Everyone pictures the beautiful and scorching hot summer when Greece is talked about as a vacation destination. And that is for good reason! There are little spots of Paradise to discover all over Greece during the summer, from swimming in turquoise waters like in the Caribbean to surfing the royal blue sea of the Aegean to lounging in the rare pink sand beaches you can only find in Crete.
But there is a lot more to discover in Greece, even at the same locations, if you only pick the opposite season- winter!
Winter comes to Greece from the month of December to the month of February, with January and February being the coldest months. Depending on where you are, Greece transforms into a white, snow-clad winter wonderland or a cool, mild, and fragrant resort for those seeking quiet and relaxation, or the perfect place for winter sports and outdoor adventures if you like hiking, skiing, or trekking!
A Guide to Winter in Greece
Winter in Greece: Weather
Winter in Greece is generally mild, with temperatures averaging at around 12 to 15 degrees Celsius. However, as you move more to the north, the temperature drops, and in regions such as Epirus and Macedonia or Thrace temperatures regularly drop below zero and can, on rare occasions, go as low as -20 degrees Celsius!
Weather is generally sunny and dry, but there will be heavy rainfalls and on the coldest days you might even experience snow falling in Athens- though it’s rare for snow coverage to happen in Attica, except for the mountain tops.
Greece’s winter allure is that there are places to discover that are not as widely known as the famous islands or the hot summer vacation spots. You will see a side of the country that is just as gorgeous but, perhaps, purer and more authentic, as that is the Greece of the locals more than Greece the hostess for tourists.
Great Places to Visit During Winter in Greece
Mt. Parnassos, Delphi and Arachova
Mt. Parnassos is a very important mountain in the center of central Greece, surrounded by myths and legends since antiquity, but also the symbol for the philosophical movement and philhellenic renaissance of the turn of the century since the mountain is associated with Apollo and his nymphs, and therefore the arts.
Delphi and the famous Oracle of Delphi are located near Mt. Parnassos, which made the mountain sacred to the ancients and famous in modernity. Delphi was the “navel of the earth” or the “center of the world” to ancient Greeks. According to legend, Zeus released one eagle to the east and one eagle to the west, and they met at Delphi, earning the location its name.
Delphi and its temple are accessible to you now, located at Mt. Parnassos’ slopes. Winter is a great opportunity to visit because you can explore the ancient ruins without worrying about the sun or the heat stroke, but also because the modern Delphi village is a great, picturesque place to relax and enjoy some honey wine before you go skiing in the Parnassos Ski Center!
During winter, Mt. Parnassos always gets snow, and you can enjoy it at the ski center located there. Mt. Parnassos is one of the oldest Natural Parks, home to several indigenous species of animals and plants, and a wonderful place for a winter hike. There are also several villages all over Mt. Parnassos’ slopes, from the famous Arachova to Eptalofos and Amphikleia, from where you can have easy access to the ski center.
Arachova, especially, is called “Winter Mykonos” because it is so popular as a winter destination, for locals and tourists alike.
Arachova is built along the mountain’s lower slopes, so it is a great place to stay if you are planning to explore and experience it.
Because Arachova is so popular, it is also very cosmopolitan. You will find high-end hotels alongside picturesque, folklore inns and apartments. You will be able to enjoy traditional local delicacies alongside fine dining while enjoying the feeling of heritage and modern history, as Arachova is closely tied to the War of Independence of 1821 (one of the most famous captains of the insurgent Greeks, Georgios Karaiskakis, defeated the Turks in a fierce battle in 1826).
You will enjoy the iconic stone architecture, walk or hike through gorgeous natural paths with great vistas, and then perhaps taste the famous local wine (called Mavroudi thanks to its deep, dark red color) as you sample the local food, designed to keep you warm!
Nymfeo is one of the most beautiful Greek villages located in the region of Macedonia, at the slopes of Mt. Vitsi. It is considered one of the most beautiful villages in the region, and one of the best winter destinations in Greece.
Because Nymfeo is a restored Vlach village, all the iconic stone mansions and houses have been revived into their former beauty. Inside, restored traditional furniture and decorations will carry you to different eras of the past. It is literally a folklore and heritage museum in which you can stay, letting history imbue your senses as you enjoy the snow outside and the cozy warmth inside.
Nymfeo was famous for its gold and silversmiths, so you can admire their work and tools at the local museum, and perhaps afterward you can enjoy a hike in the gorgeous beech forest, or pay a visit to Arktouros, the wild bear sanctuary!
Metsovo is a winter wonderland and one of the most popular towns in Greece. Deep in the mountains of Epirus, Metsovo is one of the most famous traditional places in the area. It is built amphitheatrically, hailing from the 17th century as a node for travelers, but also tradesmen. Metsovo’s patrons and benefactors, the Averoff family, gave the international renown for its cabernet wine and locally smoked cheeses.
In Metsovo, you will be surrounded by tradition, heritage, iconic picturesque stone house towers, and stone architecture, treated to great food and local delicacies, and enjoy the snow as you never have before.
You can also use Metsovo as your base to hike to the surrounding lush forests, many parts of which are under state protection and enjoy the several little creeks and pathways that lead to gorgeous views of the mountain slopes.
Thermal Spas: Lake Vouliagmeni, Athens, and Loutraki, Pella
There are many winter swimmers in Greece who defy low temperatures and freezing waters for their daily dunking- but you don’t have to be one of those to enjoy a swim in Lake Vouliagmeni, even in the heart of winter!
