If I had my way we’d spend every winter somewhere tropical like Mexico, the Caribbean or Southeast Asia. But, Nathan (who loves the cold), and our work schedule, sometimes dictate otherwise. However, I still have my ways of refueling with Vitamin D when we’re not in a hot climate, like seeking out the best winter sun destinations in Europe.
While you may not be needing a swimsuit in January in Europe, if you head south you can definitely find some pleasant temperatures and plenty of winter sun. Plus, there’s the added bonus of being off-season which means fewer crowds and often better prices.
We’ve spent several winters in Europe so we have our own personal favorite spots to seek the sun. But, with so many awesome places to visit in this diverse continent we wanted to reach out to other travelers for their top choices for winter sun holidays in Europe so you have a full range of options.
Travelers picks for winter sun destinations in Europe
The tiny island of Malta has been a popular beach destination for a while, but its historical sites and cultural wonders are still relatively unknown. Malta is home to many temples, churches, and palaces, and its capital city, Valletta, is a UNESCO World Heritage site!
One of the great things about visiting Malta is how compact it is. Even if you only have a week in Malta (or less!) you can see a lot of the island’s best bits. The simple road network means nothing is ever more than an hour or two away from wherever you are, so you won’t waste loads of time travelling between places.
Winter is a great time to visit Malta because it’s much quieter than in the summer. In the warmer months, you’ll be sharing sites and attractions with the many tourists who flock there in search of heat and beaches, as well as the thousands of passengers that visit on cruise ships every day. In the winter, you may well have them all to yourself – and the weather will still be mild and sunny.
~Jodie from Ala Jode
Malaga, Spain is the perfect winter escape in Europe, especially for anyone who lives in colder climates and is in desperate need of a big dose of vitamin D.
Unlike in summer months, when peak temperatures hit 31 degrees, winter in Malaga is incredibly comfortable. Highs are around 18 degrees, and most winter days only require the use of a light jacket for comfortable exploration.
Sunny days are abundant in winter and lend well to discovering all the amazing things to do in Malaga, the birthplace of Picasso. Historic sites like the Alcazaba and Malaga Cathedral, and the lively squares and stunning street art can all be enjoyed in the more agreeable temperatures of the winter season. Malaga’s festive nightlife is not reserved for balmy summer nights either. Bars and restaurants throughout the city have outdoor seating, so alfresco dining or drinks can also be enjoyed during this time.
Additionally, Malaga is an excellent base for exploring other parts of Andalucia including Ronda, Sevilla, and Granada – all of which are much more pleasant without the swarms of tourists they see during hotter months.
~Randi from Just a Pack
The Azores, Portugal
In the Atlantic Ocean, some 1,400km west of mainland Portugal, are the nine islands of the Azores archipelago. The Azores sits on the junction of three tectonic plates which gives the islands their unique volcanic landscape. São Miguel is the largest island in the group.
There are plenty of things to do on São Miguel from hiking across volcanic craters to exploring lava tunnels. If you enjoy being active, you can go kayaking, canyoning, and coasteering. For those who prefer to relax, São Miguel has several hot springs that are naturally bright orange in colour due to the heavy iron content in the water.
Visiting São Miguel Island in winter has many advantages. Summer is much busier during the peak tourist season with fewer people visiting over winter. This means you can enjoy the island’s beautiful scenery and activities in relative peace and quiet.
The weather in the Azores is fairly consistent all year round. Winter is only a little cooler than summer and you can expect average temperatures of around 15ºc so it’s not too cold. Prices also tend to be considerably cheaper outside of peak season especially for accommodation.
~Oli from Not Brits Abroad
Tenerife, Canary Islands
If you’re definitely a summer person and dream about spending winter days in the sun I recommend you to consider visiting one of the Canary Islands – Tenerife. This Spanish always warm region will successfully help you get off the wintery mood.
Tenerife is the biggest one of the Canary Islands. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a beach chill, nature adventures, or nightlife experiences. Everyone finds something interesting to do in Tenerife. It especially amazes with the diversity of landscapes. You can enjoy many activities like taking a cosmic walk on the Teide Volcano, exploring the fairytale forests of Anaga, try your strength during trekking in Masca, or simply hanging around in picturesque Spanish towns.
This island is one of the best Europe winter destinations because the weather is perfect there almost all around the year. So even in winter, you can enjoy chilling on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean drinking Spanish rum and eating tapas. Perfect direction for sun lovers!
