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Winter in Greece

winter in GreeceSometimes I get e-mails from people in a state of panic because they have just booked their tickets to Greece for November and they read somewhere that the islands close for the winter. They imagine themselves huddled in the bitter cold watching the ferry that won't return for a week sail out of the bay and not a hotel or restaurant in sight that has not been boarded up like Charleston, SC before a hurricane.

Let me be the first to dispel the myth that the islands actually close. They don't. People live on these islands and life goes on year round. Some of them it can get pretty quiet and most of the big resorts are closed because it does not make economic sense to keep a 300 room hotel open for the twenty or so tourists who may show up. But there are hotels open on every island and restaurants too. In fact because the restaurants that the locals eat at are the only ones that are open, you are more likely to find good food because all the tourist restaurants are closed for the off-season.

Hydra, Greece, in the off seasonBut before you throw your mask, snorkel and sun-screen into a bag and snap up one of those cheap off-season airline tickets to Athens you must be warned that while the weather will be generally pretty nice whenever you go, the months of December through March it can get cold and rainy. It can also be warm and sunny, in fact there is a very good possibility of that. But these months are better for hiking and exploring then for laying out on the beach catching rays. Not to suggest that it won't be warm enough for that, but you can't count on it being hot every day of your holiday in January unless you are one of those special people who attract good weather wherever you go. (People tell me I am the opposite). People who want to go to the Greek islands in winter I suggest places like, Hydra, Spetses, Poros and Aegina which are very close to Athens and also to the Peloponessos so you can cross over, rent a car, take a bus or hire a cab and visit places like Nafplio, Corinth, Mycenae, Epidavros and the archaeological sites of the Peloponessos which are open in the winter. The island of Kea has perhaps the best system of walking trails, most of them ancient, that connect the ancient cities on the island and while winter may not be the best time for swimming, it is the best time for hiking.
Sifnos in the winterIslands like Santorini get visitors all year round as does Mykonos, Sifnos, Paros, Naxos, Crete, Rhodes, Syros, Lesvos and just about every island that can be reached by daily ferry or flight. Many of the foreigners who live in Mykonos, Skiathos, Rhodes and Hydra rent their houses in the summer and return in September and stay through May and many of them will insist that it is the winter months that they like the best. If you are an artist, poet or a person who can live on their thoughts a Greek island in winter can be like paradise. The island of Syros which is not dependant upon tourism has a rich atmosphere in the winter since the town of Hermoupolis is the capital of the Cyclades and people come there to do business. Islands with large cities like Rhodes, Lesvos, and Crete are like cities anywhere. They don't close for the winter. Life just changes. People spend more time indoors, but the restaurants and cafes, bars and clubs are still open and on warm sunny days people still sit outside to eat and drink, at least in the day. The same goes for Athens.
athens restaurant in the winterIn my opinion Athens is a great place to be in the winter. When people ask me what they should do in Greece in February I tell them to base themselves in Athens and experience the nightlife of the city. Athens comes alive beginning in September and stays that way until summer with sidewalk cafes full of people, restaurants supporting an army of live musicians and a club-life that rivals any city in America. Use the days to walk around exploring and see the sites and to do day-trips and overnights to places like Delphi, Nafplio, Kalavrita, Meteora, the Spas of Edipsos with George The Famous Taxi Driver or with a rental car and of course the nearby islands of Aegina, Poros and Hydra. (The One-Day Saronic Island Cruise goes 364 days a year!)

Let me not forget to mention the shopping in Athens which is like New York or Paris except everything is within walking distance of your hotel and during the January and February sales you will find stuff you won't find in your local mall (and some things you will) for prices that would make it worth a trip every year. If you like to shop you will love Athens in the winter. And if you have kids and they are tired of shopping, museums, archaeological sites and restaurants you can take them to the roof of the Ledra Marriott Hotel for ice-skating with a view of the acropolis.

It is also during the off season that you can enjoy nature to it's fullest by going mountain-climbing, white-water rafting, kayaking, horseback-riding, biking and trekking through the hills and gorges of the Peloponesos and Northern Greece and witnessing some of the most beautiful and breathtaking places on the planet. Walking through Greece in the spring you will see more wildflowers and wild birds then you ever knew existed. Lesvos for example is a paradise for bird-watchers and flower lovers and you can say the same for just about anywhere on the mainland. There are jeep tours through the back roads to places that most tourists and travel agents don't even know exist. The weather the majority of the time is perfect for exploring those places that are too hot to visit in July and August.

skiing in GreecePerhaps one of the biggest secrets is the skiing in Greece. The fact that few people realize that a land comprised almost entirely of mountains is a great skiing destination is kind of surprising, but the fact is that the popularity of summer tourism has made winter tourism and skiing an afterthought. Places like Kalavrita, Pelion, Delphi, the Peloponessos, Macedonia, and Epirus have ski centers and mountain refuges that look like Swiss Chalets with ski lifts and a variety of downhill and cross-country runs. For more information on skiing see Skiing in Greece

On the other side of the coin few people realize that winter and the off-season is one of the most fun times to go sailing as Stefan Ritscher explains in his article on Winter Sailing in Greece

On this page I have put together information and links to destinations and companies that specialize in winter tourism. When I say 'winter' I mean it the way the Greeks do on the last days of August when they say goodbye to their friends at the pier as they board the ferry to Pireaus. "Kalo Himona" they say as they hug their friends and family who they won't see again until next Easter. "Have a good winter" is what it means. So when I say winter I mean any season in Greece that is not summer. Throw in September and May and I will go out on a limb and say that 'winter' is the best time to be in Greece. Go between October and April and you will find the cheapest airline fares and reduced hotel rates so that Greece becomes a bargain that would be tough to beat.

