Considering that Greece is regarded as a quintessential summer destination around the world, going there in January might seem odd. And Greece in January is definitely different but no less magnificent than during the summer. It offers surprising beauty and unique experiences you can’t have during the summer, but it’s not for everyone.
Depending on the style of vacation you’re looking for, Greece in January can be your winter wonderland and even a surprisingly mild, warm winter. What it won’t be, however, is hot and constantly sunny like in the summer.
Therefore, Greece in January can be a wonderful vacation for some but a pass for others. It all depends on what you like, so let’s get to explore what you can expect if you come to Greece in January, from the major cities to the villages!
A Guide to Visiting Greece in January
Pros and cons of visiting Greece in January
There are some main advantages and disadvantages when visiting Greece in January, which is the off-season.
In terms of advantages, you will definitely get a far more authentic experience of Greece, as there are minimal tourist crowds and a whole lot of locals being locals everywhere you go.
Everything is at a better price, too, since it’s the off-season, so your vacation will cost considerably less, even in normally expensive places. January is also sales month for Greece, so you will get even higher discounts on pretty much everything you may want to buy, so you’re in for a lot of bargains!
In terms of disadvantages, it is the off-season: which means that archaeological sites and museums may close early or not have an afternoon opening schedule. Certain venues will be closed for the season, such as summertime bars and restaurants, especially in the islands.
A lot of places in the Greek countryside and the islands don’t expect tourists in winter, so tourist amenities and facilities may be harder to access. Especially if you are aiming to visit the islands, there is a high chance of being grounded there due to strong winds that make it dangerous for ferries to sail.
If that happens, you will need to wait for the weather to improve enough to use the ferry again. Domestic airports may serve very few flights or be straight up closed for the winter. All of these limitations, however, are not a big deal if you plan around them!
Check out: Winter in Greece.
The weather in Greece during January
Depending on where you go in Greece, January’s temperatures will vary. But you can consistently expect it to be colder the northern you go and warmer the southern you go. That said, January is considered the heart of winter in Greece, together with February. So, you will get some of the lowest temperatures of the year around then.
So what are they?
In Athens, you can expect an average of 12-13 degrees Celsius during the day and a drop to 5-7 degrees Celsius during the night. If there happens to be a cold spell, however, these temperatures can drop to around 5 degrees in the daytime and 0 or even -1 or -2 degrees in the nighttime.
Going north, these averages drop, so at Thessaloniki, daytime gets to be around 5-9 degrees on average, but nighttime might go below zero. Even more so for towns like Florina or Alexandroupoli, where the daytime average temperature hovers around 2 degrees Celsius.
Going south, the averages go higher, so in Patra, it gets to be around 14 degrees in the daytime and as low as 6 degrees during nighttime. In Crete, the southernmost point of Greece, the average temperature in January is around 15 degrees if you don’t go to its highlands.
That means you should definitely be prepared to bundle up and, in some places, do so meticulously. There are areas where it snows heavily and regularly in Greece, especially in Central Greece, Epirus, and Macedonia. Even Athens gets its snow once every few years.
You should also expect heavy rainfall, though it comes in occasional bouts. Most of the time, it will be quite sunny in Greece, even in January, so make sure you pack sunblock and sunglasses together with your umbrella, beanie, and scarf.
Check out: Does it snow in Greece?
Holidays in Greece in January
New Year’s is January 1st in Greece, and everything is closed for the holiday. Though it’s not strict or formal, January 2nd is also considered a holiday, and most shops and venues will be closed, too. The end of the Christmas season is marked by Epiphany, so expect Christmas festivities to last until then.
January 6th is Epiphany, a major holiday where everything except restaurants and cafés is closed. There is a tradition where daring Greeks jump into the sea to catch the cross during Epiphany, in an open-air religious ceremony to bless the waters. So, if you are around, make sure you watch!
Where to go in Greece in January
Wintertime is really for mainland Greece or Crete: it’s where all the beauty of winter manifests, where you can go skiing, and where you can get the best services around the year. In general, it’s not very advisable to visit the islands during January, as you may be grounded due to rough seas if there is no airport, and a lot of services during the high season aren’t available during the winter.
If you’re looking for a picturesque, perfect winter holiday, January is the best time to do it. Here are the best places to go:
Athens is a perfect winter destination: not too cold, without the massive crowds of the summer, and with some of the best museums, restaurants, cafés, and archaeological sites all to yourself- and the locals.
