9 Greek Destinations to Visit this Winter
With its clear blue seas, sandy beaches and a multitude of islands that can accommodate any type of traveler, Greece has traditionally been considered a destination to visit exclusively during the summer.
Come May, millions of visitors start flocking to the Mediterranean peninsula to see the Acropolis, watch the majestic sunset of Santorini or experience the cosmopolitan nightlife of Mykonos.
A cruise through the Mediterranean is one of the most popular ways to explore Greece at this time of year, but did you know that the country doesn’t just close up shop in the fall and wait for spring to come around again? As experienced wanderlusts will tell you, away from swarming crowds, winter in Greece can be a unique experience if you know where to look.
This is why we have selected some of the best Greek places to visit this winter.
Meteora is the reason clichés like “a picture is worth a thousand words” exist. In what can only be described as a geological marvel, the rock formation of Meteora near the town of Kalambaka, is a testament to the beauty of nature.
Gigantic rock pillars rise from the forested valley below, creating a magnificent spectacle, the likes of which are hard to come across anywhere else. Geologists estimate that the process that formed the region took millions of years, during which earth movements pushed the seabed upwards to create these high plateaus.
Human intervention has augmented the natural wonder of the area, with 24 Byzantine monasteries perched on the cliffs of the pillars. Only six of them remain functioning today, but the image of the structures seemingly suspended in the air is awe-inspiring.
Most monasteries are accessible via stone-carved stairs and paved paths, which means that hiking enthusiasts will be in for a treat. Due to the peculiarities of Meteora, it is recommended to follow organized tours rather than try to explore the area on your own.
The small town of Kalambaka is close enough to the valley and offers every comfort to entice most visitors to establish a base there, before beginning their exploration of Meteora.
The seaport town of Nafplion, on the East side of Peloponnese, served as the first capital of Modern Greece. In antiquity, Nafplion held a prominent place in the region due to its nautical prowess, and was even named after one of the sons of Poseidon.
The town’s deep Hellenistic roots have persevered throughout Frankish, Venetian and Ottoman rule, but elements of those cultures have been accumulated by the locals and give Nafplion a distinct identity.
Nafplion’s two most important sites are the Venetian castle of Palamidi and its trademark tower of Bourtzi, built on an islet just outside the harbor. Boat rides to the islet are very cheap and with a free entrance to the fortress, you shouldn’t miss out on the chance to take a tour. Renovations happen occasionally, so make sure that Bourtzi is open during your visit to Nafplion.
Constantly increasing in population, Nafplion is steadily becoming the heart of Peloponnese, with modern restaurants and bars offering visitors plenty of choices for entertainment and culinary exploration. Due to its proximity to various points of interest in the area, Nafplion can also serve as the base for day trips to the theater of Epidaurus, the resorts of Porto Heli, the Corinth canal, as well as numerous wineries and vineyards in nearby villages.
The island of Crete is quite distinct from the rest of Greece in terms of tradition and customs. Locals have their own cuisine (with a base combining Mediterranean ingredients and Oriental spices) and even speak their own dialect. Being one of the largest islands in Europe, Crete has many cities and towns worth visiting during the winter, but perhaps the one that strikes the best balance between being both active during the off season and small enough to retain the allure of a traditional Cretan town, is Chania.
Chania is a gateway connecting three continents and its strategic position has rendered it a coveted place throughout history. As a result, it has over the centuries been under Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman rule, with each civilization leaving behind monuments that create a unique atmosphere.
After a stroll through the narrow streets of the town, reminiscent of Cycladic architecture, you will pass by Ottoman mosques and the famous inner Byzantine wall, before reaching the town’s Venetian harbor and lighthouse. There is so much history in every step you take in Chania, that a guided tour can be eye-opening.
During the winter, many of the fish taverns, restaurants and bars are still in operation and with fewer tourists around, services become more tailored to your needs. Local delicacies such as dakos, apaki, cochlioi and kalitsounia are a must for every first-timer in Crete, as is a shot of raki after every meal.