Related Sites for Winter Travel in Greece:

See my new page on off-season travel with suggested itineraries and helpful pages at www.greecetravel.com/off-season-travel

Fantasy Travel has put together several winter programs that take advantage of the low off-season rates to islands like Mykonos, Santorini and Crete which enables you to experience these popular islands without the tourists who normally fill them. See www.greecetravel.com/winter-programs

Stefan Ritscher and his sailing yacht Caraya II claims that for him the best time to sail in Greece is between November and April, especially after Christmas when the famous Alkyonides come, bringing balmy summer like days in January and February. Caraya II is heated and air-conditioned and quite cozy. See his article on Sailing the Greek Islands in the Winter.

Apokreas is one of the most exciting times to be in Greece, particularly Athens, Patras and the island of Skyros which hold big celebrations. Apokreas is Carnival Season and usually takes place around the end of February. If you love to eat, drink, meet people and experience Athens at its most fun time, see Apokreas: Carnival in Greece. After that there is 40 days of fasting which not everyone does in case you are worried that you won't be able to find souvlaki. Many Greeks don't really fast until the last few days of lent and then they go wild at Easter which for me is the best time to be in Greece, especially when it falls on the last week of April or the first week of May. See www.greecetravel.com/easter

The island of Kea is an hour from nearby Lavrion by ferry and is a good all-season island because of its miles and miles of ancient footpaths, clearly marked and kept up by the municipality. The Red Tractor Farms Guesthouse not only has comfortable rooms with fireplaces but they also provide guests with seasonal activities like olive-picking and production, wine-making and traditional crafts of the island. Kostis Marulis leads nature tours around the island and he and his wife Marcie serve as your hosts. If you want a taste of a real Greek island in the off-season visit them at www.hotelsofgreece.com/cyclades/kea/red-tractor-farm

I love spending Christmas in Greece. Syntagma Square is full of the seediest looking Santas you have every seen, many with tiny ponies which you can let your kids ride. The nightlife in Athens is as spectacular as usual and the tavernas are full of people, music and great food. The archaeological sites are closed on the 25th and 26th but there are still restaurants and cafes open and when the weather is nice the Athenians wander around the city taking walks, sitting in cafes, eating and enjoying the holidays. New Years there is always something going on in the clubs or live music in the main squares. A Day-trip or overnight to Nafplio and the Argolis can be just as festive and maybe even a degree or two warmer. The Hotel Attalos is a cozy, warm and friendly as you can get and the winter rates are pretty good so there are always fellow winter travelers around. Thats where I stay because you can walk everywhere and they have free wireless for your laptop and free highspeed wireless computers for those who did not bring a laptop. For more see www.athensguide.com/christmas

Links for Winter Travel in Greece:

Daytours and Overnight
www.greecetravel.com/kalavrita
www.greecetravel.com/delphi
www.greecetravel.com/meteora
www.greecetravel.com/pelion
www.greecetravel.com/nafplio
www.greecetravel.com/edipsos
www.greecetravel.com/peloponessos

Trekking, Rafting, Skiing, Walking, Climbing, Kayaking, Horseback Riding, bike and Jeep Tours through the Wilderness
www.greecetravel.com/trekking
Skiing in Greece
A Guide to ski centers

The Island of Rhodes has the mildest winter climate and the longest tourist season of any of the islands. Lots to see and do as well. See www.greecetravel.com/rhodes

Islands near Athens
www.greektravel.com/greekislands/kea
www.greektravel.com/greekislands/poros
www.greektravel.com/greekislands/hydra
www.greektravel.com/greekislands/angistri
www.greektravel.com/greekislands/aegina
www.greektravel.com/greekislands/mykonos
www.greektravel.com/greekislands/syros

How to Visit a Greek Island
Matt's Greek Island Guide
Easter in Greece

You can find many hotels on the islands that are open in the winter through Booking.com by clicking on the link and putting in your dates.

Fantasy Travel has winter programs and discounted winter rates for hotels too. See www.fantasytravelofgreece.com

Services and Agencies
Fantasy Travel
Dolphin Hellas Travel
Aegean Thesaurus Travel
George the Famous Taxi Driver
Greece Flights
Swift Rent A Car


Other Helpful stuff
Athens Survival Guide
Shopping in Athens
Greece Travel Index Page
www.hotelsofgreece.com

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