Greece is renowned for its sunshine, with most travelers choosing to visit in spring or summer to bask in the glorious rays while taking in the culture and immersing themselves in the history surrounding them at every turn.
It should come as no surprise that travelers leave immensely satisfied, simply because Greece has it all: fine food, ancient monuments, a vibrant atmosphere, friendly locals, stunning seas and blissful beaches. Visitors from all over the world – over 14 million annually – find their way to Greece and its islands to get a taste of its magic.
But can I let you in on a secret? As a travel director who has proudly shown my country to many hundreds of guests from around the world, traveling to Greece in the fall is possibly the best time to visit and experience it, in my opinion. And here is why.
Greece is a tapestry of diverse terrains, ranging from the shimmering seas and endless coastlines to the numerous mountain ranges that sweep from north to south and east to west. Olympus, Giona, Parnassus, Pelion, and Achaia are just some of the peaks and ranges that call Greece home. (Visitors are always quite surprised at how mountainous Greece is!) We are also home to one of the world’s deepest gorges, the geological phenomenon of Meteora in the center of the country, and countless rivers that keep the land and its flora and fauna from going thirsty.
Exploring western Greece
While driving along country roads in western Greece you’ll encounter a dazzling array of trees. Seeing their leaves change from summer green to the golden browns and yellows of autumn is captivating, and always puts a smile on my face. Trees like Pyramidalis and the towering, pointed Horizontalis grow wild here. Horizontalis, the ancient symbol of resurrection, can be seen in cemeteries and battlefields where it has been planted since ancient times to honor the fallen. The mountains and forests of western Greece also have plenty of olive trees and mighty evergreen cypress trees, standing tall and proud. And you might be surprised to see eucalyptus trees, which were imported from Australia more than 60 years ago but have now become as Greek as any cypress or olive.
In northern areas of Greece, you’ll frequently encounter the mighty plane tree – a favorite of the healer Hippocrates – whose leaves morph quickly from green to brown. Vibrant shades of gold emanate from the birch tree, and various hues of green, orange and red can be seen in the poplars, cedar, beech and pines that are abundant in the north. You can also find flowers here, ranging from the rare, delicate black orchid found in the Thessalian rocks of Meteora, to the sweet-smelling roses that appear in a dazzling array of colors. Growing up, my garden was filled with hybrid roses that my grandfather brought down from the Magnesian province in the eastern part of the country. (If you’re a real flower fanatic, don’t miss the Kifissia Flower Show, which takes place every spring in the northern suburbs of Athens.)
Fall in southern Greece
The southern Peloponnese region of Greece is also magnificent in late autumn. Here you can see the most delicious citrus fruits being picked, and watch as the juice is squeezed into a glass. I cannot tell you how delicious our freshly squeezed oranges are! Many other fruits and vegetables are harvested at this time as well, which means visitors have the opportunity to enjoy ultra-fresh food. In fact, our national dish, fasolada, is best eaten at this time, as it is considered a cold-weather dish. It’s a hearty soup made with white beans, olive oil and lots of fresh vegetables. Greece is also home to the wild pleurotus (oyster) mushroom, which is simply delicious when grilled. If you’re keen to learn more about Greece’s natural fungi, visit the Mushroom Museum in Kalambaka. It’s quite a learning experience! Many food markets and festivals can be found in Athens, both in autumn and year-round, highlighting various types of fruits, vegetables and cooked dishes. Vegans will be interested to know that there’s even a vegan food festival, in which Greece’s homegrown produce takes center stage.
Before you go
The temperature drops to a more comfortable level in fall, another reason I suggest coming during the season. If you do visit in the fall, remember to bring a light jacket. Temperatures generally only reach 62 to 78 degrees during the day, and drop a little in the evenings. You’ll probably want to bring an umbrella, in case you encounter a fall rain shower, and even some zip-off trousers, in case you need to peel off a layer at midday (when the fall sun is at its strongest). Of course, comfortable shoes are a must when you’re traveling in Greece, because you will likely do a lot of walking.
Greece is always popular and busy, but there are far fewer people traveling in the autumn – a bonus for visitors! There’s nothing quite like walking into an ancient site, like the home of the original Olympic games in the western province of Ilia, and having it all to yourself – even for just one hour.
There are so many wonderful surprises in store for those who choose to travel to Greece during the fall. The mild sunny days, gorgeous foliage, fewer tourists, ancient traditions, distinctive culture and local foods that come with the season are reasons I wholeheartedly recommend it.
By Sabrina Tsimonidou, travel director at Insight Vacations, based in Athens.