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Winter Trip to Greece

I'm very seriously contemplating a trip to Greece this winter, leaving the US on Dec 26 (arriving 27) and staying until Jan 8 or 9. It would be a first-time trip to Greece, with a focus on history (I was a classics major undergrad and am presently an academic librarian). My potential itinerary is:

  • Arrive Dec 27 and take a plane straight to Santorini. As I mostly want to see the Akrotiri excavations, I was thinking stay at an Air B&B in Akrotiri for two nights, then fly back to Athens the 29th.

    • Athens Dec 29-Jan 1, do the Akropolis, Akropolis museum, Agora, Keirameikos, Archaeological Museum, Filopappou Hill, Lyceum, Areopogus, Temple of Zeus, and several churches. Since Jan 1 is a holiday and I am an Orthodox Christian myself, I intend to attend the liturgy of St. Basil at an Athens church (any recommendations which one?).
    • Jan 2 take a private tour to Delphi and the Monastery of Hosios Loukas, and I'm hoping to have the tour drop me off at the Livadia train station so that I can spend:
    • Jan 3-4 at Meteora doing the Monasteries there (unfortunately missing Varlaam since those are its closed days)
    • Take the train to Thessaloniki early Jan 5 and spend the rest of my time there, possibly taking a tour to King Philip's tomb in Vergina. At Thessaloniki I'd like to see Eptapyrgio, Vlatádon, St. Demetrios, Galerian Rotunda, Roman Agora, Museum of Byzantine Culture, White Tower, and several of the other churches. Jan 6, I know, is Theophany and I'd love to attend liturgy at St. Demetrios then.

I'd love if anyone had any comments on this itinerary, especially if they see glaring flaws or have recommendations. Specifically:

  • if anyone has done the Akrotiri excavations, how long would you say they take and is there a museum near the excavations or only in Fira? Has anyone been to Exo Gonia and would you recommend it? It's really only a day for Santorini due to flight times, should I stay longer?
  • what is public transportation like in winter? (I'm not renting a car, I have no faith in my driving abilities.) Are trains fairly reliable?
  • if, as is very possible, it ends up snowing during the trip, how would you recommend I wing it? (i.e. if it snows while I'm there, should I just cancel the northern part of my trip and head over to the Peloponnese and hope I can find hotels there?)

Thanks for your help!

Posted by
14784 posts

I got the impression that a lot of tourist areas close up for the winter (shops, hotels, restaurants, etc). Also because the days are short, visiting hours for outdoor sights will be shorter, with very little to do in the long evenings.

Snow - possibly more likely in the mountainous Peloponnese than in seaside Thessaloniki?

Posted by
186 posts

Cate--
Your plan looks excellent. As the previous comment indicates, check on the non-tourist season hours for all these sites. Re your questions:
1) one day for the archaeological sites in Santorini should be enough, especially if you have no interest in other sites. Most of the time I spent in Akrotiri was waiting in line to get in during peak of summer. I don't think you will have any wait. This site looks informative: https://www.santorini.com/archaeology/
2) buses are more commonly used in Greece; trains less so. You might look into booking a tour to Meteora from Athens that will include hotel, transportation, and meals.
3) it does snow in Greece and it may snow that time of year, but if you have your heart set on Meteora and Thes/niki, then don't let it deter you. The cold in Thes/niki tends to be damp cold (like the Pacific NW), so you will have no trouble getting around. The sites you list seeing there are excellent. You may also want to add the old city wall during your walks.
Other things:
My family has traveled to many archeological sites in Greece and elsewhere; Vergina blew us away. By far the coolest place to see.
If you have time, Pella is a short trip from Thes/niki and has an amazing new museum as well. Highly recommend it.
Have a great trip!

Posted by
4529 posts

I've done much of the mainland in December. Very quite, you'll often have sites almost to yourself which is amazing. Shorter days and hours for sure. Accommodations and restaurants in smaller places can also be a problem, but just takes some extra planning.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks for the advice!

stephb, you're the second person who insisted Vergina was wonderful, I think (if the trip works out) I will take the plunge and find a tour group (I tend to try and do it all myself, but with Delphi/Osios Loukos and Vergina the logistics seem worth paying someone to do for me!)

Pacific NW weather? Oh yah, I'm there. I prefer cold to hot and rainy to sunny in general, so if logistics won't be too messed up by snow (and workarounds can be found) I think I'd like to save the Peloponnese for another trip.

The limited hours might be trying, but from what I've seen the churches tend to have longer hours, or at least service hours, and I have no problems with attending vespers services. =D

Posted by
20831 posts

You may find tour options to secondary sights rather limited in December. If any are mission critical, I'd start Googling now.

Posted by
6 posts

Most of the tour places don't seem to have January 2019 availability up yet, hoping that doesn't mean there aren't any tours then...

