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As a year-round destination, you might be considering a city break in Athens for Christmas.
While the Greek capital isn’t famed for its Christmas markets the way other European destinations are, there’s still plenty of holiday spirit. So come with me to discover the Christmas season in Athens.
Syntagma Square Christmas Tree
Every year, a huge Christmas tree is brought down from somewhere in the mainland to adorn the city centre’s main square. In 2023, the 17-footer came from Karpenissi in Central Greece.
The lighting of the tree often happens on a Thursday evening in late November or the beginning of December and is the start of the official celebrations. Dates are usually only announced a day or two before.
On the night, the Mayor of Athens performs the honours, and the evening in Syntagmas is a big event with live music, Christmas carols and celebrations.
Christmas trees lit up in central Athens
The various city neighbourhoods come alive with their own Christmas lights and festivities in the following days.
Thirty-seven of the city’s squares are decorated, and in 2023, ten of them have children’s Christmas markets. Look out for them as you wander around the city.
The stage at Syntagma Square continues to host free concerts and theatrical performances throughout the festive season.
As well as lighting up the streets, shops, museums, restaurants and cafes add to the festive atmosphere around Athens.
Getting in the Christmas spirit with the Christmas lights switch-on in Syntagma Square.
Christmas World at Stavros Niarchos Foundation
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre comes alive with Christmas World. This is open throughout December and into the New Year.
There’s a big event at 7pm on 1st December to kick things off. The ground’s festive lights are launched alongside musical performances.
Between the 23rd December until 7th January from 5pm – 11pm there’s a 360° Christmas Pop-up Bar. Check out the DJ sets planned for the various dates.
One of the highlights is the ice rink. I love ice skating, and this sounds fun, nestled amongst the Christmas lights.
The ice rink is open daily from 1st December until 7th January. The times are 10am until 10pm (weather permitting) except for New Year’s Eve, when it’s open until 2am.
The ice skating rink has free admission on a first-come, first-served basis. However, on certain busier dates, you do need to pre-register.
From 1st to 22nd December, you must register for timeslots on Friday afternoon/evening between 3pm – 10pm and all timeslots on Saturday and Sunday.
Between the 23rd December until 7th January, you need to book your time slot regardless of day and time.
Registration is open from a few days before (check the registration page for info), and you need to turn up 20 minutes before your allocated 40-minute session.
It’s a good idea to take gloves. Note that children must wear helmets but the venue has some for hire.
New Year’s Eve Party in Athens
You can ring in the New Year at Christmas World, too. They are holding a musical spectacular with fireworks choreographed fountain display, lights installation, the ice rink and lots of other good stuff.
They also have an annual 3k charity run around the centre that starts a few minutes after midnight. If you fancy a bit of fun, you can register for it here.
The Christmas Factory at Technopolis
Technopolis is one of the best places to come if you’re looking for the atmosphere of a Christmas market. Whether you have kids on you’re just a child at heart, it’s a fun place to visit.
Published with the elves’ permission!
The site is a converted gasworks, now an important cultural centre for the city. In the summer, you’ll find Greece’s Dinner in the Sky experience.
Over the Christmas period, it hosts the Christmas Factory with all sorts of festive stalls, events and entertainment.
There’s a covered Christmas Market just around the corner from Technopolis. It’s in the Old Depot next to Kerameikos Archaeological Site and Museum. That’s probably one of the biggest places to find stalls throughout December.
The Nutcracker Ballet
Some might say, what’s Christmas without a trip to the ballet? If you fancy watching a performance of The Nutcracker, get tickets for one of the Greece National Opera Ballet’s performances, also held at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre.
Nutcracker Christmas decorations for sale at the Christmas Factory
It’s running on the following dates:
- 23, 24, 28, 30 December 2023 and
- 3, 4, 5 Jan 2024
at the reasonable time of 7.30pm and 6.30pm on Sundays. (Events in Greece are often scheduled to start quite late at night!)
