Top 10 holiday destinations
Looking for holiday ideas? Here our editors – The Sunday Times travel writers Mark Hodson and David Wickers – reveal their top 10 holiday destinations.
These are the most popular destinations with our readers, along with our own personal recommendations. We also have the latest Government data on the numbers of UK visitors travelling abroad.
If you know when you plan to travel and are looking for ideas of where to go, see Best Time to Visit.
Note: all the travel companies featured are personally recommended by our editors.
Spain has long been a favourite of British holidaymakers, and it remains the UK’s number one holiday destination. In particular, the Balearic islands of Mallorca and Ibiza are perennial big-hitters (not forgetting Menorca), along with Canary Islands such as Tenerife and the beautiful lesser-known La Gomera and La Palma. Other great beach destinations include the Costa de la Luz and Catalonia.
Northern Spain is overlooked by most tourists, even though it combines magnificent empty beaches with rolling countryside, mountains, medieval towns and buzzing cities. It’s authentic, great value and the food is superb.
There’s a lot more to Spain than beaches. There are great walking holidays in the north and cycling in Catalonia. The rise of low-cost airlines has benefited city breaks in places like Palma and Seville – both of which are rich in culture.
For sporting holidays you can’t beat La Manga Club which has world-class tennis facilities and three championship golf courses. You can also explore Spain on board a state-run luxury train such as the Transcantábrico and La Robla.
Find more holiday ideas in Spain.
The relationship between the British and French may have had its ups and downs over the years, but our love of all things French shows no signs of abating. From the Channel ports to the islands of the Mediterranean, Francophiles are never short of new destinations to discover.
If you’re looking for an excuse to crack open a few bottles, take a wine tour or a champagne weekend. Or relax and watch the countryside roll by on a luxury hotel barge with gourmet meals, fine wines and excursions all included. Destinations include Burgundy, the Canal du Midi, Provence and Gascony.
In the French Alps you can ski on a budget, or with a family, plus they make a great destination in summer. You can visit Disneyland Paris with the kids or rent a French chateau. Even in winter you’ll find long days of sunshine on the Cote d’Azur, where you can enjoy the timeless beauty of Nice.
Find more holiday ideas in France.
Holidays in Greece are all about simplicity. Despite the recent economic crisis, it is the whitewashed villas, the friendly tavernas, the hot sun and blue seas that keep us coming back year after year. Even Greek food is a masterpiece of simplicity, both traditional and healthy.
It is the islands that attract the most visitors. Corfu’s villas never lose their appeal. If you’re looking the quintessential small Greek island, we recommend Paxos, which has no airport and is a great place for lazy days, boat trips and lovely villas.
America is the most popular long-haul destination for British holidaymakers and it’s not hard to see why. The USA has an impressive diversity of landscapes, iconic cultural sights, friendly people and great food. See our full recommendations at 101 USA holidays.
New York is an obvious starting point, a 24/7 hit of street-level thrills and high culture. Stay in a stylish boutique hotel or an affordable midtown address. You can arrive on a Transatlantic cruise, combine the Big Apple with Las Vegas, or escape the city to the tranquil countryside of Upstate New York (where you can even stay on a farm).
New England is charming. Whether you opt for a classic 2-week fly-drive, a coach tour or big road trip, you’ll see a lot without covering too many miles. Most trips start and finish in Boston and include a visit to Cape Cod, a classic American seaside resort where you rent a summer house.
Other highlights of the East coast include Niagara Falls and the cities of Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. You can drive across Virginia, retrace the Civil War route, visit DC, Philly and New York on a single trip, or visit the settings of classic TV shows on a location tour.
There many ways to explore the US: you can rent a car or a motorhome, take an epic tour by railway or get off the beaten track on a cycling tour, a family adventure holiday or a group tour for young people aged 18 – 38. You can play golf, take a river cruise on the Mississippi, indulge your love of American music or visit the country’s finest gardens. You can even get married in the USA.
California and the West Coast is packed with things to do – you could drive from San Francisco to San Diego, tour California in a convertible, explore Napa Valley by cycle or make like a Rat Packer in Palm Springs. In the North West, Washington and Oregon states boast stunning scenery or try an epic 2-week fly-drive out of Seattle.
