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 Anafiotika the fireplace keeps you warm and the atmosphere cozy.
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 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. This year, they call their theme “Santaland”. Try to count all the santas – we dare you! The front features a huge display featuring trees, a carriage 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 (Open December 2-30), the rink outside of Megaron, at the Athens Concert Hall (dates for this winter still to be announced), and the rink at Village Shopping & More (dates for this winter still to be announced). You’ll also find them at many malls (like at Athens Heart, where the indoor rink opened as early as September 12th, and will stay open until the beginning of May) and at the some of city’s Christmas markets.
View this post on Instagram
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 November 30th until January 5th, as it does every year, it will bring Christmas cheer to everyone who visits.
Along with the obligatory market, treats, themed playgrounds and Santa’s house, there are carousels, theatrical performances, puppet shows, baking workshops, and much more.
On colder days all through December, choose the indoor market Santa Claus Kingdom at M.E.C Paianias (open November 30-January 3). You’ll find ice skating here too, glimmering with a mood enhancing disco ball, as well as a small market, Christmas themed food, carousels, laser tag, 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 again this year.
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, during the weeks before Christmas, Korai Square is usually 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 (definite plans for this Christmas to be announced).
Athens’ malls offer fun for kids as well. Athens Heart has a skating rink, Golden Hall will have their own little market, called Christmas in Goldenland, this year (November 16-January 4), The Mall Athens always does something festive as well.
If you’re not sure what to get, check out our “Made in Greece” section (here) for inspiration.
From the 12th of December until Christmas Day, the stores in the city have special opening hours: until 21.00 on weekdays and until 16.00 on Saturdays, and then until 18.00 as of December 16. In addition, on the last three Sundays of the year, stores will open from 11.00-16.00 on the 15th, and from 11.00-18.00 on the 22nd and 29th of the month.
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 2019. 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 Barreldier will have you humming (or loudly caroling) your favorite songs about trees and reindeers, 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, 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.
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 favourite options this year are Frozen on Ice at the Tae Kwon Do arena in Faliro (November 20-24), The Nutcracker performed by the Bolshoi Ballet Academy at the Galatsi Olympic Hall (December 23-29), and the musical version of A Christmas Carol, with original music by Thodoris Economou, at the Greek National Theater (November 11-January 12).
Or, you can order a glass of champagne or a warming winter cocktail at Grande Bretagne Winter Garden’s special opera and jazz evenings, which will take place every Wednesday and Thursday until the end of the year. On Wednesdays, a talented trio comprising saxophonist Melina Paxinos, bassist Dinos Manos and pianist Petros Karpathakis will be performing jazz numbers, while soprano Katia Paschou and tenor Giorgos Nastos will be singing opera duets on Thursdays through the end of November before dedicating the month of December to Christmas songs.