If a white Christmas is the last thing on your wish list this winter, look no further than the archipelagos and seaside cities of the Mediterranean. While most of Europe is predicted to have a repeat of last year’s record setting winter, travellers will be glad to shed the layers and soak in the sun further south. Here are 11 cities that promise to be the warmest places in Europe for winter travellers.
1. Lanzarote, Canary Islands
With 19°C daily highs Lanzarote is one of the warmest places in Europe and with the biggest waves of the year rolling in during November and December, conditions are ideal to grab a surfboard and catch a wave.
When you turn your attention inland, you’ll be met by a stunning display of volcanic features from geysers and red rock stretches of Timanfaya National Park to Cueva de los Verdes, one of the longest volcanic caves in the world, stretching 8 km and reaching into the sea. Nearly 2 km of the cave are open for tours.
2. Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory
A literal point of contention for centuries, Gibraltar has been under the control of the Moors, the Spanish, and now the British. Each of these have left their mark to give the isthmus a unique culture of its own.
At a comfortable 17°C in December, the weather is perfect to hike the Rock of Gibraltar – or take the cable car (no judgement!) Alternatively, get a subterranean view of the rock at St. Michael’s Cave, which has been used as a 600-person concert venue since the 1960.
3. Palermo, Italy
The ancient Romans believed there were four gods of the wind, one for each direction. But the only wind modern travellers to Palermo need to be concerned with is the Sirocco wind that carries hot air from Africa year-round, helping to keep Palermo at a comfortable 16°C throughout the winter.
Palermo in the winter promises a more authentic experience than that of the tourist-saturated summers. Wander the streets of ancient ruins, baroque churches, and impressive plazas. Look for tasty seasonal foods that the summer tourists miss altogether – like sea urchin, the star ingredient in many February pastas.
4. Seville, Spain
Seville has received such high praise, winning the title of “Europe’s greatest city in winter” and it isn’t hard to see how it earned this reputation. With mild temperatures hovering around 17°C and the deceivingly sweet smell of Seville’s famous bitter marmalade oranges in the air, Seville’s winters offer more sunshine than some northern European countries’ summers.
Experience the Real Alcázar de Sevilla, a palace that dates back to the height of the Moorish rule of Spain and now welcomes guests year-round, and then join the locals outdoors in the plazas that punctuate the city for tapas and flamenco bars.
5. Valencia, Spain
A six-hour drive north east from Seville, Valencia shares the mild winters enjoyed throughout much of the southern Iberian Peninsula. Temperatures are usually around 17°C with only five days of rain on average in December and four in January.
Valencia’s orange season spans half the year, running from November to mid-spring. Oranges grow everywhere in Valencia, but don’t be fooled by these juicy-looking impostors – they’re inedible. Instead you want to pick your oranges from one of the hundreds of stalls at Mercado Central de Valencia or tour a local farm.
6. Athens, Greece
There’s never a bad time to visit the birthplace of democracy and center of modern Greece. While it might be ill-advised leave the jackets home altogether, winters in Athens usually hover around 15°C, making the uphill trek to the Acropolis more enjoyable without the blazing 33°C summer sun. The number of visitors to Athens increased 15% in 2017, so a winter visit could also mean smaller crowds and more time with the monuments.
7. Azores, Portugal
You may not park yourself on the beach during a winter visit, but most of the outdoor activities popular with tourists in the peak season are still available in the winter. Trade beach time for a dip in the hot springs on Sao Miguel and then hop over to Pico to summit the highest peak in Portugal and experience the island’s unique approach to wine making.
Being in the middle of the ocean, the weather can be temperamental. While you escape the bitter cold of Northern Europe with daily highs of 18°C in December to 16°C in February, rain clouds can move in quickly, so pack rain gear or plan for a few indoor activities during your stay.
8. Corfu, Greece
Off the coast of the Greek mainland, you’ll find some 6000 islands that dot the Aegean and Ionian Seas. Throw a dart at the map and you’ll inevitably find beaches, blue waters, and ancient archaeological sites. Of these, Corfu is one of the largest and is a quick hop and a skip from the mainland.
One of the more cosmopolitan of the Greek islands, you can split your time between the beach, the mountains, and the city. Corfu Town was largely built by the Venetians during their 400-year rule on the island, which is reflected in the architecture of the city, and fascinates visitors with attractions such as the fortresses that once protected it.
9. Larnaca, Cyprus
Built on the ancient city of Citium, modern day Larnaca is lacking neither historic nor cultural attractions. Get a taste of the city’s ancient beginnings at the Pierides Archaeological Foundation Museum, an 18th century mansion turned museum.
But for many visitors, the real draw is the sea itself. With 14°C days, it isn’t exactly bikini weather, but you can comfortably trade in your coat and fuzzy slippers for a wet suit and fins to enjoy a winter dive with one of Laranaca’s many dive shops. If you prefer not to get your toes wet, opt for a submarine safari.
10. Faro, Portugal
In the winter months, Faro’s mild temperatures (peaking around 17°C) and average 170+ hours of monthly sunshine attract not only winter travellers looking for refuge, but also birds from around the continent. Pack your binoculars and head to the nearby Ria Formosa Natural Park to see how many different Aves you can spot.
Faro is also the perfect winter springboard for exploring southern Portugal – such as the cliffs of Sagres and Ponta da Piedade near Lagos. Rent a car to get the most out of your visit.
11. Malaga, Spain
The capital city of the Costa del Sol enjoys winter temperatures of 17°C and an average of only six to eight rainy days a month from December to March.
If you’re planning a trip for December, be sure to see the light display on Calle Larios at night and visit the Christmas Markets, where you’d find palm trees strung with Christmas lights and countless stalls brimming with unique gifts and souvenirs.
12. Palma, Spain
The capital city of Mallorca, as island located off of the coast of Spain between Barcelona and Valencia, is a lively location for a winter getaway. Daily temperatures can be as high as 16°C, but even on cooler days, there are plenty of ways to warm up. Grab a cup of Spanish chocolate or join in the island-wide festivities of the Sant Antonio Festival (January 16-17) and Palma’s two-week-long celebration that leads up to Sant Sebastià’s Day (January 10-25).