Greek Islands in Winter: Everything You Need To Know

Are you planning to visit the Greek islands in winter? It’s essential you read this first to see if a Greek island winter trip is for you.

Is it worth going to the Greek islands for a winter vacation?

The Greek islands are associated with summer getaways rather than winter escapes, and for good reason. Their fantastic beaches are best enjoyed in the warm weather. The cold season between December and February makes beach time impossible except on the rarest of days.

As a result, many of the tourist related businesses on smaller islands in Greece close during the winter months. Even popular islands like Santorini grind to a halt, and the famous town of Oia can resemble a ghost town where it seems only construction and maintenance workers present.

This doesn’t mean you should write off visiting the Greek islands during the winter months though, you just need to pick and choose more carefully where to go.

The larger islands such as Crete, Corfu, and Rhodes are all excellent places to consider visiting in the winter low season months. There’s always plenty to see and do there. Just set your expectations accordingly, and don’t plan on beach time or swimming being part of your winter vacation on the islands of Greece!

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Greek Island Winter Destinations

  • Visiting the Greek Islands in winter offers cultural and historical experiences with fewer crowds and lower costs, but check in advance as some businesses may be closed.
  • Winter weather on the Greek Islands is mild with day time temperatures around 10°C-15°C. That said, there might be occasional rain, snow does happen from time to time, and there might be much cooler temperatures. Basically it’s a mixed bag. Crete might have snow-capped mountains in the background, while the sun shines strong enough for the brave to venture out in just a T-shirt during the day!
  • Crete, Rhodes, Corfu, Naxos, and Aegina are among the top Greek islands for winter travel, offering unique attractions, local cuisine, and festive celebrations. The southernmost island of Crete is likely to have the better weather.
  • Direct international flights to the Greek islands may be on a much reduced schedule or not happen at all during the winter. As a result, you may need to transit through Athens.
  • Ferry trips to the Greek islands in the winter might be affected by rougher weather. Ferry schedules are not as frequent as the high season due to reduced demand.

Embracing the Winter Season in Greek Islands

Visiting the Greek Islands during the winter season provides an opportunity to:

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  • Soak up the culture and history devoid of the bustling summer crowds
  • Enjoy lower airfare and hotel prices
  • Have a romantic winter getaway
  • Explore the beautiful beaches (bur perhaps no swimming and tanning) and archaeological sites
  • Experience spectacular views, milder weather than other parts of Europe, and unique experiences

However, keep in mind that during winter, you may find that some tourist restaurants and hotels are closed. But worry not, the larger islands like Crete, Rhodes, and Corfu, keep their doors open year-round, offering a more authentic taste of local culture at that time of year. Planning ahead for lodging and dining ensures a smooth and enjoyable winter vacation.

This is a picture taken in Chania in January:

Chania in January is very quiet, but the weather is sunny sometimes

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Winter In The Greek Islands

The Greek islands, even during winter, display a charming mix of cool and sometimes rainy days interspersed with sunny, mild spells. With temperatures typically ranging from 10°C to 15°C, the islands are perfect for nature lovers and bird watching enthusiasts. As there are few people traveling at that time of year, most of the people you see in these islands will be permanent residents.

Nevertheless, the winter weather does vary among the enchanting Greek islands. Islands like Corfu and Zakynthos in the Ionian region usually have milder winters but a bit more rain. And if you’ve ever wondered whether you can find snow in Greece, the answer is yes. Some snow can be seen on the mountains of Crete during the winter holidays, adding to the island’s unique charm.

Top Greek Islands for Winter Escapes

Several Greek islands offer unique experiences, making them ideal choices for winter escapes. Among the best Greek islands for a winter getaway are Crete, Rhodes, Corfu, Naxos, and Aegina. Whether you’re interested in cultural immersion, natural beauty, or historical exploration, these islands have something for every traveler.

Crete

Crete, the warmest Greek island during winter, promises sunny weather and an array of remarkable cities and historical sites to explore. With average highs around 15-16°C and lows around 9-11°C, Crete is a delightful winter destination.

Note: As Crete is a mountainous destination, the temperatures can vary quite dramatically between the mountain villages and the coastal towns and cities.

Exploring the island’s unique cities of Heraklion, Rethymnon, Chania, and Agios Nikolaos is a must-do. Here are some attractions you can visit in each city:

  • Heraklion: the famous archaeological site of Knossos
  • Rethymnon: The Fortezza, the Venetian Harbor, and the Egyptian Lighthouse
  • Chania: the Old Venetian Harbor, the Maritime Museum, and the Archaeological Museum

If you’re a winter sports enthusiast, Crete also offers a range of activities to keep your adrenaline pumping.

Rhodes

Rich in history and boasting a year-round appeal, Rhodes offers an immersive winter experience. It’s main asset is Rhodes Old Town, which makes an ideal city break destination in Greece during winter.

Rhodes in Greece is a good island to visit in the winter months

Take a walking tour through the breathtaking Palace of the Grand Masters and the old town, or venture out to the city of Lindos to explore the most impressive archaeological sites on the island.

For outdoor enthusiasts, hiking, beach strolls, and longer treks through lush inland areas such as the picturesque town of Lindos are a delight. Exploring Rhodes in winter is a rewarding experience.

