Where is hot in December? Best holiday destinations for winter sun in 2023

Swerve the UK’s Christmas rush and get some much needed winter sun

Chris Wilson
Tuesday 12 September 2023 12:12 BST
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<p>Plenty of countries are basking in sunshine in the lead up to Christmas </p>

Plenty of countries are basking in sunshine in the lead up to Christmas

When the nights draw in and the temperature drops as winter approaches, it can be tempting to start daydreaming about shedding the knitwear and escaping to somewhere warm and sunny.

Although December in the UK means chilly, dark days, in the southern hemisphere countries swap the colder months for summer. The beaches of Sydney and Cape Town bask in temperatures in the mid-20s, while ever-warm Cancun has come out of its rainy season, making it an ideal time to visit Mexico’s tourism capital.

Meanwhile, some destinations enjoy a hot climate year-round; the sights of Oman are likely still resplendent in the sunshine come December, with the Thai capital of Bangkok as energetic as ever too.

Even in Europe, certain islands receive weather most of the continent could only dream of in winter, with Cyprus and the Canary Islands boasting temperatures in the mid-20s – the perfect backdrop for exploring a wealth of natural and historical sites.

Read on for some of the best winter-sun destinations to head to in December.

Cancun, Mexico

Cancun is one of Mexico’s most popular tourist destinations

  • Average temperature in December: 25C
  • Hours of sunshine per day: 6

This city on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula has a reputation as being a spring break favourite among Westerners, but it is far more than just a place for seasonal partying. With December highs of around 30C and miles of white sands meeting emerald waters, it’s the ideal destination for combining winter sun with a vibrant local culture.

Nightlife isn’t hard to find (the Hotel Zone is the main party area), but neither is natural beauty thanks to the beaches on the Riviera Maya, such as Playa del Carmen and Playa Delfines. There are also great scuba diving spots on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, and chances to swim with whale sharks. Those who want to explore the history of the area can head to the nearby Mayan Museum and the Mayan ruins of El Rey and San Miguelito.

There are also a wealth of fascinating day trips on offer to places including Merida, Tulum and Chichen Itza. The first, the state capital, is known for its mix of Spanish and Mayan influences, while Chichen Itza is one of the country’s most renowned Mayan ruins. Tulum combines ancient ruins with attractive coastal areas and natural limestone sinkholes known as cenotes.

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Lanzarote, Spain

Lanzarote lies around four hours from the UK by plane

  • Average temperature in December: 18C
  • Hours of sunshine per day: 6

Spain’s Canary Islands are among the few European destinations that remain warm throughout winter, and even in December you can expect average highs of 22C in Lanzarote. This picturesque island is dotted with over 300 volcanic cones, lunar-like black rock formations and golden coastal areas.

The main settlement on the island is the port city of Arrecife, a lively but comparatively small city that is less touched by mass tourism. Lined with sand, palm trees and a long promenade, it has a charming network of pedestrianised streets and plazas that also house some of the island’s best nightlife in its marina area. Other popular resorts include the Costa Teguise and Playa Blanca.

Timanfaya National Park is the island’s main natural site, with plenty of great walking routes along the rugged, arid terrain and volcanic landscapes. The volcanic cliffs of Los Hervideros and the Green Caves are other notable spots for a scenic walk, while the Jameos del Agua, a natural space that doubles up as a centre for arts and culture, is an oasis-like landscape built around a series of caves and a volcanic tunnel.

Muscat, Oman

Muscat is a blend of modern and old Omani living

  • Average temperature in December: 23C
  • Hours of sunshine per day: 9

The Omani capital sits between the Gulf of Oman and the towering Hajar Mountains, with surroundings that are as picturesque as the dashes of colour between the white-washed buildings that form its skyline.

A blend of modern and old Omani living, Muscat is a characterful coastal city that serves as a good base for exploring nearby places such as Sur, Nizwa and the numerous oasis wadis. Its main neighbourhoods include Al Qurum (home to a fantastic beach) and Old Muscat, the old centre that has retained its historic charm and small-town feel. Muttrah is one of the best areas for tourists, beginning with the two-mile long Corniche and extending to the Muttrah Souq, one of the oldest in the Arab world, where you’ll find a maze of alleyways with vendors selling everything from frankincense to jewellery.

