After visiting so many wonderful places over the last year on the road, we wanted to return to one of our very favorites for the holidays – Athens.
Greece in December? Yes! It is lovely. We were in Athens the entire month of December and most of the days were sunny and in the mid-60°s F (16C). On a few days, the cruise ship tourists descended on Plaka for a few hours (usually on Tuesdays), but soon they would be on their way and the quiet December life in Athens would return.
98% of the Greek population is Christian Orthodox, so Christmas and Easter are the two big holidays in Greece. We were fortunate to be in Athens for both in 2017.
What is the Christmas season like in Athens? It’s much like celebrating in other locations with eating, shopping, gift-giving, decorating, events, festivities, and gathering with others. However, as with all cultures, the Greeks have some of their own traditions and customs, and learning those makes celebrating the holidays abroad an even more special experience.
Greek Christmas traditions and decorations
While Christmas trees can be spotted around Athens, including in the giant one at Syntagma Square near Parliament (there’s really no tree, it’s constructed of poles and lights), Greeks also decorate small boats with lights and place them over the fireplace, on a shelf, or in a store window.
A nod to the significant role sailing, the sea, and the islands play in Greek life, decorating small boats in Greece during the holiday season is an old tradition that has been revived in recent years. About mid-December, decorated Greek Christmas boats began to appear throughout Athens. We saw them in shop windows, in bars, in restaurants, and in homes.
For a bit of Christmas in Athens any time of the year, Noel the holiday bar is a spot in central Athens with creative cocktails that will put you in a merry spirit. Over-the-top festive, it’s always Christmas at Noel. We popped over on the 23rd of December to get into the holiday mood and it was beyond crowded, lively, and quite beautiful.
Christmas shopping in Athens
I decided I wanted to send my great niece a collection of made-in-Greece items for Christmas, so we hit the ground shopping the first week of December in order to get her package in the mail with hopes it would arrive before Christmas. (It did, yay!)
Athens has a wide selection of shopping options ranging from worldwide-known labels to local Greek brands to specialty stores. Along Ermou Street between Monastiraki and Syntagma, you can find American Eagle, Sephora, Marks and Spencers, and H&M, and countless other large stores. In Kolonaki, high-end, luxury labels, such as Baccarat, Dior, Prada, and Louis Vuitton, and Greek designer boutiques are in abundance.
The Monastiraki markets and the tourist shops in Plaka are both fun areas for a stroll and also a good spot for finding an eclectic item or two. Both areas also have countless places to stop for a coffee, a meal, or a wine and, if one is craving soy chai or a holiday beverage, a Starbucks can be found in Monastiraki at Mitropoleos 80.
December Dining and Christmas Treats in Athens
Greece is a paradise for food lovers any time of the year, but in December, Athens restaurants are quiet during the week, making dining especially pleasurable at a slower pace. Feasting on multiple courses and lingering over coffee and conversation amidst the holiday decorations is an absolute delight.
While quiet during the week, Athen’s restaurants and bars come alive in December on the weekend as Athenians gather with family and friends for pre-holiday parties and gatherings.
On the Sunday before Christmas weekend, we happened upon a large party at one of our favorite restaurants in Plaka, Stamatopoulos Tavern. We arrived just as the group was finishing dessert and had turned their attention to dancing. Different groups danced to each song – it was a priceless experience!
In addition to the fabulous food found in restaurants, the bakeries begin to add Christmas delicacies to their offerings. Kourabiedes, which are also called kourabiethes, (shortbread sugar cookies with almonds covered in powdered sugar) and melomakarona (spiced, honey cookies) are two traditional Greek Christmas cookies – we’ve had way too many of both and they are delicious!
Christopsomo is a Christmas bread with a cross on top that is traditionally made on Christmas Eve and shared by the family on Christmas Day. We headed to our favorite bakery in Athens, Takis Bakery (Misaraliotou 14 near the Acropolis Museum), on Christmas Eve to purchase a Christopsomo for our Christmas table.
A sampling of dining in Athens
Christmas event and festivities
The Greek holiday season continues through Epiphany on the 6th of January with Christmas events and festivities occurring all around Athens. Finding events is easy as the City of Athens publishes a pdf calendar of Athens holiday events (English is in the back half).
We enjoyed multiple free concerts at Syntagma Square including performances by the Greek Air Force Band and the City of Athens Philharmonic Orchestra. Combined with the glow of the Syntagma Square Christmas tree and the bustling holiday crowd, the Christmas music created a joyous spirit in Athens.
Spending December and celebrating Christmas in Athens has been a wonderful experience! καλά Χριστούγεννα / Kalá Christoúgenna! (Merry Christmas!) and καλές γιορτές / Kalés giortés (Happy holidays!) to everyone!
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