Volos – Pelion
It’s not often that you find a vacation that can combine the comforts of an urban center with the activities of a rural area. This is why many locals opt to spend their winter vacation in Volos, a large coastal city on Thessaly. A very modern city that had to be rebuilt en masse in the mid ‘50s following a catastrophic earthquake, Volos has the infrastructure to accommodate to every contemporary need.
It is home to frequent important cultural and sport events in Greece and having its own university, it is home to many students.
What makes the city an alluring winter destination is that it sits on the foot of Mount Pelion, which has not only a multitude of traditional villages to explore, but also its own ski center. During winter, the mountain is covered in snow, which makes for a spectacular view of the settlements on Pelion’s slopes.
Even if you decide to stay in the city, day trips from Volos to surrounding villages are highly recommended and there is transportation to assist you in your exploration.
Volos is well-known for tsipouro, a locally produced, anise-flavored alcoholic beverage. Although this can be found anywhere in the city, combining it with freshly caught fish in a small tavern with a view of the port will make you feel like a true local.
In south Peloponnese, on the edge of the Easternmost peninsula, lies the quaint town of Monemvasia. Located on a small island just off the coast, Monemvasia lies on the foot of a large plateau and is connected to the mainland via a short causeway. This peculiarity has given its name to the town, with Monemvasia translating to single entrance.
The town is the site of a medieval fortress built during the 6th century, remnants of which still exist today. The old town on the upper part of the rock used to be the wealthy district, but today the center of the town has moved towards the coast. Monemvasia’s architecture combines Byzantine and Venetian elements and is mostly comprised of stone houses with ceramic roofs, perched on the plateau’s slope, overlooking the crystal clear waters of the Myrtoan Sea.
The beautiful landscape provides plenty of opportunities for hiking, especially during the fall, when the foliage gives Monemvasia a hazel look, rendering the town the ideal place for romantic getaways.
If you wish to have your own romantic adventure in Monemvasia, take a look here.
Zagorochoria is a collection of 46 villages located on a triangular region of Epirus, on the northwest of the Greek mainland. The region is famous for its immense natural beauty, and includes two national parks which are composed of mountains, rivers and the Vikos gorge. Beautiful, arched stone bridges can be found all through the region of Zagori to create frequent passageways over the area’s streams, many of which are dried up most of the year.
Activities like kayaking and water-rafting are very popular throughout the year and are probably the best way to explore Zagori’s wild valleys that run along the rivers. Any visitor should see the area’s most famous natural formations like the Papingo Rock Pools, Dragonlake and Iliochori (Sun Village) waterfalls.
There are organized tours that can take you to all of the aforementioned places and unless you are a very experienced hiker, the safest option would be to join one of them if you wish to explore the region.
Zagori is sparsely populated, so depending on which areas you wish to visit, you should chose a village that is relatively close as your base. It may not be the easiest vacation you’ve ever planned, but if you love nature, Zagorochoria is the place to be this winter.
Delphi – Arachova
Laying on the slope of Mount Parnassus, the sister towns of Delphi and Arachova enjoy immense popularity amongst locals throughout the winter. For decades, they’ve been the go-to destination for weekend getaways, being only a couple of hours away from the capital and offering various activities for visitors.
Steeped in history, the modern town of Delphi is situated next to UNESCO-protected ancient sanctuary of Pythia. Built around 1400 BCE, the Oracle of Delphi as it is more commonly known, withstood the test of time, with ruins of temples and structures that were part of it still standing. A short drive from the town will take you to the site which is set against the backdrop of the breathtaking Phocis valley.
Arachova may look as picturesque as Delphi at first glance, but first impressions do not always tell the whole story. Over the years, it has acquired a cosmopolitan charm, while retaining its identity. Modern bars and restaurants co-exist with traditional taverns to provide entertainment for every taste. Along the main road, the various shops create a sartorial paradise, with fashionable –and usually handmade- articles of clothing and pieces of jewelry sold by local designers.
However, history and entertainment are not the only reasons to visit Delphi and Arachova. Winter sport aficionados will be pleased to hear that the ski resort of Mount Parnassus is close by, adding a dose of adrenaline to the mix. Equipment can be rented there and the resort remains open for several months during the winter.
If you’d like a first-hand experience of the Greek mainland click here.