Orestiada is relatively recent town by Greek standards, less than 100 years old. In ancient times, there was a small settlement on this site which legends claim was founded by Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Ancient Orestiada was located in present day Turkey, across the river from the town of Kastanies, and the site remains undeveloped. Nea Orestias or New Orestiada was founded in 1922 when the population exchange occurred between Turkey and Greece, in which the Evros River became the new border between the two countries. Because it is a relatively recent city, it is laid out on a grid plan, unlike most Greek cities.
Orestiada has a Medical Center, a Philharmonic and a Choir as well as a sugar factory, outside the city which processes locally grown sugar beets. Asparagus, potatoes, tobacco, watermelons and corn are also grown. As well, a cattle breeding fund gives commercial impetus to the city and the whole area which is in such an economically strategic location in Europe.
It is also the site of the Fylakio detention center for illegal immigrants. In November 2010, the European Union sent Frontex forces to Orestiada to help Greek police patrol the local section of the border with Turkey. Some 31,400 people crossed just that portion of the border in the first nine months of 2010.
In 1999, Orestiada became the fourth town to host university departments (faculties) of the Democritus University of Thrace. The faculties based in Orestiada are the Department of Rural Development and the Department of Forestry, Environmental Management and Natural Resources. Both faculties have a five year curriculum. More than 800 students live in the city.