Christmas holiday destinations

Northern Lights at Christmas Christmas holiday in the Caribbean

* Where to find guaranteed winter sun

* Best places to celebrate Christmas

By Mark Hodson, Sunday Times Travel Writer

There are plenty of travel options for Christmas 2022 including the Canary Islands, Mauritius, Goa and The Gambia.The Arabian Gulf offers guaranteed sunshine and easy direct flights – choose from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the new kid on the block, Qatar.

You should also consider the Caribbean and winter-sun favourite Madeira.

It’s rare to find a bargain at this time of year and, if you know where you want to go, you should book early. But you can save money by flying on Christmas Day (and returning on New Year’s Eve).

These are my own personal recommendations with links to companies tested and approved by our team of editors. Also see our guides to the best family Christmas holidays and singles holidays at Christmas.

* Did you know you can save up to 40% on holiday prices? See our latest travel deals and enter your email address below to get updates every fortnight.

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

Four hours from the UK, 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 mean you no longer need to change aircraft in Lisbon. See the best accommodation in Madeira including resort hotels in Funchal or quintas, traditional countryside hotels.

In the Canaries, you can expect temperatures of up to 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.

Lanzarote is stunning. Families should check out the Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort. There are so many restaurants and well-stocked supermarkets so self-catering is a really good choice. Try one of these gorgeous villas with private pool.

In six hours you can get to The Gambia where Christmas is celebrated under a blazing sun  (31°C and 9 hours of sun), particularly at hotels such as my personal favourite, the Kombo Beach Hotel.

Less than seven 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 combine it with neighbouring Dubai. Check out the latest special offers.

Qatar offers luxury hotels with private beaches, world-class shopping and dining and an impressive choice of high-octane activities on sea and sand, from 4X4 dune bashing to kite surfing and sky diving.

It’s only five hours flying time to Egypt which offers sunshine,  24°C temperatures, excellent hotels and modest prices. This is an 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 our pick of the best short breaks at Christmas and New Year.

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.

You’ll find a wide choice of cottages and houses from Sykes Cottages and, specialising in the West Country, Classic Cottages.

Or rent a cottage in Scotland to celebrate Christmas and Hogmanay. With a large group you could rent a lodge or even a castle.

For the chance to hang up your apron, how about a warm hotel welcome somewhere special. We recommend Gilpin Lodge in the Lake District while families love Sands Resort on the north coast of Cornwall.

See more holiday ideas in the UK.

Christmas holiday ideas 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 in December.

Our favourite islands include Barbados and Anguilla (where you’ll find some of the finest beaches in the region). For value, look at 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 them come with a cook.

A little further south, Costa Rica (24ºC, 7 hours of sun) is another great Christmas holiday destination. I love this 12-day Costa Rica Highlights private tour which includes the Tortuguero Jungle Reserve, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Arenal volcano and Pacific and Caribbean beaches.

Looking east, Goa is magical at Christmas with both Hindus and Christians celebrating the season under hot sunny skies. You can expect temperatures of 31ºC and 14 hours of sunshine. With direct charter flights and great-value hotels, it’s deservedly popular. See this range of hotels.

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) but Phuket is one of the best places to stay at this time of year with 8 hours of daily sunshine and 31ºC temperatures.

If you want to get under the skin of Thailand, escape the crowds and enjoy some extraordinary experiences and authentic encounters, we recommend Experience Travel Group.

Other Christmas holiday ideas in Asia include Malaysia for beaches, sightseeing and great food, while beach addicts and culture vultures should consider Bali for its magical combination of the two. It averages 8 hours of sun and 32ºC at this time of year.

Sri Lanka (30ºC and 8 hours of sun) is a good choice too – check out these amazing places to stay and incredible experiences.

It’s the wet season in Botswana but that also means terrific game-viewing opportunities. The Chobe and Khwai River region has the highest concentration of elephants and lions in Africa.

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. Our researchers recommend this classic Cape Town, Winelands and Kruger safari adventure.

For ultimate experience of luxury safari camps and big game drives, check out these holidays in Kenya

Find more winter holiday destinations recommended by our editors.

Christmas luxury holidays for families

The Caribbean is hard to beat for families. You’ll find excellent child-friendly hotels in Antigua, many with all-inclusive options, free water sports and sailing.

We also recommend these family adventures in Vietnam – a remarkable destination combining great value with excellent weather over the Christmas period.

Christmas in Africa is always magical. Check out these family holidays in Kenya. 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 these special offers.

The Maldives has a few resorts that cater well to children of all ages. The LUX* South Ari Atoll works for all ages, from toddlers up, while the Six Senses Lammu is an exciting choice for teenagers with world-class surfing, along with wake-boarding, scuba-diving and snorkelling.

See more family Christmas holidays.

Traditional winter Christmas holidays

Skiing over Christmas is relatively good value – much less expensive than February half term week – and a festive atmosphere is guaranteed.

Christmas is a great time of year to venture north to discover your inner child amongst natural wonders. One of the most exciting winter destinations is Iceland where you have a strong chance of viewing 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 Reykjavik is delightful.

You can also view the Northern Lights on a coastal cruise of Norway or on trips to Sweden, Finland or even Greenland.

You could sleep at Sweden’s ICEHOTEL (wrapped in reindeer skins on an ice bed) or pick from this selection of active winter breaks in the snow, perhaps cross-country skiing in Austria or snowshoeing in Switzerland. See a full range of Northern Lights holidays.

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 find the snow deep and crisp and even.

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

Last updated: 16 May 2022

* Did you know you can save up to 40% on holiday prices? See our latest travel deals and enter your email address below to get updates every fortnight.

Before you book

Travel restrictions have been lifted by the UK, but some other countries still have measures in place. Check the latest government travel advice.