Seven easy winter sun destinations for a quick burst of warmth

If the UK’s plummeting temperatures have left you shivering, it might well be time to plan a winter sun getaway – but that doesn’t have to mean an extravagant week or two in the tropics.

Looking at historic January temperatures, we have rounded up some of the most appealing destinations averaging 14°C or higher over the past five years that are easy to reach on a short break.

And with daytime highs often rising above 20°C in North Africa and southern Europe, you can explore the sights in a T-shirt and maybe even shorts, forgoing the cost and complications of cumbersome luggage.

From the sunny climes of Malaga to the busy streets of Cairo, here are seven winter sun destinations where you can go hand-luggage only in the next two months.

Malaga, Spain

Malaga cathedral tower seen between buildings. Malaga, Andalucia, Spain.
Enjoy Malaga’s beauty on a sunny day
(Photo: Antonio Hugo/Getty Images/Moment RF)

Even in winter, the Costa del Sol lives up to its name. Malaga has 300 days of sunshine a year, and with temperatures reaching highs of 21°C in January, the coastal city can attest to some of the best winter weather in mainland Europe.

Uncover Malaga’s Islamic history at the Alcazaba fortress, explore the city’s artistic legacy at the Picasso Museum, and get lost among the stone streets of the Centro Histórico.

Spain Food Sherpas offers a tantalising walk through Malaga’s best tapas bars, including sherry-tasting at Antigua Casa de Guardia, a tavern founded in 1840.

With direct flight connections to many UK airports, you’ll land at Malaga-Costa del Sol airport in less than three hours. Hop on the direct train to Malaga Maria Zambrano Station and 10 minutes later you can be sipping on a cold San Miguel at the rooftop swimming pool of the Barceló Málaga, a super-modern four-star hotel within walking distance of the Centro Histórico. January doubles start at £127.

Funchal, Madeira

Madeira is closer to Africa than Europe, so it is no surprise that Portugal’s Atlantic archipelago is a winter sun winner. Leave the suitcase behind – but not the hat and sunglasses – because January temperatures have hit highs of 23°C over the past few years.

It is hiking weather in Madeira, and an early morning pick-up by Pico Transfers from the capital Funchal – where you can stock up on abundant local produce at the central farmer’s market – can see you tackling Pico Ruivo as the sun rises. This is the tallest peak in Madeira, and you will be awed by the sea clouds as you hike to a lofty height of 1,862m from the start point at neighbouring Pico de Ariero. The Madeira wine-tasting session at Blandy’s Wine Lodge in Funchal will be well-earned, or you can take the cable car to the tropical gardens at Monte Palace and brave the traditional wicker toboggan ride back down again.

Reid’s Palace is the poshest place to stay in Funchal, but if you don’t want to splash out on a five-star property (January doubles from £432 B&B), the hotel is open for its famous afternoon tea and Poncha cocktails.

Kas, Turkey

Sarcophagi (from the Roman period) at Simena's necropolis at Kalekoy.Kalekoy (locally just
Sarcophagi at Simena’s necropolis at Kalekoy on the Turkish coast (Photo: Izzet Keribar/Stone RF/Getty)

A four-hour flight brings you to Turkey’s Turquoise Coast and the azure waters of the Mediterranean. But save the beach-lounging for summer, because you are making the 90-minute journey south from the airport in Fethiye to Kas, a remarkable coastal town that has avoided the excesses of mass tourism.

Colourful houses draped in bougainvillaea overlook cobbled streets, while Lycian rock tombs, hewn from the cliffs thousands of years ago, stare out to sea. Temperatures reach highs of 20°C, and if the Mediterranean stays calm, you can explore the sunken city of Kekova or take the ferry to the nearby Greek island of Meis for the day (it operates once a week in winter).

Temperatures are perfect for hiking, and walkers are in luck given the long-distance Lycian Way trail goes through the centre of Kas.

Boutique hotels line the hills that slope down to the coast and, given the dire state of the Turkish Lira, you will find bargains all over town in January. Try the Kas Old Town Hotel for boutique sea views (doubles from £35) or book the Gumus Peninsula Hotel for a secluded stay (doubles from £58).

Mallorca, Spain

A participant with a demon mask brandishes a stick with fireworks among revellers during the traditional Correfoc (fire-run) festival in Palma de Mallorca on January 29, 2023. - The Correfoc is a night of revelry in which participants dress up as demons and devils, and run through the streets scaring people with fire and fireworks. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP) (Photo by JAIME REINA/AFP via Getty Images)
It is festival season in Palma de Mallorca (Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty)

The Balearic Islands are a treat in January, with Mallorcan temperatures averaging 15°C and reaching highs of 22°C. You can fly and flop, but why would you when it’s festival season on the island? For two weeks, capital Palma de Mallorca builds up to the Fiesta Sant Sebastià, culminating in a huge fire festival on 19 January, celebrating the island capital’s patron saint. The village of Sa Pobla holds a heated fire festival on 16-17 January, while 26 January sees locals braving the Correfoc, or Devil’s Fire Run.

