Pump up the central heating and turn down your blankets; winter isn’t coming to Europe, it’s very much here and it’s not going away anytime soon. In fact, now the festivities of Christmas are over and you can’t even wear your Christmas jumper anymore, there’s really nothing warm to look forward to for months. Unless, of course, you’re smart enough to escape and head south, which is something I’m thinking of doing. So, I set about doing a little research and a lot of daydreaming and here are the results, my top five favourite places in Europe where I won’t need my winter coat.
credit: Thomas Tolkein
Without comparison, the warmest place to be in Europe during winter months is on one of the Canary Islands. Sitting pretty in the Atlantic, off the coast of West Africa, winter months have nearly 200 hours of sunshine and temperatures are warm enough to sunbathe in. With a wide variety of activities to enjoy on each island, and some quite dramatic scenery and interesting history to explore, the Canary Islands don’t disappoint as a winter holiday destination. Indulge in some luxury on Gran Canaria, ride a camel on Lanzarote, discover Tenerife’s foodie scene or lie on one of Fuertaventura’s white sand beaches. And if you’re not sure which Canary Island is for you, read this post to find out which one is best suited to you and your family.
Another island lost in the Atlantic, Madeira is where many go to escape winter thanks to its mild temperatures and as much as ten hours of sunshine a day in January. A gem worth discovering at any time of year, Madeira is especially great to visit in winter months due to the reduced numbers of visitors and the low cost of living will make it a very affordable trip after your Christmas splurging. The island’s capital, Funchal, is a wonderful mix of modern and historic with a steep sprawling hillside offering magnificent views of the sea and white-walled and red-roofed houses below, but don’t panic, there’s a cable car to facilitate your climb. Away from the city you can find black volcanic sand beaches, the world’s largest laurel forest and some of the best nature treks in Europe. Don’t forget your sun cream!
Island of Crete, Greece
Greece’s largest and most populated island is found deep in the sunshine-happy Mediterranean Sea and promises temperatures that stay well above 15 degrees Celsius. While the locals will consider this to be positively chilly, for visitors from colder climes, it’s the perfect temperature for taking a hike or bike ride through the island’s mountainous landscape – though be warned it will be chillier up there! Alternatively, stick to the south coast, which is the warmest side of the island and here you’ll find it’s warm enough for the local swallows to stay here all year-round rather than flying off to Africa like their northern European cousins, which tells you how mild it can be during winter. In addition to an abundance of beachside restaurants and bars to enjoy sea views, Crete is a great choice for winter-dodging history buffs as the island is considered to the home of the earliest recorded civilisation in Europe and there are several historic sites to explore including ancient Minoan castles and century old churches.
A little further southeast in the Mediterranean and quite a bit warmer, Cyprus is another island worth escaping to during winter. Temperatures can be as warm as 20 degrees Celsius on the coast and having warmed up all summer, the sea is almost as warm too. This should mean it’s comfortable enough to swim around Aphrodite’s Rock near Paphos, an act that is supposed to give your love life a boost! On average, Cyprus has around 180 hours of sunshine in winter months, which is as much as London gets in May! In terms of what you can do while staying on Cyprus – apart from gloating on Facebook about how warm it is – the choice is yours; enjoy fresh seafood in a coastal restaurant, set off on a hiking adventure, take a boat cruise along the Akamas peninsula or get lost in Old Paphos, an area of great archaeological wealth where you can view mosaics dating back to the 2nd Century.
With a similar climate to Cyprus, Malta is one of the Mediterranean’s best kept secrets, often forgotten in winter, which means that the streets of capital city Valletta or the beaches of nearby Gozo, are emptier than during busy summer months. Surround yourself with some of Europe’s finest examples of Baroque and Neo-Classical architecture by staying in a penthouse apartment in Valletta where you’ll have a range of museums and galleries on your doorstep, or enjoy the city’s growing coffee culture, where you can sit – outside, of course! – and watch the world go by. With temperatures dipping in and out of the low twenties, expect sunshine and a blue sky above, perfect a boat trip to the island of Comino’s turquoise waters or head north on the mainland to Popeye’s Village, a colourful collection of houses built for the 1980 Popeye movie, a favourite with children.
