Get Away! Where to Go in Winter (in Europe)
White snow, rosy cheeks, and a warm drink by the fire when you return home! That’s one way to enjoy winter, BUT:
Unfortunately, that’s not what winter in Germany looks like. So, let’s get out of here and away. But where can you travel in winter to find warmth within Europe without leaving the continent?
Is there really a winter escape within Europe?
West or East
If we take a look at a map of Europe and identify the southernmost country, it becomes clear that you can either head east to Greece or west to Spain. Essentially, you already have your answer about where to escape in winter. However, there’s more to say on this topic.
Greece - The Misconception
Greece is situated between the 36th (Ormenio) - 41st (westernmost tip of the Peloponnese) latitude. [For comparison, Germany lies between the 47th - 54th latitude.] Judging by latitude, Greece should be warmer. However, Greece has several mountainous regions. The Mount Olympus, home to the gods, is just one of them. In general, Greece is at a higher elevation, making it quite cold during the winter. Yes, it can even snow.
And what about the islands?
Island climates are, of course, different. For example, Crete is further south but also has numerous mountains. We spent time in Crete from December to March, and the coldest month was February!
Even the locals say so. February was very cold because many places are at higher altitudes. We even experienced snow.
Nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed winter in Greece. Until January, we could still swim (ok, we’re not that sensitive), the beaches were empty due to the absence of tourists, and the locals found the water too cold!
So, you’ll have those beautiful coves all to yourselves!
Isn’t Cyprus partly Greek too? Spending winter there?
Cyprus is geographically closer to the coast of Turkey, and yes, half of the island is Greek. However, we know that, if you’re traveling with a van like us, you can only access Cyprus from Turkey in the winter. But beware!!!
For those traveling with dogs, it’s not easy. Not only do you need proof of rabies vaccination (which is never a bad idea), but you’re only allowed to stay on the Greek side for 30 days, and your furry friend must remain on the Turkish side. So, it’s all quite complicated and not worth it.
Unless you fly there. Cyprus is stunning and has much to offer. We’re not sure if it’s better than Crete, but both islands surely have their charm.
Spain - Nothing New in the West
We know that Spain is warm. It has the most desert-like areas in Europe, and it’s quite vast. In summer, temperatures in Andalusia can reach nearly 50 degrees Celsius. Anyone going there in summer is crazy. But what’s winter like?
Spain is large, stretching from the 36th to the 43rd latitude. The major difference from Greece is the general elevation, as there are fewer mountains here, and where there are mountains, it gets cold.
Northern Spain is beautiful. Galicia and Asturias should definitely be on your travel list, but it’s better to visit in April because it gets frosty here!
In Andalusia, you also have winter (December - January), but it’s definitely bearable.
What about Portugal?
Oh, right! There’s Portugal, too, and it’s also recommended if you want to escape in winter. It’s quieter here in winter, the beaches are empty, but it can get quite windy! We spent our first Christmas on the coast of Nazaré, and something magical happened to us there.
Nazaré is the stage for big wave surfers because the highest waves can form here. Due to strong winds over the Atlantic, wind and waves collide with the coast. So, swimming here is not an option.
The Canary Islands - The Treat
If you’re not afraid to take a ferry, the Canary Islands are undoubtedly the PERFECT PLACE to spend the winter.
That’s especially true if you want an everlasting swimming season.
The temperatures here remain steady throughout the year, and each of the 7 islands has its own character. The ferry isn’t exactly cheap and takes over 30 hours, but if you plan to stay there for several months, it’s worth considering. The main island, Gran Canaria, is especially popular among all-inclusive vacationers. Consequently, it’s quite crowded and built up. We spent most of our time on Fuerteventura because we loved its sandy climate. Plus, you can surf here!
The water temperature is always fantastic, but it’s quieter here in winter, too.
By the way, these islands are situated around the 27th latitude, making them the southernmost point of Europe (not counting the mainland, of course).
How and where you want to experience winter depends on personal preferences. We thoroughly enjoyed the winter on the Canary Islands and loved maintaining the feeling of summer.
However, after 3 months on the Canaries, we were longing for green because the islands are dry and volcanic. There aren’t many plants or trees there.
Greece, on the other hand, enticed us with its incredibly clear crystal water - something we hadn’t seen anywhere else before! The Greeks are also very friendly, and many speak English, making communication easy. But the snow we encountered for just 2 weeks was quite uncomfortable.
Everything has its pros and cons. For the first year, and for newcomers to van life, we would recommend spending the winter in Spain or even the Canary Islands.