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8 of the best Christmas holidays for festive winter sun

Celebrate Christmas on the beach with one of these trips  (Getty Images)
Celebrate Christmas on the beach with one of these trips (Getty Images)

Christmas doesn’t have to mean cold. When spent in the UK, the festive period inevitably involved short days, long nights, last-minute panicked present purchasing and more likely drizzle than snow.

But, with a little research and a small dose of spontaneity, it could all be so different. Plenty of countries are basking in mild temperatures and winter sun come 25 December, with some of the planet’s perpetually warm countries offering a welcome break when the mercury hits close to zero at home.

Sticking to short haul, you can swap sleet for sun and sand in Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands, or take the plunge and spend your holidays swimming and diving in Barbados in the Caribbean.

Some of the world’s coolest cities bask in mid-20s temperatures in December too, with destinations like LA and Cape Town combining sparkling coast and buzzing cosmopolitan life. These places provide a Christmas that’s drastically different to one spent in the UK, with the added bonus of almost-guaranteed sun – read on to find a selection of the best.

Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

The Canary Islands are Europe’s most reliable destination for winter sun (Getty Images)
The Canary Islands are Europe’s most reliable destination for winter sun (Getty Images)

Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, located just off the coast of western Africa. These islands are the warmest places in Europe come Christmas, with Tenerife welcoming temperatures in the early 20s in December, making it the closest place to home for a sun-drenched festive getaway. Santa Cruz is the island capital – complete with a lovely harbour, leafy parks and cobbled streets – and coastal resorts like Los Cristianos and Playa de las Americas are popular for beach holidays.

Natural landmarks remain the real highlight on Tenerife, with the weather providing ideal temperatures to explore the island. Mount Teide, a still-active volcano and the highest peak in Spain, is the headline attraction, with a surrounding national park full of pine forests and red-rock desert. On the coast, beaches and rugged coastal features such as Las Teresitas and Los Gigantes attract visitors for relaxation, hiking and amazing views.

Book it

Take the stress out of the usually frantic festive period with an all-inclusive stay courtesy of easyJet Holidays at the Bahia Principe Sunlight, located in Playa Paraiso on the south of the island. It’s perched on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic, offering exceptional views from its large pool and sun terrace areas and plenty of recreational activities, including mini golf and tennis. At meal times, you’ll have the choice of three a la carte restaurants offering Mexican or Asian cuisine and an international buffet.

From £1,540pp for two adults and two children, including seven nights’ accommodation, all-inclusive, return flights from London Gatwick, one piece of checked luggage per passenger and transfers. Departing 22 December.

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Dubai, UAE

Dubai offers dozens of activities for active holidaymakers (Getty Images)
Dubai offers dozens of activities for active holidaymakers (Getty Images)

For a Christmas celebration without the over-the-top festivities (but with a large dose of desert glitz), consider Dubai. This desert metropolis has average temperatures of around 22C and almost no rain during December, making it an ideal choice for a sunny Christmas holiday. From resorts by the sea to high-rise hotels on the Marina, the city has a great range of accommodation and an eclectic variety of sights to keep you entertained during a holiday.

Days can be spent relaxing at beaches such as Jumeirah, JBR or Kite Beach, shopping in the world’s largest mall or scaling the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. For something a little more cultural, take a ride on a dhow boat across Dubai Creek or explore the Old Town, its souks and the historic neighbourhood of Al Fahidi.

Book it

The Tui package to the Ramada by Wyndham Downtown Dubai provides affordable accommodation right in the centre of downtown Dubai, less than a mile from the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall. Complete with three swimming pools, dozens of offerings for leisure activities and comfortable, contemporary rooms, it’s a great base for exploring the city during a Christmas trip.

From £1,936.53pp for two adults and two children, including seven nights’ accommodation, B&B, return flights from London Heathrow and one piece of checked luggage per passenger. Departing 21 December.

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town’s average temperatures stay above 20C in December (Getty Images)
Cape Town’s average temperatures stay above 20C in December (Getty Images)

December sees the beginning of summer in South Africa’s legislative capital, meaning you can combine beach visits with morning hikes and evenings spent wandering through neighbourhoods including Bo-Kaap, Woodstock and the V&A Waterfront. Camps Bay, Muizenburg and Boulders Beach are best for sand, sea and surfing, with Boulders home to a small colony of African penguins.

The 1,085-metre high Table Mountain is the place to hike for outstanding views over the city, with the vast Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden nearby. There’s also Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela served most of his 27-year prison sentence, with a museum that offers guided tours given by former inmates.

Book it

For a relaxing Christmas stay just outside of the hustle and bustle of the city, opt for the Vineyard Hotel with a package provided by Virgin Atlantic Holidays. It sits on the banks of the Liesbeek River, providing a picturesque backdrop just 15 minutes’ drive from the centre of Cape Town. Rooms are spacious and modern, and the hotel also offers a spa with both indoor and outdoor pools.

From £3,015pp for two adults, including six nights’ accommodation, B&B, return flights from London Heathrow and one piece of checked luggage per passenger. Departing 21 December.

Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech is a brilliant option for a Christmas break (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Marrakech is a brilliant option for a Christmas break (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Morocco has an average winter temperature of around 20C on its south-west coastline plus bustling souks, predictably dry weather and seven sunshine hours in colourful Marrakech at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Riad hotels featuring lush garden courtyards, decadent decor and delectable bites squeeze into the Medina neighbourhood, which is a delight to explore during the Christmas period.

The capital’s leading hotels also deck their halls for the festive season with dazzling displays in the “Red City”, and souks are primed for those last-minute stocking fillers, from leather to lamps and buche de Nôel (a French Christmas cake) stacking the shelves of Moroccan bakeries.

