Warmest winter destinations in Europe

As the rain lashes down your windowpane and the thought of central heating prices make you shiver, the desire to get away to somewhere warmer is a natural instinct. This winter you do not necessarily have to travel long haul in order to find sunshine and higher temperatures for that much needed break. Instead, you may be able to find your dream destination in Europe (and a little beyond) meaning no need for jet lag or tiring flights before you can put on your shades, remove your jacket and bask in a little winter sun. We have picked eight of the warmest places in Europe where you could book a break and are less than 4 hours’ flight time away.

Perfect Portugal

Portugal, and more specifically the Algarve, is often seen as a summer destination, but the winter is also a beautiful time to visit this sun-kissed land. The ocean water may be colder but the weather rarely turns too bad and the lower temperatures give you the chance to explore inland and visit the places you didn't have time to see when the golden sands beckoned. Yes, there is more chance of rain, but temperatures can rise to as far as 20°C. That means resorts such as Albuefeira and Lagos can be enjoyed without the crowds and you may even be able to bask in a little bit of beach action.

Even if you do spend some tanning time by the sea, don't forget to go exploring. The main cities of Lisbon and Portugal offer endless cultural opportunities and the food tastes just as good in December as it does in July. Other destinations such as the Northern town of Sintra delight with fairytale architecture and a historic past.

In short, you will get sun and sea if you want it and plenty of things to do during the colder days in Portugal. We recommend November as your premium month.

Why not go to Greece?

Greece has so much to offer in the winter months, particularly as it is one of Europe's main treasure houses for the classical period. You can spend days in Athens seeing the sights such The Acropolis with fewer crowds to contend with. But you could also explore the cafe culture or take a short trip out of town to explore the astonishing monasteries stacked on top of cliff edges in Meteora.

Island life in Greece is still very viable in the country at this time. Crete in particular is one of the warmest places to be in the winter. At its worst you could enjoy 5 hours of sun a day (and an average temperature of 17°C). That is almost five times more rays than you will catch in an average British town in December. Amazing islands such as Kefalonia still look gorgeous in the later months for a romantic holiday. In fact the colder conditions can add to the scenic drama and your holiday photographs could reach the next level.

Do not expect to go swimming for too long but do expect the welcoming culture, delicious food and amazing natural sights to still be there. Take a look at the calendar and catch a winter festival. Go skiing in the Peloponnese for a real ‘I've been there’ experience. Spend New Year's Day eating Souvlaki on the beach while looking out over the endless blue sea.

Italian magic

Italy as a whole can be recommended during the winter for those not looking to laze on a beach, But for that extra burst of sun, and a certain something special, Sicily is well worth booking when it comes up to using your remaining holidays. Being so close to Africa means that the heat levels hold up very well. Even in its coldest month of February the average temperature is around 9°C Head to the East coast of Sicily and Catania which has more hours of sunshine than any other city in Europe.

As with many winter sun holidays the lack of tourists means you get to fully enjoy the stunning historic ruins to be found across the island such as Agrigento's Concordia temple. Some sites may have different hours or be closed for restoration but check in advance and you will see there is still plenty to do, Sicilian food is delicious 24/7/365 and you will also get to taste some of the dishes that are put on hold when the weather is too hot. December is a recommended month to visit: street markets are bustling and a city like Palermo is always fun and colourful in the run up to the Christmas holidays.

The charms of Malta

There is something familiarly British about Malta except the weather in winter. One of the warmest and sunniest places in Europe during the colder months (300 days of sunshine a year) the island does not just offer a break from the cold but also a huge amount of places to explore including museums, historic fortresses and churches. It can feel like you are on a film set. Indeed, Malta has often been used by Hollywood for epic dramas such as Gladiator. The local food – a traditional home-cooked style cuisine – also hits the spot in the colder months of the year and there are plenty of restaurants where you can experiment with different dishes.

Fewer crowds means it is easier to enjoy simple pleasures such as coffee and pastizzi at a cafe while watching the world go by. We particularly recommend Valletta as a place to visit for this pleasure, the 2018 European City of Culture. You can also take a day trip to Gozo where the beaches are empty, unique sites can be explored and a cultural calendar will entertain you with ballet, music and theatre. If you visit Malta in mid-February then the carnival begins before Ash Wednesday. Expect plenty of colour and music flowing through the streets and invitations to fancy dress parties.

