Athens in winter may sound a somewhat unusual suggestion. After all, the sheer mention of the Greek capital probably conjures up images of al fresco dining beneath the Mediterranean sun, and of evenings spent sitting beneath the hill of the acropolis sipping ouzo. In reality, the gritty European city makes for a perfect weekend break all year round.
If you are considering travelling to Athens in winter and you are apprehensive about what the weather conditions are like, what there is to do in Athens during the festive period, and how tourist sites are affected, this Athens Winter Travel Guide aims to answer your burning questions. I have lived in Athens for the past 18 months and can help you with any travel queries you may have.
This 3 Day Athens Itinerary is also a useful resource that can be followed year round.
Athens in Winter: Things to Do
Sure, you can’t work on topping up your tan during winter in Athens, but you can participate in some other wonderful seasonal festivities as detailed below.
Sip Hot Cocoa at Christmas Themed Cafes
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Coffee culture is huge in Athens. Not only do the various quirky themed coffee shops in the city provide a much appreciated shelter from the cold weather, they also enable travellers to really revel in the Christmas atmosphere.
Check out Noel – a Christmas themed bar and coffee shop that keeps its decorations up 365 days a year. Nothing puts you in the Christmas mood quite like sipping a cup of hot cocoa beneath the garlands and twinkling fairy lights as you take a break from your Athenian christmas shopping spree.
Another alternative is Little Kook – A coffee shop themed like a winter wonderland with giant nutcracker statues and eccentric decor that is sure to capture the hearts of all the family.
Eat Delicious Greek Christmas Desserts
Trying various Greek foods should be a highlight of any Athenian vacation as is, but travelling to Athens in winter comes with the added benefit of being able to try decadent Greek festive desserts.
Venture into one of the millions of bakeries dotted throughout the city and order up a batch of soft, warm melomakarona – festive cookies spiced with cinnamon and covered in sweet syrup and honey. Another to look out for is Kourabiethes which can be easily spotted. These are almond shortbread biscuits made in a circular shape and generously dusted with icing sugar.
Drink Warm Rakomelo at Traditional Tavernas
For a taster of authentic Athens, head to one of the traditional local tavernas. I don’t mean those touristic looking places where men are smashing plates near the acropolis, but a real gritty local taverna in a non touristic neighbourhood like Pagrati or Kallithea. You won’t find any tourists here, just Greek locals eating, drinking ouzo and playing backgammon.
Eat with the locals and then wash it all down with a glass of warm, homemade rakomelo – Cretan raki prepared with honey.
Christmas Shop for Greek Agro Products
When we don’t know what to buy people for Christmas, we often jump to the classics: pair of socks, toiletry set, a fancy mug. Greek agro products make a great unique Christmas gift or souvenir.
Evripidou street, and the streets that surround Athens Central Market are filled with delicatessens, spice shops and food stores. Pick up cured meats, unique cheeses, flavoured olive oils and delightful jams, condiments and marinades. Surely your friends and loved ones will choose those over a pair of socks any day. For a local favourite, head across to Miran. This is a beloved produce store and delicatessen where the walls and ceilings are covered with cured meats!
See a Christmas Ballet or Opera Performance
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Many cities gear up for the festive period with inspired ballets, plays and operas and Athens is no different. You may not expect it, but Athens has a growing arts and culture scene. Christmas ballets and classics like The Nutcracker can be watched at various theatres around the centre.
You can check Why Athens to see what shows and events are taking place during your trip.
See the Christmas Lights at Syntagma Square
Greeks are generally pretty religious people. As you can imagine, Christmas here is kind of a big deal. During the festive period, the entire city is illuminated with beautiful fairy lights. No Christmas displays are more impressive than the spectacular tree that is set up at Athens’ main Syntagma square.
If it coincides with your travel dates, you can go along and watch the Christmas tree lights get turned on in early December. Throughout the month, there are several free concerts and musical performances that take place beneath the Syntagma Christmas tree.
Sip Mulled Wine and Hot Toddies at Chic Athenian Bars
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The Athenian neighborhoods of Kolonaki, Hilton and Monastiraki are filled with chic, stylish cocktail bars that are perfect for passing cold winter nights. The best bars implement a menu change in line with the change of the season.
Expect mulled wines and hot toddies at Athenian bars throughout the winter months to help get into the festive spirit. Six Dogs, Baba au Rum, Drunk Sinatra and Minnie the Moocher are local favourite bars that should not be missed.
Enjoy the Main Tourist Attractions at a Reduced Rate
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Visiting the acropolis in summer? 20 euros per person. Visiting the acropolis in winter? 10 euros per person. Yes, all of the major tourist attractions, museums and historical sites in Athens remain open as usual throughout the festive period. Since this is not the “peak” time to visit, the tickets are also cheaper!
Enjoy Lavish Dining Options
‘Tis the season to be jolly… and gain around 14 pounds in the process! Restaurants and taverns in the Greek capital are bustling during the festive period. Special themed menus and lavish dining events are also hosted at various restaurants and hotels across the city. One example is at the fabulous Grand Bretagne Hotel in Syntagma.
Without a doubt one of Athens’ most lavish hotels, the Grand Bretagne plays host to “Opera Night” throughout November and December. The glamorous event sees champagne dinners served to patrons to the backing music of opera and live piano. Check the events calendar in Athens for more similar occurrences that coincide with your trip dates.
Athens in Winter: The Weather
It gets pretty cold in Athens during the winter months but never to extremes. November through to February sees temperatures that dip as low as 9 degrees celsius. The general range is between 9 and 13 degrees.
Winter in Athens is also the rainiest season of the year. Coming from the UK I am used to constant rain but fortunately Athens is nothing like that. Though it certainly rains more frequently at this time than at other points in the year, it’s only for a few hours then you can get on with your day.
A good winter coat, a few thick sweaters and an umbrella and you’re all set for winter in Athens!
Benefits of Travelling to Athens in Winter
Hiking to the top of Mount Lycabettus in the height of summer means sharing the view (and the background of your photos) with hundreds of other travellers. During winter in Athens there are far less crowds meaning that you can often find that you have beautiful spots like Anafiotika virtually all to yourself.
Cheap Flights and Accommodation
There really are very few tourists that travel to Athens in winter. As such, you can secure excellent deals on flights and accommodation. Entire airbnb apartments can be found in central Athens for as little as £15/$18 per night. Flights to Athens from other European cities (including London) are often less than £20 a night. With all of that considered, you can enjoy a fabulous weekend break in Athens and really not spend very much at all!
It’s Business as Usual
Even if you find yourself in Athens on Christmas Day and you are worried that everything is going to be closed, you can feel assured that countless bars and restaurants are open as normal. In fact, you almost forget that it is Christmas day at all!
Have any questions about visiting Athens in Winter or about Greece travel in general? I live here in Athens and I’m happy to help. Feel free to reach out to me via email or the comments below!
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