If you are spending May Day in Athens, you will find that many businesses will be closed. Here are a few ideas on what to do on May 1st, or Labor Day, in Athens Greece.
May First – Labor Day or Workers’ Day
The 1st of May is a special day in many countries around the world. On this day we remember the Chicago Worker Union protests in 1886. Workers claimed the right to work eight-hour days, rather than twelve-hour days which was the norm at the time.
The Chicago protests turned into violent clashes with the police, and a number of deaths. Eventually, the workers’ struggles were effective, as they led to the establishment of laws regulating hours of work.
In Greece, the first May Day demonstrations were organized in 1893. Greek workers claimed their right to an 8-hour-day, a 6-day week, and a pension for people who were unable to work.
Today, May the 1st is celebrated all over the world. While in some countries Labor Day is considered a strike day, others have declared it a public holiday.
May 1st in Athens Greece
In Greece, the 1st of May is one of the Greek public holidays, and is known as Ergatiki Protomagiaor just Protomage.
On this day, most businesses and services are closed. This includes the ancient sites and museums in Athens, bigger supermarkets and most shops around the country.
Many tavernas, cafes and bars remain open, and so do mini-markets and souvenir shops, especially in the touristy areas. However, don’t be surprised if some of them aren’t! It will always depend on the owner.
Traditionally, May Day is a chance for people to go to the countryside, have a picnic, and maybe pick some flowers to use them in a wreath. This custom is thousands of years old, as people in ancient times were also welcoming spring with various rituals.
Unlike other festive days, such as Christmas Day or New Year’s Day, if the 1st of May happens to be on a Sunday, it is normally transferred on the next working day. The same happens if Labor Day happens to fall in the Holy Week, or on Easter Monday.
May 1st Strikes in Greece
Regardless of the fact that 1st May in Greece is regarded as a holiday, some unions may go on strike.
Services like the Athens metro, or the ferries in Greece, usually do not run on May the 1st, and announcements are only made a few days in advance. Flights might also be disrupted – though, if it happens, it’s usually for a couple of hours.
Overall, it’s best to not plan any traveling on that day if you can avoid it. If Workers’ Day happens to be on a Sunday or during the Holy Week, there may also be disruptions on the next day or two, and you won’t know it until the last minute pretty much.
In Athens, there are usually gatherings in front of the Parliament, at Syntagma Square. People walk around with banners and picket signs, but don’t worry – these marches are generally peaceful.
So, what is there to do in Athens on Labor Day? In fact, you’ll be spoiled for choice! Here are 10 ideas on how to spend May Day in Athens.
1. Walk around Athens and see the ancient monuments
If you like walking, you will love exploring the areas around the ancient monuments. Even though you won’t be able to visit any of them, you can still see a lot from the outside.
Moreover, you can climb on several hills and high points and check out the wonderful views. The best spot for Acropolis photos is Mars Hill, or Areios Pagos in Greek.
Keep going up, and you will reach the quaint Anafiotika, a tiny neighborhood that will remind you of the Cyclades islands. It’s located just above the bustling Plaka, which is the oldest neighborhood in Athens.
Here is a complete article on how to see ancient Athens for free on May Day – or on any day!
2. Take the hop-on-hop-off bus around Athens
If you only have limited time in Athens, the best way to get an idea of the city is to take the hop-on-hop-off bus. This is also ideal for people who would prefer not to walk too much.
There are different bus routes, and you can use the audio guide to find out more about the most popular landmarks. Whenever the buses stop at the designated points, you can choose to get off, or just remain on the bus.
Taking the hop-on-hop-off bus is a great option if you are arriving to Piraeus port on a cruise, as the bus stop is very close. In my experience, the buses are on time, and it’s a comfortable activity, suitable for everyone.
3. Visit the green parks in Athens
Athens is a big, chaotic city, but there are several parks and green spaces all around. The most famous one is the National Garden, across the street from Syntagma Square. If you want to avoid the demonstrations, go in the afternoon or later.
Another urban park in central Athens is Pedion Tou Areos, close to Victoria metro station. Even though it’s open 24 hours, it’s best to go during daytime.
There are many more parks a short distance from the city, that you can easily reach on a bus or taxi. One of my favorites is Diomidous Botanical Garden, a large botanical park with various types of plants and trees. There is a lovely cafe where you can sit after you’ve explored the beautiful urban gardens.
Another park out of the city center is Antonis Tritsis Metropolitan Park. Here, you can enjoy walking and cycling, and you can also visit Queen’s Tower, an incredible building right next to a large vineyard. Guided tours are available in Greek and English.
Finally, you can take the green metro line and go to Syggrou Forest. It’s a large, wild urban forest, where you can spend time in nature. While you are there, look out for the neoclassical buildings and the unique Gothic church of St Andreas.
