One of the first questions that usually comes up when planning any Greece vacation is when to go. While you might think that would be a simple one-word answer like spring or summer, the reality is there’s a lot more involved. It really depends on the type of vacation you prefer, such as whether you want to revel in big party crowds or prefer a quieter time for enjoying the scenery and sights. Do you want to take part in exciting festivals for an authentic look at the culture, are you hoping to spend your time soaking up the sun on the beach, or perhaps a little of both?
You can see how that answer can become a lot more complicated, which is why we’ve put together a guide to help you come up with the perfect time to visit Greece for the type of vacation you’re dreaming of.
If your ideal trip to Greece includes lots of sightseeing, including all the ancient landmarks like stunning Parthenon at the Acropolis in Athens, monasteries and medieval ruins, visiting Greece is arguably best in mid to late spring or early fall. This is when the weather is mild, typically very pleasant for walking, and there will be fewer tourists to interrupt those spectacular views. Early May often starts out with grey skies, but the sunshine increases as the month progresses, with the average high temperature about 74° Fahrenheit, and there’s little chance of rain getting in the way of outdoor activities. Things warm up quite a bit in June, with temperatures typically hovering closer to the mid-80s. If you pack lightweight clothing, you’ll likely to be able to experience those sights comfortably. When September arrives, things start to cool back down to mid-80s once again, and by the end of the month, it’s usually closer to a perfect 78°, while the sea is still wonderfully warm for enjoying a dip in those enticing waters too.
May through about mid-June, as well as the month of September, can be ideal times to combine sightseeing with a cruise, including excursions through the Southern Greek Islands that will bring you to explore places like the famous archaeological site of Delos, an island that’s the birthplace of Apollo and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s home to some of the most extensive remains dating from around the 5th to 4th-century BC, including a theater, mosaics, temples and statues. You’ll be able to gaze up at magnificently preserved Byzantine and Venetian architecture and immerse yourself into Greek island paradise at a time when the heat isn’t so searing as well.
There are many festivals and other special events hosted year-round in Greece, with some of the best held between April and October. For an authentic slice of Greek life, you might want to plan to be here around Easter, the most important religious holiday of the year. On the Saturday before, you’ll see many gathering at churches with candles. Just before midnight, lights are switched off inside to represent the death of Jesus, and then the priest will announce “Christ has risen.” Afterwards there’s lots of cheering, kisses and fireworks. When the holiday falls during the second half of April, the timing is perfect for enjoying the festivities followed by a week-long cruise that visits bucket-list islands like Mykonos, Santorini and Crete, along with less-visited gems.
As spring moves to summer, there are many renowned festivals, like the Athens Technopolis Jazz Festival, typically held over late May and June, bringing musicians from around the world to perform on historic Lycabettus hill. Art lovers may want to plan around the colorful Epidaurus Festival which features music, theatrical and other events to the capital throughout the summer season. That makes it easy to squeeze in some cultural fun with fun in the sun, spending your days swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing on a cruise that begins or ends in Athens, perhaps a week-long trip in the Cyclades visiting Poros, Poliegos, Folegandros, Santorini, Antiparos, Paros, Delos, Mykonos, Syros and Kythnos.
Other festivals worth planning a trip around is a rock music enthusiasts’ favorite, the Rockwave festival that’s held for two weeks around mid-July in Malakasa, just outside of Athens. It features a variety of big-name acts, with some of the past events including everything from heavy metal favorites like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden to alternative artists like the Arctic Monkeys and Lana Del Rey. The August Full Moon Festival is celebrated throughout Greece, including Athens, with all sorts of events like free concerts, while the Athens International Film Festival brings films from across the globe in genres of all types to the capital city over the second half of September.
For those who want to primarily spend their days hanging out on those spectacular stretches of sand Greece is famous for, sunbathing and swimming in the brilliant turquoise sea, you’ll want to plan your trip in July, August or September. You might spend your days on the famous island of Mykonos, known for its glamourous appeal with plenty of upscale resorts, restaurants and shops, along with some of the best beaches in the country. There are over 30 stretches here, framed by crystal-clear cerulean waters that are popular for diving, swimming, parasailing and more. Or, experience less-visited Naxos where it’s easy to find a more secluded spot on the sand to toss down a blanket, or enjoy relaxing on a lounger underneath a shady umbrella on one of the more organized stretches, occasionally enjoying a refreshing swim in the inviting clear blue waters.
If you’d like to explore multiple beaches, one of the best ways to do it is on an island-hopping cruise in the summer or early fall. There are many swimming stops to take advantage of along with opportunities for snorkeling and days spent soaking up that glorious Mediterranean sun. July and August bring some of the warmest temperatures of the year to the islands, with the average high at 85° though temperatures occasionally creep up to the mid-90s. Rain is virtually non-existent now – all you’ll need to do is pack that lightweight clothing, a couple of bathing suits, sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen.
