Take the kids away this Christmas
* We pick the best family holidays for you
* How to save money and avoid the pitfalls
By Mark Frary, Editor of 101 Family Holidays
“Dear Santa, for Christmas this year I’d like a holiday…” If you’re thinking of taking the kids away for the festive period, on this page you’ll find a stocking-full of family holiday goodies, plus top tips on where to go and how to plan your trip – whether you’re looking for a yuletide bolthole in a cosy cottage or a Christmas cracker in the Caribbean.
Planning a Christmas family holiday
Going on holiday at Christmas is the perfect way to spend quality time with family or friends. You get a break from stuffing the turkey and the dishwasher, while the children get a present they’ll never forget – an exciting holiday somewhere amazing!
A Christmas family holiday needn’t cost a fortune. There are some great-value breaks in the UK. And don’t forget that if you are flying abroad, you can save money by travelling on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.
With everyone on the move over Christmas, roads will be busy, so allow extra time for getting to the airport. Check that public transport, airport parking and other services that you take for granted the rest of the year are actually operating.
It’s a good idea to leave presents unwrapped, just in case security decide to hand-check your luggage at the airport. Take gift-wrap, tape and ribbons with you, but remember that scissors must not be packed in your hand luggage. Gift cards are a lot less fuss and take up minimal space.
If you do take expensive gifts away with you, carry them in your hand luggage, keep receipts and make sure your travel insurance is adequate.
Last, but most importantly… don’t forget to write to Father Christmas, say how good you’ve been and let him have your holiday address at one of the following.
Christmas family holidays in the UK
At Gwel an Mor, Scandinavian-style lodges bring a little bit of Lapland to the Cornish coast. Santa and his reindeer are in residence over Christmas, while the five-star resort hosts a Family Festive Fun Weekend in early December.
Special packages are available at the Cotswold Water Park Four Pillars Hotel where miles of walking and cycling trails will help you burn off the excesses of Christmas lunch. It’s also an ideal base from which to explore cutesy Cotswold towns like Burford and Bourton-on-the-Water – all decked out in festive finery.
Renting a cottage over Christmas and the New Year is not only great fun, but you can also save money by splitting the costs of a larger property with family or friends. Classic Cottages have over 100 properties in the West Country that are suitable for large groups.
If you’re renting a cottage over Christmas you’ll need somewhere to roast chestnuts – Sykes Cottages have a search facility for cottages with open fires, while Rural Retreats have a great range of dog-friendly cottages – so even the furry members of the family needn’t miss out on the festivities. Also see the great selection of cosy family cottages offered by Sheepskin, most of which are in Wales or the Welsh borders.
Camping might not be the first thing that springs to mind for a Christmas holiday in the UK, but Feather Down Farms now has year-round log cabins – with wood burners, oil lamps, pizza ovens, hot tubs and proper beds with thick duvets, this is perfect for snuggling up in winter.
Christmas family holidays in Europe
The Big Domain has large holiday homes for rent in destinations ranging from England to Vanuatu, but it’s their selection of large ski chalets in Europe that particularly appeals at Christmas. With room for 48, Chalet au Coin du Fue in Morzine (one hour from Geneva airport) is located right at the foot of the ski slopes and boasts a games room, bar and in-house chef.
Oliver’s Travels also has properties that are great for a big family get-together at Christmas. The 17th-century Chateau Castelsagrat near Moissac in Southern Quercy has accommodation for 19 guests and comes with a Christmas tree, decorations and welcome basket of festive goodies.
If you’re looking to whisk the kids away on a Christmas treat, few things will get a more resounding cheer than a holiday in the Alps. Esprit Ski have been refining the art of family skiing for 30 years and offer a superb selection of child-friendly resorts in Switzerland, Austria, Italy and France – all with Esprit’s legendary childcare and excellent value ski packages. See the latest deals.
Of course, the promise of a skiing holiday isn’t the only way to make your children’s eyes light up at Christmas. Take them to a theme park. Most people think only of Disneyland Paris, but did you know about Efteling in Holland. It’s a treat for kids of all ages with rides and attractions themed around fairytales.
Several European cities, from Berlin and Krakow to Tallinn and Vienna, host Christmas markets where streets and squares are transformed into a glittering homage to yuletide traditions. Nothing will get you in the Christmas mood better than a short break steeped in hot gluhwein – while the kids will love the carols, food, festive atmosphere and quirky stalls.
I also love the tailor-made family breaks in Paris for young children offered by Family Twist. It also has an imaginative range of exciting Christmas tours and treats in London and Rome, as well as Paris.
