It’s likely a rarity that you’ll think about Greece in the winter and Athens in winter in particular, but there are enormous upsides to visiting the capital Greek city in the winter months. The Greeks love to spend time with loved ones, eat warm comforting food, and take advantage of visiting ancient sites in the cooler months and less visited months. Read this article to get to know how to spend Athens in winter like a local and enjoy a prime getaway.
Athens Weather in Winter
The weather in Athens tends to be quite mild throughout the winter, but definitely not the Mediterranean summer temperatures that a lot of people expect.
When many travelers first experience Athens and Greece in general in the wintertime, they’re quite surprised by how cold it can be. The winter is short in Athens, but it is typically quite windy, wet, and sometimes even has a few days of snowfall.
The weather begins to cool down in November, with temperatures dropping in December, January, and February before beginning to warm back up in March.
Temperatures in December usually average around 12°C (53 F) but feel a lot cooler in comparison to 12° in more of a northern/central European country. Wind and rain begin to become more frequent but you’ll rarely see snow in December in Athens.
Athens in January is likely the coldest month of the year with an average temperature of 10°C (50 F). You’ll still experience a good amount of sunshine in January, but this is the month that you’ll see snow if it’s to happen in the given year. The past few years there has been a lot more snow than in previous years and the Acropolis under a blanket of snow is a special sight to see.
In February, the city of Athens has an average temperature of 12°C (53 F) but is also typically the part of the winter where the sun starts to shine stronger and there are fewer rainy/windy days.
No matter the month, you’ll want to bring layers on your trip and make sure to have a warmer jacket. Although the day can see a good amount of sun where maybe a sweater and hat will suffice, the night can be cold. So if you plan on exploring the city at night or going by the sea, warmer outerwear is almost a certain necessity.
Which Month to Visit Athens in Winter?
When beginning to plan an Athens in winter itinerary you’ll probably wonder which month to visit Athens in winter? I suppose the best place to begin is that there are various benefits and drawbacks to visiting in each winter month.
Athens in December
Just like most capital cities in Europe, Athens is an exciting time to visit in December and especially in the lead-up to Christmas. Contrary to other Orthodox nations (such as Serbia or Georgia), the Greek Orthodox church uses the Gregorian calendar so Christmas lands on the 25th of December, in line with the majority of Europe and elsewhere.
This is likely one of the major benefits of visiting Athens in December, in addition to the slightly cooler winter weather in Comparison to January or February.
The Greeks love anything “themed” and you’ll find lovely and festive decorations throughout the city as well as special Christmas and winter-themed cafes, which are a lot of fun (and tasty) to visit.
On the other hand, I’d say the only downside to visiting Athens in December is how busy it can get. While there aren’t as many tourists, the locals love to get out, shop for the holidays, and socialize with friends and family.
Athens in January
After the hustle and bustle leading up to and during the holiday period, Athens in January really slows down. This is definitely one of the biggest benefits of visiting Athens in January. If you’d like to visit any of the major sites with small crowds, this is without a doubt the month to do it.
Locals have gone back to work and their daily routine, and tourists are still very minimal. If you’re looking to spend the New Year in the Greek capital, there are many bars and clubs hosting various events which can be a lot of fun, as well as a good way to experience life as a local.
On the downside, January is the coldest month of the year in Athens and it can be quite rainy and sometimes even snowy. If this isn’t a bother to you, January is a wonderful time to visit.
Athens in February
Athens in February is another month of the year that has low tourists but also unpredictable weather. When considering the positives and drawbacks of visiting in February, not much is different from the month of January.
The only thing is that there will be more hours of sunshine towards the end of the month and possibly a few more tourists starting to trickle in as early spring approaches.
Things to do in Athens in Winter
Athens in the summer may be the perfect time of year to visit if you’re focused on sunshine and time spent by the sea. But on the contrary, if you’re especially interested in visiting to explore Greek and Athenian culture, winter is the prime time.
Explore the Ancient Sites & Museums
Athens is a city rich in deep history which leads to a wide array of sites for visitors to see when in Europe’s oldest capital. While this makes for a busy itinerary, it also makes for an extremely congested city when traveling in the warmer months.
If wandering around the Acropolis while feeling like you’ve fallen into time without crowds surrounding you while taking photos, Athens in winter is a must.
