Best holiday destinations
Looking for the world’s best holiday destinations? Our editors, Mark Hodson and David Wickers – both travel writers for The Sunday Times – have selected the finest places to visit in 2013.
Need inspiration? Try our interactive travel quiz to find what kind of holidaymaker you are – and get free personal suggestions.
Note: all the travel companies featured on this website are personally recommended by our editors.
Beach holiday destinations in Europe
In the Mediterranean, the Aegean coast of Turkey has many some outstanding boutique hotels while Croatia is one of Europe’s gems with a gorgeous coastline studded with islands and great-value hotels. One of Croatia’s finest island is Hvar – a short ferry ride from Split – which has some gorgeous hotels including The Riva and the Amfora.
Italy is one of our favourite destinations. We love Umbria, with its rolling hills, sparkling lakes and medieval hill towns, and little-known Le Marche for its luscious countryside and beautiful villas. Or head south to Puglia where you can stay in a five-star masseria or a luxury self-catering trullo with pool. For old-school Italian glamour it’s hard to beat the Amalfi Coast.
The Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia have great beaches: we recommend Forte Village in Sardinia and Verdura Golf & Spa Resort in Sicily. Or indulge in a “wellness weekend” at L’Albereta, a boutique hideaway in a beautiful setting in Lombardy, where you’ll be treated to spa treatments, nutritional advice, exercise and great food. Find more holiday ideas in Italy.
Greece is all about simplicity: sun, sand, traditional cooking and great hospitality. For families, we recommend Sani Resort on a spectacular stretch of beach on the mainland and the small unspoilt island of Meganissi. For couples we recommend sleepy Alonissos and Paxos, a simple, laid-back island that doesn’t even have its own airport.
Crete offers great beaches and lots to do – we suggest you avoid the package resorts and stay at one of these gorgeous boutique hotels. For families, we recommend the stylish Daios Cove or the villas at Pendamodi. See more holiday ideas in Greece.
Spain has many great beach destinations. We like the coast of Catalonia for fishing villages, quiet coves and mountains, but if you want long stretches of fine white sand and dunes, rent a villa on the Costa de la Luz. Don’t overlook Northern Spain which has wide empty beaches, charming medieval towns, mountains, rivers, unspoilt countryside, friendly people and great food. It’s great value, too.
Lanzarote and Tenerife in the Canary Islands offer year-round sunshine, modest prices and easy access – both are only a four-hour flight from the UK. These are great destinations to explore, from volcanoes to national parks, as well as offering great weather. Find more Spain holiday ideas.
France boasts many fine beaches. The charming Ile de Ré is a great island for families, cycling and eating out at village restaurants, while Nice on the Cote d’Azur offers timeless elegance and year-round sunshine. If you’re on a budget, how about a value family break at a holiday parc in Brittany. Some of the best French beaches are on the island of Corsica, unwisely neglected by most British tourists. Find more holiday ideas in France.
You don’t need to go abroad to find beaches. Rent a cottage in Devon or Cornwall, and you’ll find wonderful stretches of sand, while the county of Dorset is often overlooked, but it has a stunning coastline and some great B&Bs and cottages. The Isle of Wight is great for a traditional buckets and spades family holiday, while for tropical-style white-sand beaches you should head off the Cornish coast to the Scilly Isles.
And you don’t need to be on the coast to find a great beach. Try the Italian Lakes for beautiful scenery, great hotels, food and culture. Favourites include Lake Como, Lake Garda and the less known Lake Iseo.
Long haul beach destinations
If you are flying long haul, the world is your oyster. You could be sunning yourself in the Maldives, unwinding in Mauritius or shell-hunting on a deserted island in the Seychelles. If you like to combine beach and city, we recommend Rio de Janeiro, Sydney or Cape Town – three of the most amazing destinations on Earth.
Asia has more than its share of amazing beaches. We love Malaysia and Vietnam, though it’s hard to beat Bali or Thailand – especially Koh Samui. Lesser-known destinations include Borneo, which has superb beaches and wildlife.
