When to come
January and February are the coldest months with daytime temperatures normally reaching 10C to 15C, at night 5C to 10C. There can be frost and even snow showers, though by the coast the ground is too warm for it ever to settle.
Up in the mountains it is much colder with snow on the mountain tops over the winter and nighttime temperatures often falling below zero. There is usually heavy rain over the winter months.In March and April it gradually gets warmer with day temperatures moving up to 20C, though you can expect rain as well over these months. The land is green and lush over the winter with swathes of wild flowers covering the olive groves. This is a very beautiful time of year that would surprise many people who only know Greece in the dry summer heat. By early May a pattern of warm weather begins, day temperatures of 20C to 25C normally, though there could still be rain and some hotter days too. Into June there is less rain, temperatures about 25C, going up to 32C and higher by the end of the month. July and August are the hottest months, from 32C to 38C normally, though there can be heat waves that last several days when the temperature can go from 40C to 45C.
The cities feel especially hot, so you may want to avoid Athens at this time of year.
The humidity is generally low and usually there is wind during the afternoon which makes the high temperatures more comfortable.
Towards the end of August temperatures start cooling down. It can stay pleasantly warm through September, October and into November, though rainstorms can suddenly make it much cooler at any time.
December can still be sunny but can also be cold and wet; last year we were picking our olives in lovely warm sunshine, the previous year it was wet and windy and we were wrapped up in fleeces to keep warm.
Visiting the archaeological sites
The main sites are generally open in the summer months from 8am to 8pm, The ongoing government spending cuts being enforced may cause opening hours to be variable due to staff reductions so check close to your visit about the situation.
The major sites
The inevitable enemy of independent travelers in Greece are the coach tours, and the main objective is to avoid them which can be done with a minimum of planning. Coach parties don’t generally invade the sites till after breakfast and are on their way to the next hotel by 5pm, giving 2 windows of opportunity. By arriving at the site when it opens at 8am you’ll have a good hour or so to get well ahead of the first coaches of the morning. From 5pm you’ll have several hours to enjoy the site as it gradually empties and the sun goes down.
Museum opening times are shorter so take that in to account if you visit later in the day you may need to go to the site museum first. Plan you overnight accommodation and journeys so you can visit sites at the best times.
The middle of the day is, of course, much hotter; the early morning and evening are much pleasanter times to go anyway. We often prefer to visit the museum first, seeing statues, friezes, and artifacts from the site help us to imagine it in its full glory when viewing the ruins afterwards.
There are no cafes or shops within the sites but often there will be a stall or cafe close to the main entrance of all the major sites. You should take a bottle of water in with you to prevent dehydration, and have a hat, sun lotion and sunglasses too. A small light back pack is useful to hold these essentials. The paths are usually uneven and sometimes steep and slippery, so have adequate footwear. These are simple and obvious precautions, but also very important – hospitals regularly admit tourists with heatstroke.
The lesser sites
The smaller sites often have few visitors even in the height of summer, rarely visited by the coach tours. The very small ones can be difficult to find with little signposting to help you. A good guide book with plenty of practical information such as the Rough Guide is a worthwhile investment.
The opening times are generally shorter, many places closing mid-afternoon. Don’t expect a store or restaurant outside, there may be nothing at all, make sure you have enough water with you.
Driving in Greece
The standard of driving is gradually improving in the Peloponnese (as it deteriorates in the UK). While there are occasional moments of madness its rarer now for cars to overtake on blind bends and into impossibly small gaps. Some people have said its like driving in the 3rd world but that’s just not the case.
Here are a few tips:
Cities are always more difficult, especially Athens – avoid driving there if you can. If you do, get a good street map before your journey – you’ll still get hopelessly lost though!
Coming out of Athens Airport you’ll have to use the toll road that bypasses Athens. It’s very busy at first and the driving can be a little bit aggressive and chaotic but once your away from Athens towards Corinth it all calms down.
In Kalamata its not at all clear at some junctions who has right of way, be wary of cars suddenly pulling out (more than usual!)
Coaches are top of the pecking order, always pull out of their way, the coach drivers expect you to.
Greek drivers have a limited amount of patience, if you are driving slowly and have a tail of cars or a large truck behind you try to pull over and let them pass.
Greeks use the hard shoulder as an additional inside lane, they will expect you to as well (this doesn’t apply on the toll roads).
Drive defensively and be ready for the unexpected.
Don’t try to enforce the rules and standards of your home country – watch what the locals do and adapt (within reason!).
The use of indicators is generally minimal, cars will slow down and pull over without warning. Greeks usually use hazard warning lights rather than right/left indicator to show that they are stopping or pulling over.
Have your driving license and rental agreement if you have a hire car with you at all times. The police sometimes set up check points and may pull you over and want to see it. Generally they are only interested in checking the car is taxed and legally hired out.