People will tell you to go to Noel, which is “The Holiday Bar”, open year round. But despite the fact you’d expect it to come into its own in the winter months, it doesn’t seem to do much for Christmas these days.
I recommend you pop into Fairytale for a festive mocktail or a cup of Christmas tea under the sumptuous seasonal decor. The atmosphere is good, with funky holiday tunes and friendly service.
I stayed to read my book while I had a fun mocktail. I didn’t indulge, but nearer Christmas, I might have to go back for that red velvet melomakarona…
Rock Musical at the Christmas Theatre
Confusing, like Noel Bar, the Athens’ Christmas Theatre is a venue that’s open all year. However, they are hosting a festive rock musical, namely Scrooge & Ghosts and Rock ‘n’ Roll.
In this version of the Dickens classic, Scrooge – “a worn-out, decadent and awkward music star” – is visited by the ghosts of dead music icons.
Expect to meet Elvis Presley, Freddie Mercury, Maria Callas, Beethoven, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley and Tina Turner and watch the show play out from there.
The website is in Greek and doesn’t seem to translate with Google Chrome. But you can get the idea from the images on this page.
The show runs from the 21st December to the 7th January, and tickets are available from 12. You can book for Scrooge & Ghosts via a booking site in English here (open in Google Chrome for translate).
This is a great place to immerse yourself in the holiday spirit. The little streets in Athens city centre around the cafe are jam-packed with their light displays and decorations.
The Christmas-themed decorations are installed towards the end of November. So December is a good time to catch them in all their glory.
If you sit outside, be prepared to be photographed. It’s a popular place for pictures, so good luck avoiding visitors wielding cameras!
Santa Claus Kingdom
From 2nd December until 5th January, the Mediterranean Exhibition Centre close to Athens Airport turns into a Christmas theme park for children.
Discover The Fairytale of the Frozen Realm, Santa’s village, the Christmas market, ice rink, theatre performances, creative workshops, theme-park rides and more.
If you book online in advance, the tickets cost 10.90€ for adults and 16.90€ for kids. On the door prices are 12€ and 21.50€ respectively.
For information about how to travel between the city centre and the airport have a look at this post.
Christmas Afternoon Tea
Enjoy a Christmas Afternoon tea in the “glittering atmosphere” of the Hotel Grande Bretagne’s winter garden. Cosy up with Christmas flavours while festive tunes tinkle away in the background. This version of afternoon tea is available from 4pm – 10pm everyday until 7th January.
Call to book on +302103330748
Christmas/New Year’s Dinner in Athens
If you’d like to experience a typical British or U.S. Christmas dinner during your stay, you can find one in Athens. They generally happen on Christmas Eve, and most of the same venues have special New Year menus, too.
Expect to need reservations and check your chosen venue’s dress code.
There are also several places offering alternative Christmas menus. For details of the various Christmas celebrations, see the locations below.
A Take on the Traditional Christmas Dinner
These menus include turkey and other traditional elements in some form.
Hotel Grande Bretagne and The King George
The Grand Bretagne and The King George have a whole host of stunning events lined up for the 2023/24 festive period. Welcome in an elegant Christmas and New Year at one of the following events.
All the menu details, pricing and booking information is within their online brochure.
Two delicious menus are available for the GB Roof Garden and King George’s Tudor Hall, respectively.
At the GB Roof Garden, you’ll be able to enjoy music from a trio. And Tudor Hall will host an opera night with piano accompaniment to a soprano and tenor.
Full details of the menus, which both include a traditional turkey option, can be found in the brochure above.
The GB Winter Garden offers live jazz with vocals from 9:30pm. Your entrance fee also covers a glass of champagne and accompaniments.
GB Roof Garden will offer a Christmas Buffet that sounds suitably festive with holiday music and a DJ set.
Tudor Hall at the King George is presenting another opportunity for you to enjoy some turkey and other decadent delights. Savour the tastes and enjoy live music in the form of piano and vocals.
New Year’s Eve
The GB Roof Garden is putting on a decadent NYE menu with live music from a vocal duo as well as DJ sets.