Lake Vouliagmeni is located near the Athens Riviera and it is a thermal lake! That means that its waters are warm enough for a swim even during the winter. Lake Vouliagmeni also has many doctor fish, who are happy to tickle your feet while they exfoliate them naturally.
The lake itself is surrounded by craggy rock formations, giving the impression of a lagoon. Treat yourself to the experience of a warm thermal spa!
If you want an even hotter bath in a natural thermal spring, then Loutraki in Pella, in Macedonia, is for you! In Loutraki the water is so hot it can reach a luxurious 37 degrees Celsius, and there are spa and hammam facilities for you to enjoy it to the fullest as you pamper yourself.
Visit the queen of the region of Macedonia, the town of Kastoria. Situated between two looming mountains, Mt. Grammos and Mt. Vitsi, Kastoria is a lake town! It features a beautiful promenade along the silvery waters of lake Oresteiada, which offers itself for easy, pleasant walks around most of the lake! You will be treated to beautiful vistas, and a view of several different species of bird, some of them quite rare!
Stay in the opulent stone mansions with the iconic architecture, and enjoy the snow decorating the city in bright white as you sit by the fireplace with a warm drink and good local food. If you are a lover of furs, you can also buy authentic, high-quality fur products from Kastoria, which is internationally renowned for them.
The capital of the region of Epirus is Ioannina, a gorgeous city to visit during the winter. Like Kastoria, Ioannina is also a lake town, with beautiful traditional and picturesque promenades around the old castle city and the lake, for a unique winter experience.
Ioannina is also a very historical town, with the legend of its Ottoman commander Ali Pasha and his love for the Lady Frosyne, their doomed romance, and the strife between occupying Ottomans and occupied Greeks still coloring the folklore and atmosphere of the city.
Ioannina is also renowned for its culinary and confectionery excellence. The expression “he is a pasha at Ioannina” among the Greeks is used to signify an extremely opulent life with a focus on good food and good desserts, so definitely sample as many of the local delicacies as possible!
Crete is Greece’s biggest island and one of the best Greek islands to visit in winter. In Crete you can combine all facets of the Greek winter, so definitely consider visiting then! You can go hiking, trekking and skiing on the Cretan mountaintops, and when you tire of the heavy winter, you can drive to the shores, in the beautiful cities of Rethymno, Herakleion or Chania, to enjoy the mild winter coolness by the seaside, as you warm up with warm raki, or rakomelo (honey raki), good wine, and excellent local delicacies to accompany it all!
Winter is also an excellent season to visit all the museums and archaeological complexes in Crete, as there are very few visitors, and the cool weather makes walking through the ruins of the renowned palaces of Knossos and Phaistos a pleasant, even transcending experience.
Things to Do in Greece in Winter
The Winter season is the season of festivities, traditions, and great customs! You should experience them, preferably with a Greek family that will initiate you in all the significance and symbolism involved, before taking you out to party!
Keep in mind that every region has additional local customs, besides the ones shared all over Greece, so it is worth your time to be informed in advance, to better choose where to visit at which time.
But some of the things you shouldn’t miss during Winter in Greece are:
Greek Christmas is an experience!
First off, there is the caroling: children of all ages, usually in groups and armed with triangles, harmonicas, drums, and fiddles, go from house to house to sing a specific Christmas carol, announcing the news of Jesus’ birth and giving good wishes to the house dwellers for the year. In return, the matron of the house hands the children money or, in more traditional practices, sweets.
Witness the resplendent Christmas trees in the town and city squares, but also the decorated Christmas boats! Tradition has it that boats are what should be decorated in honor of Christmas, and the Christmas tree is a later addition to the decorating.
Celebrate with good food, and especially the traditional Christmas sweets, honey cookies in honey syrup (called “melomakarona”), and dusty buttery spherical cookies that look like snowballs covered in fine powder sugar (called “kourabiedes”), alongside more chocolate, caramelized almonds, almond delights, and confections.
In Greece, gift-giving doesn’t take place on Christmas Day, but rather on New Year’s! A new set of carols take place on New Year’s Eve, this time in honor of St. Basil, the Greek “Santa Claus”, and a special cake called “vasilopita” (i.e. St. Basil’s Cake). Just when the hour strikes midnight, the vasilopita is cut in a ceremonial manner and each one in the household gets a slice. If you find the coin hidden in the cake is in your slice, you will have good fortune all year, or so the tradition says!
All the Museums
Especially in Athens, but all over Greece, there are many museums, and not all of them are archaeological, though those are many. Winter is the perfect time to visit them because they have few visitors and curators and guards have more time to help you or explain things you see a lot more than a guide would in the summer!
Visit the War Museum, the Benaki Museum, the Folklore Museum, the Museum of Ancient Technology, the Athens Gallery, and a ton more just in Athens!
Eat the Good Stuff
Winter is off-season in most of Greece, so the restaurants, cafes, and pubs that are open cater to the locals specifically. That means you have the opportunity to sample what the locals appreciate and prefer. Authentic flavors, fusion with international cuisine, and popular pubs with cocktail favorites are more easily accessible in the winter, simply because there are very few ‘touristy’ places to go to.
Especially in Athens, but also in most big Greek towns with historical centers, from Thessaloniki to Patra to Ioannina to Rethymno, you will be directed by the locals to the truly traditional places, experience the real local color, and be surrounded by Greece’s authentic, uncurated ambiance.