Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of the region of Macedonia, was founded in 315 BC by a Macedonian general, Kassandros. The town is named after his wife, who was Alexander the Great's half-sister, and is known also as Salonika.

The enjoyable six- or seven-hour drive to Thessaloniki from Athens passes striking mountain scenery. If you're in more of a hurry, the fast-rail Athens-Thessaloniki train takes four hours, and an airplane flight takes about an hour.

The city, with a venerable history and a waterfront on the Aegean, exudes an open-air glamour associated with much larger cities. One of the most luxurious casinos in Greece can be found in the Hyatt Regency Hotel there.

Thessaloniki's archaeological and Byzantine treasures are still its greatest attractions, however. Its superb Archaeological Museum contains a golden hoard of items found in 1977 in the tomb of Philip II, Alexander's father. Also plan to see the Museum of Byzantine Culture, exhibiting floor mosaics, frescoes and religious icons; the landmark White (or Bloody) Tower, a not-to-be-missed former prison (it's the best known monument in town); various Byzantine and other churches, especially the Church of Aghios Demetrios; and the Arch and Tomb of Galerius, a triumphal arch built in AD 303 to celebrate victories over the Persians.

Also check out the covered market of Modhiano, housing butchers' and fishmongers' kiosks, plus stalls laden with seasonal fruit and vegetables.

Relax from sightseeing with an evening stroll along the seaside promenade between the Platia Aristotelous and the White Tower. Day or overnight trips can be taken to Kavala, Mount Athos, Pella and Philippi. Another fascinating trip in the region is to the Petralona Caves, which have passageways, stalagmites and ceilings 260 ft/79 m high—a Neanderthal skull was even found there. Travelers can also avoid the bustle of the city by touring the region from Agia Triada, a coastal village 18 mi/30 km outside of Thessaloniki.

Within an hour drive from Thessaloniki are several historic sites worth visiting. The best known is the ancient city Vergina, the first capital of the Macedonian Empire. The tomb of King Philip is there.

A visit to Vergina can be combined with a trip to Pella for a full-day tour or seen during a trip between Kalambaka and Thessaloniki. The ruins of Pella were the site of the ancient capital of Macedonia, the birthplace of Alexander the Great. Though still under excavation, Pella has a number of uncovered ruins (including a temple, a theater and a few private homes) as well as a museum with an excellent collection of mosaics.

One hour southwest of Thessaloniki, on the road to Athens, is Mount Olympus. It's the country's tallest mountain (9,568 ft/2,917 m) and, according to Greek mythology, the residence of the gods. At the foot of the mountain is Dion, an ancient, sacred city that was first excavated in 1928. Allow several hours to wander through the 14 streets of temples, Roman odeons and other ruins. There's also a museum.

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