Despite its small size, Greece has a varied climate.
Most of the country, including all coastal areas, enjoys a so-called Mediterranean climate, almost identical to much of California. Summers are hot and dry with a 7-month period of near-constant sunshine generally from April until November. The remainder of the year is characterized by a relatively cold, rainy period which generally starts sometime in November and lasts until late March or early April. Sporadic rains do occur during the dry season, but they tend to be rare, quick showers. The country’s Ionian Coast and Ionian Islands tend to receive more annual precipitation than the rest of the country. The islands in the southern Aegean and parts of the southeastern mainland are the driest areas of the country.
The most pleasant weather occurs in May-June and September-October. The warmest time of the year starts in mid-July and generally lasts until mid-August, when the annual meltémi winds from the north cool the country. Mid-July to mid-August is the height of summer, and the midday sun tends to get very strong; during this time, most Greeks avoid heavy physical activity outdoors between 1PM and 5PM. It is best advised to get in tune with the local way of life by waking up early, doing all sightseeing and errands in the cool morning hours, and then spending the afternoon in the relaxing shade or at the beach. In fact, the bulk of tourists arrive in Greece during the height of summer, to do just that! For visitors from more northerly climates, the off season from November through February can be a rewarding time to see Greece. It will not be beach weather, but temperatures are mild. The much added bonus is that there will be very few other tourists and reduced prices.
Summer evenings tend to be very rewarding. As strong as the sun may get on a summer afternoon, the low levels of atmospheric humidity in most areas of the country prevent the air from trapping much heat, and temperatures tend to dip to very pleasant levels in the evenings. But even during midday, high temperatures actually tend to be quite comfortable as long as the time is not spent doing a lot of walking or other physical activity. Athens, however, can still be uncomfortably warm during summer afternoons due to the predominance of concrete in the city, an effect similar to New York City. Coastal areas near open waters away from tightly-closed bays and gulfs, especially on many of the islands, tend to be quite breezy, and can be quite cold at night.
While the Mediterranean climate characterizes most of the country, two other climate systems are present. One is the cool Alpine climate which is found on mountainous areas of the country's interior, including many high-altitude valleys. Another system is the Continental climate found on the interiors of north-central and northeastern Greece, and gives those areas very cold winters and warm, relatively humid summers.
Holidays and festivals
The following are national public holidays:
New Year's Day1 Jan
Shrove MondayFirst day of Lent - movable next: 23 Feb 2015 / 14 Mar 2016
Independence Dayand The Annunciation - 25 Mar
Good Fridaymovable next 10 Apr 2015 / 29 Apr 2016
Easter Sundaymovable next: 12 Apr 2015 / 1 May 2016
Easter Mondaymovable next: 13 Apr 2015 / 2 May 2016
May Day / Labor Day1 May
Pentecost Whit Sundaymovable next: 31 May 2015 / 19 Jun 2016
Pentecost Whit Mondaymovable next: 1 June 2015 / 20 Jun 2016
Assumption of Our Lady15 Aug
WWII Day / "OHI(no) Day"28 Oct
Boxing Day26 Dec
The nation's three most important holidays are Christmas, Easter, and the Assumption. Christmas tends to be a private, family holiday, but lights and decorations adorn city squares across the country. Assumption Day is a major summer festival for many towns and islands. Easter weekend is perhaps the most flamboyant of all holidays; religious processions on Good Friday and the following Saturday evening culminate in exuberant fireworks at midnight, Easter morning.
Contrary to most national holidays in other countries, Independence Day in Greece is a very sober holiday. There is a school flag parade in every town and village and a big armed forces parade in Athens.
Although not an official holiday, pre-Lenten carnival -or apókries- is a major celebration in cities throughout the country, with Patras hosting the country's largest and most famous events. Carnival season comes to an extravagant ending the weekend before Lent begins, with costumes, float parades, and various regional traditions.
In addition to nation-wide holidays and celebrations, many towns and regions have their own regional festivals commemorating various historical events, local patron saints, or wine harvests.
