When people think of Athens they usually envision a hot summer day spent basking near the warm, sparkling waters of the city’s numerous beaches. Surprisingly though, Athens is also quite charming during the winter. As the capital of Greece (and as one of the oldest capitals in Europe), Athens is filled with plenty of things to do and sites to see. Check out my 3-day Athens itinerary here. or a 2-day Athens itinerary here. You’ll find everything from archeological excavations to modern art museums that you enjoy.
Weather in Athens in Winter
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Winter is the coldest and wettest time of year to travel to Athens, but in comparison to Northern/Eastern Europe and parts of North America, the temperatures are relatively mild and therefore not entirely off-putting!
December sees temperatures sit between 9C-14C, which is perfectly pleasant for exploring the city as long as you’re wrapped up warm. There are an average of 11 days of rain throughout the month of December in Athens, so you’ll want to pack some waterproofs, and also make back-up plans for rainy days.
Temperatures in January drop again, with lows of 5C during the night and highs of around 12C. This is therefore the coldest time of year and you’ll want to pack and plan accordingly. Rainfall drops slightly in January, with nine days per month (on average). Sea temperature around Athens in January is a chilly 16C which makes the Epiphany celebrations at Piraeus even crazier!
February begins to warm back up slightly, but only just, with average daily temperatures ranging between 6C and 14C. Rainfall averages drop again, with just seven days per month, so you’re hopefully less likely to need your umbrella and waterproof coat.
Check out my post: The best time to visit Athens.
What to Pack for Athens in Winter
As the weather in Athens in winter is fairly unpredictable, it’s best to pack for every eventuality, taking plenty of layers and waterproof clothing. It’s a good idea to have a warm, waterproof coat, some walking boots, or other waterproof shoes (as there’s lots of exploring on foot to be done in Athens) and possibly an umbrella.
If you’re quite sensitive to the sun, then you may also want to pack a small face sunblock, as there is still the chance of bright, sunny days. Other key items to remember when packing for a trip to Athens are: a travel adaptor (a European, two round pin plug), a travel guide (I like the DK Top 10 Athens book), a small bag or lightweight backpack for your daily essentials and a good travel credit
Why You Should Visit Athens in the Winter
Because the winter is the off-season in Athens, prices around the city are significantly cheaper. Museum tickets, hotel rooms, and even restaurants have much lower prices. These lower prices also mean you can visit more places around the city as you’ll have more to spend.
It’s Less Crowded
Forget having to navigate your way through crowded streets and beaches. Athens in the winter is perfect for those looking to walk freely through the city without meeting major crowds. It also means shorter wait times for popular sites.
Things to do in Athens in winter
Explore the archaeological sites
The archaeological sites are, of course, the main highlight for travelers visiting Athens for the first time, so it’s important to be aware of the opening times of each site as these change between summer and winter. Most sites do remain open throughout winter, but as sunset times are much earlier throughout the months of December, January, and February, you’ll have less time to explore.
The Acropolis of Athens is open every day from 8:30 am until sunset (which is around 5 pm in winter) and winter entrance fees are 10€ for adults as opposed to 20€ in summer. EU citizens under the age of 25 and children under 5 qualify for free entry. Your ticket to the Acropolis allows you entrance to the Parthenon (the main temple on the hill) as well as the Erechtheion, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and the Theatre of Dionysus.
A great idea is a guided tour to the Acropolis: Here are my two favorites:
A small group guide tour of the Acropolis with skip the line tickets. The reason I like this tour is that it is a small group one, and it lasts for 2 hours.
Another great option is the Athens Mythology Highlights tour. This is probably my favorite Athens tour. In 4 hours you will have a guided tour of the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Ancient Agora. It is great as it combines history with mythology. Please note that the tour doesn’t include the entrance fee which is €30 (Combo ticket) for the mentioned sites. It also includes a couple of other archaeological sites and museums that you can visit on your own the following days.
-Alternatively, you can buy your skip the line tickets online and pick them up near the South entrance.
2. Ancient Agora
The Ancient Agora is another important archaeological site in Athens and is well worth a visit. This ancient marketplace features the ruins of statues, altars, monuments, offices, baths, courthouses, and domed meeting houses, all places that would have been a hub of activity during Ancient Greek times. The site of the Agora also includes preserved and restored buildings such as the Hephaisteion and the Stoa of Attalos.
3. Roman Agora
The Roman Agora is a smaller marketplace site, with a grand Gate of Athena Archegetis entrance and ruins of Roman columns and odeons. Here you can also find the Tower of the winds that is considered the world’s first meteorological station.
