The 20 best last-minute Christmas holidays

Sophie Butler
·14 min read
west indies beach - getty images
west indies beach - getty images

Whether celebrating a Covid-restricted Christmas with three of your family households sounds appealing or not, at least we now know that there is an alternative. The end of lockdown travel restrictions on Wednesday means that it is perfectly feasible to escape Christmas at home altogether. 

While the options are, obviously, much more limited than usual, if you like the idea of Christmas collapsed on a sun-soaked beach, cocktail in hand, rather than on the sitting-room sofa, there is a good range of destinations to choose from on the official travel corridor list, which means you won’t have to self-isolate – even for five days with testing – on your return. 

We’ve picked 20 of the best holidays – all from different tour operators – which are still available over Christmas. With the temporarily eased restrictions on meetings set to end on Dec 27, there are also some possibilities for a more uplifting way to see in the new year.    

The Canary Islands, which offer the most convenient guarantee of warm and generally sunny weather, are well represented. The options range from mainstream family resorts on Gran Canaria and Lanzarote, to luxury in Tenerife and a hideaway break on La Gomera. The Caribbean is also a tempting choice, with very low rates of Covid-19 on most islands. And although the Indian Ocean resorts in the Seychelles and Maldives may involve a longer flight, they offer some delicious escapism.

In summary, considering we are less than a month away from Christmas Day, there is unprecedented availability and prices are looking pretty competitive compared with a normal Christmas. Several operators were claiming that their rates are substantially discounted, but we only flag this up when there’s a time limit on booking at that price, as it’s hard to make meaningful comparisons in such extraordinary times.

However, the good value may not last. The pinch point is likely to be flights: if more and more people start to book, fares will certainly rise. But as we went to press it was possible to buy BA fares from London to Barbados for less than £600 return (travelling from Dec 21-27), which is extraordinarily cheap for the time of year. 

It’s not generally advisable to buy your airfare and accommodation separately, as you have less protection. Booking a package that includes your flight and hotel, as in all the examples below, gives you automatic protection in the event of financial failures, and also if you have to cancel for Covid-related reasons. Do check before booking, however, that you are happy with the tour operator’s policies on cancellations, postponements and refunds. (It’s worth noting that, although the new test-on-arrival rules that come into force on Dec 15 mean you can reduce your quarantine when arriving from destinations outside the corridors, tour operators are not offering packages to these places because the Foreign Office still advises against all but essential travel.)

It’s also vital to remember that, in many destinations there are health ­protocols to consider. For long-haul breaks, you will need to check what standard vaccinations you need before travelling and you will often need to provide evidence of a recent negative test for Covid-19. In some places, such as Barbados, for example, you may have to have a “self-quarantine” for a few days until a second test shows negative. This quarantine is usually mitigated by the fact that you can enjoy your isolation in the resort you are staying in and for those who are just looking for a few days on the beach, it won’t be a problem, but do make sure you are happy with the details of the restrictions before booking.

And once you’ve jumped through the hoops, you can look forward to a cracker of a Christmas whether lolling on a poolside lounger, strolling on white-sand beaches or striding out along spectacular coastal trails. It may be a far cry from the turkey and tinsel but what’s lacking in traditional ­festivity will be made up for by the chance of some much-needed escapism in glorious winter sunshine.

Merry in the Maldives

It will be hot and it will be quiet but if you like the idea of being a Christmas castaway and don’t mind a long flight, then head for one of the Maldive atolls. Travelbag (travelbag.co.uk) offers all-inclusive stays at five-star Pullman Maldives Maamutaa from £3,299 with two excursions including a sunset cruise or fishing trip. There’s a complimentary upgrade to an ocean pool villa applied to bookings made by December 5. 
Departs: December 19
Flight time: 11h 30m
Heat: 30ºC

maldvies dhonfanu - Getty Images
maldvies dhonfanu - Getty Images

Child-free Antigua

Fancy a peaceful, child-free Christmas? The four-star Keyonna Beach Resort is an all-inclusive, couples-only hotel on Antigua’s south-west coast with 27 rooms and cottages with thatched roofs, four-poster beds and private plunge pools. Exclusively offered by Kuoni (kuoni.co.uk), its romantic, open-plan beach restaurant sits on a spacious deck overlooking the sea. Golf and rainforest canopy tours available locally. From £3,149 per person. 
Departs: December 19
Flight time: 8h 30m
Heat: 29ºC

Nevis nativity

Bored of mulled wine? This Christmas you can get into the festive mood on rum punch with a stay on St Kitts’s relaxed sister island, Nevis, where lush hillsides are scattered with tiny churches and the historic remains of sugar plantations. Turquoise Holidays (turquoiseholidays.co.uk) offers a choice of sophisticated boutique ­hideaways with Christmas avail­ability including the four-star Montpelier Plantation Inn, with pool, restaurant, small spa and 19 rooms set in tropical gardens. From £2,625 B&B based on a premier room. 
Departs: December 19 
Flight time: 8h 45m
Heat: 29ºC

