If you want to spend your summer holidays in the Cyclades, you may be wondering about the Meltemi winds. Here is some information on the windy Greek islands and how to cope with them when on vacation in Greece!
What are the Meltemi winds?
In a nutshell, the meltemi winds are strong, dry, seasonal winds that appear all over the Aegean. We call them meltemi or meltemia, which is the plural form of the word in Greek.
Depending on where in Greece you are, they may come from the north, north-east or north-west.
If you are familiar with the Beaufort wind scale, meltemi winds can reach around 7-8 Beaufort, or even more. In certain parts of the country, the winds may occasionally be exceeding speeds of 100 km / hour!
You can easily imagine the answer to your question “Is it windy in Greece”.
Meltemi Winds in Greece
However, it’s not all bad. The meltemi helps bring down the scorching summer temperatures and clears the atmosphere, providing great visibility. If it wasn’t for the meltemi, temperatures in the Aegean would be a lot higher, and most people would find it uncomfortable to visit the Greek islands in summer.
Remember the occasional heatwaves in Europe? Well, the Cyclades rarely face this issue!
Meteorology buffs will find it interesting that the meltemi wind is connected to the Indian monsoons and the Azores anticyclone. It can also be affected by rainfall in Central Europe and the Balkans.
Furthermore, it’s related to the fact that there are so many islands in the Aegean. Apparently, channelling of the wind between the islands causes its speed to increase.
I won’t go into more detail here. You can find plenty of information online on what causes these strong seasonal winds. Let’s get to some practical info!
When do the meltemi winds happen?
The meltemi winds in Greece are seasonal. They are strongest during July and August, but you may also come across them in June or September.
If you are visiting Greece in spring or late September, you will probably miss them, though it’s not certain.
The meltemi generally blows during the daytime, typically being at its strongest during the afternoon and early evening. That said, it’s not uncommon to have full-blown meltemi wind even in the early morning or during the night.
This is why, in typical Greek fashion, I suggest bringing a light jacket with you, even if you are visiting in summer!
There’s no guarantee over how many days the meltemi will go on for. On some years, you may get periods of a few windy days, followed by a calmer week. In the past few years, the meltemi wind was prevalent for most of July and August, as well as outside this period.
Which Greek islands are most affected by the meltemi winds?
Generally speaking, there are several windy Greek islands. The groups of islands that are more affected by the meltemi are the ones in the Aegean.
Have a look here for an introduction to the different groups of Greek islands.
People who have visited Mykonos, Santorini or Naxos in summer will be familiar with the Cyclades wind. If you have been to Andros or Tinos, you may have experienced some of the strongest meltemi winds. These two islands are among the windiest in the Cyclades.
Other islands that can be impacted by the meltemi are the Sporades, the islands of Northeastern Aegean and the Dodecanese. The Aegean side of Evia island is also very exposed, as is the area between Evia and Andros.
High winds in Crete can also be super strong. Crete’s long sandy beaches are very open to the winds. In fact, swimming is not allowed on very windy days, as it can be very dangerous.
Finally, if you are visiting mainland Greece, some areas will be windier than others. As an example, the Aegean beaches of Pelion peninsula are not protected at all.
You may be wondering why western Greece and the Ionian islands are not affected much. This is because of the tall mountain ranges in mainland Greece. These act as a wind-stopper, protecting the Ionian side and the west coast of Greece.
Will the meltemi wind affect my holiday?
I won’t lie, as I’ve been there myself, more times than I can remember. The meltemi winds can be difficult to get used to, especially for people who didn’t expect them. And they can affect your holiday in Greece, but only if you let them!
If you are mostly looking to lie on the beach all day long, the meltemi wind may affect your vacation to a certain extent. On some days, staying on the beach will not be as relaxing as you hoped. The wind will blow up the sand, which can get really annoying. This is more so if you are lying on a towel right on the beach, rather than a lounger.
Take it from me – there is not much you can do about it. I’ve spent most of my summer holidays on the windy Greek islands, and no meltemi will ever stop me going. Plus, as mentioned earlier, not everything about the meltemi wind is negative. If you find that summer in Greece is too hot, imagine what it would have been like without any wind.
