Christmas in Athens 2023 – A Christmas Odyssey: Navigating the Captivating Labyrinth of Christmas in Athens

A complete Christmas guide to Athens from the team at Greeklist

1. Introduction

As winter descends upon the ancient city of Athens, a transformative magic blankets its storied streets. The symphony of history and festivity crescendos into a harmonious celebration, turning the Greek capital into a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of lights and traditions. Embark on a journey through the heart of Athens during the holiday season, where 

From the centre of the Syntagma Square to the top of the towering tree, ‘bright rays’ reach across the entire city. Approximately 83 km of bright LED garlands and light tubes illuminate trees and columns, more than 3,800 aerial and pillar LED decorations set the festive tone, while 44 trees, large hot air balloons, and bears adorn 37 Athens’ squares.

Welcome to Athens during Christmas, where the past dances with the present, and the city itself becomes a gift waiting to be unwrapped!

2. Getting to Athens from United Kingdom

Embark on a swift journey from the UK to Athens with direct flights taking about 3 hours. Arriving at Athens International Airport “Eleftherios Venizelos”, travelers are welcomed by modern amenities, efficient services, and excellent connectivity, ensuring a seamless transition from flight to exploration in the captivating Greek capital.

Direct Flights from UK to Athens

For quick & direct flights, Skyscanner indicates enticing return fares, with prices starting as low as £156, available from London, Bermingham, Manchester and Edinburgh.

Connecting Flights from UK to Athens

For those seeking flexibility or potential cost savings, Skyscanner indicates enticing return fares, with prices starting as low as £43, departures are available from 14 key UK cities such as London, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

3. Greek Christmas customs & Traditions

Dive into the vibrant tapestry of Greek Christmas customs, where joyful Kalanta carolers fill the air with festive melodies, Christopsomo bread becomes a sacred centerpiece, and coastal landscapes come alive with boat decorations:

  1. Kalanta (Christmas Carols): On Christmas Eve, children and sometimes adults go from house to house singing Kalanta, traditional Greek Christmas carols. These carolers are often rewarded with treats, sweets, or even small gifts. It’s a festive way to spread holiday cheer and celebrate the birth of Jesus.
  2. Christopsomo (Christ’s Bread): Christopsomo, meaning “Christ’s Bread,” is a special type of bread baked for Christmas. Families prepare this bread, which is often adorned with symbols and religious designs. It is blessed at the church during a special Christmas service and then shared among family members on Christmas Day.
  3. Karavaki (Christmas Boat Decoration): In coastal areas, it’s common to decorate small boats or model boats as part of the Christmas decorations. This tradition reflects Greece’s strong maritime heritage and serves as a reminder of the role of the sea in the country’s culture and history.
  4. Gift-Giving on New Year’s Day: In Greece, the tradition of gift-giving is typically associated with New Year’s Day rather than Christmas Eve. Saint Basil (Agios Vasilis) is the central figure associated with New Year’s gift-giving. On the night of December 31st, children eagerly await gifts left by Saint Basil, and families exchange presents as they welcome the arrival of the new year.
  5. Vasilopita: Greek New Year’s cake named after Saint Basil the Great. Traditionally cut at midnight on New Year’s Eve, it includes a hidden coin called “flouri” symbolizing good luck for the person who finds it. The cake’s slices are shared with blessings for prosperity and joy in the coming year.
  6. Podariko: An old Greek custom loosely translated as “good foot.” This means that the person who first sets foot in your home on January 1st  must be someone who brings good luck and also enters with the right foot first! Greeks usually want a child to enter first.
  7. Epiphany Celebration – Blessing of the Waters: Also known as “Theophania” in Greece, holds great significance in the Christian calendar. The focal point of this celebration is the “Blessing of the Waters” ceremony, which commemorates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. On January 6th, during the Epiphany service, a priest blesses a body of water, such as the sea, a river, or a lake.
  8. Kourabiedes & Melomakarona: Kourabiedes are Greek butter cookies, often shaped into crescents and covered in powdered sugar, while melomakarona are honey-soaked Greek Christmas cookies, typically made with a spiced dough and topped with chopped walnuts. Both are popular traditional treats during Christmas in Greece.

