When's the best time to visit the Greek islands?
With 250 days of sunshine, the Greek islands have a year-round appeal. The high season runs from around mid-April through to late-October (for Crete, Rhodes and more southerly islands), with some islands (eg Skiathos) shutting down earlier. For discounted deals and milder weather, mid-May to late-June and September are best - it's for this reason that spring and autumn are often cited as the very best times to visit the Greek islands. July and August are the hottest and busiest months. In winter months, larger towns such as Chania on Crete or Hydra, near enough to Athens to stay lively, are the best options.
Spring: In spring, as the islands’ usually sparse, rocky hills and mountains are garlanded with thousands of colourful wildflowers and blossoming almond trees, and wild herbs such as rosemary, mint, basil and oregano abound. The rivers rush wild in Crete, making it an ideal time for sports enthusiasts to indulge in rafting, kayaking, river trekking, hiking and horseback riding.
With the islands being less busy than the summer months, you'll find plentiful private spots on idyllic beaches still available until early June. Also, spring is great time to see colourful local traditions associated with Easter – for example, the procession of the Holy Flame from Jerusalem on Patmos; the Ionian marching band; and the thousand lamps lighting the castle of Pyrgos on Santorini.
Summer: The summer months are the most popular (and therefore the priciest) time for visiting the Greek islands. Along with sunbathing on pristine, award-winning beaches, the summer winds of the Aegean are ideal for sailing and yachting, even if a bit blustery in the afternoons for beach bunnies; the Ionian seas tend to be calmer and better suited to smooth sailing.
Summer is also when the best of seasonal local produce is available: ripe fruits, vegetables, cheeses, fresh fish and seafood, and local wines (including the famous retsina, which obtains its unique favour from the centuries-old practice of sealing the wine jars with pine resin).
Autumn: During autumn, the Greek islands are bathed in a warm autumnal glow, with the magic of changing leaves producing a riot of colour. The seas are still warm enough for swimming, and the fierce winds of August have died down, making for smoother sailing or cruising. Resorts are much less crowded after all the partying crowds have thinned, so stays are mellower and less expensive.
The abundant harvests of grapes, olive oil and wine provide a perfect excuse to visit the many vineyards and agrotourism centres -- particularly in Crete towards the end of September and October, where you’ll find locals making raki, a popular anise-flavoured aperitif.
Winter: While many of the smaller islands shut down completely in winter, some – notably Santorini, but also the Cyclades Islands of Paros, Naxos and Sifnos – extend hospitality to tourists from late October to early April. Larger islands such as Rhodes, Corfu and Crete are still relatively lively, although the average temperature is around 10°. There are fewer ferries running during this period, however, so it’s not ideal for island hopping, except to islands near the mainland.
But there are still many joys of visiting the islands open in winter, most likely appealing to independent travellers interested in the ‘real’, authentic Greece. Some islands, such as Kea, Kefalonia and Ikaria, offer agrotourism stays where you can learn about local practices such as wine pressing, jam-making and olive gathering.