Nevis - Hiral Gosalia
Nevis - Hiral Gosalia

Fun in Fuerteventura

If you prefer to keep active at Christmas rather than spend the festivities vegetating in front of the television, Fuerteventura’s unspoilt sandy beaches make it a good choice for a windsurfing and surfing break. Jet2holidays (jet2.com) has two options in Corralejo in the north of the island – an all-inclusive stay at the four-star Alua Suites Fuerteventura (from £769 based on two sharing a junior suite) and a self-­catering break at the three-star Oasis Duna Aparthotel (from £429). Prices are based on flights from Birmingham, but Jet2 flies to this island from nine UK ­airports. 
Departs: December 19
Flight time: 4h 15m
Heat: 20ºC

Castaway on St Lucia

If you want to be sure of escaping the relatives this Christmas book into the four-star Marigot Beach Club and Dive Resort, a remote west-coast hotel tucked into an idyllic bay which is only accessible by boat. It has an on-site dive centre, spa, restaurant and 34 villa-style rooms equipped with small kitchens. British Airways Holidays (ba.com) offers a room-only week from £1,149 per person saving up to 60 per cent if booked by Dec 1. 
Departs: December 20
Flight time: 9h
Heat: 28ºC

Marigot Beach Club -  British Airways Holidays
Marigot Beach Club - British Airways Holidays

Virgin Gorda escape

Of the four main British Virgin Islands, Virgin Gorda is the most relaxed and laid-back, home to the well-known Baths – granite boulders that form excellent snorkelling pools. The best of the island’s beaches and hotels, can be found on the west coast and include the five-star Rosewood Little Dix Bay, which is one of the best picks for a luxury Christmas break. A room-only stay arranged through Abercrombie & Kent (abercrombiekent.co.uk) starts at £8,499. 
Departs: December 20 
Flight time: 8h 50m
Heat: 28ºC

Bermuda hikes

Escape the armchair and opt for an energetic Christmas break exploring Bermuda’s scenic woodland trails and coastal paths on a self-guided walking holiday with Exodus (exodus.co.uk). The “Islands of Bermuda” break takes in ancient forts, historic naval dockyards and remote nature reserves on walks from three-star Coco Reef Resort, with a pool terrace overlooking a private, pink-sand beach. From £2,359 room only. An optional breakfast supplement is £194 or half board for £708. 
Departs: December 20
Flight time: 7h 30m
Heat: 23ºC

Bermuda harbor - Getty Images
Bermuda harbor - Getty Images

Festive Tenerife

Tenerife’s smart resort hotels may offer your best chance of finding an atmospheric festive buzz during these strange times. And the high ­number of UK flights to the island ­means that last-minute bookers have greater options than for most destinations. Sovereign Luxury Travel (­sovereign.com) can arrange stays at the five-star Vincci La Plantacion Del Sur in Playa de Duque, a colonial-style hotel on a former banana plantation with five pools and three restaurants. A stay over Christmas week costs from £1,169 B&B, departing Dec 20. Fancy a longer stay? Ten-day Christmas and New Year breaks will cost you from £2,059. Flights from Gatwick.
Departs: December 24
Flight time: 4h 15m
Heat: 19ºC

Afloat in the BVIs

December in the British Virgin Islands brings long hours of daylight, gentle winds and balmy sea temperatures – the perfect combination for a Christmas celebration on the warm water of the Caribbean. Sunsail (­sunsail.co.uk) offers yacht charters from its base in Tortola with leisurely itineraries that take in deserted coves, tiny harbours and white sand beaches. Hire of a three-cabin monohull yacht starts at £3,369 per person, based on a group of four people. Optional skipper hire costs £195 per day. 
Departs: December 21
Flight time: 8h 50m
Heat: 28ºC

sunsail holiday - Sunsail
sunsail holiday - Sunsail

Grenada beaches

Hibiscus and bougainvillea replace holly and ivy at the four-star Coyaba Beach Resort overlooking Grand Anse, one of the Caribbean’s best beaches. In over five acres of flower-filled gardens, this hotel has two restaurants and ­provides complimentary tennis, sailing and kayaking. Virgin Atlantic Holidays (­virginholidays.co.uk) can arrange an all-inclusive Christmas or New Year stay from £2,370 for Heathrow ­departures or £2,969.
Departs: December 21 or  December 28
Flight time: 9h 15m
Heat: 29ºC

Barbados celebrations

It’s an old favourite for British holidaymakers of course, but Barbados still has some of the best beaches in the Caribbean and the island has always been hugely popular at Christmas and New Year. Even though guests from the UK now have to remain quarantined in their resort for the first five or six days of their holiday, some of the best hotels are already getting booked up. However, Caribtours (caribtours.co.uk) has a special offer of 11 nights all-inclusive in the four-star Crystal Cove on the west coast from £3,449 (saving £3,250 if you book by Dec 2). The price is based on a pool or garden view room. 
Departs: December 21
Flight time: 8h 30m
Heat: 30ºC

