Why go to Greece if you can't sit on the beach and get a tan or dive into the Aegean? Well there are several reasons really. Firstly during the fall and winter, Greece's temperature can be quite mild, depending on which region you are traveling to. Crowds disappear and you get to experience the real Greece relatively free of the summer masses. You can concentrate on the history and culture of this ancient land without the luring charms of spending all your time lying on the beach. And, of course, the prices are lower -- significantly lower -- from airfare to car rental, hotel rooms to tours. More importantly there is availability so the red "sold out" line tends to not rear its ugly head. There's also exceptional shopping to be had in Athens, something that you may never have considered on a summer trip.
Although you may still be tempted to visit the islands, you need to keep in mind that some of the more touristy destinations like Santorini and Mykonos virtually close down from a tourism perspective in the colder season and only a few hotels and restaurants stay open. But on the other hand, this is your opportunity to meet the locals and become more immersed in the islands' culture. On larger islands with larger permanent populations, like Crete and Rhodes, it's business as usual, although with obviously significantly fewer visitors. Ferries are less frequent, as are domestic flights to the islands, but access is still relatively easy and more affordable. A fall or winter trip to the mainland offers the opportunity to see Athens in comfortable weather (as opposed to the sizzling 100 degree plus days of summer), visit numerous archaeological sites, not waste hours in line at major museums, experience traditional village life, and even a chance to go skiing if you so feel the desire.
Go-Today (tel. 800/227-3235; www.go-today.com) has an "Athens at its Best" six-night vacation priced from $969 per person plus tax based on double occupancy. Purchase deadline is November 7, 2008. This price is valid for departures from New York from November 1 to December 11, 2008 and from January 4 to March 8, 2009. The package includes round-trip airfare, six nights' accommodations at a centrally located hotel (either the King Jason or the Ionis Hotel), continental breakfast daily, airline fuel surcharges and all hotel taxes. Add $40 from Boston or Philadelphia, $120 from Chicago, or $150 from Atlanta.
Affordable Tours (tel. 800/935-2620; www.affordabletours.com) provides discounts of 10% on its range of Globus tours to Greece. Their nine-day first class Classical Greece Winter 2008 tour is priced at $1,061 per person land only for an October 31 or November 7, 2008 departure (regular price is $1,179). This nine-day vacation makes a full circle through the country, showing you all the highlights from ancient Corinth, Mycanae, and Epidaurus to Olympia and Delphi. Visit countless archaeological sites and museums, enjoy a whole afternoon in the fantastic landscape of Meteora and its 24 rock-top monasteries, and see Varlaam Monastery's famous frescoes. Experience Thermopylae, the site of the heroic battle of Leonidas' 300 doomed Spartans against Xerxes' huge Persian army, and the legendary towns of Thebes and Marathon before returning to Athens to visit the Acropolis. The trip includes transportation, all entrance fees, seven buffet breakfasts, four three-course dinners and eight nights' accommodations (in Athens, Nauplia, Olympia, Delphi, and Meteora). Single supplement is an additional $289. This tour costs up to $360 more in summer, depending on departure date.
Sun Island Tours (tel. 800/665 673; www.sunislandtours.com) has a series of new winter specific packages to take advantage of great discounts and beautiful weather. Their five-day Greece Sampler Winter Getaway is priced from $810 per person based on twin share. The land-only tour includes airport transfers in Athens; three nights' accommodations in Athens at the Electra Hotel and two nights' accommodations in Hydra at the Phaedra Hotel; a guided Athens city tour; a one-day Saronic Island cruise; breakfast daily; one lunch; entrance fees; service charges; and local taxes. Highlights include a morning tour of Athens featuring Constitution Square, Zeus temple, the Stadium, the Acropolis and its museum; visits to the islands of Aegina the first capital of Ancient Greece and Poros, with its windy streets; and a stay in cosmopolitan Hydra, exploring the island on foot or by donkey.
You can combine a classical day trip to Delphi and its spectacular ancient ruins with an adventurous ski getaway without driving more than half an hour. The ski resort area of Mt Parnassus (www.parnassos-ski.gr/en) is located a little over a hundred miles from Athens and many people choose to stay in the quaint mountain town of Arachova (or Arahova), only a few miles from Delphi. Parnassus boasts 17 downhill ski runs and eight alpine trails. Skiing here is among the cheapest on offer anywhere in the world. A weekday day pass with unlimited ski lift rides is €12 for adults, €8 for students or €5 for children six to 12 years old. On weekends, the price is higher: €27 for adults, €20 or €12 respectively.
Accommodation options are varied in Arachova but this is one place where winter does mean high season. There are several five star resort and spa properties, plus several smaller boutique hotels. The Arahova Inn (tel. +30 22670 31353; www.arahova-inn.gr) has queen rooms during the ski season priced at €135 per night including breakfast and taxes. The Skamnos Bed and Breakfast (tel. +30-226-703-1927; www.skamnos.com/index_en.html) is a boutique hotel located at the north-west edge of Arachova. It offers studios with fireplaces for two to four people, connected double rooms and deluxe rooms. All rooms face either the ski resort of Parnassus or the valley side of Livadi and Paliovouna Mountain. Rooms are priced from €85 to €165 per night including taxes.
Back in Athens, the super-funky Fresh Hotel (tel. +30/210-524-8511; www.freshhotel.gr) is a slick, minimalist boutique property that is decorated in bright colors rather than the run-of-the mill grays, browns, and whites. Rooms in the fall and winter here start from €140 per night for a double. The same room starts at around €170 in the spring and summer, The neo-classical style four-star Art Hotel Athens (tel. +30/210-524-0501; www.arthotelathens.gr) is located in the center of the city, within walking distance from the National Archeological Museum and Omonoia Square. Different colors, original paintings on the walls and materials like wood and Greek white marble dominate the interior design and the sophisticated combination of modern design furniture with precious antiques creates a very elegant atmosphere. In low season (November to March), double rooms including breakfast and tax start from €79 per night. In high season (spring and summer) prices can double.
Athen's St. George Lycabettus Hotel (tel. +30/210-729-0711; www.sglycabettus.gr) has twin rooms priced from €143 a night in low season. I'd like to do a high season price comparison but it appears this hotel is actually booked solid for the entire summer next year so you won't be able to get a room at any price.
Flying Greece's national carrier Olympic Airlines (www.olympicairlines.com) offers round-trip non-stop fares in fall and winter from New York to Athens starting from $340, which is a bargain except that the taxes and fees are more than the fare itself: $355. Having said that, the entire price still comes in at under $700, around half of summer season fares.