4. Temple of Olympian Zeus
The Temple of Olympian Zeus is another impressive archaeological site in Athens, with the temple columns rising high above the ground creating an imposing structure. You can really imagine the significance and majesty of this building when it was fully intact.
Visit the Museums
As well as significant archaeological sites, Athens has some wonderful museums that allow visitors an even greater insight into the world of Ancient Greece. These are ideal for winter visits to Athens as they allow for exploration even on rainy days!
The modern Acropolis Museum is one of the most impressive museums in Athens, housing all artifacts found on and around Acropolis Hill. This includes everything from the Bronze Age to Byzantine Greece, with statues, columns, artwork, and much more. There are even preserved excavations just outside of the museum. The Acropolis Museum’s opening hours change significantly in winter so it is important to be aware of the new opening times.
Here are some great options for visiting the Acropolis Museum:
– Acropolis Museum Entry Ticket with an Audio Guide
National Archaeological Museum
The National Archaeological Museum of Athens is the largest archaeological museum in Greece and is a must for history and art lovers. Founded in 1829, this museum houses over 10,000 exhibits including sculptures, jewelry, pottery, tools, murals, and more.
The Benaki Museum, housed in the Benakis family mansion, is a Greek art gallery that displays works from prehistory to the modern day, with ever-changing exhibits and collections. Opening times in winter are 9am-5pm (Weds and Fri), 9am to midnight (Thurs and Sat) and 9am-3pm (Sun). Winter admission costs 9€ for adults or is free to enter from 6pm on Thursdays.
The Museum of Cycladic Art is a gallery dedicated to art created in the Cyclades islands in the 3rd millennium BC. This museum features a range of different pieces and is a great option for families. The museum is open 10am-5pm (Mon, Weds, Fri and Sat), 10am-8pm (Thurs) and 11am-5pm (Sunday). Entrance costs 7€ for adults.
The Byzantine Museum on Vassilissis Sofias Avenue in Athens is a museum that houses religious artifacts of the Early Christian, Byzantine, Medieval, and post-Byzantine periods, dating from 3rd and 20th century AD. This is a fascinating museum with over 25,000 exhibits and is open 9 am-4 pm (Weds-Mon). Standard tickets cost 4€ for adults.
Check here: The best museums to visit in Athens.
Visit one of the Hammams
Athens has a collection of Hammams that are the perfect place to while away a few hours on a cold winter day. The Hammams Baths in central Athens are a great option as they are stylish and secluded and offer an authentic Hammam experience. Visitors can choose from a range of treatments, from traditional steam baths to soothing massages using fine essentials oils. There is also a cafe on-site where you can enjoy a steaming glass of mint tea.
Go Shopping in the Malls
Instead of spending a rainy day trapped inside your hotel room, you can go shopping in one of the many malls Athens offers. One popular mall is The Mall Athens which is one of the largest malls in Europe. Here you can visit many different types of shops like clothing ones and bookstores. There are even spas and a movie theater here you can enjoy.
Enjoy Some Coffee
A rainy winter day calls for a warm cup of coffee. There are plenty of coffee shops you can visit and lounge in while looking out at the historic sites and listening to the rain patter on the roof. One café you can visit is Noel which is an atmospheric cafe-restaurant with an all year round Christmas decor. Great for brunch or just a coffee or drinks.
Address: Kolokotroni 59B, Athens
Another unique place you can enjoy a coffee is Little Kook. A themed coffee shop your kids will love. The theme changes all the time depending on the season. It serves coffees and fairytale inspired desserts.
Address: Karaiskaki 17, Athens
Get cosy in one of the wine bars
Athens has some spectacular bars in which to enjoy a coffee or cocktail so it’s worth finding a cozy spot to while away the night. Whether you opt for a hot Rakomelo in a traditional Greek taverna, go for a glass of wine in one of the chic bars like Oinoscent, enjoy a cocktail in the uber-cool Six d.o.g.s. in Psyri or seek out a secret Speakeasy around Syntagma Square, you won’t be disappointed by Athens’ nightlife.
Check out the best wine bars to visit in Athens.
Learn how to cook in a cooking class
If it’s raining during your winter visit to Athens, you may want to head inside and learn how to cook like a local with a 4-hour cookery class and market visit. Your hands-on day will include a visit to the Athens Central Market to pick up supplies before heading to a traditional Greek kitchen to learn how to make classic dishes such as dolmades (stuffed vine leaves), tzatziki and spanakopita (spinach and feta pies). You’ll then sit down to enjoy your home-cooked meal with a drink and your new-found friends.
