December is an alluring time to travel in search of much-needed warmth. There is something of an air of extravagance to the idea of being abroad for Christmas, shunning turkey bones and dirty plates for Santa hats on the beach – and with the school holidays also appearing as part of the equation, the thought of seeing your children swap sleet and 3pm darkness for paddling and sunsets will always be tempting.
Of course, you tend to pay a premium for holidays in the festive period – but with the Caribbean slowly coming out of its hurricane season and into full swing, this is a cost worth considering.
To find more great destinations for December, or for other months of the year, try The Heatseeker, our interactive online tool
New Zealand’s biggest city is the king of the country’s North Island – a busy metropolis which stands in contradiction to the idea that the place which framed the film versions of The Lord Of The Rings is little more than rolling hills and bucolic countryside. Visitors can watch rugby icons the All Blacks at Eden Park, try a spot of fine dining amid the chic restaurants of Viaduct Basin – or take the ferry to Waiheke Island for wonderful wineries.
The second largest of the Canary Islands (after Tenerife) only dangles a leg below the 20C mark in the coldest weeks of January, but is otherwise a haven for sunshine at any time of year. Corralejo, at Fuerteventura’s northern tip, is one of the accommodation hubs, home to a splendid beach which gazes at the neighbouring islet of Lobos. But there is rugged scenery too – not least the protected expanse of the Parque Rural de Betancuria.
South Africa may seem a far-flung choice on any quest for accessible winter sun, but Cape Town earns convenience points for the lack of time difference (GMT+2) to the UK, and its refusal to dip below 20C during the European winter. Throw in its beauty, Table Mountain rising – along with the prettiness of the Cape Peninsula (the beaches of Camps Bay, oceanside towns like Muizenberg and Fish Hoek) – and you have a winning hand.
The concept of “starting to look a lot like Christmas” takes a twist in Florida, where Santa has to steer his sleigh through heat that rarely drops below 20C. And the festive season takes a particular spin in Orlando, where the main theme parks – not least Disney World and Universal Orlando – do their best to impersonate a “real” winter via a carnival of artificial snow, repentant Scrooges, talking mice, boy wizards and general merriment.
If you are prepared to make the journey to reach it, Melbourne proves to be a glorious haven of summer at just the time Europe is lost to wind and rain. Temperatures, cooled by sea breezes, hover at around 24C. The city has plenty of attractions, the waterside area of St Kilda among them – but also excels as a launch-pad for a road-trip, whether out into the winelands of the Yarra Valley, or along the winding curves of the Great Ocean Road.
The United Arab Emirates’ neighbour enjoys the same mid-Twenties warmth during the European winter as Abu Dhabi and Dubai – while projecting more of an air of refinement than the latter. Muscat certainly sees itself as an artistic city – home to an ornate opera house, plus the contemporary paintings at Ghalya’s Museum of Modern Art. But for many visitors, it is all about the beaches - with the hotels of Zighy Bay providing chic welcome.
Cox & Kings (020 3797 4758; coxandkings.co.uk) sells a nine-day “Oman Self-Drive” tour which visits Muscat and spends time on the beach at Sur. From £1,760 per person, including flights.
It is easy to look at the recent back-story of the Yucatan Peninsula – at the founding of Cancun as a purpose-built holiday zone in 1970 – and assume that all is concrete hotels and a dearth of soul. In reality, Mexico’s Caribbean edge is blessed with some wonderful five-star properties, while the Mayan sites dotted onto the landscape – notably Chichen Itza and Uxmal – are a grand reminder that this region has long been a desirable location.
The fabled capital of Western Australia sizzles as Europe shivers – from 25C perfection and 10 hours of sun per day in November, through to a heat blitz in the high Twenties Celsius as December, January and February click into gear. Perth is a wonderful city for relaxed afternoons (or sessions of surfing; this is an active city) on the likes of Cottesloe Beach and Scarborough Beach – or an excellent starting point for journeys further afield.
The Caribbean’s third biggest island has long been a familiar option for British tourists, with the resort areas of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios illuminating the north coast in a sweep of elegant resorts – and Negril, in the west, staring at the sunset from Seven Mile Beach. As with most Caribbean countries, temperatures hover in the upper Twenties, while December-April brings dry days in the wake of hurricane season (June-November).
Sometimes dismissed as a stop-off point on a longer journey, this fascinating city-state is far more than a place to change planes. Singapore sings of the old British colonial days in the iconic courtyard of the Raffles Hotel (where a Singapore Sling cocktail is essential) – but shouts loudly about its vibrant 21st century feel in the futuristic flora of its Gardens by the Bay, and the shopping malls which gleam on the long retail avenue of Orchard Road.
A five-night stay at the Raffles, flying from Heathrow on December 3, costs from £1,367 per person, including breakfast, with Destinology (01204 824 939; destinology.co.uk).
India’s neighbour “enjoys” two monsoon seasons (May-July; October-January). Yet the south of the island is generally clear of rain between October and April – when it basks in temperatures that cling to the 30C mark. December, then, is an ideal month to visit. Galle offers a cocktail of British and Portuguese colonial heritage as well as beaches. Further north, the likes of rock titan Sigiriya and the hill station Nuwara Eliya are essential sights.
It is sometimes forgotten that the Caribbean Sea stretches along the north coast of South America – where it washes against one of the continent’s most fabled cities. Cartagena was founded as a Spanish settlement in 1533, and has been a jewel on the map ever since. Visitors can wander amid echoes of the 16th century – or use the city as a base for wider exploration of Colombia, heading to Barranquilla, Santa Marta or Tayrona National Park.
The British love affair with Thailand, which may be the Far Eastern country that is most dependable for winter-sun escapes, shows precious little sign of fading. Krabi is a holiday stalwart in the Andaman Sea, gazing onto Phang Nga Bay – where dramatic limestone stacks litter the water. Krabi Town, with its many hotels, is one of the focal points, the area’s beauty summed up by the sands and scuba diving opportunities of Ao Nang Beach.
What’s in a name? Whether you call it Myanmar (its official title) or Burma (its more familiar moniker), this fascinating Far Eastern country has leapt onto travel to-do lists in the last decade. Mandalay, the former royal capital, is as exotic as you might assume. The pagodas at Bagan are as essential viewing for visitors as the temples at Angkor in Cambodia. And the weather tends to be glorious.
NOTE: The Foreign Office currently advises against all but essential travel to the Rakhine State and other parts of Myanmar. “Political tension and unrest could happen at short notice. You should avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings.
“The situation in ethnic states where armed groups operate is volatile. Take particular care in the border areas with Thailand, Laos or China,” the FCO states.
For full details, gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/burma
Thailand takes the applause when it comes to Far Eastern paradise islands perfect for sun-seekers – but Malaysia can claim a sea-lapped champion of its own in Langkawi. Set so far to the north of Malay territory that Thailand is visible from many of its beaches, Langkawi is a forested delight where luxury resorts nestle among thick foliage, rare birds call out from the branches – and the dry season holds court between December and April.
Or to find the best destinations for the rest of the year try The Heatseeker, our interactive online tool