January is usually the coldest month of the year in the Greek Islands. Mid-winter weather features frequent gray skies and rain—perfect for relaxing over ouzos and warm local cheer in a taberna.
The ocean waters are too cool to swim, and the Cyclades isles can be quite windy. But it rarely snows (except at the highest elevations) and the air temperature is invigorating for hikes. Plus, long spells of warm weather and sunny and usually crystal-clear days add to the delight, with clear skies about two in three days. Expect average mid-winter afternoon temperatures to vary from 50°F (10°C) to 60°F (15°C). You’ll need to bring some warm clothing and a windproof, waterproof jacket.
Crowds & Costs
This is one of the slowest months for visitors, and you’ll feel like you have many isles to yourself. The mood is more relaxed, and it’s a perfect time for budget travelers to take advantage of rock-bottom rates. Hotels discount their rooms drastically—a great opportunity to indulge in stays at upscale hotels that you might not be able to afford in summer.
Keep in mind, however, that many hotels and restaurants shutter completely for mid-winter, although there’s almost always a few places still catering to the few visitors, especially in the more popular islands.
Where to Go
January is a good time to explore Crete, Santorini, and Mykonos—the most popular isles—when they are free of the summer hordes. Party animals take note: in mid-winter, many clubs and bars shutter for the winter. On such party-goers’ favorites as Mykonos and Ios, tranquility reigns without the loud music! You’ll get a rare opportunity to experience much slower rhythms and a genteel quietude that’s totally unrecognizable compared to the busy summer season.
If you want a wider choice of bars and restaurants still open, it’s best to stick to the main islands, such as Crete, Rhodes, Corfu, and Santorini. These islands have large permanent populations, and remain active even in the off-season. The ferries that depart Piraeus continue operating throughout winter, although service is less regular, and some ferry connections may stop by late October through early spring.
What to Do
The Greek Islands in winter are perfect for hiking, with crisp, crystal-clear skies and often changeable, moody lighting. There’s no shortage of great places to walk. Crete, Corfu and other larger isles are laced with trails that wind from village to village, offering magnificent seascape vistas.
Santorini’s renowned clifftop walk between Fira and Oia is never better than in winter, when you’ll have it virtually to yourself and just a few convivial locals. And many smaller isles, such as Hydra, are totally without paved roads or vehicles, permitting you to stroll the coastal and mountain trails, seeing the land as do the locals.
Almost any island in the Cyclades is a walker’s haven. Fortunately, most ancient sites and museums remain open year-round, although in winter they typically close early and are closed on Mondays.
Events in January
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 from where ferries depart to the Aegean Islands, has the biggest such “Blessing of the Waters” celebration.
Traveling to the Greek Islands in January? Check out this great itinerary
Cultural Cyclades - 13 Days Perfect for winter, this 12-day itinerary takes in 4 islands, with plenty of classical history and local culture.