Planning on spending Christmas holidays in Athens? Here are 12 things to do during your city break to feel the Greek Christmas cheer.
Christmas Holidays in Athens
Greece brightens up as Christmas approaches, from the mainland to the islands, Greek Christmas traditions remain a deep-rooted part of the culture. During December, people are out shopping for gifts, decorating their homes and preparing for family feasts.
In recent years, Athens has been coined as an emerging European city break destination. That holds true for the curious Christmas traveler. Traveling during the winter season here is great. Why? Less crowds, for one. You’ll experience Greece outside of its summer skin and see the way Greeks celebrate one of their favorite holidays.
In all, winter weather is mild, open-air holiday celebrations are on schedule and the historical sites and museums are free of tourist crowds.
Christmas Holidays in Athens: 12 Things to Do
If you are considering spending the Christmas holidays Athens, here’s a look at some of the things to do.
1) Feel the Holiday Vibe in Syntagma Square
The heart of the city is Syntagma Square and it’s where the city’s Christmas tree is lit. The square’s trees are strung with blue and white lights (the holiday colors of Greece) or with decorations such as karavakia (small Christmas ships). The municipality also schedules a series of free concerts during the month of December. Sometimes, a small skating rink is set up. Check out the site www.cityofathens.gr for an updated holiday events schedule.
For a stop in all central points of the city, I recommend the: Athens Half Day Sightseeing Tour
2) Buy Christmas Gifts in Athens
Feel the Christmas gift giving cheer as you walk down the city’s largest pedestrian shopping street called Ermou. A great option to find Greek souvenirs are the artisan shops that in the district of Monastiraki or in buzzing squares like Agia Irini. For high-end boutique shopping and for a look at what Greek designers are showcasing, head to central upmarket Kolonaki district and Voukourestiou Street.
You can find my suggestions for Greek souvenirs and where to go in my earlier post: Top Greek Souvenirs: What to Buy in Athens.
For a great shopping tour, I recommend the 4-hour Made in Athens Morning Shopping Tour which gets you in the best boutique shops (via a private guide) so you’ll be sure to go home with the best and most unique presents from Greece.
3) Shop at Christmas Bazaars
While not as fancy or glamorous as other European Christmas markets, Athens has a few markets known as bazaars. Local artisans sell everything from handmade soaps, traditional Greek products to jewelry. Some bazaars are located in the metro stations (including Syntagma).
The local volunteer charity group American Women’s Organization of Greece has the biggest holiday bazaar, usually held the last weekend in November. For others, check out the site www.xpatathens.com for an updated listing.
4) Children’s Christmas Festivals
Athens has holiday festivals perfect for families. The Christmas Factory is a classic for children. Little ones can to write letters to Santa or meet him in person. Santa Claus Kingdom is another fun option for a holiday themed day out complete with indoor ice skating, rides, games and fair food.
Also consider this great experience for kiddies visiting Greece: Ancient Athens for Kids Walking Tour
5) Explore Ancient Greece
Without any crowds to push through or lines to wait on, Christmas holidays in Athens are a great time to explore. Visit the best museums in Greece including the National Archaeological Museum of Athens or the Acropolis Museum.
The archaeological sites will be open on the days bordering the Christmas holidays. Check out the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports website for hours of operation.
Another great way to see one of the best museums in the world and learn from an expert local is to take the Athens: New Acropolis Museum Guided Tour.
6) See the Evzones
The changing of the guard ceremony in Greece is one of the most memorable official ceremonies of its kind. Greece’s elite presidential guard, known as the Evzones, protect the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Check out their unique costumes.
Tip/When to Go: Every hour the changing of the guard takes place in front of parliament building in Syntagma Square. They are out there every day, including Christmas and New Year’s Day. There is no admission.
Also, every Sunday morning at 11:00 there is a Grand Change during which the entire guard marches from their barracks with a marching band.
7) Walk to the Scenic Spots of Athens
With a mild Mediterranean winter you can enjoy a scenic and sunny walk to some of the best panoramic spots of the city. Here are some photos from last winter when I took a Christmas day walk around Lycabettus Hill in Kolonaki.
