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It’s all Greek to us!
When dreaming of a perfect vacation, white sand beaches, a tropical climate, fresh fruits and veggies and a rich culture all come to mind. Is there a place with all three?
We’re talking about Greece, which has been a tourist destination for both culture and relaxation for as long as we can remember. Not only is it the set of classic movies like “Mamma Mia” and “Hercules,” but it also a bucket list destination for island hopping and romantic getaways.
We’ve already decided we want to go, but for those that only have one shot at the trip of their dreams, we wanted to find out when to book.
To find out, we consulted Greek travel experts, Petros Zissimos of boutique travel company Hellenic Holidays, and Matt Barrett of greecetravel.com, who writes guides for the many islands and mainland Greece.
Read on for the best time of year to travel to the Mediterranean paradise, the best season to avoid the crowds and also top picks for where to travel and stay in the country for the best and most unique visit in 2023.
Best time of year to visit Greece for good weather
Weather is always hard to predict, no matter where you travel. Greece typically gets 16 inches of rain a year, drizzling in around October and drying up in April. Otherwise, the climate is warm and dry and thus easy to travel in. Zissimos recommended May, June and September as prime months to travel during, and Barrett agreed, adding some helpful context for those more familiar with NYC weather.
“The best time for good weather — not too hot, but warm enough to swim — is May through June and September through October,” Barrett said. “But July and August are beautiful as well, just more crowded and it can get very hot, though not as bad as NYC on a humid day since it is dry and the islands have cooling sea breezes.”
Most popular time to visit Greece
From Barrett’s recommendations above, the most popular times are also those with the best weather and when people typically have time off from school and work, during the American summer months. Although, Barrett warns, “prices don’t start coming down until October for the most popular destinations.”
For other popular times, you could also use holidays to your advantage to see some other cultural experiences you may otherwise miss.
“In February and March there is carnival season, called Apokreas,” Barrett said. “Easter is a wonderful time to be in Greece too. Spring is absolutely magical with thousands of wildflowers and migrating birds stopping in the wetlands as they travel between Europe and Africa.”
Least crowded time to visit Greece
While we wish there was a perfect time for amazing weather and no tourists crowding your photos, Greece has turned into a hub for travelers all-year-long.
“Greece is working on being an all-around destination with visits in the winter to areas of Central Greece,” explained Zissimos. “Usually May, June and September [are the least crowded] although that is not the case since 2021, and Greece came out of the pandemic. It has been a top 10 visit and trendy since.”
If you base this solely off of weather, a late-July trip could be less crowded, simply due to the heat, with an average temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit most years. Similarly, the cooler month of October gets the most rainfall and could dissuade tourism. Bring an umbrella!
Tips and tricks for planning your Greek vacation
Like most travel, the tip Zissimos shared is simple: plan ahead.
“The best trick and tip is to plan early, as the off the beaten islands are small and as such the hotel, vendors and transportation are small and availability is limited,” he said.
Similarly, since the country is booming in popularity but it is pretty small, Barrett emphasizes the need to do your research and confide in locals or trusted travel agents to make sure your trip is as tailored as you want it to be, before you depart.
“Do some reading and research,” said Barrett. “Just because your neighbor told you to go to Santorini and Mykonos that does not mean those are the only places to visit. I suggest people use a reliable Greek travel agency to help them book ferry tickets, choose hotels, islands and itineraries and who are there to help with any necessary changes due to weather or human error. I also recommend staying in small family owned hotels which are about as close as you can get to living with a Greek family as you can get without being Greek.”
Where to visit in Greece and where to book now:
What the experts say: “If you are looking for that perfect Greek island with a balance of beautiful beaches, low-key nightlife, white Cycladic villages, low-impact tourism and maybe the best food in the Cyclades, then look no further than Sifnos, where I have been coming for over thirty years,” said Barrett. “Just three hours from Athens by high-speed ferry or five hours by normal ferry, Sifnos is easy to get to and you may never want to leave.”
