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The Best Time to Travel Greece

Greece is a traveler’s paradise, but when is the best time to go? Travel Greece in mid-summer and you will be almost guaranteed consistently warm, dry weather. But at that time of year, the crowds and prices can be overwhelming. Travel Greece in the off-season and you will avoid the crowds but may find that resources such as hotels, restaurants and transportation scarce and the weather unpredictable.

Writers from Travels Wise, The Europe Travel Guide travel to Greece every opportunity that they get. They find the Greek beaches compelling, Greek food delicious and the overall charm and atmosphere of the Greek islands mesmerizing. In order to experience the difference between travel in different seasons, the team planned a trip to Santorini via Athens right at the end of the tourist season. They chose Santorini because it is one of the most popular islands. Islands like Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes or Crete should have the best tourist services in the off season. Their journey began at the end of October and ended in early November. While they booked a hotel in Athens for their arrival, they did not book hotels in Santorini or Athens before their departure, nor transportation to and from the island. Below is their report.

Athens in Late October
Arriving in Athens from Northern Europe, we were pleased to be greeted by delightful Greek sunshine. We headed to Glyfada, a lively area in the south of Athens, and enjoyed a coffee in a crowded outdoor café. It was a welcome change from frozen North Europe. The next day we noticed the lines at the Acropolis were only slightly shorter than usual and Plaka was very hectic. It made us wonder if Athens has an off-season.

Travel from Athens to Santorini
In late October it was very easy to find ferries and flights to the islands. Ferries were departing to every island and connecting the various islands. For example, on the day we traveled in late October, there were four ferries leaving from Pireas (Athens Port) to Santorini and there were others from Mykonos to Santorini, Santorini to Rhodos, etc. In early October flights from Athens to Santorini and other Greek islands were available on Agean Airlines for euro 20-30. However, by the time we arrived in Athens in late October, flights for Santorini, while still available got more expensive. The best rates for a one way flight to the islands shot up to around euro 100. We booked one-way tickets on a Super Cat, a fast ferry, for a 4 hour journey from Pireas to Santorini for approximately euro 50.

Santorini Hotels
When our Ferry arrived at the Port in Santorini, we were met by a small crowd of hotel representatives eager to show us photos and to offer special rates for Santorini hotels. This is very common in the Greek islands. Inexperienced travelers should be very cautious about this, as these representatives often take unwary travelers to isolated hotels far away from everything. For example, they offer Santorini hotels in “the center”. Only after you arrive, do you find out that the hotel is the center of the island, far away from the main city of Fira, or anything else. We insisted on a Santorini Hotel close to Fira with a 'Caldera View' and were surprised to find that there was only one representative of a hotel with a Caldera view in the crowd. The representative asked us many times how long we would stay and we insisted we would only decide once we saw the location. We were offered a rate of 70 euro for one night in a hotel with a caldera view which we accepted. But while the hotel was nice, it was located in the northern end of Imerovigli, a 30 minute walk from the center of Fira, not the 15 minutes that the representative told us. There were no open restaurants nearby. We decided to use our first day to find a hotel in a more convenient location.

Walking from hotel to hotel, we learned that most Santorini hotels were either closed or planned to close within a day or two. The few hotels that were opened were located centrally, in or very close to Fira. We finally found a beautiful hotel in central Fira opened until end November that offered us a rate only slightly higher than our more isolated hotel, but without breakfast. We reserved, left a small deposit, got a receipt and organized our transfer the next day.

Santorini Weather
For a few days at the end of October Santorini weather was splendid; the sun was shining and we enjoyed a few hours of mild Greek weather and the breathtaking view from our balcony overlooking the Aegean Sea. However, one day in the beginning of November, the weather dramatically changed. It was as though someone had turned a switch and winter arrived. For the rest of the stay we experienced thunderstorms, strong winds, torrential rain and generally cold Greek winter weather. Though on some days we did have a few hours of relatively mild weather, we were never again to be without jackets and sweaters.

Santorini Restaurants
When we arrived in late October, we noticed that about half of the restaurants and cafes were opened and about half closed. The closed restaurants were mostly the ones with the beautiful views near the edge of the caldera and the opened restaurants were mostly a bit more remote and without a view. It seemed that everyday, another restaurant was closing. By the first week of November the choice of restaurants in Santorini was very limited.

Transportation
Taxis and rental cars are available year round. But in late October, the bus transportation was infrequent. For example, buses from Fira to Ioa departed approximately every 2 to 3 hours. Our bus also served as the local school bus. Adults were only allowed to board after all the children had taken seats. All adults had to stand the ½ hour bus ride to Ioa, but on the way back in the evening the bus was nearly empty.

Ioa
Ioa is Santorni’s second largest town, and is usually a lively, active place. But in early November virtually all restaurants and tavernas were closed. There were several jewelry shops and cafes open and we saw a few other tourists wandering the street. But the town had a deserted, lonely feeling. Even the medical center was closed. We decided that Ioa is definitely not a recommended destination in the off season.