4.Iconic Places to Visit in Athens during Christmas

Embrace the festive spirit in Athens as the city sparkles with Yuletide magic. Wander through the charming neighbourhoods adorned with twinkling lights, savor the aroma of cinnamon and roasted chestnuts in the air, and experience the joyous buzz of Christmas markets. Explore the historic city bathed in festive illumination, and immerse yourself in the warmth of Greek hospitality and holiday traditions that make Athens a captivating destination during the most wonderful time of the year.

Here are some areas that are particularly delightful to visit during Christmas in Athens. One for each day!:

  • Syntagma Square: The heart of Athens comes alive with festive decorations and a towering Christmas tree. Witness the annual lighting ceremony and enjoy the lively atmosphere.
  • Ermou Street: The main shopping street of Athens transforms into a glittering wonderland during Christmas, adorned with festive lights and bustling with shoppers seeking holiday treasures, creating a magical atmosphere in the heart of the city’s commercial hub.
  • The Christmas Theatre: The largest theatre in Athens. It hosts performances that aspire to take you to the most beautiful Christmas capitals around the world. From Prague and Vienna to Moscow and St. Petersburg, of course, New York and Las Vegas!
  • Gazi – Technopolis: The former gasworks complex, now a cultural hub, lights up with Christmas events and markets. The industrial backdrop adds a unique touch to the festive atmosphere.
  • Athens Concert Hall (Megaron): Megaron hosts various Christmas events, including classical concerts, theatrical performances, and family-friendly shows
  • Kolonaki: An upscale district, Kolonaki is adorned with elegant decorations during Christmas. Explore the high-end shops, cafes, and enjoy the sophisticated ambiance.
  • Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center: Explore this modern cultural complex, often hosting special Christmas events or performances. The beautifully landscaped surroundings add to the festive ambiance..
  • Athens Central Market (Varvakeios Agora):  During Christmas, Varvakeios Agora transforms into a festive hub, with stalls adorned in seasonal decorations, offering a delightful mix of traditional Greek holiday fare, creating a spirited and vibrant atmosphere for locals and visitors alike.
  • Athens’ Ellinikon Experience Park: A festive haven with enchanting activities and joyful celebrations, perfect for creating unforgettable Christmas memories!
  • Mount Lycabettus: For a panoramic view of Athens glittering in Christmas lights, visit Mount Lycabettus. The cable car or a climb to the top offers a memorable experience.
  • The Mall Athens: The largest shopping mall in the country, offering a variety of retail stores, dining options, and entertainment facilities. The mall hosts events and activities during Christmas, to enhance the shopping experience for visitors.

5. Christmas Villages in Athens

Step into a winter wonderland as Athens transforms into a tapestry of festive enchantment with its vibrant Christmas villages. Discover them at iconic locations, adorned with twinkling lights, joyful decorations, and a host of holiday activities for an unforgettable seasonal celebration: 

  • The Christmas Factory: From November 26th to January 6th, everyone’s favourite Christmas factory returns richer, more glamorous, more complete, with many hidden secrets waiting for both young and old to discover!
  • Greek Santa’s Vilage: From December 7th to January 8th, Santa’s original Greek village promises visitors 33 days filled with light, joy, celebration, games, and smiles, accompanied by a rich artistic program featuring concerts by prominent names in the Greek music scene, as well as dance, cultural, and theatrical events that will ‘dress up’ the festive atmosphere
  • The Unique Experiential Christmas Village, at Paradise Park: From December 10th to January 8th, in the Experiential Christmas Village, kids craft with Santa, ride his pony-drawn sleigh, sing carols, visit the Nativity scene, create chocolate treats, make crafts with real clay, and play in the Fun Zone supervised by instructors.
  • Santa Claus Kingdom: From December 2nd to January 7th, At Santa Claus Kingdom, magic meets fairytales, and imagination meets fun. Enchanting fairytale scenes, beloved characters, numerous games, and the real Santa from Rovaniemi make the park the ultimate Christmas destination for all ages
  • Santa’s Park at Flisvos: Among the parks transforming into Christmas villages is Flisvos Park, which turns into a large Christmas village by the sea, featuring a train, carousel, and other surprises for both young and old.

