What are the best places for winter sun in Europe? Continue readings, and I will reveal them all!
You are just done complaining about how hot it is outside; or you’ve just retuned from one last holiday at the beach and then it hits you – winter is indeed coming, and long, cold, dark and rainy days await you. The only thing that makes you feel a bit better about it is the thought of some warmer days, a balmy sun kissing your skin. And there you decide: you need to escape winter, if only for a few days! But where should you go?
I have good news for you! You don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to escape the harsh winter. There are some great places you can visit to escape winter, all of them within an easy flight from home. Continue reading, and I will reveal all the secrets destinations!
Are you traveling to Europe in October? Check out my post The 26 Best Places To Visit In October In Europe.
The Best Places For Winter Sun In Europe
Italy is a big countries that extends for almost 1200 km in length from North to South. It has mountains, planes and a long coastline, and a variety of climates. This is to say that not all of Italy is a good destination for winter sun. Having said so, there are some places that are blessed with mild temperatures and sunny days even in January. Here they are.
Contrary to common misconception, Sardinia isn’t always hot, and it’s far from being a tropical island. The central mountainous region can get very cold in the winter, and it receives a regular amount of snowfall. But the coast is nice and mild. Mind you: winter is rainy season in Sardinia, and although the average temperature on the coast during the day is 15 degrees Celsius, we do get the occasional cold wave.
Anyways – I can confirm that the capital of Sardinia, Cagliari, is a fantastic city if you are looking to escape the cold European winter. How do I know? Well, my dear, this is where I grew up and where I am currently based.
Although sunbathing and swimming are out of the question in the winter, locals in Cagliari still very much enjoy walks along the beautiful Poetto Beach or in Molentargius Nature Reserve. With the many beautiful museums, archeological sites, churches, shopping opportunities and the thriving restaurant and nightlife scene, Cagliari is a fantastic destination even in the winter.
Make sure to check out my post A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Cagliari.
Another place in Sardinia where you can regularly count on winter sun is Alghero. This small Catalan city is a fantastic summer holiday destination, with an incredible array of beaches, plenty of good restaurants and bars, and lots of shopping opportunities. But who said you can’t enjoy it the rest of the year? Other than the beautiful historic center, characterized by the Bastions overlooking the sea, make sure to visit the Nuraghe Palmavera, one of the best kept in Sardinia.
You should also take advantage of the weather to go hiking or biking in the Porto Conte area – a beautiful nature reserve with coastal trails and stunning views throughout.
Other top sights in Alghero that can be enjoyed throughout the year are the Capo Caccia area, which is perfect for walking and from where you can enjoy stunning sunsets; and the Neptune Caves, which can be reached by boat from Alghero or via the Escala del Cabirol, which in Catalan means “Roe Dear’s Staircase” – a series of more than 600 steps which are honestly truly worth the views.
For more about Alghero, check out this post.
Puglia is one of the most scenic regions in Italy; a fantastic mixture of beautiful beaches and coves; stunning small towns and villages; traditions and delicious food. With average daily temperatures of around 15 degrees Celsius, Puglia is a fantastic destination even during the winter.
Among the must-see in Puglia, there are Bari with its Bari Vecchia (Old Bari) quarter and the beautiful San Nicola Basilica. As it’s a destination that has yet to become popular with international tourists, one of the main peaks of Bari is that it truly has a local atmosphere. Not far from it, Polignano is a popular summer destination, but just as beautiful in the winter.
Lecce, in the Salento region, is another wonderful city. Its center is completely built in Baroque style, but next to the Cathedral and Basilica to Santa Croce you will also find the remains of a Roman amphitheater. Valle d’Itria may well be the highlight of your trip, with the famous Trulli of Alberobello (limestone dwellings) which also are a UNESCO World Heritage site; and villages such as Locorotondo, Cisternino, Ostuni and more.
Much like Sardinia, Sicily is a great place to visit to escape the cold weather. Once again, temperatures and weather conditions vary from place to place, but in places like Catania, Taormina and Palermo you can count on an average daily temperature of 15 degrees Celsius. One of the coolest views you can get there is that of Catania, where the weather is nice and mild, with Mount Etna at its back, covered in snow.