The West is a great region for road trips: you could tour the great National Parks, explore the Wild West in Wyoming, take a trip down Route 66 or explore the wide open spaces of Utah and Colorado. Classic rail journeys include Seattle to LA, Chicago to the Grand Canyon and a tour of music capitals.
America’s cultural impact on the 20th Century can be celebrated on a Music & Movies Trail, a tour of Nashville and Memphis or by visiting a music festival such as Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Adventurers can raft down the Grand Canyon, camp in the Northern Rockies, track wolves in Yellowstone or stay on a working ranch. America has superb skiing, particularly in Colorado and Wyoming.
The South has a timeless charm and many great states to visit including Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina. In Alaska you can take a small-ship cruise or see grizzly bears in Katmai National Park.
Love beaches? Hawaii is stunning whether you opt for an island-hopping tour, a small ship cruise or a relaxing stay in stunning Kaua’i. Florida is easy to reach from the UK: Orlando is the big draw, but you can drive to Key West or find luxury hotels in Miami and the Keys.
5. Great Britain
No list of holiday destinations for UK travellers would be complete without mentioning our own great country: not just England, but Wales, Scotland, Northern Island and some of our lesser known islands such as the Scilly Isles and the Isle of Wight.
Britain offers many interesting holiday experiences. You can rent a lighthouse keeper’s cottage, sleep in a log cabin in a secluded forest or a luxury tent on a working farm, take a tour of the UK’s finest gardens or a boating holiday on one of its many canals and rivers.
In Scotland you could join an intimate small-boat cruise around the Highlands and Islands, take a whisky tour, ride a steam train on the West Highland Line or take a tour of Mull to see minke whales, otters, seals and porpoises. You can even rent a Downton Abbey-style historic house sleeping 6 – 60 people. Perfect for birthdays or anniversaries.
Explore more UK holiday destinations.
Ancient culture, great beaches, fantastic food and beautiful weather – it’s no surprise that so many of us decide to holiday in Italy. Our editors consistently rate it is one of the best summer holiday destinations in Europe.
For a taste of la dolce vita, head to the wonderful cities of Rome, Florence and Venice – for an extra dash of old-school glamour, you can even travel to Venice on the Orient Express. For a relaxing stay in the countryside or close to a beach, rent a villa with a private pool.
Umbria is a beautiful area of Italy, boasting medieval market towns, wonderful vineyards and great works of the Renaissance – and is largely untouched by tourists. Beach lovers will be blown away by the 500 miles of coastline in stunning Puglia, not to mention the traditional architecture and terrific food and wine.
The Italian Lakes attracted some of the first package tourists from the UK and they continue to be popular for their beautiful setting, mountain views and great transport links for visiting local sights.
The lesser-known area of Le Marche offers everything you would expect from Italy – great beaches, historic palaces and galleries stuffed with masterpieces. The island of Sicily combines historical sites with a gorgeous coastline, while Sardinia has the country’s best beaches, and the Amalfi Coast is a fantastic base from which to visit Sorrento, Capri, Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii.
More about holiday destinations in Italy.
Turkey has benefited from its exclusion from the Eurozone. Although it suffers from inflation and isn’t as cheap it was 20 years ago, it still compares favourably to its western neighbours.
With its endless Aegean coastline, Turkey has some of Europe’s finest beaches, many of which remain relatively unspoilt. And you’re rarely far from a slice of ancient culture. Although most summer sunseekers head straight to the coast, a short break in Istanbul should not be missed, ideally in spring or autumn.
You can also explore the coastline of Turkey on a magical gulet cruise.
It’s difficult to know where to start with the historic treasures that Egypt boasts, but a great way to explore them is on a Nile Cruise. Float in luxury between the temples of Karnak and Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, and Aswan. The capital Cairo is home to the Egyptian Museum where you can see King Tutankhamen’s solid gold death mask, and just outside the city are the iconic pyramids and Sphinx.
For a more laid-back experience head to the sparkling waters of the Red Sea resorts which offer some of the world’s best snorkeling along with luxurious, good-value hotels.
