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How to escape the cold with a winter sun holiday in 2021

Times are tough for travellers. But with the world preparing to reopen in 2021, we're here to keep you dreaming and planning for your next adventure - whether that's a staycation or flying off to parts unknown. Until then, we've got the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates to keep you up to date and ready to go.

As the colder months approach, more Brits are looking to top up their vitamin D reserves with a winter sun holiday, find out our best tips for a warm winter escape this year.

The Skyscanner Horizons report found that ‘the most popular summer months for UK travellers are July and August, in line with school holidays and hotter weather, however, more UK travellers are looking at holidays in September, October and November than in 2019, with delayed demand lengthening the summer peak season’.

So, why should you delay your summer trip for a winter sun holiday? Other than the confusion of current travel restrictions, which many hope will have eased up later on in the year, one reason is that a winter break is a great way to escape the gloom – swapping the short, cold British days for sunny beaches and blue skies, having already made the most of British summer (2021 is the year of the staycation, after all). Low-season holidays also mean more availability in terms of hotels and car hire, plus lower prices and quieter destinations.

This article was last updated on 2 August 2021, and all information was accurate at the time. Before booking a trip it’s best to check the latest travel restrictions using the government’s official Foreign Travel Advice portal.

When is the best time to book your winter sun holiday?

Woman taking sunbath in hammock on the beach

Airlines and hotels tend to run on a ‘supply and demand’ pricing model. The more people book, the more expensive seats and rooms become. For the most part, winter is fairly quiet but events like school holidays and festivals like Christmas and New Year tend to be more expensive. As well as trying to avoid British school holidays, it’s worth checking the calendar for the destination you’re visiting to make sure there aren’t any local celebrations going on that could push prices up.

As more people will be taking winter breaks this year, it’s best to book as far in advance as possible to get cheaper rates. You’ll also find good deals in January and February, during the post-Christmas lull, as holiday companies want to entice people to travel at this time of year. Plus it’s nice to have something to look forward to after celebrations at home are over.

What are popular summer destinations like during a winter sun holiday?

Kids snorkelling on a quiet beach.

For the most part, European summer destinations tend to be quieter in winter. Places like the Algarve in Portugal and Benidorm in Spain are known for their buzzing bars and party atmosphere, but in winter the neon-lit streets tend to be peaceful. That’s not to say it feels like a ghost town. Most bars and restaurants do remain open to cater to winter sun seekers, expats and locals. But, as it’s less crowded, lively summer party bars transform into chilled-out cocktail spots in the low season. Some bars offer promotions during winter to encourage people to visit, so keep an eye on local free magazines and social media to find low-season brunch, lunch and dinner deals

If you have a favourite attraction, bar or restaurant, it’s worth double-checking their winter opening hours before you go. While many places do stay open, and are happy to cater to smaller groups, some choose to close their doors until March.

Where is it still hot in autumn and winter?

So, where should you go for a winter holiday? The following five destinations are easy to reach from the UK and are usually affordable during the low season.

The Algarve

People enjoying a winter sun holiday on a sandy beach in the Algarve.

Average max. winter temperature: 17–23°C

The sunny Algarve stretches across Portugal’s southern coast, from the Spanish border on the east to Sagres on the west. Along the coast is a strip of sandy beaches, dramatic sea cliffs and bustling resort towns. During the winter it’s peaceful, but most bars and restaurants are still open. Immerse yourself in local culture by trying seasonal cakes made from local sweet potatoes, or visit cultural attractions like the bone chapels in Faro and Alcantarilha. As the temperature is cooler, it’s also the perfect time to hike through the cork forests of Monchique or along the cliffside trails near Lagoa – home to the famous Benagil cave formation.  

Benidorm

Buzzing Benidorm with its skyscrapers and wide stretch of sandy beach is much quieter during a winter sun holiday.

Average max. winter temperature: 16–24°C

The most popular holiday destination on Spain’s Costa Blanca (White Coast), Benidorm has gained a reputation as one of Europe’s most buzzing summer hotspots. It also makes a fantastic destination for a winter sun holiday, too. Its many beautiful beaches – Levante, Poniente, Playa del Mal Pas – are fairly empty so you can always find a good spot to put down your towel. On milder days, you can head inland to the rugged mountains for hiking and biking, or stick to the coast and try kayaking, stand-up paddle or wakeboarding. While many bars and restaurants close for the season, you’ll find plenty going on along the promenade. And, as it’s quiet, you’ll always get the best table.

Santorini

Quiet restaurant terraces by the sea are a common sight during winter sun holidays to Santorini

Average max. winter temperature: 12–23°C

All the Greek islands are great for a winter-sun holiday, but sunny Santorini is at its best value during the low season. While its nightclubs and beach bars close for the winter, many restaurants and shops stay open – especially in the island’s capital, Thira. Stroll through the atmospheric white and blue alleyways of Oia and enjoy the atmosphere, without crowds of tourists spoiling your snaps. Or take advantage of the mild weather to hike to Skaros Rock, the old medieval capital of Santorini. Finish your day by settling down in a beachside restaurant, where you can watch the sunset without having to make your reservation weeks in advance.

Gran Canaria

Maspalomas beach in Gran Canaria, with beautiful white sands and palm trees.

Average max. winter temperature: 21–26°C

The Canary Islands – and Gran Canaria in particular – are renowned throughout Europe as winter sun holiday destinations. Located just off the coast of Morocco, but officially part of Spain, the islands get warm weather all year round. Because Gran Canaria known as a year-round destination, you’ll find plenty to do during your trip. Take a camel ride along the rolling sand dunes of Maspalomas, pick up some locally made goodies at the Sunday morning market in Teror or simply stroll around the cobblestone streets of the island’s capital, Las Palmas.

Madeira

View of the enclosed rock pools and houses on the north coast of Madira.

Average max. winter temperature: 19–24.2°C

The Portuguese island of Madeira sits to the north of the Canary Islands, off the west coast of Africa. Its subtropical climate makes it ideal for a winter sun holiday. It’s also the perfect temperature for growing bananas, passion fruit and flowers, which perfume the air with their scent throughout the year. If you have a head for heights, try one of the island’s famous hiking routes alongside the levadas (canals) that run from the mountains down to the ocean. If you prefer a more relaxing break, chill out on the volcanic sand beaches or take a dip in the swimming basins at Porto Moniz. These calm pools are sheltered from the Atlantic waves by natural volcanic rock formations.

Other winter sun holiday destinations

White sand beach in Barbados, with palm trees on one side and turquoise waters on the other.

We’ve put together a number of articles suggesting great destinations to visit throughout autumn and winter. Bear in mind that it may not be possible to visit all of the destinations included at the moment, particularly the long-haul ones. Always cross-check with current government red, green and amber list guidance before you book.

Are you ready for a winter sun holiday?

While temperatures aren’t as high as summer, you can still enjoy a winter sun holiday in Europe. Blue skies, pleasant temperatures and peaceful beaches offer the perfect escape from chilly Britain. While we’ve mentioned a few destinations to check out, remember that most of Southern Europe will still be warm in winter. The south of Italy, Portugal, Spain and the Greek Islands are always a great option for a winter getaway. And, as it’s the low season, you might bag some great bargains.

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Average winter temperature data sourced from The Met Office.