Christmas in Athens 2019: A Local’s Guide to Enjoying the Festive Season

Christmas in Athens
Christmas in Athens

Christmas in Athens is, without meaning to paraphrase Andy Williams – the most wonderful time of the year! The city streets feel almost magical as they are illuminated with thousands of twinkling lights, locals greet each other with cries of “xronia polla”, and the smell of warm homemade melomakarona cookies wafts through narrow Athenian alleyways. 

Athens in winter may not sound like your usual choice. The Greek capital may not exude the same snow-covered fairytale vibe as other European capitals, but that is not to say that christmas in Athens isn’t magnificent. This is a huge religious holiday for the Greeks, and Athenians go all out with their decor and celebrations. 

Christmas in Athens 

Little Kook, Athens
Little Kook, Athens

If you plan on spending Christmas in Athens, you can still plan a cultured Athens sightseeing itinerary just as you would when travelling here in the summer. Do note that many museums and historical sites are closed on the 25h and 26th December. 

If you choose to travel during this time, you can also enjoy some additional perks. Cost of travelling in Greece in winter are lower than average, there are fewer crowds, and museum admissions are free on certain days! 

Some suggestions on how to enjoy your time during Christmas in Athens are detailed below. 

Enjoy the Festivities at Syntagma Square 

Syntagma is Athens’ central square. In December, a sprawling Christmas tree is set up here in front of the Greek parliament building. Throughout the month, free concerts and musical performances are hosted in Syntagma almost every night of the week. 

Celebrate Off the Beaten Path in Piraeus

Watching the Christmas celebrations at Syntagma square is a wonderful experience, however since this is Athens’ main square, it also gets very crowded. One alternative place to check out is Korai square in Piraeus.

The gritty city of Piraeus is overlooked by most people that travel to Greece, and is usually just used as a jump-off point for taking ferries to the islands. Not only does Piraeus pack plenty of culture in itself, in December, the Korai square hosts Santa meet and greets, carol singers, and festive songs that are played out over loud speakers. 

Enjoy the Christmas Eve Carol Singing 

Carol singing is a popular activity during Christmas Eve in Greece, much like in countless other countries across the globe. On the 24th of December, it is customary for children to go and sing “kalanda” (Christmas carols) in the streets. If the children sing well, they are rewarded with money, nuts, and sweets. You will find a lot of carol singers in Syntagma square on Christmas Eve, as well as in the busy neighbourhoods of Koukaki, Kolonaki, etc. 

Drink Gluhwein at the Christmas Village 

European Christmas markets where you can sip warm gluhwein, chug down weissbier, and shop for handmade Christmas decorations are not really a thing in Athens. I hope that this changes in the future! That said, the Hilton Athens have tried to fill this gap by hosting their very own Christmas Village. 

The Hilton Christmas Village is comprised of little festive shacks that sit outside the hotel grounds near Megaro Mousikis. The market is free to attend and you don’t have to be a hotel guest to stop by. You can find everything from festive treats like stollen and melomakarona, to local handicrafts, and traditional Greek products. 

Ice Skate Beneath Ancient Ruins 

As the nights draw in and the temperatures drop, numerous ice skating rinks pop up across Athens. Athens hosts boast indoor and outdoor skating rinks – many of the latter enable you to skate right beneath the Acropolis. What could be more magical than whizzing across the ice doing pirouettes (or trying, failing, and falling) beneath the ruins of the Parthenon? 

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre is a relatively “off the beaten path” place to visit in Athens. Very few tourists know about this cultural and exhibition space but from its top floor, you can enjoy magnificent panoramas across the city. During the winter, the frozen stream that runs alongside the centre is transformed into an ice rink.  

Attend Mass at a Greek Orthodox Church

Greece is a very religious Orthodox country. In Athens, you will find beautiful, ornate churches situated on practically every street corner. 

You don’t have to be religious to enter the countless churches that you see around the city – provided that you are respectful. Even the most nondescript looking places tend to boast breathtakingly vivid fresco paintings inside. These churches become even more special during Christmas in Athens, at which point they are laden with magnificent decorations. 

Greek Orthodox churches aside, you can also find the Russian Orthodox Church of Sotira Lykodimou at the National Gardens, and the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Dionysius on Panepistimiou Street. 

Enjoy a Traditional Christmas Dinner

If you cannot picture spending your Christmas in Athens without a festive feast and all the trimmings then don’t worry! There are several excellent restaurants in the city where you can enjoy a sumptuous roast chicken, served with gravy, veg, and all the Christmas goodies. 

The best places worth checking out for your Christmas dinner are the Tudor Hall restaurant at the King George Hotel, Orizontes at the foot of Lycabettus, and the restaurant at the Grande Bretagne hotel in Syntagma square. If you know that you are going to spend your Christmas in Athens, try and reserve a table as early as you can because these places do become fully booked.

