December is a great time to head to Europe. The weather is warm, but not scorching like the summer months. It is also a great way to experience the holiday season through a different culture. So, what are the best European winter sun destinations in December?
These are the results from our survey where we asked our visitors for the top 3 best European winter sun destinations in December.
The best European winter sun destination in December is Funchal, Portugal, when lively Christmas celebrations fill the calendar. Cyprus and Malta are also great destinations. Both islands in the Mediterranean have a deep, multicultural history.
Let me tell you what your December could look like in Funchal, Cyprus, and Malta.
Funchal is located on the south coast of the island of Madeira. While Madeira is an autonomous region, it is still considered a part of Portugal, the westernmost country in continental Europe.
The temperature in December stays between 56 and 71°F (13.3 and 21.7°C). ___ tropical climate
Although Portuguese is the country's official language, many people speak English and it is very easy to navigate the city in English.
Funchal goes all out for the Christmas season, with celebrations throughout the entire month of December.
On the first day in December, the town is covered in Christmas light displays. Millions of lights decorate the city, and the view from above is breathtaking. There are all sorts of light sculptures, from religious angels and nativities to traditional trees, bows, and presents.
Childbirth masses at the local churches are largely attended by the residents of the majority Christian city. There are nine masses at the end of the month that each celebrate Mary’s pregnancy.
Funchal also celebrates with Song of the Kings, a night where residents travel around town caroling at different houses. The Christmas Village is held every year, and while many of the activities are geared toward children, there are performances and local artists for all ages.
December 23rd is Market Night. A place to buy last-minute presents, this local event is a party in the town square. In addition to all of the shops and artisan booths, there is music, dancing, food, and costumes.
The season wraps up with an impressive fireworks show to ring in the new year.
Funchal has a great mix of activities for everyone, no matter what their interests. Some of the best things to do in Funchal include:
- The Old Town is the historic heart of Funchal. The town is 600 years old, and most of the original buildings remain. The Old Town is home to many shops and markets, including the popular Mercado de Louvre. Make sure to stroll down Santa Maria Street to see the murals on the doors.
- The Monte Palace and Tropical Garden and Madeira Botanical Garden are located on a mountain in northern Funchal. You can get to it by cable car or bus. The gardens showcase all of the plants that grow on the island and around the world, including plants only found on Madeira. To get back down the mountain, try a traditional sledge ride!
- Soccer fans may recognize Funchal as the birthplace of famous player Christiano Ronaldo. He is a great source of pride for the locals and the CR7 Museum that celebrates his life and career so far.
- The Palace of St. Lawrence is an impressive fortress built during the Spanish occupation of Madeira. The interior of the palace is beautifully decorated, with most of the furnishings true to the 1800s. Admission is free, and guided tours are given on a set schedule.
- Funchal is home to many different art museums. From fun museums like the 3D Fun Art Museum to cultural museums such as the Museo de Fotografia de Madeira (The Maderira Photography Museum), there is an opportunity to see both amateur and professional works created by locals.
There are many fun things to do in Funchal. However, the entire island of Madeira is at your disposal. It takes about an hour to drive from one end of the island to the other. It is easy to plan day trips to other cities.
Here are some of the best adventures on the island of Madeira:
- Check out the natural pools at Porto Moniz
- Explore the caves of São Vicente
- Visit the tidal lagoon in Ponta do Sol
- Watch the sunrise from the peaks of Pico do Areeiro
The food on the island is very simple, without a lot of spices and ingredients. Meals are built around seafood fresh from the Mediterranean Sea, and produce that flourishes in the island’s tropical climate.
The wine that comes from the vineyards of Madeira is renowned worldwide, though perhaps its most well-known fan was Shakespeare, who wrote about it in several of his plays. Over thirty different wines are made on the island, including Bual, Sercial, and Verdelho.
There are many different hotels in Funchal at a variety of price points. For longer stays, consider one of the many apartment complexes. Several complexes are adults-only if you are looking for a calmer environment.
Cyprus is a beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Turkey. It is a fairly large island, the same size as Puerto Rico. Cyprus enjoys a mild winter with lots of sun. Long sleeves and pants with a light jacket will be appropriate most days.
Cyprus is a must-see destination for all lovers of history and culture. Over the past 11,000 years, Cyprus has been at the center of a growing world, nestled between Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Over time, the island has been inhabited by Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Ottomans, the British, and many more early civilizations. The influence of these different cultures has created an island bursting with its own unique culture and history.
All this history means that Cyprus is home to over sixty museums and art galleries.
museums postal museum. natural history, archaeological
The Cyprus Ministry of Tourism has developed many different driveable self-tour routes that allow you to explore the island at your own pace. Each journey focuses on a different aspect of religion, culture, nature, or wine. Whatever your interests are, there is a route for you! Traditional guided tours are also available.
If you have never seen the Mediterranean Sea, there is no better destination. Cyprus is consistently recognized for having the cleanest water in Europe. With white sand and clear water, the beaches of Cyprus are breathtaking. Additionally, the water temperature stays above 61°F (16°C) year-round.
Whether you want a more intense activity like parasailing or just want to lay out on the beach for the day, there is no better place than the shores of Cyprus.
Instead of large entrees, Cyprus has a culinary system called ‘meze,’ which is a meal made up of lots of small dishes. This allows you to try a little bit of everything! The island lends itself to seafood and is well-known for its wine.
The island’s cuisine evolved out of necessary self-sufficiency. Residents were forced to rely only on the food they could prepare with food grown on the island. Even with access to more foods today, many traditional Cypriot families still prepare most meals with food grown only on the island. This ensures only the freshest local food makes it to your table.
Malta is a very small island in the Mediterranean Sea just south of Sicily. It is one-sixteenth the size of the state of Delaware. But Malta is a small island with a big history. Like Cyprus, the location of the Mediterranean Sea put Malta in the middle of the action as trade routes were established between Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The rich history of Malta is displayed through archeological sights and museums. The prominence of Christianity over the years led to over 360 churches in Malta, established as early as 60 AD. That is almost four churches every square mile!
There are two cities in Malta that you cannot miss:
- Valletta, the capital city of Malta, was built in the 1500s. The city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is full of history and beauty. But the most unique part of Valletta isn’t on the surface at all. The city has an underground fortress built long ago for military defense and used again when frequent bombings during World War II caused the population of Malta to live underground.
- Mdina is a historic city that was the capital of Malta long ago. It has been nicknamed the Silent City over the years since cars are greatly restricted. Over 4,000 years old, you may recognize the city from the popular series Game of Thrones, where the architecture and beautiful streets portrayed King’s Landing.
The performing arts are popular in Malta, which has many theatres and opera houses. The Teatru Manoel is the national theatre. The historic building, built in 1721 (many years before the founding of America), is another example of the beauty and history of Malta. There is always a play or performance going on on the island.
How this Top 3 list was made
The top 3 list was derived from a survey where we asked about their top destination for a particular month and region. From these results, we made each month a top 3 for North America, the Caribbean, Middle/South America, Europe, and Asia (including the Middle East). Sometimes, we have combined several individual destinations from a single country into the country itself.