Sicily is a massive island and you can’t possibly see it all in one go – not unless you spend a month there at least. Among the places I recommend visiting there are the capital, Palermo, which has a plethora of impressive historical buildings, the Capuchin Catacombs, Mondello beach (great for a walk even in the winter) and the lively Ballarò market; Segesta and Erice, which can be easily visited from there; Catania, home to a gorgeous cathedral and a well kept Roman amphitheater, and where you will be able to try arancini, Sicily’s most famous street food.
You should also try to visit the beautiful Agrigento, Syracuse, Trapani and Taormina, nestled between the mountains and enjoying a favorable climate, and famous for its ancient Greek theater and the Duomo.
GOOD TO KNOW: Keep in mind that Mount Etna is often covered in snow (and really cold) in the winter.
For more about Sicily, check out my posts A Great Guide To The Things To Do In Catania, Italy and A Fantastic 8 Days Sicily Itinerary.
Ok, Rome isn’t in Southern Italy but I thought I’d mention it anyways, simply because I am a massive fan of Rome in the winter. The Eternal City can get terribly crowded with tourists in the spring and summer months, and while you can’t expect it to empty of visitors in the winter, it certainly quiets down a bit – and so do the high prices. Temperatures here are a bit cooler compared to the other places I have mentioned, but the sun shines on most days and it is still pleasant to walk around during the day.
I hardly feel like I need to tell you about the things to do and the places to visit in Rome – in doubt, read my post 37 Unmissable, Fun And Cheap Things To Do In Rome. But just to be on the safe side, here are some recommendations.
Make sure to visit the Colosseum and the Roman Forum; – because you can’t say you have been to Rome otherwise; head to Vatican City to explore St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel; marvel at art in Borghese Gallery; wonder around the beautiful squares such as Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, the Spanish Steps and Campo de’ Fiori; have a peek inside the Pantheon; go in search of the most splendid views of the city. Oh and by all means, make the most of all the delicious food.
Keep in mind that you need to make reservations for most of Rome attractions.
Malta and Gozo
Malta and Gozo are great destinations to visit if you are in search of winter sun in Europe. They are so far south in the continent that they enjoy sunny weather and mild temperatures even when the rest of Europe is shivering. The best part about visiting Malta and Gozo in the winter is that they don’t have any of the massive summer crowds – now, call that a bonus!
Malta has more than 7000 years of history and has been influenced by many cultures, which means you will have plenty to see in terms of archeological sites. Valletta, with its beautiful St. John’s Co-Cathedral, as well as Dwerja, Rabat and Mdina should not be missed. Gozo will be even quieter than Malta, but still a lovely place to visit.
TIP: The only downside of visiting Gozo in the winter is that many places that cater to tourists – ie hotels and restaurants – may be closed, so make sure to do some research before going to check what’s actually open.
GOOD TO KNOW: Malta is a unique destination to visit around Christmas time. As it is a Catholic country, you will find lots of activities that are focussed around the festivities, and the decorations will be beautiful. Don’t miss Midnight Mass for a truly unique experience.
The Greek Islands
Continental Greece isn’t really a good place during the winter – not if you are looking for warm weather. To be fair, it does get a good deal of sun compared to many other places, but it’s actually colder than you may imagine. Athens gets covered in a blanket of snow pretty much every winter. I remember visiting in March once, and my hands got completely dry and chapped because of the terrible cold winds.
The Greek islands, however, are great places to visit to escape the harsh weather, blessed as they are with milder temperatures and sunny days.
GOOD TO KNOW: While places like Santorini and Mykonos are incredibly popular summer holiday destinations, they pretty much shut down in the winter months. You may have the benefit of avoiding the crowds, but they may well feel a bit desolated!
Make sure to check out my post 20 Fantastic Things To Do In Greece.
Crete slows down significantly during the winter months, but as it very much is a local island it’s a wonderful place to visit year round, and the average daily temperature of 16 degrees Celsius makes it a great escape from the cold days of Northern Europe. Chania, its capital, is a good base to explore the island. Make sure not to miss the Venetian Harbor and the lighthouse for wonderful views. And by all means, gorge on all the delicious food!
Another good Greek island to visit for winter sun is Rhodes, where you will find one of the historic Seven Wonders of the World, the Colossus. If you decide to go, don’t skip Rhodes City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the village of Lindos, where you will find a beautiful Acropolis.