4. Go hiking on the mountains around Athens
Rome is famously known as the city of seven hills. But did you know that Athens is also surrounded by hills and mountains?
Most visitors have heard of Mount Lycabettus, which is in central Athens. This is a popular spot with tourists, and if you are in Athens on Labor Day you should walk up and enjoy nature at its best.
Other mountains near Athens include Tourkovounia, Imittos, Penteli, Parnitha ανδ Εγαλεο. Hikers will love exploring the various paths and trails, and enjoying the blooming nature. Don’t forget to pack a picnic for the day!
5. Take a cruise to the Greek islands
Although ferries usually don’t run on May Day, you can take an organized cruise to the Saronic islands, Poros, Hydra and Aegina. This is a fantastic day where you can see three of the islands closest to Athens, and enjoy nature.
Hydra is best known for its involvement in the Greek Revolution in 1821. You will love the absence of motorized vehicles, the wonderful architecture, and the cosmopolitan vibe.
Poros is one of the greenest Saronic islands, ideal for people who love nature and hiking. Aeginaon the other hand, is a popular weekend break for Athenians, and there are lots of things to do.
6. Have fun at the Museum of Illusions in Athens
While most museums in Athens are closed on Labor Day, there are a couple of museums you can visit. My favorite one is the Museum of Illusions. This fun, interactive museum is a great place to visit with kids, teenagers, or your friends 🙂
The exhibits include cool installations and constructions that will blow your mind away, and will make you re-consider reality! You can take as many photos as you want, which is why this museum is so popular with young people.
Here’s what to expect: Museum of Illusions in Athens.
Another museum that is ideal, especially if you are traveling with family, is the Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology. Here, you can see several models of ancient Greek inventions!
7. Indulge in Greek food and drink
Any day is a great day to indulge in Greek food – but since many of the tourist activities are unavailable, why not spend some relaxed time in a taverna, the Greek way! Greeks typically spend long hours having a meal with friends.
Here are 50 popular Greek dishes to choose from, which you can accompany with some of our beers and other Greek drinks.
Another option is to take an evening food tour, where you can learn more about Greek cuisine.
Note that most food tours don’t run on May the 1st, as they usually involve a visit to the Varvakios food market, which is closed on May the 1st.
8. Catch a movie at an open-air cinema in Athens
Athens is famous for its outdoor cinemas, which are usually open by the 1st of May. Watching a movie in an open-air cinema is a favorite pastime for Greeks, so you should try it too.
One of the best known outdoor cinemas in central Athens is Thissio Open Air Cinema. Go early to save your seats, pick up some popcorn and a beer, and enjoy!
9. Head to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center is a new complex in Faliro, a short tram ride out of central Athens. There is a large outdoors area, plus a few buildings where exhibitions and gigs often take place.
Many of the events are free to attend, and many of the activities are suitable for children. You can find more information on their website.
10. Go to one of the beaches near Athens
As May Day is usually sunny, it’s a good time to hit the beach. You can take the tram, or a bus, to some of the beaches on the so-called Athens Riviera, like Faliro, Glyfada, or Vouliagmeni.
Alternatively, you can go to the wild beaches on the other side of the coast, like Marathon or Schinias, a lovely beach next to a pine forest. You could even consider taking an introductory scuba diving class, or a kayaking activity.
While the water won’t be very warm yet, you will find that many people will be out on the beach, enjoying spring. This is actually my preferred way to spend May Day in Athens!
With that said, the best beaches in Greece are not in Athens. Here is an introduction to the Greek island groups, which will help if you are planning your first trip to Greece!
FAQ about May Day in Athens and Greece
Here are a few questions about May Day that visitors often ask:
How is May Day celebrated in Greece?
In Greece, May Day is a public holiday, but some unions also go in strike. In practice, many businesses and services do not operate, and there may be demonstrations in central Athens. Some Athenians go to the countryside to have a picnic, pick up flowers and enjoy the spring.
What are the origins of May Day?
The origins of May Day go back to the times of Ancient Greece. During those times, people celebrated the return of spring, when nature blossomed.
What does the First of May represent?
The 1st of May commemorates the protests of Chicago workers in 1886, when the unions went on strike, demanding 8-hour days. The demonstrations resulted in fights with the police, and an unknown number of people were killed.
What is the word for May Day in Greek?
Greeks call May Day ‘Ergatiki Protomagia’, which literally means ‘Workers’ First of May’.
Is May 1st celebrated in USA?
Ironically, although 1st May commemorates the events which took place in Chicago, USA officially celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday of September.
Hi! I’m Vanessa from Athens and I started this blog to help people visiting or living in Greece. If you are thinking to visit Athens on 1st May, try and spend at least one more day, to enjoy the city when everything is open. For more Greece-related news, follow my FB page – and feel free to ask any questions!