Landscape, history, culture, food and entertainment are enough to keep one happy in Greece, but the sea and the sun are the country's main attraction during the summer
Millions of visitors flood the shores of Greece every day to enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and other seaside activities. The country's topography puts everyone within a short drive distance from the sea, but most choose to stay right by the sea.
The Greek coast is filled with spectacular beaches that are some of the cleanest in Europe. In fact, the sea and the sun are one of the major reasons so many visitors choose Greece over other destinations. During the months of July and August the sun shines constantly and cloudy or rainy days are very rare.
The sand varies in its quality and quantity from place to place, as is the organization of the beaches.
Most bathers prefer to swim in beaches that are lined with sand, while few opt for the isolation of more rocky shores. Many sandy beaches slope gently for a considerable distance making them ideal for children, while others slope more abruptly. These latter ones are often more rough.
The waves are gentle during the summer, and the majority of the most popular beaches are calm during the day. Waves pick up later in the afternoon, but rarely are large enough to disturb swimming. Although not an absolute rule, the northern parts of the Aegean Sea islands are more exposed to the northern "Meltemia" winds, and thus a bit more rough for swimming.
Some beaches are organized by the local municipalities or private organizations to offer a host of services to swimmers. Organized beaches usually cost anywhere from €3 to €12 per person. Prices may be different for weekends. For the entry price many organized beaches, offer fresh water showers, changing cabins, umbrellas, toilets, bars restaurants and lifeguards.
Some organized beaches do not include much with the entry fee, and charge extra for sun beds, parasols, etc. Some beaches don't allow visitors to bring their own food and drinks, so before you head out, make sure you know what you will be paying for, and what's included.
The organized beaches that require an entry fee are usually located around major cities, and especially around Athens.
Most beaches of Greece are of the "swim at your own risk" variety, and if you ask the locals at your location they would be happy to point you towards the best waters. Some of the organized beaches have lifeguards posted for certain hours of the day during the high season. My experience has been that they are not very vigilant watching for distressed swimmers, nor do they man their post continuously and without interruption, so don't let your guard down.
The most popular beaches have parasols and sun beds already set for bathers. A typical set-up includes one large parasol with two sun beds that can be rented together for anywhere between 4 and 7 euro. Bathers just choose their spot, and simply sit under one umbrella. Sooner or later the caretaker comes for payment.
Many bathers bring their own parasols to the beach (you can buy one for about 15 euro), especially to more isolated beaches where there is no protection from the sun.
The sun can be relentless between 12 noon and 4 in the afternoon, so the best time to swim anywhere in Greece is between 9-11 AM and 4-8 PM. The sea is usually very calm in the morning hours, and as a rule the afternoon breeze brings some waves of varying sizes and intensity
Sunscreen is an essential accessory for everyone's swimming experience. There is nothing worse than getting a nasty sunburn on the first day of a vacation, rendering oneself out of any seaside activities until departure. Sunscreen is in demand and therefore expensive during the summer months (more about prices in Greece) so it would be wise to budget for it, or bring some with you if you live in a not-so-sunny area.
Swimming attire appears in few variations. You will find bathing suit stores near every beach in Greece and ladies most commonly wear bikinis. Men most commonly wear "Speedo" style bathing suits, although Bermuda trunks are equally fashionable. Omitting the top piece of a bikini is a common practice in many beaches of Greece, and doing away with the entire bathing suit is practiced in more isolated beaches and coves.
Overall, swimming in the Greek waters is an experience not to be missed, and most vacationers make swimming the highlight of their holiday. The beaches are less crowded in the morning before 11:00 AM, and then right before sunset. Surprisingly enough, in our experience the beaches become very busy when the sun is the strongest between 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM.
The beaches of Greece are most crowded between July 25 and August 15 when most Greeks take their summer vacation. During this time even the most isolated beaches see a considerable amount more swimmers, and the traffic on the way to the beach becomes difficult.
Even during the heat of the summer the water of the Greek seas feels cool and crisp, and offers welcome relief from the intense heat of the summer sun. In general, further north the water temperature is a bit cooler than southern Greece. The water is warmest during July and August, although swimming is possible as early as the end of April and even October.