At first glance, Athens might not appear to be as bedecked with elaborate holiday decor or other manifestations of Christmas compared to other European cities. And while that can be a refreshing change of pace, if you’re spending Christmas in Athens with your children, you’ll likely be looking for things to see and do that are just as festive as they are family-friendly. So, what are you to do?
Take a closer look, and you’ll see that the capital offers some charming, holiday-themed events and activities for you and your little ones. They’ll just have a Greek twist. Sweet shops sell assortments of traditional holiday cookies like melomakarona and kourambiedes; boats are strung with lights in Piraeus; and the red-suited, white-bearded Aghios Vassilis (St. Basil, the Greek version of St. Nick or Santa Claus) appears at Christmas markets and parks across the greater Athens area for yuletide cheer.
Any of these sound good to you? Here’s a full list of holiday-spirited things to do with your children in Athens this season.
1. Go ice skating
What is family time in the winter without an evening on the ice? Once a novelty in Athens, skating is becoming a part of the quintessential holiday experience, with a growing number of seasonal ice rinks popping up across the city.
At the Athens Concert Hall (aka the Megaron), you’ll find a fully covered rink from December 9 to February 4. Other indoor rinks are scattered throughout the greater area – at Village Shopping & More in Agios Ioannis Rentis (open from the end of November until February) and at Athens Heart in Tavros (open from September 8 to early May 2019).
If you’d rather be in the open air, take your little ones to skate at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, or SNFCC, in Kallithea (open from December 1 until at least the beginning of January), or try the Escape Center in Ilion (open from November 21 to the end of January).
There are also a number of indoor and outdoor rinks at Christmas markets citywide, like the one at the Christmas Factory at Technopolis and Santa Claus Kingdom at MEC Paianias (see more information below).
2. Stop for hot chocolate and other sweet treats at charming cafés
Little Tree Books and Coffee – a quaint, combined café and book store just a breath away from the Acropolis – is an ideal place to grab a cup of cocoa, pick a good (children’s) book and settle into one of the establishment’s cozy chairs for some low-key, quality time with your young one(s).
But perhaps the most festive atmosphere in the greater Athens area can be found at Little Kook in Psyrri. The café goes heavy on the decor for every occasion, which is why you might consider them an authority on more than just coffee and dessert. Stroll down Pittaki Street into the wonderland that Little Kook (which in fact occupies three buildings at the corner where Pittaki and Georgiou Karaiskaki meet) has created – a small village swathed in lights, pine garlands, giant candy canes and all things Christmasy. Even the doormen, dressed as nutcrackers to match this year’s theme of the famed fairytale, fit seamlessly into the idyllic setup.
Outside of the city-center, at Fairytale in Nea Filadelphia and at CapCap in Aegaleo, the cafés’ lavish, holiday decor match their assortments of decadent sweet treats. (Think fluffy, red-tinted waffles covered in warm cookie crumbles, garnished with a scoop of ice cream and a candy cane at the latter.)
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3. Visit the Christmas markets and Aghios Vassilis (aka Santa Claus)
From the end of November, markets and a series of guest appearances from a certain magnanimous fellow begin to pop up throughout the city.
The outdoor Christmas Factory at Technopolis (open from November 30 to the beginning of January) has attractions for the whole family, from a themed playground, an ice rink and rides (e.g., a carousel and a mini roller coaster) to shops selling holiday trinkets, traditional food and beverages. “Invasion of the Elves” is this year’s theme of the annual setup, where the helpers from the North Pole interact with visitors through activities like face painting. The elves are also hosting a number of theatrical performances, through January (see more below).
If your group isn’t willing to bear the chilly weather, head to the indoor Santa Claus Kingdom at MEC Paianias (open from December 1 to January 4). In addition to the indoor ice rink and small market, they have a number of themed, miniature parks with rides, games and other attractions (like a visit from Santa Claus – see below) for all ages.
And of course, if you’re celebrating Christmas the kid-friendly way, it seems safe to assume that you’ll be looking for Santa Claus, better known as Aghios Vassilis in Greece. Rest assured – he’s at Technopolis, Santa Claus Kingdom and Park Flisvos (December 1 to January 7) this season.
4. Enjoy the Christmas lights downtown
Did you think we would write a whole article on ‘Christmas in Athens’ without a mention of Syntagma Square?