~Dominika from Sunday in Wonderland
Santorini, Greece is arguably the island nation’s most iconic island. Most images of all-white Greek villages on rocky cliffs against the sea, are from Santorini. Therefore, Santorini gets positively overwhelmed with tourists much of the year. Winter is the best time to visit Santorini for this reason. The weather is relatively mild—this is the Mediterranean, after all—and there are fewer crowds, off-season prices, and just as much to do.
My favorite activity on Santorini is the hike from Fira to Oia. Fira is a bigger village with more budget accommodation, so many backpackers stay there. Oia, however, is the most famous village on Santorini—it’s where those iconic views we were talking about come from. The 6-mile hike overlooks the Santorini Caldera the entire way, making for some absolutely stunning panoramas. It also crosses other picturesque villages, so you see much more of Santorini.
Oia is popular for a reason; the village is out of a storybook. You can explore the winding streets and souvenir shops, and eat all things Greek. Most of the year, it’s impossible to walk without bumping into people, but in the winter you’ll get more space to breathe. Still, make sure to snag your sunset spot early; the Santorini sunset is one of the most photographed in the world!
~Kaisa from Glam Granola Travel
Marseille is a great place to visit in Europe during the winter. The capital of the French region Provence-Alps-Côte d’Azur has a Mediterranean weather with mild winters (around 12 °C during the day and 4 °C at night). In addition, Marseille is officially the sunniest major city in France with over 2.900 hours of sunshine while the average sunshine in the country is 1.000 hours less. This and the city’s excellent connections with the French capital (Paris – Marseille is only 3 hours by TGV train), make Marseille a fabulous weekend getaway in Southern France.
Marseille is a city with many things to see and do. Downtown, there is the picturesque harbor and the historic neighborhood of Le Panier while in the highest point of the city there’s Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde Basilica with great views over the city and the Mediterranean Sea.
Culture lovers will enjoy the MUCEM, (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations) always proposing interesting glimpses of the Mediterranean civilizations while food lovers will love Marseille’s gastronomy, with many dishes based on fish. The most popular dish in Marseille is the bouillabaisse, a stew containing at least three varieties of very fresh local fish but there are many other treats that we invite you to discover.
~Elisa from World in Paris
Low season marks the best time to go to Spain for savings. Winter is one of the best times to head to the country because prices are generally lower, tourists are leaving, and the weather is still pretty great.
Granada is no exception. There are many things to do in Granada in winter because the city has many faces. It is full of colour and flavour. It’s abuzz with activity, no matter what season. Yet, further up in the narrow twisting streets of the old town it tempts guests with promises of winter delights that only a city in the south of Europe can offer. It may be warm enough to unzip your coat or even remove a layer but in the distance, visitors are greeted by views of soaring snow-capped Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Granada is perfect to visit in winter. The aroma of roasted chestnuts wafts across Plaza Bib-Rambla and Puerta Real as snowdrifts gently down from overhead. While it does get quite chilly compared to other parts of Europe (in the month of December the average daytime temperatures are generally around 7°C), it’s still one of the best times to explore.
No other province in Spain has as much variety as Granada. You can ski the Sierra Nevadas, explore enchanting Christmas market, or simply just wander around the city. Winter months offer unique opportunities, so visitors can truly enjoy the city’s landmarks without waiting in line or spending a fortune.
Possibly one of the most beautiful cities in Spain, Granada is an epitome of sophistication with its awe-inspiring buildings, Catholic churches and relaxing plazas. The highlights of any trip to Granada include seeing places like the Mirador de San Nicolas, Granada’s old Muslim quarter, the Albayzin and, of course, the magnificent palace atop a hill, the Alhambra. There are no words to adequately describe the beauty of Granada. From the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the background to the palaces surrounded by traditional houses with gardens of fruit trees, there’s something for everyone.
~Ivan at Mind the Travel
With more than 300 sunny days a year, the Algarve Coast in southern Portugal is the perfect place to escape during winter. Rugged cliffs meet the deep blue Atlantic Ocean, only separated by some of the most impressive beaches in the world. To mention a couple, Marinha Beach has been nominated among the top world beaches and Camilo Beach is not far behind.
Even in the winter months, the locals use the water as surfing and bodyboarding are popular activities on the Algarve Coast. If you prefer to stay dry, there are plenty of things to do and see along the coast. You can go for a boat trip to see the incredible caves, whereof the most known is Benagil Cave, a mesmerizing natural cave with an impressive beach inside.