Another good place is Cyprus. Believe it or not, when some countries are having a White Christmas temperatures in Paphos, one of the main places to visit, are as high as 20 degrees Celsius – and they only get slightly colder in January and February.
Speaking of Paphos – the main attractions there are the Tomb of the Kings and the Kato Paphos Archaeological Park. Aphrodite’s Rock, which is crowded with tourists in the summer, is great in the winter! If the weather is sunny (which honestly, it will be!), you may also consider spending a few hours at the beach, for a walk or just chilling in the sun.
Nicosia is another cool place to visit – they even have Christmas markets there, which are fun to explore.
Although the best places to escape the winter in Portugal are the islands, you will find that many places in the mainland are pleasant as well. Below is a selection of excellent winter sun destinations in Portugal.
With daily temperatures between 14 and 19 degrees Celsius (though much colder at night) and a whopping 290 days of sun per year, Lisbon is a great place to visit – and what’s best is that most of the crowds are gone then. The city has an incredible array of attractions.
Make sure to walk the streets of Alfama, one of the prettiest neighborhoods in town; ride the famous tram 28; listen to live Fado music; visit one of the many museums such as the National Azulejo Museum; go to the Monasteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery) in Belem. You should also make it a point to eat the famous pastéis de nata and to explore the famous Time Out Market and lastly, to catch the sunset from one of the many viewpoints.
For more things to do in Lisbon, read this post.
Faro is a good starting point to explore the Southern coast of Portugal, famous for its beautiful rock formations, caves and beaches such as Praia de Marinha. You won’t really be able to go for a swim in the winter months, but definitely visit for a chance to have it all to yourself. Other places you should consider visiting in this part of the country are Silves, which has a beautiful castle, or Loule, known for its market.
Hiking is another fun thing to do, and it can be enjoyed at the Ria Formosa Natural Park, whereas Seven Hanging Valleys is perfect for coastal walks. Finally, the Algarve is famous for its wines, so definitely consider doing a wine tasting tour.
GOOD TO KNOW: The Douro Valley is another great place to go for wine tasting.
With average temperatures between 13 and 18 degrees Celsius, the Azores are a great place to visit during the European winter, and absolutely perfect for lovers of nature, adventure and hiking. Places like Terceira, the biggest city, Faial, Pico and Sao Jorge, where you will find some lovely small towns are must-visit.
Other places you should explore include Sao Miguel, where you can hike to Boca do Inferno in Sete Cidades; Lagoa do Fogo, a gorgeous lake from where you can enjoy views of the Atlantic Ocean; and Lagoa do Congro, another splendid lake.
The Azores are also packed with hot springs, so make sure to visit at least one, even more so if you are going in the winter. The most famous thermal pools are Dona Beija and Terra Nostra.
A popular holiday destination, the volcanic island of Madeira enjoys very mild winters and is jam-packed with fun things to do and adventurous activities that make it a great destination for winter sun in Europe. The center of the island is the perfect place to go for a hike; whereas the northern coast around the area of Seixal and Porto Moritz are great for swimming. Make sure to visit São Vicente caves, which were formed by volcanic eruptions; and take in the breathtaking sunset views from Cabo Girão Skywalk, located on a cliff at 580 meters above the sea – literally.
If you are the city type, Funchal, the capital of Madeira, is a fabulous destination for New Year’s Eve, when it puts up a fireworks show that literally is out of this world. Other things to include a cable car ride to Monte Palace, where you can visit the botanical garden; a visit to the natural salt water pools at Porto Moniz and obviously eating and drinking (the local specialty is a drink made with fruit juice, honey, lemon and sugar cane).
FUN FACT: Did you know that Funchal runs a city toboggan race?
Much like Italy, not all of Spain is a good destination for winter sun in Europe. The north – Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia – are actually quite chilly even in the summer! However, there are some other parts of the country that are perfect places to travel to in search of warmer climates. I have selected a few.
The capital of Catalonia is one of the most sought for destinations in Europe, and for good reasons. It has an incredible variety of attractions – think Sagrada Familia and Casa Batllo; it’s center is packed with narrow alleys that are incredibly scenic; the food is delicious (and so is the wine); and places like La Rambla and El Gotic – the Gothic Quarter – are perfect for a walk.
