101 Holidays

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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

* Including the Caribbean, Canaries, 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 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 very 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 flying 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.

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The breathtaking Zighy BayDesertAbama

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 lavish hotels, great shopping, beaches and entertainment you can’t beat Abu Dhabi, which combines sleek modern hotels with touches of the “real” Arabia. See the latest special offers. Other options in the region include the high-tech wonders of Dubai and the dunes, beaches and mountains of Oman. Flying time: 7 hours.

It’s only four hours flying time to reach Tenerife where even in December the weather is excellent. Expect temperatures of around 20ºC with six hours of daily sunshine. For affordable luxury, I recommend Abama Golf & Spa Resort in Tenerife and the Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort in Lanzarote.

The beautiful island of Madeira is another great year-round destination within four hours flying time on 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. Stay at a resort hotel or a traditional quinta, stylish countryside retreats.

In Egypt you can expect lots of sunshine and warm temperatures – it’s a great time of year for sightseeing with 24ºC and nine hours of daily sun in Luxor. 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.

It’s less than four hours flying time to Morocco where you can explore cities, souks, deserts, mountains and remote villages. Expect 19ºC and seven hours of sun in the beguiling city of Marrakech.

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

Caribbean holidays in December

The Caribbean is one of the best holiday destinations in December – it’s the start of peak season and the weather is perfect. If you’re looking for a cheap holiday in December, travel before the Christmas school holidays, when flight costs shoot up and high season hotel rates kick in. Check out 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 consider Sandals which has hotels in JamaicaAntiguaSt Lucia and the Bahamas.

Cuba is a good value destination, combining beautiful beaches with a fascinating local culture and history. You can drink mojitos and dance the night away in the capital Havana, explore the sites of colonial Trinidad and lounge on the beach at Cayo Leviso.

Another good-value destination with culture and superb beaches is Mexico. Pick your resort carefully: busy vibrant Cancun or the quieter Puerto Vallarta or super-luxury Los Cabos. Keep the costs down by picking one of these all-inclusive hotels.

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

Costa Rica has beaches on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, plus a whole lot more. This 12-day Costa Rica Highlights tour includes visits to Tortuguero Jungle Reserve, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and Arenal volcano, plus a beach stay.

Cambodia offers cheap holidays in December Best holidays in December luxury holidays in December

Asia luxury holidays in December

It’s high season across most of South east Asia, where the weather is perfect. Immerse yourself in the history, culture and amazing food of Malaysia and Vietnam. Try to avoid the east coast of Thailand and Malaysia in December as there is a high chance of rain. Phuket on Thailand’s west coast is a much better option with 8 hours of daily sun and 31ºC.

It would be a shame to go all the way to Thailand and just lie on the same beach for two weeks: check out Experience Travel Group which has a great selection of bespoke tours and hidden gems, combining culture with sights and relaxation. Its food tours are particularly tempting.

Looking for a destination out of the ordinary? Try the Philippines. Great for island hopping, beaches, culture and marine life, this is a magnificent country of friendly English-speaking people and natural wonders. After a few days in Manila, explore the islands of BoholPalawan and Cebu.

For a bargain beach holiday in December, it’s hard to beat Goa in India. Endless white-sand beaches, great food, friendly people and low prices make this a popular choice. Expect 9 hours of daily sunshine and temperatures of 31ºC. See the latest special offers.

The rest of India is so full of great places to visit that you barely know where to start. Don’t try to do too much on a single visit. I suggest you focus either on the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, or laid-back Kerala in the south.

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

Bali is perfect for beach holidays in December, with culture, warm seas and great-value local cuisine. 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

Fly to Brazil where Rio de Janeiro is famed for its legendary New Years Eve parties. Argentina is also a fantastic place to explore in December, from the capital Buenos Aires with its rich cultural heritage, to the wine country of Mendoza and Patagonia in the south.

Also in Latin America, the pristine Galapagos Islands are a real once-in-a-lifetime experience where you can take a small-ship cruise to see rare species up close.

Or go south to New Zealand and explore this magnificent country on a fly-drive tour, staying in boutique hotels, hiking and soaking up some of the world’s best food and wine.

In Africa you could book a cheap holiday in December on the beach in the Gambia (9 hours of sun, 31ºC) or take a lavish safari in the dramatic surroundings of Botswana.

In Cape Town, you can expect 24ºC and 11 hours of sunshine – you could combine a few days in this beautiful city with the Winelands and Garden Route on a two-week self drive  – find more about South Africa.

If you want to combine budget travel in Africa with a personal challenge, join of these overland truck adventures. See more of our favourite holiday destinations in Africa.

Another interesting option is the Cape Verde islands off the west coast of Africa, a delightful collection of 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. Expect 27ºC and 7 hours of daily sun. Check out the special offers.

If you dream of remote desert islands, pristine beaches and reefs, the South Pacific is a mind-blowing destination. Don’t miss Tahiti, and try to also include Fiji and the Cook Islands.

See polar bears in the wildJaw-dropping sceneryDresden

Cool winter holidays in December

December holidays aren’t all about winter sun. It’s a great time to embrace the cold and make the most of the festive month. You could visit Santa in Lapland or see some of the world’s greatest art collections in St Petersburg where you can go skating on rivers and enjoy stylish New Year celebrations.

If Christmas in the UK seems too commercialised, head to Europe to visit one of the great Christmas markets such as Cologne or Munich, where you can join in local 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!

Seeing the Northern Lights is on many people’s bucket lists. I recommend a trip to Iceland where you can also explore glaciers, hot springs and geysers, volcanic craters, lava flows and waterfalls.

You can also take a Northern Lights experience in Norway where you can try fishing for King crabs and snowmobiling. Stay in the Snow Hotel in Kirkenes or join a wildlife safari in the Lofoten Islands.

In Finland, this four-night Arctic Wildlife tour includes encounters with lynx, wolverine, polar bear and Arctic fox.

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 with you check out Esprit Ski which has 30 years experience of taking care of kids both on and off the slopes.

If you don’t fancy downhill, you could try one of these winter breaks in the snow including cross-country skiing in Austria or snowshoeing in Switzerland.

If cash is tight, try a budget ski holiday in France with Peak Retreats. Want to splash out in style? Head for Sir Richard Branson’s The Lodge, Verbier.

Also see our tips for the best city breaks in December and where’s hot in Europe in December.

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 festive celebrations. This can also be a lovely time to explore the British countryside on frosty walks.

We particularly like Gilpin Lodge in the Lake District, and Lucknam Park 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, you could rent 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.

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

Last updated: 11 November 2018

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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