Book it

Love Holidays features an all-inclusive seven-night holiday to the Marrakech Ryads and Parc wellness hotel from £741pp, including return flights from London Gatwick and a spacious double room for two adults. The four-star hotel serves traditional Moroccan cuisine from the à la carte restaurant and there are two parasol-peppered pools to kick back and relax by.

From £741pp for two adults including all-inclusive accommodation and return flights from London Gatwick. Departing 24 December 2023.

Barbados

Barbados is one of the Caribbean’s most affordable islands (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Barbados is one of the Caribbean’s most affordable islands (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Perennially popular Barbados remains one of the more accessible, affordable islands in the Caribbean, as well as one of its glitziest. The island’s Platinum Coast, in the west, is home to excellent beaches and a range of resort hotels, while the south is the site of the more budget-friendly hotels and buzzing nightlife spots. The capital, Bridgetown, is worth spending time in to learn about the history of the island, while the east of the island is the wildest part, with untouched beaches and expert surfing spots.

This part of the West Indies is a great choice for a fly-and-flop type of Christmas. It’s home to an excellent dining scene and is the home of rum, which remains a focal point of the history and contemporary culture of the island, from the presence of sugar cane plantation tours to the guided tours and tastings at Mount Gay distillery. An entertaining day out can be had at the cricket or the horse races at Bridgetown’s Garrison Savannah track, with an equally entertaining evening available at Oistins Fish Fry every Friday.

Book it

A Thomas Cook package to the Mango Bay Hotel sees guests stay on the west coast in St James, right next to a stretch of golden sands and within walking distance of Holetown. Rooms are pared-back but comfortable, and there’s a pool and terrace area plus a restaurant overlooking the beach.

From £3,186.54pp for two adults, including seven nights’ accommodation, all-inclusive, return flights from London Heathrow and one piece of checked luggage per passenger. Departing 20 December.

Los Angeles, USA

LA offers around nine hours of sunshine per day in December (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
LA offers around nine hours of sunshine per day in December (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

California’s famously temperate climate means that Christmas in LA is likely to see little rain and plenty of sun, with temperatures hovering around 20C in the day. While nights spent walking along Santa Monica pier might require a light jacket, the days provide the ideal temperature for exploring the city’s vast array of things to see and do.

The festive period can be spent strolling or driving around Hollywood, Beverly Hills or Venice Beach, with plenty of time to do a movie studio tour or visit nearby themes parks like Disneyland or Universal Studios. Visitors can also hike to the famed Hollywood Sign, relax on the beaches of Malibu or see works from Picasso at the LA County Museum of Art.

Book it

It’s always difficult to choose where to stay in a city as vast as LA, but Hollywood is a good bet. Stay right on Hollywood Boulevard by choosing a package to the Hollywood Roosevelt from British Airways Holidays. This elegant hotel has combined Golden Age Hollywood glamour with modern interiors, amd boasts a stylish pool and roof terrace.

From £1,364pp for two adults, including seven nights’ accommodation, room-only, return flights from London Heathrow and one piece of checked luggage per passenger. Departing 22 December.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Christmas falls near the start of summer in Argentina, with average temperatures around 24C in the capital (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Christmas falls near the start of summer in Argentina, with average temperatures around 24C in the capital (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Buenos Aires is characterised by eclectic architecture, ranging from the Art Deco Metropolitan Theatre to the Beaux-Arts Kirchener Cultural Centre, an example of the French touches that have given the city its nickname, “the Paris of South America”.

The lively capital exudes a strong sense of Argentinian passion and a pleasantly chaotic atmosphere, visible in everything from its love of tango to the borderline fanatical support of its two main football teams. During the festive period, the start of summer brings alfresco dining, asado barbecues and extended nights out in districts including trendy Palermo, artsy Almagro and historic San Telmo. Christmas itself can be a quieter, family affair, but there’s plenty of time to stroll through parks such as Lezama and visit galleries like the Museum of Modern Art or the country’s National Historical Museum.

Book it

British Airways Holidays offers trips to the slick, fashionable 725 Continental in the centre of Buenos Aires, complete with a rooftop pool and spa. You’ll be less than a mile from several of the main attractions and under 200 metres from the nearest metro stop, making for easy access across the city.

From £3,006pp for two adults, including six nights’ accommodation, B&B, return flights from London Heathrow and one piece of checked luggage per passenger. Departing 22 December.

Phuket, Thailand

Escape to a Thai island this Christmas (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Escape to a Thai island this Christmas (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Thailand’s largest island is a land of dazzling white sands, emerald waters and atmospheric resort towns. The bustling provincial city, also named Phuket, is home to a picturesque Old Town and magnificent Sino-Portuguese architecture, with Patong the best place for nightlife or lively resorts and Chalong the destination for discovering cultural landmarks including Wat Chalong and the 45-metre tall Buddha statue.

Average daily highs reach around 34C in December, making the strikingly beautiful coast the obvious choice on many days. The scenery is amazing in many sections, with limestone rock rising high above the white sands and jade waters of the Andaman Sea at locations such as Karon Noi, Kata Noi and Freedom Beach. For the most dramatic scenery in the area, take a trip to the cliffs of Phang Nga Bay.

Book it

If you’d prefer to be tucked away in the Phuket rainforest, choose a Thomas Cook package at the Coco Retreat Phuket Resort and Spa. A peaceful, verdant oasis in the south of the island, it is close enough for Chalong and its beaches to be easily accessible, and offers a tranquil stay with sheltered outdoor pools, traditionally decorated rooms and its own on-site restaurant.

From £1,648.58pp for two adults, including seven nights’ accommodation, B&B, return flights from London Heathrow and one piece of checked luggage per passenger. Departing 19 December.

Read our reviews of the best winter sun hotels