Barcelona is also home to beautiful Christmas markets, so if you go around that time make sure to visit at least one. Finally, if you fancy getting out of town, the beautiful Costa Brava is a quick train ride, and you can even go to the pretty Girona, a small colorful town a quick ride away.
Make sure to read my post The Best Guide To The Things To Do In Girona.
GOOD TO KNOW: Don’t expect Barcelona to be empty of tourists in the winter, or you’ll be disappointed. My tip is to buy tickets to all attractions in advance so as to avoid the lines and save some time.
FACT: Andalusia is blistering hot in the summer months. I visited in August years ago, and the day I went to Seville it was 49 degrees Celsius. I am not kidding – I checked multiple times as I could hardly believe my eyes (though my body was indeed pretty sure that it was boiling).
The good news is that Andalusia is a fantastic destination for winter sun in Europe, with lots of beautiful cities, nature spots and more.
Among the must-see there is Seville, famous for the Real Alcazar, the largest royal palace still in use; and where you can see the beautiful cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Make sure not to miss Plaza de Espana, and to enjoy the tasty tapas in one of the many restaurants.
Granada is another beautiful city to explore – the Alhambra is stunning, and so are the incredibly narrow streets. The best part of visiting Granada in the winter is that it’s not nearly as crowded, and if you are in for some skiing, the Sierra Nevada is really close. In other words, you can have a sun escape and a ski holiday in the same place. How cool is that? If hiking is more your thing, this post may provide some guidance.
Malaga is a cool place for a city break too. Its top sight is the Alcazaba, a Moorish fortress on a hilltop overlooking the city. You should also visit the Roman theater, the Castello Gibralfaro, the Cathedral and Pablo Picasso’s Museum (this is his birthplace). Malaga is also the best access point for the Caminito del Rey, one of the most famous hikes in Spain.
TIP: Make sure to also check out Cadiz if you have time. It’s such an underrated destination.
Valencia is one of the most up and coming tourist destinations in Spain, and it is easy to see why. The city is blessed with a fantastic mild winter, which makes it a great place to look for winter sun in Europe, and has a number of great attractions.
The most popular place to visit is by far the Oceanographic, one of the largest aquariums in the world, and the Science Museum – you can get tickets for those here.
Go on a walking tour of the historical center such as this one to learn a bit more about the city’s history-
Paella – the most famous Spanish dish – is actually from Valencia, so definitely don’t miss a chance to try it while in town – you can even go on a Paella cooking class such as this one.
Beaches such as Cabanyal are pleasant year round, perfect for a walk or for a game of beach tennis. And if you happen to be around for Christmas, explore the many markets.
The Balearic Islands
The Balearic Islands are as crowded in the summer as they are pleasant in the winter.
Palma de Mallorca enjoys sunny days throughout the winter, and has many interesting sights. Among them, plenty of museums and the Arab baths. You will also enjoy fine dining and wine tasting – there is an incredible variety of local wines. You should also ride the old Soller Train and hike the Serra de Tramuntana – go in January if you want to see almond blossoms.
Menorca is great for hiking in the winter months: you can walk the Cami de Cavalls trail for views over stunning beaches, much like in Formentera and Ibiza. If you opt for the latter one, you may want to base yourself in Santa Eulalia, which has more to offer in the winter, with lots of restaurants and coastal walks. Make sure to also take the coastal path to Es Cana!
GOOD TO KNOW: Although you may find less accommodation options but on the other hand your trip will be significantly more affordable as prices go down in the winter months.
The Canary Islands
Years ago a friend of mine moved to Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, because he wanted to live in a place where the sun would shine throughout the winter, and he could go surfing year round. Indeed, with temperatures between 16 and 22 degrees Celsius, the Canary Islands are a top destination for winter sun in Europe.
While most head to one of the resorts of Maspalomas in Gran Canaria, this archipelago has a lot more to offer, especially to nature and adventure lovers.
Tenerife is the perfect destination for volcano junkies like myself and a great place to look for winter sun in Europe. You will also be able to enjoy the beautiful beaches; the massive Aqualand water park; the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife; and if you love markets, head to Los Cristianos. For more hikes in Tenerife, read this post.