The Caribbean is an all-year round beach destination. Choose from the social whirl of Barbados, the lively charm of Jamaica or the small-town vibe of Tobago or Grenada. Divers should head to the Cayman Islands without passing Go, while Cuba is a great beach-and-culture destination, and good value.
In South America, Brazil has some of the most wonderful beaches anywhere on the planet. You can’t get much further than New Zealand but it’s well worth the journey with some of the world’s most extraordinary scenery, along with great wine, food and friendly people. Try these tailormade holidays.
Best Africa destinations
As far as exciting destinations go, Africa is hard to beat. The continent really does have something for everyone. In the north, Morocco is a country of cultural riches, superb mountain and desert scenery and beautiful hotels. Check out these short breaks in Marrakech and exciting itineraries.
We also love Egypt whether it’s a luxury cruise on the Nile, or a diving holiday on the Red Sea coast. Jordan is another country that should not be overlooked: Petra is one of those places to see before you die, easily combined with the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum. Try one of these group tours.
And of course there are safaris. In Africa you can choose from 30 different safari types in Kenya, or go for an upmarket holiday in Botswana. For adventure it’s hard to beat the wide open spaces of Namibia. Or why not try a self-drive holiday in South Africa.
For a relaxing beach holiday, head to The Gambia which is only six hours flying time from the UK. Or venture a little further to the spectacular islands of Cape Verde – where Africa meets South America – where you’ll find some great opportunities for island-hopping.
See 101 Holidays editor David Wickers’ Top 10 Africa holidays.
Top Asia holiday destinations
If world-class beaches and relaxation are what you look for in a holiday, then you need look no further than Asia. The island of Koh Samui is one of Thailand’s most popular destinations due to its powder-soft beaches, busy nightlife and fantastic diving.
The eastern coast of Malaysia teams a wonderful coastline with fantastic food and some of the country’s best hotels, while the clear blue seas of Bali provide the perfect backdrop for this Indonesian island’s stunning scenery and spirituality.
Sri Lanka has lovely hotels, charming people, great food and many cultural treasures. India is quite simply amazing but don’t try to see too much of it in one attempt. We recommend a private tour in a chauffeur-driven car with TransIndus. Or bite off a small chunk such as the laid-back southern state of Kerala.
Also in Asia, Burma is slowly opening its doors to tourism – a beautiful, fragile country that will fascinate and beguile you.
There are few holiday destinations more exciting and fascinating than Cambodia. The beautiful jungle-clad temple complex of Angkor should be on everybody’s “must see” list, but the country’s food, friendly people, great hotels and beaches are all worth writing home about.
Asia is home to three of the most distinctive cities in the world which are perfect holiday destinations. Tokyo combines the world’s most advanced technology with some of its oldest cultural rituals. Join a tour and see the rest of this fascinating country.
Beijing is also a wonderful mix of the old and the new, and as China slowly opens itself up to the West, there has never been a better time to visit. Meanwhile, Moscow offers unrivalled cultural pomp and grandeur as well as the political intrigues of the Kremlin. It can be combined with a visit to St Petersburg.
If you want to avoid airports and enjoy the company of others, you could head to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland for a whisky tour or a wildlife experience on the island of Mull where you can see Minke Whales, otters, seals and porpoises.
Or relax in style on a luxury barge in France. Enjoy gourmet cuisine served on deck with fine wines and an open bar all included in the price. Destinations include Burgundy, the Canal du Midi, Provence and Northern France.
Rail is a great way to travel, particularly in Spain where you’ll find superb state-owned luxury trains including the Transcantábrico and the La Robla. Or explore the Canadian Rockies by rail one of these classic Rocky Mountaineer holidays.
You can also do Canada on a self-drive Mountain Express holiday from Calgary to Vancouver taking in the Rockies, Banff and Jasper National Park. Or drive through the beautiful scenery of Ontario and Québec.
