Athens is one of the trendiest European cities and an Athens Christmas is as much fun and as memorable as any “traditional” winter destination. Here’s a guide to the 21 best things to do and the best advice and local tips on spending Christmas in Athens.
December and Christmas in Athens- what you need to know
December is an interesting and fun time to visit Athens. The weather is mild and not too cold (somewhere between 41 and 59 F (5-15 C), mostly sunny), and the locals are out and about, enjoying their neighborhood squares and flocking to the city center for shopping.
During the Christmas period, Athens sparkles with Christmas lights and Christmas decorations and there is a feeling of great optimism in the air.
Christmas is traditionally when the Greeks living abroad come back home for family celebrations. With fewer tourist crowds, seasonal foods and treats to savor, sunny weather and wonderful hospitality, and the Greek Christmas spirit, Athens in December is a blast!
Christmas Eve is a social event, where locals hit the city’s bars after some family time. Some opt for the main meal on the following day, so Christmas Eve is spent entirely outdoors.
Everything in Athens is open and running in December. It’s a month of festivities beginning on December the 6th (the feast day of St. Nicolas) and lasts until January the 6th (Epiphany).
New Year’s Eve is the feast day of Saint Basil (Agios Vasilis) and Christmas Day is also a Name Day (which are more important than birthdays) for many Greeks with the name of Christos or Christina. It means a lot of family Christmas celebrations, gift shopping, and nights out!
With many local celebrations, shopping, ice-skating, dining out and visiting the spectacular Athens ruins and museums without massive crowds, I’ve made a list of the best 21 Christmas things to do in Athens to help you navigate your festive December in the Greek capital.
1. Visit the Christmas Tree and Christmas Boat in Syntagma Square and the National Gardens
The beginning of December is the time when the Athens main square – Syntagma square is adorned with a tall and elegant Christmas tree from northern Greece, covered with gifts and Christmas lights, which are ceremonially turned on during the first week of December.
Along with the Christmas tree, a whole world of sparkling colorful lights and illuminated displays make Syntagma Square the most festive spot in town.
The Christmas Boat is even more interesting as its a modern expression of an old custom of the Greek islands.
Families would light up their fishing boats or toy decorative boats to help guide sailors safely home for Christmas. The shiniest decorative boats with twinkling lights are always on Syntagma Square and of course in Piraeus, near the port.
2. Listen to Kalanda, Greek Christmas carols
One of the cutest Greek Christmas traditions is observed on the 24th and 31st of December and the 6th of January, when the local kids get together and knock on their neighbors’ doors, always with the same question – “shall we sing it?” (na ta poume?) They then sing a carol accompanied by a musical triangle. Their reward is usually pocket money and sweets.
Modern versions of this tradition can be found all around town, when merry companies of kids and adults go along the capital’s shops, bars, and patisseries, singing carols to patrons just for the fun of it.
3. Visit the Acropolis, the Acropolis Museum, and the other UNESCO ancient ruins of Athens
This is your chance to see the Parthenon without 50 people taking selfies between you and the monument. It’s when you can buy your ticket online and then walk straight through the express lane of the entrance gates to all of the blockbuster archaeological sites in Athens.
Here is my essential list of the best-selling express, skip-the-line electronic tickets.
The best 3 Acropolis admission tickets are electronic skip-the-line priority access tickets with free cancellation up to 24 hours before the start time.
These are booked hundreds of times a day and have thousands of highly positive reviews. I can personally recommend each of these tickets and I have never had the slightest problem with them:
Acropolis online entrance ticket with Audio Guide
Acropolis Combo ticket with up to 6 other sites included
Acropolis and Acropolis Museum ticket
Tip: Opening hours change across the Christmas period when there are closed days, but there are also free days. For a full list of opening hours for the Acropolis, read: Everything You Need to Know About Visiting the Acropolis: Acropolis Entrance Fees, Hours and Tours, or The Essential Acropolis Self-Guided Walking Tour.
4. Take part in the Athens Santa Run
During the first half of December, Athens city center is home to a special humanitarian 2 kilometers run, when hundreds of locals and visitors dress up as Santa Claus and compete in a charity Santa Run.
Taking part is a unique chance to see some of the most special central streets free of their usual traffic, either as a participant or as an observer. For a small 12€ fee, you even get a red Santa uniform!
