Wintry weather sets in, with plenty of rainy and brooding cloudy days. Biting northerly winds sweep the islands, but crisp sunny days can be crystal clear, with bottle-blue skies and delightfully mild temperatures that will feel warm to denizens of northern Europe.
The mountains of Crete are by now dusted with snow. And only the hardiest travelers will brave the shiveringly cold sea. Pack plenty of cold-weather clothing, plus rainwear, as average high temperatures rarely rise above 60 Fahrenheit.
Crowds & Costs
Visitors pretty much stay away from the Greek Islands in December. Their loss—your gain! The islands feel personal without the crowds of summer. Plus, prices of airfares and hotels are at their lowest, with some real bargains. While most tourist restaurants will be closed (especially in the islands), those serving Greek patrons will be open. but air and ferry service will be limited. Plan accordingly.
Where to Go
This is prime time to combine island visits with Athens and other key historical venues while you have the Acropolis, museums and archaeological sites virtually to yourself. If you delight in the wild side, which is lush and green in December, explore the gorges and stone villages of Crete, where snow-capped mountains add to the gorgeous vistas. Plus, Crete—which has some of the warmest winter temperatures—has heaps of cultural sites, great culinary adventures, and winter activities such as hiking and biking.
If you prefer islands with a mid-winter buzz, the Saronic islands are still lively with Athenians taking mini-vacations or making second-home visits. Crete and Santorini still have plenty to do even in winter and there are lots of (open) places to stay and eat. And Rhodes has a resident student population that keeps things youthful and lively. Unlike many other Cyclades isles, which rely almost solely on tourism, Naxos and Santorini have active agricultural industries and year-round residents, making for fascinating culinary and cultural visits.
What to Do
Even on the sunniest day, it’s hardly likely to be warm enough to enjoy beach time. But this is a great time to sample the islands in solitude, and the colors are prime when the sun shines. So, break out your camera and focus on the natural beauty. Head to Chios, an agricultural Northern Aegean island where mid-winter is peak citrus season. It’s big enough for you to rent a car and explore the countryside, with its citrus and mastic orchards and many historic villages.
And uber-popular Santorini doesn’t completely shut down in the winter, although the nightclubs and many bars will have shuttered. Visit the wineries, take a cooking class, and don a warm jacket and hike the classic Fira to Oia rim-top trail, to Nea Kamini hot springs, and to the Mountain of Prophet Elias.
Feast of St. Nicholas. On December 6, Greeks head to church for ceremonies and festivals to honor St. Nicholas, patron saint of sailors.
Christmas Day. Second in importance to Easter in the Greek Orthodox calendar, December 25 is celebrated as elsewhere in Europe, with church services, street caroling, and family parties; and towns and villages throughout the islands will be festooned with traditional decorations.
New Year’s Eve. Towns throughout the Greek Islands launch fireworks, children carol in the streets, and it’s a reason for parties.
Traveling to Greece in December? Check out these great itineraries
Crete & Cyclades Culinary Heritage. Indulge your taste buds with this perfect-for-winter vacation that spans cooking classes to farm visits.
Discover Rhodes, Crete & Corfu – 14 Days. Spend two weeks exploring three of the premiere Greek Islands for romance, stunning landscapes, and historical import.