It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Charles Dickens might well have been talking about winter in Northern Europe when he penned his famous words. Escape the doom and gloom – I’ve hunted out the best winter sun destinations in Europe for your next dose of short-haul sunshine.

I’ve tried to be a winter person. After thirty-something years being based in the UK (well, quite a few less when you subtract the years I’ve spent living abroad), you’d have thought it would have ground me down into a grudging acceptance. It hasn’t.

Every year the days get shorter, the temperatures plummet and the sky goes that kind of stomach-sinking grey with a tinge of ochre and I just can’t deal. Sound familiar? Yeah, thought so.

Of course, you can fly to exotic destinations for your dose of winter sunshine – Barbados is particularly good at this time of year. So are The Maldives. Only problem is they’re one hell of a flight away and pretty pricey when you get there.

So what’s a person to do? Head out in search of the best winter sun destinations in Europe of course.

Contrary to popular opinion, winter in Europe isn’t restricted to Northern Lights spotting, skiing and crying in your hot chocolate because it’s so cold. It might not be the most obvious time of year to book your Europe trip, but that’s a good thing. 

Winter sun in Europe might be an elusive beast, but it is there if you know where to look. There are plenty of warm spots where you can kick back, margarita in hand, bikini on body and soak up the sunshine. Here’s my pick of the best.

1. Cyprus

What Can You Do In Cyprus? A Guide to the best things to do in Cyprus.
(c) Julianna Barnaby

Ah Cyprus, you beautiful island. Although it’s only a four-hour flight away, Cyprus is a world away when it comes to sunshine when you most need it – the island has an envy-inducing 340 days of sunshine per year.

Read more about why I think Cyprus is the perfect getaway (and not just in the winter)

Not only does Cyprus boast some of the cleanest and clearest waters in Europe, the beaches are everything you’d want from your winter sun escape. Add to that a fascinating culture and history, a number of archaeological sites, delicious food and plenty of outdoors activities, and you’ll see why this is such a great winter sun spot.

Average temperature in January: 18ºC

Flight time :  4hrs 40 mins   – Check Flights on Skyscanner

Recommended stay: Columbia Beach Resort, Pissouri  – Check Reviews and Prices  

2. Madeira

Madeira is one of the best places to see in Portugal. Here's why
Galyna_Andrushko/ Envato Elements

Another island bobbing in the middle of the Atlantic, Portuguese Madeira is probably best-known for its old-school fortified wine and Cristiano Ronaldo (in fact, Madeirans love Ronaldo so much the island’s airport is named after him).

There’s more to Portugal than Madeira – here’s my pick of must-see spots to inspire your next trip.

Sub-tropical Madeira doesn’t look much like Europe. Another volcanic island, the steep inclines and leafy canopy are more similar to scenes out of Jurassic Park than anything else.

What the island lacks in decent beaches, it makes up for in year-round surfing, hiking, biking, canyoning… you get the picture.

Average temperature in January: 18ºC

Flight time :  3hrs 50 mins  – Check Flights on Skyscanner

Recommended stay:  The Vine Hotel, Funchal – Check Reviews and Prices

3. Sicily

Plan your visit to Sicily. Read now.
Davide Ragusa on Unsplash

Sicily. Great food, wine and winters. What’s not to love? The largest island in the Mediterranean is one of Europe’s best winter sun holiday destinations for sun-worshippers and outdoor lovers alike.

Beaches that are swarmed with crowds in the summer are all but empty in the winter months and protected natural reserves such as the Zingaro Reserve combine pristine beaches with rugged landscapes that are ripe for exploration.

Still not convinced about Sicily? Maybe this will do the trick…

Of all the islands (many) beaches, I love the pink sand beach in San Vito Lo Capo – it’s the kind of beach that wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean and perfect for a bit of chill time in solitude. It’s a little chilly during the winter months for sunbathing, but there’s still plenty of bright Sicilian sun and fresh air.  Plus, when you’re finished, you can go and explore the island’s several UNESCO world heritage sites and/ or vineyards as you choose.


Average temperature in January: 13ºC

Flight time :  3hrs 10mins     – Check Flights on Skyscanner

Recommended stay : Hotel Borgo Pantano – Check Reviews and Prices


4. Malta

Malta - A Beautiful Travel Destination in Europe in the Winter #traveldestination #malta #europe
Sara Cardoso on Unsplash

300 days of sunshine, crystal clear seas and a capital city that is constantly cropping up on Instagram (#pursuepretty), Malta is the island that many people (including me) just can’t get enough of.

Sure, it looks a lot like the U.K. in some ways (sporting red letterboxes and telephone boxes) but you show me a place in the UK where the winter highs reach 21ºC and I’ll eat my hat. Most probably.

Those clear waters are perfect for a host of activities. Malta is one of Europe’s best diving spots – winter sea temperatures vary between 15-17ºC – so perfectly comfortable with a wetsuit.


