Spending winter in Greece is not the usual choice for most people. After all, this beautiful Mediterranean country is mostly renowned for its idyllic islands and paradisical beaches. In fact, for many people, what happens in Greece after the islands and holiday resorts close for the summer season is something of an unknown. The reality is that winter in Greece presents a different ambiance entirely.
From November onwards, a paradigm shift occurs. The once crowded historical sites of ancient cities such as Athens become quiet and empty. Vendors set up shop at the side of the roads selling roasted chestnuts and warm salep, while Athenian bars replace their ouzo and fruity summer cocktails with hot toddies and warm home-made rakomelo.
Where to Travel in Greece During the Winter: 12 Magical Suggestions
While it’s too cold to lounge on the beaches of the Greek islands, winter in Greece provides the opportunity for a different travel experience entirely.
Grab the chance to snuggle up in cozy log cabins nestled high in the mountains, and the opportunity to visit major cities without the crowds, as they are illuminated with Christmas lights and filled with festive decorations. For a European winter getaway, Greece may well be the perfect place.
Athens is a perfect place to travel to in Greece during the winter months. The past few winters have actually seen the city and the Acropolis covered in snow, so opting to travel at this time may enable you to bear witness to this majestic spectacle.
Significantly reduced crowds in Athens during the winter means that you can admire the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, Plaka, and the cities other highlights without 14,393 other tourists getting in the back of your photos. Prices are also significantly cheaper during this period and hotels, tours, and flights can be booked for as much as 60% less than in the summer.
There’s no denying that Christmas in Athens brings a magical ambiance. A huge Christmas tree is set up in the city’s central Syntagma square in late November, and ice-rinks pop up around the city enabling you to skate while overlooking some of the world’s most important historical sites. Head for a nightcap at Little Kook – Athens’ perpetually winter-themed cocktail bar. For alternative evening entertainment, buy tickets to watch a wintry ballet or opera performance at the National Theatre.
Karpenisi is a stunning mountain village that sits on the slopes of Mount Timfristos in Evritania, Central Greece. It is often referred to as being the “Switzerland of Greece” on account of its dramatic natural scenery.
Greek tourists flock to Karpenisi in late December in order to ski at Mount Velouchi. However, Karpenisi is so much more than “just another” ski destination. The highlight of the region is the quaint stone villages that encompass Karpenisi.
Venture 25km out of town to Proussos, a dramatic Orthodox Monastery perched on the edge of a cliff. Stop by the village of Gavros to sample hearty cuisine that is particular to Evritania, and then visit Palio Mikro Chorio to shop for traditional products and handicrafts.
The Northern Greek city of Kastoria is not a tourist destination. However, it’s a worthy place to visit for those who wish to venture off the beaten path in Greece.
The town is very quiet, and unfortunately, many shops and businesses in the centre have closed down. Kastoria encompasses the beautiful Lake Orestiada and a pleasant way to pass the time is to rent bicycles and cycle along the lakefront or watch the local fishermen try their luck early in the mornings.
Kastoria is home to more than 60 old Byzantine churches, many of which are very well-preserved and laden with breathtaking frescoes. Better yet, there are no tourists here to share them with.
Thessaloniki, like Athens, is a Greek travel destination that can be enjoyed all year round. While Greece’s second-largest city may not have the same concentration of ruins and touristic sites as the capital, it is oozing with enough character and charm to keep you occupied for a long weekend.
While in town, stop by the iconic white tower and the Thessaloniki archaeological museum for an insight into the history of this unique region of Central Macedonia. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the waterfront promenade and a coffee among trendy boho locals in Navarino square before touring quaint Ano Poli – the city’s oldest neighbourhood, and enjoying a birds-eye view of the city from the Heptapyrgion fortress.
Kalavryta is a pretty little town in the mountains of central Achaea. The town offers plenty of activities and adventures for those who prefer a little more action during their winter getaways. Kalavryta sits at the foot of Mount Chelmos and is usually teeming with life during the winter on account of all of the Greeks that travel here to make use of the nearby ski resorts.
For a slice of culture, be sure to visit the Agia Lavra monastery – a stunning religious structure perched on a cliff’s edge that dates back to 961 AD. The monastery is one of the oldest in the Peloponnese region of Greece and despite being destroyed and rebuilt several times over the past few centuries, is well worth the hike to.
If scenic train rains are your thing, consider purchasing a ticket on the Odontotos – an old railway that takes travellers on a circuit through pristine woodlands and through the Vouraikos Gorge – an area regarded by many as being one of the most scenic in Greece.
Arachova is often referred to as being Greece’s “winter Mykonos”. This charming little mountain village is a popular weekend getaway for Greeks from November to February and can be reached within just three hours of driving from Athens.
From hiking and skiing, to simply reveling in the chic ambiance of upscale bars set in lodges, luxury hotels, and scenic spas, Arachova has a little something for everyone. The hiking trails that twist and turn through the alpine landscapes surrounding Arachova vary in difficulty – from straightforward walks to challenging routes for experienced mountaineers.