Winter sun is bound to be on many people’s Christmas lists. In the Canaries, both Tots Too and Sovereign Luxury Travel have a feast of fine family hotels. If you kids are a bit older, check out the new Hard Rock Hotel Tenerife which has live music, cool decor, kids clubs and loads of activities.
If Christmas is all about making dreams come true, you can’t go wrong with a journey to Lapland to visit Santa, view the northern lights or try your hand at activities like husky sledding and reindeer sleigh rides. Activities Abroad has a smorgasbord of winter holiday options for families.
A family Christmas in the Caribbean or Indian Ocean
Feel like venturing further afield at Christmas? A white-sand Christmas is guaranteed in the Caribbean or Indian Ocean.
The hurricane season in the Caribbean is over by the Christmas holidays and although this is peak period, you can often get good deals if you book online well in advance.
Some of my favourite destinations include Round Hill Hotel & Villas which offers an equally relaxed and low-key experience, plantation-style, on Jamaica. Choose from hotel rooms or villas with a private pool. There’s an excellent children’s club and wonderful nanny service for tiny tots.
The all-inclusive Verandah Resort & Spa on Antigua is another excellent choice for a carefree Caribbean Christmas break. Also check out Turtle Beach in Barbados – it’s known for its Flying Fish Kids Club, for ages 3 to 12, which is open daily until 9pm.
For something a bit livelier, head for the Beaches Luxury Included® Family Resorts on the Turks & Caicos where children will think all their Christmases have come at once, thanks to the action-packed Kids Camps and waterparks.
Another warm-water wonderland awaits in the Indian Ocean where Mauritius, Seychelles and the Maldives have a glittering array of family resorts and hotels. Try Beachcomber Tours and Turquoise Holidays for Mauritius and the Maldives.
For fun in the sun, it’s hard to beat Dubai with its water parks, glitzy hotels, desert adventures and indoor skiing. In December you can expect temperatures of 26ºC and 8 hours of daily sunshine. See a full range of family holidays.
A family adventure at Christmas
Why not leave behind the tired old Christmas tree and head for Asia? Vietnam is a huge hit with kids, with its vibrant cities, great street food, endless white-sand beaches and colourful temples. Explore the Viet Cong tunnels at Cu Chi and the turtle and primate conservation centres at Cuc Phuong. The weather in December is excellent.
Thailand is another destination that works with kids of all ages, particularly because Thai people absolutely adore children. This Southern Beach and Jungle Adventure features elephant encounters, jungle treks and canoeing – along with some luxury island resorts – and works well at Christmas. See more family holidays in Thailand.
To make Christmas more meaningful, how about taking a family volunteering holiday that combines adventures, luxury hotels and a few days spent helping local villagers or working on wildlife conservation projects. Download a free guide to making your holiday more meaningful.
Iceland is a thrilling winter destination only three hours flying time from the UK. There are few more magical ways to spend Christmas than viewing the Northern Lights but you can also get the adrenaline running with an off-road trip in a 4WD Superjeep to explore Iceland’s natural wonders – see this idea on the South Coast.
For wildlife enthusiasts, a Christmas cruise around the Galapagos Islands is like opening a big box of chocolates – during December and January you’ll witness the hatching of giant tortoise eggs, the fledging of albatross chicks and the start of the green turtle nesting season. Journey Latin America has a great Family Ecuador and Galapagos tour.
Also in South America, Dehouche offers some exciting family adventures in Peru and Brazil.
Christmas on the wild side is also a guaranteed hit in Africa. It’s usually dry with excellent game viewing in East Africa – and as an extra Christmas treat, the wildebeest migration is in full force in the southern Serengeti during December and January. Both World Big Cat Safaris and Exsus can arrange tailor-made family safaris to the region.
More safari options, from horse-riding adventures in Botswana and self-drive tours through South Africa to staying in a private family house in Zambia are available with Aardvark Safaris, Mahlatini and W&O Rainbow Tours.
In Morocco, try this tour for families which takes in Marrakech, the Atlantic coast and the Atlas Mountains. If you prefer to stay in one place, Rebali Riads near Essaouira combines relaxation, beach activities and Moroccan culture, with the options of a quad-bike tour, a Moroccan cooking course and a camel trek with a picnic on the beach.
The Adventure Company offers adventures for families with toddlers as young as two – the cooler Christmas period is the perfect time to experience magical Marrakech and the beautiful snow-dusted Atlas Mountains.
Another prime destination that’s spot-on at Christmas is Australia where you can enjoy the antipodean summer and enjoy Christmas dinner straight off the barbie. The Ultimate Travel Company offers a sizzling Two-Week Winter Warmer featuring Sydney, the Sunshine Coast, Lamington National Park and Hamilton Island.
Last updated: 2 March 2017
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