14 Sunny Destinations in Europe to Defrost this Winter

While summer is often seen as the peak vacation season in Europe, there are several winter family vacation options that may still appeal to those who prefer sun over snow.

Be it strolling city streets and ancient sites without the crowds or braving the surf, somewhere here will appeal and help you beat those winter blues at home. You can probably ditch the sunscreen and still need a warm jacket, but here’s what you can expect from the sunniest spots in Europe this winter!

This post is part of our Discover Europe series of inspirational family travel posts

Tips for Winter Travel in Europe

  • Although accommodation in Europe over winter is likely to be cheaper than during the peak summer season, be aware that many smaller villages and tourist areas close up completely in winter, meaning accommodation over prime winter dates – particularly Christmas to New Year – can be scarce; book early!
  • We recommend booking accommodation using online booking tools such as Booking.com with the flexibility to cancel last minute should your circumstances suddenly change.
  • Likewise, we recommend booking tours and attraction tickets using Get Your Guide as they offer last-minute cancellations up to 24 hours in advance, giving you a lot of flexibility in the current ever-changing travel world.
  • Sunny days don’t always mean WARM! For most of the places we recommend, you’ll still want to pack a warm layer and be prepared for occasional rain – see our winter family packing list ideas here.
  • Learn more about the upcoming introduction of ETIAS visa waiver program for non-Schengen visitors to the EU (may be extended now until 2024)
  • Take out travel insurance! It’s more important than ever to think about trip disruptions, cancellations, and delays – look for comprehensive traveller coverage here.

Plot your European path to sun here!

1. Canary Islands, Spain

If you are looking for a low-budget trip in a place with constantly agreeable weather and temperatures, then the Canary Islands is one of the best winter destinations in Europe. Shake off the winter blues and embark on a journey full of rich culture and lots of fun and great adventure in this cluster of Spanish islands, actually closer to Africa than Mainland Europe – but a Spanish territory nonetheless!

There are several islands to choose from for your Canary Islands adventures in the sun, the most popular with families being Tenerife, Gran Canaria, and Lanzarote.

With average maximum temperatures of about 20°C (68°F) and minimum temperatures of about 15°C (59°F), you and your loved ones can play fun games at the beach or simply enjoy winter strolls without your padded coats and scarfs! A tour of the archipelago’s islands and some dolphin spotting will prove to be an educational experience both for adults and for children.

2. The Algarve, Portugal

The Algarve is another top-rated tourist attraction in terms of European winter sun destinations – the southern coast of Portugal experiences over 300 days of sunshine per year!

Thanks to the pleasantly mild winter weather – with daytime temperatures around 16°C (60.8°F) – you can hit some of the best white sand beaches in Europe (though only the brave may actually go swimming in the Atlantic waters mid-winter! Expect water temperatures about the same as the air temperature).

If you are looking for more family-friendly fun, you can go hiking with your kids or take a kayak out into the azure waters to explore the stunning coastline and the famous Benagil Caves.

Rain is infrequent in the Algarve in winter, only around 3 to 4 days a month forecast from December through February. There are several small museums to explore if you do hit a rainy day. The water parks do close mid-winter, but families may still enjoy visiting the Crazy World Zoo or Zoo de Lagos.

3. Madeira, Portugal

Heading into the Atlantic Ocean again, the islands of Madeira can boast of being amongst the most beautiful in Europe at any time of year. With daytime temperatures around 20°C (68°F) and night-time temperatures just above 14°C (57.2°F), Madeira has the ideal climate for people looking to step away from the cold winter and enjoy a much warmer winter.

From relaxing spa sessions at the archipelagos luxury hotels to enjoying nature, there is a diverse range of things you can do in Madeira. Take a stroll through the island’s main towns and explore the architecture and history of the islands. You can also go dolphin watching or simply spend time on the beaches, either sunbathing or hanging out with your family; the sea temperatures mid-winter dip to only 19°C (66°F).

4. Malaga, Spain

Another popular tourist destination during winter, Malaga has a great climate that allows you to have a warm vacation in Europe. The historic city has average winter temperatures of 17°C (62.6°F) to 15°C (59°F) and even during the coldest months, still offers a lot of daily hours of sunshine compared to many other European cities.