Santa Claus is new to Greek holiday customs. It is a tall figure of Saint Basil (Agios Vasilis) who is bringing gifts to children on the eve of the 31st of December.
5. Try the traditional Christmas delicacies of the Greek festive season
Everyone who comes to Athens has to try the Street Food, but unfortunately, some of the most delicious Greek sweets are traditionally made only for the Christmas holidays! Whether you are a syrupy or biscuity person, you will easily find your favorite:
Melomakarona – the soul of the holiday’s scent
The No. 1 Greek Christmas sweet is definitely the melomakarona – egg-shaped semolina, syrup, and olive-oil-based Christmas cookies flavored with clove, cinnamon, orange, honey, and walnuts.
You’ll see them stacked in little pyramids in the windows of almost any patisserie around the town, so feel free to try them from several places!
TIP: The best ones are at Desire in the Kolonaki neighborhood.
Kourabiedes – an honorable second place
Right after the Melomakarona in popularity and taste come kourabiedes, butter, flour, and rose water biscuits with nuts and powdered sugar covering. These crumbly delights are perfectly paired with morning coffee.
Vassilopita – a New Year’s Eve cake
This traditional vanilla cake usually marks the end of a New Year’s Eve meal, when each of the persons present gets a piece. It contains a coin and whoever finds it will have a prosperous and happy year ahead!
New versions of this traditional cake contain mastic flavors, triple chocolate layers or almond paste fillings. Not to be missed, both for the fun and the taste of it!
Christopsomo – Greek Christmas Bread
This Greek traditional pastry differs from region to region, but the common thing is that Christopsomo is made 2-3 days before Christmas Eve and enjoyed on Christmas Day.
Usually sweet, Christopsomo contains raisins, chopped nuts, citrus fruits, honey, and spices. Sharing and eating it together as a family bestows good fortune on the house.
Tip: Sometimes, with this ceremonial sweet bread the looks are as important as the tastes. It is lavishly decorated both at home and in bakeries.
6. Go Ice-skating
Kotsia Square Ice Rink
Ice-skate venues top the Athenian holiday season favorites list. The newest ice rink in Athens is a public rink, located in the heart of the city, on Kotsia Square. It is encircled by Christmas trees and holiday decorations.
It is also free of charge, but you need to pre-book your entrance at https://pagodromio.christmasinathens.gr/
Tip: Hit some of the traditional taverns after ice skating, for a proper locals’ experience.
7. Visit Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) is one of the largest and most important cultural sites in contemporary Athens.
Built on the grounds of a former hippodrome by one of Greece’s most successful shipping magnates, SNFCC is a culture meets outdoor fun all in one place. A place where you feel the Athens festive vibe, so make sure to devote enough time and bring a camera – it’s a picture-perfect winter wonderland.
Besides the National Opera and National Library, the SNFCC hosts a series of winter activities and Christmas themed events, including ice-skating on the canal, illuminated Christmas trees, flashing interactive installations, Christmas workshops, and winter outdoor games. Check out the full program at https://www.snfcc.org/en/Xmas
Tip: Although most of the activities are free (including free concerts), bring some cash for snacks and warm drinks.
8. Visit the Athens Christmas villages
The largest Christmas Village and Christmas market in Athens is in Gizi in central Athens and is called the Christmas Factory at Technopolis.
It is instant fun for the whole family – with a Toy Factory, Santa Claus Kingdom, writing and sending letters to Santa (via Greek post-ELTA), gifts, food, and souvenir Christmas shopping in wooden huts, and many other activities and workshops. It’s really the Christmas factory that makes for a magical Christmas for the little children of Athens.
Plenty of Christmas bazaars also pop up around the town during December, many of which feature warm drinks, street food, arts and crafts sections, and food stalls.
Tip: The Christmas Factory opens on the 26th of November, 2022 with more free activities and a better shopping area than ever before.
9. Enjoy outdoor and indoor screenings, music, and theater performances
Athens is not your typical Christmas destination, which is why you can enjoy spectacular outdoor (and indoor) cultural activities, among which, screenings, music, and theater Christmas shows are by far locals’ favorite pastimes during the winter.
My picks for 2022 are:
Swinging Christmas by the City of Athens Big Band orchestra at Olympia Munipicial Music Theatre (23.12)
The holiday spirit of Christmas through all-time jazz hits sung by soloists Stavros Romanos and Tzeni Kapadai. Tickets from €5-30.