How to cope with the meltemi winds
If you are visiting Greece during the meltemi season my best advice, that any local will confirm, is to avoid the beaches facing north. As the winds are coming from the north, the northern beaches are the ones that will be most affected.
Your hotel owner or other locals should be able to point you to the best sheltered beaches for meltemi days. They are the best people to ask. Occasionally, they will point you to a pebbly beach, or a rocky outcrop.
If you are on a bigger Greek island like Naxos or Andros, you can always find a beach that is fairly protected. This might mean that you may need to drive a long distance. This is part of exploring the islands though, so for most people it shouldn’t be an issue.
Now there are also some smaller islands, like Iraklia, where there are very few protected beaches. On these days, you may want to spend less time on the beach and do other things instead.
If you can visit outside July and August, you have better chances of skipping the windy days. On the plus side, not only will the islands be less crowded, but accommodation prices will typically be lower. Still, if you can only visit the Greek islands in July and August, go for it. You can rest assured that it’s still worth visiting – all these other travellers can’t be wrong!
Swimming and the meltemi winds
Sand getting in your eyes may be annoying, but the most important thing when the meltemi blows are the waves. Even if you are a strong swimmer, you should be very careful, or even avoid swimming altogether.
Combined with the strong currents in Greece, the meltemi is not to be taken lightly. In fact, on very windy days you may see a red flag on certain beaches. This means that swimming is not allowed, as it can get dangerous.
In all seriousness, you may get swept away on a windy day. It can happen to anyone, and it is scary. In case you were wondering, yes, it’s happened to me, and I’m a fairly competent swimmer!
This is not meant to discourage you though. You just need to use your common sense, and respect nature. You can go sightseeing or hiking instead, and spend some extra time in a local taverna. I assure you that it will be time well spent!
Families with small children could consider booking a hotel with a pool. I don’t like pools myself, but I have to admit they can be more relaxing than the beach on a windy day.
Sailing and the meltemi winds
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the meltemi winds can affect sailing trips in Greece. If you have booked a summer sailing cruise around the Aegean, the company may warn you that the itinerary is subject to weather conditions. This is not because they are lazy to take you to the Cyclades. It’s because they want you to have a safe, enjoyable experience on board.
People planning to rent a boat or yacht should keep an eye on weather conditions on an hourly basis. This is even more so if you are not familiar with the area and the speed that the winds can reach.
Meltemi winds can pick up incredibly fast, and they appear seemingly out of nowhere. You don’t want to be caught unprepared. Your safety is far more important than reaching a windy island. Moreover, sailing in strong winds is not a pleasant experience by anyone’s standards.
In extreme cases, some of the high-speed ferries, hydrofoils and other small boats may not depart from the ports. Even the bigger Greek ferries can be delayed – we were stuck in Andros port for over an hour, while our ferry was trying to dock.
Many visitors take a ferry to Piraeus, and fly back home from the Athens airport. In this case, you should consider spending at least one night in Athens before you fly out. This way, in case of a ferry cancellation, you will still have enough time to get to Athens in time for your flight.
Windsurfing and the meltemi winds
If you are visiting Greece to go windsurfing or kitesurfing, the meltemi can be your friend. There are several beaches in Greece that are ideal for these sports. In fact, windsurfing is a fairly big thing over here.
Paros, Antiparos, Naxos, Mykonos, Tinos, Andros, Ios, Milos, Kimolos, Rhodes, Karpathos, Crete and Evia are just a few of the Aegean islands where you can go windsurfing. Your instructor will explain what to be aware of, and you should follow their advice. Again, keep an eye on the weather, and do not compromise your safety.
We went kayaking in Mykonos in June, just before the start of the Meltemi, and were blessed with calm waters. Same when we went kayaking in Rhodes in late April. Something to keep in mind for when planning water sport activities!
The meltemi winds in Greece
I hope this article was enlightening. Bottom line – don’t worry too much about the meltemi winds, but do be careful when it comes to swimming. If you have any other questions, please ask in the comments below!