Timing a trip to Greece may seem like an easy choice. You can opt for the azure waters and fun-loving crowds of the high season or the big bargains and unreliable weather of the low season. Then, there are the shoulder months, which have some of the advantages of both. So, which should you choose? That depends on your budget and travel interests. Knowing both will help make the choice easier, so we broke each season down for you.
While Greek vacations are often associated with breezy, sun-drenched beaches in the summer, winter, which lasts from December to March, also offers quite a bit for travelers -- both indoors and out. During this time of year, temperatures are mostly in the 50s and the weather vacillates between dry and sunny and overcast and rainy. (March tends to be a little more damp than other months). However, if you’re not planning to lie on the beach or party by a bonfire, a few unpredictable clouds may be fine. For those who still want wild nightlife, the bars and nightclubs in Athens pulsate with the sounds of DJs and bouzoukis.
Prefer to be outside? There are excellent hiking paths lined with lush greenery. The island of Kea features numerous ancient trails that connect the towns and cities. Ferry travel slows down during these months -- sometimes running as infrequently as once a week -- but islands closer to the mainland, such as Hydra and Aegina, still have daily options. Greece’s mainland also offers great hiking -- the northern town of Zagorohoria features Vikos Gorge, the world’s deepest canyon in proportion to its width. The mountains of Greece also have a number of ski runs. In Delphi, you can even ski by historic ruins.
Appreciating history is also a lot easier in the winter. Historic sites such as Athens’ Acropolis and Agora can be viewed without gaggles of tourists and students. The Palace of Knossos on Crete, which is now a museum, was the setting for the ancient tale of the Minotaur.
Of course flights and hotels are significantly discounted in the off-season -- as much as 50 percent off of high-season rates -- so budget travelers should book well in advance.
Springtime in Greece only lasts about two months -- April and May. Days reach the mid-60s and nights hover around the low 50s. While the weather isn’t quite as wet as winter, Greece’s 5,000-plus flower varietals come out in bloom. Crete is particularly celebrated for its Jerusalem sage, yellow-horned poppy, and Bermuda buttercup flowers. Chania, the second-largest city on Crete, is located near several large fields of wildflowers, which make for a photogenic day trip. The city’s Old Town section shows traces of the island’s past under Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman rule. The charming architecture includes cathedrals and a romantic Venetian harbor.
Those looking to do something a bit more active than strolling the byways and picking wildflowers can opt for horseback riding, kayaking, and white-water rafting.
Orthodox Easter also usually occurs during the spring months and Greece hosts numerous memorable celebrations. Athens has a procession in which the devout carry candles and torches up Lykavittos Hill, which boasts the highest point in the city. Numerous towns such as Agios Nikolaos have a firework display during the midnight service the Saturday before Easter. In Vrontados, on the island of Chios, two "rival" churches have a rocket war in which they try to ring the bell of the opposing church with homemade fireworks. Easter Sunday is celebrated with the loud clanging of bells and tossing of clay pots into the street. After all, what would a trip to Greece be without seeing a little broken dinnerware?
Spring tends to be a shoulder season and the prices rise from the deep discounts of winter as the days inch closer to the summer. On average, it’s reasonable to expect prices to be about 20 percent off the summer highs.
Late June through August is the time for those postcard-ready images of life in the Greek isles (picture folks sunbathing in the day and tossing back ouzo shots at night). Along with the 70- to 90-degree days come packs of European tourists to enjoy them. Many Athenians take off the first two weeks of August, partially for tradition and also to escape from the summer vacationers. However, everything is also pulsing at top rhythm: the ferry service is in full swing, chefs are doing their best to impress, and the party scene is percolating. Mykonos has several spots, like Cavo Paradiso, that rival Ibiza for DJs and dancers. Paros, just a few hours away from Athens, attracts university students with its beachfront bars and day parties. Unlike many glitzy discos around the world, these party spots have a distinct combination of booming bass and ancient architecture.
Athens has several world-class restaurants that cater to the influx of summer visitors. The Michelin-starred Spondi mixes Mediterranean recipes with French accents to create dishes like shrimp with caviar and grapefruit. Hytra recreates classic Greek dishes with innovative updates (think squid with fennel and squid ink mayonnaise).
August 15 is the day of the Panagia (Virgin Mary), a holy celebration, and brings plenty of dancing and food. On the island of Tinos, the devout crawl on their knees up the steps of the church to see a holy icon. On Paros, the day coincides with a wine festival.
Prices tend to be at their peak in the summer because the weather is sunny and dry, and, for many, at its best.
For many, fall is the best time to go to Greece. The weather, which gets into the high 60s during the day, is still warm, but the crowds have dissipated, making it easier to enjoy the water and beaches. Like autumn in many parts of the world, the leaves change from green to red to gold, giving nature lovers plenty to admire.
September is the grape harvest and many of the local wineries celebrate with demonstrations and tastings. Thessaloniki has the Anhiolos Wine Festival the first two weeks of month. Olive farms harvest their fruits in October and November. And the town of Kissamos on Crete holds a Chestnut Festival near the end of October.
Plenty of historic sites, including the Meteora rock formation in the northern part of the country and the Acropolis Museum, can also be toured with relatively easy access and fewer crowds.
Like Spring, autumn is a shoulder season for Greece and prices dip 20 percent or more as the days get closer to winter. On the other hand, the ferry schedule becomes more selective and flights can be harder to find.