Indulge in Greek Sweet Treats 

Christmas in Athens: sweet melomakarona
Christmas in Athens: sweet melomakarona

Greek food is a highlight of a Greek travel adventure regardless of when you visit Athens. With that said, spending Christmas in Athens means that you can try lots of seasonal dishes – particularly those of the dessert variety. Some of the best festive treats are detailed below. You will be able to find these at bakeries all over the city. 

Melomakarona Cookies 

Melomakarona cookies are the most common sweet snack of Greek christmas. These are little egg-shaped biscuits that are made with flour, olive oil, and honey. The cookies are then usually seasoned with cinnamon, sugar, cloves, and lemon. 

Kourabiedes

Kourabiedes are Greek butter cookies. The cookies are soft, crumbly, and sweet. Kourabiedes are usually filled with almonds and then dusted with icing sugar. 

Greek Christmas Bread (Christopsomo)

Christopsomo (“Christ’s bread”) is a sweet Greek pastry with roots in Orthodox religion. The bread is prepared on Christmas Eve and then enjoyed on Christmas Day. You will be able to find it at some of the bakeries around the city. 

This sweet bread is prepared with chopped nuts, raisins, honey, citrus fruits, and spices. According to old Orthodox traditions, preparing and consuming this bread will bestow good fortune upon the family. 

Vasilopita 

If you plan on celebrating New Year’s Eve in Athens, you may have the chance to try vasilopita. This is a simple sweet bread cake that is served at the beginning of the year. A small coin is hidden inside the cake, and whoever finds it will be blessed with good fortune for the year.

Diples 

Diples are sweet fried honey rolls that are served with generous dustings of cinnamon and ground nutmeg. You will find street vendors in Syntagma, Monastiraki, and other central Athenian neighbourhoods serving diples during Christmas in Athens.

Tsoureki

Tsoureki is a Greek sweet bread (noticing a sweet bread theme here…) that is actually the Easter delicacy of Greece. That said, you can find tsoureki sold in Athenian bakeries all year round.

I really like to have Tsoureki for breakfast with a cup of espresso. During Christmas in Athens, many of the bakeries coat their tsoureki in chocolate and elaborate Christmas figures made from icing sugar.

Sample the Christmas Menu at Athenian Bars 

Athens boasts a wonderfully diverse nightlife scene. Scratch beneath the Greek capital’s gritty and edgy exterior and you will find eclectic speakeasies, chic cocktail bars that overlook the Acropolis, and elegant jazz lounges. 

During the winter months, the menus at Athenian cocktail bars change to reflect a festive flair – think hot toddies, warm wines and spirits infused with honey (oinomelo/rakomelo), and Christmas themed cocktails. For expert mixology, gins, whiskies, head to CV Distiller. For cocktails, head to Jazz in Jazz, Baba au Rhum, or Couleur Locale – the latter of which has an excellent rooftop. 

Sip Hot Cocoa at Little Kook 

Little Kook is the perfect place to get into the Christmas spirit in Athens
Little Kook is the perfect place to get into the Christmas spirit in Athens

Little Kook is a charming coffee shop in Psiri that is beloved by tourists and Athenians alike. The store is filled with “over the top” festive decorations all year round. 

During Christmas in Athens,Little Kook is one of the best places to sit snuggled up in an oversized armchair, hot cocoa in hand. Take photos among the giant nutcracker and Santa statues as Bing Crosby plays over the speakers. 

Shop for Charming Greek Christmas Gifts 

Greek agro products make nice souvenirs and gifts
Greek agro products make nice souvenirs and gifts

Whether we admit it or not, most people get sick of receiving the same tired old Christmas gifts every year – bath sets, socks, a personalised mug. YAWN. One benefit of spending Christmas in Athens is being able to buy unique Greek Christmas gifts for your friends and relatives. 

One of the best places for shopping in Athens is Evripidou Street. This is especially the case if your loved ones are foodies and gourmands. Here you can find lots of Greek delicatessens, spice shops, homeopathy stores, and Lilliputian shops. 

Miran and Karamanlidika are two particular deli shops worth stopping by in Evripidou. Equally interesting is the Greek delicatessen Yolenis in Kolonaki which sells charming Greek hampers filled with melomakarona biscuits, sugar cookies, oils, and other delights.   

Have Brunch at Noel – The Holiday Bar 

Noel Holiday Bar, Athens
Noel Holiday Bar, Athens

The Noel Holiday Bar in central Athens is always in a Christmas mood. Here, garlands, fairy lights, and festive decorations are on display all year round. The underlying theme of the bar is neo-vintage. The furnishings here are shabby chic, and the bar plays old blues, jazz, and swing music.

