Spring (April-May) and autumn (late September-October) are our favourite times, being moderately warm (typically 20-30 celsius) and much quieter than midsummer. Spring is great for wild flowers and lush landscapes; autumn for warm seas. If you are restricted to school summer holidays, we'd recommend July over August – which sees swarms of holiday-makers and proportionately higher prices. If you're worried about the heat (which can reach 40 celsius on a hot day in Crete, for example), consider heading up to the mountains of the mainland; here, it's 5-10 degrees cooler in summer - and, in winter, can snow quite heavily. Hotels often close or renovate over the winter – some have no central heating - but most aim to reopen for Greek Easter, at which point they fill rapidly for the holiday period.
Key Greek festivals include Orthodox Easter and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (15 August), plus a host of local saints’ days which provide an excuse for a summer night of dancing and feasting. On major feast days, transport and public services go haywire; try and avoid travel around Athens over any festive weekend, and to/from the islands around 15 August.
This is usually a bit later than western European Easter:
2016 - Easter Sunday - May 1st
2017 - Easter Sunday - April 16th (same as western Easter)
2018 - Easter Sunday - April 8th
The biggest festival in the Orthodox calendar prompts a nationwide exodus to the country for socialising and church-going, followed by fireworks and feasting. It usually coincides with some lovely spring weather, and makes a wonderful focal point of any holiday.
New Year’s Day: January 1 (public holiday)
Epiphany: January 6 (a crucifix is thrown into the sea and retrieved by boys)
Carnival (Apokriés): 60-40 days before Easter (huge parade in Patras, festivities in Athens, ‘goat-dance’ on Skyros)
Clean Monday (Kathari Deftera): Last Monday before Lent (kite-flying throughout Greece)
Lent (Sarakostí) and Holy Week (Megali Evdomáda): 40-1 days before Easter (fasting, church-going)
Independence Day: March 25 (costumed parades)
St George’s Day: April 23 – can vary (rural service, feast and dancing; also start of summer pastures for transhumants)
May Day: May 1 (flower-picking, wreath-making)
Greek Easter (Pascha): Date varies from 0-5 weeks after western Easter (see below)
St Constantine: May 21 (firewalking in Macedonian villages)
Pentecost (Whitsun)50 days after Easter (long weekend)
Prophet Elijah (Ilias): July 20 (mountaintop celebrations and fires, notably on Mt Taygetus)
St Paraskevi: July 26 (feasts in Epirus villages)
Transfiguration of Christ (Metamorfosi): August 6 (feasts in Evia & elsewhere)
Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Dekapentávgousto): August 15 (the biggest summer exeat - Greeks return to their home village or make pilgrimmages e.g. to Tinos)
Birth of the Virgin Mary (Genisi): September 8 (rural service and feast)
St Demetrius: October 26 (new wine tasted, also end of summer pastures)
Ochi Day: October 28 (parades to celebrate Metaxa's historic “No!” to Mussolini)
St Nikolaos: December 6 (services at coastal chapels)
Christmas: December 25 (public and religious holiday, but less commercial than in western Europe)
New Year’s Eve: December 31 (nightlong services, parties and card-playing)
Note: flight, boat, train and bus timetables change constantly, so check with relevant companies, or a flight search engine like Skyscanner, first.
From the UK to Athens:
Flights from the UK take 3.5 hours and there is a 2-hour time difference.
There are direct scheduled flights year-round with British Airways and Aegean from London Heathrow, and with easyJet from London Gatwick, Edinburgh and Manchester.
From the rest of Europe to Athens:
Olympic Air and Aegean fly from various European cities; also try KLM from Amsterdam, Lufthansa from Frankfurt / Munich, easyJet from Berlin, Paris, Milan and Rome, and Alitalia from Rome and Milan.
From North America to Athens:
Delta flies direct to Athens from New York and Atlanta, and Continental Airlines has flights from Newark to Athens. There are also seasonal flights from Toronto and Montreal with Air Canada and Air Transat. Otherwise, Olympic Air flies to Athens from various North American cities, including New York, Boston, Montreal and Toronto (some routes involve connecting flights).
From the rest of the world to Athens:
Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Royal Jordanian fly to Athens from their respective hubs in Asia, often with onward connections to Australasia.
From Athens, Olympic Air and Aegean Air operate connecting flights to the islands and major cities.
From the UK direct to the Greek Islands and regions:
EasyJet flies from London (and, in some cases, other UK airports) to Corfu, Crete (Chania / Heraklion), Kalamata, Kefalonia, Kos, Mykonos, Preveza (Lefkas), Rhodes, Santorini, Thessaloniki and Zante (Zakinthos).
British Airways flies from London Gatwick to Thessaloniki, Mykonos and Santorini (seasonal).
Ryanair flies to Chania Crete, Corfu and Rhodes from London Stansted and other regional airports such as East Midlands, Leeds, Liverpool or Glasgow; and to Patras (Peloponnese) and Thessaloniki from London Stansted.
Thomson and Thomas Cook are the main carriers to Skiathos, the most popular of the Sporades Islands.
Charter Flight Centre, a UK charter flight consolidator, sells tickets for flights between May and October from London and regional UK airports to various Greek islands and regions. These flights are often at unsociable times and limited to 7- or 14-night stays, and you may have to wait until a month or less before travelling to get a flight-only deal. Destinations include Crete (Chania or Heraklion), Cyclades islands (Mykonos, Santorini), Dodecanese islands (Rhodes, Kos), Ionian islands (Corfu, Kefalonia), Kalamata (Peloponnese; Sundays only) and Preveza (for Lefkas; Sundays only).