Enjoy the beautiful sunshine in Malaga by exploring the city on foot. Step into little food stalls and explore the city’s diverse and exquisite cuisine; Christmas is always a fun time to visit. Enjoy the general beauty of the southern Spanish city with its stunning architecture, or head to some of the zoos and adventure parks along Costa del Sol that remain open throughout the year.

5. Menorca, Spain

Known for its beautiful beaches, rolling hills and generally beautiful landscape, Menorca is a top tourist attraction during winter thanks to its mild temperatures with average highs of 15°C (59°F) and average lows of 12°C (53.6°F).

Take your children on an old-world trip into Ciutadella, the former capital of Menorca. Go shoe shopping in one or two of the many shoe factories that can be found on this island. Visit the S’Albufera des Grau Nature Reserve and take in nature. Learn about the plants and other living things that are native to the area.

Go on guided museum tours to learn more about the history of the island. Also, the beaches provide family-friendly entertainment activities for everyone. Relax and enjoy the warmth of the town. Bond with your family. Recharge your batteries to take on the challenges of the New Year in Menorca!

6. Valletta, Malta

Valletta is a popular destination for people looking to vacation in sunny places in Europe in January. The capital of Malta experiences average winter temperatures ranging between 14°C (57.2°F) and 16°C (60.8°F) allowing for a winter family holiday that combines the best of indoors and out.

Explore inside the 16th-century walls of the city without the crowds, walk the rocks by the sea, explore Saint Paul’s Catacombs and take a day trip over to the beautiful island of Gozo. Valletta is a relaxing and beautiful place for families to explore in the calm of winter.

7. Athens, Greece

Are you looking for an educational vacation for yourself and your family? Athens is one of the best European city breaks in winter for families. With average high temperatures of 16°C (60.8°F) and average low temperatures of 7.3°C (45.14°F) during winter, Athens is warm enough for you to have a pleasurable time exploring the city, unlike the peak days of summer which can be overwhelming with children.

The city is a melting pot of art and history, making it a great educational and family-friendly destination. Visit the Ancient Greek landmarks in the city, visit Acropolis, check out the Acropolis Museum, and witness the guards changing at the Presidential Mansion and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. To make your explorations easier and more enjoyable, join a walking tour that allows you to gradually explore the city on foot.

8. Santorini, Greece

Santorini is a very popular travel destination irrespective of the time of the year. People often go there for romantic getaways and on group tours. However, one of the best times to visit this beautiful island is during the off-season. Since more people go to Santorini during the busy summer months, visiting during winter is cheaper and allows you to enjoy a relaxed holiday without the typical crowds experienced on the small Greek island.

During the winter, Santorini has average high temperatures of 15°C (59°F) and average low temperatures of 12°C (53.6°F). During winter in Santorini, some of the things you can do include creating great visual content of the scenic landscape and amazing sunsets, exploring the island’s historic churches and museums, and dining at some of the island’s best restaurants, which introduce you to amazing Greek cuisine.

Make sure you are staying somewhere with a heated pool, though, if the kids still want to take a winter dip – the Aegean Sea temperature in winter is barely over 20°C.

Find more of the best kids’ activities to enjoy in Santorini here

9. Avignon, France

One of the hottest cities in mainland Europe during the summer, temperatures in Avignon, which range from 15°C (59°F) to 13°C (55.4°F) during winter, are perfect for people who want to have a warmer winter vacation.

This little city, just a train ride away from Paris, is perfect for people looking for a somewhat quiet winter vacation. While this city can offer you the quiet you need, it is not devoid of its attractions. Thanks to its interesting medieval history, the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This means that it has a lot to offer with regard to a rich culture. You can explore all of this on foot, thanks to the size of the city.

Visit the historical Palace of the Popes, home to six Catholic Popes in the 14th Century. Visit the ancient le Pont d’Avignon bridge, which was constructed to help people access the Mediterranean Sea from Lyon. Apart from taking in ancient architecture and visiting historical landmarks, ensure to check out the local cuisine.