Posted by
186 posts

For religious sites, Cate, try to contact the church/monastery directly (you may need to call and or go through the Greek Archdiocese). If there are limited or no tourist hours, you may appeal to them as an Orthodox worshipper interested in making a pilgrimage to these sites. Another suggestion would be to have your priest in the U.S. or the bishop in your area make a request on your behalf or write a letter for you that you could present. You know how things are in Greece--they are 'closed,' but not really closed-closed. lol

Posted by
80 posts

I was in Meteora in early January several years ago, and it snowed about 6-8 inches. This caused all of the monasteries to close to visitors due to slippery conditions. Someone we met in town helped us find a hotel, since many of them had closed for the season. We were the only guests. We still had a great time, and the monasteries up on the rocks looked stunning in the snow, but we didn't get to see much. Just be ready to be flexible and change plans at short notice.

As I recall, there is a very nice Byzantine museum in Athens as well. And one of the streets near the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens has shops that cater to Orthodox clergy. It was lots of fun seeing the vestments and church paraphernalia in the store windows. Some of them also sold some arts and crafts, like hand carved figures of monks or priests, etc. Have a great trip!

Posted by
1 posts

Hey Cate - Head's up, I am in Crete right now and have just done Athens, Delphi, Meteora, Olympia and Santorini.
Here are my observations regarding your trip:
1. Getting to the monasteries in Meteora either requires a car or a tour. I don't think there are daily local buses up to them. There are 6 of them and I'm not sure they are all open on the same days. You'd have to check their websites. We went to two and they were both very nice and run by nuns. The scenery in itself is spectacular, even if you don't go in all the monasteries/convents. You would be staying in Kalabaka or around there.
2. Akrotiri is practically deserted this time of year. We took about an hour just to walk around the ruins and that was taking it slow. The bus is a good way to get there if you don't want to rent a car. The museums in Fira have limited winter hours which I forgot about and so didn't get to see the archaeological museum before we had to leave. It's only open Thurs-Sun in the winter.
3. I have only seen one train station the whole time even though we were in lots of small cities. I'm not sure many Greeks use train travel anymore. They do use buses, though.

Good luck!

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks for all the advice! gretchenmora, I'm surprised there aren't local buses to the monasteries in Meteora, I'll have to look into that! And good to know about the museums in Fira in winter.

And I'm definitely having backups in case of snow. Could be interesting!

Another question, I'm having trouble finding decent tours to Delphi that also include the monastery of Hosios Loukas. Or at least, I'm not sure what companies are the most reputable, especially for a solo female traveller. Anyone have any experience with tours? (never arranged one myself)

Posted by
4529 posts

You may not find many, if any of the Delphi tours stopping at Hosios Loukas. It's not far off the main highway, but I doubt most Delphi tourists are interested in Byzantine architecture. But if you do find one, by all means take it. The main thing you need out of the tour is the transportation. You can always do your own visit once there.

You may also find very limited tours in winter. It's just not tourist season there.

Posted by
964 posts

When we visited Delphi in June we noticed that the surrounding area featured ski resorts. Delphi is high up in the mountains and apparently there is enough snow to warrant ski hills.

Due to austerity I have been reading that some sites close for the winter season. I am sure that would not apply to Meteora or Delphi but once you have your plan be sure to make sure of the hours and days sites are actually open.

Images of Akroteri are here. There are about 10 or so just hit the arrow on the right side of this photo and you can see the rest. As I recall it took us about an hour and a half to do the site and I might suggest that I tend not to read all the information. All the god stuff from Akroteri is in Athens at he National archeological museum.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanbr54/38305226272/in/album-72157632154800782/

Posted by
6 posts

I did some looking and found a 250 Euro tour to Delphi/Hosios Loukas seems to be simply transportation with a tourist video and perhaps a sightseeing tour in the car on the way there. And I know I could do public transportation cheaper, but I'm concerned about timing. Delphi closes at 3pm in the winter, and the bus wouldn't get me there until 11am. That, plus lunch, plus time at the Delphi museum (which closes at 4) doesn't give me lot of time to get over to Hosios Loukas (closes at 5), to which I'd have to take a taxi anyway because (according to Rome2Rio) it takes the bus 3 hours to get there! The other option is train+taxi from Athens to Delphi, then taxi to Hosios Loukas, then taxi to the Livadeia train station (to go straight to Meteora, might at well). I'm not sure, however, how how reliable public transportation is (bus or train) nor if the number of taxis I need will be available, particularly the day after New Years. Any thoughts on if it would be worth paying half again as much for a private taxi tour, or would it be better to do it myself and hope for the best?

stanbr, those are great pictures! And good to know the artifacts are mostly in Athens, I think I won't then try to cram in Fira's museums. I am, however, contemplating a winery in Exo Gonia and hiking to the Prophet Elias Monastery in the middle of Santorini. It looks like you went to the wine museum near Exo Gonia, did you go there too?

Posted by
4529 posts

Why is it you are not just renting a car? The places you are going aren't very accessible by public transportation, which as you are finding, is not very good in Greece.

Posted by
6 posts

The thing with renting a car is that I'm not a confidant driver on good roads, let alone what I've heard about Greek roads. Add to that the fact that winter driving is variable, and I just don't feel comfortable taking that on. If I can be confidant in finding taxis to and from train stations, it may be worth the price. That, plus adding in perhaps conversations with drivers and being able to really take in the countryside on public transportation when one isn't focused on driving means I'd prefer to take public transportation if I possibly can.