Many travellers prefer warm, sunny places for a winter holiday. For Europeans, this often means visiting mid or long-haul destinations like Dubai, Morocco and Australia. But not everyone has the time or money to travel far for winter holidays in the sun.
It’s not particularly sustainable, either. It’s more eco-friendly travelling closer to home, taking the train or other public transport where possible.
Winter Sun Holidays 2023
The question is, where can you take a winter sun holiday in Europe this season?
There are more options than you might think. Sure, you won’t find many winter destinations with temperatures in the mid-20s or higher, but there are definitely places where the sun is shining and only a handful of rainy days per month.
The obvious answer on where to go is southern Europe. A short break on the Mediterranean is a quick and easy way to get away from bleak wintry conditions at home and depending on where you live, you should be able to take the train or drive if you prefer.
So southern Europe is a great choice for a sunny winter break, but that still leaves a lot of options.
When I was travelling long term, I spent most of my European winters in warmer places like Spain, France, Croatia and Albania.
Below I’ve listed those I’ve found to be the best winter sun holidays in Europe. I’ve included where to go in December, January and February. Plus, I’ve made specific suggestions for Christmas and New Year.
Where to go on holiday in December
I recommend one of the following cities for a warmer December or Christmas holiday in the sun.
- Rome, Italy – Rome has relatively mild winter weather giving you ample opportunities to walk around the historic centre and sights like the Roman Forum and the Trevi Fountain. While alfresco dining might be out of the question, you can take advantage of visiting at a quiet time of the year, relaxing at a cafe window seat directly on famous squares like Piazza Navona and Piazza di Spagna.
- Marseille, France – Marseille is one of those cities with crisp, cool winter air and sunny skies practically all winter long. It’s an interesting port city with a unique blend of cultures, reflected in the delicious Marseillaise cuisine. The city is reachable on the high-speed TGV train from the north of France.
- Kotor, Montenegro – If you prefer to get off the beaten path, Kotor has one of the most stunning natural landscapes in the Balkans and during December, you’ll be one of the few tourists to experience the city. This historic city is protected from the weather thanks to its location on the beautiful Bay of Kotor. Make sure you walk up to the fortress for sunrise or sunset. Look for cheap flights to Tivat or across the border in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Where to go on holiday in January
If you would prefer a January holiday in Europe, start looking as far south as possible if you want some winter sun.
- Sicily, Italy – Southern Italy is very different from the north, especially in Sicily. The food and lifestyle are more relaxed and warm, and prices are ideal if you’re looking for a cheap January holiday. Catania is one of Sicily’s most visited areas, but you might also consider visiting Palermo, Syracuse, Taormina or smaller cities like Cefalu or Messina.
- Perpignan, France – France’s southern coast has some peaceful winter sun destinations, especially along the southwest coast from Perpignan to Montpellier. There are opportunities for winter hiking or sunny beach walks if it’s not too windy while you’re there. From Perpignan, you could take a day trip to medieval Carcassonne, an incredible walled city, or cross the border into Spain to visit the Dali Museum in Figueres or the coastal town Cadaques.
- Lisbon, Portugal – While the weather is definitely warmer in southern Portugal, there is so much more to do in Lisbon. It’s one of Europe’s great cities with the perfect mix of historic sights, nightlife, shopping and incredible cuisine. It’s affordable, lively and packed with events all year round, even in winter.
Where to go on holiday in February
February holidays in Europe are for the brave! In February, you’ll likely face the bitter cold, rain and maybe even snow. This is really the time to go further away to places like the Canary Islands, Cyprus or Malta.
Christmas Holidays in the Sun
If you want to visit the warmer Christmas markets, you’ll have to look at destinations not typically known for their Christmas celebrations yet still have annual markets.
- Zadar, Croatia – The small coastal city of Zadar is known for its sunsets and musical water organ. It’s a beautiful, quiet place in winter with a small Christmas market which only started a few years ago. It’s not the easiest place to get to as there are no trains from Zagreb, only the bus, but that means most people in Zadar during winter are locals or a few slow-travelling tourists. The upside is the food is amazing, the sunsets over the islands are incredible, the Croatian coast is relatively warm in winter and it’s a cheap winter destination.
