As the gentle Greek summer night breeze blows through every quaint neighborhood and winding road of Athens, it’s time once again for one of the most iconic cultural activities which has defined our evenings for decades! Summer cinema theaters open their doors, welcoming visitors and locals into their open-air jasmine scented gardens, terraces and rooftops. They are sprinkled all over the historic capital as well as beyond the city gates.
The summer cinema experience is a wonderful addition to your visiting agenda if you are seeking authentic local savoir-faire, as it embodies a favorite pass-time for many Greeks. Movies from all genres and production years grace these screens in traditional open-air theaters, fusing an authentic classic feel with modern vibes and swanky trends.
Cinema-goers duly honor these establishments, many of which have been operating for decades and have managed to preserve their retro feel and atmosphere. They were already there, operating, when silent films transformed into talkies and changed entertainment for ever. Some of these venues have a taste for art-house films, paying homage to older movie-makers and classic cinematography, while others screen the latest releases and blockbusters under the starry skies.
Don’t miss a chance to attend a showing in beautiful neighborhoods around Old Town, like in Thissio where your evening will be crowned by the astonishing view of the floodlit Acropolis, rightfully earning Cine Thissio a top place among the “CNN Travel list of the 10 most enjoyable movie theaters in the world”.
With as many as 90 screens located all around Athens, you will be amiss not to pay one of these lovely venues a visit where you’ll find yourself glancing at the night sky over the screen and making a wish on a falling star, while you enjoy your outdoor entertainment and refreshments.
Many of these cinemas offer a variety of snacks, similar to any other conventional cinema while some try to diversify even further by adding more options to their menus. Alcohol is also available, as well, so crack open a cool one while you enjoy the show. Some venues provide love-seats as well as tables here and there, and most of these lovely neighborhood hang-outs adorn their garden walls with jasmine and primrose, enveloping you in a cool and refreshing shelter from the hot summer evenings.
Traditionally, most showings are at 9pm and then again at 11pm as of course earlier afternoon showings are not an option since it doesn’t get dark enough for outdoor screenings before then.
You will often find the movie roster being renewed on Thursdays and in most cases you will need to get your ticket at the cinema reception. So, it’s always clever to get there early enough to avoid a queue. You will also be able to choose where you’d rather sit once you are there since the seats are not numbered. Many of these summer cultural staples of Athenian night life offer a small bar and waiting area with tables or other options while you wait to be ushered in. Look for Wednesday night specials as traditionally that’s when you may get half off the admission tickets and don’t skip on the mosquito repellent as it may come in useful.
You will discover that most of these cinemas also offer intermissions half-way into the movie giving you a chance to stretch your legs or grab another drink. But keep in mind that these breaks are quite short so don’t go wandering off. On your way to the canteen for more supplies, sneak a peek around the surrounding buildings and catch youngsters, gathered on their balconies, enjoying a free show, basking in the waning moon, and what our Italian neighbors call “cinema sotto le stelle”, translating to “cinema under the stars”.
Open-air cinema season depends on the weather although it usually lasts from May to September. Colorful posters outside the venues inform the public of each week’s screenings as well as of any special events such as the occasional theatrical play or time-honored shadow puppet show that may also take place now and then. Traditionally, all movies are featured in their original language accompanied by Greek subtitles aside from the casual cartoon screening when it might be dubbed during its early showing to accommodate younger viewers.
The Athens Open Air Film Festival is organized every year, transforming the entire city into an open-air theater, hosting screenings of classic faves and even premieres all over town, set against a backdrop of Greek monuments and historical venues, showcasing the urban landscape, from town squares to parks. Running from June to September, the festival welcomes everyone, admission-free.
So, while you’re staying in the historic capital, enjoy the Athenian night life, food tours, promenades down the ancient district of Plaka, and don’t forget to pop in for an evening with the stars… under the stars!