The twelve days of Christmas at Olympia Munipicial Music Theatre (27.12)
The Choir of the City of Athens presents a rich festive program with songs and hymns from all over the world. Tickets from €3-20.
ERT National Symphony Orchestra – Christmas with Music from Imperial Vienna at SNFCC (27.12)
Christmas-themed opera performed from the compositions of all members of the Strauss family brings an instant festive atmosphere. Tickets from €5-15.
The Philip Glass Ensemble – Music in Eight Parts & Other Works at SNFCC (20.12)
Unique musical universe of Philip Glass in festive Athens. Tickets from €5-25.
10. Watch the pomegranate smashing
The beginning of the year is marked by January the 1st tradition of smashing a pomegranate fruit on doorsteps all around Athens.
Pomegranates are important symbols in Greek mythology and people leave pomegranate seeds in the suburb of Elefsina which was called Eleusis in antiquity. The Eleusinian Mysteries were performed there. The mysteries were part of the cult of Demeter whose daughter, Persephone, was abducted by Hades.
There is a cave that is believed to be the entrance to Hades (hell) in Eleusis and you can still find pomegranate seeds being left at the entrance to the Underworld. It’s why pomegranates are the “fruit of the dead” and are associated with this myth.
One New Year’s Day in Athens, the scattered seeds and red color of the pomegranate symbolizes good fortune, happiness, and wealth for the year ahead.
Tip: The most beautiful place to look for pomegranate smashing is in Plaka, where the doorsteps and streets are of white marble.
11. Stay warm at the most colorful cafés and bars of the city
The phenomenon of the Little Kook cafe and crêperie is known around all of Athens. It is an over-the-top decorated place in Psirri area (which is a creative hub for street artists) that does the fairytale of Christmas better than anyone.
Located in a narrow street in central Athens, it sets the bar for Christmas decoration and fun, especially with its rich desserts, hot chocolate, Instagram-suitable backgrounds, and themed rooms as you walk through it.
If over-the-top Christmas decorations are not your thing, there are many classy cafes and bars in Athens to rest and warm up while exploring the city. My favorites are:
Near Lycabettus hill, this place glows with noir Christmas shades.
In Noel, they celebrate Christmas all year round, but in December the focus is on swing, jazz, and a warm cozy atmosphere. Indoor and semi-outdoor parts, oriental rugs, palm trees, and fantastic drinks make Noel one of the top Christmas spots for tea or coffee as well as evening cocktails.
This cozy place in Kolonaki is famed for its hot chocolate and cacao drinks, by many the best in the town. Great place for a quick rest when shopping high-fashion on Voukourestiou street.
This jazz club in the buzzy Pagkrati district is a proper ‘music and drinks joint’ with a focus on great performances from Greeks and international musicians.
12. Enjoy the street food
Athens is doing street food on an astonishingly high level and celebrating Christmas always includes these tasty bites:
The Greek royal family is of Bavarian origin and when they ascended the throne in the 19th century, many new things were introduced into Greek society. One is the tradition of mulled wine in December that can now be found in any of the Christmas markets and around downtown Athens.
This is one of the tastiest winter treats on the city streets of Athens. Roasted chestnuts right after a visit to the Acropolis museum on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street make the walk around the Plaka area even better.
Favorite fairground sweets, cotton candy in Greek is called “old woman’s hair.”
These fried turnovers come from the Peloponnese region. The fried crispy sheets of dough sprinkled with honey syrup and nuts were once considered to be a “poor man’s dessert.” Not anymore, Diples have become one of the Athenians’ favorite winter street treats.
13. Christmas in Athens holiday brunch
Greeks are big on brunch and the Christmas season is the best time for a Greek brunch! Be it Eggs Benedict, Porridge, or Greek pies, this city is leading the way.
Here are my favorite places:
Together with a hip concept store and great design, at Makers, they make Athens’ best savory waffles.
Varsos brings to Athens a century-old legacy of the Athenian patisserie business. You’ll find it in the Kifisia area – it’s the proud winner of the best cheese pie in the city.
One of the best museum restaurants in Athens, Cycladic Café offers the best eggs and a chance to visit the absolutely fantastic Museum of Cycladic Culture in one go.
Winter Garden City Lounge
he undisputable winner of winter grandeur, the Winter Garden City Lounge near Syntagma Square offers the classiest brunches and high-tea selections.