At the Winter Garden there’s a simpler affair with a DJ, live music from a vocal quartet, as well as a dance performance. The entrance fee here covers a bottle of champagne for two, and accompaniments.
Next door at the King George, there’s a fantastic menu and a live band in Tudor Hall to close out the year.
New Year’s Day
Have a luxurious start to the year in the GB Roof Garden with a buffet brunch and DJ.
Tudor Hall at The King George is offering another tantalising menu alongside live piano and vocals.
The Blue Sky Bar – Restaurant at the Polis is hosting a five-course Christmas Eve dinner which includes turkey roulade with chestnuts, gooseberries, jasmine rice and red berry sauce (yum!).
They’re also offering an exquisite New Year’s Eve dining experience under the lights of Lycabettus Hill and the Acropolis. The six-course meal features shrimp, veal and baklava.
For full details and reservations contact the hotel at [email protected] or +302105243156-8
NVJ Athens Plaza Hotel
The Plaza, right in the city centre, looks like one of the best hotels for a merry Christmas. They have several events happening over the festive period:
Christmas Eve Reveillon with live music (vocals and keyboard)
Christmas Day Buffet with DJ – includes traditional roast turkey with stuffing and Christmas logs.
For the links above, scroll down to see the menu in English and pricing information.
New Year’s Eve Reveillon with live music (vocals, keyboard and saxophone).
This menu is in Greek but the evening costs 300€, and from what I can make out, it’s pretty tempting.
For more information and bookings, you can contact the hotel at: [email protected] or +302103352400
St George Lycabettus
Indulge in the Red Christmas Eve Meal at the St George.
Amongst many other things, it includes turkey roll stuffed with dried fruit/traditional stuffing/sweet pumpkin cream, with chestnuts and cranberry sauce, as well as a traditional Christmas log with trimmings. The cost is 180€.
Their Gold New Year menu at 250€ is equally mouthwatering and features lobster soup, grilled Camembert and Black Angus fillet in a delectable sauce.
The hotel is also hosting a Christmas Day Brunch Buffet and a New Year’s Day Family Brunch Buffet.
Athenaeum Intercontinental Athens
Celebrate Christmas at the Intercontinental with one of the following events:
- Seven-course Christmas Eve gala dinner with live music in Premiere
- Four-course Christmas Eve dinner with live music in Artbistrot
- Christmas Day lunch buffet with live music in CafeZoe
- New Year’s Eve dinner buffet with live music in CafeZoe
- New Year’s Eve seven-course gala dinner with champagne in Premiere
- New Year’s Day Champagne Breakfast in CafeZoe
For full details, prices and booking contact the hotel on +302109206000.
One & Only Aesthesis
The One & Only Aesthesis welcomes its first Christmas along the Athens’ Riviera in Glyfada with some gorgeous-sounding events. All the details are rounded up on this page of their website.
There’s a five-course Christmas Eve dinner with wine pairing and a nod to Greek regions in Ora by Ettore Botrini. Don your finest and make an impression.
For something a bit different, head to El Bar de Paco Morales for a divine Spanish and Mediterranean-inspired dinner.
Indulge in Ora’s à la carte Christmas Brunch featuring turkey ballotine while celebrating the day with DJ music.
New Year’s Eve
Ora promises a stunning NYE Gala with a wickedly tempting Greek-influenced meal, outstanding wine pairings and celebrations courtesy of a live band and DJ.
New Year’s Day
The following day, Ora will be ready to host a New Year’s Day brunch centred around seafood specialities.
Other Christmas Menus
The food at Aleria is Modern Greek Cuisine with an innovative twist inspired by the Greek countryside. Mark the occasion with an indulgent meal at this multi-award-winning spot.
Botrini’s is teeming with awards, including a Michelin star. If you’d like to enjoy a Christmas treat here, then they offer a festive menu on 23 – 24th December and 30 – 31st December. The menu with price details is here.
You can make reservations online via their website.