Feeling tempted to escape the winter for a warmer European destination? Let me know where you decide to go and if any of these take your fancy you can find a self-catering apartment in all five destinations here – Canary Islands, Madeira, Crete, Cyprus, Malta.
Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat, please put a penny aside… so you can escape the cold and enjoy the festive season in one of these sunnier spot.
Admittedly not a city for a bikini holiday over Christmas, Rome is one European city where sunshine and blue skies are more likely to be unwrapped on Christmas morning than many others. From the Pope’s tour of the Vatican on Christmas Day to ice skating at the Auditorium and Christmas markets in many of Rome’s piazzas, enjoy a traditional Christmas while wearing you most stylish pair of sunglasses and perhaps only one layer of thermals.
Campo dei Fiori – Image © Giulia Mulè
St. Peter’s Square at Christmas – Image © Bruce McAdam
Heading slightly further south we find ourselves in Cyprus, an island where temperatures rarely drop below 18° centigrade in December. Find yourself a spot near the beach for a special stroll along the sand on Christmas morning and explore nearby villages displaying Christmas traditions like hanging crucifixes that are wrapped in basil leaves and eating Christopsomo (Christ Bread), a special sweet bread the baking of which is considered sacred.
Image © disparkys
The predominantly Catholic island of Malta celebrates Christmas in the sun with traditional nativity scenes on display outside churches and houses. The celebrations take place on Christmas Eve, beginning with processions through many neighbourhoods and with most people going to Midnight Mass. In addition to traditional turkey which is often served in a casserole, Maltese festive food include a treacle ring desert and the interesting sounding chestnut and cocoa soup.
Image © Bob Jagendorf
Expect as many as 11 hours of sunshine in Marrakech during December and early January, although temperatures can dip tobelow 10° at night. Mix the hustle and bustle of Marrakech’s key sights like the market at Place Jamma El Fna and the dramatic looking Koutoubia Mosque with some valuable downtime relaxing in traditional Moroccan souks. With Morocco being a predominantly Muslim country you can easily avoid turkey and traditions but still treat yourself to a beautiful meal at one of Marrakech’s finest restaurants.
Image © le calmar
One of Europe’s worst kept secrets for winter suns, Lanzarote is one of the Spanish Canary Islands, which promise year long sun and temperatures warm enough to sunbathe in during December so you could easily spend Christmas Day on the beach here. Lanzarote is more than just a beach bum’s holiday destination; this volcanic island also offers great routes for hiking, cycling and burning off those extra Christmas calories which you can accrue eating local delicacies including Canarian tapas, freshly caught fish and Bienmesable, almond syrup, poured over ice cream.
Image © Paul Holloway
While Florida residents treasure December temperatures for being slightly cooler than the rest of the year, holidaymakers from around the world flock there because they are considerably warmer than other parts of the world during Christmas. For warm seas and a Christmas on the beach, head to the Gulf of Mexico. To experience a multicultural Christmas with a Latino flavour try out Miami and to make every child’s Christmas wish come true, stay in Orlando within striking distance of Disney World.
Image © SpreadTheMagic
Of all the destinations we have listed, Thailand is where you can be most confident of both sunshine and hot temperatures. You can definitely leave the thermals and in fact any full length trousers and T-shirts at home if you’re lucky or wise enough to fly to Thailand to spend Christmas on one of the country’s idyllic islands, in the exciting city of Bangkok or near a beach on the mainland. Locals do their best to help you celebrate Christmas with festive takes on their own fabulous food – turkey green curry, anyone? – and lots of festive cheer brought by Santa hats on the beach and fairy lights keeping you company as you enjoy late, lazy, warm Thai evenings.
Image © jeffgunn