Greece is a famous destination for summer vacations. It has beautiful beaches, a lot of sunny days, and all the hospitality sector is mobilized in the summer season, offering a wide range of services.
But for me as a historian, the winter season brought much more opportunities. I arrived in Athens in August 2019, September moved to Crete, and stayed more than six months. I’m happy to share with you my experience with island life in this article.
Weather in Greece during the year
This is the first thing we are thinking about, it may significantly influence our experience. Of course, each year is slightly different, but here is how it looked like during my stay in Greece.
August was very hot. While I moved to Greece from Cambodia, for me it didn’t seem so, I had a feeling that the weather is perfectly chill. But it was 30+ C. I think if I came from Slovakia, it would be too hot for sightseeing activities. It was hot for locals too, so life in Athens was starting after the sunset. During the day the streets were empty.
September was pretty much the same. I moved to Crete in the second half of it and didn’t feel much difference with the mainland in terms of weather. It was the same hot and sometimes windy.
October brought first rains and chilly evenings. My wife and I had no warm clothes after a year in South East Asia, so we had to buy some pants and hoodies for chilly evenings. We lived on a farm near Heraklion and didn’t need to use a/c.
In the middle of October, we decided to have a small vacation and spent one week in MP. Bali between Heraklion and Rethymno.
The weather was still perfect for sunbathing and swimming. In the evening it was still ok to sit on the restaurant’s terrace wearing shirts with long sleeves.
On the 20th of October, we moved to Chania. And that’s when things got much worse. The city met us with a blizzard, which didn’t stop for the whole week. It was cold, raining non-stop for several days with the strong wind shaking windows. Locals said that it was not normal. Usually, that kind of blizzards came in winter.
November and December were better. It was a lot of sunny days, but the difference in temperature in the sun and the shadow was very significant. In the direct sun, it was hot, people were sunbathing at the beach. But it was enough to spend 10 minutes in the shadow to put on a coat. It was a lot of rainy days, but it didn’t rain more several days in a row than when we arrived in Chania.
Winter in Greece
The second half of January was surprisingly warm. It was sunny 2 weeks in a row with temperatures 20+ C. Later I found out, that this meteorological phenomenon is called Alkyonides. I found several different stories in Greek mythology, most of all I like the legend about the Halcyon bird – translated as the kingfisher.
Several myths are surrounding the phenomenon of the Alkyonides Days, the most common of which is the story of Alcyone, daughter of Aeolus, the Greek god of the wind. Alcyone was the devoted wife of Ceyx, King of Thessaly in central Greece. Ceyx ruled his kingdom with justice and in peace. Alcyone and Ceyx were admired by gods and mortals alike for their physical beauty and the profound love that they had for each other.
Zeus punished the arrogant couple who dared to compare themselves to gods by plunging Ceyx’s ship and drowning him. Alcyone lamented her loss so much that she threw herself into the sea and drowned, determined to join her husband in the land of the dead.
The gods of Olympus were so profoundly affected by the tragic fate of the couple and their wonderful love for one another that Zeus transformed the couple into halcyon birds (kingfisher), yet condemned to give birth in the winter.
The waves of the sea rushed into the rocks and destroyed Alcyone’s nest and eggs, and Zeus once again felt regret and ordered the winds to stop and the sun to shine for fifteen days in the heart of the winter so that Alcyone could safely lay her eggs.
From my personal experience, I can add, that it was possible to observe kingfishers in January. Unfortunately, the birds were too fast and I didn’t have a good camera to take pictures.
February was probably the coldest month. The lowest temperature was 6 degrees C during the day and 3 C at night. For three days we experienced the Medea storm, which caused snowing in Athens. In Chania, it was no snow, but a strong blizzard with showers of hail.
As for me, I would not recommend visiting Greece in February. Other winter months are also unpredictable, but it is almost guaranteed, that it will be raining and cold most of the days in February.
Benefits of visiting Greece in winter
There were three main benefits of coming to Greece in winter. First of all, it is not so crowded as in summer. I had bad luck and most of the time it was lockdown, so it was empty and the museums were closed. But still, there were a lot of things to do and explore.
The second benefit was no heat. If you’re the same as me and prefer visiting archaeological sightseeings more than swimming in the sea, winter is your time to visit Greece.
And the third reason was financing. Prices go down out of the main season and even luxury experiences and accommodations become affordable.
Main cons of winter in Greece
The main problem in Crete during winter was no central heating and bad isolation of the buildings. For that reason, Athens would probably be better. We had to buy a heater and also use a/c during the coldest days. But still, it was not as comfortable as in Slovakia.
That’s not a big deal for 1 or 2 weeks of vacation, especially if to spend most of the time outside. But while my wife and I are working during the week, it was very uncomfortable. I’m happy that it is getting warmer and the weather forecast promises us more and more sunny days in March.
The second con of winter in Crete was not so important, but still. Living in Greece I got used to very good quality vegetables I was buying at the farmer’s markets. In winter it was not the harvesting season and vegetables were from the greenhouses. Especially my favorite Greek tomatoes had no smell and taste.
But honestly, that’s all I can list. If the beach is not so important for you, winter in Greece is much better than summer.
Winter activities in Greece
In terms of winter activities, I’m probably not the best guide. First of all, it was a lockdown in Greece, so I had very limited options. Second, my main focus is history. All other things are not so important for me.
What I can say is that if you’re into skiing or snowboarding, google resorts for winter sports in Crete. Also, in winter the waves are pretty good, so it is possible to surf with neoprene.
In terms of historical sightseeing, I wrote separate articles about places to visit in Athens and Crete, check them out if you’re preparing for your trip:
- Ottoman and Venetian city of Chania
- Minoan palaces in Crete
- Heraklion archaeological museum review
- The archaeological museum in Athens review
- Unusual things to do in Athens
The only month I would not recommend visiting Greece is February. On contrary, January may pleasantly surprise you, especially if you are lucky to catch the Alkyonides Days.
And if same as me you prefer to explore the museums and ruins and sunbathing at the beach is not so important to you, winter is your time to visit Greece.