Greece Weather, climate and geography

Weather & climate

Best time to visit

Greece has a warm Mediterranean climate. In summer, dry hot days are often relieved by stiff evening breezes, especially in the north, on the islands and in coastal areas. Athens can be stiflingly hot, with temperatures occasionally exceeding 40C in July, so visitors should allow time to acclimatise - the evenings are generally cooler, but can remain very hot during heat waves. Winters are mild in the south but much colder in the mountainous north, where it is not uncommon to see snow and temperatures plummeting to well below zero. November to March is the rainy season, most notably on the Ionian islands.

If you are planning a beach holiday, the sea is warm enough to swim from June through September, and hardier types will also manage in May and October. Seaside hotels are generally open from Easter through to late-October, as are water sports facilities.

Sailing holidays need slightly more careful planning. Charter companies operate from May through September, but weather conditions vary greatly from place to place, and month to month. Beginners should start with the Ionian Sea, which sees moderate winds through summer. People with little sailing experience should avoid the Cyclades in July and August, when the unpredictable meltemi blows at speeds of up to 8-9 Beaufort.

Spring and autumn are the ideal seasons for hiking and mountain biking, when the days are sunny but not unreasonably hot. Spring sees the Greek countryside dappled with wild flowers, while in autumn the trees take on russet hues.

Although few people think of Greece as a winter destination, it is in fact possible to ski and snowboard here. Two of the most popular mountain ski resorts are Arahova (near Delphi) and Kalavrita (on the Peloponnese), both much loved by wealthy Athenians, and therefore also well provided with cosy hotels and authentic rustic eateries with blazing log fires.

Required clothing

Lightweight clothes (cotton is best) during summer months, including protection from the midday sun and sunglasses. Light sweaters are needed for evenings, especially on the islands. Waterproofs are advised for spring and autumn. Winter months can be quite cold, especially in the northern mainland, so normal winter wear will be required.

Geography

Greece is situated in southeast Europe on the Mediterranean. The mainland consists of the following regions: Central Greece, Peloponnese, Thessaly (east/central), Epirus (west), Macedonia (north/northwest) and Thrace (northeast). High mountains, fertile plains, pine forest and scrub-covered foothills are all found on the Greek mainland.

The largest mountain range is the Pindus, which runs north-south through central mainland Greece, and separates the regions of Thessaly and Epirus. The highest mountain is Olympus, which soars 2,917m (9,570ft) - according to Ancient Greek mythology, this is where the 12 Olympian Gods resided.

The islands account for one-fifth of the country's land area. The majority are thickly clustered in the Aegean between the Greek and Turkish coasts. The Ionian Islands are the exception; they are scattered along the west coast in the Ionian Sea, looking (both geographically and culturally) towards Italy. The Aegean archipelago includes the Dodecanese, lying off the Turkish coast, of which Rhodes is the best known; the northeast Aegean group, including Chios, Ikaria, Lemnos, Lesvos and Samos; the Sporades, off the central mainland; and the Cyclades, comprising 39 islands (of which only 24 are inhabited). Crete, the largest island (with an astounding 1,000km of coastline and a population of some 650,000), is not included in any formal grouping.

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