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Top 10 Christmas and New Year holidays for 2018/2019

Have you thought about what you're doing for Christmas yet? Sneaks up on you, doesn't it? Why not do something spectacular this year - like visit the Christmas markets of Berlin or Prague, see in New Year with a bottle of cava in Barcelona, or have Christmas dinner on the beach in Sydney?

1. Paris, France

Christmas in Paris is magical. The Champs Elysées is always bedecked in stunning Christmas lights, but this year they’ve really pushed the boat out – by downloading a smartphone app, you can actually change the colour of the lights yourself. The lights go up on November 22nd, and the fancy light-changing gimmick goes live on December 1st.

Where to stay

For a sumptuous Christmas treat, you can’t go wrong with the four-star Mercure Paris Arc de Triomphe Hotel. Located just five minutes’ walk from the Eiffel Tower, many of the hotel’s rooms provide fantastic evening views of Paris’s most famous landmark lit up in all its glory.

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2. Barcelona, Spain

Be prepared for some quirky traditions if you’re holidaying in Spain at New Year – you’ll need 12 grapes, a few bottles of cava and some red pants. The big New Year’s Eve celebrations in Barcelona take place in Placa d’Espanya in Montjuic, and as midnight chimes, everyone tries to eat a grape on each dong. It’s harder than it sounds, but if you manage it, you’ll supposedly have good luck for the year to come. And the red underwear? Well, that’s apparently lucky as well. The cava, meanwhile, is purely for having a good time – although if you’re in Placa Catalunya, watch out for the traditional hurling of empty cava bottles into the fountain once the bells sound. Duck! Now, head over here to discover why we nominated Barcelona as one of Spain’s must-see destinations.

Where to stay

The Tryp Barcelona Apolo is a swanky four-star hotel not far from the New Year celebrations at Montjuic. Best of all, it has a massive pool and a restaurant with a beautifully designed terrace that’s perfect for a pre-party al fresco drink.

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3. London, UK

The South Bank puts on a gorgeous Winter Market every Christmas – cute wooden huts line the River Thames, selling all sorts of food, handcrafted presents and mulled wine. A stroll under the Christmas lights, mulled wine in gloved hand, is sure to put you in the festive mood. The market takes place between November 9th and December 27th, and opens until 10pm most days, and 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays. London’s New Year’s Eve fireworks by the Millennium Wheel are always spectacular, but you’ll need to arrive hours ahead to grab a spot. If you’re averse to crowds, you could always head up Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath instead – it provides fantastic views of the fireworks exploding all across the city.

Where to stay

Add a little grandeur to your London trip with a stay in The Grosvenor Victoria, a Grade II listed building that dates back to 1862 and has recently been painstakingly renovated to recapture its Victorian opulence. Head this way to discover more London hotels for every budget.

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4. Berlin, Germany

There’s nothing quite like a traditional German market to get you feeling all Christmassy – and there are an astonishing 80 or so Christmas markets to choose from in the German capital. ‘Winter World‘ at Potsdamer Platz is one of the best – this year it runs from early November to January 6th, and features a 70-metre-long toboggan run. 

If you’re in Berlin for New Year, the big celebrations are around the Brandenburg Gate, with spectacular fireworks at midnight and an entertainment programme starting from 7pm. And guess what, Whigfield will be there! Yes, that Whigfield!

Where to stay

Why make do with a room when you could have a whole flat to yourself? The Adina Apartment Hotel at Checkpoint Charlie offers apartments with separate dining areas, a washing machine and dryer, and even a fully equipped kitchen. It’s basically like being at home, but abroad.

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5. Reykjavik, Iceland

If you want a white Christmas, then Iceland is the perfect place – and you can even watch reindeer gamboling (OK, more like shuffling) in the snow at Laugardalur Christmas Valley, which also has a skating rink. Keep your eyes peeled for the creepy/bizarre ‘Christmas creatures‘ of Icelandic folklore – these include the 13 ‘Yule Lads’ (who put presents in children’s shoes if they’ve been good, or rotting potatoes if they’ve been bad), Red Head the giant whale, Grýla the Christmas-hating she-troll and Jólakötturinn the Yule Cat, who has a tendency to eat naughty children. Christmas is frightening in Iceland.

Where to stay

Did you know that Icelandair does hotels as well as flights? The airline runs two hotels in Iceland’s capital: Reykjavik Natura and Reykjavik Marina, both of which are decorated in spotless Scandinavian style. And they’re pretty good value, too: around €133 per night during the Christmas season.

