The best winter-sun destinations in Europe

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The Thai islands or Bali may be more synonymous with scorching-hot beaches in January, but with the current travel restrictions and UK quarantine rules in place, this season we’re going to have to get creative when it comes to soaking up some winter sun. Thankfully, however, there are alternatives – parts of Europe that are unlikely to have you sunbathing, but should supply you with enough vitamin D to see you through to March. And some of these destinations are currently safe to travel to right now from the UK.

  • The best winter-sun destinations in Europe

    Canary Islands

    Best for: dyed-in-the-wool sun seekers


    December temperature range: 11–21°C

    In summer, the breeze that hits Lanzarote and Fuerteventura is blessed relief from the intense heat and a major draw for windsurfers. In winter, said breeze brings with it a bit of a chill, so you’re better off heading to Tenerife or Gran Canaria. The former has made great strides repositioning itself as a cultural hub with a new art gallery designed by Swiss firm Herzog and de Meuron and Santiago Calatrava’s concert hall in Santa Cruz. And the latter has plenty of charm beyond the overdeveloped tourist spots. The capital, Las Palmas, has a lively food scene and one of the islands’ best boutique hotels, Bed and Chic. And the landscape, particularly around village Artenara, is manna for hikers. Flights to both islands from London are under four and a half hours.

    Luxury travel guide Canary Islands, Spain

    Travel Guide To Canary Islands

  • The best winter-sun destinations in Europe

    ATHENS, GREECE

    Status: UK travellers must self-isolate for 14 days upon return to the UK if their trip has included visits to Mykonos or Crete. Travel to the rest of Greece is exempt from quarantine.


    Best for: culture seekers


    December temperature range: 9-15°C

    Perhaps surprisingly, the Greek capital stays much warmer than many places on the country’s salty-aired coastline once winter rolls in. All the better for those who want a slice of sunshine without being marooned on a beach somewhere. Athens is a classic city-break destination, but an influx of artists, chefs and hoteliers over the past few years means the quirky neighbourhoods and must-visit restaurants are now as much a draw as the big-hitting sites. Stay at sweet guesthouse the Alice Inn, which has four bedrooms stuffed with vintage trinkets and local art, in the old town, Plaka. Spend days exploring the many museums, libraries and galleries – we particularly like the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, which is home to the National Library of Greece, the Greek National Opera and a 42-acre park.

    Things to do in Athens, Greece

    The ultimate guide to Athens, Greece

  • The best winter-sun destinations in Europe

    The Greek Islands

    Status: As of 10 October, UK travellers must self-isolate for 14-days upon return to the UK if visiting Mykonos and Crete. Travel to the rest of Greece is exempt from quarantine.


    Best for: open-water swimmers


    December temperature range: depending on which island you’re on, temperatures range from 12–17°C

    The gorgeous Aegean is surely the loveliest of Europe’s seas and the water off many of the Cyclades, such as Paros, Santorini and Milos, is still tolerable in winter, making it a year-round destination for swimmers. In places like Santorini, visiting in the off-season means you can explore the picturesque vistas without the crowds, while Rhodes is known to have clear blue skies and warm temperatures well into winter. On Paros, stay at Parīlio, recently named one of our best new Greek Islands hotels, with guestrooms set around a pool and an absolutely steal for the price (about £190 for a double room).

    Why winter is the perfect time to visit Santorini

    Why winter is the perfect time to visit Santorini

  • The best winter-sun destinations in Europe

    Madeira

    Status: Madeira can be visited by travellers from England, Wales and Northern Ireland without having to self-isolate for 14-days. Upon arrival, travellers are offered a free Covid-19 test or can supply their own negative Covid-19 test carried out in the UK no more than 72 hours before travel.


    Best for: thrill-seekers (but still good for pensioners, too)


    December temperature range: 15 – 20°C

    The long-time destination of choice for Britain’s blue-rinse brigade, staid old Madeira has been busy reinventing itself as a place for adrenaline-fueled adventure. And why not? The island is an outdoor Eden in miniature, with black-sand beaches, tumbling canyons and epic rock faces. Which means great mountain biking and wonderful views for those who dare to go paragliding. The network of levadas (water-irrigation channels carved into the volcanic island) makes for thrilling trail running. It is also, as far as we know, the only place to offer year-round urban tobogganing in wicker sleds, which are steered downhill at great speed.

  • The best winter-sun destinations in Europe

    The Azores

    Status: The Azores can be visited by travellers from England, Wales and Northern Ireland without having to self-isolate for 14-days. Upon arrival, travellers must supply a negative covid-19 test carried out no more than 72 hours before travel.


