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 “Hronia Polla” (many years), “Kala Hristougenna” (Merry Christmas), or “Kali Hronia” (Happy New Year).
The Greek capital might not have the natural Christmas-y vibe that some of Europe’s snow-covered medieval cities do, 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.
Don’t forget to bring your valid certificate of vaccination, as well as identification, when you head out. These documents (on paper or digital), as well as facial masks, are required in order to enter all restaurants, cafés, bars, and indoor entertainment venues. Kids between the ages of 4 and 17 years old can also enter indoor places with a negative Covid-19 self test result, and children up to 4 years old are exempt.
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. Petit Fleur in the Kolonaki neighborhood is known to serve some of the best hot chocolate in town, which also comes in different, rich flavors.
Meanwhile, a plethora of choices for dedicated chocolate lovers are bound to be served at Chocolate Fest Xmas Edition, a festival dedicated to chocolate, which will take place on December 24th-January 2. For a cocoa to go, grab one at ice cream parlor Kokkion, near Monastiraki Square (if you’re the warm-blooded type, go for some ice cream too, or check out this list for some of our favorite seasonal ice cream with winter flavors here).
If these 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 draw crowds of locals every day in December – many of whom won’t find a table, and don’t even try; a selfie is better than nothing. This café goes all out every holiday, and for Christmas, as you might imagine, entering the café is like stepping into what Christmas morning felt like as a child. This year, they’ve chosen an angel theme. Try to count all the angels – we dare you! The front features a huge display with angels, doves and a nativity scene, and so many sparkling lights, you may not want to look directly at them. 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 impressive rink set up in the middle of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center canal, which is set to open December 10-February 2 this year (skating here is free, though pre-registration here is obligatory) and the rink at Village Shopping & More, in Renti, which is already open and will also stay open until February (skating here costs €10 including skate rental, and you can skate for as long as you want). You’ll also find rinks at many malls, at the Megaron Music Hall, and at the some of city’s Christmas markets.
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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. Along with the obligatory market, treats, themed playgrounds and Santa’s house, there are carousels, theatrical performances, magicians, ice skating, live music, a snowy “slope”, and much more. You can buy your tickets here.
On very cold or rainy days all through December, choose the indoor market Santa Claus Kingdom at M.E.C Paianias (open December 4-January 6), with decor inspired by Disney’s Frozen. You’ll find ice skating here too, glimmering with a mood enhancing disco ball, as well as a small market, Christmas themed food, carousels, bumper cars, and much more. Kids will enjoy the theatrical performance “Frodi and the Christmas Fairytale,” and of course, Santa himself; the “real” one, from Rovaniemi, Finland, will be there, as he is every year.
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Do your Christmas shopping at…
All main squares and streets in central Athens have been generously decorated and lit for Christmas this year. 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 crowds 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, shoppers stopped to view the lighting of the tree in front of the Municipal Theater in Korai Square, complete with live orchestra performance and fireworks, this weekend. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, jolly 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 will have their own little market, and The Mall Athens has been decorated and is promoting Christmas donations to the charity The Smile of the Child.
If you’re not sure what to get, check out our Wish List full for this year, full of great products from Greek designers and brands, here.
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From the 12th of December until January 3rd, most stores in the city have special opening hours, which will be as follows:
Sunday, December 12: 11:00-18:00
Monday, December 13 – Friday, December 17: 10:00-21:00
Saturday, December 18: 10:00-18:00
Sunday, December 19: 11:00-18:00
Monday, December 20 – Thursday, December 23: 10:00-21:00
Friday, December 24 (Christmas Eve): 10:00-18:00
Saturday (Christmas Day) and Sunday (Boxing Day): closed
Monday, December 27 – Thursday, December 30: 10:00-21:00
Friday, December 31 (New Year’s Eve): 10:00-18:00
Saturday (New Year’s Day) and Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022: closed
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 reindeer socks, but they were not written for the city of Athens in 2021. 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 – especially at night.
At CV Distiller, head down to the beautifully renovated cellar where some of their huge selection of whiskies line the walls, for a drink 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 Barreldier will have you humming (or loudly caroling) your favorite songs about trees and who you really want for xmas, the vintage style decor at Upopa Epops will put you in a lovely nostalgic Christmas mood, and a visit to Noel – the Holiday Bar, is a must. As you can tell by the name, this bar was made for the task of making any day 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.
The chefs at the restaurants of Athens major hotels won’t disappoint you. While forced to close their restaurants as a way of limiting the spread of Covid-19 last year, this year they are once again presenting luxurious festive menus. Find some of the best options for Christmas lunch and dinner here, here and here.
Catch a Show
With a wide choice of wonderful, themed plays, ballets and music performances, November and December is a great time to catch a show in Athens. Some of our favorite options this year are the Athens State Orchestra‘s Christmas Concert on December 18th and Gala on December 30th, at the Megaron Music Hall; The Nutcracker performed by the St. Petersburg Classical Ballet of Russia at the Christmas Theater, in Galatsi, on December 15th and 16th; and a Christmas concert featuring iconic musical pieces of imperial Vienna, which will be performed by the ERT National Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of award-winning conductor George Petrou, at the Stavros Niarchos Hall on December 27th.