Open-air, or “summer,” cinemas, as Greeks call them, are a old tradition all across Greece. There are more than 60 across the region of Attica and many of the most historic cinemas can be found in downtown Athens.
Open-air cinemas: tradition in Greece
Open-air cinemas are a delight which very few countries can offer.
For Greeks, catching a movie at a summer cinema and sipping a cold beverage is an institution — for visitors, it is a one-off experience, almost as enjoyable as a dive in the cool, crystal-clear waters of Mykonos or a visit to the Temple of Zeus at Sounio.
Every neighborhood in Greece has one. Some are as old as the history of cinema itself, perched on a rooftop with a view of the Acropolis; other, more recent, entrants are right on the water, set to the music of sailboat masts swaying in the summer breeze.
One of the classic parts of the summer cinema experience is the beautiful atmosphere that envelops you for a full sensory experience. Many are surrounded by perfumed gardens which fill the sultry evening with the quintessential Greek fragrance of orange blossoms and jasmine.
The most historic Athenian summer cinemas
Cine Zefiros can be found in the central area of Ano Petralona in Athens. The cinema, which began operation in 1938, has been a classic choice for an outdoor cinematic experience ever since.
By the mid 1950s, Cine Zefiros had begun to air variety shows as well as classic “Karagiozis” performances. The cinema still plays old-fashioned, classic movies. The wife of the founder still owns the cinema, which surely adds a classic and authentic feel to Cine Zefiros.
One of the most incredible quirks of this Athenian institution is that the audience shows up to the cinema without knowing what is playing. Instead, patrons must ask the teller at the cash register what film they’re buying tickets for!
Cine Thiseio is another classic cinema found in the center of Athens. Located in Thiseio, just a short walk away from a metro station, the cinema has been lauded as the “best cinema in the world” by an American journalist reporting for CNN.
Patrons at this unique cinema can expect to be able to take in the breathtaking views of the Acropolis at night and a wonderful film — all at once.
This theater went through a renaissance in the 1980s due to gaining a new, visionary owner named Thomas Maniakis. He was able to breathe new life into the open-air cinema, and he even performed in variety shows during movie breaks. The shows involved Maniakis juggling and professional singers sharing their gifts to make sure that audiences were always kept entertained.
The canteen serves sour cherry juice and a special house wine as well as rustic tsipouro from Agrinio.
Cine Athinaia is an open-air movie theater located in the upscale downtown Athens area of Kolonaki. A relatively modern venue, it first opened in 1979, but it has been regarded as a hidden treasure of Athens ever since.
Most patrons say that this theater is unique for being an extremely peaceful hidden sanctuary in bustling downtown Athens. The Athenaia serves an iconic “tiropita” cheese pie in its canteen, which up until recently was made from scratch on the premises.
Cine Paris has been an institution in Athens since the dawn of the silver screen. Sadly, it did not open for summer 2020 and it is unclear whether it will operate again; however, it deserves to be remembered as one of the most iconic cinemas in Greece.
It was founded in 1920 by a Greek hairdresser who named it after his previous city of residence, Paris. It closed amidst the economic crisis in the 1960s, but was saved by the operator of the cinema, Mary Panou, and her family in 1986. Panou continued to be the head operator at Cine Paris until last year.
This theater has a worldwide reputation for bringing excellence to movie screenings. During its operation it routinely received emails asking to book tickets from countries as far as India, Canada, the US, and Germany. It has also been spotlighted by media worldwide.
Clearly, regardless of the open air cinema you visit while in Greece, you are guaranteed to have an amazing time. All of the historic theaters in Athens are known for a special perk or special food they serve — all you have to do is ask!