What to do on a winter weekend in Athens

Helen Alexander

Senior Contributor

We tend to think of cool-climate countries when planning a European city break, but if you’re seeking warm days and sun rays, then Athens is an excellent choice. The city comes into its own in winter months when there are fewer tourists and its historic sites feel far removed from the summertime hustle and bustle.

Step back in time without the crowds

Start your explorations in Plaka, which takes on an enchanting, unexplored atmosphere during quieter winter months. Nicknamed the ‘neighbourhood of the gods’ it sits in the shadow of the Acropolis, so take advantage of cooler temperatures and ascend to the summit to see this breathtaking fortress. Average December temperatures in Athens are 15ºC (8ºF), which makes for cooler climes, whichever route you decide to take. Arrive before 11am on a weekday and you’ll almost have the area to yourself, so take a moment to admire the majestic Parthenon as the winter sun casts a warm glow upon its marble columns. If you are still feeling energetic later in the day, wander up nearby Areopagus Hill for mesmerising views of the Acropolis as daylight fades. 

Access year-round culture easily

The city’s cultural attractions are always ready to inspire and inform visitors, so spend an afternoon at the Benaki Museum. Situated near the Hellenic Parliament, in a beautiful neoclassical-style building, this hidden gem houses an impressive collection of Greek art and artefacts. Ensure an unrushed exploration of the exhibits and make an appointment to visit the library – it’s usually closed during summer so now’s the perfect time to see its breathtaking array of manuscripts. Continue to the National Archaeological Museum to see its impressive sculpture collection before taking a tour of the Old Royal Palace.

Just around the corner, more rooms that are fit for royalty await at New Hotel, which combines the best of old and new Athens. Its location near Plaka means you’re perfectly placed to soak up the main historic sites while modern amenities like a steam bath, jacuzzi and 24-hour gym are ready to warm you up when you return from a day’s exploring. 

Where to enjoy a winter walk

Live like a local during winter months and seamlessly blend in with the Athenians as they go about their daily routines. Grab a coffee and an artisan pastry from the popular bakery KORA (Panagiotou Anagnostopoulou 44) and enjoy a leisurely stroll through the National Garden, stopping off to admire the archaeological remains that dot this sprawling park. Or for more urban surroundings, check out the white-washed houses that line the picturesque passageways of Anafiotika – a hidden neighbourhood on the north side of the Acropolis. However, if you want to venture further afield, embark on a day trip to the ancient city of Corinth, where the Temple of Apollo and Acrocorinth await.

A warm welcome awaits

While Greece’s fishermen are always busy, winter is the perfect time to swap sparkling fresh seafood for hearty stews. Toast the season at a family-run ouzeri, where glasses of ouzo – a warming, aniseed-flavoured aperitif – are served alongside mezedes (small plates) such as grilled saganaki and rice-stuffed vine leaves. Or try another Greek spirit that’s guaranteed to bring a rosy glow to your cheeks in Monastiraki, where tavernas serve glasses of raki.

Alternatively, Psiri is a neighbourhood that’s known for its vibrant nightlife, and come winter it's bars serve steaming glasses of rakomelo – a traditional Greek elixir made with raki and honey and infused cinnamon and cloves. Along the way, stop for dinner at nearby Seychelles (Keramikou 49) where you’ll discover that its Instagram-worthy dishes taste just as delicious as they look. 

Look stylish in the snow

It’s unlikely that you’ll experience snow during winter in Athens, although it has been known – and the Acropolis looks even more incredible when it’s had a light dusting. However, if the temperature suddenly requires a cashmere jumper, the city's upscale shopping districts are the perfect place to visit for stylish warmth and luxurious souvenirs. Kolonaki is dotted with designer boutiques, homeware emporiums and galleries, so be sure to explore intricate jewellery, hand-painted ceramics and locally produced textiles that you might want to bring home.

Meanwhile, Ermou Street is a bustling pedestrian avenue with plenty of places to find fashionable winter attire. From cosy knitwear to elegant coats, you'll discover a range of options to keep you warm and stylish throughout your Athenian adventure. Make Achademias Hotel your base as you explore the city’s renowned shopping districts, as its blend of ancient Greek architecture-inspired interiors and contemporary design flourishes are sure to inspire. 

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