6. 5+1 Churches to visit in Athens during Christmas

Step into a world of sacred splendor as Athens’ Greek Orthodox churches transform into ethereal havens during Christmas. From the majestic Mitropoli to the 900 years old Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris, each church resonates with centuries-old traditions, offering a spiritual journey intertwined with the joy of the season:

Here are the 5 most beautiful Churches in Athens:

  • Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens (Mitropoli): Located in the heart of Athens, Mitropoli is the city’s central cathedral, dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. With a stunning neoclassical façade, it hosts significant religious ceremonies during Christmas.
  • Agios Dionysios Areopagitis Church: Positioned in the upscale district, this church provides a unique setting for Christmas celebrations. Enjoy panoramic views of the city and the Parthenon as you immerse yourself in the festive ambiance.
  • Agios Nikolaos Rangavas Church: Nestled in the Plaka district, this charming church dates back to the 11th century. Experience the magic of Christmas in this historic setting, surrounded by traditional Greek architecture
  • Agios Dimitrios Loumbardiaris Church: A Byzantine gem near the Acropolis. Adorned with intricate details, this 12th-century church offers a historic escape, and during Christmas, it becomes a radiant haven where ancient traditions harmonize with the festive spirit
  • Agia Irini (Saint Irene) Church: Nestled in Monastiraki, Agia Irini is a charming church with a peaceful courtyard. Its neoclassical architecture and proximity to vibrant markets make it a delightful stop during the holiday season.

A special mention for British visitors: 

  • St. Paul’s Anglican Church: A neo-Gothic gem nestled in Kolonaki. Offering English-language services and a rich history dating back to the 19th century, this Anglican sanctuary provides a welcoming space for Christmas celebrations, uniting a diverse community in the heart of the city

7. Places to eat in Athens during Christmas

In the heart of Athens, Christmas transforms the city’s culinary landscape into a festive feast for the senses. As the capital’s enchanting lights twinkle overhead, Athens’ restaurants come alive with the warmth of holiday cheer. From traditional Greek delicacies to innovative international fare, discover a symphony of flavours that dance amidst the ancient city’s Christmas spirit.

Here are our top picks for places to eat in Athens during Christmas:

  • Minnie: Wine Bar, Cafe, European Cuisine, Vegetarian Friendly
  • Capana: Pizza, Italian & Mediterranean Cuisine, Vegan & Vegetarian options
  • Dalliance:Wine Bar, Cafe, European & Mediterranean Cuisine, Vegan & Vegetarian options
  • Balthazar: Sushi, European & Mediterranean Cuisine,Vegan & Vegetarian options, Gluten-Free options
  • Noel: Bar, Cafe, Dinner, Vegetarian & Vegan Options
  • Just Made 33: Cafe, Greek, European & Mediterranean Cuisine Vegan, Vegetarian & Gluten-Free Options
  • Varoulko: Greek Cuisine, Seafood, Healthy, Vegetarian & Gluten-Free Options
  • Odori: Pizza, Italian & Mediterranean Cuisine, Vegan & Gluten-Free Options
  • Salumaio: Italian & Mediterranean Cuisine, Breakfast, Brunch, Dinner, Vegan, Vegetarian & Gluten-Free Options
  • Artisanal: Greek & Mediterranean Cuisine, Vegan, Vegetarian & Gluten-Free Option

Feel free to check for more excellent options on Tripadvisor!.

