The best things to do in Athens are changing according to the time of the year in which you decide to visit this beautiful city. Athens is the third capital with the third most populated metropolitan area in the European Union.
In the case of Christmas highlights the fact that visiting Athens at this time is an excellent opportunity to experience very closely the way in which modern Greek culture is configured. That is why I have taken care of getting activities and traditions that could be a good way to spend your Christmas when you choose Athens as your tourist destination.
1. Do your Christmas shopping at the Attica department store on Panepistimiou Avenue
The Panepistimiou neighborhood stretches along a couple of streets parallel to the avenue that bears the same name. This is an important road artery, because it separates the more traditional and touristic neighborhoods of the section near the Acropolis of Athens from the more elegant and residential neighborhoods near Mount Lycabettus.
In the section near Syntagma Square there is a very famous department store called Attica and I advise you to take a walk there to do your Christmas shopping. And it is an experience just as fun as walking the streets of Fifth Avenue in New York or Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City.
This whole area that extends on both sides of the avenue is full of local and international renowned stores and most of them have a Christmas decoration of clothing displays that are worthy of being admired. So having a shopping session through this section of the Greek capital is one of the best things to do in Athens in December, especially if you'll be in town for Christmas.
The avenue stretches through an area that is close to other iconic sites in the city that are worth visiting during Christmas such as the National History Museum, Kotziá Square and Omonia Square and the Athens Central Market.
Although keep in mind that all are places that are relatively crowded with tourists for Christmas and the museum is the only one that will have a low influx of visitors, but it remains closed on December 25 and 26.
2. Visit Little Kook's cafe in Psyri neighborhood
One of the most iconic places of Christmas in Athens, which year after year opens its doors with a more innovative proposal than the previous one, is the Little Kook. This is a café that is characterized by its year-round rather extravagant decoration, but just at Christmas time it replaces its entire design with an absurdly flashy style of Christmas elements to create a small oasis of fantasy in the middle of the eclectic and bohemian Psyri neighborhood.
It is located on narrow Karaiskaki Street a couple of blocks from Monastiraki Square. I mention this just for the reason that the decoration is so abundant and flashy that it extends outside the establishment and fills all the streets with lights and hanging exhibits. This is in an attempt to create an ornate Christmas village right in the heart of traditional Athens.
I advise you to attend at night so you can take advantage of the lights and if you have the opportunity to enter the establishment, do it without hesitation. Although I'm not telling you to do it if the amount of tourists implies a long waiting time, because the street is already a visual spectacle by itself. If you manage to get in, you can't miss ordering a Greek-style spiced hot chocolate.
The whole Psyri area is quite touristy and in fact has become an epicenter of the nightlife and quality adult entertainment in this section of Athens. So it's a good idea to go at night if you're visiting the city without kids and if you go during the day I can't help but advise you to use the Athens Hop on Hop off Buses to take advantage of an audio-guided sightseeing tour of the area.
3. You should also have a drink with Santa Claus at the Noel bar
However, if you feel like going to another restaurant that follows very closely the idea of using very expensive decorations for Christmas, then you can't miss the Noel bar, one of the most famous in all of Athens. Just like Little Cook, it is a bar and restaurant that has several sections and each of them has a striking and particular decoration.
It stands out for being a place where you can go to have brunch with Santa Claus, because year after year there is an entertainer who dresses up as the lord of the North Pole. That despite the fact that St. Basil is the real character of Christmas in Athens by the Greek Orthodox Church.
It is quite an interesting place, as the aesthetics are neo-vintage and its gastronomic proposal tries to focus on classic Greek and Mediterranean cuisine, but under a modern reinvention. So if you are looking to visit it, I can tell you that Christmas is the best time to do it.
I can also recommend you to make a reservation in advance, as it is usually full due to the interest tourists feel for such a famous place among the Athenian bar culture. Besides, the truth is that you will surely visit all this area if you have a 7-day visit to Athens and therefore it is a good idea to book it for an afternoon when you are touring the center of the city.
