Europe isn’t usually our first thought when we’re planning a December trip.
The Caribbean, Asia, and really the whole Southern Hemisphere usually come to mind first — and for good reason. They are, on the whole, much warmer in the winter months.
But there are some European destinations that also aren’t prone to winter’s chill. Just look to the Mediterranean. You may not be inspired to jump in the hotel pool, but you will be able to leave your winter jacket behind as you enjoy some sunshine and fresh air.
Average December highs: 61 to 65 degrees F
Average December lows: 52 to 56 degrees F
Average Hours of sunshine: 9:48
Even if you’ve never heard of Malta, you’ve probably seen it’s famed Blue Grotto on your Instagram feed or in your favorite travel magazine. This Mediterranean archipelago sits between Sicily and the North African coast, where the weather is pleasant all year long. In fact, with more than 300 sunny days and 2,957 hours of sunshine a year, Malta is the sunniest destination in Europe.
The islands themselves offer an interesting intersection of cultures, thanks to periods of rule by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, French and, most recently, the British. Malta became an independent country in 1964, but it retains wonders from throughout its past. The language sounds like Arabic, the food tastes Italian (fresh gelato included), and the residents drive on the left like Brits.
The main island is only 9 by 17 miles, so a prehistoric temple or labyrinthine medieval city is never more than an hour away. Beyond the impressive history lies a plethora of natural beauty: clear turquoise waters, fossil-studded limestone cliffs and sparkling red-gold beaches. Perhaps best of all, a trip to Malta won’t break the bank.
Average December highs: 70 to 73 degrees F
Average December lows: 60 to 63 degrees F
Average Hours of sunshine: 10:24
It feels like summer all year long in the Canary Islands, and Western Europeans regularly take advantage. Despite their geographical isolation 62 miles off the African coast, the islands receive about 10 million visitors a year.
Most of the visitors are hoping to soak up some sun at one of the area’s seafront resorts, but there is more to see in the Canaries. Imagine lunar-like lava fields, looming sand dunes, banana plantations and lush pine forests surrounded by crystal waters.
Of course, if you can escape the office for only a week, you’ll probably have to pick your poison. There are seven unique islands to choose from. We recommend sticking to southern Tenerife or the island of Lanzarote if you want the best December weather amid some of the Islands’ best outdoor adventure, breathtaking views and roaring nightlife.
Average December highs: 62 to 64 degrees F
Average December lows: 48 to 51 degrees F
Average Hours of sunshine: 9:43
Portugal’s southernmost region is known for its lovely beachside resorts and expansive golf courses. Pair that with mild temperatures, whitewashed fishing villages, and blooming poinsettia trees, and you have the perfect December getaway. The northern mountains protect the Algarve from northern and Atlantic winds, so the only breezes that hit the region can be enjoyed for sailing and kite surfing. You will be a tad warmer if you stay east since it’s closer to the Mediterranean.
Whether you head to the Algarve to enjoy the coast or the rugged way of life that remains in the region’s interior, you’ll be welcomed by ancient castles, cork-filled hills, and golden cliffs. We recommend a walk along one of the many footpaths in the morning, followed by a meal of fresh fish drizzled with local olive oil and wine straight from the vineyard in the afternoon.
If you really need to relax, try a thalassotherapy treatment, which uses seawater and seaweed to soothe and revitalize the body. Bear in mind that some restaurants and attractions in the tourist centers close during the winter. You’ll have no choice but to experience the Algarve as the locals do.
Average December highs: 59 to 64 degrees F
Average December lows: 49 to 54 degrees F
Average Hours of sunshine: 9:51
Though it has a slightly greater range of temperatures than our other December destinations, you certainly couldn’t call Crete cold. Greece’s largest island and the Mediterranean’s fifth largest, Crete is almost a whole country to itself. As homeland of the Minoans, Crete holds the title of first advanced society in Europe. Greek mythology states it was even the birthplace of Zeus, king of the Gods.
Nestled between Europe, Asia Minor, and Africa, Crete is a highly varied island both in landscape and culture. It’s not unusual for a Roman ruin to share a wall with a Turkish bath house, or a mountain range to end in fine sand.
The best reason to visit in December, however, may be the people. Cretans are always friendly, but they’ll have more time to chat in the winter when tourism slows down. Introduce yourself if you see someone playing the “lyra” on the street or sitting alone in a “kafeneia” (coffee house).
Costa del Sol
Average December highs: 62 to 64 degrees F
Average December lows: 46 to 49 degrees F
Average Hours of sunshine: 9:45
Part of Spain’s southernmost community and Europe’s most southerly coast, the Costa del Sol offers plenty of heat during December days with some cool breezes at night. The region is a bit more under-the-radar than the French Riviera or Amalfi Coast, which leaves the 100-mile coastline less crowded and more authentically Mediterranean. Each of the region’s gorgeous beaches has a backdrop of mountain scenery.
Though the area dates back to the Phoenicians, it’s the Moorish influences like the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro citadels in Málaga that truly stand out. Spanish roots are strong too, as evidenced by the bullfighting arena and flamenco shows to the quirky tapas and Picasso museum. (The artist was born here.) By splitting time between the area’s capital city and a seaside town like Marbella or Estepona, you’ll get to see it all. You would never guess that it only became a tourist hub as recently as the 1950s.
Average December highs: 63 to 68 degrees F
Average December lows: 49 to 53 degrees F
Average Hours of sunshine: 9:54
In 2013, Cyprus was nearing financial collapse. Now, it’s enjoying a renaissance. Let a warm December vacation be your excuse to visit this island nation at the crossroads of three continents (Europe, Asia, Africa). Somewhere between West and East, Greek and Turkish, beach and mountain, the island has many reasons for you to stay.
Cyprus is steeped in myth and home to multiple archaeological sites, palatial ruins, and tombs with traces to the cult of Aphrodite. Tourism centers around the Neolithic dwellings, Venetian fortresses, Roman mosaics, and Islamic mosques of Paphos, but be sure to make time for the vineyards, villages, and monasteries scattered throughout the country as well. Just be sure to come hungry. Cypriots dine meze-style with a spread of small dishes like hummus, kebab, and their staple product, halloumi.