Four Seasons Astir Palace
Out along the Athens Riviera the Four Seasons is hosting an elegant Christmas Eve menu with optional wine pairing.
Sourcing Your Own Christmas Dinner
If you’re staying in an apartment or Airbnb in Athens and want to create your own festive meal, you’ll find the items you need in Athens.
Supermarkets have big frozen turkeys you can pick up, and I have seen cranberry sauce in AB Vasilopoulis and Sklavenitis supermarkets.
Marks and Spencer Food
For stuffing mince, mince pies, Christmas pudding and other Christmas-themed food and accompaniments, you won’t go wrong with Marks and Spencer.
I think every Marks and Spencer clothes shop has a food section, and there are a few throughout the city. The Glyfada branch at City Plaza has a separate dedicated M&S food store.
M&S Greece do Christmas jumpers, too if you want to go the whole hog…
BR Foods is an independent shop in Chaladri that sells British food. (They do deliveries too.) You’ll find all the favourites like sage and onion stuffing mix, Terry’s chocolate oranges and pigs in blankets, and Christmas crackers for the table.
I also heard that Paradosiako Pantopolio grocery has a good selection of items. I haven’t been, but it’s in Nea Smyrni if that’s local to you, and other foreigners have recommended it.
Christmas Food and Walking Tour
If you can’t get enough of the festive food, join a walking tour. You’ll make your way through the city’s festive spirit, sampling various Christmas delicacies as well as more traditional tastes like olive oil and Greek doughnuts.
For a sparkly, photo-friendly, three-hour tour, book here.
St Nicholas Day
The 6th December is the feast day for St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. Lots of people in Greece classify this as the start of the Christmas period.
Churches named after the saint will celebrate the day, including the Church of Agios Nikolaos Rangavas in Plaka. Greeks mark the date by lighting up boat decorations. These pre-date Christmas trees in Greece and I saw lots of them on the islands.
Christmas Opening Times
As you’d expect, around the holiday season, businesses are following different opening hours.
Christmas Day and Boxing Day
Most shops, museums and archaeological sites will be closed on 25th and 26th December for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. You can expect reduced opening hours on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, too.
Check the various venues’ websites for accurate information on anywhere you intend to visit. Don’t expect many places to update their Google Maps listing with accurate opening times.
Shopping on Ermou Street
Run Up to Christmas
While stores are generally closed on Sundays throughout the year, they usually open for Christmas shopping on the four Sundays before.
Some smaller shops and independent stores may stay closed, so again, check with anywhere you’re specifically interested in.
Does Athens Greece have a Christmas market?
There’s no Christmas Market in Athens like the ones you’ll see in Salzburg, Colmar or Berlin. The attractions I’ve listed above are the best for festivities.
I went in search of some smaller markets last year that I heard about. But they didn’t feel very festive.
One that I went to with a few stalls had a Greek dancing demonstration going on, which was interesting to see.
Greek Christmas Greetings
A few phrases that I’m trying out this season:
Καλά Χριστούγεννα / Kala Cristouyenna – merry Christmas! Use this in the run-up to Christmas.
Χρόνια Πολλά / Chronia Polla – is used on Chrstimas Day and means many years (of happiness and prosperity, etc.). It’s quite a generic phrase used often on holidays and birthdays. You’ll hear it a lot on the various Greek Name Days.
Καλή Πρωτοχρονιά / Kali Protohronia – is said to wish others a good new year in the period between Christmas and New Year.
Καλή Χρονιά – Kali Chronia – is used throughout the month of January to wish others a healthy and prosperous New Year.
More About Christmas Traditions in Greece
If you want to know more about how the country celebrates Christmas, then take a look at this post.
You’ll find out about the Greek Christmas traditions from this time of year, what the usual Christmas celebrations are and what rituals are done to bring good fortune for the new year.
Adding Istanbul to Your European Christmas Holidays?
In 2022, I spent Christmas time in Istanbul. It’s easy to combine a trip to the two cities if you’re considering doing that. I wrote about what it was like spending Christmas in Turkey as a solo traveller.