101 Holiday ideas

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Where to go on holiday in December

Where to go on holiday in DecemberNorthern Lights in DecemberCuba holidays in December

* Best destinations for winter sun bargains

* Choose between the Caribbean and Northern Lights

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

With the nights getting ever shorter and the prospect of an icy cold winter ahead, December is a great time to escape the gloom and seek some winter sun. If you travel before the Christmas holidays, air fares are cheap – sometimes lower than at any other time of the year. Even over the Christmas holiday period it is possible to pick up great deals, especially if you are prepared to fly on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. See where to go on holiday at Christmas.

Also see our guides to the best singles holidays in December, and family holidays at Christmas.

If you want hot weather in December you will need to travel long haul, however you can find sunshine and great temperatures in the Canaries and the Gulf, both with short flight times. Here are our great ideas for where to go on holiday in December.

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

Mid haul holidays in December

One of the most exciting places to travel for a burst of sunshine in December is the Arabian Gulf. For fabulous hotels, shopping and entertainment you can’t beat Dubai. There are many great places to stay in the city and you can escape to the desert for a few days relaxing at the sumptuous Banyan Tree Al Wadi.

If you want to experience the “real” Arabia with a mix of culture, luxury and adventure, we recommend Oman. One of the best beach hotels is the magnificent Six Senses Zighy Bay. Another fascinating new destination in the Gulf is Abu Dhabi, where you can stay at the amazing Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort. See the latest offers.

It’s less than five hours flying time to reach Tenerife where even in December the weather is great. Temperatures year round average at 24ºC. For both couples and families we recommend Abama Golf & Spa Resort in Tenerife and the Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort in neighbouring Lanzarote.

The beautiful island of Madeira is another great year-round destination within 4 hours flying time thanks to new British Airways direct flights from London. The rugged landscape is ideal for walking, or you can simply lie back and soak up the sunshine and fascinating local culture. You can stay at a resort hotel or one of the traditional Quintas, stylish countryside retreats.

In Egypt you can expect lots of sunshine and warm temperatures – it’s a great time of year for sightseeing. If you want to see the Pyramids, Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, go for a 10-night Classic Egypt holiday which combines a Nile cruise and a few days in Cairo. Check the latest travel advice about Egypt.

It’s less than four hours flying time to Morocco where you can enjoy a family or group adventure, exploring cities, souks, deserts, mountains and remote villages with The Adventure Company.

Piton mountains, St LuciaThe Caribbean - one of the best holiday destinations in NovemberBeach holidays in December

Caribbean beach holidays in December

The Caribbean is one of the best holiday destinations in December – it’s the start of the season and the weather is perfect. If you’re looking for a cheap holiday in December, be sure to travel before the Christmas school holidays, when flight costs shoot up and high season hotel rates kick in. Check out Grenada, Tobago and Jamaica for some great winter getaways, and the tiny island of Anguilla for lovely beaches and classy hotels. Couples that want a fully-pampered all-inclusive resort should head for Sandals, which has hotels in JamaicaAntiguaSt Lucia and the Bahamas.

Cuba is a great value destination, combining beautiful beaches with a fascinating local culture and history. You can hit the road on a self-drive holiday, stay at a charming ecolodge or try this 10-night Affordable Luxury tour which includes three nights in Havana, three nights in the colonial city of Trinidad and four nights on the beach at Cayo Ensenachos.

If money is less of an issue, Barbados is perfect for Christmas and New Year sunshine with a vibrant restaurant scene – you’ll need to book early though. You could also take a cruise around the Caribbean. Check out the latest deals from Iglu.

Cambodia offers cheap holidays in December Best holidays in December Sri Lanka beaches

Asian holiday ideas

South east Asia has so much to offer in terms of December holidays. Immerse yourself in the history, culture and amazing food of Malaysia and Vietnam or the west coast islands of Thailand. Try to avoid the east coast of Thailand and Malaysia in December as there is a higher chance of rain. Phuket is a much better option.

It’s a great time to explore the ancient jungle-clad temples of Cambodia, witness the buzzing streets of the capital Phnom Penh and relax on its white-sand beaches. Pick from a selection of luxury tours or go tailor made.

This is a great time to explore India, a country so full of great places to visit that you barely know where to start. You could try a private tour of Northern India with TransIndus or track tigers in one of the country’s many national parks with Audley Travel.

Bali is perfect for beach holidays in December, with culture, warm seas and great value local cuisine. For a real cultural treat, take a private tour of Burma, one of the world’s unsung hidden gems.

Beyond Bali, Indonesia is one of the fastest-growing and most exciting holiday destinations in Asia. It’s incredibly diverse with pristine marine parks, spectacular temples, forest and wildlife – from Orang-Utans to Komodo dragons. For an exciting introduction, try this Essential Java and Bali tour.