Update: as of 24 November 2013 the Foreign Office has lifted its travel warning on the main tourist areas of Egypt.
The pristine coastline of Croatia is among the most beautiful in the world – and one of the most unspoilt in Europe. It’s also good value compared to other Mediterranean countries.
Either stay in one of the beautiful resorts that dot the coastline, or head out to one of the many stunning islands that lay off the coast. The island of Hvar is a real stunner, easily reached by ferry from Split. It has fabulous beaches and a great selection of budget and luxury hotels.
The historic city of Dubrovnik has been beautifully restored in recent years. Originally built by the Venetians, the Pearl of the Adriatic has some great food and is a wonderful base from which to take the ferry to surrounding islands.
Thailand, the Land of Smiles, continues its meteoric rise from backpackers’ haven to mainstream holiday favourite. The appeal is obvious: beautiful countryside and beaches, great food, friendly people and low prices. But Thailand also has a fascinating unique cultural heritage, enfused by Buddhist ideals. And Bangkok, the capital, fizzes with energy.
It’s the islands that attract the most attention, however, with Phuket bringing in most visitors. Most of its hotels are world class. Not far away, in the Gulf of Siam, the idyllic island of Koh Samui has some delightful small luxury hotels, and its neighbour Koh Phangan is on the up.
There are many ways to explore Thailand, including aboard a tall ship on a traditional sailing cruise.
Need more inspiration? Try out fun holiday quiz. Just answer 10 simple questions and we’ll give you personalised recommendations.
Just outside the top 10…
With so many great places to visit around the world, how could we possibly restrict ourselves to just 10? There are many great countries that didn’t quite make the list, which we just have to mention…
The Arabian Gulf is a fast-growing destination served by great airlines and offering guaranteed winter sun. The glittering city of Dubai is a proven winner and many people are discovering its fascinating, culturally-rich neighbours Oman and Abu Dhabi.
Although it doesn’t rank amongst the most popular holiday destinations, it’s impossible to ignore India for its sheer sensory overload, astonishing diversity, natural beauty and cultural wealth. You could tour the beguiling southern state of Kerala, or see tigers on a wildlife holiday in one of the many national parks. Find more tailor-made journeys in India with TransIndus.
Canada has stunning scenery. We’re huge fans of the Rockies where you can jump on board one of the world’s great trains, the Rocky Mountaineer. It’s not just railways – you can take a wildlife tour, a fly-drive or a cruise.
We couldn’t ignore Australia where the must-sees include the golden triangle of Sydney, Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef. Neighbouring New Zealand has some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes from a nature cruise in Milford Sound to a classic wine trail in Marlborough.
South America is a part of the world that many Brits don’t know at all, yet it’s rich in culture, beaches, adventure, has fantastic food and wine, great places to stay, vibrant cities and pristine wilderness. We rate Chile, Argentina and Brazil among the best places to go on holiday.
Top holiday destinations: UK government statistics
According to the most recent government statistics, UK residents made 56.5 million visits abroad in 2012. That was a small fall of 0.5% on the previous year – the figure in 2011 was 56.8 million.
There was a 7.5% fall in trips to North America which fell from 3.7 million in 2011 to 3.4 million in 2012. Visits to Europe increased by 0.3%, to 44.2 million but visits to other countries outside Europe also fell by from 9.1 million to 8.9 million.
Spain was one of the biggest winners with visits by Brits up 4.3% to 11.1 million. There were also increases for Belgium (up 14.4%), Italy (up 12.7%) and Norway (up 11.8%).
Within Europe, Greece was one of the losers with the number of British visitors down 5.7% to 1.8 million, presumably as a result of the financial crisis there.
France is the second most visited country by Britons, after Spain, but there was been a general downward trend over the past few years with the number of visits falling by 2.1 million between 2008 and 2012, down to 8.8 million.
Spain and France still account for 34% of all visits abroad by British travellers.
There was also a small drop in the number of nights spend abroad (down 1.8%). However, those tourists spent more with total spending up by 2.4% in absolute terms, to £32.4 million.
The chart below shows the top 10 holiday destinations in the world, listed by visits by UK residents.