There are quality tourist places still open and a huge variety of venues that Athenians prefer that you can also enjoy, such as happenings in its Cultural Centers and Music House, ballet performances, and more.
It is also the ideal time to go museum-hopping in Athens since it has several very noteworthy museums, from archaeological to folklore to war to technology to crime and natural history. Greek winter cuisine is also in season.
From warm drinks that will keep you hot to your core, such as honey wine and honey raki, to rich winter dishes like thick soups, hot or spicy casseroles, and stews, and of course, endless melted cheese in various iterations, you will fall in love with Greek cooking all over again.
Check out: Things to do in Athens in winter.
Also known as Greece’s secondary capital, Thessaloniki is a gem of a coastal city and perfect for winter holidays. It’s a lot more likely to be snowed in during January compared to Athens. Just like Athens, you get to enjoy it without the teeming crowds, so walking at its promenades by the water is a special treat.
There are also great museums there, so museum-hopping is ideal for the season. Thessaloniki has its own special dishes and street food, too. Lastly, it can serve as your base for a lot of fascinating day trips to various resorts and villages that transform during wintertime.
Check out: Things to do in Thessaloniki.
One of the most awe-inspiring places where nature and culture merge in breathtaking scenery is Meteora in Kalambaka. A cluster of six gigantic pillars naturally hewn by the elements, the landscape alone would be enough to call visiting a one-of-a-kind experience.
But there’s more: Meteora is a sacred destination, with monasteries dating from the early middle ages perched atop those huge and craggy rock formations, offering stunning views of the valley and the surrounding verdant hills. During winter, you will probably see it all with snow.
As you enjoy the hospitality of the monasteries, you will have an almost existential experience just by the sheer ambiance of the place.
Check out: Things to do in Meteora.
Metsovo is a gorgeous mountain village town in Epirus, in the Pindus mountains. It gets regular snow and is considered by Greeks as a prime winter holiday destination. It has had its traditions and heritage meticulously preserved, so the village is unaltered and completely authentic, as in past centuries when it was a rich midway point for traders of all kinds.
Renowned for its wine and smoked cheese, it’s a perfect place to enjoy winter with good food, sweeping views, stunning landscapes, and several attractions and other places at close distances, such as the gorgeous lakeside city of Ioannina.
Check out: Things to do in Metsovo.
Close to Metsovo, you will find the deeply historical and stunningly gorgeous lakeside city of Ioannina. The town is very picturesque, with a lot of traditional buildings and iconic sidestreets for you to explore. The promenades of the big lake are also some of the most photogenic places in the area.
Make sure to visit the little island in the center of the lake to peruse the artistic silverware in Ioannina’s gold and silver jewelers’ street and enjoy the view from your lovely hotel. Don’t miss out on the Byzantine castle and the city’s museums!
Check out: Things to do in Ioannina.
Arachova is another top winter destination for the Greeks, so why not make it yours too? It’s a breathtakingly beautiful village at the foot of Mt. Parnassus, very close to the Parnassus Ski Center. It’s a perfect place to use as your base if you’re looking to go skiing in one of the most beautiful locations in Greece.
The village itself is considered cosmopolitan and has made it an art of blending rustic with luxury. During the Christmas season, it’s more expensive than usual, but afterward, in January, prices become a lot more reasonable.
Crete manages to be a gorgeous place to be all year round. It combines the sea with the mountains, so keep in mind that while it’s mild near the sea, it will get very cold as you go up in altitude. Crete’s mountains and mountain villages get regular snow, which is great news if you enjoy skiing. Pierra Creta is an international ski mountaineering competition that attracts skiers of all skill levels from all over the world.
Then, there is Rethymno, the living, breathing medieval city of Chania, which blends tradition with modernity and relaxed Heraklion that you can explore and enjoy. Last but not least, Crete has some of the most important archaeological sites in the world- and off-season is the best time to have them to yourself!
Check out: Things to do in Crete.
Planning your vacation to Greece in January
Despite it being the off-season, you should book in advance and plan your vacations as if it were summer. A lot of the prime winter destinations’ accommodation options get fully booked fast because they are relatively small places that are extremely popular. So booking a couple of months or so in advance is best so you can maximize your options.
When it comes to ferries and planes, it’s advisable to book in advance for similar reasons. Ferry tickets usually don’t get sold out, but it’s better to book early anyway for peace of mind. Also, because there are fewer lines and variety, it will help you plan your itinerary with more ease.
You don’t need to book or pre-buy tickets to museums or archaeological places. Just show up, pay for the much cheaper ticket, and enjoy!