Note that the Greek Orthodox Church uses a different method to determine the date of Easter from the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant churches. Therefore, Greek Orthodox Easter and - derived from that - Holy Week and Pentecost usually fall one or two weeks later than their Roman Catholic and Protestant counterparts, but they do sometimes coincide as will be the case for 2010, 2011, 2014, 2017 and 2025.
Greece is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, ranking in the world's top 20 countries. According to the Greek Ministry of Tourism, the nation received about 20 million visitors in 2013, a large number for a small country of 11 million. Visitors are drawn to the country's beaches and reliable sunny summer weather, its nightlife, historical sites and natural beauty.
Over 90% of visitors come to Greece from other European countries, although in recent years there have been growing numbers of tourists from other world regions. The vast majority of visitors arrive during the tourist season, which is April through October. Peak season is July through August, and most of the tourists and tourism industry are concentrated in Crete, the Dodecanese, Cyclades, and Western Greek Islands, and to a lesser extent the Peloponnese and the Halkidiki peninsula in Macedonia. There are still many rewarding areas in the country free of large-scale tourism.
Many first-time visitors arrive in Greece with specific images in mind and are surprised to discover a country with such regional and architectural diversity. The famous whitewashed homes and charming blue-domed churches only characterize a specific region of the country the Cyclades Islands. Architecture varies greatly from one region to the next depending on the local history. Visitors will find Neoclassical architecture in the cities of Ermoupolis and Nafplion, Ottoman-influenced buildings in Grevená and Kozáni, whitewashed Cycladic homes on the island of Paros, and pastel-coloured baroque homes and churches on Corfu. The nation's terrain is just as varied as its architectural heritage: idyllic beaches, towering mountain ranges, wine-producing valleys, vast stretches of olive orchards in the south, and lush forests in the north. Greece's historical sights are just as varied; the country is littered with just as many medieval churches and castles as classical ruins and temples.
Christianity arrived in Greece with the preachings of St. Paul during the 1st century AD, and eventually spread throughout Greece and the Roman Empire. In the 4th century, Roman Emperor Constantine the Great legalized Christian worship and declared it the state religion of the empire. He moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Byzantium present-day Istanbul, which he renamed Constantinople. Internal divisions eventually divided the Roman Empire into a western half the West Roman Empire and an eastern half East Roman Empire. The West was eventually invaded and sacked by invaders from northern Europe, while the East survived for another millennium as the Byzantine Empire with Constantinople as its capital.
Greek-speaking Indo-European peoples arrived in the country from somewhere to the north, around 1700 BC, and slowly invaded the entire country from the north all the way to Crete, as well as the west coast of Asia Minor now Turkey, absorbing the native peoples. Their arrival may have been responsible for ending the Cycladic and Minoan civilizations and brought the country into what is now referred to as the Dark Age of ancient Greece; although it is now understood among historians that civilization in Greece remained sophisticated and advanced during this time. The first Greek-speaking civilization, the Mycenean Civilization, centred in the Peloponnese region, was prominent during this time period.
Many ancient Greeks made a living from the sea, as their descendants the modern Greeks also do now. They became accomplished fishers, sailors and traders and the sea has profoundly shaped Greek civilization.
The rise of the Greek city-states occurred in the period 1200 to 800 BC and heralded the Golden Age of Greece, which lasted many centuries and spurred several scientific, architectural, political, economic, artistic, and literary achievements. Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes were the most prominent of the city-states with Athens being the most prestigious, but there were several other advanced city-states and colonies that had developed across the Aegean basin. Greek settlements were also established in southern Italy and other coastal areas of the Mediterranean colonized by Greeks. The legacy of Greek Civilization from this time period made a major impact on the world and continues to influence us to this day.
The epicenter of Greek Civilization shifted, during the 4th century BC, from southern Greece to northern Greece. The northern Macedonian kingdom, under Alexander the Great, conquered all of Greece, and proceeded eastward, creating an empire all the way to South Asia with the stated intent of spreading Greek Civilization. The empire broke up after Alexander's death, and Greece was eventually annexed by the growing Roman Empire. Although weakened politically, Greek Civilization continued to flourish under Roman rule and heavily influenced Roman culture.
