Photo: Thomas Gravanis

Thinking of coming to town with Santa? Here’s how to celebrate the Christmas holidays in Athens.

It’s a great idea to travel to Athens in December. The weather is chilly but not freezing. There are fewer tourists (which means shorter lines for all your favourite attractions). And locals are out and about everywhere enjoying the sparkle of Christmas lights above the city streets. While Athens might not be a winter holiday destination the way snowy northern European cities are, there are lovely traditions to witness and tasty seasonal foods to tempt you. Here’s how the Greeks do Christmas and what you can do to join in the festive spirit.

Deck the halls

The Christmas season in Athens kicks off on December 6 for the feast day of St. Nicholas, and continues until Epiphany on January 6. So there’s a whole month of festivities to enjoy. Traditionally, New Year is when Agios Vasilis (St. Basil), the Greek version of Santa Claus, brings gifts. He bears little resemblance to the western version of Santa though: he’s tall, slender, and has a dark bushy beard and is known for his generosity and kindness to the less privileged. These days, most kids get to tear open their presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, but some also get a gift on January 1, St. Basil’s day, to keep the tradition alive.

The Acropolis always shines brighter than any Christmas light.

Photo: Studio Kominis

A Christmas-lit Syntagma Square is a present in itself.

Photo: Thomas Gravanis

Find the coin in the vasilopita and you'll have good luck for the year ahead.

Photo: Eleni Veziri

Festive feasts

Tis the season to be jolly (and go shopping)

Pick up a Christmas trinket at one of Athens' many festive bazaars.

Photo: Manos Chatzikonstantis

New Year's Eve goes off with a big bang in Athens.

Photo: Stelios Kotsovilis

Out with the old, in with the new