The countdown is on. There are just two months until we tuck into elaborate roasts, exchange presents and – let’s hope – gather with friends and family to celebrate Christmas day.
After 2020’s Yuletide was, for many, less than festive, you may fancy spoiling yourself and your dearest with a stay in a sumptuous resort. Perhaps you tend to use the seasonal break to meet new people, and explore new landscapes? In that case, we have some exciting group tours for you to consider.
We’ve also looked at options for couples that want to escape the UK, and larger groups primed for a party. Here’s our pick of 10 of the best.
Caribbean for Christmas
Check in for honeymoon-style luxury at Sandals' adults-only, all-inclusive retreat in Barbados. Balmy temperatures (highs of around 29C) a white sand beach and 11 on-site dining options will make the ideal environment in which to regroup – and perhaps rekindle romance – before tackling 2022.
You might simply spend the week on the beach, or by the pool, in between stints in your personal soaking tub. However, you could also seek out adventure on a scuba diving course. You could be seeking out turtles, parrot fish, barracuda, eagle rays and much more on reefs and wrecks – there will be plenty of photo opportunities, too.
If you’re craving more adrenaline, then snorkelling, kayaking and paddleboarding are among the other watersports on offer. Alternatively, head for the spa where you could enjoy a ‘scents of love’ couples massage or simply add a little polish for the big day with a manicure or pedicure.
From £2,229pp for a seven-night stay for two at Sandals Barbados in a Crystal Lagoon Club Level Luxury Honeymoon Suite (with balcony tranquility soaking tub). Departing December 19, including return economy flights with Aer Lingus from Manchester (0800 597 0002; sandals.co.uk).
Seek out paradise on a 10-night break in Mauritius, staying at the Sunrise Attitude Hotel in Belle Mare. A Couple Room comes with a private balcony or terrace and all are on the ground floor for easy access to the swimming pools. Among the activities on offer at the hotel are cooking lessons, Creole lessons, golf and snorkelling. Of course, you may prefer to set yourself up on the beach each morning, with fresh cocktails delivered to your sun lounger throughout the day.
The dining options at the property include the main restaurant, where Indian, Mauritian and Italian goodies are served throughout the day. The Taba-J food truck serves sweet pastries, among other delicacies, for an afternoon pick-me-up. Classic Mauritian dishes, meanwhile, are available at Kat Nou.
From £4,199pp for 10 nights all-inclusive in a Couple Room, based on selected departures on December 22. Includes return flights from London Heathrow (0800 540 4243; kuoni.co.uk).
New York dreaming
Many would have dreamed of a New York weekend over the past 18 months and, on November 8, the US entry ban on UK travellers is set to lift. Soak up the seasonal lights, markets and shopping on a five-night stay at the Hyatt Place New York Midtown-South that includes Christmas Day, as well as a trip up the Empire State Building, just steps from the hotel.
Five nights at Hyatt Place New York Midtown-South, including return flights from Heathrow from £940pp (020 8016 3295; thomascook.com).
Read more: A complete guide to the best hotels in New York
A jolly in Jordan
The Wadi Rum valley stands in for the desert planet Arrakis in new sci-fi film Dune – but you needn’t be an Oscar Isaac fan (he’s among the stars) to have already found yourself lusting after its otherworldly landscapes. On a seven-night group tour of Jordan (with a maximum of 11 other travellers), you’ll travel from its capital, Amman, to the ancient town of Madaba. Amateur historians will lap up the litany of treasures encountered along the way, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Jordan Museum, the Seven Pillars of Wisdom at Petra (your trip will include a two-day pass to the Unesco site) and Jerash, which includes some of the world’s best-preserved Greco-Roman ruins.
Among the other highlights is an opportunity to swim in the Dead Sea, a trip to Mount Nebo, where Moses was said to have caught sight of the Promised Land, and a night under the stars at a desert camp run by Bedouin locals.
An eight-day Explore Jordan tour, departing December 18 or December 25 costs from £900pp and includes accommodation, transport via private jeep, most activities and some meals (0808 274 5111; intrepidtravel.com).