Along the Algarve coast, there are numerous hikes on top of the cliffs with spectacular views and rock formations. Make sure you don’t miss out on Seven Hanging Valleys Trail, Ponta da Piedade, and Sagres.
~Linn at Brainy Backpackers
Normally associated with long summer holidays under a hot sun, Provence may be an unusual destination for a winter holiday, but it’s not an unagreeable one. The villages that are buzzing with tourists during the busy season are still alive with local life. Daily markets are the go-to place to pick up your produce and the village bakers are still dishing out warm and gooey pain au chocolat.
The cities are business as usual too – with plenty of events and festivities to keep you busy during the cooler months. In February, Nice hosts its annual Carnival which is one of the most famed festivals in France. And winter is also the ideal time to check out the region’s museums and galleries.
Head to Aix-en-Provence for culture with a side of curbside café people watching, or stay in Avignon to take in the many exhibitions taking place in this historic city centre, and to take a gander at the grand Pope’s Palace. If it’s the white stuff you’re after, you can find that nearby too. A short drive will deliver you to the fun ski fields of the French Alps.
~Nadine at Le Long Weekend
One of my favorite places to visit is Crete in winter when the hordes of tourists stop coming. During the winter you can still enjoy moderate temperatures (think jean jacket weather) and take in the island’s most exciting landscapes and archeological sites without competing against the crowds. Plus its a lot more fun to wander around Knossos when it’s not boiling hot outside!
Crete also has some amazing museums if you like history, so you have a place to tuck into if it does start to get chilly. The most famous is the Heraklion Archeological Museum, but the smaller ones in Rethymnon and Chania are also worth visiting!
One of the highlights of any trip to Crete is the amazing food, and that’s great at any time of year! Make sure to sample some bougasta while sipping a Greek coffee at the Lion’s Fountain in Heraklion.
~Stephanie at Sofia Adventures
Coloured by a mix of Roman, Christian and Muslim history and architecture, not to mention its endless streets of orange blossom, flamenco tablaos and tapas bars, nowhere in Spain feels quite as ‘Spanish’ as Seville.
But as one of the most picturesque cities in Spain and, indeed, Europe, it’s also one of the busiest and most stressful destinations to explore during the summer deluge – not least because of the sweltering 40°C (104°F) heat.
But Seville’s prime location, deep in the heart of Andalusia, means it’s one of those places that doesn’t really do winter. In fact, you can expect plenty of light and sunshine, as well as agreeable temperatures ranging from around 16°C (61°F) to 10°C (45°F). And best of all, you’ll have the streets almost to yourself (apart from the locals of course). Tour the tapas bars in Barrio Santa Cruz and sip sherry in the bodegas. And explore the herculean cathedral (the largest in the world), Real Alcázar Palace and Plaza de España without having to duck and dodge your way through hordes of tourists.
Life in España really doesn’t get any better than this.
~Ben from Driftwood Journals
If you’re looking for the perfect European destination to visit in winter — especially if you want to escape the freezing temperatures that most of the continent experiences — then you absolutely cannot go wrong with the beautiful country of Cyprus.
Located in the southern Mediterranean, this island nation is one of the warmest places year-round in Europe and it experiences well over 300 days of sunshine per year. With the coldest high temperatures rarely dipping below 16 degrees, it never gets too cold and you will be able to enjoy mild weather and brilliant sunshine while many other places in Europe are covered under a blanket of snow.
There are many interesting places to visit in Cyprus and you could easily spend a week or more exploring the country. While the winter months may not be the ideal time of year to go swimming in the crystal clear Mediterranean waters, there are still ample places to explore. If you’re a history buff, you’re sure to enjoy the numerous ancient Greek ruins. If you’re a foodie, take the time to visit the vineyards and villages in the Troodos mountains in order to sample some local produce. If you love interesting cities, then make sure to explore the capital of Nicosia, one of the last divided capitals in the world.
All in all, if you’re looking for the ideal place to spend the winter in Europe, then Cyprus is a fantastic option.
~Maggie from The World Was Here First
Winter it’s hard to find a destination with good weather in Europe, but I discovered one with a warm climate even when we have -10 degrees back home. That is Andalusia. A road trip in the southern region of Spain offered us some incredible experiences. The culture and the history of this region have Roman, Muslim and Catholic influences.
We stayed for one week and we visited the impressive Alhambra castle in Granada, we saw the “Light and sound” show in Alcazar de los Reyes castle and the Mesquita Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba, we took a romantic walk in Plaza de Spana in Sevilla and we explored two beautiful pueblos blancos: one built under the rock, Setenil de las bodegas and one built on a canyon, Ronda.
