Greece is like the friend you had at school who was annoyingly good at everything. With its incredible beaches, rich history, exquisite cuisine, unspoiled islands and vast mountain ranges, Greece seemingly has it all – including a fascinating array of microclimates.
Enjoying a Mediterranean climate with long, hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters, the Greek islands are a holidaymaker’s dream.
The summer season starts as early as May with temperatures hitting the mid 20s and by July and August, it’ll rarely drop below this, climbing up to the 30s during the day and remaining pleasantly warm at night. Unlike the mainland, the heat is tempered by sea breezes and the meltemi winds which can blow for days at a time from late June to August, especially in the Cyclades islands.
While these Balkan winds offer a welcome relief from the scorching sun, on a practical level they can prove to be a little inconvenient. At their strongest, the meltemi winds can flood small boats and blow sand at sunbathers on north facing beaches. Since these winds blow north to south, beaches on the southern sides of islands will usually be less windy and the weather in the southerly islands such as Crete and Rhodes will generally be more settled.
However, these southern islands, while less windy and almost guaranteed to be hot, bright and clear, can often become too hot during the peak of the summer season and it’s not uncommon for tourist police to monitor the beaches at midday to prevent sunbathers from burning.
If you’re after something a bit more alpine, worry not, Greece can provide that for you too.
As one of Europe’s most mountainous countries, with over four fifths consisting of mountains or hills, the peaks experience very different weather to the lower regions of Greece. The higher altitude means colder temperatures, more clouds and higher rainfall and many of the snow covered mountains are home to a handful of ski resorts.
This alpine climate is prevalent in the high mountain ranges of mainland Greece but you’ll find similar weather in the high mountain ranges of Crete too.
Mainland Greece is slightly different again. Less influenced by the sea and more influenced by the giant landmass of Europe, there are more extremes of temperatures here in comparison to the islands and coastal regions.
Summer temperatures in Athens can reach the high 40s and these prolonged periods of hot, dry weather can leave the countryside susceptible to wild fires. At the other end of the spectrum, winter can be cold with the occasional snowfall in low-lying regions. Although uncommon, 2004 saw winter temperatures in Athens drop to as low as -10°C.
Typically, eastern Greece and the area around Athens are dryer while the north and west have a wetter climate. Northern and eastern Greece experience a more transitional Mediterranean climate, with an extreme range between highs and lows and, on average, 5°C cooler than coastal areas during the winter.
Choosing the right timing for your Greek island holiday is dependent on what you plan to do when you get there. July may not be the best time if you plan to do any hiking as the temperatures are soaring, plus there will most likely be crowds on the busier islands. Spring is a wonderful time to visit as the sun is more temperate, the wild flowers are in bloom and it’s less busy.
June and September are excellent times to visit almost everywhere. You won’t miss out on the warm weather and you’ll bypass the summer holiday crowds. Autumn in Greece is stunning as the air is still temperate and everything becomes softer and more subtle. Winters are generally mild, but even the islands can have some periods of short-lived snowfall.
When traveling out of season, be aware ferry and plane services will operate a reduced timetable and many of the bustling, high season tavernas and bars could be closed. Visiting in the quieter, cooler months does however mean you’ll find fantastic hotel deals and very reasonable prices when you get there. On the mainland, winter travel poses no special difficulties and the only thing you’ll have to contend with is enthusiastic Greek skiers in the mountain villages.