Average temperature in January: 16ºC

Flight time : 3hrs 10mins  – Check Flights on Skyscanner  

Recommended stay: The Palace Hotel, Sliema – Check Reviews and Prices

5. La Palma

La Palma, Canary Islands #traveldestinations
Ivan Borisov/ Flickr

Verdant and lush, La Palma is the greenest of the Canary islands. This unspoilt paradise might not have some of the glam resorts of neighbouring Tenerife and Lanzarote but who needs glam when you have rainforests and a near-surreal volcanic landscape to explore? Thought so.

OK, I should probably be upfront and tell you that you’re not going to find gorgeous white sandy beaches on La Palma. All of the sandy beaches are a rather fetching shade of… black. What’s the difference anyway? As long as it’s good for lying down on with a good book, you won’t be complaining.


Average temperature in January: 18ºC

Flight time : 4hr 35mins  – Check Flights on Skyscanner

Recommended stay: Hotel San Telmo, La Palma – Check Reviews and Prices

6. Crete

Crete - Winter Destinations in Europe #traveldestinations #travel
Daan Huttinga on Unsplash

One of Greece’s southernmost islands, Crete is a bewitching destination. Bewitching or not, there’s no denying that Crete can sometimes get a bit much in the summer, when it feels like every sun-seeker in Europe descends on the island’s shores to park themselves on its beaches.

Crete constantly appears on lists of the best winter destinations in Europe, thanks to its pleasant temperatures and varied terrain. Many of the beach resorts and party bars are closed, so you can knock about the island seeing very few tourists and exploring to your heart’s content.


Average temperature in January: 12ºC

Flight time : 4hrs 10mins   – Check Flights on Skyscanner

Recommended stay:  Casa Delfino Hotel & Spa- Check Reviews and Prices

7. Fuerteventura

Fuerteventura - Hunting for Winter Sun in Europe #traveldestinations #sea #travel
iamdmnk on Unsplash

Fuerteventura, like La Palma, is in the Canary Islands, but unlike its smaller cousin, it’s got more than enough beaches to go around. Pretty good news then that winter barely touches the Canaries, with January temperatures frequently hitting the 21ºC mark.

There are two main resort areas: Corralejo and Morro Jable – both of which offer a range of beach-front properties perfect for flopping down with your favourite playlist and lying in the sun. If you’re partial to a spot of naturism, you’ll be glad to know that Fuerteventura is very naturist-friendly, with beach spots all around the island where you can work on your all-over tan.


Average temperature in January: 18ºC

Flight time : 4hrs 15mins- Check Flights on Skyscanner

Recommended stay: Barcelo Corralejo Hotel (Adults Only) – Check Reviews and Prices

And… A Little Further Afield  – Essaouira  

The Best Things to do in Essaouira - Fishing Boats by the Port
Fishing boats in the Port of Essaouira (c) Julianna Barnaby

It’s not in Europe, but Essaouira is one of my favourite short-haul winter getaways. This Moroccan port town is evocative of days gone by – not much has changed since it was one of the much-beloved spots on the hippy trail.

It’s not really a beach destination, but Essaouira is the perfect place to practice your yoga poses, ride the surf and gallop along the beach before rounding the day off with a plate heaving with fresh seafood and a refreshing mint tea. Nothing could feel further from winter in the U.K, that’s for sure.


Here’s how to have the perfect weekend in Essaouira.


Average temperature in January: 19ºC

Flight time :  3hrs 50 mins – Check Flights on Skyscanner

Recommended stay: Sofitel Mogador Essaouira – Check Reviews and Prices

So, that’s it. The best winter sun destinations in Europe. I hope you manage to make a break for it and catch a few rays this winter. You totally deserve it. We all do.

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winter sun in Europe


19 thoughts on “The Best Winter Sun Destinations in Europe”

  1. Grass is always greener on the other side. I live in dubai and this year I really wanted to experience a ‘proper winter’ and landed up in Austria lol. But I think I can see now why people in Europe are looking to visit warmer places in the winter 😀

  2. These all look amazing! Being from Texas, I’m not really trying to escape the cold, but I want to go anyway! Crete has always intrigued me, maybe it should be first on my list. 🙂

  3. This is exactly what I have been looking for! I would love to go to Cyprus!! It’s looks and sounds great. Thank you for this list. It is super helpful.

  4. Cold and Snowy here in NY I love reading about warm weather winter getaways! My sister just went to Sicily and Malta on a cruise, it was like 50s60s F, but sure better than here! I guess Morocco is a great, close option for your N. Eurpoeans!

  5. I love that Madeira named its airport after ronaldo haha… I’m forever looking for places near to the UK to escape too for a little bit of sun during the winter months and reading this post has given some new inspiration!

  6. I hear you girl! I have lived in the UK all my life and sure enough as soon as November hits, I just want to crawl under a rock ad hibernate until March. I’m heading to Fuerteventura in two weeks’ time for some much needed vitamin D!

  7. Very nice roundup of warm destinations. Everytime when I look for warm places in the winter I want to know the temperature, so I find it very useful that you have all this info in one place!

  8. Pingback: Discover why you should definitely visit the Algarve this winter - Wapiti Travel

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