Architectural highlights include the imposing Grand Mosque and the retro-looking Al Alam Palace, with the National Museum – chronicling Omani history back to pre-historic times – sitting opposite the former Sultan’s residence.

Sydney, Australia

Sydney is Australia’s largest city

  • Average temperature in December: 21C
  • Hours of sunshine per day: 8

Australia’s most famous city, Sydney is home to several of the country’s most well-known landmarks. The Opera House and Harbour Bridge are synonymous with ‘Down Under’, while Bondi Beach is one of the best symbols of the laid-back lifestyle that many envisage when they think of the country.

Ferries journey around the waterfront – Circular Quay to Manly is a popular route – and under the Harbour Bridge, but the city is more than just its harbour and beaches like Manly, Bronte and Balmoral.

Take a stroll around neighbourhoods such as Surry Hills, the Rocks, Newtown and Woolloomooloo, and check out the variety of galleries – such as the White Rabbit or the Art Gallery of NSW – plus other attractions including the Royal Botanic Garden and the Australian Museum.

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is among the most visited cities in the world

  • Average temperature in December: 27C
  • Hours of sunshine per day: 9

There are several reasons why Bangkok has been the most visited city in the world several times over the last few years. Yes, it is a starting point to onward journeys to the beaches of Phuket or the tranquility of islands such as Koh Lipe and Koh Samui, but many who touch down in the perennially popular Thai capital will stay to experience a frenetic city brimming with things to see and do.

The city’s hectic pace of life is best experienced through trips to Yaowarat Road (located in Chinatown) or Khao San Road – where the neon glow is accompanied by a hum of activity including street vendors and popular nightlife spots – or the markets of the Chatuchak District and the north of the city, packed with evening shoppers and street food stalls.

For sightseeing, you’ll want to head to the Ko Ratanakosin area. This is where you’ll find Bangkok’s main landmarks, including the ornate Grand Palace – once the royal residence – and the attached Wat Phra Kaew, the spiritual centre of Thai Buddhism. The magnificent, 20-acre Wat Pho temple complex sits just 10 minutes away from the Palace.

Cape Town, South Africa

December is one of the best months to visit Cape Town

  • Average temperature in December: 22C
  • Hours of sunshine per day: 11

South Africa’s legislative capital is entering summer come December, making it one of the best months to visit. Temperatures over 20C make it a good time to while away days on beaches like Camps Bay and Muizenburg, though it won’t be prohibitively warm for those looking to hike Table Mountain or explore its 1,305-acre Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.

Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront district is close to most of the main attractions and houses a range of restaurants, bars, markets and museums such as the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art. To discover more about local culture, head to Bo-Kaap, the historic centre made up of cobbled streets overhanging the slopes of Signal Hill. For something more artsy, head to the aptly named Woodstock, the city’s creative hub.

Most visitors will want to include a trip to Robben Island in their itinerary. Lying a few miles off the coast, this island houses the prison in which Nelson Mandela served much of his sentence, and there is now a museum that offers guided tours from former inmates.

Paphos, Cyprus

Paphos is a hub of ancient history

  • Average temperature in December: 15C
  • Hours of sunshine per day: 6

Though less warm than more far-flung destinations, Paphos is one of Europe’s most reliable locations for some shorter-haul winter sun. Average highs will be around 20C, providing pleasant days for lying by the sea or exploring the area’s ancient ruins. Beaches here are plentiful, with sands surrounded by golden cliffs and turquoise waters at locations such as Aphrodite’s Rock, Coral Bay and the Blue Lagoon.

While Paphos is an undeniably great choice for a relaxing break by the Mediterranean, some will come to explore its wealth of ancient sites. Many are contained in the Kato Pafos Archaeological Park, which houses a Roman Acropolis and Odeon (which still hosts summer music and theatre performances), and ruins of villas, mosaics and the Tomb of Kings, a necropolis dating back to the 4th century BC.

Within Paphos itself, the Old Town and Paphos Castle are good places to walk around, the latter for great views over the harbour and the former for an atmospheric fusion of recently restored period buildings, al fresco restaurants, busy avenues and ideal sunset-viewing spots.

Read more reviews on the best winter sun hotels

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