In between festivities, you can dig into ensaïmadas, the island’s delicious pastry, or gorge on hot bowls of sopas Mallorquinas, a hearty winter soup.

Conditions are often excellent for hiking and cycling in the Serra de Tramuntana, where you can follow ancient trails through the mountains.

Base yourself in a boutique hotel such as Hotel Basilica (doubles from €160/£140) or Innside by Melia (doubles from £80) – in historic Palma de Mallorca for easy access to the entire island.

As it is the off-season, you will find superb deals on all-inclusive packages in resort areas such as Playa de Palma (Tui has three-night breaks from £259 with Gatwick flights).

Athens, Greece

This is a picture of the Acropolis of Athens and the old town of Plaka. The square in the foreground is Monastiraki square. The whole area is famous with tourists and locals alike.
The Acropolis and the old town of Plaka (Photo: George Pachantouris/Moment RF/Getty)

Anyone with even a passing interest in history will love a winter escape in the Greek capital, where daytime temperatures have averaged a pleasant 14°C over the past five years.

Make a beeline for ancient landmarks the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the Ancient Agora of Athens, where the summer crowds are long gone.

Save the National Archaeological Museum for a rainy day, and on a sunny one, you can hike (or take the cable car) to the top of Lycabettus Hill, where the highest point in Athens offers blistering views of the city.

A short journey out of the city, the revitalised port suburb of Elefsina holds the title of European Capital of Culture until the end of this year, but some events continue throughout January, including the exhibition A Rave Down Below in an old olive oil mill.

Keeping to the history theme of this winter getaway, stay in colourful Plaka, the oldest continually inhabited neighbourhood in Athens, and a place where boutique hotels abound. A double at CityZoe Athens Suites costs from €100 (£86) in January.

Cairo, Egypt

The Great Pyramids next to Cairo city
There are few sites quite like the Great Pyramids (Photo: StockByM/Getty/iStockphoto/Manjik pictures)

Just under five hours’ flying time from the UK, Cairo is big, brash and generally frenetic. But with January temperatures averaging out at 16°C and hitting highs of 26°C, T-shirt weather is guaranteed in the Egyptian capital.

Yes, you may well be dragged in to carpet shops and pay over the odds for a souvenir papyrus painting, but few sights in the world compare to the Pyramids of Giza.

The new Grand Egyptian Museum is expected to soft-open in February, but the old Egyptian Museum is still fascinating for amateur Egyptologists.

See a different side of the city on a walking tour exploring Cairo’s Coptic Christian heritage, or embrace being a tourist and book a classic dinner cruise on the River Nile. Head to the suburbs to find a more tranquil side to the city in the leafy Maadi district, where younger Cairenes fill the shisha lounges, restaurants and cafés.

Cairo has accommodation options to suit budget travellers and pharaohs alike. You’ll want to spend at least one night in Giza, where hotels such as the Great Pyramid Inn and Marriott Mena House offer pyramid panoramas and doubles from $312 (£246).

Palermo, Sicily

Marsala, Sicily, Italy - July 10, 2020: Vineyards and farmhouse in background in Marsala in Sicily, Italy
Sicily is always beautiful
(Photo: Jerome LABOUYRIE/Getty/iStockphoto)

Less than three hours’ flight from the UK and with temperatures reaching highs of 19°C and averaging 15°C during the day, the southerly Italian island of Sicily is a must-visit in winter.

The Normans, who conquered the island in the 11th century, called Sicily the “Kingdom of the Sun”, and you can see their legacy in the magnificent, Unesco World Heritage-listed architecture of Palermo Cathedral.

On the warmest days, head to Mondello Beach, where you can brave the Mediterranean Sea and enjoy a Sicilian granita – shaved ice flavoured with lemon or orange. Be delivered to the best arancini, sfincione (Sicilian pizza) and cazzilli croquette spots in the city on a Streaty Food Tour, or take a tour of one of the many vineyards in the west, which produces more than half of all grapes grown on the island, including those contributing to sweet marsala wine.

The Centro Storico, Palermo’s historic city centre, is the best place to stay in January, with off-season prices at heritage-laden hotels such as the Palazzo Santamarina, where a suite starts at €169 (£145).