101 Holidays

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Christmas holiday destinations

Christmas holiday destinationsSki holidays at Christmas

* Best beach destinations for winter sun

* Find a cosy cottage or visit Santa in Lapland

By Mark Hodson, Sunday Times Travel Writer and Editor of 101 Holidays

There was a time when going on holiday at Christmas was unthinkable for virtually everyone except the über-rich, who flocked to the Caribbean or the Alps. However, the proliferation of package holidays, low-cost flights from regional airports, the development of hotels, resorts and villas in sunny climes and the increased affordability of skiing holidays has changed all that – going on holiday at Christmas has been one of the fastest growing travel trends in the last 20 years.

Choices now include “hot holidays” on palm-fringed beaches from the Canaries to Thailand, safaris in Africa, cruises, hotel deals in the UK, ski holidays and traditional winter activities (with thermals included in the price).

It’s rare to find a bargain at this time of year and, if you know where you want to go, we recommend that you book early to avoid disappointment. That said, many people opt for Christmas at home and head off between Christmas and New Year – and those departures can be a little cheaper if you’re prepared to shop around. You can also save money by flying on Christmas Day.

Here is our pick of the best Christmas holiday destinations and how to book. If you have kids in tow, see our recommendations for family Christmas holidays. If you’re travelling solo, see the best singles holidays at Christmas.

Note: all the travel companies featured are personally recommended by our editors.

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Short flightsChristmas in the tropicsFamiliesUKWinter cool

Dubai in October

Where to go at Christmas if you don’t want a long flight

The Canaries are less than five hours away with a huge choice of regional flights. You can expect temperatures around 22ºC at Christmas. Tenerife is a beautiful island once you get away from the crowded resorts of the south – for couples and families we recommend Abama Golf & Spa Resort.

Neighbouring Lanzarote is also a great choice. The Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort is a good option for families with children of all ages. There are so many restaurants and well-stocked supermarkets so self-catering is a really good choice. Check out these gorgeous villas with private pool.

North of the Canaries, Madeira is a stunning place to celebrate Christmas. It’s great for walking, dining out and experiencing the local culture – and new direct British Airways flights from London to Funchal have put it in easy reach. See the best accommodation in Madeira including resort hotels in Funchal or quintas, traditional countryside hotels.

It’s only five hours flying time to Egypt which offers sunshine,  24°C temperatures, excellent hotels and modest prices. This is the ideal time of year for sightseeing as it’s not too hot. Combine the Pyramids, Luxor and the Valley of the Kings on a classic Nile cruise holiday. See the latest travel advice from the Foreign Office.

Six hours flying time gets you to Abu Dhabi (26ºC) which is growing fast in popularity with stunning beach resorts on Saadiyat Island, and Ferrari World and the world’s fastest rollercoaster on Yas Island. You can also combine it with neighbouring Dubai. Check out the latest special offers.

Christmas holiday in the CaribbeanLuxury Christmas holidays

The best Christmas holidays in the tropics

You can be in the Caribbean, a classic Christmas holiday destination, in less than eight hours. Warm sunshine is guaranteed with very little rain and humidity – but if you want a cheap deal you’ll need to fly before the schools break up. See details of Caribbean weather at Christmas.

Our favourite islands include Barbados and Anguilla (where you’ll find some of the finest beaches in the region). Many hotels that normally bar children will accept them at Christmas, so if you want to be in an adult-only hotel, we recommend Sandals. For the best value, look at the Dominican Republic and Cuba, where the locals celebrate Christmas with gusto. See the latest offers.

If you want a family get-together, you could rent a Caribbean villa – many of which come with a cook.

A little further south, Costa Rica (24ºC, 7 hours of sun) is another great Christmas holiday destination. I love this two-week Coast to Coast self-drive holiday which includes wildlife adventures, visits to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the spectacular La Fortuna Falls and Arenal volcano.

Further afield, Thailand is a wonderful Christmas holiday destination. Although it’s a Buddhist country, Christmas is celebrated with charm and enthusiasm. There’s a wide range of hotels, from luxury spa resorts to idyllic beach resorts and, if you pick your destination carefully, the weather will be hot and dry. It’s the rainy season on the east Gulf coast (Koh Samui and Hua Hin, for example) – Phuket is one of the best places to stay at this time of year with 8 hours of daily sunshine and 31ºC temperatures. Check out this selection of imaginative holidays in Thailand.

Other Christmas holiday ideas in Asia include Malaysia for beaches, sightseeing and great food, and Burma which is slowly opening up to tourism and offers fascinating sights and friendly people. Beach addicts and culture vultures should consider Bali for its magical combination of the two. It averages 8 hours of sun and 32ºC.

