Athens. Evocative of baking heat, the doric collonades of the Acropolis and a shimmering coastline lined with beach bars. Hardly the premier choice for a winter destination? Think again. Ever agile, Athens is just as captivating in the winter as she is by summer and when it comes to Christmas the city is the star attraction of Christmas festivities across Greece. From decorations to shopping, concerts to play parks, food, food and more food Athens is quite simply, the one place you should be this Christmas!
Table of Contents
What's on this Christmas?
Every year Athens attracts some of the world's most talented troupes and this year is no exception. After a year of some of France's best and brightest artists visiting, it's time for the Russians. Presenting the much-loved ballet, The Nutcracker is the St. Petersburg's Ballet Theatre of Russia at the impressive Christmas Theater. An enchanting tale of love and magic with stunning choreography it is known as one of Tchaikovsky's most famous compositions, which is of no surprise given its stunning score. A show that will delight both adults and children it has become an experience quite indispensable to Christmas. Whether an established family favourite or a first time viewing it is a wonderful addition to your Athens itinerary and an opportunity to watch some of the world's most talented ballet dancers.
For those that want though to experience a new artistic performance, the National Opera of Greece has the answer. P. I. Tchaikovsky's classic ballet the Swan Lake is presented through the different perspective of Konstantinos Rigos reinterpreting the established choreography into a contemporary, radical and modern composition. Housed at the new Opera House of Athens at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, tickets start from 15 euros with scheduled performances for December.
This year, the famous ballet of Monte Carlo are in Athens Megaron Concert Hall. Jean-Christophe Maillot creates a magical spectacle under the music of Sergey Prokofiev and brings in life the famous fairy tale of Hans Christian Andersen's, Cinderella. Founded by Serge Diaghilev in 1909, the Monte Carlo Ballet collaborated with ballet legends, including Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova. Enjoying the support of Princess Grace, the company established itself worldwide; today, chaired by Princess Caroline of Hanover and under the artistic direction of Jean-Christophe Maillot, it is regarded as one of the world’s leading ballets.
Christmas Walks in the City
Take a walk in the centre and discover Athens during Christmas - credits: milangonda/Depositphotos.com
Athens is an ever-popular destination for history and archaeology and Christmas is no exception. The scenic areas of genteel Plaka and Cycladic Anafiotika are given a festive turn with Christmas decorations adorning the streets and local establishments. From the hills of Athens and the majestic Acropolis itself, the views of the city are truly stunning and the milder winter weather provides perhaps a more comfortable temperature in which to walk the many archaeological sites that Athens holds. Though famous for her sites of Antiquity Athens also displays remnants of the many civilizations that have laid claim to her walls. From Ottoman and Frankish to Byzantine and Venetian the city is a fascinating mix of architectural styles, much of which is beautifully framed with Christmas lights during December.
In addition to the impressive sites and landmarks, many of which have reduced rates of entry during the winter, are an impressive choice of museums (see our post dedicated to interesting museums in Athens), art galleries and exhibitions. Always true to her reputation for freedom of expression Athens holds neighbourhoods that are an art gallery in and of themselves. With our talented guide and street artist, discover the works of art that adorn lesser known streets as well as the social commentary and political messages behind them. Whatever your interest, giving context and meaning to the history that surrounds you are our very own accomplished guides who will give you an understanding and appreciation of what an interesting city Athens really is.
Athens for Retail Therapy
Syntagma square - credits: trabantos/Shutterstock.com
Shopping in Athens is an experience that should please just about anyone. Whether you're after department stores and brand names or quirky boutiques and antique markets the city has plenty of opportunities for retail therapy. Known as the busiest shopping street of the city is Ermou Street running from Monastiraki Square to Syntagma Square. Hosting well known high street brands as well as national gems such as Le Chocolat, Greece's "temple of authentic chocolate" it is a good place to start if you're staying in central Athens. Monastiraki offers a lively market experience with everything from tourist wares, books, music, antiques and a general array of trinkets that you probably will never need but can't resist buying. The cobbled esplanade ofDionysiou Areopagitou Street offers local vendors selling handmade wares and second-hand collectables with handy cafes nearby in which to take a rest from the shopping and take in wintery views of the Ancient Agora of Athens.