If you want to see the countryside at a slower pace, how about joining a cultural walking tour – perhaps in Oman, Namibia or Italy. If you prefer to travel independently, we have found some fabulous hotel-to-hotel walking itineraries that explore some of the most beautiful regions of Europe.
Oman is also a great destination for a private driving tour – you’ll see a stunning coastline, vast sand dunes, ancient forts, villages and souks. It can easily be combined with the glitz of Dubai or intriguing Abu Dhabi.
If you’re on a budget, choose from thousands of hostels in cities including London, Paris and New York City. Many of the properties have private rooms with ensuite bathrooms. We also recommend Trivago for the best hotel deals in cities such as Paris.
Adventure holiday destinations
South America is one of the great destinations for adventurers. Argentina is a great country, from the historic capital of Buenos Aires to the glacier fields of Patagonia and the wild pampas regions.
We rate Chile as an amazing holiday destination – a combination of outdoor adventures, extreme natural beauty (volcanoes, glaciers, salt lakes, long beaches), good food and wine and charming boutique hotels.
If you love nature, the Galapagos Islands should be high on your places to visit before you die. The islands are pristine and dramatically beautiful, but it is the close-up encounters with seals, giant tortoises, marine turtles and exotic birds that make this such an amazing experience.
Closer to home, Iceland is a fascinating country of mountains, glaciers, volcanoes and geysers – like a geography lesson come to life.
Trip of a lifetime? Top contenders include an exciting polar expedition to the Arctic or Antarctic. This is an amazing way to see the Earth’s most pristine wildernesses – not on a big cruise ship, but on a small expedition craft that will get you up close to whales, penguins and icebergs.
See more adventure holiday ideas.
Some people relax by lazing on a sun lounger for two weeks while others like to get active. That could mean cycling through the French countryside, windsurfing in the Mediterranean or hiking in the Alps. We have some great suggestions whether you are a couple or a family with children.
Walking holidays come in various forms. You could take a self-guided hotel-to-hotel walking holiday where you luggage is transported to the next destination each day. Popular routes include the Costa Vicentina coastal walk in Portugal, the Lycian Way in Turkey and Madeira’s waterways and flowers holiday.
Alternatively, take a walking holiday based at a single location. This involves less packing and is more relaxed. You can also opt for a walking holiday with your own guide with destinations including Morocco and India.
As cycling becomes increasingly popular, there are many new cycling holidays available. Saddle Skedaddle has trips for all fitness levels in the UK including road cycling and mountain bike weekends in the Lake District, Wales and the Cotswolds.
Like to be on the water? You could join a flotilla holiday in the Greek Ionian Islands or arrange a bareboat yacht charter – choosing from a fleet of monohull yachts and catamarans – to sail the Med, or the Caribbean. See our pick of the best sailing holidays.
In winter, ski holidays provide a great way to get active and experience the beauty of the mountains. One of the best value ways to hit the slopes is on a ski chalet holiday. For families, we recommend Esprit Ski.
In Spain, La Manga Club is the ultimate resort for family sporting holidays. It offers a world-class tennis centre, three championship golf courses, a spa and many more facilities.
How about a gourmet cookery holiday in Spain. We recommend Annie B’s Spanish Kitchen which offers an innovative range of cookery courses at a charming location in Andalucia.
Our editors’ favourite holiday destinations
David Wickers (pictured above) is one of the UK’s most experienced and most trusted travel writers. He is a specialist in Australia and New Zealand and has a particular affection for Italy, Greece, the Seychelles, Kenya, New York, Canada and New England. On three occasions he was voted Travel Writer of the Year. David is married with three children.
Mark Hodson (pictured above) has been a full-time freelance travel writer since 1994, mainly writing for The Sunday Times and the Sunday Times Travel Magazine, along with numerous other newspapers and magazines. His top holiday destinations include mainland Spain, Mallorca, Ibiza, Italy, India, southern Africa, the Maldives, Japan, large parts of the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. Mark is married with two children. His recent family holidays have been to Wales, Cornwall, France and Austria.