Naturally, you should stop by the city’s center to see the gigantic, illuminated tree from December 11. That evening, jazz artist Penny Balatzi and the Athens Big Band will perform, following the lighting of the Christmas tree.
Apart from the tree, you’ll find a classic arrangement of lights around the square, along commercial Ermou Street (a great place to do some Christmas shopping) and in the nearby neighborhood of Kolonaki through January.
5. Enjoy the Christmas lights out of downtown
There are a number of displays outside of the city that are also well worth a visit…
Additionally, there are five modern – and rather elaborate – light installations as well as three decorated Christmas trees scattered throughout the Stavros Niarchos Park (from December 1), all of which make up SNFCC Christmas World.
If you need a respite from the inevitable, unrelenting crowds, head to one of Athens’ marinas to see a rather different display by the tranquil sea. Along with decorating their Christmas tree at home, many Greeks who own boats in marinas like Alimos and Flisvos will adorn their vessels too.
6. Catch a show – or send the kids to participate in one
There are theater performances aplenty throughout Athens during the yuletide season, and you may be grateful for this when shopping becomes tiresome and the wintry weather is too much to bear at any of the capital’s outdoor attractions.
This year, Snow White on Ice, performed by the Russian Ice Stars, will be on at the Tae Kwon Do arena in Faliro (from December 19-23), and Cinderella, performed by the Monte Carlo Ballet, will be on at Athens Concert Hall (from December 21-29). The Nutcracker, performed by the local theater company Topi, will be at Studio Mavromihali (from December 16 to January 6), while Technopolis will be hosting a number of Greek Christmas-themed performances (from November 30 to January 6) – like ‘The Stolen Recipes of Vasilopita’ and ‘Aghios Vassilis in the Future.’
Olympia, Maria Callas Municipal Music Theater will be hosting a series of theater and musical performances as well as educational programs for families and children (from December 22-31), while SNFCC will be hosting several ‘staged readings,’ of classic holiday tales. The latter is billed to be suitable for children aged 4 and up, and will take place in the facility’s “Lighthouse.”
Finally, if your family is looking for something of an interactive experience, check out the Kids Comedy Club: Xmas Special at Athens Concert Hall (from December 8-30). Created by Greek entertainer George Chatzipavlou and billed as the first Greek stand up comedy club for kids, aged 6 to 12, the show will allow participants to experiment with Christmas-themed comedic performance, while parents can sit back and enjoy it all.
7. Visit museums hosting special events
Several Athenian museums have organized special programs for families with little ones to enjoy.
On December 16, The Museum of Cycladic Art in the city center welcomes parents and children to browse the collections of the museum and listen to stories from ancient Greece, as told by the Seveneleven Theatre Company – a group that specializes in improvised theater and comedy for a child audience.
The Benaki Toy Museum in Palaio Faliro will host a number of holiday events – from a discussion with writer Eleni Geroulanou on her new children’s book, “A Bear Once Upon a Time” (on December 9) to a present-making workshop exclusively for grandparents and grandchildren (on December 15) and an art workshop based on Yiannis Moralis’ ‘Angels’ series (on December 16).
8. Take pleasure in other seasonal phenomena
There are a number of less obvious, albeit festive, attractions that you might want to explore with your little ones.
Athens Zoological Park will be hosting its annual Christmas With The Animals event (from December 26 to January 2), where staff will help visitors make presents for the animal residents (think, boxes of hay with fruits and vegetables that are wrapped and decorated). Upon completion, visitors may – in the company of zoo personnel – take their gifts to the particular species.
The park will also be hosting a winter-themed zoo camp for children aged 6-12 years old. The main purpose of the 5-day long program (taking place on December 27, 28, 31 and January 3-4) is for children to learn how animals and insects prepare for the cold and navigate the winter months through various creative projects (think making nest boxes for bird species living in the area).
Alternatively, Athens Happy Train – a vintage-looking, almost toy-like train service – takes riders on a tour through the city center. It departs from the pedestrianized Ermou Street just off of Syntagma Square and passes many Athenian landmarks. While there isn’t anything particularly Christmas-y about the hop-on-hop-off service which operates all year round, it is kid-friendly – and its body and bright-red color make it an aesthetically better fit with the ubiquitous holiday decor throughout the city.