10 most popular holiday destinations
By Mark Hodson, Sunday Times Travel Writer and Editor of 101 Holidays
Looking for the most popular holiday destinations? These are the top destinations for our readers, along with personal recommendations from our team of editors. We also include the latest Government data on the numbers of UK visitors travelling abroad.
If you are travelling with children, see the Top 10 family destinations.
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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, Ibiza and Menorca are perennial big-hitters, along with Canary Islands such as Tenerife and the lesser-known La Gomera and La Palma. Other great beach destinations on the mainland include the Costa de la Luz and Catalonia.
Northern Spain is overlooked by many 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. See the best places to stay.
The relationship between the British and French has had its ups and downs over the years, but our love of all things French shows no sign of abating. From the Channel ports to the islands of the Mediterranean, Francophiles are never short of new destinations to discover.
Among our favourite holidays in France are the beaches of Corsica and backroads cycling. If you want to crack open a few bottles, relax and watch the countryside roll by, you could board a luxury barge with gourmet meals, fine wines and excursions included.
In the French Alps you can ski on a budget, or with a family specialist, and the mountains also make a great destination for a summer activity holiday. You can rent a chateau or soak up the sunshine and glamour in Nice.
Holidays in Greece are all about simplicity. It is the whitewashed villas, the friendly tavernas, the hot sun and blue seas that bring us 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 for 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.
4. Great Britain
No list of holiday destinations for UK travellers would be complete without mentioning our own great country: England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In the English countryside you can rent a Downton Abbey-style historic house sleeping 6 – 60 people. Perfect for birthdays or anniversaries.
Explore more UK holiday destinations.
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 delicious food.
New York is an obvious starting point, a 24/7 hit of street-level thrills and high culture. You can arrive on a Transatlantic cruise, combine the Big Apple with Las Vegas, or head north to Niagara Falls.
The Mid West is the heartland of America. Las Vegas is the popular highlight, easily combined with the Grand Canyon on a fly-drive. A great way to explore the US is to rent a motorhome.
The ultimate wilderness trip? It’s got to be Alaska where you can find eight National Parks, half the world’s glaciers and the second biggest rainforest after Amazonia. The wildlife on offer includes grizzly bears, sea lions, puffins and whales. Try this Ultimate Alaska Wildlife Safari.
Ancient culture, great beaches, fantastic food and charming people – it’s no surprise that so many of us decide to holiday in Italy. Our editors consistently rate it 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 private pool.
Beach lovers will be blown away by the 500 miles of coastline encasing Puglia in the south, not to mention the traditional architecture and terrific food and wine. Tuscany is deservedly popular but you can still escape the crowds by renting a villa.
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 and good-value places to stay, 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.
If you want an expert guide on hand, join one of these great-value escorted tours to Italy.
More about holiday destinations in Italy.
Portugal is a perennial favourite with British visitors and it’s easy to see why. It has historic cities, great food, glorious countryside, excellent beaches and friendly people. It’s also good value.
Portugal’s islands are well worth exploring. Madeira has thrown off its fuddy-duddy image and now has some beautifully-restored quintas (historic houses) as well as luxury five-star hotels. The Azores rank among the world’s best destinations for whale and dolphin spotting and offer great cycling routes. See more destinations in Portugal.
The pristine coastline of Croatia is among the most beautiful in the world – and one of the least spoilt in Europe. It’s still 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 islands that lay off the coast. Hvar is a real stunner, easily reached by ferry from Split.
The historic city of Dubrovnik has been beautifully restored in recent years. Originally built by the Venetians, the Pearl of the Adriatic has great food and is a wonderful base from which to take the ferry to surrounding islands.
Also, consider neighbouring Montenegro which is very good value. Though tiny – half the size of Wales – it is one of Europe’s fastest growing holiday destinations. Many visitors fly into Dubrovnik and take the half-hour drive across the border. See the best places to stay.
In terms of price, 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. And the food is superb.
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 magnificent Roman ruin or majestic mosque. If you want to escape the package hordes, the best small resorts include Kalkan, Kas, Akyaka and Dalyan. You can also explore the coastline on a gulet cruise. For an exotic short break, you can’t beat Istanbul.
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 unique cultural heritage, infused 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. Some of its hotels are world class. Not far away, in the Gulf of Siam, Koh Samui has some delightful small luxury hotels, and its neighbour Koh Phangan is on the up.
For a touch of opulence, book a berth on the Eastern & Oriental Express as it rides between Bangkok and Singapore.
See more cheap long haul destinations.
Just outside the top 10…
The Arabian Gulf is a fast-growing destination served by many excellent airlines and offering guaranteed winter sun. The glittering city of Dubai is a proven winner and many tourists are now discovering its neighbour Abu Dhabi which has some astonishing beachfront hotels. For an intense hit of culture and adventure, head over the border into the Sultanate of Oman.
The growth of the Maldives shows no sign of slowing. With each resort on a private island, it’s obviously a great destination for honeymoons, but is also becoming known for family holidays. See our pick of the best island resorts.
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 marvel at the cultural treasures of the Golden Triangle or tour the beguiling southern state of Kerala. The rise in popularity of Japan has been unstoppable.
The historic treasures of Egypt are timeless and the best 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 the great dam at 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 Pyramids and Sphinx.
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. In the east, discover the Atlantic Coast where you can eat fresh lobster, oyster and caviar and canoe amongst icebergs and whales.
South America is a part of the world that many Brits barely know, yet it’s rich in culture, beaches, adventure, has fantastic food and wine, great places to stay, vibrant cities and pristine wilderness. See our guide to the best holiday destinations in South America.
Need more inspiration? Try our fun holiday quiz. Just answer 10 simple questions and we’ll give you personalised recommendations.
Top holiday destinations: UK government statistics 2018
According to the most recent government statistics, UK residents made 47 million leisure visits abroad in 2018. This excludes business travel. Of that figure, 39 million visits were to countries in Europe (36.8 million to EU countries) and 2.4 million were to North America.
The chart below shows the 20 most visited countries by UK tourists in 2018, with figures in thousands. These are all leisure visits, and exclude business trips.
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Last updated: 16 October 2019