Around 4 million Brits left the country over Christmas last year – it makes sense, what with the grey days and dark evenings doing little to cheer us up, and not everyone enjoying an afternoon watching bad TV whilst drowsily digesting their mother-in-law’s M&S Christmas dinner…
We like the idea of going on holiday for Christmas – we think it’s probably good for your health, and healthy lifestyle choices mean lower health insurance premiums – right? That’s our rationale, and we’re sticking to it. But where to go? Vitamin-D inducing sunshine – along with 52% of fellow Christmas escapees – or a twinkly frosty fairytale city? Or maybe even actual snow? We undertook an informal office survey to get some ideas…
10 – Amsterdam
Over the last decade or so, beautiful relaxed Amsterdam has blossomed into a top notch winter break city, full of boutique patisseries and diverse eateries, which is good news for anyone who visited in the 1990s & felt dismayed by the limited dining options. We especially recommend De Laatste Kruimel, on Langebrugsteeg, for cakes and hot drinks, and for authentic warming Mexican food, try La Margarita next door. The city centre’s beautiful 16th century architecture is the perfect backdrop for snuggling with hot chocolate, cakes and other specialities, and for wandering its Christmas markets, which run throughout December.
There is a Light Festival from the end of November to mid-January – this is pretty spectacular, with different artists presenting outdoor works of light, and illuminated walking routes through the city. It’s an excellent way to make the dark nights feel more magical. For indoor enlightenment, Amsterdam boasts world famous museums, including The Hermitage, which exhibits priceless artefacts from its sister in St Petersburg, and the Van Gogh Museum, which houses more then 200 of his paintings. There are also plenty of covered canal cruises – most of these navigate the city’s main canal, which forms a ring around the old centre. For more detailed exploration, find a smaller boat…
9 – Disney
If your idea of Christmas magic has always involved curling up in front of a bit of classic Disney, or you’re keen to keep the kids entertained while you relax after a long year, the Disney resorts offer an easy and always very professional experience. This is Disney at maximum dazzle – expect impressive shows featuring the kids’ favourite characters, uplifting parades, spectacular light and firework displays, photoshoots with Merida (Brave) or Jack Frost (Nightmare Before Christmas) – and of course Santa himself. The resorts are, of course, tailor-made for families, with babysitting services, children’s menus and specials gifts in every restaurant, pushchair rental and a special service that lets mums and dads take turns on rides without losing their place in the line. It’s not all about Mickey and Frozen, either – an excellent selection of spas and fitness facilities are available for a few hours genuine relaxation while the kids (and big kids) are distracted.
(Photo Credit: tcwmatt).
8 – Prague
Aaron, Billie-Ray, Claire & Justin all love Prague during winter, partly because its gorgeous mediaeval architecture looks so good in all seasons, but also because it offers genuinely traditional Christmas markets full of festive food, music and gifts. Although it can get pretty chilly at this time of year (pack your thermals!), Prague is especially stunning when it snows, with the icy river flanking the city’s main pocket of ornate old buildings. Prague Castle is full of astonishing mediaeval craftsmanship, and at this time of the year there are many classical shows on offer in grand old halls, which contributes to the festive feeling, and copious Christmas lights add extra magic. Providing you wrap up warm, a walking or segway tour of the city is a great way to take in the breathtaking architecture and ornately carved stonework, especially if you dive into a one of the many cosy cafes for a hot drink or some dumplings every now and then.
7 – Marrakesh
So far we’ve only covered cities that are fun when it’s cold, but if you’d rather your winter holidays where it’s hot, Claire recommends Marrakesh, the capital of Morocco, which also scored top marks with both David and Kemble. Claire chalks her preference up to “beautiful accommodation, great shopping, cheap to go out and warmer than England!”. With the weather in December averaging 14 degrees Celsius, Marrakesh isn’t very hot, but sure to be warmer and dryer than the UK. Take a journey to the coast for stunning beaches like Essaouira, out to the edge of the Sahara, or up into the mountains for a peaceful retreat. When you’re not pottering around the souks, evading python-handlers, scouting boutique art galleries or relaxing in hammams, Marrakesh is also the home of Palais Badi, a beautiful ruin with a lot of history. The Palace took 25 years to build and featured some of the most expensive materials at the time, including gold and onyx.
