The dark days are approaching so it’s probably the right time to start planning that essential winter escape to the sunshine. Here are some great destinations to explore this winter:

South Africa Thanks to our similar time zones, an overnight flight allows you to enjoy breakfast in the South African sunshine. Spend a few days exploring the captivating city of Cape Town, making sure to experience the spectacular views from the top of Table Mountain, which overlooks the harbour city and Cape peninsula, before hitting the nearby Western Cape vineyards, including the famous Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek and Robertson. The Garden Route is known as South Africa’s coastal playground and is a mix of ancient forests, secluded artists' communities, modern golf courses, mountain hideaways and beach holiday resorts. The icy waters around Cape Town are not for the fainthearted but the warm waters of the Indian Ocean can be enjoyed further around the coast towards Port Elizabeth. And if that’s not enough, there’s always the shark cage diving.

Flight time: 11-12 hours. Average winter temperature: 27-30°C

Cape Verde Guaranteed hot winter sunshine is to be found just an hour south of the Canary Islands off the coast of Senegal. A group of ten islands offer a wide range of holiday options with spectacular beaches on the tourist friendly islands of Sal and Boa Vista. The island of Sal makes for the ideal beach holiday, while watersport enthusiasts are also well catered for, with surfing and diving options available. The neighbouring island of Boa Vista offers a quieter alternative to Sal, while a more cultural option is available in Mindelo on the island of Sao Vicente, where you can experience traditional music in most of the bars and restaurants around the town.

Flight time: 5 hours. Average winter temperature: 28°C

Rio de Janeiro Get into the mood for the 2014 World Cup or the 2016 Olympic Games by paying a visit to the coastal city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Soak up the winter sun on the world famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, while watching the constant entertainment that accompanies the beach life, whether it’s footballers showcasing their exquisite talents or musicians and dancers entertaining along the promenade. Take a trip up to the famous Christ the Redeemer statue to enjoy the breathtaking vistas over the city and to the ocean beyond or enjoy a cable car ride to the summit of the Sugarloaf for an alternative city panoramic. Hang gliding over the city is one of the most popular tourist attractions, and if you get a chance to watch a football match at the world famous Maracanã Stadium, take it. To really see the city in full swing, plan your trip around the Carnaval or New Year when this already party city is in top gear.

Flight time: 10-11 hours. Average winter temperature: 29°C

Madeira An alternative to the Canary Islands for easily accessible winter sunshine is the Portuguese island of Madeira. Located off the coast of Morocco, and just north of the Spanish Canaries, Madeira is a subtropical archipelago offering year-round sunshine with plenty of activities and attractions to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace on this relaxed island. The Laurisilva Forest, in the Madeira Natural Park, is the largest evergreen forest in the world and is a world heritage site, so the island is a haven for hikers, mountain bikers or birdwatchers. Surfing and other watersports are available throughout the island and while the winter temperatures may not be hot enough for dedicated sunseekers, the weather will really suit anyone looking for an active break. The island is also gaining a strong reputation for its gastronomy due to the abundance of fish on offer.

Flight time: 4 hours. Average winter temperature: 20°C,frameless.htm

Jamaica Pick almost any island of the vast Caribbean and it will provide the ideal winter sunshine break, but if you are also looking for some excitement and adventure, you really cannot go wrong with a visit to the island of Jamaica. From its world class beach resorts like Montego Bay or Negril, Jamaica also offers spectacular remote escapes along its vast coastline, not to mention its cultural alternatives located throughout the island. Home of music legend, Bob Marley, Jamaica is an island that moves to the beat of the reggae drum and a winter holiday here will not only guarantee sunshine but offers a unique experience that will linger in the mind and body well into the bright spring evenings back home.

Flight time: 10 hours. Average winter temperature: 30°C

Miami Winter sunshine, white sandy beaches, never-ending nightlife, shopping, culture, entertainment, Miami is so much more than just a holiday destination. Located on the southern tip of the Sunshine State, Florida, Miami is the ideal destination for a fun-filled winter break. The world famous South Beach area is the perfect base to enjoy the Miami experience with its pretty art deco buildings, boutiques, art galleries and museums, all surrounded by the clear blue waters of the adjacent ocean.

Flight time: 9 hours. Average winter temperature: 20-25°C

Buenos Aires Arriving in sunny Buenos Aires for a winter holiday will quickly banish that long-haul flight tiredness as you set out to explore one of the world’s great cities. The capital of Argentina boasts a Parisian aesthetic with a Latin heartbeat, where the locals speak Spanish with an Italian accent. The city is steeped in a history and culture that consumes you as you wander around, past the Casa Rosada or through the Cematario Recoleta, where Eva Peron’s tomb is located. Down around La Boca district you can take a tango lesson on the street or pay homage to the world’s greatest ever footballer Diego Maradona at La Bombonera stadium, the home of his former club Boca Juniors. Nightlife is to be enjoyed in Buenos Aires and the famous steakhouses and Malbec wines will ensure your stay is a memorable one.

Flight time: 12-14 hours. Average winter temperature: 28°C

Australia The ultimate break from the cold dark Irish winter is to travel Down Under to experience the southern hemisphere’s summer. Wandering the streets of Sydney in the weeks building up to Christmas is truly surreal as you listen to carol singers and seasonal tunes while shopping for shorts and suncream. Pull a cracker on Bondi Beach on Christmas morning or enjoy a picnic under the Sydney Harbour Bridge to celebrate the New Year, Australia offers so many alternatives throughout the winter months. Travel along either the east or west coast and visit the sundrenched cities of Perth, Brisbane, or the seaside towns of Byron Bay or Broome. Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart, Uluru, Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef, the options are endless for a winter holiday in Australia, so just make sure you take an extra week and really enjoy what might be a once in a lifetime adventure.

Flight time: 22 hours. Average winter temperature: 25-30°C

Ed Leahy