These are the best holidays for festive family fun

Whatever the kids love to do, there’s a mid-winter escape they’ll remember all their lives

The holiday season is when families come together, and for kids, it’s an amazing time of the year. Of course, it can be stressful for parents, but if you really fancy doing something different with the kids this year, we’ve collected a few ideas together to create a festive trip they’ll always remember.

European city magic

Central Europe is famous for its Christmas markets, but there are other, more unusual, places to visit — Shutterstock These are the best holidays for festive family fun
Central Europe is famous for its Christmas markets, but there are other, more unusual, places to visit — Shutterstock

A lot of cities, particularly in Central Europe, will be gearing up for the holidays by preparing activities and events around their Christmas markets. Originating in Germany, they’re now found in hundreds of towns and cities, and the combination of mulled wine, traditional sweet treats, craft stalls and music is now a familiar sight in cities from Biarritz to Birmingham.

Kids of all ages will enjoy the sights, sounds and smells (and the snow if you’re from somewhere where it doesn’t normally fall), and there are usually plenty of other activities: ice-skating, petting zoos, and others, depending on the creativity of the city!

There are the usual suspects (Vienna, Berlin, Prague and so forth), but what about somewhere a bit smaller, a bit less crowded, where you and the kids can actually have fun instead of constantly looking out for each other?

The northern French city of Lille uses its enormous main square to house stalls selling crafts and food from Russia, Canada, Poland and more, as well as a ferris wheel for fairy-lit views of the city. Vilnius offers chocolate box architecture, snow, and a magnificent tree as well as affordable food, drink and accommodation. Seville might not be the first place you think of for wintry delights, but their Christmas market is known throughout Spain. And Wroclaw’s fairytale-themed market is a kitschy delight of parades, songs and rides.

There are — as always — a couple of more unusual choices if you fancy: the Mount Pilatus Market above Lake Lucerne in Switzerland is the highest in Europe (you have to ride a terrifyingly steep cog rail to get up there); and the market in Vilshofen, Germany, is on the river. But you don’t have to go to these lengths. A quaint city, some warm clothes, and a sense of wonder are all you need.

A cosy cottage break

The UK is an excellent place to rent a cottage to escape to — Shutterstock These are the best holidays for festive family fun
The UK is an excellent place to rent a cottage to escape to — Shutterstock

At the other end of the spectrum from the city break is the option of getting away from it all and booking a cottage somewhere where you can explore the countryside, wear the kids out, and come back to a cosy fireside.

The UK is a great place to do this, with thousands of cosy self-catering or bed-and-breakfast options, often in ancient buildings, available to rent. The mountains of mid-Wales or the rolling hills of the borders are perfect for walking or mountain biking before coming back to hose off the mud and retire to the nearest pub for a hearty meal. The West Country and Yorkshire are equally great for this, and everywhere you go you’ll be exploring an ancient and storied landscape.

The USA has its fair share of options too, with places like Blue Ridge in Georgia. The Appalachian mountain town has log cabins that are perfectly placed for exploring the great outdoors, but also come with just luxuries as saunas, jacuzzis, and fire pits out the back. Sevierville, Tennessee, the Adirondacks around Lake Placid, and Estes Park, Colorado offer similar locations, but these are just a few of many, many options.

Naturally, the other choice would be to go completely storybook and find a chalet in the Swiss or Austrian mountains which, though expensive, would be a wonderful thing to do. Why not get the best of both worlds and rent a cottage within easy distance of an Alpine town with a Christmas Market? A totally festive win.

Sun, sea and Santa

There are many destinations on the Mediterranean where kids can stay for free in the off-season — Shutterstock These are the best holidays for festive family fun
There are many destinations on the Mediterranean where kids can stay for free in the off-season, such as Antalya in Turkey — Shutterstock

This December you could just say “not this year!” to the cold, the rain and the grey, and head off to sunnier climes. Sure, it’s maybe not the traditional view of the festive season — particularly if you live in the Northern Hemisphere — but for something a bit different, why not try it? You might all love it!

