How to Stay Safe and Cool in Greece This Summer, According to Athens’s Chief Heat Officer

Amid a heat wave and wildfires, everything travelers heading to Greece need to know.

Aerial view of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

With temperatures soaring into the triple digits, the Acropolis has remained closed during the hottest hours of the day, between noon and 5 p.m.

Photo by Miltiadis Fragkidis/Unsplash

It’s peak tourist season in Athens and the heat is relentless. From the sweltering streets of Monastiraki to the crowded beaches of Vouliagmeni where the cool waters provide some temporary relief, the heat is all that anyone talks about. Athenian residents stay indoors during the daytime or sit next to whirring fans at streetside cafés nursing freddo cappuccinos as tourists continue to pound the hot pavements, intent on enjoying their vacation in the sun.

But this year, the sun feels hotter than ever, and heat radiates from every surface. This past Sunday, July 23, weather stations across the country recorded temperatures well in excess of 42 degrees Celsius, or 107 degrees Fahrenheit. With the heat wave set to continue, not only is it uncomfortable, but it’s also not advised to spend long periods outside in the middle of the day.

It’s something that Elissavet Bargianni, chief heat officer for the City of Athens, wants to remind visitors of. “We all need to be more aware that heat is not only physically demanding, but it’s also extremely dangerous,” she told AFAR by email. “We are not always aware when we have reached our limits.”

The high temperatures aren’t the only climate change–induced issue causing problems in Greece this year. Devastating wildfires are also raging across Rhodes and other parts of the country, resulting in thousands of tourists and residents bring evacuated. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told the Greek parliament this week that that the country is “at war” with the fires.

Given the extreme heat and wildfires, travelers with preplanned journeys to Greece may be wondering whether they should continue with their itinerary or turn back, and how best to stay safe and cool if they do find themselves in Greece now or during any subsequent heat waves. Here’s what the experts advise.

Is it safe to travel to Greece right now?

With regard to the wildfires, the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Greece advises citizens traveling to the country to exercise “extreme caution in affected areas” and to “follow all Greek government announcements and instructions.” The embassy website includes a number of useful resources from local authorities, including daily fire prediction maps and numbers to call for those already in the country and needing emergency assistance.

But the onus really falls on travelers to keep themselves informed through their travel and accommodation providers, as well as the many online resources that are available. “Visitors need to be aware of the conditions in their destination, and should rely on experts at their travel agency, their hosts and hotels, and other locals to guide them,” says Bargianni. But while it may be relatively easy to avoid wildfires with careful planning, avoiding the heat itself is another issue.

Dr. Jim Evans, senior medical consultant at travel insurance provider Allianz Partners, advises people to remember the basics while traveling. “Maintain your hydration level, avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine which can actually exacerbate dehydration, and drink plenty of fluids whether you feel like it or not,” he says, adding that young children and elderly travelers are most prone to heat illnesses as their body metabolisms don’t accommodate drastic temperature changes as well.

A bird's-eye view of Dope Roasting Co., a coffee shop in Athens with baristas working behind the counter and plant-filled walls

Pop into Dope Roasting Co. in Athens for a nice refreshing cold brew, delicious baked goods, and a break from the unrelenting sun.

Photo by Anya Von Bremzen

How to stay cool in Greece

Many visitors traveling to Greece this summer will be entering through Athens and spending a few days in the capital before heading to other parts of the country. The city’s #CoolAthens website has practical tips in Greek and English for residents and visitors to get through the heat.

“It all boils down to a few simple principles, like planning outdoor activities in the early morning, and planning to be in a cooling space like a museum or restaurant during the hottest part of the day,” says Bargianni. The website also features a “survival guide” with tips for how to help someone suffering from heatstroke. (Those who are suffering from heatstroke can exhibit symptoms of confusion and loss of consciousness and it can be fatal if not treated; some ways to help include moving the person to a shaded area, loosening clothes, placing a damp towel over their head and neck and providing some water to drink slowly if they are still conscious.) And it details the meanings of the different categories of heat waves so that citizens and visitors alike can familiarize themselves with the increasing risk. For instance, a Category 0 heat wave denotes high temperatures and health risks for vulnerable communities, and a Category 3, the highest, is classified as having extreme temperatures leading to major health risks and the need to take maximum precautions.

Bargianni’s background as a trained landscape architect helps her approach the situation with a broader perspective. “Landscape architecture helps me to think about plants, trees, sidewalk and street surfaces, as well as human perceptions and interactions within a space,” she says. “These are all the things that matter right now.” She points to the Extrema Global app as being another invaluable resource for residents and visitors.

“Extrema Global is a phone app we initially developed through a local partnership in Athens that shows the heat risk and helps locals and visitors find cool routes, parks with trees, and cooling centers,” says Bargianni. The app’s map function charts “shortest” and “coolest” routes through the city and is a useful resource for getting from alpha to omega without being submitted to a constant barrage of brutal sunrays. Even the city’s trees are highlighted in green so routes can be chosen that pass through the shade of Athens’s mulberry, orange, and sycamore trees.

In spite of cooler routes being mapped out, it’s still not recommended to walk around the city during the peak of the day’s heat. Athens’s most iconic archaeological site, the Acropolis, remains closed from 12 noon to 5 p.m. (the Acropolis is normally open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the summer) to protect visitors and staff from the extreme heat. “The rhythm of the city will change during heat waves,” says Bargianni.

Interior view of the Acropolis Museum in Athens with people walking about and looking at ancient sculptures and relics

Immerse yourself in ancient Greek history while enjoying the advent of modern technology in the form of air-conditioning at the Acropolis Museum in Athens.

Photo by Arno Senoner/Unsplash

Where to escape the heat in Athens and Greece

If you do find yourself in Athens right now, there are plenty of places to stay cool. Since you won’t be trekking up to the Acropolis in the midday heat, you can visit the excellent Acropolis Museum instead, or head to the National Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Cycladic Art, or the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture. While this is a city where much of life is lived outdoors, wait for the evening to dine at a streetside restaurant and instead look for air-conditioned options for lunch. Consider heading to the beaches of the Athens Riviera for a cooling dip, or skip the city altogether and head to the islands of the Cyclades where sea breezes temper the worst of the heat, or to mountain destinations like Metsovo and Arachova to experience a completely different side of Greece.

When to go

While Greece may be known as a summer escape with long days spent on the country’s idyllic beaches and long nights in its convivial tavernas, for those who haven’t booked their Greece getaway yet, there are good reasons to consider traveling to Greece outside the peak months of July and August. Summers start early and last long here, and a visit in June or September can be lovelier—and less crowded—than traveling in July or August. Athens is a fantastic city to visit throughout the year, including in winter, when temperatures are mild (with averages around 55 degrees Fahrenheit) and there are more opportunities to explore the ancient sites in peace.

“The most important thing is to increase awareness among visitors so that they plan their trip with heat in mind,” says Bargianni. “We are also expanding our preparation for all-year tourism in Athens in order to help people choose the time of year that is right for them.”

Nicola Chilton
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