Spending the summer in Greece is an excellent idea, but don’t be too quick to dismiss it for your winter break. You may be surprised to find out that temperatures can reach as high as 18C (64F) in November and December in the southern parts of the country. If that doesn’t convince you, there’s delicious seasonal food and drink, thermal lakes and even skiing to draw you to Greece during winter.
Take advantage of the opportunity to try new things. Forget the classic Greek salad and opt for the winter variants. As Greeks eat seasonally, you will get to discover winter recipes, such as stuffed lahanodolmades (cabbage rolls), horta (wild greens), or fasolada (bean soup). For dessert, you’re in luck as Christmas is the season of baking in this Mediterranean country. Kourabiedes (biscuits), diples (fried dough), and melomakarona (Christmas honey biscuits) are scrumptious sweets that will make you fall in love with winter in Greece.
Although winters in Greece tend to be mild, you’ll still want something to stay warm and rakomelo, an alcoholic drink consumed year-round but which is more commonly enjoyed in the colder months, is an ideal option. A blend of raki and honey, this herb-infused spirit is one of the best ways to warm up during cold nights. If raki is not your thing, there is also a version of this drink made with wine, called oinomelo.
Athens is hands-down a year-round destination. With its plethora of museums, ancient landmarks, bars and restaurants, the city is an easy pick. But why not give Greece’s second city a try? Thessaloniki is equally filled with archaeological sites, an excellent food scene and lively nightlife. Or check out the seaside town of Kavala, situated on the slopes of Mount Symvolo. Spread out around scenic Lake Pamvotida, Epirus’ capital Ioannina (also called Yannena) is another place worth visiting.
Drama in northeastern Greece is home to one of the most famous Santa Claus villages in the country, Oneiroupoli. With a strong Christmas spirit, the theme park, covering more than 20,000sqm (215,000sqft) in the Municipal Gardens of Drama, offers a variety of activities for children and parents. Visitors can explore the small wooden houses, take a ride on small trains, enjoy free activities for children or taste Christmas beverages and dishes. But apart from Oneiroupoli, you can also visit the city of Drama and take a day trip to the nearby ski resort, Falakros.
Another advantage of visiting Greece in the winter is the chance to admire its ancient landmarks without the tourist throngs of summer. In winter, the mainland sites are practically deserted, allowing you to explore and experience the sites thoroughly. Picture this: a beautiful shot of the Parthenon with an atmospheric sky and sun rays piercing the clouds. And no tourists. Now, isn’t that marvellous?
If you’re a winter swimmer, Greece is a paradise. Indeed, swimming season never really ends in the Mediterranean nation. For the daredevils out there, the Athens Riviera has plenty of beaches to offer, but if you don’t fancy braving the cold, head to Lake Vouliagmeni. With the lowest temperature recorded in winter being 22C (72F), the warm seawater that feeds into the lake via underground caves offers the experience of a thermal spa.
The Greek Christmas holidays last 12 days; from Christmas Eve until January 6th, when Greece celebrates the Epiphany. But in some areas, it doesn’t stop there. Take Kastoria, for example, where the local festival Ragoutsaria starts on the day of the Epiphany. This three-day festival, inspired by the Dionysian rituals, sees locals dressed up in costumes and dancing in the streets. The celebrations culminate on January 8th when crowds gather on Doltso Square to do battle in a sing-off. The day ends with parties and celebrations throughout the city.
If all you know about Greece is stunning beaches, sunny days, ancient landmarks and Greek islands, winter is an excellent opportunity to discover even more. The country is home to major ski and snowboard centres such as Arachova, or Kalavryta in the Peloponnese. However, if it’s the mountain of the gods that you’re looking for, choose Elatochori Ski Centre in the Pieria Mountains, on the northern slopes of Mount Olympus. Perched at an altitude of 1,450m (4,700ft), the centre has six ski trails stretching over 10km (6mi), complete with a track for snowboarding.
Mythology has it that Mount Pelion was the home of Centaurs, the half-human, half-horse creatures who taught ancient Greek heroes the arts. Once you’ve visited the area, you may agree that there is something mythical about it. Home to 24 picturesque villages, Mount Pelion is a perfect combination of cascading waterfalls, vibrant greenery and spectacular nature. Stay in a traditional mansion to add a touch of authenticity to your trip and make sure to bring warm winter clothes along.
Come wintertime, the islands return to their true self. Locals settle back into their everyday lives and the moody skies add a touch of stunning drama to every scene. Unless you are into near-deserted locations, stick to the bigger islands such as Crete, Corfu, or Evia, where you can still enjoy a complete experience during the colder months.