The nights may be drawing in and the days may be getting colder, but thankfully there are plenty of sunny city break destinations in southern that make an appealing quick getaway this time of year.
Beach time might be slightly out of reach – although read my Ultimate Europe Winter Sun Guide if you want the best chances of hitting the beach in Europe. But it’s arguably the best time of year to enjoy many of Europe’s historic cities – without the crazy summer crowds and sweltering heat. The winter light is beautiful, the prices are lower, and there are no queues for attractions. And – to hardy northerners at least – it’s still T-shirt weather in much of southern Europe.
So to maximise your chances of days spent exploring in crisp sunshine, here are 10 of Europe’s warmest and sunniest city breaks in winter.
The city of Malaga in southern Spain is known best for being the gateway to the crazy popular stretch of coastline known as the Costa del Sol. Many visitors to the area bypass the city entirely, or just nip in for a day trip. But winter flights are cheap and Malaga makes for a great mini-break destination – just enough time to take in the city’s historic quarter and old Moorish architecture, the Picasso Museum, and its buzzing tapas and bar scene.
Winter daytime temperatures can run as high as 20°C/68°F, and February sees 7 average daily hours of sunshine.
Sicily’s alluring capital is a city full of life – and a feast for history lovers and foodies. Its UNESCO-listed Arab-Norman buildings are the main focus, but visitors will be just as interested in exploring its famously rowdy food markets and sprawling old quarters in various levels of repair (Palermo was bombed heavily during WWII). Top it off with a performance at the Teatro Massimo opera house – ticket prices are kept low.
Palermo only sees 4-6 average daily hours of sunshine however it has one of the mildest climates in Europe with daily highs of 16°C/61°F and lows of 11°C/52°F.
Winter is the perfect time to take in Athens’ glorious ancient sites. Crowds visiting the Acropolis and other ancient sites have thinned right out, making for a much more pleasant experience – especially when you don’t have to climb the hill in the hot midday sun. Day trips to further afield sites such as Delphi, Mycenae, and Epidaurus are easily organised. And the city’s cosy tavernas are alive with traditional music in the evening.
Snowfall occasionally occurs and daylight hours are short, but the climate is dry so it’s more likely that you’ll have crisp sunshine for your explorations (though brief downpours are possible). Expect daily highs of 15°/59° and lows of 7°/45°.
The Andalucian city of Granada is another that benefits from thinning crowds in the winter. The glorious 9th century Moorish Alhambra Palace is the most visited tourist attraction in all of Spain – attracting up to 6000 visitors a day. It can be hard to score a ticket in high summer if you don’t book far in advance.
Visit in winter, though, and you won’t be disturbed by coachloads of tourists that are bussed in from the nearby beach resorts. Granada is a student city with an excellent free tapas tradition, and the historic quarters of Albayzín and Sacromonte are at their most atmospheric in the nippy winter sunshine.
Winter temperatures are cool (and nighttimes cold) due to its elevated position but it sees 5-7 average daily hours of sunshine. November sees highs of 15°/59°.
Portugal’s Algarve is primarily known as a summer destination – but it’s also a popular winter getaway for European snowbirds. It’s easy to while away a day or two in the cobbled whitewashed streets of Faro’s old town, and its a great base for exploring the less developed areas of the Algarve (Tavira and Olhao make good day trips). The area’s coastline makes for wonderful winter walks.
Faro sees 5-6 hours of sunshine a day over the winter, with highs of 17°C/63°F. Just watch out for surprise downpours.
SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE
If you’re in search of more reliable winter weather then Spain’s Canary Islands are always a good option. As with the rest of the Canaries, Tenerife is known primarily as a beach destination and its capital Santa Cruz doesn’t immediately spring to mind when you think of city breaks.
But Santa Cruz is a city of surprises, it has a colourful and character-packed historic quarter with fab food, great museums, and lively nightlife – February brings Spain’s biggest carnival to town. And the northeast of the island is easily the most beautiful with its lush mountains and black sand beaches.
The winter months on Tenerife see highs of 23°C/73°F and lows of 16°C/61°F.
The island nation of Malta occupies a prime southerly position in the Mediterranean, which can only mean mild winters. Capital city Valletta is a honey-hued UNESCO World Heritage-listed delight and was European Capital of Culture in 2018. As well as the baroque architecture, it’s home to some fine art galleries and museums, upmarket restaurants, and a thriving cultural scene.
Valletta sees daytime highs of 18°C64°F, with 5-7 average daily sunshine hours and occasional storms.
PALMA DE MALLORCA
The Mediterranean island of Mallorca is one of the best spots in Europe for sunshine hours over winter, seeing an average of 6 hours most months. Capital city Palma is prime city break territory – cheap and frequent flights, atmospheric historic streets, modern art galleries, a great shopping, and wonderful food. The months of January and February also bring the annual almond blossom, adding even more appeal to the island’s hikes and stone villages.
Daytime temperatures can reach 17°/63°F but nights can drop to 5°C/41°F.
Seville is always an appealing prospect in the winter with its vibrant culture, ornate palaces, and steaming mugs of hot chocolate served with churros. Enjoy the city’s Moorish legacy (also a priority for Game of Thrones fans) at the Real Alcazar and follow it up with a flamenco show. A food tour will help you make the most of the city’s tapas scene and markets. And don’t miss the iconic Metropol Parasol, otherwise known as the Mushrooms for its organic wooden shape.
This Spanish city gets an average of 6 hours of daily sunshine over the winter, with daytime highs of 17°C/63°F.
Spain’s third city Valencia is often overlooked as a winter destination, but it has one of the best winter climates in Europe with lots of sunshine and few showers (most of the rain falls in the autumn months). This likeable city is known for its paella, innovative modern architecture, baroque backstreets, and buzzy cultural life.
Valencia has a stonking number of sunshine hours for a European winter – up to 8 hours a day. The average rainfall is less than half of comparable destinations on mainland Europe. It’s not quite beach weather though – temperatures can reach highs of 16°C/61°F but lows can hit a nippy 4°C/39°F.
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Seville: © emperorcosar / Shutterstock
Malaga: © Valery Bareta / Shutterstock
Palermo: ©The Mediterranean Traveller
Athens: © The Mediterranean Traveller
Granada: © Madrugada Verde / Shutterstock
Faro: © Paolo Querci / Shutterstock
Santa Cruz de Tenerife: © mukilp22 / Adobe Stock
Valletta: The Mediterranean Traveller
Palma: © Allard One / Shutterstock
Valencia: © lunamarina / Shutterstock