First Choice operates charter flights to Chania, Corfu, Heraklion, Kefalonia, Preveza, Santorini, Salonika (Thessaloniki).
Avro sells Monarch Airlines seats to Chania, Heraklion, Corfu, Rhodes and more.
From the rest of Europe to the Greek Islands and regions:
EasyJet flies from Geneva, Milan, Rome and Paris to Mykonos, from Berlin, Geneva, Milan and Rome to Heraklion, from Berlin and Milan to Corfu, and from Milan to Santorini.
Ryanair flies to Chania Crete, Corfu, Rhodes, Kos, Kefalonia, Volos, Patras and Thessaloniki from various European airports, including Milan Bergamo, Brussels and Frankfurt Hahn.
From outside Europe to the Greek Islands and regions:
There are no direct flights, so fly via Athens with one of the airlines listed above.
FROM ATHENS AIRPORT
Athens 'Eleftherios Venizelos' International airport (ATH) is 20km southeast of the city centre. It's about 45-90 minutes into the centre depending on traffic and mode of transport. See also www.aia.gr.
By Metro and Suburban Train:
Metro line 3 runs from the airport to Monastiraki Station (Plaka area) - this is the quickest and easiest route in to most central parts.The suburban railway line runs from the airport to the central rail station (Stathmos Larissis) and the port of Pireas - this is normally the quickest route to Pireas.
There are buses to the city centre and Pireas port, though these are usually slower than metro/train; and to the northern suburbs and Rafina port (for Andros/Tinos), which are quite fast. The X93 and X95 services connect the airport with Syntagma Square.
At busy periods this can be slower than the train, and some drivers will try to overcharge. If there's any doubt on arrival at your hotel, check with the staff what the rate should be.
Driving from Athens airport to the regions:
The 'Attiki Odos' ring road provides quick access to the Peloponnese (follow signs for Elefsina then Corinth) and the north (follow signs for Elefsina, then National Road / Lamia).
See our car rental recommendations.
You can fly with Olympic Air from Athens to all islands which have an airport; between major islands - Crete, Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, Corfu, Astypalaia; and from Athens to a dozen or so airports around mainland Greece. Aegean Airlines replicates some of these routes, usually a little cheaper.
If you are island-hopping in the Cyclades, there are regular ferries and hydrofoils to and between all major islands, though they are less frequent in winter. Hydrofoils take about half as long as ferries and cost about twice as much. Most services start from Athens’ main port, Pireaus (for central-southern Cyclades, Dodecanese, Crete, Argo-Saronic and eastern Peloponnese); a few leave from Athens' second port Rafina (for Andros-Tinos-Mykonos-Syros), while the tiny island of Kea is served exclusively by Lavrion port. The southern Ionian islands (Kephalonia, Zakinthos) are served by boats from Patras or Kimi on the Peloponnese; the central and northern ones (Ithaka, Corfu, Paxos) from other mainland ports.
There is no online boat timetable, but most of the islands featured in our portfolio have daily ferries to the nearest island and to the mainland (the exception is Folegandros, where you'll need to plan your arrival/departure dates carefully). If you want to try and plan ahead, consult the individual ferry companies sites:
Dodekanisos Seaways (Dodecanese only)
www.anek.gr (mostly Crete)
www.superfast.com (Crete only)
www.lane.gr (Crete only)
... or a 3rd party site like:
... but there is no need to book ahead unless you are taking a vehicle, or travelling over Easter / August 15th.
Don't forget that strong winds can mean cancelled or delayed services, so it's best to return to your departure airport at least a day ahead of your flight.
GETTING AROUND EACH ISLAND
To get around on an island, you may want to hire a car, jeep, quad bike or moped; if the latter, then check the brakes and insist on a helmet. Remember that riding two to a moped halves the cost, but doubles your chance of a puncture. Every island has several rental outlets.
Buses can be useful for exploring the island; buses tend to meet ferries at the port and shuttle up to the main town (Hora) and sometimes elsewhere too.
On Crete there is a good bus network linking the main cities of the north coast (Hania - Rethymnon - Heraklion - Agios Nikolaos), as well as a reasonable village network - see www.bus-service-crete-ktel.com for info (geared towards western Crete).
Taxis are not expensive either - from €1/km. On Crete we have heard good things about www.cretetaxi.com and www.easytaxi.gr: taxi booking services with good English who charge a small handling fee over and above the prescribed rates. Most ex-airport rates are set by law; other rates are metered.
AROUND MAINLAND GREECE
For mainland tours, you are usually best off hiring a car from your arrival airport - see our car rental recommendations.
Alternatively the bus service KTEL is regular and reliable, but not all are air-conditioned. The rail network OSE is limited, slow and often late, but the routes are scenic, especially in the Peloponnese.
No vaccinations are required. EU citizens are entitled to reciprocal state medical care in Greece (take your EHIC card), but hospitals can be chaotic. Of course, additional medical insurance is recommended. There are good, English-speaking (and English/US-trained) private doctors and dentists throughout Greece.
In summer, take mosquito repellent and use strong suntan cream. Avoid the midday sun in summer (when you are in or by the sea, its effects are not so apparent) and drink plenty of water. Water is generally safe but in coastal areas is heavily chlorinated. Cheap bottled mineral water is widely available.
It is customary to tip 10% or to round up generously at restaurants, and to round up to (say) the nearest 5 Euros when paying for taxis and other services (but not anything with a printed price on).