Greece can be divided into a number of main climatic regions. Northern Macedonia and northern Epiros have a climate similar to the Balkans, with freezing winters and very hot, humid summers; while the Attica Peninsula, the Cyclades, the Dodecanese, Crete, and the central and eastern Peloponnese have a more typically Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and milder winters.
Snow is rare in the Cyclades (it snowed on Paros for the first time in 15 years in 1992), but the high mountains of the Peloponnese and Crete are covered in snow during the winter, and it does occasionally snow in Athens. In July and August, the mercury can soar to 40°C (over 100°F) in the shade just about anywhere in the country. July and August are also the months of the meltemi, a strong northerly wind that sweeps the eastern coast of mainland Greece (including Athens) and the Aegean Islands, especially the Cyclades. The wind is caused by air pressure differences between North Africa and the Balkans. The wind is a mixed blessing: it reduces humidity, but plays havoc with ferry schedules and sends everything flying – from beach umbrellas to washing hanging out to dry.
The western Peloponnese, western Sterea Ellada, southwestern Epiros and the Ionian Islands escape the meltemi and have less severe winters than northern Greece, but are the areas with the highest rainfall. The Northeastern Aegean Islands, Halkidiki and the Pelion Peninsula fall somewhere between the Balkan-type climate of northern Greece and the Mediterranean climates. Crete stays warm the longest – you can swim off the island’s southern coast from mid-April to November.
Mid-October is when the rains start in most areas, and the weather stays cold and wet until February – although there are also occasional winter days with clear blue skies and sunshine.
When to go
Spring and autumn are the best times to visit Greece; specifically May, June, September and October. Most of the country’s tourist infrastructure goes into hibernation during winter, particularly on the islands. Some of the smaller islands close completely and some islanders head off to alternative homes on the mainland for a few months. Many hotels, seasonal cafés and restaurants close their doors from the end of November until the beginning of April; bus and ferry services are either drastically reduced or cancelled.
The cobwebs are dusted off in time for Orthodox Easter (usually around April), when the first tourists start to arrive. Conditions are perfect between Easter and mid-June, when the weather is pleasantly warm in most places; beaches and ancient sites are relatively uncrowded; public transport operates at close to full schedules; and there’s a bigger variety of accommodation options to choose from.
Mid-June to the end of August is high season. It’s party time on the islands and everything is in full swing. It’s also very hot – in July and August the mercury can soar to 40°C (over 100°F) in the shade just about anywhere in the country; the beaches are crowded; the ancient sites are swarming with tour groups; and in many places accommodation is booked solid.
The high season starts to wind down in September and conditions are ideal once more until the end of October.
By November the endless blue skies of summer have disappeared. November to February are the wettest months and it can get surprisingly cold. Snow is common on the mainland and in the mountains of Evia and Crete; it occasionally snows in Athens. But there are also plenty of sunny days and some visitors prefer the tranquillity that reigns at this time of year.