Take a food tour
If you’d rather just eat the local delicacies than make them, then you may be more interested in simply taking a Food Tour of Athens where you can taste a range of authentic Greek dishes. Your walking tour will take you around the main food markets of Athens as well as visiting some hidden gems where you can try classic Greek food and drink such as olives, souvlaki, Greek coffee, and local wine.
Explore the street art on your own or with a tour
Athens has some really great street art, with some emblazoned on the main walls in the city center and some other pieces being hidden away in more remote areas of the city. You can choose to explore this graffiti yourself or take a tour in which a real street artist will guide you through the city streets, uncovering wall art, and the meaning behind the designs. This is a really fun way to learn more about the city and urban culture while also getting to know a local.
Watch a performance (opera, Christmas Ballet)
Another great thing to do in Athens in winter is to catch a performance at the Greek National Opera. This beautiful opera house features performances of ballets like Swan Lake and The Nutcracker and even offers child-friendly shows such as Prince Ivan and the Firebird, the children’s opera. This is a lovely way to spend a cold wintery evening and will certainly be a night to remember
Visit the central food market
The Athens Central Market is the place to go for Greek delicacies and foodie souvenirs, and as it’s a covered market it makes a good destination in winter too. The Dimotiki Agora is a traditional market in the sense that it still sells fresh fish, meat and vegetables to locals and restaurants, but there are also stalls that sell olives, dried fruits and nuts and some bakery sections where you can pick up Greek winter desserts such as kourampiedes and melomakarona.
Of course, the smells and sights of the Dimotiki Agora can be a little overwhelming (and aren’t recommended for vegetarians), but the sheer array of produce on offer and the eclectic displays make it a great place for photographers.
Check out the antique market in Monastiraki
For those who don’t want to see fresh foodstuffs on display, the Monastiraki Flea Market may be more up your street. This market is set up outside on Ifestou Street, with vendors selling everything from old books and vinyl records to artwork, furniture, and traditional briki (Greek coffee pots). On weekends this antique market spreads over to Avissinias Square with more wares being sold on stalls and even on simple blankets on the floor.
Hike one of Athens hills (Lycabettus Hill, Areopagitiu Hill, Filopappou Hill)
If you get a clear, dry day in Athens in winter and want to get out and explore the city from afar, you may want to hike up one of the surrounding hills: Lycabettus Hill, Areopagitu Hill or Filopappou Hill.
These hill walks allow you to witness Athens from a different vantage point, seeing the city sprawl out below you and admiring the Acropolis from a new viewpoint. Walkers can choose a road or woodland walk up Lycabettus Hill (around 30 minutes from the foot to summit), can clamber up the rock atop Areopagitiu Hill, or hike to the Philopappos monument, taking a two-hour walk in and around Filopappou Hill.
Things to Do in Athens in December
If you plan to visit Athens during the holiday season, there are many events you can enjoy and places you can visit.
See the Christmas Decorations
Athens really decks itself out for the Christmas season and its decorations are some of the most beautiful in the world. The city is filled with colorful lights, fresh wreaths, and Christmas trees you can gaze at. Many areas in the city offer creative light fixtures that are in the shape of large boats, trees, and stars.
Check out the Christmas tree in Syntagma Square
Throughout the month of December Athens is illuminated in twinkling Christmas lights and decorations, with a large Christmas tree being placed in the heart of Syntagma Square. This is a great way to get you into the festive mood; enjoying a hot drink as you admire the tree before doing a spot of Christmas shopping on the high street.
Go to the Ice Rinks Around the City
The ice rinks around Athens are a great way to celebrate the Christmas holiday and New Year. Some of these rinks are located in an indoor facility while others are open ones and located in the middle of squares near historic landmarks. Some ice rinks are decorated with Christmas trees and other decorations you can skate around.
Eat Traditional Christmas Greek Desserts
If you want to experience a truly authentic part of Greek Christmas traditions, what’s a better way to do so then by trying some traditional Christmas desserts! One popular pastry you can try is melomakarona. This egg-shaped cookie is made with a unique blend of olive oil, honey, and spices and is often topped with walnuts. Another great traditional treat you can enjoy is kourabiedes. This rich shortbread cookie will melt in your mouth and is usually coated with sugar.
