The Best Time to Visit Greece

Monastiraki, popular market square in Athens

 Glenn van der Knijff

The best times to visit Greece are in the spring and fall. From April to the beginning of June, the heat of summer has not yet set in and the cruise ships have not arrived with their thousands of tourists. From late September through October it's usually still warm enough for the beach but much less crowded. Whenever you choose to go, you'll find a lot to see and do, wonderful Mediterranean cuisine and lively, friendly people.

Weather in Greece

Summer is hot and dry. Unshaded beaches can be unbearable and unsafe for more than short periods. July and August are the hottest months. Average temperatures are between 85 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit and can reach more than 100. A dry, strong seasonal wind, known as the Meltemi, blows from May to September and can bring relief from the heat. In recent years, it has also encouraged wildfires. The winter is relatively mild and seldom drops below freezing. December and January are rainy. There is little snow except in the mountains of Northern Greece and the Peloponnese.

Peak Season in Greece

From June through September, popular areas of Athens and Thessaloniki are crowded. Monastiraki Square in Athens and the adjoining market are chock-a-block, the buses and Metro are packed. Some islands have popular sunset-watching spots that become crowded at prime vantage points. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are when most cruise ships visit Santorini, and the crowds of day-trippers on the island's main road make ordinary bus and taxi travel almost impossible until after sunset.

Prices are highest from July to the end of August and during school holiday periods—when visitors compete for space and attractions with Greek families. Savvy travelers can score bargains April to May and mid-September to mid-October when vacation weather is still good.

Key Festivals and Events

The Greeks like to party and there's hardly a time of year when there isn't a festival, a celebration of event going on somewhere. Some, however, are worth including in your trip planning.

  • Greek Easter: This is a huge family holiday with events happening throughout Holy Week. Special foods are served in the restaurants and tavernas. Highlights are candlelit processions after Mass on Good Friday. In Athens, the procession goes up Lycabettus Hill and can be seen all over the city.
  • Carnival: Also called Apokreas, this is the celebration before the beginning of Lent that culminates is wild celebrations, feasting, and Carnival processions in costumes (that have been known to be very rude). The Carnival in Patras is considered one of the world's top three.
  • The Athens and Epidaurus Festival: This festival recently changed its name from the Hellenic Festival because most of its key events take place at two ancient theaters - the Odeon of Herodes Atticus on the slopes of the Acropolis, and the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus near Nafplion. It's a month-long festival of international performances, including drama, dance, and music with top artists from all over the world.

Tourist Attraction Availability

Most historic attractions are open year-round, though they may have limited hours or short weeks in the offseason. Some commercial attractions, beach bars, cafes accommodations close from the end of October until the middle of March because business slows in cooler weather. On Santorini, for example, Autumn and winter winds are unpleasant and most accommodations on the caldera close by mid-October.

January

January is one of the coldest, wettest months of the year. This is an excellent time to visit the cities of the mainland and the areas around them. You may find hotel rates at bottom-dollar prices, but those that cater to business people won't be a great deal cheaper.

Events to check out:

  • Patras Carnival: Depending upon when Greek Easter falls, this could be the month for one of the world's top three Carnivals. Patras takes place on Jan. 17 in 2020.
  • Gynaikokratia Festival: If you know your classical language roots, you'll know this one is for women. Gynaikokratia means women rule. Each year on Jan. 8, in Kavala and the towns and villages of Thrace, women swap roles with men for the day.

February

The temperature rarely tops 59 degrees F in February. You won't find snow in most of Greece but there will be snow in the mountains and in the Greek ski areas (yes there are some). Try Mt. Parnassus Ski area or Kalavrita on Mt. Chelmos in the Peloponnese.

Events to check out:

  • Tsiknopempti: The name of this holiday, 11 days before the start of Lent, means, literally, goodbye to meat. And it's a long goodbye. If you're vegetarian, you could starve in February as restaurants, tavernas, and private family homes indulge in an orgy of meat-eating, and the smell of grilling meats is everywhere.

March

Days are perceptibly longer and the temperature might rise a few degrees, but don't count on it. It will be windy and miserable most of the time. But this is also the month when spectacularly diverse wildflowers begin to bloom.

Events to check out:

  • Carnivals continue until the start of Lent, so look for local events at the beginning of the month.
  • Greek Independence Day: March 25 is celebrated with parades fireworks, and mock naval battles all over Greece tp mark the start of the War of Independence from the Ottomans.