If you’d like to spend your vacation primarily on the water, the sailing season runs between April through October. Earlier in the season, generally April and May, or later in the season, mid-September through October, you’re likely to enjoy discounted prices and there will be fewer crowds to contend with. In the spring, the landscape will be lush and green, while flowers burst into bloom. In the fall, days are clear and mild before winter rains arrive. While the peak summer months of July and August mean hot days, when you’re on the water it will feel cooler and you’ll have plenty of time to cool off in the sea. September through mid-October is typically a very pleasant time to go with the water still relatively warm, and tourist crowds will have diminished.
Booking a cruise or any sailing excursion at the beginning or end of the season, April or October, means packing a variety of summery clothing like shorts, skirts, dresses and tank tops, along with a warm sweater or sweatshirt and pants for cooler evenings. There’s a slightly higher chance for some precipitation in October, so you may want to toss in a lightweight rain jacket just in case if you plan your trip then.
Wildlife lovers will find lots to love about Greece too. Of course, timing your trip to fall during the best chance to glimpse it is key. For example, in late May every year on Rhodes, one of the largest of the Dodecanese islands, thousands of butterflies arrive, attracted by the scent of the zitia trees where they can escape the humidity in the Valley of the Butterflies. This verdant valley filled with cascading waterfalls is particularly stunning this time of year while offering a cool respite from the heat.
Samaria National Park on Crete is one of the top spots to enjoy wildlife from May through October. It’s home to the Cretan ibex, better known as the kri kris, which have long beards and pointy ears. One of the rarest species of ibex in Europe, they can only be found here in this mountainous park. If you’re lucky, you might spot them as you hike the rocky, herb-scented trails. Along the way, keep an eye out for Cretan wildcats and bearded vultures too.
If you want to see monk seals and dolphins, Alonissos Marine Park in the Sporades is one of the best places to go, with its most famous residents being the endangered Mediterranean monk seal, one of the largest species of seals in the world. The park, home to a wide variety of marine life, is Europe’s biggest marine protected area, and the first marine park to open in Greece. Taking a boat tour or cruise around the islands in the summertime provides the best opportunities for spotting the seals as well as dolphins that may swim right alongside the boat, playfully leaping out now and again.
Sea turtles are always popular, with Zakynthos, Kyparissia, Lakonikos, Rethymno, Chania, Messenia, and Koroni the biggest egg-laying beaches. Their nesting season is from late May through August, a time when you can watch them in their natural habitat during the day. Of course, anytime you’re in the water snorkeling, swimming or diving, you might spot one, along with all sorts of colorful fish.
For the most tranquil experience minus thick crowds, you’ll want to avoid the high season which falls in the summer months, when the kids are out of school, peaking in July and August. August is especially busy when much of Europe, including Greeks, will be on vacation too. While winter is the quietest time of year, the shoulder season, April through mid-June and mid-September through about mid-October is generally the best time to go. You’ll miss the biggest crowds of the year while still experiencing pleasant weather, ferry services and flights will be readily available, and attractions will be open. If you’re up hoping to enjoy a cruise, there will be plenty of great options available during these periods as well.
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Many travelers visit Greek to enjoy the nightlife and beach parties, particularly on Mykonos or Ios, but there’s plenty of partying fun to be had in the city too, from Athens to Thessaloniki, Greek’s second largest, the capital of the Macedonia region of Northern Greece, once named among the world’s “ultimate party cities” by Lonely Planet.
If you hope to delve into the action on the islands, the best time to plan your visit to Greece is in the summer. On the cosmopolitan island of Mykonos, visitors often spend their days at the beach, enjoying parties or sipping cocktails from a shady lounger until the sun goes down and then head to the nightclubs and bars where the crowds will be filing in and things will be hopping ‘til the wee hours of the morning. The most famous beaches like Paradise, Super Paradise and Paranga are jam-packed with bars, with partying the order of the day. Clubs and beach parties with DJs typically start up in late June, running through mid-September, with the high point the second half of July and all of August. The nightlife will be lively from May through early October.
Ios, located between Santorini and Naxos, is also a party island with a vibe that’s a bit more laidback than Mykonos. Throughout the summer in Chora, the night never ends in the any of the endless clubs and bars here, and you’ll find a popular beach party scene on Mylopotas during the season too.
The most vibrant nightlife in Thessaloniki can be found outside the summer months as it’s one of the largest student cities in Greece, while Athens after dark is ideal from spring through early fall, although those hot summer nights tend to bring the biggest crowds and the wildest parties.
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