Visiting interesting attractions by day, enjoying delicious meals, drinking sweet sangria in the evening and attending a flamenco show that gave us goosebumps made this trip unforgettable. And the weather was perfect.
In January we had some days with 25 degrees! The mix of good food, food wine and great things to do made our holiday perfect. Andalusia is a destination I would recommend to anyone!
~Corina from Another Milestone
Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Big sister to the party island of Ibiza, Palma makes a great winter sun getaway. Though many of the seaside resorts close down for the winter Palma stays in full-swing and is free from the crowds that inflate the population in the summer months.
The Balearic Islands in Spain enjoy mild winter temperatures (although it does get chilly at times) and plenty of sunshine making it ideal to enjoy the city or venture off to explore the surrounding towns and nature.
Palma itself is perfect for exploring on foot as you visit the lovely churches, boutique shops and local restaurants. Other towns, like Petra and Soller are scenic and worth a visit if you have a car. Though it won’t be warm enough to go swimming, the ocean remains a clear blue and the beaches are perfect for long walks. The weather is also perfect for hiking and there are many paths and trails on the island, some of which go from village to village.
Bonus: If you happen to visit from late January through February you’ll be witness to more than four million almond trees blossoming in shades of white, pink and blue.
~Sarah from Live Dream Discover
Minervino di Lecce, Puglia, Italy
One of the best destinations to visit in Europe in winter is the tiny town of Minervino di Lecce in Puglia, situated in the southern “heel” of Italy’s boot. Set between the blue waters of the Adriatic and Ionian seas, the Salento Peninsula is best known as a summer beach destination, yet has many charms which make it well worth visiting in the winter.
Some of the best things to do in Minervino di Lecce include soaking up the vibe of atmospheric churches such as the beautiful Chiesa della Madonna delle Grazie, an underground church created of stone, exploring the mysterious Bronze Age standing stones at Dolmen di Scuzi, hanging out at a wine bar sampling Negroamaro and Primitivo wines or participating in one of the many religious feast day or festivals.
One of the most important regional festivals is the Tavole di San Giuseppe (St Joseph’s Tables) in March in honour of San Giuseppe the patron saint of carpenters. Among the highlights of all seasonal festivals in the Salento region are the abundance of regional foods, the elaborate religious processions, cultural displays and more.
With few other tourists around during the winter season, it’s even possible to join in the town’s festivities by taking a cooking class, participating in a religious procession and dancing the pizzica, a fast-paced traditional dance similar to the tarantella.
Other winter season options include taking a day trip to Lecce, known as the “Florence of the South” or the coastal town of Otranto home to a 15th-century castle, an 11th-century cathedral and a walled waterfront promenade. They can all be enjoyed blissfully free of crowds amid mild temperatures and beneath sunny skies.
~Michele from A Taste For Travel
Whilst looking for a great winter destination in Europe, be sure to consider Sardinia. Located in Italy, Sardinia is the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea and home to a city with a rich past, Cagliari; which is also the capital.
Sardinia’s winter is brief and quite mild during those winter months. You’ll find it pleasing to take a scroll whether day or night around the old center. You should find it relativity easy to get by with English in most establishments. Popular landmarks such as Bastione Saint Remy offer very impressive views of the city which includes panoramic views of the coast.
Amongst the tons of history here you’ll find everything from ancient Roman ruins to museums, and of course, a beach. With its happy nightlife scene, you’ll find some great restaurants that offer many different ways to enjoy the traditional Sardinian cuisine.
~Daniel from Layer Culture
Madeira, Portugal is a top European destination in the summer for those looking to escape the city for a relaxing getaway, especially during school holidays. However, because the weather is pleasant year-round the island attracts visitors in all seasons so, unlike some sun destinations, everything stays open and lively even in the winter.
The island is full of stunning natural scenery making it a perfect destination for anyone who enjoys being active on vacation. You’ll find mountains, cliffs, forests, and dramatic coastline inviting visitors to hike, beach comb, cycle, and explore the island on foot. All of which is much more enjoyable with spring-like temperatures.
There are also historic towns to discover which are full of delicious food and warm hospitality and in the winter you won’t have to wait in line like often happens during the summer cruise ship season. Finally, as with many European destinations, prices tend to be a little lower which means you can splurge on a luxury resort or 5-star meal without breaking the budget.
~Nathan from Live Dream Discover
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Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.