Seasonal Planning for Travel to the Greek Islands
When planning your itinerary, it’s worth keeping in mind that not all Greek islands are alike. Islands like Santorini, Mykonos, and Crete are particularly famous, and peak times can get very crowded. If you visit Lesvos, Alonissos, or Ammouliani, on the other hand, you’ll have a completely different experience. Those looking for off-the-beaten-path island destinations should check out 5 Places Most Travelers Miss (But Shouldn’t) in Greece.
Regardless of where you choose to go, you’ll want to prepare for your island experience by stocking up on essentials. Packing swimwear is a given, but don’t forget the sunscreen too—it can get surprisingly expensive. While shorts and T-shirts will certainly come in handy, it’s not a bad idea to pack layers; long pants are often useful when visiting religious sites, and evenings can get chilly in spring and fall. If you’re visiting in winter, a rain jacket might be helpful.
|Pros||Cons||Best for||Where to Visit|
|June through August (Summer)||Good beach weather, long daylight hours, extended opening times at attractions, frequent ferries||Some islands are very busy, accommodation and activities can be pricey||Sunbathing and swimming in the Aegean Sea, enjoying the summer nightlife||Mykonos, Corfu, or Santorini for nightlife, Naxos and Lefkada for watersports|
|September through November(Fall)||Cheaper prices and thinner crowds, temperatures are usually still good for the beach, calm waters for sailing||A heightened chance of rain towards the end of the season||Trying fresh vegetables at harvest time, sailing between islands, outdoor sightseeing||Crete for its olive harvest and local delicacies, Rhodes to wander around its medieval old town|
|March through May (Spring)||Blooming flowers and pleasant temperatures, celebrate Orthodox Easter and Greek Independence Day||A chance of rain in early spring, some attractions are closed during holidays||Hiking and outdoor activities, experiencing Easter customs||Tinos, Patmos, or Chios for their unique Easter traditions|
|December through February (Winter)||The major attractions won’t be busy, off-season deals and discounts, Christmas celebrations||Some resorts and businesses are closed, the weather can be rainy and cold, limited number of ferries running||Enjoying Christmas pastries and seasonal citrus fruits, relaxing under heat lamps at cozy cafés||The Saronic islands, or larger cities like Heraklion, Rhodes, or Corfu|
Summer (June through August)
Sun-seekers and nightlife fans will love visiting the Greek islands in summer. With average highs in the 70s and 80s Fahrenheit, these months are the perfect time to hit the beach and spend time outdoors. Things can get busy, though; Greece is one of the most popular countries in Europe, with several million visitors each year.
Accommodation sells out quickly in the summertime, so make your arrangements in advance. Your ideal plan will depend on your personal preferences: if you’re looking for excitement, you might want to head to party hotspots like Mykonos or Santorini, while those looking for a quieter stay might seek out islands like Lesvos. Or, if you’d like to see a little bit of everything, you can combine a number of islands into a longer trip, like in this two-week island-hopping itinerary.
One of the major plus sides of traveling in the summer is the long opening hours at museums and archaeological sites. Ferries also run frequently. Although transportation is sometimes crowded, you’ll be able to easily get where you want to go. The economy of many Greek islands relies heavily on tourism, so they’re often at their liveliest during the high season.
Miaoulia Festival (June): In the last weekend of June, Hydra comes alive with activities and fireworks celebrating Admiral Andreas Miaoulis, a hero of the Greek War of Independence.
Cretan Diet Festival (July): Foodies will love this summer festival, taking place in the city of Rethymnon on Crete. Highlights include cooking classes, wine tastings, booths selling local products, and musical performances.
Aegina International Music Festival (August): The island of Aegina, near Athens, is home to this annual classical music festival, featuring musicians from all over the world.
Fall (September through November)
If you’re eager to hit the beach but aren’t keen on crowds, fall can be a good time to travel to the Greek islands. The weather tends to stay pleasant throughout the season, especially in September and October. The summer’s Meltemi winds (northern winds) will have calmed by this time, making sailing an appealing prospect.
