As I stroll through the center of Plakias in South Crete, I let the sun warm my face and the breeze rustle my hair. I gaze at the beach with its 73 degree water, and smile smugly at how my plan for an endless summer has me swimming in mid-November. Quelle victory.
Then I turn a corner and realize: there’s no one here except three cats, and almost every single shop, café, and taverna is closed.
That’s Greece in the off-season (November-March) for you.
So would I recommend traveling to Greece in the off-season? Let’s go through the ups and downs first.
Pro: no crowds
In summer, the tiny streets of Santorini that line the caldera are jammed with tourists from around the world. Crete’s beaches are filled with package tourists on holiday, and sights like the Acropolis and ancient Mycenae are heaving with sightseers.
But in the off-season? Santorini is walkable, and you can easily snag a caldera-view table for the sunset with no reservation. I had sights like Knossos, Akrotiri, Tiryns, and Epidaurus nearly to myself most of the time. You meet far more locals, and with fewer tourists around it’s actually easier to have a chat with some of you like.
Con: sometimes it’s too quiet
When all those tourists disappear, the quiet is blissful. But what’s not? All the things that help those tourists get around become scarce on the ground too.
The bus schedule in particular gets very sporadic, as do the ferries (I got stuck in Santorini an extra day because the ferries just stop running between the islands, so I had to go all the way back to Athens and down again to Crete). Sights close much earlier, usually at 3 pm, and might close on more days too.
As a solo traveler, tours are a nice way to meet people and see things you wouldn’t be able to get to on your own. But almost every tour I tried to sign up for wouldn’t let me do it by myself since I guess no one else had signed up. *sigh*
I got so frustrated with this, I briefly threatened to adopt a lil street kitten I named Kallista and take her with me so I could actually sign up for things. Just really leaning into the crazy cat lady vibe I feel sometimes.
I did manage to book one tour in Crete, which ended up being just me and the tour guide. At some points I felt very VIP, having my own personal tour, but it was… odd eating my dinner by myself as my guide just watched.
Pro: the weather (sometimes)
Greece in summer is hot. Apparently Athens in August is similar to being inside of a roaring fireplace. Combine that with the crowds of summer, and it sounds like a v sweaty time for everyone.
But in the off-season, the weather can be mild and lovely. In Santorini, it was in the 70s most days with sun, and Crete was the same. The water is warm and clear, and i basked in the waves like a dolphin on a Minoan vase.
And in the evening, it’s just cool enough to toss a light linen sweater on and cozy up under the heat lights that are a standard find on the beautiful terraces here.
Con: the weather (sometimes)
I did sport that light linen jacket on those terraces quite a lot here. But then the winds came and I was left shivering. The islands, especially Crete, get very windy in winter. I got a taste of this in Chania as I woke one morning to a howling windstorm that made much of the old port impassable, and that same storm rocked my overnight ferry quite a lot too.
And the rain! Winter is the rainy season here, so it’s expected but whew. This is probably why Mycenae was so empty when I went: it was fucking pouring.
The damp chill is tough to get out of your bones in a country that is built for sun-basking, not coziness. The heat in my hotel is still not on (why?!). I wrote this cuddled up in bed as the rain pours down outside in Nafplio on the old Venetian forts.
Pro: way, way cheaper
Off-season Greece is a frugal traveler’s heaven. All my hotels here? Significantly cheaper than in summer. My sailing trip in Santorini? 2/3 of the normal price, and also not full.
Admission to all of the sights? Half off (for real, every single ancient site I went to is half off during the winter. I went to a lot of ancient sites, so the savings were significant). Even the Acropolis is half-price after November 1.
The bottom line
If you’re looking for some peace and quiet, and to save some money, off-season is the way to go. If you’re solo and want to do more sightseeing, it gets a little trickier especially if you don’t want to drive.
Manage your expectations, get a little creative with your planning, and try to get on the good side of the bus drivers too as they’ll help you navigate confusing schedules. Take some downtime to just nap and eat and read, and watch the waves crash. Pet a cat or three.
Just bring a warm sweater for those unheated hotels (brrr!).