Spanish retreat

There is a reason why so many Brits retire to Spain - it offers great weather all year round. The further down the map you go the better the weather, but in general you can expect a pleasant, mild experience everywhere you go. Malaga, Almeria and Murcia are recommended for sun lovers but so is Marbella, the site of the new Club Med resort opening in 2022. Away from Marbella itself, Andalusia’s food, landscapes and unique cultural heritage work as well in the winter as the summer. Elsewhere, Barcelona not only offers bright days but is packed with cultural experiences and tapas restaurants where you will happily munch the day away while avoiding the occasional spot of bad weather.

Golfers should head for the Costa Del Sol where there are few better places to enjoy 18 holes when there is snow on the ground elsewhere in Europe. Spain takes Christmas joyously seriously which means December is a brilliant time to visit the country to take part in celebrations that usually involve a lot of food and wine. Seville is another ideal city break and boasts plenty of year round good weather. Its architecture is stunning, its monuments remarkable and the food can be untouchable.

Sizzling Cyprus

Cyprus is a classic summer destination for millions of British people but less so in the winter when it really deserves more attention. Close proximity to the edge of the Middle Eastern Coast means that it is very unEuropean in its temperatures. If you buy a long coat for your winter holiday do not expect to get much use out of it. Local cuisine such as mezze and halloumi are still to be relished from one of the island’s many fine restaurants.

When you arrive in the winter, everything good about Cyprus is still in place including stunning beaches and a wide array of ruins with famous attractions such as Paphos Castle and the Tombs of the Kings open for business. There are many good walking trails to be followed leading through mountains and thick forests where ancient monasteries suddenly appear in a clearing. A boat ride is also recommended and a walk on the beach could involve an encounter with one of the loggerhead turtles who come to the island to nest at this time of the year.

Feel out of this world

Technically in Africa, we have included Marrakech on this list as it only involves a flight of under four hours making it easily accessible without a long haul. If you want to be taken away from the humdrum experience of a January day in your normal life then this is an ideal destination. From the busy souks to the zen-like medinas, everything feels otherworldly in Morocco. During the winter, temperatures can still rise to around 20°C but that means you can take a stroll around the sights without breaking sweat as you do in the summer. It does get a little cold in the evening due to the pure, blue skies, so bring a jumper.

Make the most of your holiday at the luxury Club Med where you can enjoy tranquil courtyards, scented gardens and a warm welcome. This is a great base for many other activities such as games of golf, mountain exploration, garden walks or tasting refined Moroccan cuisine. It truly is a winter sun break different from any other.

Islands in the sun

You can rely on the Canary Islands for winter sun and warmth. Lanzarote in particular is not only a great place to party but an island of amazing natural beauty. The lava fields look even more stunning in the winter and it can feel like you have the whole island to yourself at times. Although it is quieter, everything stays open all year round.

However, you have even more choice than this one destination and places such as Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gomera and Gran Canaria all offer something different depending on what you are looking for in a holiday. It is worth noting that Gran Canaria is the warmest of all the islands in the winter, and arguably the best looking. Fuerteventura has 93 miles of unspoiled beaches to explore.

Turkey getaway

As a country with both historical and cultural riches to enjoy, Turkey is definitely front and centre for any European winter break. You could experience as much as 17°C in December and, although rain is not unknown, sunshine and blue skies are often guaranteed. Like many countries on this list, winter is a great time to visit the sites that are not all overrun with tourists. Ancient statues, caves and ruins abound in this marvellous country and for the history buff it is a true paradise.

For the general tourist there is plenty going on, for example a Christmas party next to the castle in Bodrum or the local Sucuk & Wine Festival in February. You can stay warm in places such as the Antalya Archaeological Museum, which is included in our list of the best things to do in Antalya, or a world class aquarium with an ice museum and its very own snowfall. Turkey is not just for December 25th.

Find out more about winter sun locations in Europe and the best places to go ski-ing in good weather.