Athens in the Winter

“Is that snow?” Scott asked, looking out the window.

We were sitting in Vicki and Ron’s room with a bottle of wine, some olives, and a box of baklava. It had been too cold on the street to stop at one of the sidewalk cafes, even with their outdoor heaters on.

It was, indeed, snow. There were just a few minutes of light flurries, but this was not what we had expected in March! When we’d planned the trip a month before, Athens was already t-shirt weather, and here we were, wearing wooly hats and down jackets.

Changing of the guard at the presidential palace on Syntagma Square

My previous trip to Athens had been in August. We’d been looking for shade and water then, not warmth! I found many advantages, however, to Athens in the winter, even when it was unseasonably cold.

To start, there are no lines. Yes, there were people on the Acropolis, but there were rarely enough to slow the flow of traffic, nor more than a handful in line at the ticket booths. It was the same at museums and other ancient sites.

No crowds, no lines

This time, I felt I did justice to the museums. On my first trip, the ocean called me away, and I gave the amazing museums a perfunctory dash through. When there were boats and beaches with the turquoise seas glittering in the sun, when there was beer to be drunk with a Parthenon view or ice cream to be licked with my toes in the sand, why would I want to be inside?

Amazing Parthenon Museum

We spent a whole afternoon at the Parthenon Museum. There was time to read the signs and watch the videos, developing a feel for millennia of history of the Acropolis, of Athens, of Greece, of the Mediterranean. Seeing the marbles of the friezes and pediments placed exactly how they would have been on the Parthenon gave a true sense of the size and grandeur of the ancient temple. It was particularly poignant to see the plaster casts filling so much of the lines of carvings, holding space for those taken by Lord Elgin and still in the British Museum. We had seen that display a week before in London, and recognized many of the pieces.

The pale sections are casts of the Parthenon Marbles still held in the British Museum

The Archeological Museum took up another afternoon. We mostly ignored the collections from other countries and focussed on Greece. There were monumental statures and rooms of pottery, but I was most taken with the smaller items: the incredible Mycenaean royal tomb treasures excavated by Schliemann; the Antikythera mechanism, an incredibly complex astronomical instrument found in a shipwreck, and the working models of it recreated by dedicated researchers; two thousand year old glass bowls that look like they could be used in a modern kitchen; and case after case of gold jewellery and other precious items buried in graves over many centuries.

Two thousand year old glass bowl.

When the sun came out the squares and markets of Athens were filled, but with mostly locals, not tourists. We braved the outdoor patios, bought treats from stalls, browsed trinkets in little stores.

Monostiraki Square in Athens

Any time of year, Greek food is fantastic. Familiar souvlaki, spanakopita, salad, but also complex dishes with cheese or seafood, soft bread dipped in olive oil, desserts that we somehow found room for after declaring ourselves too full for another bite.

The next time I come to Greece it will likely be in the summer, but if you have the opportunity to visit Athens do it, no matter what the time of the year.

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