Whether you're looking for winter sun or a snow-covered Christmas wonderland, here's where to go in December for the ultimate end-of-year getaway...
1. St Lucia
Best hot December holiday for: Total relaxation
This beautiful Caribbean island abounds with chocolate, rum and paradise beaches: just the tonic you need in dreary December. But the most refreshing aspect of all? ‘Island time’. The locals’ relaxed, laid-back attitude to life is it’s the ultimate antidote to pre-Christmas stress.
Take a tour of the rum and cocoa plantations (this is the home of Hotel Chocolat), catch the Caribbean breeze on windsurfing and sailing trips, or blow off steam at Rainforest Adventures – with zip lines and canopy walks set deep in the rainforest.
2. Cancún, Mexico
Best hot December holiday for: a budget-friendly beach break
Give your winter-weary body a major dose of sun, sand and cloudless skies in Cancun (main picture), which couldn’t feel further from the cold, dark winter. On the Yucatán Peninsula, this Mexican holiday hotspot has hotels aplenty, from chic boutiques to huge family-friendly resorts, and a fine stretch of sun-drenched sand.
Spend your days horizontal under a palm umbrella, chasing tropical fish on snorkelling trips or tucking in to beach barbecues on jaunts to the neighbouring islands. There are even Mayan ruins to discover: the ancient city of Coba, whose imposing Great Pyramid boasts fabulous rainforest views.
3. New Zealand
Best hot December holiday for: Southern Hemisphere sunshine
Where to holiday in December if you’re looking for adventure? In New Zealand, uncrowded beaches and unforgettable wildlife encounters await intrepid road trippers.
A brilliant way to explore New Zealand is by renting a camper van, leaving you free to explore as you please. On December holidays you can spy dolphins off the coast of Kaikoura, sip award-winning wines in sun-drenched vineyards, and hike incredible trails (the Tongariro Crossing, on the South Island, is one of the world’s most spectacular day walks).
4. Palawan, Philippines
Best hot December holiday for: A picture-perfect escape
If you’re anything like us, your winter daydreams likely involve palm-fringed beaches with sugar-soft sand, lapped by an ocean the colour of a swimming pool. Sounds like heaven? Then you’ll love Palawan, a gorgeous cluster of islands where those kinds of views are ten-a-penny.
The Philippines isn’t as popular as neighbouring Indonesia yet, so you’ll enjoy a far quieter retreat. The food is divine (think fresh tuna and coconut curries), and with barely any light pollution, the stargazing is magnificent.
5. Finnish Lapland
Best Christmas holiday for: The whole family
For 11 months of the year, Finnish Lapland is a fairly peaceful place. But in December, it becomes the world’s hottest ticket: this is the home of Santa Claus, after all.
For an authentic Finnish experience, book with a trusted tour operator like Magnetic North Travel. There’s plenty to keep you busy in this winter wonderland – try reindeer safaris, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and husky sledding. And you might even spot the northern lights if you’re lucky.
6. Cruising the Christmas markets, Germany
Best Christmas holiday for: Festive cheer
It wouldn’t be Christmas without visiting a festive market or two. A few days of bratwurst, mulled wine and gingerbread will wash away any winter woes, and get you in the mood for the big day itself. Europe has Christmas markets aplenty from France to Croatia, but Germany’s are the best. If you’re wondering which Christkindlesmarkt to choose, why not see a handful at once on a gentle river cruise?
On Riviera Travel’s Rhine and Yuletide Christmas Markets cruise you’ll sail through the dramatic Rhine Gorge to the town of Rudesheim, where you’ll get your first taste of German Christmas markets. You’ll discover Koblenz, Bonn and eventually Cologne, with a total of seven Christmas markets to peruse.
7. Stately Homes, UK
Best Christmas holiday for: A quick pick-me-up
December doesn’t feel so drab when you’re cuddled up next to a roaring fire with afternoon tea on tap. Enter the winter staycation: a retreat to your closest luxury hotel, where you can sip wine in the bathtub and go for long country walks – and leave thoughts of washing up, Christmas shopping or the heating bills behind.
Winter staycations are the perfect pick-me-up. and the UK has plenty of five-star historic options – from The Grove in Hertfordshire, an stylishly restored 18th century country house, to the National Trust-owned Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire, which boasts it’s own on-site spa.
8. St Petersburg, Russia
Best Christmas holiday for: A city break with a difference
When the mercury plummets, St Petersburg comes alive. The winter months are bitterly cold but captivating – and oddly glamorous, as the city dons its furs for the season.
Seek shelter in the State Rooms of the Winter Palace, which is home to the Hermitage Museum where world-class artworks adorn the walls, then visit the unique brightly coloured domes of the Church on Spilled Blood.