Athens in Winter
Athens in Winter
During this time of year in Athens, there are no lines at the popular ancient sites or museums. Simply obtain a ticket, enter, and visitors pretty much have the place to themselves give or take a few stray tourists and perhaps a school field trip. Archaeological sites and some museums close earlier during the winter season, while a few sites or sectors outside Athens do not open at all. Since January and February are the wettest months, the most pleasant impression is how green the ruins are after the rains have begun to fall.
Breaking Winter suggestions down into months, December can be a magical time of year in Athens. Visit the famous Christmas tree glowing under the lights of Syntagma Square - as well as the many open-air concerts taking place there. An Orthodox liturgy is a beautiful thing to witness no matter what your faith. Re-discover the child in you by enjoying ice-skating or by visiting the Technopolis Christmas Factory in Gazi. Take in a ballet or opera performance at the magnificent Christmas Theater or the Megaron Music Hall. Famous Greek singers normally await this time of year to put on their most spectacular shows at the many bouzoukia / live stages sprinkled around Athens. Lovers of gastronomy need to make their way to patisseries or taverns to indulge in Hellenic festive desserts like kourabiedes (powder sugar cookies) accompanied by a warm rakomelo (a Cretan raki with honey). New Year's Eve, of course, should be celebrated beneath the Acropolis for the incredible fireworks show it bestows upon Athenians every year!
January 1st / St. Vassilis's Day is a public holiday in Greece, with most businesses, restaurants, shops, and all tourist sites being closed. It is hence a good time to stroll 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 it) that is said to bring you luck if you get the slice with the money. Epiphany (January 6th) is another big celebration in Greece, especially out on the coast where a priest throws a cross into the sea and several people (mostly boys) jump in after it to retrieve it from the cold winter waters for its blessing. Moreover, 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 the city – a great way to save a few Euros. Also, strive to explore the city's modern architectural heritage on a guided tour assured to change the way you look at Athens.
The first Sunday in February is likewise a free museum day, so make the most of all the archaeological sites and museums on this day. This month is most popular for the Carnival season that it brings in. Most commonly known as the period of "Apokries" (def. "no more meat") that stretches over 3 weeks in the lead-up to Lent. This massive party holiday has been practiced in Greece for over 200 years and is compared to Halloween as celebrators are urged to dress up in costumes and attend theme parties. Coming towards the end of the month, everyone dons their bibs and loosens their pants because ONLY meat is on the table! Tsiknopempti is the Thursday during the "Greek Mardi Gras" period that marks the start of the final weekend that observant Greek Orthodox believers can respectfully eat flesh. Because of this, everyone rushes to prepare and enjoy their favorite dishes, creating a cloud of smoke where it is being cooked. This gives Tsiknopempti one of its other common names, "Smoke Thursday". It's a popular day for going out to eat and enjoying as many different meats as possible. In English, "Mardi Gras" means "Fat Tuesday" and so Tsiknopempti is sometimes also called "Fat Thursday" - which is logical as the cooking of all that meat results in vast quantities of fat dribbling down onto the coals. In Greek, Thursday is Pempti (Πέμπτη), meaning the 5th day of the week. The word tsikna (Τσικνο) refers to the smell of cooked meat - however, "Smelly Thursday" has not caught on as a translation.
Let's not forget to mention that Winter shopping in Athens is quite convenient where everything is within walking distance from most hotels. Throughout the massive sales that take place every January and February, savvy buyers can discover products not usually found in a local mall (and some things you will) for prices that make it worth a trip every year. These months are also considered the most inexpensive when it comes to traveling to and booking accommodations in Athens.
Winter sunny days also offer unique opportunities for nearby excursions and adventure. Whether you will decide on a simple low-budget stay or a posh hotel, you will be charmed by the friendly Greek accommodations, stunning nature, mountains, and picturesque villages. Wander around their narrow stone-paved roads and admire the unique architecture, taste local food with pure ingredients by the fireplace, and indulge in serenity. 2 great hints, the infamous Patras Carnivale, and the ski village of Arachova that has long been dubbed the "Mykonos of the Winter".