4. Watch the Athenian version of the Santa Run
Races or marathons of people dressed up as Santa Claus have become one of the most interesting international traditions of recent times. New York has some, Paris has some, London has its own version and Athens is not far behind. Which is logical, knowing that this is one of the most cosmopolitan capitals in the world.
This race usually takes place around the city center of Athens. Thus crossing neighborhoods such as Plaka, the historic triangle, Monasteraki, Kolonaki and even Omonia.
The neighborhood of Syntagma and specifically the square is usually the destination of arrival of hundreds or even thousands of participants. So being in this place on the day of the race can be something very entertaining if you are interested in the idea of seeing hundreds of Santa Clauses running through the ancient and peculiar streets of Athens.
I can't give you a specific date of this race for the simple fact that every year it changes. But the most common is that it is given for the second or third Saturday of the month of December depending on which day of the week you receive Christmas.
What I can advise you is that if you feel like enjoying your trip to the Greek capital at Christmas in a more active way, you have at your disposal several bike tours in Athens, as it is a good way to exercise and do urban tourism in the same day.
5. Take the little ones to The Christmas Factory at Technopolis
Technopolis is one of the most curious and important sites in Athens, as it is a former gas processing plant and today is a multicultural complex that extends over 32,000 square meters. There are concerts, seminars, cultural forums, there is an industrial museum and just at Christmas time The Christmas Factory is celebrated.
Trying to explain what The Christmas Factory is is as complicated as defining what Technopolis is. This event, which is fully focused on Christmas, is a kind of festival that works as a temporary theme park with activities, shows, educational workshops and Christmas markets that can be an unforgettable experience for the youngest members of the family.
The location of this Christmas festival is also another favorable aspect that convinces me to include it in this list of activities to do in Athens at Christmas. The truth is that it is in the Gazi neighborhood and it is also very close to the neighborhood of Keramikos and Thesio. These are three areas that you have to visit when you are in the city for their architectural beauty or for their interesting cultural identity.
Details of interest:
- Prices: tickets usually cost 5 euros per person, but only give you access to the facilities and any consumption within the festival are separate to this rate.
- Duration: you can easily spend 5 or 6 hours inside this place, but it all depends on the enthusiasm of your children to stay there and the number of people there. Keep in mind that it will be open during the whole month of December.
6. Have an elegant Christmas dinner at Hotel Grande Bretagne
When you are spending your Christmas in Athens you will notice that this is really a city that celebrates the Christmas holidays, but it is not an epicenter of the cultural life of the city as in other European corners. This allows you to enjoy the season in your own way and the Hotel Grande Bretagne can be an excellent celebration for these dates.
This important hotel, located on the north side of Syntagma Square, is one of the oldest and most famous in all of Athens. Architecturally, it is quite a spectacle, but the fact that makes it stand out during Christmas is the opera nights, which are held in the hotel's restaurant called Winter Garden Lounge.
This is a series of dinners that offer you the opportunity to watch a full Greek opera concert, while enjoying an elegant dinner of authentic Greek gastronomy reinvented under culinary criteria worthy of a Michelin Star. Keep in mind that this place is one of the most elegant among the Athenian culinary world and these dinners have a standard of dress that will demand a certain degree of presence.
It might be a good idea if you are looking for a relatively luxurious activity to experience Christmas like a privileged Athenian. Although you should also keep in mind that you could spend up to 100 euros per person depending on what you decide to consume.
7. Tour the Christmas decorations at Syntagma Square
Changing your mind to a completely free activity is the plan to go to Syntagma Square to admire the beauty of the Christmas decorations that are usually put up in this part of the city year after year.
The funny thing about this plan is that it is clearly recommended for a short part of the evening. And most likely you have already passed by here at another time during your trip and the special thing about this recommendation is that you can enjoy the illumination that takes over the most important square in Athens during the nights.
The decorations change every year and it is never certain what Athenians will find in this beautiful square. On some occasions they have built Christmas trees that reach 20 meters in height, on others they have developed a light show that focuses on the Hellenic Parliament building and on others they have flooded the entire length of this point of the city with sculptures that refer to the Christmas aesthetics.