For more volcanoes, head to Lanzarote, where the landscape is so unique that it got the status of UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It’s also a great place to go hiking (check out my post for the best hikes in Lanzarote), much like Gran Canaria, which is where you’ll find the largest cities.
Fuerteventura is another fantastic adventure hub. You can make the most of it by snorkeling (the nearby island of Lobos is perfect for that), surfing or quad biking on the dunes of Corralejo National Park. Don’t miss out on the lovely Spanish villages either!
If you fancy a greener island other than the barren, desert-like landscape of Tenerife, Lanzarote or Fuerteventura, check out La Gomera, which is significantly greener and definitely a beautiful island to explore.
Not sure which island to pick? Check out my post Which Are The Best Canary Islands?
France is another example of a country where some areas can get extremely cold, but where you also have some of the best places for winter sun in Europe. Below is a selection of the nicest ones – incidentally, they are among the best cities to visit in France.
GOOD TO KNOW: You may also want to consider Corsica for a winter break in the sun. The weather on the coast is similar to that of the coast of Sardinia, though the mountainous interior tends to be quite cold.
Located on the magnificent Côte d’Azur, Nice is known for its Promenade des Anglais, a 7 km promenade where it’s pleasant to walk year round and where regular parades take place – such as the Nice Carnival during the winter. Should you pick Nice as your escape for winter sun in Europe, you should not omit to walk around the Old Town (Vieille Ville), a fabulous series of narrow alleys, colorful buildings, independent small shops and fantastic small restaurants. Cours Saleya Market is where to go in search of fresh produce and colorful flowers.
Nice beaches are fantastic during a sunny afternoon, so make sure to grab a lounger and bring a book for some proper relaxation. Finally, head to Cap-Ferrat, a short minutes drive from town and where you will find the gorgeous Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.
The oldest city in France, Marseille is a great place to go in search for winter sun in Europe, blessed as it is with mild temperatures even during the coldest months. If you decide to go there, you won’t have any shortage of attractions and things to do. My recommendation is to start your visit in the Old Port (Vieux Port), the most important part of the city where you will find many seafood restaurants and you’ll be able to ride the Ferris wheel, from where you can catch a fabulous sunset.
From the Old Port, you can also reach the quaint neighborhood of Le Panier and either walk or take the bus to the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica.
Another must-see is the Palais Longchamp, aka the Museum of Art, the oldest museum in town.
Finally, make it a point to go to the Calanques National Park: you can bike there or rent a kayak to admire all the beaches.
Bay of Kotor
The beautiful Bay of Kotor, also known as The Boka, is one of the most scenic places to visit in Montenegro – one of the prettiest Balkan countries. A popular summer destination thanks to its pristine beaches on the Adriatic, Kotor is much more lower-key compared to other places mentioned in this post, yet worth visiting. Sure, it gets a bit more rain that other places, but sun is also plentiful. The Old Town of Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is definitely worth exploring – and significantly less crowded in the winter.
Another reason to visit Kotor in the witner is the carnival, which usually takes place between the end of January until mid February and lasts about two weeks.
Other places to visit are Budva and Tivat; Risan, a small town along the bay; and Herceg Novi, right at the entrance of the bay.
GOOD TO KNOW: Accommodation and restaurant options may be more scarce in the winter, but prices will be lower!
Right on the calm waters of the Adriatic, Croatia is bound to enjoy lots of sunny days even in the winter months. The best place to visit when temperatures drop is by far Dubrovnik. Below, I explain why.
I have been to Croatia twice – one at the beginning of the summer, and once in the winter. Summer days are certainly perfect to enjoy the beaches, but the crowds in Dubrovnik were crazy, which is why I actually think it’s much better to visit in the winter. Besides, with tourists gone, it’s also significantly cheaper.
The best thing to do in Dubrovnik is by far walking along the old city walls – a UNESCO World Heritage site. From there, you can enjoy great views over the city and the coastline. Another must-visit is Fort Lovrenjac, which is just outside the western walls. Make sure to also ride the cable-car for more impressive views.
Visit in December and you will be able to enjoy the Christmas markets, the Advent, the Winter Festival and the beautiful celebrations for the new year.
February is when the Festivity of St. Blaise – a UNESCO Intangible cultural heritage – takes place: visit then, and you will be able to experience performances, concerts and more.