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Searching for the best winter sun in Europe? If you live quite a way up in the northern hemisphere, it is probable that you are used to the cold, the wet, the grey and – if you are lucky – some snow. There are some people that absolutely love winter and cannot wait for that first snowfall. Then again, there are those who hate the season and spend months waiting for the sun to melt the snow and the warm weather to start. But if you do not think you can wait that long to enjoy some sunshine, there are plenty of options in Europe where you can soak up some vitamin D over the winter. So if you are considering a trip somewhere warm this winter, you will want to take a look at this list of the best winter sun destinations in Europe.
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Winter sun holidays Europe: Best places for winter sun in Europe
If you are looking for a winter sun destination, which is also easy on the wallet, the Algarve is the place for you. While it may not get the highest temperatures of the winter sun destinations, the weather is still significantly better than in most parts of Europe and there are still enough T-shirt days to make a winter trip here worthwhile.
Faro is the gateway to the Algarve, which has a quaint old center with cobbled streets and its charming cathedral, leading down to the marina filled with luxury yachts. However, there are plenty of other beautiful places to visit in the Algarve in winter. Carvoeiro is perfect for those who want a more peaceful Algarve experience and is famous for its network of caves, which can be explored even in winter.
Albufeira is usually extremely lively but calms down over the winter months, and this is a great time to wander its charming streets and enjoy the delicious food on offer in the restaurants.
A cool activity to do here is taking a tuk-tuk ride to the nearby beaches. Horse riding and cycling are also popular activities, which are completely doable during the winter in the Algarve. Plus, it is one of the cheaper destinations, making it even more desirable as a winter sun destination.
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A group of nine volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores may not get as many visitors as the nearby Canary Islands and Madeira, but that just makes them all the more attractive as a destination. The Azores have been described as a ‘warm Iceland’ as they boast just as much stunning natural scenery and geothermal activity as the Land of Fire and Ice, but with an average daily temperature between 16°C and 18°C.
Here you can find geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, and lakes, just as you can in Iceland, the difference being that in the Azores they are all surrounded by lush green sub-tropical vegetation. The islands are also great for whale and dolphin watching. But the best thing about the Azores is that there is no such thing as mass tourism, so you get to enjoy these wonderful islands without the tourist hordes.
One of the disadvantages of visiting the Azores in winter is that they receive quite a few days of rain every month. However, this should not put you off a winter break there. Despite the rain, it does not get that cold and even if it did, you could always take advantage of the wonderful hot springs to keep you warm.
Tenerife – and the Canary Islands in general – has a reputation for being one of those destinations that are just for beach bumming and drinking cocktails. However, it is also a great place to take part in sports activities, which makes it the perfect place to visit during the winter.
The island is home to Mount Teide, the highest peak in Spain and the fourth highest volcano in the world, which offers fantastic opportunities for hiking, paragliding, and mountain biking, and with an average daily temperature of 17°C, you will not get too hot and sweaty doing so. Due to such little air pollution in the area, Mount Teide is also a great place to go stargazing.
Elsewhere on the island, water sports are extremely popular no matter what the season, such as scuba diving and snorkeling, and winter is actually the best month for surfing. For animal lovers, because of the huge population of pilot whales, which live in the waters surrounding Tenerife, whale watching is another activity which is possible all year round.
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While most people only consider mainland Spain for their summer holidays, the beautiful city of Seville has been receiving many more winter visitors in recent years. With temperatures which can go as high as 18°C, it is certainly one of the mildest places to visit in Europe during this time.
There are obviously many great reasons to head to Seville. It is a city of outstanding architectural beauty, with its impressive cathedral, minaret bell tower La Giralda, and exquisite palace the Real Alcazar. These attractions are incredibly popular, but you will notice that the queues to enter are considerably shorter during the winter months.
If you happen to be traveling to Seville during the festive period, there is a lovely Christmas market which takes place from December to January, where you can pick up lots of handicrafts while enjoying Christmas carols being sung in the central squares and the smell of roasted chestnuts.
New Year is traditionally a time when locals spend time with their families, but plenty of restaurants offer special menus for visitors and those who do not fancy cooking. Then on January 6th, the day when the Spanish hand out presents to their friends and family, there is a massive parade where the Three Wise Men (Los Tres Reyes Magos) go through the streets throwing toys and sweets to those who have come to see the spectacle.
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If you have always wanted to head to Athens to see all the marvelous historical sites the city has to offer, winter is the best time to go. With temperatures averaging around 15°C during the day, the climate is mild enough to make sightseeing enjoyable rather than sticky and uncomfortable.
These lower temperatures give you the opportunity to hike Mount Lycabettus, explore the Acropolis, and stroll around the quaint districts of Plaka and Monastiraki, all without breaking a sweat and dealing with hordes of tourists. You will also find that accommodation prices drop by about 50% and there are far more rooms available to choose from, making Athens a top pick for a winter sun getaway.
Despite the sunshine Athens gets in the winter months, it is also an idea to note that December can be quite rainy and you will definitely need a jacket when the sun goes down. However, a few rainy days should not put you off visiting.
Athens has plenty to do if the weather does not seem to want to go your way. There are lots of interesting museums, such as the Acropolis Museum, the National Archaeological Museum, and the National Gallery of Art, or you could just sit inside one of the many cafes and enjoy the amazing coffee they have.
Being much lower down from the mainland, Crete hangs onto its balmy weather for much longer than other parts of Greece, with temperatures averaging around 16°C. While Crete might be a tourist hotspot during the summer months, there are lots of advantages to visiting during the winter.