April

April weather is iffy. It can be pleasant and mild or windy and wet. The wildflowers are in full bloom, but if you are heading for the islands, you may find that ferry and hydrofoil services are still limited.

Events to check out:

  • Orthodox Easter: Holy Week is significant to the Greeks. On Good Friday, after mass, candlelight processions head out into the night from various churches.
  • Rocket War: The island of Chios explodes on the Saturday night before Easter Sunday as two churches in the town of Vrontados aim fireworks directly at each other. The square between them fills with smoke, and thousands of tourists cheer.

May

This is the first reliably warm month with temperatures averaging in the high sixties and low seventies, rising to a high of nearly 80 degrees F once in a while. Flowers bloom, people fly kites and go out in boats, but beware: the water is probably still a little too cold for swimming in most places.

Events to check out:

  • May Day: The first of May is an optional legal holiday in Greece, but most businesses give workers the day off. May Day is also strongly connected to workers' rights, and it's a big day for slowdowns and wildcat strikes, which could impact your travel plans.

June

Hot weather and the start of the high season. Expect crowded resorts, higher prices, and temperatures. The average temperature is in the high 80s F and can rise much higher.

Events to check out:

  • Athens and Epidaurus Festival runs from June to August in the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus and ancient venues all over Athens.
  • Nafplion Festival: A classical music festival at the end of June featuring international artists.
  • Summer Nostos: is a week-long, free festival of music, dance, sports and theatre, all of it free, at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in the Athens suburb of Kallithea

July

Temperatures average in the high 80s F and easily reach the 90s F in most places. It is also very dry so camping is forbidden in most national parks and even hiking in some area. Be aware that there's a risk of wildfires.

Events to check out:

  • Outdoor Cinema: Open-air cinema is an ancient Athens tradition during the summer months. The city has eight, some of Acropolis as the background, some in historic parks and setting.
  • Kastoria River Party: Camping, music and cooling off in the river in northern Greece
  • Cretan Diet Festival: No, it's not a weird new way to lose weight; it's a celebration of Cretan cuisine in Rethymnon, Crete.

August

The heatwave continues. So do the lines at the major attractions and the high, in-season prices. But on the plus side, the nights are balmy and pleasant for outdoor dining and nightlife.

Event to check out:

  • XLSIOR: A giant LGBTQ, Pride, and music festival on Mykonos.

September

The average temperature is 75 degrees F rising into the 80s at the beginning of the month with cool nights averaging 66 degrees F. Days are sunny with almost no chance of rain.

Events to check out:

  • Reworks: Thessaloniki's massive international music festival, one of the top 10 for September worldwide, takes place over four days mid-month.
  • Armata, on the island of Spetses, near Athens, celebrates a famous naval victory in the Greek War of Independence. The week-long festival ends with fireworks and the burning of an effigy of an Ottoman ship in the harbor.

October

Temperatures drop into the 60s with the average daily temperature of about 68 degrees F. With little chance of rain, it's still mild enough for sightseeing, hiking, and touring.

Events to check out:

  • Ochi Day: On Oct. 28, 1940, Mussolini demanded that the Axis powers be allowed to enter Greece. The ultimatum was delivered to the Greek Prime Minister at 3 a.m., and he said "Ochi" (no), bringing the country into World War II. This national holiday is celebrated with parades, concerts, and feasts.

November

Temperatures hover in the mid to low 60s. There are more cloudy days and a greater chance of rain.

Events to check out:

  • Thessaloniki International Film Festival: Southern Europe's biggest film festival event, held on the first 10 days of the month.
  • Olive harvest: Throughout this month, ripening olives are gathered and pressed. Most farmers are too busy for olive festivals, but you may be able to witness or take part in a harvest in the smaller towns and villages.

December

Average temperatures are in the 50s F. It's usually cloudy and the rainy season is just beginning. The mountains of the Peloponnese, northern Greece, and Macedonian Greece have snow cover.

Events to check out:

  • Christmas: Unlike other holidays that follow the Julian calendar, the Greek Church adopted the Gregorian calendar dates for Christmas, so it falls on Dec. 25.
  • Christmas in Athens gets going with the Feast of St Nicholas (the inspiration for Santa Claus, Dec. 6, and continues with festive events until Epiphany, Jan. 6. There are public displays of festive lights, fireworks, and special holiday baked treats in the shops.
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