Watch the fireworks over the Acropolis on New Years
Most capital cities have some epic New Year’s fireworks celebrations and Athens is no different, with spectacular light displays being held over the Acropolis, making for a real magical evening. As the clock strikes 12, colorful explosions light up the sky, and with the Parthenon and other temples atop Acropolis Hill being lit up in gold, this is the perfect way to ring in the New Year.
Day trips from Athens in winter
The towering monasteries of Meteora are one of the most magical destinations in Greece and can be visited on a day trip from Athens. Your tour will take you from central Athens to Kalambaka by train, before meeting your guide and taking a luxury minibus around Meteora. You will see all six monasteries as well as giving you the opportunity to go inside three of them. This all-encompassing tour gives you a wealth of information about this UNESCO World Heritage site and its history and it will be a real once-in-a-lifetime experience.
You can also check my detailed post on how to do a Meteora day trip from Athens.
Another day trip you can take from Athens is a Delphi Guided Tour, a 10-hour round trip to the Ancient Greek site of the Oracle and the Temple of Apollo. This trip takes you from Athens to Delphi and guides you around the ancient ruins and gives you a chance to visit the Delphi Museum. As the journey is quite long to/from Delphi, there are rest stops and photo opportunities along the way.
Sunset in Sounio
Cape Sounion is a beautiful place to watch the sun go down, with the ancient Temple of Poseidon perched perfectly on the water’s edge. Guests on this half-day trip from Athens enjoy a scenic drive to Cape Sounion before relaxing in a beachside taverna or on the sand to watch the sunset. The trip takes a total of 5-hours, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the village and the view.
Mycenae and Epidaurus
The Mycenae and Epidaurus Full-Day Tour from Athens allows visitors to soak up more Ancient Greek atmosphere with a trip to the Mycenae Ruins (the setting for the works of Homer) and the Theatre of Epidaurus which is still in use today. This 10-hour tour takes you from Athens, via the Corinth Canal, to Mycenae and Epidaurus.
You might want to check this post for more day trip ideas from Athens.
Events and Celebrations in Athens in winter
Athens has traditional festivals year-round and winter is no different, with world-wide celebrations such as Christmas and New Year, and more localised Greek festivals such as Theofania and Tsiknopempti.
25th December: Christmas Day
Greece celebrates Christmas on the 25th December with traditional family meals and get-togethers. Most businesses, museums and archaeological sites are closed on Christmas Day so it’s not the best time for sight-seeing in Greece!
26th December: Glorifying Mother of God
The 26th December is a day to celebrate Theotokos, the Mother of God, in Greece. There are therefore some important religious services at Greek Orthodox churches around the city, but most people celebrate in the same way as Boxing Day elsewhere around the world: family time and lots of food!
31st December: New Year’s Eve
Athenians ring in the New Year with fireworks over Acropolis and concerts in and around Syntagma Square. There is also plenty of nightlife on offer, with bouzoukia cabarets and busy bars and clubs galore.
1st Jan: New Year’s/St. Basil’s Day
The 1st January is a public holiday in Greece, with most businesses, restaurants, shops and all tourist sites being closed. It is therefore a great time walk around Athens in peace, or to enjoy a hike up one of the hills. Families also share a traditional Vasilopita, a cake with a coin in, which is said to bring you luck if you get the slice with the coin.
6th Jan Epiphany/Theofania:
Epiphany (6th January) is another big celebration in Greece, especially out on the coast where a priest throw a cross into the sea and several people (mostly boys) jump in after it to retrieve it from the cold winter waters.
If you’re in Athens on the first Sunday of the month in January then you’ll have free access to all archaeological sites and museums in Athens – a great way to save a few Euros.
The first Sunday in February is also a free museum day, so you can make the most of all the archaeological sites and museums on this day.
Carnival in Athens is one of the biggest celebrations of the year, with three weeks of celebrations spreading across the city. Carnival dates differ each year, depending on when Easter falls, but generally start around mid-February. These celebrations include costumes, parties, parades, and feasts.
One of the notable Carnival days is Tsiknopempti, or ‘Smoke/Meat Thursday’ a day when Greeks go out to get their fill of grilled meats before the fasting begins. Carnival ends with Clean Monday (usually in March), with a vegan meal prepared between friends and family.
Athens is a phenomenal place to visit not only in the summer but during the winter as well. It’s less crowded and has cooler weather which can make a visit during this season even more enjoyable. Besides this, winter also means Christmas in Athens.
You’ll find many unique events and sights you can visit during this time and tasty seasonal treats you can munch on. Visiting Athens in the winter will allow you to experience this city to the fullest extent possible and in a way that you couldn’t if you visited during the summer.
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