For those interested in getting active, winter is the time when the water has returned to the rivers and gorges, making it the perfect time to go canyoning. The conditions for surfing and kitesurfing are also excellent at this time of year; in Falassarna, the waves can reach up to three meters.
Crete is also known for its abundance of hiking trails and the more temperate weather means you will not be sweating buckets if you decide to head out on them. If history is more your thing, you will be happy not to have to queue to get into all the historical and archaeological sites which are dotted around the island.
Christmas is a delightful time to visit Crete as many local customs are held throughout the island. Some of these are quite old, such as the Cave of St. John in Marathokefala showing a nativity using real animals and a Christmas village popping up in the Omalos Plateau, but some of them are fairly modern additions, such as the diving Santa in Crete Aquarium.
Many flocks to Malta to enjoy its beautiful beaches, warm, clear sea, and abundance of diving opportunities, but there is so much more to this small island in the Mediterranean Sea. In Valletta the weather rarely drops below 15°C in winter, meaning that walking around its beautiful streets will feel pleasantly comfortable.
In many ways, visiting Valletta in winter is preferable to heading out there in the summer. For starters, accommodation prices are much cheaper than at the height of the peak season, plus there will be more rooms and apartments to choose from. Malta is incredibly popular in the summer months, and as a result of this, accommodation can get booked up pretty quickly.
You will also find that you may have some of the attractions pretty much to yourself, it is a great time to go climbing, and it is also when the Christmas lights go up in the city. Valletta keeps its Christmas lights up longer than most cities, sometimes until at least February, so whenever you travel there in winter, you have a good chance of spotting them.
Most travelers head to the main island for their Malta holiday, but there are actually three islands which make up the Maltese archipelago and Gozo is certainly starting to get its fair share of visitors; once Gozo constituted just a day trip from Malta, but now more and more people are choosing to lengthen their stay on the smaller island.
Getting the same temperatures as Malta, there is certainly much here to keep you occupied, such as the stunning Cittadella and Ta’ Pinu Church. Gozo is also where you will find Ggantija Temples, which are older than the Pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge.
Winter is the perfect time to enjoy Gozo’s countryside, either on foot or by quad bike. It is also a great time to go diving, and you may even find that you are the only one to be taking a particular dive on a particular day!
If you want guaranteed sunny weather, Cyprus is the best place to take your winter sun holiday; temperatures here hover between 18°C and 20°C, so you will hardly believe that it is winter at all. If you want to spend your vacation by the sea, Larnaca is a great choice.
This city has some of the finest beaches on the whole island, plus its southern location means that the sea is pretty warm, even in the winter months, so it is great for swimming.
Diving is also popular, with many heading here to see the wreck of the Zenobia, a ro-ro ferry which sunk off the coast in 1980. As the oldest city in Cyprus, there are a number of historical sights worth checking out, and if you do feel that you need to get out of the city for the day, there are good public transport connections with Nicosia and Limassol.
While on some parts of the island accommodation and restaurants close due to lack of tourists, this should not be a problem in Larnaca and you will see people milling about, even if it is not the usual huge crowds which you can find in summer.
Sicily is a top choice for sun-worshippers and there is no need to miss out on this just because you are traveling in winter. While inland you may see temperatures drop to around 10°C, on the coast, it usually averages between 14°C and 16°C. However, Sicily gives you the opportunity to take advantage of both of these temperatures.
If you want to combine your bit of winter sun with a holiday on the slopes, this is completely possible on this Italian island. Mount Etna, Sicily’s largest active volcano, offers skiing at two different resorts, Linguaglossa and Rifugio Sapienza. As you make your way down the slopes, you can see the sparkling Ionian Sea in one direction and the smoking Etna in the other.
Winter is also a festival time in Sicily, with Christmas, New Year, the Feast of St. Lucia and a festival celebrating the Italian dramatist Luigi Pirandello taking place in December, and the Almond Blossom Festival and the Festa di Sant Agata – the patron saint of the city Catania – occurring in February. If you like shopping, visiting Sicily in time for the New Year sales will not disappoint.
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It might seem a bit odd that somewhere in the UK has been included in a list of best winter sun destinations in Europe – after all, the UK is not known for fantastic weather during the summer, never mind the winter. But that is because this particular part of the UK is actually just off the coast of Spain. The island of Gibraltar has an average winter temperature of 17°C and very rarely drops below 14°C, so you can expect a balmy vacation there.
Gibraltar is suitable for those who love being outdoors as there are not many attractions indoors. It is also a great place for those who love history, in particular, military history.
You can visit the World War II tunnels, where the Allied invasion of North Africa was planned, as well as the Great Siege Tunnels. A hike up ‘The Rock’, a huge limestone rock face peaking at 426 meters high, will give you splendid views, and you should not forget to visit Europe’s only free, wild colony of monkeys, the Barbary macaques.
A great thing about Gibraltar is its close proximity to other fantastic destinations, meaning you can combine a trip to the island with some other cities which also have fabulous winter weather. Malaga – Costa del Sol area, Seville and even Morocco are all within easy reach, so a visit here can be a great opportunity to take a multi-destination trip.
Personally I did a trip last year around these areas for Christmas and New Year. I visited multiple places in Spain on a road trip starting a few days before Christmas eve and then flew to Morocco on New Years Day. New country, new year. It was a blast!
Heading to these destinations during the winter has massive advantages aside from the obvious great weather. These are also the months which tend to receive fewer visitors, accommodation is generally cheaper, and you get to see these places in all their glory. So if you have been dying to get some winter sun in Europe but were not sure where to go, now you can get those flights booked!
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