10. Azores, Portugal

About 850 miles off the coast of Portugal, this European island is a great winter holiday location with its temperatures ranging from 17/18 °C (63/64 °F) during the day to 11/12 °C (52/53 °F) at night. Azore offers several family-friendly activities during winter.

For a start, you can introduce your kids to the marine world by signing them up for dolphin and whale watching programs that are tailored to teach kids about water bodies and the creatures that live in them. Enjoy the beautiful scenery and landscape of this EU Island while hiking and checking out the waterfalls and crater lakes.

You can also go kayaking as a family and if you’re brave take a dip – though be prepared the water temperatures in mid-winter are around 16°C (61°F)

11. Côte d’Azur, France

If there is anything France is popular for, it is that depending on the location, you can get whatever kind of winter you desire. France has something for you, from perfect locations to take advantage of the snow and go skiing to destinations that allow you to enjoy the best of the winter sun. Côte d’Azur , also known as the French Riviera, is one such destination where you can enjoy the winter sun, with its average temperatures ranging from low 13°C (55.4°F) to high 15°C (59°F) during winter.

There are so many things you can do in Côte d’Azur during the winter. Explore the beautiful villages that make up the area. Visit culturally relevant towns like Venice, Grasse and Cannes. Most of these cities have been able to maintain their old-world charm through preserved architectural structures and museums. Learn about their history and the roles they have played in the development of France as it is today.

You can also visit Nice to catch great views of the Mediterranean Sea. There are many festivals you can also partake in during winter here, including the Nice Carnival and the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo.

12. Limassol, Cyprus

Limassol has fast become a popular destination for sunny holidays during winter. This warm travel destination in Cyprus is sunny irrespective of the season. With temperatures ranging between 22–23 °C (71.6–73.4 °F) during the day and 12–14 °C (53.6–57.2 °F) at night, its one of the warmest places for vacationing in Europe during winter. Due to its central location, Limassol is also a great place for exploring the whole island of Cyprus.

Take in the scenic landscapes, sunbathe on any of the island’s lovely beaches and even swim in the sea – it’s probably the warmest sea water you’ll find in Europe in January (19°C/66°F)! If that’s still too chilly for your liking, try hitting the water by boat instead. It’s easy to reach Limassol from Larnaca, a wonderfully scenic drive.

13. Sardinia, Italy

A winter trip to Sardinia provides an amazing opportunity for you to share in the joys of experiencing a new country and culture with your children. The perfect weather, with average daytime temperatures of around 12°C (53.6°F) and night temperatures of around 8°C  (46.4°F), there is a long list of things you can do in Sardinia.

On your Sardinia itinerary with kids, we’d include a visit to the famous Acquario di Cala Gonone to see the different types of sea creatures native to the area. It may be a little too cold for enjoying the beautiful beaches, but you can still spend time outdoors in the local parks in the area, or go on a guided tour of the caves and grottos, and explore the local cuisine (did someone say pizza and pasta!)

14. Crete, Greece

Last but not least, we couldn’t leave it off our list, Crete. Nestled in the heart of the Meditteranean, mid-winter sees temperatures dip as low as 11C in mid-winter, although days are generally crisp and sunny. Don’t be surprised, though. There’s a big variance between the coast and the snow-capped mountains, all on one island!

It is the off-peak season for this busy seaside destination, but it doesn’t mean things close down completely. It’s not exactly sunbathing time – though surfers with wetsuits might still be brave enough to take a dip. Crete in winter is great for visiting the popular museums and archaeological sites without the crowds (and even the opportunity to see these sites for free!)

We hope you’ve found a European city break to suit your sunshine needs!

Helpful? Save this to Pinterest for future winter inspiration!

A collage of towns and places in europe that are sunny in the European Winter
A collage of pretty towns and beaches in Europe that are sunny in winter

Looking for more inspiration?

Whether it’s a winter break you seek or more European ideas, why not try next:

Or if you’re looking on the other side of the pond, check out these fabulous winter vacation ideas in the USA.

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