14. Visit the Central and Green Markets
Athens is all about outdoor shopping and every Saturday a famous street in Exarchia, Kallidromiou Street, is closed to traffic and open for the best green market in Athens. From fruits and veggies to meat, honey, nuts, sweets, and clothing, this place has it all.
Tip: Refresh at Café Paraskinio, an old Athenian favorite.
If you haven’t had enough of street markets, head to the central market of Athens, Varvakeios, close to Syntagma square.
Tip: In the 19th-century building’s basement is one of the city’s best traditional restaurants – Diporto.
15. Plan New Year’s Eve like a local
New Year’s Eve in Greece is a feast day and a huge thing, a time when locals go big and enjoy that extra bit of luxury. So, when in Athens … book a hearty meal in one of the city’s best restaurants, dress fancy, and plan to finish your dinner around the fireworks time.
Some of the best places for Christmas dinner or New Year’s Eve are:
- Tudor Hall Restaurant at King George Hotel
- Rooftop restaurant at Grande Bretagne Hotel
- Dionysos Zonar’s – fine dining with unparalleled Acropolis views.
- Athénée restaurant – a Michelin-star place on one of the city’s classiest streets.
16. Go to a bouzoukia party until the early hours of January 1st
After midnight, locals hit bouzoukia places for serious decadent fun until the early hours.
Bouzoukia are venues where Greek folk music is played, flowers are thrown on stage and singers by the patrons and drinks are drank from the bottles. Sometimes it all resembles a huge concert, so make sure to book your tickets in advance.
“Winter” bouzakia are held from October to May with the big name acts coming on stage at about 2 am.
17. Shop until you drop
The Christmas period is the finest month in Athens’ shopping calendar. All the store windows are decorated to perfection, discounts are inviting and the whole process is quintessentially European – everything is within walking distance and you stop along the way for a sweet, gallery visit or have a drink.
Head to the central district of Syntagma Square to the Attica department store and a colorful Ermou street just below where, besides myriad shops, street musicians, cultural events, and pop-up installations make for a festive neighborhood.
Kolonaki district is the place to head to for fancy shops, high-end jeweler stores, and designers’ ateliers.
18. Stock up on Christmas gifts and souvenirs
Greece is full of unique artwork, deli products, and street jumble that simply make the best souvenirs. My favorites are food-related goodies, so head to Evripidou street for delicatessen heaven!
Here you’ll find traditional Greek products including the best cheeses from all around Greece but also pastourmas, a Greek version of pastrami, spices, dried fruits, nuts, and honey. Look out for Karamanlidika, Miran, Zouridakis, Bahar and Elixir shops.
Yoleni’s is a downtown treasure trove of Greek tastes packed into a deli department store cum restaurant.
Degustation in Kolonaki is the most exclusive deli shop in Athens, worth a visit even if you are full!
Indigo Atelier in Kolonaki for pottery, jewelry, and shawls; Eclectica in Plaka is where antiquarian meets concept store, or visit grand old Martinos in Monastiraki, one of the city’s oldest antique shops.
19. Go for a Ski weekend
Greece has surprisingly many (and surprisingly cheap) ski resorts and one of the best is just a few hours’ drive from Athens – the Parnassos Ski Center.
With several sun-kissed slopes and modern lifts, views toward the sea around the Gulf of Corinth, and a tiny chapel on the top of the highest lift, this place is all you need for a quick ski retreat.
Even better is that you can lodge in Arachova, the Greek mountainside jewel of a village and the Delphi archeological site is just around the corner. This is a great idea for an excursion if you are staying longer in Athens during the holidays.
20. Take a warm winter swim in thermal Vouliagmeni Lake
One of Athens’ natural wonders is a mineral spring lake Vouliagmeni, a mere 30 minutes’ drive from the city center.
It is open year long as the water temperature is at a constant 24° C due to underground mineral currents. It’s connected to the sea by an underground tunnel and so the water in Lake Vouliagmeni is a little salty.
The Entrance fee is around €15 for general entry.
21. Learn some Greek Christmas greetings
You will hear these phrases at every step while spending Christmas in Athens, so why not just learn them beforehand? I love being able to greet people with “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year,” so give it a try in Athens this holiday season:
- Xronia Polla – For many years to come (used during any celebration, from baptism to national holidays)
- Kali Xronia – Happy New Year
- Kala Christougena – Merry Christmas