Christmas holiday destinations
* Where to find guaranteed winter sun
* Best places to celebrate Christmas
By Mark Hodson, Sunday Times Travel Writer
There was a time when going on holiday at Christmas was unthinkable for virtually everyone except the über-rich. There’s now a huge choice of well-priced holidays at Christmas including the Canaries, Africa, cruise and ski.
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.
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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.
See more holiday ideas in the UK.
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.
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 well-stocked supermarkets so self-catering is a really good choice. Check out these gorgeous villas with private pool.
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 the latest travel advice from the Foreign Office.
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 also combine it with neighbouring Dubai. Check out the latest special offers.
See our pick of the best short breaks at Christmas and New Year.
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 the best value, look at the Dominican Republic and 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 which 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, for example) – Phuket is one of the best places to stay at this time of year with 8 hours of daily sunshine and 31ºC temperatures.
However, there’s much more to Thailand than beaches. This selection of bespoke holidays in Thailand includes a street food tour in Bangkok, a ride on a traditional junk boat and an adventure tour of Khao Sok National Park.
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.
India offers everything under the sun from temples and forts to tiger safaris and beaches. If it’s your first time, don’t miss the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Jaipur and Agra for the Taj Mahal). For private tours we recommend TransIndus. Neighbouring Sri Lanka (30ºC and 8 hours of sun) is a good choice too – check out these wildlife holidays offered by the Experience Travel Group.
In Latin America, it’s dry season in Colombia where you can explore mountains, jungle, coffee plantations, colonial cities and Caribbean beaches without long journeys. Try this 14-night Classic Colombia tour.
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.
You could even join thousands of pilgrims to celebrate a colourful Ethiopian Christmas on a 9-day adventure tour.
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 watersports and sailing.
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.
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.
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 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. For families, we recommend Ski Esprit which has superb childcare and family-friendly chalets. See the latest special offers.
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. There is a lot more to see in Iceland, including glaciers, hot springs and geysers, volcanic craters, lava flows and waterfalls. Plus the capital Reykyavik is charming.
You could visit Santa in Lapland (the real one, of course), or sleep at Sweden’s Ice Hotel (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.
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 Koblenz, Wiesbaden 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 also 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: 28 December 2020