What the island is known for: Stay here for great access to island hopping, as it is close to Milos and Serifos, as well as the more popular Santorini and Mykonos. You can also shop for traditional pottery for a great and unique souvenir and then be sure to bring an appetite, as this island is known for being a foodie’s delight.
Where to stay: For a hotel experience that feels like home, check out the Niriedes Hotel, which has a 9.8/10 rating on Booking.com. The boutique feel and proximity to the beach is a selling point for those that love golden sand and an ocean view. For those going in a group, good news — Vrbo rentals are available on the island.
What the experts say: “Naxos is the kind of place that is attractive not only to those seeking sunlight, bars and bikinis, but also those looking for a little Greek culture and nature to go along with it,” said Barrett. “Naxos is the greenest island in the Cyclades with impressively high mountains and fertile valleys. There are beaches that are among the most beautiful in Greece a few minutes drive from villages where they still wear traditional dress, weave on old looms and live off the fruit of the land.”
What the island is known for: This is one for the nature-lovers and the cultural tourists who want a break from the hustle and bustle of other mainland cities like Athens. This is also where you can take your photo of the white buildings for Instagram, contrasted by the bright blue water of the port town.
Where to stay: The Kavos Boutique Hotel Naxos is a relaxing reprieve with an ocean view, just 2.5 miles away from the city center and capital of the island, Chora. Enjoy a sea or garden view and modern amenities, tucked away from the noise with a 9.7/10 rating. Hotel Grotta is also an excellent choice, with a #1 ranking of 61 on TripAdvisor, ocean view and close proximity to stunning churches, museums and the Old Town for shopping and walking.
What the experts say: “The island of Lesvos is blessed with award-winning beaches, traditional villages, more varieties of birds and wildflowers than anywhere in Europe, pine forests, medieval castles, scenic harbors with cafes and inexpensive seafood restaurants, abundant fish, museums including two of the finest art museums in Greece, hotels of every class and category, and some of the warmest, friendliest people in all of Greece. Lesvos has been a favorite location for artists, writers and romantics. Its natural attractions include a petrified forest, and the unique hot springs, health-inducing spas that are dotted around Lesvos. Many have been in use for thousands of years.”
What the island is known for: Come for the rich history, stay for the ouzo. The island was said to be the birthplace of the ancient poet Sappho, and now is home to universities, museums and a great collection of art and culture. After learning and meandering the streets, head to a local bar for a shot of the black-licorice flavored alcohol and find views of the sea.
Where to stay: For an amazing location is the bustling harbor of the city, stay at the Sea Horse, which provides sea-front views and easy access to the best seafood restaurants around. You could also rent out an entire villa from Villa Molivos Views for a five-star experience that still feels like living in an authentic Greek home.
What the experts say: “Is the Mount Pelion peninsula the most beautiful region in Greece? Some say it is. It certainly has some of the best beaches,” said Barrett. “The mountain is filled with vegetation from olive and pines to apple orchards with some of the best hiking trails in Greece. In the winter Pelion provides some of the best skiing in Greece. Pelion also boasts some of the most beautiful villages in all of Greece. To top it off, they say the best mezedes in Greece come from Volos and Pelion, delicious snacks that go perfectly with the local drink of choice called tsipuro.”
What the island is known for: Like Barrett said, come here year-round for experiences of a lifetime — who can say they skied on a Greek island? This may also be the perfect place for a swim, as the beaches are less crowded and wildlife is abundant.
Where to stay: A sleepy fishing town is great for sleepy local hotels and boutique stays. Check out the Aeolos Hotel & Villas that comes highly recommended by our experts and reviews, with a 9.1/10 rating.
What the experts say: “Crete is the largest and the most important of the Greek Islands. Almost a country in itself, to really get to know Crete you need at least a week, make that a month, or a lifetime,” said Barrett. “A long and rich history and countless ancient and medieval sites, fantastic beaches, high mountains, rich agricultural valleys and some of the best food in Greece make Crete a stand alone island with as much to see as all the other islands combined.”