Check here our extended guide in Greek cuisine!

8. Guide for Christmas 2023-2024 activities in Athens

Experience the magic of the season in Athens with enchanting Christmas activities! From the captivating performances at the Megaron Athens Concert Hall to the festive atmosphere of Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, Athens is alive with the spirit of joy and celebration this holiday season! Join the festivities and create unforgettable memories in the heart of the city.

Here are some of Christmas activities that we recommend:

9. Accommodation options in Athens

Discover the warmth of festive hospitality in Athens with a range of accommodations catering to every traveller’s desire. From charming boutique hotels adorned with holiday decorations to luxurious establishments offering special seasonal packages, Athens welcomes visitors with open arms during the Christmas season.

Here is our Top-10 hotel list for Athens.

Find more Greeklist exclusive Hotel deals for Athens and HotelBrain here!

10. Local Transportation and Getting Around in Athens:

Athens has a well-developed public transportation system that includes buses, trams, the metro, and trolleys. Here’s a brief overview of local transportation in Athens:

  1. Athens Metro: The metro is one of the most efficient ways to navigate the city. It consists of three lines (green, blue, and red) that connect various neighbourhoods, major attractions, and transport hubs. The metro operates from early morning until late at night.
  2. Buses & Trolleys: Athens has an extensive bus & trolley  network covering the city and its suburbs. Buses are a convenient way to reach areas not served by the metro. They operate from early morning to midnight.
  3. Trams: The Athens Tram connects the city centre with the coastal suburbs. It’s a scenic way to travel, especially along the coastline. The tram operates from early morning until midnight.
  4. Suburban Railway (Proastiakos): The suburban railway connects Athens with the broader Attica region and the Athens International Airport. It’s a convenient option for traveling to nearby towns and suburbs.
  5. Taxi: Taxis are widely available in Athens and can be flagged down on the street or booked in advance. 
  6. Car Rentals: While Athens has a comprehensive public transportation system, some visitors may prefer the flexibility of renting a car, especially if they plan to explore areas outside the city.
  7. Scooter/Motorcycle Rentals:Scooters are a popular and convenient mode of transportation in Athens to easily explore its narrow streets.
  8. Bike Rentals:Athens has become increasingly bike-friendly in recent years, with dedicated bike lanes. Seek some interesting cycling routes here!

Bonus! Why don’t you take a bus tour around Athens? Check here!

11. Safety and Travel Tips for Athens:

Follow these safety and travel tips to ensure a memorable and secure holiday season in the vibrant capital of Greece:

  • Emergency Numbers: Save these emergency numbers:
  1. the local police (100), 
  2. medical emergency (166)
  3. fire department (199).
  4. British Embassy (+30 2107272600)
  • Healthcare Awareness: Familiarize yourself with the location of medical facilities and pharmacies in case of emergencies. We hope you won’t need them!
  • Public Transportation: Utilize Athens’ efficient public transportation system to navigate the city. Check the operating hours, especially during the holiday season, and plan your journeys accordingly.
  • Weather Considerations: Athens experiences mild winters, but be prepared for occasional rain and cooler temperatures. Pack accordingly with layers and a waterproof jacket, especially if you plan to explore outdoor markets.Check the local weather here.
  • Christmas Shopping Schedule: Starting on December 12th,  shops will stay open from 09:00 until 21:00 on weekdays and from 09:00 until 18:00 on Saturdays. Shops will also be open on Sundays, from 11:00 until 18:00, on December 17th, 24th, and 31th. Shops will be closed on December 25th & 26th and January 1st & 2nd. 
  • Restaurants and Cafeterias Christmas Schedule: While most restaurants  remain open, it’s common for many to have reduced hours or close on Christmas Day and sometimes on Christmas Eve. It’s advisable to check with specific restaurants in the area you plan to visit and make reservations if possible
  • Language: While many locals speak English, learning a few basic Greek phrases can enhance your interactions and show appreciation for the local language. Don’t forget to say to everyone: Kala Hristougena (Merry Christmas) and Kali Hronia (Happy New Year)!
  • Greek Coffee: Sip the rich and robust flavours of Greek coffee, a cherished tradition served in tiny cups, embodying the essence of hospitality and conversation
  • Accommodation Reservations: Due to increased demand during the holiday season, consider booking accommodations well in advance. This ensures you have a comfortable stay and can take advantage of any special Christmas offerings.
  • Festive Atmosphere: Embrace the festive spirit by exploring Christmas markets, decorated neighbourhoods, and seasonal events. Check local listings for holiday-themed activities and experiences.
  • Cash and Cards: While many places accept cards, it’s advisable to carry some cash, especially when visiting local markets or smaller establishments. ATMs are widely available in the city.