Hotel Morabeza

Head south for winter

Travel south west to Brazil and Rio de Janeiro, famed for its legendary New Years Eve festivities. Argentina is also a fantastic place to explore, especially Buenos Aires with a rich cultural heritage. Also in South America, the pristine Galapagos Islands are a real once-in-a-lifetime where you can take a small-ship cruise to the various islands to see rare species up close.

Consider Africa, whether you want cheap holidays in December on the beach in the Gambia or a lavish safari in the dramatic surroundings of Namibia and Botswana. Combine city (Cape Town) and safari on a trip to South Africa where the climate is pretty much guaranteed to be stunning. Oman in the Arabian Gulf offers some great scuba diving opportunities as well as cultural treasures.

See our favourite holiday destinations in Africa and best beach holidays.

Another great option is the Cape Verde islands off the west coast of Africa, a delightful collection of diverse islands with great beaches, lush forests and colourful local culture. Flights are direct (just under 6 hours) to the main islands of Sal and Boa Vista and prices are surprisingly low. Check out the special offers.

You can’t get much further than New Zealand, nor much more exciting in terms of natural beauty. You’ve probably seen it in the movies, but in real life it’s even better! Check out some of the suggested tailormade holidays. It’s got to be one of the best holidays in December.

Actually, you can go further south than New Zealand – to Antarctica where you can get up close with the penguins and whales and be dazzled by the pristine wilderness. Choose between a 14-day Highlights of Antarctica trip and a longer voyage taking in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.

See polar bears in the wildJaw-dropping sceneryDresden

Cool winter holidays in December

You don’t have to seek the winter sun, of course. December is a great time to embrace the cold and make the most of the festive month. Why not visit Santa on a Christmas break in Lapland or fly to Moscow. Red Square and the Kremlin are a fantastic sight in the winter months. St Petersburg is well worth a visit for wintry cosiness, skating on rivers and elegant New Year celebrations.

If you think Christmas ought to be about traditional local celebrations, head to Europe to visit a Christmas market. You’ll find famous markets in Cologne and Munich, along with traditional celebrations, concerts, hymn services and ice skating. Lesser-known cities such as Freiburg, Koblenz and Wiesbaden are also recommended.

December is a romantic time of year to visit Prague where like the good King Wenceslas you’re likely to find the snow deep and crisp and even. Wrap up warm!

The next two winters will be the best for many years to view the spectacular Northern Lights. We recommend a trip to Iceland where you can also explore glaciers, hot springs and geysers, volcanic craters, lava flows and waterfalls. Other options include a few days in Reykyavik, a fly-drive tour or a jeep adventure.

You can also take a Northern Lights experience in Norway where you can try anything from fishing for King crabs to snowmobiling. Stay in the most northerly Snow Hotel in Kirkenes or the Igloo Hotel, or embark on a wildlife safari in the Lofoten Islands.

December marks the start of the ski season. We recommend a chalet holiday with Ski Total (see their late deals) or if you have children in tow check out Esprit Ski which has 27 years experience of taking care of children on and off the slopes.

If cash is tight, try a budget ski holiday in France with Peak Retreats. Or save up to 20% on self-catering ski apartments in France with Pierre & Vacances.

If time is tight, take a ski weekend in the Alps with Powder Byrne. Want to splash out in style? Head for Sir Richard Branson’s The Lodge, Verbier.

Christmas holiday ideas in the UK

If you’re thinking of spending Christmas away from home, we can recommend some great hotels in the UK and Ireland where you’ll get a warm welcome and great festive celebrations. This is a great time to explore the British countryside and head off for some frosty walks.

We particularly like Gilpin Lodge in the Lake District, and Lucknam Park in the countryside near Bath. Families particularly enjoy Sands Resort on the north coast of Cornwall.

If you’re looking for somewhere to spend Christmas or New Year with a large group of family or friends, we recommend renting a large house. Check out The Big Domain which has a stunning collection of houses, villas and chalets in the UK and overseas that sleep 12 or more. See the latest special offers.

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

New Year’s Holidays

The wine tour specialist Arblaster & Clarke has chartered a boat, the MV Douro Prince, to sail down Portugal’s River Douro for four nights over New Year’s Eve, with an onboard party, dinner, dancing and fireworks. Expect plenty of good wine and port tastings.

Try our holiday quiz

If you’re still stuck for ideas, why not try our fun holiday quiz. Answer 10 easy questions like the one below to find out what kind of holidaymaker you are, and get personalised travel recommendations. Try the quiz now.

where to go on holiday

Also see hot holidays in December, and our expert tips on honeymoons in December.

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