What the island is known for: Well, really for being one of the most well-known, aside from Mykonos and Santorini. However, unlike the other two, this one has a more old time charm, with ancient cities and more myths and culture at every turn. It is also said to be the birthplace of Zeus, for those that love Greek mythology.
Where to stay: You can go a few routes here, as the larger island has options for everyone. For a luxurious stay, try to get a room at the popular Elounda Beach Hotel & Villas, which has private beach access and five-star amenities. For families or group travel, the smaller Ammos Hotel is actually rated #1 on TripAdvisor and also has private beach access and ocean views.
What the experts say: “I used to think that Athens was the most underrated city in the world. Even during the economic crisis there was a buzz coming from the countless cafes and restaurants, bars and clubs in a city where people seem to spend as much time out of their apartments as possible,” said Barrett. “This has increased as Athens has suddenly become a magnet for young and old people looking for a better way of life, at least for a week or so. Athens used to be a place tourists went to because it was on the way to the islands. Now I talk to people who tell me that Athens was their favorite part of Greece and they want to move there.”
What the city is known for: This is the capital city of Greece and really a can’t miss for many (and not just because it is where the airport is!) Come here for rich culture and UNESCO Heritage Sites like the famous Acropolis, the Parthenon temple and the famous National Archaeological Museum. There is also an abundance of both traditional Greek and global food for those that like a familiar feeling while still being immersed in culture.
Where to stay: Not only did our expert recommend the Herodion Hotel for a great stay, I (the author of this guide) also stayed here and may or may not have had a drink at the rooftop restaurant every night so I could have a perfect view of the Acropolis at night. You could also stay at the Electra Metropolis, which is in the Syntagma area, which is also where the main square of the city center is, full of life, restaurants and shopping.
What the experts say: This time, I am your expert. After living in the city for a month, I fell in love with the unassuming second-largest city of Greece. It serves as the main port for Greece, which is why you will see ships aplenty in the harbor and exciting markets, fresh fish and produce and a cultural explosion on the beloved boardwalk. There is also a thriving local community, an amazing food scene with both old and new takes on classic dishes, great shopping at local and mainstream shops and more.
What the city is known for: For those that want to feel a city’s heartbeat but perhaps not get right into the maze of Athens, Thessaloniki is known for being the best of both worlds. The famous shopping area of Tsimiski Street is a great place to start, and then wander down the boardwalk until you reach the White Tower for amazing sea-side views.
Where to stay: While my homestay is not available, you can get the same homey feeling at the top-rated The Caravan B&B. It is located in the city center, with walking access to top tourist and cultural spots. For a more luxe upgrade, you can also stay at the Daios Luxury Living, rated 4.5/5 on TripAdvisor for being both family-friendly and in close proximity to top restaurants and attractions.
What the experts say: “The popular islands of Mykonos and Santorini are well worth going to, especially if you are of partying age. If you are like me, a young 60 something, you may be happier avoiding the crowds and staying clear of those islands in July and August,” Barrett said. “Santorini is as visually spectacular as the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. It also has some of the best wine in Greece. Mykonos is known for its nightlife, cosmopolitan atmosphere, crowded beaches, and bars that are as fun in the day as they are at night.”
What the islands are known for: As seen in the photo above, the white buildings and blue ocean and sky have made an imprint on our minds and our hearts. The stunning islands are also known to be crowded, so for the perfect Instagram moment, try waking up very early or staying up very late for less people. Parties on Mykonos are bucket list items for many young people, while Santorini may be better for beach-goers to marvel at the different colored sands and waters of the Mediterranean.
Where to stay: If you opt for Mykonos and want to feel like a VIP, check out the luxe Myconian Ambassador Hotel Relais & Chateaux. It is a five-star property with a pool, spa and beach access that is also close to the airport for easy travels. For a more affordable choice, see Hotel Adonis, with an 8.9/10 rating and a great central location near the heart of Mykonos’ center square.
Those that stay in Santorini can opt for a coveted stay with views of the caldera cliffs, staying at Tholos Resort in the Imerovigli area. Enjoy views of the cliffs and the blue sea from a private balcony, plus amenities like free breakfast and a pool.
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