12. Interesting FAQs about Athens – Christmas Edition!

Do you have questions about Christmas Athens? Santa Claus has some answers for you!

  • Do restaurants and attractions remain open during Christmas Day in Athens? 

While some restaurants and attractions may close on Christmas Day, many remain open during the holiday season, especially in popular tourist areas.

  • What is the significance of New Year’s Eve in Athens? 

New Year’s Eve is celebrated with enthusiasm in Athens, marked by fireworks, live music, and parties in popular squares and neighbourhoods. Syntagma Square and Monastiraki are known for lively celebrations

  • Are there any special events or commemorations on Boxing Day (December 26th) in Athens? 

Boxing Day is not widely celebrated in Greece, but some shops may offer post-Christmas sales. It’s a good day to explore the city without the intensity of Christmas Day festivities.

  • Are there any ice-skating rinks or winter-themed activities in Athens during Christmas? 

Athens occasionally sets up temporary ice-skating rinks and winter-themed activities in certain areas, providing a unique and festive experience for locals and visitors.

  • Can I experience a white Christmas in Athens? 

While it’s rare to have snow in Athens, the city is beautifully decorated with festive lights and decorations, creating a warm and joyful Christmas atmosphere.

  • Is it common for locals to decorate their homes with Christmas lights and decorations in Athens? 

Yes, decorating homes with Christmas lights, trees and ornaments is a common tradition in Athens. You’ll find many neighbourhoods adorned with festive lights, creating a cheerful atmosphere.

  • What is the weather like in Athens during the Christmas season? 

Athens experiences mild winter weather during Christmas, with temperatures ranging from cool to chilly. It’s advisable to bring layers, especially for evening outings.

  • What is the significance of the Greek holiday season extending to Epiphany on January 6th? 

Epiphany, known as “Theofania” in Greece, marks the baptism of Jesus. On this day, a ceremonial blessing of the waters takes place, and the faithful participate in the Great Blessing of the Waters service.

  • Are there any special exhibitions or displays in Athens museums during the Christmas season? 

Museums in Athens may host special exhibitions or displays with a holiday theme. It’s a unique opportunity to combine cultural exploration with the festive spirit.

  • Can I take a day trip from Athens to experience Christmas in a nearby village or town?

Yes, you can venture to nearby towns like Nafplio or Arachova, which often have charming Christmas festivities, local markets, and a cozy atmosphere.

13. Conclusion

Christmas in Athens is a festive and vibrant celebration, blending traditional Greek customs with the joyous spirit of the holiday season. The city comes alive with colourful decorations, twinkling lights, and a warm atmosphere. 

Athens’ streets are filled with the sounds of carols and the aromas of seasonal treats, creating a welcoming environment for locals and visitors alike. Families gather to exchange gifts, enjoy delicious meals, and partake in the rich cultural traditions that make Christmas in Athens a unique and memorable experience.

Kala Hristougena and Kali Hronia!

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