When people think of holidaying in Greece, summer beach days are often one of the first things that spring to mind. However, the idea of a Greek winter holiday shouldn’t be overlooked. This beautiful country offers some amazing winter activities that just wouldn’t be the same in the summer, given the hordes of tourists that flock here. Greece may just be the destination for a perfect winter break, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need a winter coat either. Although Greece definitely has a winter season, in some parts of the country you can expect temperatures of around 18 degrees Celsius in November and December.
A Greek winter can consist of mesmerising scenery, soul-nourishing walks and all kinds of exhilarating sports. Ancient sites are untainted by crowds, and if you like your holidays lively, the cities are as busy and interesting as ever. Even the islands hold a lot of promise: the once scorched Cycladic islands become lush and green with the winter rains and the stormy views over the sea make a novel experience for visitors in this part of the world. You can even find glistening white snow in the mountain villages and peppering the many mountain peaks between November and April.
Here is a selection of the best things to do and places to go on your Greek winter break:
1. Attend the Epiphany and Ragoutsaria festivals
On January 6th there is an interesting festival happening in Greece: Epiphany (the festival of light). This festival consists of lots of children singing, and religious blessings upon local bodies of water. Men dive into the water to retrieve crosses cast into them by priests. This marks the end of the Christmas period, but if you happen to be in the Kastoria area you’ll also have the opportunity to take part in their local festival, Ragoutsaria, which starts on the last day of Epiphany and continues for three days.
Ragoutsaria is inspired by the Dionysian rituals, and during this festival the locals don their best costumes and take to the streets to dance. Things start to draw to a close on the 8th, but this is when the most fun happens. The crowds congregate in Doltso Square for a huge sing-off, followed by lots of partying and revelry throughout the city.
2. Take to the slopes
Not everybody thinks of Greece as a skiing destination, but at the right time of year it most certainly is. There are skiing and snowboarding centres like Arachova and Kalavryta, in beautiful Peloponnese. However, if you love the idea of skiing in mountains, you are bound to enjoy a trip to the Pieria Mountains, where you’ll be able to ski to your heart’s content on the northern slopes of Mount Olympus.
Head up to the Elatochori Ski Centre and you’ll find yourself at an altitude of 1,450 metres. You can choose from six different ski trails, which sprawl out over ten kilometres. That’s more than enough for a good skiing session or two, and there’s even a snowboarding track for the snowboard aficionados.
3. Visit UNESCO site Meteora
It’s no secret that Greece is a stunningly beautiful country, so it’s probably no surprise that there are plenty of of UNESCO World Heritage sites for your exploration. One such site is Meteora, and this place will take your breath away…
imagine monasteries balanced precariously (or so it would seem) on rock pillar tops and you may have formed an idea. This is a popular site for rock climbers due to the unusual geological formations, but hikers and mountain bikers love it here too.
Winter is a great time to visit Meteora, when the summer crowds have faded away and there’s less to distract you from the profound beauty of this majestic site. You’ll have access to six monasteries in this ancient community, as well as churches and museums that display fascinating religious artworks. If you’re fit, it is ideal to hike your way up to the monasteries, but you can drive if you’re not up to that. Alternatively, for truly unforgettable views you can pay for a hot air balloon tour!
4. Drink in the year-round city vibes of Athens or Thessaloniki
If you haven’t made it to Athens yet, you really should. It doesn’t matter what time of year you come here – Athens is always bustling and vibrant. It may actually be preferable to visit in winter anyway, as cities and sweltering heat aren’t always the most comfortable combination!
Athens is a place with impressive architecture and landmarks, countless museums, and a busy social scene thanks to its many cool restaurants and bars. Due to the Olympics of 2004, the city saw much gentrification; this means it’s much easier to navigate the city via a convenient metro system, and public areas are now a lot tidier and cleaner.
Thessaloniki is Greece’s second city, and it could well be worth your time too. Archeology buffs will not be disappointed with the wondrous archaeological sites, and like as you’ll find in Athens, it’s a foodie paradise with much to do in the evening. The Greeks like to have a bit of fun, so you’ll have many options in either city.
5. Take a dip in one of many hot springs
Now this really is a worthy endeavour. Even if the local temperatures have dropped considerably, you can still take a refreshing dip in warm blue waters. The thermal lakes of Greece are beyond alluring; if you were to call Greece a ‘spa heaven’, you wouldn’t be far off the mark. Although there are many undeveloped hot springs, there are 34 officially recognised springs, and another 60 awaiting recognition. You’ve got plenty of choice!
One particularly gorgeous spot is Lake Vouliagmeni in the Athens Riviera, which never drops below 22 degrees Celsius in the winter. Here you may even find that ‘Doctor Fish’ want to nibble on your feet! Then there is Kaiafas Thermal Spa, which consists of a wonderful and unique ecosystem including the thermal lake, spas and a fragrant pine forest. The waters here are said to cure all kind of ailments, so if there’s something you need to fix, Kaiafas is the one. Here you’ll also have views of Lapitha mountain and beach walks on golden sands of Zacharo beach, if you wish.
6. Experience the islands in a different way
Greek islands are quite different in the winter, but that doesn’t mean they’re boring. Locals get a break from the hectic summer tourism, so islands vibes are at their most peaceful. There’s something captivating and artistic about moody grey winter skies over the island sea, but don’t worry – not every day is grey! I found that it’s quite an experience to camp out on or by the beach to immerse fully into the lively winter energy. If you like that idea, don’t forget to take a stable tent and a warm, cozy sleeping bag. Temperatures can get as low as 5 degrees Celsius, so you’ll want to protect yourself from the elements.
The larger of the islands will probably offer a more diverse experience, as much still happens there during winter. Corfu, Crete, and Evia are a great choice; all offer lovely hiking trails and you can still get a beer or a warming glass of local rakomelo by the beach. Crete winters are a particular favourite, as I found out after taking a recommendation from Sam Ross of The Hammock Hombre.
I also took his word for it that I shouldn’t miss the Methexis restaurant in Palaiochora… and I was glad I did! There is some amazing cuisine dished up here, such as goat with oyster thistle, or octopus in wine with stuffed squash blossoms. The portions are huge, so they’ll keep you going through a chilly winter’s night. Wintertime sees patrons relaxing on the enclosed terrace that’s perfectly warmed by a wood stove.
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