Crowds
In contrast to Oia, Fira was not the ghost town we expected in November. It was far from deserted though we did enjoy the calm, almost sleepy feeling in the town. But since so few restaurants and shops were opened, one did not really feel a big difference between peak-season and off peak at meal-time, as the few restaurants that were opened were often quite full. However, in the early evenings, the streets in the town were sometimes empty. One could feel the difference in the street traffic when the a cruise ship would arrive as there would be a sudden parade of senior citizens in the town that would march back and forth for a few hours and then vanish as abruptly as they came.

Travel from Santorini To Athens
On November 1, Greek ferries to the islands dramatically reduced. All direct ferry traffic from Santorini to many of the other islands such as Mykonos and Crete stopped and travel to other islands was only possible via Athens. In addition, the fast Greek ferries from Santorini to Athens completely stopped at the end of October and due to the lack of ferries, it became much harder to book flights from Santorini to Athens. While in October, flights were available for the next day, in November seats were only available with a reservation for the following week. Our only option for our return to Athens, was to book a seat on a slow ferry that took 9-10 hours.

Athens Hotels
After booking our ferry for the return trip, we began to try to find an Athens hotel. We searched by internet, via travel agents and even called Athens hotels directly and discovered that, due to an annual medical conference, all hotels were fully booked. Eventually, we found an over-priced and remote room in Palio Faliro, a suburb of Athens near Glyfada, for the first night and another expensive room near Plaka for the second. We discovered that October to May is conference time in Athens. We learned that one must be cautious about traveling to Athens in the fall and spring without a room reservation. While it is off peak for the tourist season, fall and spring are peak conference seasons and if the conference is large the best Athens hotel rooms may be completely booked out.

Conclusion
The Greek Tourist Season begins in June and ends very suddenly in October. While some will enjoy the calm and lack of crowds, many will not be happy that they came. The reason is not only due to the weather which can be very unpredictable. In the major Greek Islands (Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, Rhodos and Corfu) there will be some hotels and restaurants open year round, but the selection in the off season will be very limited. In the smaller islands there is an even more limited choice. In Athens, most hotels and restaurants do not close in the off-season the difficulty may be due to conferences and fairs which are very frequent and can book up all of the prime Athes hotel rooms. Transportation to the islands and between the islands is much more difficult to organize. While we expected most of these changes to occur, the surprise for us was how rapidly everything changed in early November.

Peak tourist season in Greece is usually determined by the school holidays in the rest of Europe. During school holidays many parents travel to Greece with their children for a sun and sand holiday and university students travel to Greece to relax on the beaches and party. School holidays typically begin during mid-July and end in early-September. Those adverse to crowds and high prices should avoid these months.

In the off-season, Greek weather can be colder, wetter and windier than many imagine. Winter comes later than in much of Europe, but it can come very fast. As can be seen from the tables below, the average minimum temperature in Athens exceeds 19 degrees C (66 F ) from June to September but drops to 15C (59 F)in October and a chilly 12 C(54 F) in November. Simultaneously, there is a large decrease in hours of sunshine from 9 hours per day in September to 6 hours per day in October. Rainfall increases from 10 mm (.4 inches) in September to 53 mm (2 inches) in October. Similar, though less dramatic changes are seen between May and June.

While travel to Greece is possible year round, based upon our experience and the data given below, the optimal time to travel Greece is June through mid-July or September until mid-October.

Athens

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Rainfall (mm)

48

41

41

23

18

7

5

8

10

53

55

62

Rainfall (inches)

1.9

1.6

1.6

0.9

0.7

0.3

0.2

0.3

0.4

2.1

2.2

2.4

Min Temp (°C)

7

7

8

12

16

20

23

22

19

15

12

9

Max Temp (°C)

13

14

16

19

24

28

31

31

28

23

19

15

Min Temp (°F)

45

45

46

54

61

68

73

72

66

59

54

48

Max Temp (°F)

55

57

61

66

75

82

88

88

82

73

66

59

 

 

 

 

 

Average daily sunshine (in hours)

 

Athens

Heraklion

Rhodes

Thessaloniki

JAN

4.12'

3.48'

4.24'

3.06'

FEB

4.48'

4.18'

5.12'

3.30'

MAR

5.54'

5.42'

6.36'

4.48'

APR

7.42'

7.36'

8.00'

6.48'

MAY

9.24'

9.42'

10.00'

8.06'

JUN

11.12'

11.42'

11.42'

9.54'

JUL

11.42'

12.00'

12.06'

10.30'

AUG

11.00'

11.12'

11.30'

9.30'

SEP

9.12'

9.24'

10.06'

7.42'

OCT

6.42'

6.24'

7.48'

5.18'

NOV

5.06'

5.00'

5.54'

3.54'

DEC

3.54'

3.54'

4.30'

3.18'

 

Contents of Greece Travel Guide