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Our 8 top European winter sun destinations

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In the cold grey months after Christmas, the days seem long and the weather is at its dreariest. This is when many of us need a little new year getaway to lift our spirits and have something to look forward to. To help ease your way into 2024, we’ve hand-picked the perfect short-haul destinations for some winter sun without spending hours getting there.

The Algarve

The Algarve region of Southern Portugal has 300 days of sunshine a year, and winter temperatures of around 16 degrees – not sunbathing weather, but locals and tourists alike flock to the coast in winter for the mild climate. Spend your days strolling the scenic beaches and exploring picturesque coastal towns without the crowds or the scorching summer heat.
Eat out – the region has some of the best restaurants in Portugal, with stunning local produce that pairs with the country’s world-class wines. Visit Portimão, the sardine capital of the Algarve or take a trip to Sagres, the most south-westerly point of Europe, and watch the surfers catching the Atlantic waves.

The Azores

An archipelago of nine volcanic islands makes up the Azores, known for their dramatic landscapes, charming fishing villages and lush waterfalls. Between January and March, temperatures average a pleasant 14–17 degrees, though you should also be prepared for a little rain.

The largest island, São Miguel, is an oasis where you can hike the verdant trails, watch the wildlife and immerse yourself in nature. Take a dip in the ocean lagoons and forest pools or even in a crater at the bottom of a dormant volcano, then warm up in one of the hot springs. Try stand-up paddleboarding or go dolphin- and whale-watching, and when you’ve done exploring, stay in the laid-back city of Ponta Delgada, whose cobbled streets are home to some wonderful Portuguese restaurants. The Azores are renowned throughout Portugal for the food they produce, so take time to enjoy cuisine filled with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.

The other islands are also blessed by Mother Nature. Take a closer look at Portugal’s highest mountain on Pico Island, or visit Faial, known as the Blue Island for its abundance of hydrangeas.

The Canary Islands

Accessible in under five hours and with a mild climate all year round, the Canary Islands are one of the best winter destinations in Europe. Beautiful beaches, spectacular volcanic landscapes, white-washed towns and warm temperatures all feature here. For the best chance of winter sun, you should think more about where to stay on one island rather than which island to choose. The north and west coasts of each island tend to be a couple of degrees cooler, while the south and east coasts are a little warmer and sunnier.

Gran Canaria has great beaches, restaurants and activities to suit everyone, even if that simply involves a book and a sunbed. More active visitors can hike or cycle the otherworldly volcanic landscapes and be rewarded with a local lunch in one of the mountain villages. Visit between January and February and catch the lively Carnival of Las Palmas, which fills the streets with processions and an explosion of music and colour.

Lanzarote is generally thought to be the warmest of the Canary Islands, being closest to Africa, and in January it has a mood-boosting 11 hours of daylight and seven hours of sunshine per day. You can lounge on its beautiful beaches all year round and watch surfers and kitesurfers take advantage of the strong Atlantic waves. Away from the golden sands, palm-filled towns and  white-washed villages, discover a volcanic island which, if not for the blue skies, might be mistaken for scenes from Mars. Visit the dramatic lunar landscapes of Timanfaya National Park or the Jameos del Agua caves, in which influential artist César Manrique created a James Bond-style restaurant and bar with a pool. Browse the Sunday markets or hop on a vineyard tour, and discover how the trend for wines produced from volcanic soil is helping to develop the island’s wine tourism. From Lanzarote you can visit Fuerteventura or the tiny island of La Graciosa, where you can descend into the bowels of a volcanic crater at Furna do Enxofre and experience blissful geothermal waters.

Tenerife is the largest island and a year-round sunny holiday destination with a vibrant feel even in winter. Known for its sunshine and beaches and perhaps less so as a destination for nature-lovers, this beautiful island is best explored by car. The north of the island is noted for its charming authentic towns such as Tegueste, with its historic centre and developing wine tourism. Hiking in its rural parks, which include the Macizo de Anaga Biosphere Reserve, is also recommended. Further south, hit the beach and go whale-watching, or up the ante with dune-boarding or quad-biking. Add some sparkle to your trip with an excursion to Teide National Park, home to some of the world’s darkest skies and some memorable stargazing.