Another benefit to visiting Athens in the winter is the ticket costs for major sites. Monuments, museums and ancient/archaeological sites in the city are split between seasons; summer and winter.
In the summer season, hours are longer and ticket costs are high. In the winter season, hours are reduced due to the fewer crowds visiting, and the best part, tickets for most sites are reduced in half.
This is a great way to explore everywhere in the city that you’ve longed to visit with fewer people around, and saving a good amount of money on attraction and sightseeing costs.
Some of the museums and sites that I recommend are:
- The Acropolis Museum
- Byzantine Museum
- Archaeological Museum
- The Acropolis
- The National Art Gallery and National Glyptotheque Museum
- Benaki Museum
- The Museum of Cycladic Art
- Ancient Agora, Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Library
Savor Hearty Greek Tavern Cuisine & Drink
One of the top things that Greece is known for worldwide is its inviting and flavorful food. During the cooler months in Athens, one of the locals’ favorite past times is to go out to eat and enjoy long, tasty meals while passing time with those close to them.
Visiting Athens in the summer is a great joy in its own right, but sometimes the heat is so intense that your only motivation will be to get into the air conditioning. In the winter months, you’ll find that hot, classic Greek dishes are even more enjoyable when you’re in good company and looking to escape the cool Athenian air.
Greeks also relish in a good drink and another way to enjoy the winter months in Athens is to check out one of the many bars and cafes. From wine bars, classic Greek liquor bars, cocktail bars, and more; there’s something for everyone.
My personal favorite is “Rakomelo”. It’s a digestive spirit originating in Crete, consisting of “Raki”, a spirit, mixed with honey and spices such as cinnamon. It’s mainly consumed in the cooler months at a warm temperature, and is the perfect way to warm up on a winter day.
For some of the best souvlaki and rakomelo in the city, head to the Kerameikos neighborhood to the Kerameio bar.
Sip some tasty rakomelo and order some souvlaki next door from Kalamakia O Elvis, and enjoy the cosy, neighborhood environment. I’m pretty sure that the combination of these three is a match made in heaven.
Walk in Thissio
Another benefit to the more mild winters in Athens is the ability to walk around the city without feeling the urge to rush inside before you become uncomfortably cold. There are many walks in the city that offer interesting surroundings and beautiful views of the Greek national capital.
If you’re looking for an atmospheric walk, I suggest heading to the Thissio neighborhood. Located west of the Monastiraki neighborhood and the Acropolis, Thissio is a lovely historic neighborhood in the city with the Acropolis on full show.
The neighborhood is full of neo-classic buildings, outdoor cafes with heaters, musicians, artisan stands, cozy restaurants and cafes, and the perfect place to take a stroll with ancient views surrounding you.
Locals love coming to Thissio to walk their dogs, take in the city, breathe life, and catch up with good company.
Coffee & Dessert (Christmas-themed Cafes)
So far you’re probably learning that there’s a theme here, Greeks love to eat good food, enjoy different types of drinks, and socialize. This leads to one of the next best things to do in Athens in winter; enjoy coffee and dessert.
Coffee and Greek culture go hand in hand and also have a relationship tracing its roots back to the Ottoman Empire. So with such a deep history, Greece has been given a lot of time to really get creative.
You’ll find numerous spots throughout the city with extravagant desserts, all sorts of specialty coffees, and themed menus with whimsical decorations to the nines. If you’re visiting during the Christmas or holiday winter period and would love to experience these cafes, you’re in for a treat. My recommendations are:
Little Kook – Likely the most well-known themed cafe in Athens, Little Kook is located centrally in the Psiri neighborhood and likely has the most extravagant decor of any cafe/sweet shop in the city. There’s a neighboring gift shop as well where you can find unique little Christmas gifts and decorations if you fancy having a browse.
Cap Cap – Cap Cap is another popular fairytale-themed cafe located in the Aigaleo neighborhood of Athens. It’s located a bit outside of the center, but is easily reached by metro and is a good neighborhood to explore to get a better idea of what life is like outside of the center.
The theme of Cap Cap changes about once a month depending on the season or holiday, and the specialty here is their extravagant desserts that are close to works of art.
Each dessert is thoughtfully designed to the theme, and you’ll also find fun drinks here such as butterbeer if you visit during the Harry Potter theme!
If you’re feeling brave and searching for the quintessential Greek winter activity, therein lies the Bouzoukia.