India offers everything under the sun from temples and forts to tiger safaris and beaches. For private tours we recommend TransIndus and these wildlife itineraries with Audley Travel. Neighbouring Sri Lanka (30ºC and 8 hours of sun) is a good choice too – check out these wildlife holidays offered by the Experience Travel Group.

In Zambia you can take thrilling safaris on foot and game drives in South Luangwa National Park, then finish your visit with an amazing stay at Victoria Falls. It’s the wet season in Botswana but that also means terrific game-viewing opportunities. Summer is in full bloom in South Africa at Christmas time – but this is definitely one to book early as it’s in hot demand.

Find more winter holiday destinations recommended by our editors.

Christmas family holiday on beachFamily holidays at Christmas

Christmas luxury holidays for families

The Caribbean is hard to beat for families. We recommend the all-inclusive Verandah Resort & Spa in Antigua, which is set in 30 acres of beach and gardens and offers free watersports including windsurfing and sailing. The all-inclusive Beaches Resorts are excellent for kids of all ages, not least those hard-to-please teenagers. Try Beaches Turks & Caicos or Beaches Negril.

If your family is not content to lie around a pool, check out this selection of family adventure holidays with Tourdust including a tour of South Africa that includes snorkelling, canoeing, mountain biking in the Drakensberg and a safari in KwaZulu Natal.

We also recommend these family adventures in Vietnam and Sri Lanka. Both are remarkable destinations combing great value with excellent weather over the Christmas period. Other family tips include a tour of China.

Christmas in Africa is always magical. Check out these family holidays in Kenya. If your children love horses, why not saddle up for a horse riding with Aardvark Safaris in the Masai Mara or Okavango Delta.

South Africa is a great destination for families – and Cape Town has 11 hours of daily sunshine and 25ºC temperatures. We love this self-drive Cape Town, Garden Route and Safari holiday. Or you could head to Tanzania for a safari and beach holiday, perhaps combining game drives at Selous Impala Camp, where you will sleep in a family tent and see elephant, lion, giraffe and hippo, with Breezes Beach Club, a friendly hotel on a white-sand beach.

More Christmas holiday ideas for families? How about Mauritius, which offers overnight flights, no jet lag and superb hotels, many with free kids clubs. Check out The Residence Mauritius and these special offers.

The Maldives also has a few resorts that cater well to children. We suggest One&Only Reethi Rah.

Christmas can be a difficult time for one-parent families. We recommend Single With Kids who offer a wide range of destinations and the promise of other children – and single parents – if you fancy company.

See more family Christmas holidays.

Best UK Christmas holidays

There’s something special about packing up the car with your favourite foodie treats, the Christmas stockings, a case or two of wine and heading off to a home away from home for a week or two. Rent a cottage or house in a picturesque village or wild countryside for a cosy Christmas with your loved ones.

Sheepskin has some gorgeous properties in Wales and Devon and you’ll find a wide choice of quality cottages and houses from Sykes Cottages and, specialising in the West Country, Classic Cottages.

For the chance to hang up your apron, how about a warm hotel welcome somewhere special. We recommend Gilpin Lodge in the Lake District, and Lucknam Park in the countryside near Bath. Families will love Sands Resort on the north coast of Cornwall.

From London it’s a short drive to Maison Talbooth in Constable Country on the Essex/Suffolk border.


Wintry Christmas holidays

Skiing over Christmas is relatively good value – much less expensive than February half term week – and a festive atmosphere is guaranteed. For families, we recommend Ski Esprit which has superb childcare and family-friendly chalets. See the latest special offers. Experienced teens will love the PB Ski Academy.

Christmas is a great time of year to venture north to discover your inner child amongst natural wonders. One of the most exciting winter trips is to Iceland where you have a great chance of glimpsing the Northern Lights. There is a lot more to see in Iceland, including glaciers, hot springs and geysers, volcanic craters, lava flows and waterfalls. Plus the capital Reykyavik is charming.

We also recommend this selection of winter breaks in the snow if you want an active short break, perhaps cross-country skiing in Austria or snowshoeing in Switzerland.

In Russia, the city of St Petersburg is never more beautiful than when snow is piled high on the pavements and ice skaters take to the frozen Neva River.

If you want a traditional celebration, head across to Europe to visit a Christmas market. There are famous markets in Cologne, Munich and Budapest, along with church services, concerts, hymn recitals and ice skating. Some of Europe’s lesser-known cities, such as KoblenzWiesbaden and Freiburg, offer a more intimate experience in charming surroundings.

Prague is particularly romantic at Christmas time. This was the home of King Wenceslas and there’s a good chance that you’ll also find the snow deep and crisp and even.

Heading into New Year, how about one of these foodie break in cities that include Bologna, Lucca, Turin and Alicante.

Last updated: 26 January 2017

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