Christmas Holidays in Athens: 12 Things To Do

Planning on spending Christmas holidays in Athens? Here are 12 things to do during your city break to feel the Greek Christmas cheer.

*Updated 11/2017

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.

Christmas Holidays in Athens

Approaching Syntagma Square with all those holiday lights.

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

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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 3.5-hour  Athens 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.

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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.

This very well could be the best view of the Acropolis.

This very well could be the best view of the Acropolis.

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 the best museums and learn from an expert local is to take the half-day Athens Archaeological and Acropolis Museums with City Tour. Another option is the Acropolis and National Museum Private Tour. Both are great choices.

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.

Christmas in Athens

Heteroclito Wine Bar in Syntagma.

Check out my earlier nightlife posts for a few more ideas:

Top 10 Cocktail Bars in Athens

Bouzoukia in Athens: Live Greek Music Clubs

Best Little Bars in Athens

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.

Christmas Holidays in Athens

Santa on a tsoureki!

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.

Christmas Holidays in Athens

Little Kook cafe lit up at night last Christmas.

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.

On any one of your days in the Athens city center, I highly recommend eating at Mana’s Kouzina-Kouzina for traditional Greek food hailing from all over Greece. Besides very reasonable prices for quality lunch and dinner dishes, they offer delicious winter soups and a nice selection of Greek wines and beers unlike any place else in the city. The square is great for holiday people watching. There is  special Christmas Eve dinner menu.  Do note, it is closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

For more on the Greek food experience while in Athens including where to go, check out my earlier post:

17 Awesome Greek Food Experiences in Athens

For some fantastic foodie tour options, I highly recommend: Private Athens Plaka Food Tour. The Three-Hour Private Food Tour with Tastings is perfect if you are traveling with a great group.

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 are planning to explore more of Greece and take a few amazing day trips, I can highly recommend is Avis Europe.

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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Comments (13)

  • Avatar

    Ala

    The Christmas lights look very lovely. How interesting that the boat is a symbol of Christmas in Greece. I didn’t know that. Do you know why that is? I’d like to try those cookies!

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Marissa Tejada

      The Christmas boat dates way back because Greece is traditionally a maritime country. You’ll see the boat in many forms everywhere during the holidays. I love it!

      Reply

    • Avatar

      Marissa Tejada

      Oh, yes… Ha ha… The cookies are fantastic. My favorite is the white powdered one but both are lovely. They smell delicious straight out of the oven too.

      Reply

  • Avatar

    Jun

    The lighted boat is very festive. I have been to Greece twice in the summer. Looking at your article it the winter season seems like a good time to go to Greece too.

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Marissa Tejada

      I think Greece is a great year round destination. The warmer months are definitely a must but the cooler months have their own charms. I love the lighted boats during Xmas in Greece!

      Reply

  • Avatar

    Noemi of Pinay Flying High

    I haven’t been to a bouzoukia yet although Nikos keeps saying that he’ll take me to one everytime we’re in Greece. :p

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Marissa Tejada

      Hi Noemi, Ah, you’ll have to go then 😉 They’re pretty fun! Best to go with a group and rest up beforehand. The party goes on and on… 🙂

      Reply

  • Avatar

    Brit Boone

    This all looks great Marissa, but I especially want to try the Greek sweets. Would love to sample the kourabiedes next time I am through Greece.

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Marissa Tejada

      Thanks, Brit! Yes, the sweets are definitely worth a try.

      Reply

  • Avatar

    Arthur John

    It’s so beautiful. Do you have any experience about transportation in Athens?

    I and my wife are planned to travel to Greece next month.

    Thank you a lot!

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Marissa Tejada

      Hi Arthur, Transport is super easy via metro. Otherwise cabs are okay too — you can use the TaxiBeat app. If you are staying in the center of Athens, you can pretty much walk anywhere.

      Reply

  • Avatar

    Mary

    Hi I will be traveling to Athens with my husband and 2 children (age 4&5) for 2 weeks this Christmas. What else can we do besides Christmas factory and Santa Claus kingdoms ?
    It’s all about entertaining the kids … I’m open to road / boat trips
    Thank you

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Marissa Tejada

      Hi Mary, I’d suggest some kid-friendly tours. Mythology, trike bike and food tours. That’s a good way to get the kids involved. Also, the weather would be nice for outdoor activities too. Not summer weather but sunny! Also, be sure to try the local food and Christmas foods. There is also a new toy museum at the Benaki.

      Reply

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