Another gloriously fine autumn day in Athens, and my friend Kate and I are the only early visitors to Hadrian’s Library, an archaeological site in the historic downtown Monastiraki district. Located below street level, the library was created by the Roman emperor Hadrian in 132 AD and had adjoining reading rooms, a lecture hall and a central rectangular pool. In later centuries, churches were built on the site and fragments of them remain.
The towering columns of the library’s west wall are among some of the best preserved of their type in Athens. There’s no queues, no jostling for a view. And there had been no waiting for a table to have our daily cafe freddo cappuccino (iced coffee) before we set out for another day’s sightseeing in the capital city. We wander the ruins, where meticulous archaeologists working on preservation of the marble and stone fragments are outnumbering the tourists. One of them hands Kate a plump, ripe pomegranate from the only fruit tree growing at the site. We agree it’s the best 2 euros entry fee in the country.
Greece is magical during off season. The lingering economic crisis with ongoing strikes and unrest put travellers off for three years, but they were back in 2013 and 2014 looks like even more will visit. According to Bank of Greece data, revenues from tourism in Greece reached 3.3 billion euros in the first half of 2013, up by 17.8 per cent from 2012. Greece is hoping that a record year for tourism, with some 17 million visitors, will help ease the recession.
10 reasons to visit Greece off season
1. The weather is still mostly settled and warm. June – August are the peak months for Greek tourism. The temps can be blistering and the crowds overwhelming. But April- May and September – October are generally fine if cooler. You can still swim, particularly in September-October. You may not even need to pay an entry fee to the pay beaches Monday-Friday, from mid-September. In Athens, for example, entry to a pay beach may otherwise cost 5 euros and then another 4 euros for a sun bed and umbrella.
2. Hotel prices drop in the off season. A studio apartment (sleeping at least 3-4) on the island of Mykonos will be 40 euros a night, as will a mainland hotel. Their prices nudge up to 70 euros a night at least, during the summer peak. Bargains are also to be found on Santorini, although you have to shop around a bit in the towns of Fira and Ia. Kamari Beach has beautiful apartments for as little as 40 euros a night from mid-September.
3. If you want to island hop, ferries are less crowded in the off season and there’s no need to plan ahead. Booking a ticket one day before is usually sufficient. Airfares are cheaper too.
4. In peak season public transport on some islands such as Santorini is packed to the gills with queues waiting for buses. No such problem during off peak.
5. If you want a good spot to see the sunset at Ioa on the tip of Santorini or Cape Sounion in Attica, that glorious view is unlikely to be obstructed by raised iPads and cameras.
6. Archaeological sites are crawling with tourists during the height of summer, but are hassle free at other times, except for the Acropolis which is a tourist magnet all year round.
7. You won’t need to line up to wait for a table at that enticing taverna or bar by the sea.
8. Fruit and vegetables are cheaper in autumn. Mother nature’s bounty is at its peak then, and Greece is famous for its sweet, juicy tomatoes, crisp green veges, honey-sweet figs, melons and grapes.
9. Summer sales offer great bargains, with up to 50 per cent or more discounts on clothing, handbags, shoes and other leather goods. On the islands, particularly, retailers will be trying to get rid of their stock before they close for the winter. Bargaining will be so easy.
10. And someone might hand you a pomegranate, with a smile and best wishes for your health and future.
If you liked this post, read more about off season Greece: My winter jaunt to Aegina