Christmas holiday destinations
* Best beach destinations for winter sun
* Find a cosy cottage or visit Santa in Lapland
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. 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 time has been one of the fastest growing travel trends in the last 20 years.
Choices now range from “hot holidays” on palm-fringed beaches from the Canaries to Thailand, safaris in Africa, cruises and you can also find 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.
Here is our pick of the best Christmas holiday destinations and how to book. If you have kids in tow, see our recommendations for the best family Christmas holidays.
Note: all the travel companies featured are personally recommended by our editors.
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 of 24C 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 some well stocked supermarkets too so self-catering, with car hire thrown in, is a really good choice. Few of the villas in Lanzarote are by the sea so opt for one of these gorgeous villas with a private pool.
North of the Canaries, Madeira is a stunning place to celebrate Christmas. It’s great for walking, dining out, fishing and experiencing the local culture. You can stay at a resort hotel in Funchal or one of the Quintas, traditional countryside hotels.
It’s only five hours flying time to Egypt which offers great weather, 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 or head to the beaches of the Red Sea. See the latest travel advice from the Foreign Office.
Six hours flying time gets you to Dubai which offers a heady mix of glamour, shopping and entertainment. There are many spectacular hotels in the city itself or you could stay in the desert at the charming Al Maha Desert Resort.
For a taste of the “real” Arabia at a gentler pace, try Oman. It boasts great beach hotels such as Six Senses Zighy Bay with ancient culture, adventure tours and beautiful untouched scenery. Check out the latest special offers.
The best Christmas holidays in the sun 2014
You can be in the Caribbean, a classic Christmas holiday destination, in under eight hours. Warm sunshine is guaranteed with very little rain and humidity – but it’s not cheap. If you want a good deal you’ll need to fly before the schools break up. Our favourite islands include Barbados, Tobago and Jamaica. Many hotels who 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.
Rent a Caribbean villa for a great way for your family to get together at Christmas – and many come with a cook. If you want to push the boat out, how about a sailing holiday in the Caribbean? We recommend Sunsail. If you’re an experienced sailor, book a bareboat yacht charter. If not, go to sailing school first.
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 cheaper beachfront resorts and, if you pick your destination carefully, the weather will be hot and dry. It’s the rainy season on the east coast (Koh Samui and Hua Hin for example) - Phuket is one of the best places to stay at this time of year. See our recommendations for the best hotels in best hotels in Phuket.
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.
India offers everything under the sun from temples and forts to tiger safaris and beaches. For private tours we recommend TransIndus. The teardrop island of Sri Lanka 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 holiday ideas 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 active family holidays. Great Christmas holiday destinations include Costa Rica where we love this Rainforest & Volcanoes tour.
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 and the chance to visit the pyramids and swim in the Red Sea on a family tour of Egypt.
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. We like 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 The Tides, 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.
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 our full selection of family holiday ideas.
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 en famille. 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.
In Devon, The Cary Arms – the self-styled ‘Inn on the Beach’ – is the height of British seaside chic overlooking Babbacombe Bay. They have some sea-view cottages as well as more traditional hotel rooms and the food is gastro-pub at its best.
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. For luxury family ski holidays we recommend Powder Byrne, which also offers ski weekends and stylish family skiing at San Cassiano in Italy. See the latest ski availability over Christmas.
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. Nasa reckons that winter 2013/14 will see some of the most spectacular displays in recent history. There is lots more to see in Iceland including glaciers, hot springs and geysers, volcanic craters, lava flows and waterfalls. Plus the capital Reykyavik is charming.
In Russia, the city of St Petersburg is never more beautiful than when snow is piled high on the pavements and there is skating on frozen rivers.
If you want a traditional celebration, head across to Europe to visit a Christmas market. There are famous markets in Cologne, Munich and Prague, along with church services, concerts, hymn recitals and ice skating. Some of Europe’s lesser-known cities, such as Koblenz, Wiesbaden and Freiburg, offer a more intimate experience in charming surroundings.