The country's first inhabitants are now referred to as the Pelasgians. Little is known about them, but it is believed that they were a primitive tribe of people. The first advanced civilizations in Greece are known as the Cycladic in the Cyclades Islands, and the Minoan in Crete and Santorini. The Minoans had a written language which remains undecipherable to modern-day archaeologists. This is one of the most interesting and profound historical mysteries. It is a link to our modern civilization.
Greece's medieval history is dominated by the Byzantine Empire which revolved around Christianity, Greek Language and Civilization, and Roman law. It was a powerful force in the Mediterranean basin for centuries, engaging in trade, politics, and the spread of Christianity. The empire collaborated with Rome during the Crusades against the Muslims. However, during the 13th century, the Crusaders turned on the Byzantine Empire itself and sacked Constantinople. With a weakened Byzantine Empire, Frankish and Latin invaders arrived and occupied various parts of Greece. Over the following centuries, the Byzantine Empire began to regain strength and reconquer lost territory, but received a final blow in the 15th century when a growing Ottoman Turkish Empire to the east conquered Constantinople.
The Italian city-states of Genoa and Venice competed with the Ottoman Turks for control of various areas of Greece and managed to conquer various islands and coastal areas, bringing pan-European movements such as the Renaissance and later the Enlightenment to places in Greece such as Crete, Corfu, and parts of the Peloponnese region. In the 18th century, the Enlightenment, both in Venetian/Genoese-occupied areas of Greece and from Greek communities abroad, led to an awakening among prominent Greeks and gave birth to the goal of an independent, unified, and sovereign Greek state. The Greek Revolution finally broke out on the 25th of March, 1821, and led to a long war against the Ottomans for independence. The Greek Revolution gained attention across Europe, with Russia, Britain, and France sending military aid to assist Greece.
The nation finally achieved its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1829. The newly-independent Greek State was briefly a republic, before becoming a monarchy at the will of major European powers. During the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, Greece gradually annexed neighbouring islands and territories with Greek-speaking populations. The country sided with the allies during WWI. Despite declaring neutrality during WWII, the country was invaded by Mussolini's military in 1941. Greek forces victoriously pushed the Italians out of Greece, but the Germans then came to their aid, occupying the country until its liberation toward the end of the war. Civil war broke out in 1946 between communist rebels and royalists, the former supported by Yugoslavia until the Tito-Stalin rift of 1948 and the latter by the West. The communist rebels were defeated by the royalists in 1949. World War II and the civil war that followed had left the country war-torn, forcing many people to flee the country in search of a better life abroad.
Greece joined NATO in 1952; rapid economic growth and social change followed. A right-wing military dictatorship staged a coup in 1967, disbanding all political parties, suspending political liberties and forcing many prominent Greeks into exile, including Communists, who played an active part in the Greek Parliament before and after the junta. King Constantine II and his family also fled the country. Democracy returned in 1974, and a national referendum abolished the monarchy, creating a parliamentary republic.
Greece joined the European Community or EC in 1981, which later became the European Union EU in 1992. The country's tourism industry – which had begun to take off during the 1960s – began to flourish, bringing 5 million annual visitors to the country in 1980 a figure that will eventually grow to over 17 million by 2007. The country suffered serious economic stagnation in the 1980s, but began to experience remarkable economic growth in the 1990s, fuelled by heavy investment, entrepreneurship, trade, and EU aid. By the early 21st century, the Greeks have achieved a stable and prosperous nation, with a high standard of living. An influx of immigrants began in the late 1980s, transforming Greece, once an immigrant-sender, into an immigrant-receiving country. Foreign-born residents, most of them undocumented and coming from various parts of the world Eastern and Central Europe, Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and Africa are estimated to number at least 1 million, or equivalent to 10% of the population. In 2004, the nation stepped into the global spotlight as it successfully hosted the Summer Olympic Games in Athens, to the defiance of critics. More recently, it has borne the brunt of the late-2000s recession and related 2010 European sovereign debt crisis. The main issues facing Greek society are a high and growing level of bureaucratic corruption, high unemployment, sluggish economic growth and widespread poverty.