Winter sun holiday destinations
By Mark Hodson, Sunday Times Travel Writer and Editor of 101 Holidays
What are the best places for winter sun? Here you’ll find expert independent advice on where to find bargain holiday deals in the sun this winter.
In my view there’s nothing to quite match the excitement of taking off from the UK on a miserable winter’s day, leaving the sun still struggling to get out of bed, and just a few hours later finding yourself on a tropical beach.
But although winter sun holidays are hugely popular, there is also strong demand for chilly destinations, whether that’s skiing, viewing the Northern Lights or just finding a cosy country hotel with an open fire and great food.
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Cheap winter sun holiday destinations
The Canary Islands are just four hours flying time from the UK – and you can expect average daily temperatures of 21ºC in November and 19ºC in January, with seven hours of daily sunshine. Tenerife and Lanzarote are among our favourite islands.
If you want somewhere more unusual, remote and great value, try the smaller Canary Islands such as La Palma (which has direct flights from the UK), the gorgeous La Gomera reached by ferry from Tenerife or tiny La Graciosa just north of Lanzarote. Find more about where to go in the Canaries.
In the same part of the world, the beautiful island of Madeira is a superb winter destination within 4 hours flying time thanks to direct flights with British Airways. The rugged landscape is ideal for walking, or you can simply lie back and soak up the sunshine. Stay at either a luxury hotel or one of the beautifully-restored countryside quintas.
Egypt is less than five hours’ flying time from the UK, and is a classic winter sun destinations. Even in January you’ll find 22ºC, but go in November or March and the temperature is a steady 25ºC with 10 hours of daily sun. I recommend a Nile Cruise to view some of the greatest historical sites on Earth.
I also love The Gambia on the West coast of Africa where you’ll find great-value hotels, lovely beaches and wildlife excursions – just a six-hour flight from the UK. I took my family there last January and we enjoyed long days of sunshine and 30ºC temperatures.
Florida can be very good value, particularly when you hit those discount shopping malls. Try a fly-drive to discover the highlights of the Sunshine State, or check out some cheap deals in Orlando. If you want to combine theme parks with beaches, I recommend Fort Lauderdale.
See my guide to the cheapest long haul destinations.
Caribbean holiday destinations in winter
A winter break in the Caribbean is a real treat: you’ll find steady temperatures around 28ºC – 30ºC, low humidity and lots of sunshine. You could choose the celebrity stardust of Barbados or the soft sandy beaches and lush scenery of Jamaica.
As long as you avoid the peak season of Christmas and New Year, you can find some great prices. Some of the best deals are in Cuba where you can flop on a beach or, if you are more adventurous, take a self-drive tour. Go now before there’s a McDonald’s and Pizza Hut on every other street corner.
On St Lucia – another beautiful island with lush volcanic peaks and charming fishing villages – for something really special, we recommend Anse Chastanet and its jaw-dropping ‘big sister’ Jade Mountain. Other hotels to consider include the elegant Round Hill in Jamaica.
For a more active winter sun experience in the Caribbean, join a tall ship cruise with Star Clippers.
More tropical islands for winter sun
For a taste of winter sun paradise, head to the Indian Ocean and the idyllic island of Mauritius (30ºC in January with 9 hours of sun). The temperature is similar in the Maldives (8 hours of sun) and the Seychelles (6 hours of sun). With perfect beaches, stunning hotels and first-class service, they’re the perfect antidote to winter weather.
The Cape Verde islands (26ºC) off the coast of west Africa are great value and just six hours flying time from the UK. There are six islands where you can stay, all with different scenery, from Sao Vicente – the cultural heart – to volcanic Fogo and Santo Antao, the greenest island. See the latest special offers.
The islands of Thailand offer amazing beaches, great food and excellent value. It’s best in winter to stick to the west coast islands such as Phuket rather than Ko Samui on the east coast (where winter is the rainy season).
Asia and the Middle East
You can fly to the Arabian Gulf in just over six hours and find guaranteed sunshine, endless sandy beaches and stunning hotels. Expect temperatures of 25ºC in January, rising to 29ºC in March.
For glamour, shopping and mouth-watering restaurants, try the capital of the Emirates, Abu Dhabi, which is proving itself every bit as exciting as Dubai and boasts fabulous beaches too. See the latest special offers.
If it’s ancient Arabia you’d like to experience, head to Oman for sand dunes, wadis, forts and pristine beaches. It also has some outstanding hotels, and easily combines with Dubai.
Wrap up warm
There are plenty of chilly winter destinations worth considering. You could treat yourselves to a ski trip. For families we recommend Esprit Ski which has 30 years experience of making sure you and your little ones have a wonderful winter break in the Alps. However, if you want to ski in real style, try The Lodge, Verbier. One of the best value options on the slopes is a chalet holiday (check out these late deals).
Go north for a glimpse of the magical Northern Lights in Iceland or Norway. You’ll also have a good chance of seeing them while staying at Sweden’s Ice Hotel. In the run-up to Christmas, you could treat the kids (or grandkids) to a visit to Lapland to meet Santa and enjoy a range of activities from husky sledding to snowmobiling.
If you want to get away from modern commercial Christmas celebrations, head for a traditional Christmas market in Europe. You’ll find cosy markets in Cologne, Munich and Prague, along with hymn recitals, ice staking and mulled wine. Lesser-known cities such as Freiburg, Koblenz and Wiesbaden are even more traditional.
Adventure holidays in winter
For something completely different, consider a volunteering holiday in a choice of destinations including Costa Rica, Thailand, New Zealand and India. It’s a chance to combine unique travel experiences with voluntary work on a local community or wildlife project.
Last updated: 6 January 2020