Winters are fairly mild, except in the mountains, when snowfall is common. Athens’ temperatures average 55 Fahrenheit, with nightly lows that rarely approach freezing. The islands are usually a degree or two warmer. Still, although this is the coldest month, it might even seem balmy if you’re visiting from a much colder country. More days than not, the sky is overcast. And rain falls about one day in three. Heading to the islands? Sure, this is the Mediterranean but make no mistake—the seas can be rough, and it can be damp, windy and, cold. Pack cold-weather clothing, plus windproof raingear.
Crowds & Costs
Greece seems so much more personal in winter, when most travelers are cozying up to the fire back home. Airfares and hotel rates are at their lowest, although you’ll have fewer options: Many charter airlines don’t operate in winter, regular schedules are cut back, and many hotels, restaurants, and bars close. But you’ll have prompt service at those that remain open.
Where to Go
January is a good time to explore Athens, when the Acropolis and other key sites are free of the summer hordes. Many visitors from northern climes still head to the Greek Islands, however, in hopes of some winter sun, with clear skies about two in three days. Party animals take note: in mid-winter, many clubs and bars shutter for the winter. Tranquility reigns without the loud music! It’s best to stick to the main islands, such as Crete and Santorini, where you'll have a wider choice of bars and restaurants still open, and which enchant at any time of year.
What to Do
This is a great time to focus on museums and cultural visits. Unless your idea of a good time is a Polar bear plunge, forget bathing in the Mediterranean. By January the sea will make you say brrr! Parnassus may not quite be Aspen or Davos, ski buffs will enjoy a day or two at Parnassus Ski Resort, where the bars and clubs at Arachova are at their most active. This is a great time for photography, too, as the colors are softer out of the glaring summer sunlight. And it’s a perfect time to focus on getting to know the Greeks themselves.
Feast of Saint Basil’s/New Year’s Day – Greece’s equivalent of Christmas Day, the Fest of St. Basil (Ayios Vassilios) is gift-giving day, and a time for feasting and card games, plus other customs intended to bring good luck for the coming year. Athens and many other places have midnight fireworks.
Epiphany – Epiphany (January 6) celebrations—Theofania—take place throughout Greece. The local Orthodox priest leads a procession through town, visiting each house to offer a blessing. The procession usually ends at a body of water, into which the priest tosses a cross: swimmers dive in, hoping to retrieve it for good luck. Piraeus, the Athens’ port, has the biggest such “Blessing of the Waters” celebration.
Patras Carnival – Supposedly Greece’s largest festival, Patras explodes into colorful life for several weeks with parade floats, boules (“transvestite” masquerades), pantomimes, and no end of parties.
Traveling to Greece in January? Check out these great itineraries.
Highlights of Athens - 5 Days Guides you to the best of the capital city, from the Acropolis to food markets.
Authentic Athens & Historical Greece Eight days exploring ancient and modern Athens, plus Delphi and Mycenae.
Cultural Cyclades Perfect for winter, this 12-day itinerary takes in 4 islands, with plenty of classical history and local culture.