Most attractions continue their extended opening hours into early fall, so it’s a good time for sightseeing. Archaeological sites are scattered all around the Greek islands, with many interesting ones located on larger islands like Crete and Rhodes.
Another great reason to visit the Greek islands in fall is the season’s olive and vegetable harvest. The islands are known for their fresh produce, with each having its own unique cuisine. Foodies will love this six-day food tour of Crete, or this 15-day Cyclades and Crete culinary history tour.
Aegina Fistiki Festival (September): Aegina is famous for its pistachios; this festival features pistachio products of all kinds, plus music and dancing.
Oxi Day (October): Taking place on the 28th of October, this national holiday commemorates Greece’s refusal to allow Mussolini’s troops to enter the country in 1940. Oxi, sometimes written ohi or ochi, means “no” in Greek. Travelers can expect closures and parades in larger towns on the islands.
Chestnut Festival (October): In the Cretan village of Elos, this yearly festival offers visitors a chance to taste fresh roasted chestnuts and chestnut pastries.
Spring (March through May)
Nature lovers will adore the Greek islands in spring, when flowers are blooming and temperatures begin to rise. Most attractions are up and running on their peak-season hours by April 1st. Springtime also means Orthodox Easter celebrations, and there are some unique ones to be found in the islands.
Tinos, in the Cyclades, is famous for its churches. Having been ruled by the Venetians at one point, the island is home to both Orthodox and Catholic traditions. The church of Panagia Evangelistria is one of the most important Orthodox pilgrimage sites in Greece, while the island’s Catholic churches also draw in pilgrims from around the country. Visitors to Tinos during Easter can expect to see processions on the beach, crosses lit in flames, and lots of firecrackers.
Another unique place to celebrate Easter in the Greek islands is Chios, where two rival churches engage in an unusual tradition: an annual “Rocket War”. The churches of Agios Markos and Panagia Erithiani fire thousands of homemade rockets at each other during midnight services on Easter Saturday. Nearby Mount Aipos is a good viewing point.
Greek Independence Day (March): On March 25th, the declaration of the Greek War of Independence is celebrated with parades throughout the islands. Some attractions may be closed.
Festival of Agios Georgios (April): In Crete, locals celebrate Agios Georgios, the patron saint of shepherds, on April 23rd each year. A large event takes place in the village of Asi Gonia, where hundreds of sheep are milked in the town square.
International Workers’ Day/May Day (May): May 1st is now known as International Workers’ Day, but it also corresponds with an older May Day tradition, celebrating spring. Some towns host flower shows, while closures and strikes are also common.
Winter (December through February)
Winter is the off season in the Greek islands. At this time of year, visitors can expect reduced prices, especially on accommodation. However, a lot of businesses close down at this time—tourist-oriented attractions shut for the season, and ferries between islands are less frequent.
To get the most out of a winter visit, travelers can consider basing themselves in one of the larger cities (like Heraklion, Rhodes, or Corfu Town), where things remain open year-round for the locals. Otherwise, there’s also the option of combining a visit to the Greek mainland with some of the Saronic Islands, near Athens.
The weather in Greece in the winter can get rainy (it sometimes even snows, although this is uncommon). However, there are usually some sunny days as well, especially on the southernmost islands. Temperatures typically stay in the 50s and 60s Fahrenheit, rarely dropping below freezing.
Christmas (December): While plastic trees and Christmas lights can be seen throughout the Greek islands, a more traditional Christmas decoration is the karavaki (small boat). The holiday is also celebrated with caroling and sweet pastries.
Feast of Saint Basil (January): In Greece, New Year’s Day is known as the Feast of Saint Basil the Great. Traditionally, this was the day for gift-giving at Christmas (nowadays, many families give gifts on December 25th, or on both days).
Carnival (February): Greek Carnival, known as Apokries, is celebrated before the beginning of Lent. It’s marked by street parties featuring bonfires, dancing, and music. One of the most famous celebrations, with Venetian roots, takes place on Corfu.