Once the Christmas markets have closed up for the year, the dark and freezing European winter can really suck the life out of you. And all I can think about when I haven’t left the apartment for days at a time is being on a hot beach. Continental Europe is definitely not the best place for hot beaches at any time of year, but luckily what it lacks in decent tropical weather, it makes up for in colonialism. Some well-placed islands that have been absorbed by European empires over time actually make for a decent winter beach destination.
The Spanish archipelago just off the northwestern coast of Africa has some of the warmest beaches in Europe where February feels like June in Paris. Known for both black and white sand beaches, the cluster of islands include major European holiday destinations such as Tenerife, Fuerteventura, and Gran Canaria. As long as there isn’t an active volcanic explosion or a Covid explosion fueled by drunken UK tourists, the Canary Islands may be the best place to find yourself near the European continent when you’re desperate for sun. The weather in January and February in many of the islands hovers around 20°C.
Not to be outdone by the Canaries, the Balearic Islands such as Ibiza and Mallorca are known for their scenic coastlines and for being the European home of douchebag party people from all over the globe. If you want your winter sun to come with a side of world class partying, one of the Balearic Islands may be your best bet. With an average temperature of 15-20°C in the winter months, you’ll find plenty of beach resorts to run to in the middle of January. Just stay abreast of health restrictions that sometimes have even all-inclusive resorts limiting people to three drinks at lunch and dinner to try to reduce the ever-present spread of illness.
Madeira and Azores
Madeira is a Portuguese island just north of the Canary Islands, and while it may not be as warm as its neighbors to the south, it’s certainly warmer than Portugal. Averaging 16-18°C for the first three months of the year, Madeira is a great destination if you love hiking just as much as you love laying around at posh resorts getting tan. It has volcanic islands, natural sea water pools, and waterfalls. It’s like the Hawaii of Europe.
Another Portuguese region where European snowbirds can flock to get some sun and adventure is the Azores. The archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean includes nine small volcanic islands, the largest of which is São Miguel. The islands have something for everyone including vineyards and dramatic cliffs against the shore. Since these are volcanic islands, many of the beaches are rocky, but they’ll wow you with their impressive views.
Even though Malta’s winter can be very wet, the multicultural darling of the Mediterranean can see temperatures as high as 15-20°C in January and February. Nestled east of Tunisia and south of Italy, Malta is the 10th smallest country in the world, but one of the only acceptable places to be when the winds of winter start to blow in Europe. In addition to having warm weather and being surrounded by stunning clear blue waters, its centuries of foreign rule have left behind a tapestry of interesting archeology, architecture, and culture from megalithic temples to an enormous subterranean necropolis.
Cyprus weather in January and February tends to be mild, rarely falling below 13°C or getting higher than 20°C, which is lovely weather to enjoy on Nissi or Aphrodite’s Beach. As the third largest island in the Mediterranean, Cyprus has plenty of gorgeous pillowy soft sand beaches – not like that gravel you’ll find on the shores of many European countries. In addition to gorgeous beaches, the country is full of ancient wonders like the Tombs of the Kings and the Roman ruins of Nea Paphos.
Just east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, you’ll find the tiny French department of Réunion. It’s only technically French, because it’s both culturally and geographically African. Featuring coral reefs, volcanoes, and rainforests, there is no shortage of natural wonders alongside relaxing sprawling beaches. You’ll enjoy both Indian and African inspiration in the island’s cuisine, architecture, and culture. Like many French people who fly in nonstop from Paris every day, you can spend the grim winter lounging in one of Réunion’s resorts just footsteps from stunning white sand beaches while it’s 25-30°C out. European beaches could literally never.