While being an unbearable tourist trap at the height of summer, the Balearic Islands could be the perfect place for a winter family break. Plenty of direct flights from scores of places, resorts that are set up to entertain (and give Mum and Dad a bit of a break) all year round, as well as decent weather and beaches. Another Iberian idea could be the beautiful stretch of coast running south from Lisbon in Portugal. Fly into Lisbon, stock up on supplies, then head down to a self-catering flat or some such on the Atlantic coast. In fact, all over the Mediterranean there are places that need to make the most of the off-season. This means that, from Antalya to Marrakech, you can find places where kids can stay for free.

Other options? Well the wet season should be over in the Caribbean by December, so places like Jamaica, Antigua and the Turks and Caicos Islands are all great choices, as are Indian Ocean nations such as Mauritius or the Maldives.

Another choice could be South Africa. Cape Town and the surrounding areas offer lots to do, particularly for older kids, including kayaking, cycling and rock scrambling, or you could head further inland and spend your holiday at one of the many game lodges. You won’t see any reindeer, but giraffes and elephants should more than make up for that!

Sleigh bells ring

Could there be a better experience for the children than hand-delivering their letters to Santa? — Amy Laughinghouse / Shutterstock These are the best holidays for festive family fun
Could there be a better experience for the children than hand-delivering their letters to Santa? — Amy Laughinghouse / Shutterstock

If you’re going to visit Santa, there’s an entire section of the tourism industry that caters for just that. He resides — so it is said — in Lapland, a sparsely populated area of northern Finland. This is now the place to go for the authentic Santa-based experience. You know the sort of thing: reindeer-driven sleigh rides through the forest under bright sunlight and a frozen blue sky. And that’s great, but it can prove difficult and costly. What other outdoorsy adventures could you have?

The reason a lot of people head that far north in the winter is to try and get a view of the Northern Lights, and if you do manage to see them it’ll be something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. There’s not a single person of any age who isn’t captivated by one of nature’s most incredible sights. Svalbard in Norway offers places to stay as well as the possibility of spotting polar bears and reindeer. The Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Finland might be able to do you sleighs, Northern Lights and the possibility of sleeping in your own igloo — pretty cool in more ways than one! — and a great slice of Iceland’s tourism is based on the majesty of seeing the Aurora Borealis.

Other locations for the active family in December are Canada, where skiing, sledding, skating and other ways of whizzing across frozen surfaces are a way of life, but there are also a number of less obvious destinations for a week of festive falling over.

The Atlas Mountains in Morocco are — slowly — becoming a viable target for those who want a winter holiday with a twist, as are the six ski resorts in Lebanon. Chile is home to some of the best winter sports areas in South America, as well as incredible winter adventures for teens such as snowmobiling, and, after the success of the Winter Olympics, South Korea is arriving on the world stage as a less extreme destination for those wanting to play about on the slopes.

An unusual time for adventure

Taking the kids on an Asian adventure would be something they remember for the rest of their lives — Shutterstock These are the best holidays for festive family fun
Taking the kids on an Asian adventure would be something they remember for the rest of their lives — Shutterstock

So all the above sounds a bit tame? You’re one of these families who needs to see everything, experience everything, and do it now, right? Well come this way…

Asia in December is great, with nice weather and cheap prices. Vietnam, with everything from huge, bustling cities to temples, jungles, and white sandy beaches is an excellent option, as is Thailand. Jungle trekking and canoeing are both very popular pastimes for tourists, and Thai culture is very child-friendly as well. If it all gets too exhausting — it’s a holiday, after all! — both countries can also offer a number of luxury family resorts if you feel like just relaxing is the best thing you could do.

Another country that can offer luxury resorts for lower prices than usual at this time of year as well as coming face to face with things your kids may only have read about in books is Egypt. Away from the hordes of summertime tourists, investigate the ancient world of pharaohs and pyramids, gods and legends, as well as touring the Nile.

Central America also provides the best of both worlds. Mexican celebrations are legendary, and rightly so, with processions, floats, dancing and music in towns and cities across the nation from early December until 6 January. Further south, Costa Rica is a great place to visit if your kids want to learn about conservation and the environment, as the country is a world leader in both.

Overall though, however you want to spend your festive season, there’s something out there for everybody. It’ll be an amazing family holiday, and one that everyone will remember for a long, long time.