Greece isn’t just a summer destination. With its different regions, each with unique Christmas traditions, Greece is definitely worth discovering during the colder months. From the slopes of the north to the rugged plains of central Greece, through the shores of sunny Crete, here is a list of things to do at this festive time of year.
Known as one of the most romantic and picturesque towns in Greece, Nafplio is located in Peloponnese and boasts charming little streets, lively squares bordered with coffee shops and restaurants, a few monuments worth visiting and a laid-back vibe. You may not see snow but you will definitely be able to sample the special way Greeks celebrate Christmas.
Nafplio | © Pavel69 / Flickr
Rent a cabin in the woods
If you place more importance on the people you spend it with than on the holiday itself, why not get away from civilization and find a cozy place to hide away? Since Christmas is all about warm feelings, we suggest you rent a wooden cabin at Vasilikia Mountain Farm and Retreat. The beautiful estate is located near the village of Pavliani, near Oiti National Park and features a selection of accommodation options, including this homey cottage, with strong Canadian wood cabin vibes. Light a fire in the fireplace, get some delicious local delicacies and celebrate the season with the person(s) you love most.
Vasilikia Mountain Farm & Retreat, Pavliani, Phthiotis, Greece. +30 2231 082992
Courtesy of Vasilikia Mountain Farm and Retreat
Get in the mood in Oneiroupoli
In the little town of Drama, in the region of Macedonia, the Christmas-inspired theme park Oneiroupoli welcomes visitors for a whole month, every year since 2004. Covering an area of 20,000 m² in the municipal garden of Drama, Oneiroupoli combines festive Christmas lighting, small wooden houses where visitors can taste local delicacies and handmade crafts, enjoy outdoor concerts and performances, take a ride on little trains and take part in a plethora of activities for children and adults alike. A fun destination to keep in mind, especially if you are travelling as a family.
Oneiroupoli, Agias Varvaras 9, Drama, Greece +30 25210 48304
Courtesy of Oneiroupoli
Every year on December 23rd, in Florina, locals light bonfires throughout the town, with the largest one set on the main square. Festivities start with the local brass band, playing music in the streets, inviting locals to join them in the square. The tradition, which takes place throughout the whole region, dates back to ancient times, when people lit fires to worship the sun god. Today, however, the church associates the practice with a celebration of the shepherds who lit fires to warm baby Jesus in the stable.
While Meteora is definitely a year-round destination, the Christmas season allows for a very special experience. First, since Meteora is considered a holy destination, with its plethora of pillar-perched monasteries, a Christmas service in one of them is definitely an experience to remember. Besides, you will enjoy the place all to yourself, since there should be very few tourists. Third, the region is known for its numerous Christmas traditions, delicious food and unspoiled nature.
Meteora | © PixaBay
The tradition of eating turkey on Christmas Day is recent in Greece, with pork dishes more the norm. But in Macedonia, Thrace and Thessaly as well as several regions across the country, locals take it up a notch with a pig feast known as gourounohara. Dating back from old times, the tradition includes each family buying a pig earlier in the year and feeding it up, ready to eat for Christmas. Since locals hate waste, every part of the animal is used to make sausages and other meat dishes. In the small village of Stanos, the tradition becomes a town-wide celebration, where, on the second day of the Christmas holidays, people get together, roast pigs and celebrate with eating and drinking. The local orchestra settles on the main square while people spontaneously burst into songs and dances.
If you plan on exploring the region of Pelion (or Pilio) this winter, you are in luck. In the Greek town of Volos, there is a beautiful custom that reminds visitors of the paper lantern celebrations in Asia. Every year on the 26th December, residents gather along the coastline and release fanaria, or paper lanterns, into the sky. This beautiful show was an idea of the municipality. Anyone who wishes to release a lantern, makes a small donation, which is donated to a local charity. Now, that’s a sweet way to spend your Christmas.
Spend Christmas by the slopes
Greece is known for its endless summer and beautiful beaches but it should also be known as a ski holiday destination as well. If you enjoy some snow fun, head straight to Evritania, in the heart of Greece. This picturesque region boasts traditional villages, well-preserved monasteries and splendid nature. Have some fun at Velouxi ski resort, located on the slopes of Mount Tymfristos and celebrate Christmas in the region’s capital, Karpenisi, a lovely town full of character.
If you are a city addict, Athens and Thessaloniki offer plenty of seasonal fun, with countless open-air concerts on the main squares, Christmas villages, outdoor ice-skating rinks and numerous shopping options. In the capital, stay at Electra Metropolis, known for its bright and vibrant Christmas decorations, for an enjoyable stay. Should you be heading north, give Porto Palace Hotel a try and take advantage of its spa to spoil yourself at this lovely time of the year.
Christmas tree in Kotzia square, Athens | © Manos Κ./flickr
A village of snow and stone, Nymfaio is a favorite winter destination in Greece. This beautiful and charming village, set on the slopes of Mount Vernon, is perfect for those looking for long hikes in nature, stone-built guesthouses, tasty local delicacies and hopefully some snow. If the weather is favorable, you can also enjoy some outdoor activities such as kayaking, rock climbing or mountain biking.
If you want to avoid a cold winter, then Crete may just be what you need. With average December temperatures hovering between 14-17°C, Crete, with its many local Christmas traditions, is perfect for a typical Cretan Christmas. Go even further and take part in the Santa Run in Chania, where people dress up as Santa and run and have some fun, with the ultimate goal of raising money for charity. Afterwards, reward yourself with an ample serving of kourabiedes and melomakarona from the nearest pastry shop.
Courtesy of Santa Run Chania