For a full rundown of the best spots, check out my earlier post: Top 5 Spots: The Best View in Athens.
8) Attend Mass or Visit a Greek Orthodox Church
There are hundreds of historic Greek Orthodox churches in the central districts of Athens. Pop in and have a look at the icons and intricate religious paintings inside. Large and small, they are decorated for Christmas celebrations.
For other Christian faiths, Athens also has a Russian Orthodox church called Sotira Lykodimou, near the National Gardens. Saint Dionysius Church on Panepistimiou is the city’s Catholic church.
9) Holiday Nightlife
Athenians love to go out — any night of the week and especially on weekends. Holidays are no exception which makes the Christmas season a great time to experience Athens nightlife. Have a lingering dinner at a traditional taverna to sample all types of traditional Greek food and join in on the singing and dancing around you. I highly recommend Klimataria for an authentic yet lively taverna night.
If you don’t mind staying out till sunrise, reserve a table at one of the top bouzoukia (Greek live music stages) to see Greece’s laika (traditional music) and pop stars sing in front of their adoring fans. For a calmer evening, sip ouzo as the sun sets at a city or seaside ouzeria.
Athens has a great wine bar scene too. Feel festive enjoying a glass of Greek wine and listening to lounge music.
Check out my earlier nightlife posts for a few more ideas:
Because the nightlife scene is really its own thing in Athens, you can take a fantastic Three-Hour Private Nightlife Tour. It’s a great way to meet locals and feel the Christmas vibe.
10) Indulge in Greek Holiday Desserts
During Christmas holidays in Athens, head into any bakery and be tempted by traditional treats like kourabiedes (sugar cookies) and melomakarona (honey cookies). You’ll find both types of cookies displayed side by side.
Seek out the vasilopita, a simple round cake that is cut right after the coming of the New Year. A coin is baked inside and the recipient of that piece is said to have luck for the year.
A sweet favorite of mine is the Christmas tsoureki, a sweetbread traditionally made during Easter. However, it takes on a fun Christmas look during the winter season.
Tip: For a festive experience have a Greek coffee or hot chocolate with nice desserts at Little Kook in Psirri. The dessert cafe is decorated to the nines – inside and out – during Christmas holidays in Athens.
11) Eat Delicious Christmas Holiday Greek Food
As for traditional plates, a lot of main meat dishes like pork, turkey or lamb are the centerpiece of Christmas dinner tables here.
As for where to eat out on Christmas day in Athens, that may be a challenge since most restaurants should be closed. For a special Greek meal on Christmas Day, I suggest booking a table at one of the five-star hotel restaurants such as the Grande Bretagne or Tudor Hall at the King George. Also, Orizontes on Lycabettus Hill has a Christmas menu. However, if you’re not seeking gourmet, browse the lines of Greek taverns in Monastiraki for one that may be open.
If you want to learn more about Greece’s Christmas holiday culture, taste local delights and visit some of the most colorful streets of Athens join the 3.5 hour Christmas Spirit and Flavours of Athens tour. With a local English speaking guide you will discover the uniqueness of the Greek holiday traditions while soaking in the lively atmosphere of Athens.
For more on the Greek food experience while in Athens including where to go, check out my earlier post:
12) Go Skiing in Greece
In case you didn’t know, Greece has a ski season and decent ski slopes to check out. A few hours’ drive from Athens leads you to the ski villages near Mount Parnassos. Curl up by the fire at a stylish mountain village resort in beautiful Arachova, known among the Greeks as the “winter Mykonos.” There you can surround yourself with the mountainous, cool landscape that Greece is certainly not famous for but can be an incredible off-the-beaten-track holiday experience.
Plan Your Trip to Athens
What Else to Do in Athens
I highly recommend the Athens City Pass, a discount city card that gains you access to many of the capital’s most loved sights. I reviewed it earlier and featured it on this blog.
If you want to hop to the islands or spend time at one of the many Greek island destinations – you should! Also, check out my Greek islands category for the best places to stay, eat and best things to do. I only recommend places and experiences that I have tried and tested myself.
For more about Athens, check out my earlier travel posts on this blog by clicking here.
Have you ever spent Christmas in Athens or Christmas in a European city? I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to comment in the box below.
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