Madeira

The Portuguese Island of Madeira, famed for the drink (delicious – and best served chilled) might just be the perfect laid-back winter getaway. With a subtropical climate, January temperatures can climb to between 15 and 20 degrees, and the island can be reached in under four hours from the UK. The capital, Funchal, is a cosmopolitan city with an attractive harbour, tropical gardens, and a top-notch restaurant scene as well as some of the best Madeira wine cellars.

This mountainous island has some stunning vistas from its viewpoints, a 20 million-year-old rainforest, and dozens of natural swimming pools, such as those at Porto Moniz. Take a scenic drive to Santana, known for its houses with thatched roofs and, if time allows, take a boat trip to the neighbouring island of Porto Santo, with its 9 km beach of golden sand. You may even spot whales or dolphins on the way.

Mallorca

With a flying time of under three hours from the UK and average winter temperatures of 14 to 16 degrees, Mallorca is pleasantly warmer than most of the UK in the same month and winter offers great sightseeing weather.

The island’s capital, Palma, is vibrant but laid-back, with a lively plaza in the evenings and plenty of tapas bars and gourmet restaurants to satisfy foodies. The island has great beaches and stunning mountain ranges and, if golf is your thing, the resorts are world-class. Rent a car and visit the pretty towns of Sóller, with its old-world charm, and Deià, once home to the poet Robert Graves and now a hangout for celebs. Visiting in March? The beach resort of Santa Ponsa has a lively St Patrick’s Day celebration.

Malta

As one of the smallest countries in the world, Malta packs a lot into its tiny size. This former British colony is a fascinating blend of Eastern, European and British cultures, where the language sounds like Arabic, the people speak English and the food is Italian. It’s a perfect Mediterranean mix of culture, sea, sun and over 7,000 years of history, with a character all of its own.

Between January and March, don’t expect summer heat and to be spending days on the beach, but you’ll have some lovely sunny days without the summer crowds. It’s a great time to explore the ancient capital, Valletta, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Eminently walkable, this fortified city is beautiful, especially around sunset when the old stone buildings turn pink in the sun’s glow. History buffs will love the prehistoric temples of Haġar Qim, Mnajdra and Tarxien, the earliest free-standing stone buildings in the world.

Sicily

Much of Italy is chilly in winter and you must head south to feel the sun’s warmth, with the island of Sicily being your best bet. Spring arrives from February onwards, and the areas around the coast from Trapani can be delightful. Sicily’s cities are great off-season, with Palermo, Cefalù, Syracuse and Taormina infinitely less crowded and easier to explore.

One reason to visit Sicily in the winter months is to experience one or more of its festivals. Under an hour from Taormina, the Carnival of Acireale is the most famous in the country and one of Sicily’s most spectacular cultural events. Papier mâché flower floats are paraded throughout the streets, and the city comes alive with light shows, masks, confetti, dancing and music. This event usually takes place from early to mid-February extending into March.

The South of Spain

Winter can be the perfect time to take a city break minus the crowds, and Seville might just be the perfect city to do so. From December to February the average daytime temperatures sit around 16–18 degrees, ideal for exploring the city on foot. Visit the Royal Alcázar palace and the Plaza de España, then eat your way around the tapas bars or take in a flamenco show.

Embark on a road trip to see more of Andalucia, sip sherry in Jerez, watch the sunset in charming Ronda, or fall in love with the region’s capital, Granada, nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Wander the old quarter with its Moorish influence, embodied in the awe-inspiring architecture of the Alhambra. If you can’t leave Spain without a trip to the coast, fly home from Málaga, where a perfect combination of beaches, fashionable shops and cool bars make it a year-round holiday destination.

Plaza de Espana, Seville, Spain

Make it happen

If you’re craving warmer climes, speak to one of our local experts and get planning your next escape – they’ll be on hand to help craft the perfect tailor-made itinerary.

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