    Best for: eco-conscious adventurers


    December temperature range: 13–18°C

    You might think that including the Azores is stretching the definition of Europe to breaking point, but the Atlantic archipelago is actually about five hours from London. And, in any case, they’re not your typical isolated island group. For starters, it’s never that hot here, even in summer. People don’t visit to laze on the beach Maldives-style. They come because it’s a natural nirvana, rich in wildlife, full of rugged, dramatic craters and caverns, hot springs and lush forests. All of which are being sustainably managed: only 5 per cent of the land is developed and the islands are dotted with marine conservation parks. Stay at Santa Barbara Eco-Beach or the similarly green-minded Sete Cidades Lake Lodge, both on São Miguel.

    Azores islands – things to do and places to stay in São Miguel

    The Azores – Europe’s most exotic islands

  • The best winter-sun destinations in Europe

    Winter-sun destinations not exempt from UK quarantine rules

    Malta

    Best for: design buffs and hotel obsessives


    December temperature range: 11–17°C

    Its frankly ridiculous 300 days of sunshine a year would be the standout selling point for most islands of Malta’s size, but the understated Mediterranean gem is also a history-soaked gastronomic hub, packed with first-class hotels and surrounded by some of the world’s best diving sites. Visit in winter for a weekend exploring striking Valletta, the ancient capital that’s had a bit of a revival of late, converting some of its gorgeous townhouses into excellent design hotels. The restaurant scene is thriving, too. Head to Panorama at the British Hotel in Valletta or Barracuda near the Sliema coast for a taste of traditional Mediterranean food.

    Cool new things in Malta

    Cool new things in Malta

  • The best winter-sun destinations in Europe

    Cyprus

    Status: Travellers from the UK must supply a negative covid-19 test carried out no more than 72 hours before travelling in order to enter Cyprus. Upon return to the UK travellers do not need to quarantine.


    Best for: nature lovers


    December temperature range: 10–19°C

    It’s easy to forget that Cyprus is only about 130 miles off the coast of Lebanon. And, unsurprisingly, its winter temperatures run closer to those of the Levant than much of continental Europe, which means T-shirt weather during the off season. The seaside city of Paphos is a brilliant base for exploring the island. Stay at Almyra design hotel (the chef is a Nobu alumnus), and visit the city’s ancient ruins. In the north are some of the island’s prettiest beaches, where loggerhead and green turtles come to nest, along with the beachside Anassa hotel, located a short boat ride away from the Blue Lagoon. Winter is also a great time to go hiking in Cyprus’s dense forests, where you can stumble across fascinating Byzantine monasteries.

    Cyprus insider guide

    Cyprus – an insider guide

  • The best winter-sun destinations in Europe

    Sicily

    Best for: adventurous foodies


    December temperature range: 11–17°C

    Italy’s southernmost island is closer to Tunis than Rome and has winter weather to match. Visiting at this time of year allows you to get up close to Sicily’s incredible historic spaces such as the Temple of Concordia in Agrigento, which is reliably overrun in high season. Stay at Verdura Golf and Spa in Sciacca with the family or, for a romantic break, head to off the beaten track to baroque town Noto, with its boutique hotels. With a distinct food culture, Sicily has gastronomic delights beyond summer’s glut of glorious fruit and veg – visit in February to experience the sea urchin season in full swing.

  • The best winter-sun destinations in Europe

    Antalya

    Best for: stop-and-flop and families


    December temperature range: 10–16°C

    Straddling two continents, Turkey’s enormous landmass is diverse enough to justify its nickname: the land of four seasons. For winter sun, the best part of the country to visit is, predictably, the south coast, particularly the area around Antalya. There’s a long stretch of fairly upmarket hotels to the west of the city, many of which are family-friendly entertainment retreats in their own right, with golf courses and adventure playgrounds beside the beach. On Turkey’s wilder south-west coast, there’s the pretty city of Bodrum and lovely Didyma with its astonishing ruined temple.

    10 things for families to do in Antalya and Bodrum

    10 things for families to do in Antalya and Bodrum

  • The best winter-sun destinations in Europe

    The Algarve

    Best for: getting away from it all


    December temperature range: 9–18°C

    Continental Europe’s most south-western region has its own sunny microclimate that makes it consistently warmer than the rest of Portugal. You won’t be in a bikini in winter, but the pleasant T-shirt temperatures mean that an increasing number of hotels and restaurants stay open year-round, and cities such as Albufeira retain a buzz. Away from the package tourist haunts, there are dramatic red-cliff coastlines and Moorish villages dotted among the hills to explore. Stay at airy Casa Mãe in Lagos.

    Algarve, Portugal

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