As I said, this is a small free entertainment activity that can not miss on your trip, but it does not mean that it will occupy a good part of your day. That's why I advise you to leave a good part of the best things to do in the Plaka neighborhood for the same day of the night tour of the square. This is because this traditional area is very close to Syntagma and both activities can be combined.
8. Don't miss a visit to a Greek Orthodox church
Greek Orthodox churches abound in every corner of Athens and Christmas is an ideal time for you to visit them because many of them are decorated with the aesthetic standards of this interesting tradition of Christianity.
If you visit them you will have the opportunity to witness one of the most interesting architectural styles on the planet, as most of them are decorated down to the smallest corner with Byzantine Christian standards. Which are very striking and overloaded if compared to other styles such as Romanesque or Gothic Christianity of Western Europe.
The Holy Church of St. Nicholas Rangavas is the oldest church in all of Athens and therefore can be an interesting stop if you find yourself in Plaka. Although in reality any other church in the city will offer you a more faithful look at what today's Greek Orthodox churches really look like.
Another reason that makes visiting these churches an excellent idea during the Christmas season is the opportunity to enjoy the typical Hellenic Christmas carols, the Kalandas. These will surely be sung by the children's choirs every night around the 24th and 25th of December.
9. Skiing on Mount Parnassus if you want a little Christmas getaway from the city
Mount Parnassus is a mountain located a couple of kilometers north of Athens and is noted for its beauty and for being surrounded by several olive groves.
It is a favorite destination for Athenians in the winter season due to the fact that there are several ski resorts in its kilometer-long extension and therefore I can advise you to visit it at Christmas time if you have time for a short getaway from the Greek capital.
At the same time, at Christmas time it becomes more relevant for all Greeks and foreign tourists who are visiting Athens. For going to this snowy mountain is a way to celebrate the holidays by combining Western aspects such as skiing and mountaineering centers with Greek and Mediterranean gastronomic traditions.
Actually, this is an excellent year-round plan and is part of one of the best day trips from Athens. That's for the simple fact that it is a very important place for Greek mythology, as it is thought to be the abode of the muses and the symbolic homeland of the poets of Ancient Greece.
10. Party out for an authentic singing session in a Bouzoukia
The Bazoukias are typical Greek establishments where people gather to consume specifically traditional Greek cuisine, while listening to Hellenic music. In the most touristic neighborhoods of Athens there are them in almost every corner, but I can recommend you with more emphasis to visit the ones located in Koukaki, Psyri, Monastiraki and Syntagma.December is an even more favorable time in the year to do it because of the fact that these musical taverns will have a repertoire of typical Christmas songs for the Athenians. Moreover, it is a fact that this is a favorite activity among the Greeks for this time of the year because of the escape it offers from the low temperatures that have nothing to do with the weather enjoyed during the rest of the year.
This is one of the best activities to do at night in Athens because it is a very typical entertainment of this region. It offers you the opportunity to drink honey wine or a Cretan raki, while listening to the music that has marked the history of this community.
Temperatures in Athens at Christmas
December is a relatively cold month in Athens, but the lowest temperatures of the winter season have not yet been reached.
You can expect drops of up to 2 degrees Celsius and the average temperature will be between 8 and 10 degrees Celsius throughout the Christmas season. You can also expect highs up to 15 degrees on a nice sunny afternoon.
The tourist flow in Athens at Christmas time
For the week from Christmas to New Year's there is a significant increase in the number of visitors walking the streets of Athens. One thing to appreciate, however, is that these benchmarks will always be lower than the unsustainable numbers of tourists arriving in the Greek capital in the summer months.
Prices in Athens at Christmas
Christmas is an expensive season everywhere in the world and Athens is no exception. Clearly, all your expenses will be a little more expensive than what you would pay in January or November, but they are still more favorable than the tourist costs of visiting Greece in the summer.
What to pack to visit Athens at Christmas?
Bring warm clothes and be prepared to wear different layers of clothing to go out and walk the streets of the city. However, it is essential that you do so in comfortable clothing that allows you to maintain favorable mobility. Footwear should also be comfortable for long urban walking sessions.