If you find yourself wanting to grab a spot of lunch in Psiri, Noel is worth checking out. The menu focuses on traditional Greek/Mediterranean classics with a gourmet twist.  

Browse Christmas Bazaars 

While Christmas markets are not really a “thing” in Athens yet, what we do have are Christmas bazaars. On various dates, different streets across the city divert traffic as dozens of street vendors set up stalls. 

Greek Christmas bazaars are comparable to flea markets – you can find everything from clothing and house products, to street food snacks and religious idols. These bazaars attract a predominantly local crowd, making visiting one of them an interesting cultural experience. One particularly interesting spot to make note of is the bazaar at St. Paul’s Anglican church which has been a tradition since 1953. 

Go Skiing at Parnassus 

If you are a snow bunny (or you are not and you just want to try your hand at skiing), you can consider taking a day trip from Athens out to Mount Parnassus. In summer, Parnassus is one of the best places for hikes in Athens, while in the winter, this is one of Southern Greece’s most popular ski resorts. 

You can reach Parnassus within just two hours’ drive from central Athens. If you wish, you can stay overnight at a cosy mountain lodge. It is possible to rent ski gear and equipment, as well as take lessons at Parnassus. 

Enjoy Festive Family Fun 

There are several fairgrounds and Christmas markets that are set up around central Athens in December. Notably, the Christmas Factory at Gazi/Technopolis, and the Santa Claus Kingdom on the city outskirts. Both spots offer fun for all the family – Santa Claus meet and greet, stores selling cotton candy and sweet toffee apples, and fairground rides.  

Sing and Dance on the Tables of a Bouzoukia 

Bouzoukias are wonderful places to visit if you are looking to enjoy a quintessential Greek experience during your time in Athens. While bouzoukias can be enjoyed all year round, they are more popular in the winter months, when the colder temperatures push people indoors. 

Bozoukias are music halls where performers will sing traditional Greek folk songs. Some bozoukias exist in the form of huge concert halls, but the more charming establishments are the intimate little tavernas where people sing and dance as they enjoy carafes of raki and honey wine. 

In central Athens, head to To Perivoli T Ouranou – the oldest bouzouki music spot in the city. Equally charming and worthwhile is Stamatopoulos Tavern on Lisiou street. 

Don Your Black Tie Attire for a Night at the Opera 

For an intimate evening of culture and sophistication, consider reserving yourself a spot at one of the Hotel Grande Bretagne’s Opera Nights. This centrally located hotel is one of the most elegant in Athens. 

From the end of November, the hotel’s Winter Garden Lounge showcases live opera music performed by award-winning tenors, as patrons tuck into the dishes from the restaurant’s exquisite seasonal menu. 

Watch a Live Festive Show 

There are a number of festive ballets and opera performances that are held in Athens throughout the Christmas period. Beloved ballets such as Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker grace the local stages. Check Why Athens for the latest schedules and tickets. 

Additional Considerations  

A few additional, more practical aspects of spending your Christmas in Athens are detailed below. 

Understanding Greek Christmas Greetings 

If you spend Christmas in Athens, locals will be sure to appreciate you greeting them in their native language! Some handy festive Greek phrases that are worth knowing are listed below. 

Xronia Polla – Many years!  

Kala Christougenna – Merry Christmas! 

Kali Xronia – Happy New Year! 

What to Wear 

While Greek winters are somewhat milder than winters in other parts of Europe, don’t underestimate how cold it can get here – especially at night! In recent years, we have seen snow in Athens, and temperatures often dip as low as 5 degrees Celsius. 

The best advice for preparing your Greece packing list for winter is to layer up like an onion! Pack plenty of long sleeves and sweaters, and don’t leave your winter coat, hat and gloves at home!

I strongly recommend that you wear comfy, supportive footwear – the streets of Athens are not very well paved in many places and this becomes even more treacherous with the addition of rain and black ice! 

Where to Stay 

Central Athenian neighbourhoods like old Plaka, quirky Psiri, or artsy Koukaki place you in the heart of the action for celebrating Christmas in Athens. Many of the restaurants and businesses in the city centre remain open during the public holidays. This is not so much the case if you decide to base yourself in a more residential area. 

I have written this comprehensive guide on where to stay in Athens which provides a breakdown of all of the different neighbourhoods in the Greek capital and what they have to offer. 

Have any further questions about spending Christmas in Athens? I live here in Pangrati and this will be my third year celebrating Christmas in Greece! Feel free to drop me a comment below if you need any assistance. Safe travels and happy holidays! Yiassou! Melissa xo 


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer and Blogger based in Athens, Greece. She writes for numerous high profile travel publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, Matador Network, The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post.

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