Northern Lights in Alaska
If lounging by the pool isn’t your priority on holiday – or you’ve simply always dreamed of seeing the Northern Lights – then this Christmas (when the US should have reopened to Britons) could be the ideal time to visit Alaska. Every evening will present another chance to catch the dancing colours with the help of a dedicated tour leader. Come daylight, glacier viewing, dog mushing, snow-shoeing and a dip in the hot springs await.
Solo travellers who retain more than a little childlike wonder over the festive period are well served in the final two days of this holiday. The treats include a drive up to the North Pole to visit 'Santa Claus’s house’, which is decked out in elaborate decorations, and a stop at a local reindeer farm. If your seasonal spirit is at a low, these experiences should surely provide a top-up.
An eight-day Alaska Winter Adventure trip is available for £2,578pp, departing December 18 (0808 274 5111; intrepidtravel.com).
There are few places more Christmas-y than Europe's winter markets. On a tour from Berlin to Vienna, you can tuck into bratwurst, sip mulled wine and go souvenir shopping in Nuremberg, Salzburg, and more. In between, visit some of the best-known sites, such as the Berlin Wall Memorial and the Vienna State Opera House.
Each day of this organised tour includes ample free time to wander historic town squares, browse local boutiques and check out tiny galleries.
Seven-day Christmas in Central Europe tours from £1,099pp, including accommodation and some meals (020 7313 6953; gadventures.com).
Groups (and extended families)
An Italian villa
So long as you aren’t seeking winter heat, a 16-person villa in the Italian countryside, within easy reach of Venice and Padua, could make a winning base for your Christmas celebrations. Villa Saraceno was built for a minor noble family by Andrea Palladio in the 16th century – wealthy Italians of that time sought respite from city life, and you can enjoy their good planning today.
The villa faces south with views of the Dolomite mountains. Inside you’ll find frescoes depicting a play from 1546, which has survived despite period of neglect – the Landmark Trust bought it in 1989 and spent around six years restoring it to its current majesty. In 1998, Palladio’s villas in the Veneto region were recognised in Venice’s designation as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Seven nights (including Christmas) available for £3,137; sleeps 16 (0162 882 5925; landmarktrust.org.uk).
St Lucia gathering
Are you a family patriarch or matriarch, keen to treat your children and their offspring? Or maybe after a washout Christmas in 2020, you’d like to club together with friends for a sumptuous break? Then how about a seven-night stay in a waterfront townhouse (named Harbour Seven) in Rodney Bay, St Lucia. The open plan lounge is ideal for indulging in some festive parlour games – or simply for relaxing in front of some classic films.
Outside, you’ll have a shared pool on hand, which is surrounded by a large terrace, perfect for flitting away the hours with a good novel.
From £2,296 for a seven-night stay for eight (0800 133 7999; oliverstravels.com).
Life’s a beach
Escape to Florida for a festive break on one of the US’s whitest and most crystal-clean stretches of beach. Clearwater is on the Gulf of Mexico, just 22 miles from Tampa – a winning location if there’s a NFL fan or two among your brood (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, anyone?) – but has a friendly, small-town atmosphere. The beach is also well-suited to anyone keen on water sports, with jet-skiing, stand-up paddle boarding and jet-skiing among the activities available year-round.
Families craving somewhere safe and relaxed – with a little luxury baked-in – should head here with seven-nights reserved at Sheraton Sand Key Hotel. You’ll be just steps away from the beach (the Sheraton has 10 acres of private seafront) and Sand Key Park’s nature trails.
A seven-night stay, departing December 20, is available for £1,659 per adult and £1,145 per child (0800 316 0194; bon-voyage.co.uk).
The charms of Sharm
For pure sea, sand, and thrills, book in for seven nights at the five-star Charmillion Club Aqua Park in Sharm El Sheikh. It’s just half a mile from the beach, but the youngsters among your party may be content to remain in the hotel grounds. After all, it has 10 slides for adults and 12 for children, plus a wave pool for everyone to enjoy.
You could also get active with games of tennis, water polo, volleyball and football. Less strenuous options include darts and table tennis. Children aged 3-11 can also join the kids' club, giving mum and dad a much-needed break.
From £3,299 for a family of four, all-inclusive. Departs December 21, including flights from Luton (0800 408 4044; haystravel.co.uk).