Christmas in Greece might not be a concept advertised by your go-to travel site, but it’s actually an excellent time to visit. Far fewer tourists crowd the streets than during the summer, yet everywhere you go (stores, restaurants, bars – in the villages and in the cities) people are on top of their game. The cities light up, metaphorically and literally.
You’ll notice ornamental boats decorated with twinkle lights – the modern incarnation of the old national tradition of women and children making small boats at this time of year in honor of St. Nicholas. From the bakeries comes the smell of clove and cinnamon-infused cookies and cakes, and everywhere you go, people greet you with a happy “Chronia Polla” (many years), “Kala Christougenna” (Merry Christmas), or “Kali Chronia” (Happy New Year).
The Greek capital might not have the natural Christmassy vibe of Europe’s many snow-covered medieval cities, but the Athenians do their best to make up for it with decorations and events all around town. So if you’re having a hard time finding the holiday spirit on a sunny December day in Athens, here’s what to do.
Drink hot chocolate at the cozy cafes
Sometimes all you need to set the tone for Christmas is a warm cup in your hands, and a cozy environment.
At Little Tree Books and Coffee which is a combined café and book shop, for example, you feel almost like it’s decorated for Christmas all year round. Have a cocoa or a coffee, paired with a piece of cake or pie, surrounded by cute furniture and rows and rows of books. If you have Greek friends or family to shop for, you might even find some presents on the shelves.
At Grande Bretagne’s Winter Garden, a buffet of the season’s desserts is set up to go with quality cups of hot chocolate every day from 16.00-22.00, and at Anafiotika the fireplace keeps you warm and the atmosphere cozy.
Finally, if those places don’t manage to put you in the spirit of the holidays, the following two cannot fail. At Fairytale, in Nea Filadelphia, they don’t just make wonderful desserts to satisfy the sugar cravings that famously come with this season, but the whole store becomes eye candy too, as they decorate their hearts out.
Even more extravagant is Little KooK, in Psyrri; the central Athenian masters of decoration. They go all out every holiday (and if it’s not a holiday, they make a theme up!). For Christmas, as you might imagine, entering the café is like stepping into what Christmas morning felt like as a child. To begin with, inside and out, the whole place is covered in lights, fir twigs, ornaments, and “snow”. The front features a huge display featuring carollers, a horse (which may seem random, but we like it), trees and all manner of holiday-themed decorations and characters. The beverages and desserts here are just as on point and aimed to satisfy your yuletide cravings.
Go Ice Skating
Imagine yourself, hand-in-gloved-hand with a loved one, ice skating next to a sparkling Christmas tree. If that’s not the ultimate holiday scene, what is?
You’ll find ice rinks set up all around Athens during the cold months, with skate rental stations right nearby, and even people to hold your hand if you’re there alone and don’t really trust your balance. They’re most popular with children of course, but don’t let that stop you from joining in.
A couple of our favorites are the one outside of Megaron (the Athens Concert Hall), the one at Village Shopping & More, and the impressive one at set up in the middle of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center canal. You’ll also find them at many malls, and at the city’s many Christmas markets.
Visit the Christmas markets
All through December, markets open daily in many places all over the city.
“The Christmas Factory” at Technopolis is popular among kids and adults alike. From the 1st of December until the beginning of January each year, every day from 10.00 until 22.00, it brings Christmas cheer to everyone who visits.
Along with the obligatory Christmas market and Santa’s house, there is a ferris wheel and a carousel, a magical train, an escape room, a Harry Potter inspired “school of magic” for the kids, an ice skating rink, and much more.
On colder days all through December, choose the indoor market “Santa Claus Kingdom” at M.E.C Paianias. You’ll find ice skating here too, as well as a small market, “Santa’s kingdom”, Christmas themed food, and a fun train. Oh, and of course, Santa himself; the “real” one, from Rovaniemi, Finland, will be there (from 2 to 6/12).
At Alsos Kifissias, you’ll find another magic train, another one of Santa’s houses, a skating rink, and a Chocolate and Sweets village.
Do your Christmas shopping at…
All main squares in Athens are decorated for Christmas. The lighting of the tree in Syntagma square is a nice time to be in the center. While you’re there, you can get some shopping done at the large Attica department store, or join the crowd at the chain stores in Ermou Street.
If you prefer to avoid the worst of the hustle and bustle, head for the commercial center of one of the other municipalities, which are just as decked out. In Pireaus, for example, Korai square is turned into a holiday playground for kids, a big stage is set up to host various events, and Christmas music plays from speakers in the streets to keep you in the mood.
Athens’ malls offer fun for kids as well. Athens Heart has a skating rink, Golden Hall has a whole program full of holiday events (link in Greek), and at The Mall Athens, the Christmas village will include live music and pony riding.
If you’re not sure what to get, or if you want to avoid the crowds of shoppers completely, check out our wish list of gifts to get while sightseeing here.
From the 15th of December until Christmas Day, the stores in the city have special opening hours, open every day including Sundays. Specifically, they will be open 09.00-21.00 on weekdays, and 09.00-18.00 on Saturdays and Sundays.
Enjoy Christmas cocktails at one of the city’s great bars
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there…
Those 19th century rhymes might put you in the mood to cozy up in front of a fireplace in your Santa socks, but they were not written for the city of Athens in 2017. Here, everyone is always stirring (bartending pun fully intended). Forget settling in for a sleepy holiday at home, because here Christmas happens out on the town.
At CV Distiller, head down to the beautifully renovated cellar where some of their huge selection of whiskies line the walls, for a drink and a cigar that will set the tone for your night out. Most of the city’s great bars change their menus with the seasons, and will add mulled wine and hot toddies to their cocktail lists during winter.
They are also creating new and exciting recipes for Christmas. The creations at Six Dogs, Baba au Rum and Barreldier will have you humming (or loudly caroling) your favorite songs about trees and reindeers, and a visit to Noel – the Holiday Bar, is a must. As you can tell by the name, the latter was made for the task of making it feel like Christmas.
Dine out on Christmas Eve/Day
The great thing about Greece at Christmas is the lack of “musts”. While Greeks enjoy the holiday, they don’t plan as much, and they stress much less. Having your family feast out instead of cooking is completely acceptable, meaning that restaurants are not only open, but full of people in a festive mood.