Corfu

Corfu, a popular winter destination, is renowned for its Christmas celebrations, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and mouth-watering traditional cuisine. From beautiful light displays on ships to the blessing of the waters, Corfu amps up the festive spirit during the Christmas season.

ferry being boarded at the port in corfu town

The Old Town of Corfu, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a must-visit, with its three Venetian forts that protected against the Ottoman Empire. In addition to exploring historical and cultural landmarks, don’t miss out on the local cuisine of Corfu, savored best during the winter months as there are way fewer tourists and mainly year round residents living there.

Naxos

Naxos, a gem in the Cyclades, offers a unique combination of mountains, villages, museums, and beaches. It will be quieter than Crete, Corfu and Rhodes as it has a smaller population, however what it does offer is that unique Cycladic island feel making it an irresistible winter destination. With an average winter temperature of a comfortable 20.2°C, Naxos promises a pleasant stay.

portara in naxos

By the way, if you are thinking to go to Mykonos in winter, don’t bother – the whole island is virtually closed down as not many people live there year through.

Aegina

This is one of the Saronic Islands, just an hour away by ferry from Athens. Aegina offers a quieter escape, perfect for a winter retreat, with its main bonus being the ease of access from Athens. This means that it can easily be combined with a city break in Athens as well.

Explore its beaches, mountains, and archaeological sites, such as the Temple of Aphaia, one of Greece’s best-preserved ancient sites.

In addition, you can explore the beautiful greek islands and discover the shoreline, villages, Greek Orthodox churches, forests, and mountains.

Aegina Town, with its good food and leisurely marina walks, adds to the overall charm of this winter getaway.

Winter Activities and Experiences

A range of outdoor activities and cultural experiences are available on the Greek islands during the winter months. From bird-watching on Santorini to wine-tasting tours in the vineyards, there’s an activity to match every interest.

Also, unique cultural events like the Easter ceremonies, traditional roasting of lamb on Easter Sunday, and the pre-Lent festival of Tsichno Pempti are a part of the winter charm in Greece. These festivities, filled with traditional food, dances, and art, foster a friendly atmosphere among the locals, making your winter holiday even more memorable.

Navigating Winter Transportation

A bit of planning is necessary to navigate the Greek islands in winter, due to limited winter ferries schedules and weather considerations. Most ferries depart from Piraeus, but some islands may only have one ferry service per day or even per week.

Whether you’re planning to reach Santorini by slow ferries or visit other islands, keep an eye on the weather forecasts as ferry services can be disrupted by strong winds and rough seas. Being mindful of these factors can ensure a smooth journey as you explore the Greek islands in winter.

Winter Events and Celebrations

The Greek islands host vibrant events and celebrations during the winter season. Some of the highlights include:

  • The Feast of St. Nicholas
  • Christmas Day
  • Local festivals
  • Music contests
  • Village celebrations

In November and early December, these events add to the winter charm of the islands during the off season, providing a delightful contrast to the bustling summer months.

The Carnival season, or Apokreas, is a significant event in Greece, with festivities happening in places like Patra, Rethymnon-Crete, and the Athens neighborhood of Moschaton. The culmination of these events is Clean Monday, marking the beginning of Lent with kite-flying and communal celebrations.

Accommodation and Dining Options

Securing suitable accommodation on the Greek islands during the winter months may call for a bit of research. While some hotels and restaurants may be closed, there are still great deals to be found.

 

Tips for a Successful Winter Island Adventure

A successful Greek island winter adventure calls for some preparation. Here are some tips to help you plan:

  • Pack warm clothes
  • Keep an eye on ferry schedules
  • Be prepared for potential weather changes
  • Have a backup plan for rainy days, such as visiting museums or indoor activities.

Summary

From the tranquil beauty of the Greek islands in winter to the unique cultural experiences and vibrant festivities, visiting Greece during the off-season is an adventure to remember. Whether you’re exploring the archaeological sites of Crete, witnessing the Christmas celebrations in Corfu, or navigating the winter weather in the islands, each experience is a step into a world less traveled, yet teeming with unforgettable experiences. So why wait? It’s time to pack your bags and embrace the winter magic of the Greek islands.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are the Greek islands worth visiting in winter?

The larger Greek islands like Crete, Rhodes, and the Cycladic or Ionian islands are worth visiting in winter as they can accommodate visitors with available accommodation and activities, but smaller destinations may have restrictions. Don’t expect a beach holiday in Greece in winter!

What is the warmest Greek island in winter?

The warmest Greek island in winter is Crete, with mild and sunny weather and average highs around 15-16°C and average lows around 9-11°C. It’s a great option for enjoying outdoor activities during the winter months.

Do the Greek islands shut down in winter?

Yes, most of the smaller Greek islands shut down in winter, including small hotels and restaurants. The limited options and cold, wet weather make it less enjoyable for visitors. Larger islands, who do not rely on tourism as much are open year around.

What is the weather like in the Greek islands during winter?

The weather in the Greek islands during winter is a mix of cold and rainy days with occasional sunny, mild spells, and temperatures typically range from 10°C to 15°C. Overall, it can be quite variable but tends to be milder than other winter destinations.

What are some of the best Greek islands to visit in winter?

Consider visiting Greek islands like Crete, Rhodes, Corfu, Naxos, or Aegina for a diverse winter experience filled with cultural immersion and historical exploration. These islands offer unique opportunities for a memorable winter getaway.

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