Zagori is a paradise for those who love to get back to nature and immerse themselves in the beauty of the great outdoors. The scenery here is so breathtaking that it borders on ethereal. Envisage renting your own log cabin where you can cook marshmallows over the fire, amidst a backdrop of deep gorges, cascading waterfalls, frozen lakes, and adorable stone villages.
The beauty of Zagori is that the region and its wild, rugged landscapes remain relatively undiscovered. Zagori is not just one little mountain village, but a cluster of 46 incredible stone villages that are situated in close proximity to each other, with beautiful walking routes connecting them. Hikers can use Zagori as a base to venture out to the nearby Vikos Gorge, while those interested in history and culture can enjoy visiting the countless stunning monasteries and churches in this region, and admiring their intricate interior frescoes.
During the winter months, Northern Greece truly does become a winter wonderland. Frozen lakes, fir trees, and cobbled streets covered in fresh blankets of snow make Ioannina look like something straight out of a storybook. The Northern city sits on the banks of its namesake lake (Lake Ioannina).
Waking up in a homely guest house and watching the sunrise above the lake from your balcony is a sight like no other. Ioannina, with its cobbled streets and stone houses that are home to traditional tavernas and ouzerias, feels worlds away from modern Athens and Thessaloniki.
Besides taking crisp winter walks along the lake and immersing yourself in the local culture, the city also boasts several attractions that are well worth checking out. Be sure to visit the archaeological museum of Ioannina, and the Cave of Perama while in town.
The rugged, wild mountains of Tzoumerka are the ultimate answer to getting off the beaten track in Greece (no, off the beaten track Greece isn’t an oxymoron!). The mountainous region is comprised of 47 villages – each more charming and unique than the last. This is real, rural Greece – undiscovered by most international travellers, and home to sheepherders, traditional craftsmen, and some of the friendliest people in the country.
A little research is required for planning a trip to Tzoumerka, on account of the vast options available and the distinct differences between the villages. Kypseli, Matsouki, Agnanta, Vourgareli, Theodoriana, Tsopela, Pramanta – the list goes on and on. The villages here are very quiet, with some being home to just a handful of residents.
What makes the area so special is its natural beauty. Arguably the best approach for visiting Tzoumerka is to embark on a road-trip throughout the short region, taking in as much culture, and as many of the stone-built villages as you can.
Once upon a time, charming Nafplio was actually the capital of mainland Greece. The crumbling remnants of ancient fortresses and castles that still stand protectively over the hilltops encompassing the town are a reminder of Nafplio’s important past.
Mention visiting Nafplio to any Greek and they will tell you that it is Greece’s quintessential romantic getaway destination. Regardless of who you travel with though, you are bound to fall in love with Nafplio’s narrow alleyways and cobbled piazzas.
Over the centuries, Nafplio has been occupied by people from various countries and civilizations. Today, the Venetian, Turkish, and Frankish influences contribute to a unique and spectacular architecture that makes Nafplio a photographer’s dream.
Ascend the 900 steps to the Palamidi fortress to enjoy sweeping views of Nafplio and the cerulean waters surrounding it and be sure to make time to visit the Venetian Bourtzi fortress. Dozens of charming coffee shops, bars, and high-end stores are scattered through old Nafplio. In the port area, be sure to stop by one of the seafood tavernas and enjoy a dish prepared with the day’s latest catches.
Metsovo is yet another example of a charming mountain village that enables you to escape the chaos of city life during the winter months. The village awaits in the Pindos mountains and is renowned across Greece for its unique gastronomy, making Metsovo a perfect destination for foodie adventurers.
Be sure to sample the local delicacies of kontosouvli and homemade cheeses. In particular, metsovone and metsovela cheese are particular to this region and can be purchased at an excellent quality in the local stores. Try to stop by the Averoff Winery Katogi so that you can try the region’s local “katogi” wine.
Edible aspects aside, Metsovo is a pleasant place for walking, hiking and experiencing the unique culture of rural Greece. The 15thcentury church of Agia Paraskevi, with its wood-carved temple, and the local monasteries of Panagia and Agios Nicholas should also make an appearance on your Metsovo agenda.
The town of Loutraki is situated in Corinth, some 65 miles away from Athens. While Loutraki is more commonly known as a seaside destination that is frequented by both Greeks and international tourists during the summer months, it is also a nice place to spend a weekend in the winter.
In particular, travellers can escape the cold climates by relaxing in the warm, soothing waters of the nearby Poazar hot springs, or the many luxurious spas that are situated here.
Have any further questions about winter in Greece or planning a Greek vacation in general? I’ve lived here for the past two years and would be happy to assist with any queries you may have. Feel free to drop me a comment below and I’ll get back to you ASAP! Safe travels, Melissa xo
Note: This article was written in August 2019. It was last updated on the 20.12.2019.