6 – Hawaii
Hawaii’s biggest Christmas celebration is the Honolulu City Lights Parade – a fantastic (and free) month-long festival that continues throughout December, and involves concerts, gigs, funfair rides and craft workshops, as well as copious Christmassy things like lights, tree decorating displays, and of course Father Christmas, who has presumably nipped over there from the nearest Disney Resort. Along with the consistently balmy temperatures, this fun and family-friendly event is one of the reasons that Hawaii is Aaron’s favourite destination for a winter break, whilst Su, Kemble and David rank it in their top five. Christmas aside, Hawaii has some astonishing must-see sights, including the Volcano National park, which covers 520 square miles and encompasses seven diverse ecosystems, each at different altitudes and at different stages of post-eruption recovery. The Park contains an number of satisfying, although sometimes challenging drives – the Crater Rim drive is 11 miles long and circles one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea. Another spot worth visiting is the Steam Vents, where you can see lava-heated vapour rising from deep within the earth.
5 – Mauritius
As well as temperatures of between 25 to 30 degrees Celsius and typically sunny weather, Kemble’s top choice for a Christmas break has plenty to offer a mince-pie-dodger, including superb beaches to relax and unwind, impressive volcanic scenery, traditional shops, and a vibrant night life. Mauritius, which sits in the Indian Ocean to the east of Madagascar, also has some great places for snorkelling and diving, with diverse and colourful marine life. Non-divers can take a glass bottom boat out across Blue Bay Marina Park, but the snorkelling is highly recommended if you’re keen to get in amongst the stunning marine corals, reefs and fish.
4 – Switzerland
Switzerland is Justin’s number one for a winter break, because – although it’s impressive all year round – this destination really comes alive during the winter months. It’s also a top 5 destination for Su, Francesca and Jack, who love it for the skiing, picturesque mountain views and enough snow to guarantee Christmassy feelings in all but the most Scroogey (or travellers with poor circulation). We especially recommend a visit to Lake Geneva, which has especially beautiful scenery. If you fancy trying your hand at skiing or snowboarding, or even just some damn good hot chocolate in a snowy setting, the Alps are a must-visit. Toggenburg is the largest winter sports area in the eastern part of Switzerland, with 17 ski lift systems that connect over 60km ski runs of varying difficulty, as well as cross-country ski trails, well signposted hiking paths, snowshoe tours, concerts, and seriously impressive scenery.
3 – Maldives
James prefers sunshine to Christmas lights during the winter months, and feels that the Maldives are the perfect place to stock up on some seratonin and vitamin D. With white sands, blue lagoons and plenty of sea life, this remote string of coral atolls in the Indian Ocean are a true tropical paradise, sure to get rid of those winter blues and see you starting the new year with a relaxed body and mind. Most resorts are self-contained due to the islands being tiny and distant, but the best ones have a good range of activities and restaurants, and the diving here is excellent; James recommends Hammerhead Point, where you can dive into the stunning clear waters around a small island called Rasdhoo. The reef here is named for its regular hammerhead sharks, although mantas and other visitors appear frequently.
2 – Lapland
It’s hard to find anywhere more Christmassy than Lapland, at least for those who like a traditional Christmas. Although we’re back to the colder, darker climes, this is a beautiful place to go for that real Christmas feeling, especially with kids, which is why it’s Billie-Ray’s and Jack’s number one place to go for a Christmas holiday, and also popular with Justin & Francesca. Billie-Ray recommends heading out on a husky or reindeer safari through the snow, and seek opportunities to see the Northern Lights flicker across the night sky. Accommodation varies from log cabins to glass roof igloos, and entertainment comes in the form of the Santa Park underground amusement park, skiing, and saunas. There will of course be the chance to meet Father Christmas, who is going to be very busy dashing between all these destinations.
1 – New York
New York is number one on the Christmas list for Francesca and Adam, and makes the top five for Aaron, Billie-Ray, Su, Jack, Justin & Kemble, and it’s not hard to see why the Big Apple is so popular for a festive break. It’s a comfortable city in the cold, and does winter with pizzazz – you can have a lot of fun even window shopping on 5th Avenue, getting warm inside the Rockerfella Centre, or stomping through snowy Central Park, with its iconic Christmas tree and ice skating. During the holidays New York turns up the volume during holiday season, with shops taking part in spectacular displays, impressive decorations everywhere you look, and the Empire State Building lighting up especially for the season. Our insider tip: if you visit the iconic Statue of Liberty, where you can take in superb views of the city from the lady’s crown, make sure you book in advance, as numbers are limited!
Whatever great escape you’re planning, Key Health would love to help. Make sure you don’t spend more than you need to on travel insurance – easily done by clicking the link for an instant quote. If you would prefer to talk through your options, call us on 0844 809 4897 or click here to request a call back.
Happy Travels, and Merry Christmas!