For those willing to travel a little further the northern neighbourhood of Kifisia and southern area of Glyfada (both easily reachable with the metro) offer more luxury brands and boutique stores. If you're travelling with children Damigos Toy Store (in Omonia and Koukaki) is sure to be a hit. As well as modern toys they also offer a range of vintage toys and games so it's quite possibly an opportunity for nostalgia for the adults too!
Christmas Markets & Fairs
Athens is certainly not short of Christmas attractions. Whether you are visiting for some family time, a romantic couple getaway or an intrepid solo flyer there are some wonderfully festive happenings across the city in which to get into the Christmas spirit. In Syntagma Square you will find small stalls filled with colourful confectionary and arts and crafts. In the National Gardens of Athens and Kotzia Square, there are Christmas themed events and workshops, many of which are perfect for young families.
The crowning jewel of Athens' Christmas events, however, has to be the Christmas Factory situated in Technopolis, Gazi. Easily accessible from the centre by metro (look for Kerameikos Station, green line) the Christmas Factory is the very centre of the city's Christmas celebration. With everything from live shows, workshops, foodie stalls, carousels, Christmas gifts and Santa's Grotto- the line up is ever-changing but every year it never fails to amaze. A veritable favourite with Athenians, it's your chance to experience Christmas in Athens, like a local!
Kourabiedes and melomakarona - credits: photo stella/Shutterstock.com
At any time of year, Athens offers any foodie lover (that's all of us) a veritable smorgasbord of tastes, aromas and niche finds. At Christmas, it has to be said that it is those with a sweet tooth who will be most delighted. Head to one of Athens' many bakeries and you will find sugar dusted kourabiedes, almond cookies which are really Greece's answer to the shortbread, buttery and dare we say it, just better. Right alongside the irresistible tray of kourabiedes, you will likely find melomakarona. Nothing to do with macaroni pasta, these are honey-drizzled (sometimes sprinkled with nuts or enveloped in chocolate) delights are somewhere between a cookie/ cake/ muffin and in any case are frighteningly addictive.
For something with a crunchier taste (and often fried in olive oil so you can kid yourself that they are healthier) try diples, rolled sheet of thin dough, dipped in honey with cinnamon or walnuts. However, like all things, do your research and make sure you seek out the vendors who really know how to make these Christmas treats, it is a crying shame that many of these wonderful delicacies are made badly in touristy areas so make sure you try the real thing! If you'd like to know where we locals go for our sugar-coated festive fix join our local foodie expert (and all-around legend!) on our Christmas Food Tour in Athens!
Christmas Nights & Nightlife
Athens by night is unremittingly spectacular. The picturesque areas of Plaka, Psyrri and vibrant Monastiraki never fail to please while the golden floodlights highlight the magnificence of the Acropolis, Philloppapou Monument and Lycabettus. Come Christmas the atmosphere is made all the more enchanting with dazzling lights and the decorative tinsel woven around the established bougainvillaea. Fortunately, the temperatures in winter here are not quite as punishing as Northern Europe so don't rule out an evening walk through the streets of Athens, especially as ours ends with a round of mezedes and warming red wine!
Wishing for some Christmassy cocktails? Athens has plenty to offer with a host of new and established bars bringing a little cocktail naughtiness to the festive scene. The leader of the pack, however, has to be Noel, self-styled as 'the holiday bar' everything from the name to the decor, food and drinks effuses Christmas.
During this festive season and in fact all year round Athens boasts fantastic nightlife, from the traditional to the edgy the city has a plethora of places to choose to hang out at night. From wine bars to cocktail clubs and everything in between, discover Athens Nocturnal Gems with us, this Christmas. It's not all over after Christmas either. Join the celebrations and countdown to the New Year in Syntagma Square for an impressive fireworks display and usher in 2018 in the shadow of the Acropolis, a dramatically romantic setting that is hard to beat!
Whether you're seeking a full deck-the-halls- Christmas or wanting to escape somewhere for the winter holidays, Athens has just about everything apart from snow...although you never know! You can also check our list with all-year highly suggested things to do in Athens. So what are you waiting for? Christmas in Athens it is.