Athens’ enviable climate provides the perfect stage for Athenians to do what they love best: soak up some outdoor culture. From free jazz and film festivals to world-class theatre and rock concerts, here’s where to catch the season’s hottest open-air action.
Athens is one of the sunniest cities in Europe. From April to October, Athenians live life outdoors: either eating in a courtyard restaurant, enjoying a cocktail at a rooftop bar, or getting their culture on at an open-air festival or concert. Athens is full of atmospheric and historic outdoor venues where you can enjoy the hottest events of a “summer season” that stretches out for well over 90 days.
The Gazi neighbourhood took its name from this former gasworks, now an open-air venue that hosts a multitude of events year-round. Annual highlights include the Jazz Festival in May, Retro Festival in June, Coffee Festival in September, a Vinyl Market in October, and regular concerts, craft markets, and kids’ activities. The complex is also home to Innovathens, a dynamic hub for start-ups. Much of the original machinery in the plant that supplied Athens with power for 130 years has been preserved at the Industrial Gas Museum. There’s a museum café with tables outdoors and a thrilling Skywalk action park for kids. For adults looking to live—or rather dine—slightly on the edge, there’s Dinner in the Sky. You’ll be strapped into thrill-ride seats, seated around a table for up to 22 people, and lifted by a crane 50 metres into the sky. Oh, and you’re served a five-course dinner. If you’re up for exploring the area, Gazi is full of bars and restaurants; it’s the most LGBTQ+ friendly ‘hood' in the city.
This concert venue literally translates as “water plaza” and rightfully so, for it is right on the sea. Some of the top music festivals in Athens are staged here. Book early for the Ejekt Festival and Release Festival—recent headliners include Nick Cave, Jamiroquai, Royksopp, and The Cure. Water Plaza is also a great starting point for a stroll along the Athens Riviera. A short walk from the venue is Flisvos Marina, a cinema multiplex, parks, sports grounds, and, a little further down the coast, sunbed-lined beaches.
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC)
Don’t leave Athens without visiting its biggest modern claim to fame. Whether you’re looking to kayak down a canal, listen to some world-class opera, watch a movie or concert in a park, or go bike riding with the kids, this is the place to be. After sunset, head to Pharos Café, poised at the pinnacle of the complex’s green roof, with incredible views both across the city and out to sea. Every June, the week-long Nostos Festival offers a rocking line-up of DJs, bands, outdoor work-outs, performances and workshops—and it’s all completely free. The SNFCC is also home to the Greek National Opera and the National Library.
A venue unlike any other. On the southern slopes of the Acropolis, this magnificent marble amphitheatre was built in the second century A.D. The mastery of acoustics is such that no matter where you are seated, you can always hear exactly what’s happening on stage, without the performers using a microphone. The showpiece of the summer Athens and Epidavros Festival, the ‘Herodion’ (as it’s known locally) hosts a wide range of events from May to October, from ancient Greek drama to contemporary dance. Maria Callas, Sting, Pina Bausch, Sylvie Guillem, Diana Ross and the Bolshoi Ballet are just some of the stars who have performed under the light of the summer moon, in the shadow of the Parthenon.
An ultra-urban space in an old industrial neighbourhood, Peiraios 260 is one of the most recent venues added to the Athens and Epidavros Festival’s repertoire. Built in the 1970s, this repurposed furniture factory is mostly used for avant garde and experimental events, exhibitions, and performances. Entering the four cavernous warehouses, which now have listed status, is like watching art blooming in a derelict space. The Athens School of Fine Arts next door is also worth exploring.
Literally translated as the “theatre of the rocks”, this outdoor theatre is hidden in between, you got it, rocks. At the foot of Mount Ymittos, in the residential Vyronas neighbourhood, this dramatic stage has hosted quite a line-up of artists, from The Cranberries to The Tiger Lillies. It even has its own festival, Festival Vrahon, which stages an array of concerts and plays (mostly in Greek).
The white marble stadium that hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, the Kallimarmaro also hosted the archery competition in the Athens 2004 Olympics. Today, the horseshoe-shaped stadium is best known as the rousing finishing line of the Athens Classic Marathon, which takes place on the second Sunday in November. Occasionally, the stadium also serves as a stunning backdrop for concerts, mostly fundraisers for humanitarian causes. No matter who is performing, the experience is unforgettable in a venue of such historical importance.
"A hidden, unexpected little treasure, right in the city centre."
Numismatic Museum Café
This is a more hidden, or unexpected little treasure, right in the city centre. A café in the garden of the Numismatic Museum that hosts live jazz performances once a week all year-round. Come by on a Thursday night and chill out in the backyard of what used to be the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann’s house. The café is lush with flowers and replicas of ancient statues, and the menu small, but perfect for a light summer night’s snack or drink. The museum also hosts a number of performances throughout the year.
Tucked away behind the Megaron Concert Hall, is a 4.5-acre park. Screened from the traffic roaring down Kifisias Avenue by a perimeter of laurel trees, these secret gardens are planted with trees and flowers that bloom all year round. Designed to host a range of educational, cultural and environmental activities, the gardens are especially magical in summer, when jazz trios, Greek folk singers, and classical musicians perform among the carob, acacia, orange and magnolia trees. The sloping lawns provide seating for the audience. Occasionally, the gardens also serve as a backdrop for art installations, screenings, and festivals. The Concert Hall Gardens are open to the public from 10am to sunset every day.