museum, which has Greece's largest planetarium, as well as a motion simulator with 3D projection and 6-axis movement.
Annual events include the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair and the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, while the Thessaloniki Pride is growing in popularity after it was launched in 2012.
For those more interested in sports, football clubs PAOK FC, Iraklis FC, and Aris FC all play in Thessaloniki, while the top sports facility is Kaftanzoglio Stadium, which often hosts athletics meetings. Basketball is also a popular sport in Greece and Thessaloniki hosted the first Southeastern European Games in October 2007. Last but not least, the annual Alexander The Great Marathon has its finish line in Thessaloniki in order to recognize its Ancient Macedonian heritage.
Thessaloniki is regarded as a safe place and there is only a low level of crime within the city. However, corruption and bribery is a major problem in Thessaloniki, as it is in many places in Greece. Attacks based on skin color, ethnic origin, or religion, on the other hand, are extremely rare within Thessaloniki.
Like in any other major city, there are some pickpockets operating in the area, and expats traveling on buses in particular should take care to keep cash and documents close by.
One of the few dangerous parts of the city is the west area from the city center, as well as south of the railway station. In case of trouble, dial 100 to reach the police.
However, one of the biggest dangers for expats living in Thessaloniki is the sun, which can cause problems particularly for people with extremely light skin. It is recommended to always apply sunscreen, while a hat and sunglasses can also be useful to stay safe and cool.