Bouzoukia goes far back into Greek history due to the “Bouzouki”, the classic Greek instrument that the clubs are named after.
These clubs are the heart and soul of Greek nightlife, and when the warmth heads in for the year and winter appears, Greeks put long beach days away for long nights at bouzoukia and nightclubs. This is something that you need to experience first-hand to fully understand.
Famous Greek musicians sing their classics to devoted fans, flowers are thrown on the stage, bottles of wine are drunk, and everyone is having a great time. Even if you’re not familiar with the musicians performing, the fun energy is enough to feel a part of the collective experience.
Keep in mind that these performances typically start around 11:00 PM and can last until 3-4 AM, so if you’re someone that can’t stay up late, Bouzoukia probably aren’t for you.
Day Trip to Meteora or Ancient Delphi
When searching for things to do in Athens in winter, it’s important to keep in mind that there are many wonderful day trips from Athens in winter. Athens may be a condensed and concrete city, but go outside of the city to one of the many surrounding areas and you’ll be in an entirely different world when in Greece’s rugged nature.
These are the day trips that I recommend when visiting Athens in winter.
Meteora is an impressive, otherworldly rock formation in central Greece with 6 different Orthodox monasteries built upon its different peaks. A UNESCO Heritage Site since 1989, Meteora is easily one of the most incredible places to visit in Greece and in the world.
Just staring at these rocks evokes inspiration, magic, and even spiritual feelings to those that visit and should be on your Athens winter itinerary.
If you’re interested in taking a day trip to Meteora from Athens you’ll have a few options for transport. Either rent a car (you can browse Rentalcars.com for deals) and head there independently (it’s about three and a half hours away, and you’ll want to make your way to the town of Kalambaka).
Or you can take part in a guided tour leaving from Athens such as this full day tour, taking you to and around Meteora and then back to Athens later at night. If you prefer to explore sites independently and would like flexibility for your day, driving yourself would be best.
But, if you’re someone who likes guides for site exploration and would like to skip the driving, a tour such is best. As it’s not the closest destination, I’d recommend even staying a night in the area to get the most out of your stay.
Ancient Delphi is one of the most popular places to visit in Greece, the most popular day trip option from Athens, and with good reason. Located on Mount Parnassus, Delphi is home to the 4th-century-BCE Temple of Apollo, which once housed the famous oracle.
The site itself has remains of the sanctuaries of both Apollo and Athena Pronaia, as well as an in-depth museum offering plenty more information and artefacts. The location itself is stunning, surrounded by the rustic Greek countryside and nature.
Delphi is an incredibly popular spot to visit throughout the summer but due to its lack of cover from the sun, it can become incredibly warm. This makes winter the perfect time to visit the famous Greek UNESCO site.
To reach Delphi from Athens, you can either rent a car (it takes about 2 ½ hours from Athens), take a guided tour such as this full-day tour, or get a ride on a public bus. If you decide to take public transport, it will take longer, but you’ll save money in comparison to taking part in a tour.
The bus will take around 2 hours and tickets can be booked here (the bus books up quickly so I recommend reserving in advance).
Where to Stay in Athens
Athens Ivy Suites – This mid-range hotel is an excellent choice for visitors to Athens. Centrally located to all the Greek capital has to offer. They have a number of comfortable rooms available and there is also an on-site bar and a wonderful terrace boasting views over Athens. Click here to see their availability
The Modernist Athens – For those looking for a luxury escape in Athens, this 4-star hotel is an excellent choice. It has a fantastic location for exploring the city, a number of plush rooms available and a range of amenities to ensure your stay is a great one. Click here to see their availability
101 Adrianou Apartments – This aparthotel is an excellent choice if you’d like to have your own, self-catering space in Athens while still enjoying the benefits of staying in a hotel. There are a number of comfortable and fully-furnished different flats available that range in size, so you can find the right on to suit your needs. Click here to see their availability
City Circus Athens – If you’re visiting Athens in winter solo or on a tight budget, this hostel is a great choice for you. They have both private rooms and dorm beds available along with great shared spaces perfect for meeting other travelers. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Athens hotels!
Mainly known as a summer destination around the world, Athens is a good competitor to other popular winter destinations in Europe. From warm comfort foods, beautiful views in many directions, and rich cultural exploration, you’ll quickly be glad that you took the plunge and booked a winter trip to the Ancient Greek city.
Are you visiting Athens in Winter? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!