Barbados - Alamy
Barbados - Alamy

La Gomera hideaway

Instead of Christmas firs, surround yourself with palm trees on the Canaries’ smallest and most scenic island. There are no direct flights, but it’s an easy transfer by ferry from neighbouring Tenerife. Cachet Travel (cachet-travel.co.uk) offers Apartments Llano Residencial, a low-rise development clustered around a palm-filled garden and large, shared swimming pool within walking distance of the seafront in Valle Gran Rey. Prices start at £1,381 for a one-bedroom, self-catering apartment. 
Departs: December 2
Flight time: 4h 15m (plus ferry transfer 50m)
Heat: 18ºC

Cuban Christmas

As well as white-sand beaches and upmarket resort hotels, Cuba is currently the only Caribbean country that doesn’t require a negative preflight Covid test result for those flying in from the UK. Instead holidaymakers take a test on arrival, with results delivered in 48 hours. Journey Latin America (journeylatinamerica.co.uk) offers an all-inclusive stay at four-star Memories Jibacoa Resort, an adult-only hotel with tennis courts, large pool and four restaurants near Havana, from £2,557. 
Departs: December 22
Flight time: 9h 50m
Heat: 28ºC

Cuba - Getty Images
Cuba - Getty Images

South Coast Lanzarote

Lanzarote’s best beaches are in the south, around Playa Blanca, which is also the sunniest and driest part of the island. A Christmas break in one of Classic Collection’s (classic-collection.co.uk) selection of upmarket hotels around a former fishing village is an appealing one. Seven nights at the five-star Lanzarote Park hotel overlooking Flamingo beach costs from £983 B&B in an ocean view room with flights from Gatwick. 
Departs: December 22
Flight time: 4h 15m
Heat: 20ºC

Five-star Dubai

Find glitz and bling instead of tinsel and glitter in Dubai. It’s a Muslim country of course, so doesn’t officially celebrate Christmas, but most hotels put on some festive cheer. Best at Travel (bestattravel.co.uk) offers Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai, a vast 1,500-room five-star hotel with 23 restaurants, shopping mall and aquarium. From £2,928 half board based on an ocean king room from London Heathrow. Excludes transfers. 
Departs: December 22
Flight time: 6h 45m
Heat: 26ºC

dubai atlantis
dubai atlantis

Active Madeira

December temperatures may not be warm enough to spend Christmas lying by the pool, but there are enough activities on offer here to guarantee an enjoyable festive stay. The five-star Cliff Bay Hotel near Funchal, on a high promontory with expansive sea views and a Michelin-starred restaurant, provides an excellent base for daily excursions including hiking, whale-watching and trips to botanic gardens. From £2,109 through Sunvil (sunvil.co.uk). 
Departs: December 22
Flight time: 3h 40m
Heat: 16ºC

Feasting in Anguilla

If a lobster lunch sounds more appealing than turkey and the trimmings and you are looking for active ways to work off the Christmas calories, a stay at the five-star The Reef by CuisinArt on ­Merrywing Bay would suit. Tennis courts, complimentary bike hire, watersports and a championship golf course are all on offer here, while the resort borders Rendezvous Bay, a long stretch of white sand for when you just want to do nothing. A Christmas stay starts at £5,499 B&B based on a golf view junior suite through Tropical Sky (tropicalsky.co.uk). 
Departs: December 23
Flight time: 8h 40m
Heat: 29ºC

Anguilla  - Getty Images
Anguilla - Getty Images

Turks & Caicos watersports

Swap robins for their colourful cousins, hummingbirds and parrots, on ­Providenciales island for a laid-back Christmas surrounded by mangrove forests, blue lagoons and beautiful beaches. Trailfinders (trailfinders.com) offers four-star Villa Del Mar, which sits next to the best stretch of sand in the Turks & Caicos, Grace Bay Beach where your choice of watersports includes snorkelling, sailing and scuba diving. From £2,759 B&B. 
Departs: December 24 (arriving at 4.30pm on Christmas Eve, local time)
Flight time: 9h
Heat: 27ºC

Seychelles escape

The five-star Constance Ephelia resort can be found on two of the Seychelles’ best beaches at the north-west tip of Mahe island, making it the perfect place to see in the new year. It offers five ­restaurants to half-board guests with dining styles ranging from Creole and Asian to Mediterranean. Non-motorised watersports are included in the nightly rate. Audley Travel (­audleytravel.com) offers an eight-night half-board stay from £4,415 based on a junior suite. 
Departs: December 26
Flight time: 10h 40m
Heat: 29ºC

Seychelles - Alamy
Seychelles - Alamy

Gran Canaria all-inclusive

The Canaries offer the best-value ­reliable Christmas sunshine, especially when combined with an all-inclusive rate. And while Gran Canaria’s resorts may not be the most beautiful on the islands, it has great beaches, a wild and mountainous interior and the stunning sand hills of the Maspalomas dunes nature reserve. Tui (tui.co.uk) still has some availability in Playa del Ingles including the 4T+ Riu Papayas – a mid-sized, modern hotel close to the resort centre with a large pool and three ­restaurants. From £593 with flights from Doncaster Sheffield. 
Departs: December 19 
Flight time: 4h 15m
Heat: 21ºC

The details

All prices quoted are per person for seven nights and are subject to availability. All include return flights and transfers unless stated otherwise. Temperatures are the average daily maximums in December.