- Nice, France – The southern coast of France has some of the lowest winter rainfall in Europe. If you visit Nice at Christmas, it’s highly likely you’ll have sunshine and the possibility of warm(er) days, perfect for walking around the Christmas markets or along the Promenade des Anglais. There are regular fast trains to Nice.
- Genoa, Italy – Italy’s northern cities have the best Christmas markets in the country and Genoa has one of the biggest. The historic centre of Genoa is decorated with Christmas lights and Piazza Caricamento is transformed into a medieval village with market stalls and artisan traders.
New Years Holidays in the Sun
Finding a sunny European destination for New Year’s isn’t easy. I would suggest a bigger city known for its nightlife and events in southern Europe.
- Barcelona, Spain – A great city which never stops, Barcelona at New Years is a little crazy but loads of fun. Barcelona is often warm and sunny, and when the weather isn’t great, you can head indoors to eat and drink cava or visit one of the city’s famous museums or exhibitions.
- Ibiza, Spain – One of the most well-known party destinations in Europe, Ibiza is huge in summer but still popular, if not a little more laid back in winter.
- Athens, Greece – Athens will almost certainly be sunny for New Years. Many events will keep you occupied or enjoy New Year’s dining on delicious Greek food and ouzo.
Long Stay Breaks
If you have plenty of free time and the budget to go with it or are location independent, then you have the luxury of travelling slowly and choosing a long stay winter holiday into 2023.
I’d recommend a quiet, low-cost destination for this type of long-stay holiday.
- Costa Brava, Spain – There are many small resort towns on the Costa Brava that mostly close down for winter except for a few long-term residents. You can often find great deals on apartments over winter as these would otherwise be empty.
- Tirana, Albania – Tirana is absolutely full of low-cost apartments for rent. The city is lively all year round, even in winter, and is warmer than most capitals in the Balkans. Tirana is a vibrant, dynamic city with so many things to do in winter. It’s a great long-stay destination.
- Dubrovnik, Croatia – Dubrovnik has some of the cleanest, freshest air in the Mediterranean. The city is extremely quiet in the off-season, but you can still experience the Winter Festival and other regional events. The Dalmatian coast is so peaceful in winter, I highly recommend it.
Responsible Winter Travel
Many of us are increasingly concerned about climate change and sustainability. Here are some ideas for how we can travel more responsibly this winter in Europe:
- Look for locally-owned accommodations that use renewable energy sources and implement energy conservation measures.
- Use public transportation to get around the destination. Walk or bike whenever possible to reduce your carbon emissions.
- Reduce food waste by only ordering what you need and finding ways to use up leftovers.
- Consider opting for a sustainable diet while travelling, such as choosing locally-grown and organic foods and avoiding overconsumption of meat and dairy products.
- Support local businesses and communities by choosing locally-led tours and activities.
- Avoid flying and instead choose alternative modes of transportation, such as trains or buses, which have a lower carbon footprint.
By following these guidelines, you can help reduce your impact on the environment and support sustainable tourism practices while travelling in Europe during the winter season. Please share your sustainability tips in the comments.
Of course, you’ll have warmer weather further afield, but if you want to spend your holidays in Europe, there are some great sunny opportunities.
For more Europe inspiration, this post lists the best places to visit in Europe and where to go at specific times of the year. Or head to the Rearview Mirror home page to search destinations.
If you want to spend your winter holidays in Europe, then I suggest visiting southern Spain, Portugal and France or heading to Croatia for somewhere different this year.
Europe in winter is a great time to travel if you like to avoid the crowds and potentially have a cheaper holiday.
Southern European destinations are usually warmer, especially if you’re happy to go to the islands like the Canary Islands or Cyprus.
Recommendations are independently chosen based on personal travel experiences and extensive research. This post contains affiliate links to hotels in Europe. This means I get a small commission from any bookings at no extra cost to you.