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6. New York City, USA

New York goes utterly ga-ga for Christmas, and as always there will be a Christmas Spectacular show from the Radio City Rockettes and a ginormous Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center (in 2016 it was 29 metres high). But there are plenty of other, wonderfully quirky events happening across town, not least the trend for Christmas-themed bars: you can enjoy a ‘Muletide’ cocktail at Miracle on 9th Street, or relax on an urban beach, complete with palm trees, at Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack. And if you’re worried about holding some money back for Christmas presents, check out how to do New York on a budget.

Where to stay

The Jane is a really quirky hotel on the edge of Greenwich Village that’s been done up in early-twentieth-century style – appropriate seeing as the survivors of the Titanic stayed there in 1912. Also appropriately, the rooms are basically just tiny cabins – but you’d be hard pressed to find a cheaper and more interesting place to stay in New York.

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7. Sydney, Australia

If you think the worst thing about Christmas is the weather, then Sydney might be the destination for you – the average temperature in December is a balmy 22°C with around 9 hours of sunshine. Aussie families flock to Bondi Beach on Christmas Day for a festive family barbecue, but if you’re more about partying than barbecued turkey, there’s a Pavilion with live DJs and entertainment until 10pm. And New Year is spectacular in Sydney – there are hourly fire and light shows in Darling Harbour from 7pm on New Year’s Eve, and not one, but TWO fireworks displays at 9pm and midnight.

Where to stay

If you’re going to fly all the way to Sydney, you might as well stay in style. The four-star Shangri-La Hotel has amazing views of Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, as well as a spa, pool, gymnasium and three restaurants.

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8. Rovaniemi, Lapland

Everyone knows that Santa lives in Lapland, and if you want to pay him a visit, the grand opening of the Santa Claus Village Christmas season is on November 17th. (Although in fact, Santa is there all year round. Naturally.) At the village, you can visit Santa’s post office, get a certificate for crossing the Arctic Circle, ride on a reindeer-driven sleigh and, of course, meet the jolly man in red. You can even go to Elf School in SantaPark to learn elf secrets – and receive a diploma and official elf hat at the end of your training.

Where to stay

If you’re off to meet Father Christmas, then surely you’ll want to stay right next door to him in the Santa Claus Holiday Village. The cute Christmassy cottages are right on the doorstep of the Santa Claus Village, home of the big man himself. Or if you want to be a bit different, you could always stay in a treehouse.

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9. Madrid, Spain

Spain is a Catholic country, and it takes Christmas seriously. So across Madrid in December you’ll see elaborate, handcrafted nativity scenes popping up in public buildings, some of which are simply extraordinary. The one in the Palacio de Cibeles – which incidentally is possibly the grandest post office ever built, being constructed as the HQ of the postal service in 1919 – features more than 200 figures in a huge depiction of the whole of Bethlehem. And if you time your holiday for the first week of the New Year, you can catch the Three Kings Parade on January 5th. In Spain, the Three Kings traditionally bring presents for children to wake up to on January 6th – Epiphany – and the Madrid parade is a grand procession of the kings through the city that ends in a massive fireworks display.

Where to stay

The Barcelo Torre de Madrid is located in what was the tallest concrete building in the world when it was constructed in the 1950s. This iconic monolith has now been completely renovated and turned into a rather funky hotel – complete with a stripey bear statue in a gold top hat.

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10. Prague, Czech Republic

The Prague Christmas markets are magical to behold – a whole forest of brightly lit and colourful huts that take over Wenceslas Square and the Old Town Square from December 1st to January 6th. You can buy all the handcrafted gifts you’d expect – like Christmas decorations, dolls and jewellery – but the real highlight is the food and drink. Nibble on barbecued sausages and roasted ham, sample a palačinky (pancake) or two, and sup from a glass of warm honey wine as you gaze at the rustic wares. Yum.

Where to stay

Bishop’s House is one of the highest traveller-rated hotels in Prague, and it’s located right in the heart of the city, just 50 metres from Charles Bridge.

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Discover more amazing destinations just a quick hop from home:

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OK, so we haven’t even got to Christmas yet – but hey, let’s talk summer holidays. There’s nothing like imagining sunning yourself on a beach to alleviate the dreariness of an encroaching winter. And there are some pretty exciting new flight routes on the way for summer 2018, whether you’re planning a short hop to Naples or Bordeaux, or a mega-blowout trip to China or Montreal.

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Fancy a pre-Christmas getaway before the madness begins? From Athens to Istanbul and Budapest to Boston, here are ten amazing flight deals for city breaks in November 2018.

Published October 2018. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.