Sun to ski: 60 great places to holiday this winter

Costa Rica beach
From the Maldives to Finland, and Donegal to Cuba, we’ve rounded up the best destinations to get you through the cold season ahead

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Soak up the winter sun
Weekend breaks around Europe
Weekend breaks around Ireland
Top ski destinations
The best Christmas markets
Ring in the new year
Indulge in a spa break
Once in a lifetime trips

SOAK UP THE WINTER SUN

The beautiful Resorts in the many atolls that constitute the Maldives are worth the trip.
The beautiful Resorts in the many atolls that constitute the Maldives are worth the trip.

1. Maldives
Who doesn’t like the sound of a secluded paradise island surrounded by blue sea and white beaches? The resorts in the many atolls of this Indian Ocean destination are neither cheap nor easily accessible but are certainly worth the trip. Pick an island resort with a house reef for all-day snorkelling.
Where to stay The Lux North Male Atoll resort offers a new family creativity programme, with an in-villa cinema plus art classes or a photography workshop. This five-night package is €7,600 for a family of four.
Get there Turkish Airlines has return flights from Dublin to Malé via Istanbul from €728. Shilpa Ganatra

Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico

2. Puerto Rico
As it has largely recovered from Hurricane Maria, two years ago, this is an opportune time to explore Puerto Rico, where three of the world’s five bioluminescent bays await, along with natural wonders such as rock pools, bat caves and the only tropical rainforest in the United States (technically speaking). With low rainfall and balmy temperatures, December to March is exactly the right time to visit.
Where to stay The boutique Hotel El Convento is in the charming capital of Old San Juan but comes with access its beach club. Plus, there’s complimentary wine and cheese. Doubles from €173.
Get there Aer Lingus flies from Dublin and Cork to San Juan via the US east coast from €631 return. SG

Cape Verde
Cape Verde

3. Cape Verde
This archipelago, 600km from the east African coast, is anomalous in many ways. The main island of Sal, the same size as south Dublin, contains vast stretches of arid desertscapes and watery wonders, such as Buracona Lagoon, whose waters shine neon blue in the morning. This is a fly’n’flop destination – expect high-20s temperatures in November and December.
Where to stay Hilton Cabo Verde Sal is a five-star beachfront resort a few minutes’ walk from Santa Maria. Doubles from €270.
Get there TAP Portugal has return flights from Dublin to Sal from €273. SG

Abama Beach in Tenerife: Golden sands and inviting water.
Abama Beach in Tenerife: Golden sands and inviting water

4. Tenerife, Spain
For minimum hassle and maximum sun, it’s hard to beat this Canary island, where temperatures hit 20 degrees in December. In addition to the lazy allure of its beaches and its challenging mountainous activities, there has been a recent surge in paragliding, thanks to consistently good flying conditions.
Where to stay Go high-brow at the Ritz-Carlton Abama, with three Michelin stars over its two restaurants. The three-night Vitamin D Booster package, designed for sun-deprived winter visitors, costs €1,575 per couple, including dinner and activities.
Get there Ryanair has return flights from Dublin and Cork to Tenerife from €92. SG

5. Nerja, Spain
This seaside town is one of Spain’s best-kept secrets. Its seafront promenade, Balcón de Europa, has unparalleled views of the Mediterranean, while the excellent food-and-wine scene and walkability of the town make it an easy and enjoyable getaway.
Where to stay Hotel Balcón de Europa is a great four-star resort with a pool, exclusive access to the beach, and rooms from €130.
Get there Aer Lingus flies from Dublin to Malaga from €101 return. Private transfers to Nerja cost €63 each way. Jo Linehan

6. Cannes, France
The French Riviera is home to some of the best-loved Gallic towns and cities. Soak up the opulence of Monte Carlo, or unwind in the tranquility of St Paul de Vence. Whatever vibe you desire, you’ll find it along the southern French coast. Base yourself in Cannes and take it from there.
Where to stay Close to the Rue d’Antibes shopping district and within walking distance of the city’s most beautiful beaches, the four-star Renoir hotel has everything you need for a Riviera-perfect stay. Doubles from €102.
Get there British Airways fly to Cannes from Dublin for €211 return. JL

Gozo in a Malta is a haven of tranquility.
Gozo in a Malta is a haven of tranquility.

7. Gozo, Malta
Described by locals as “the way Malta used to be”, the Maltese island of Gozo is surrounded by clear azure waters with untouched beaches. The capital city of Victoria’s medieval citadel and fortified walls make for picturesque exploring.
Where to stay The Calypso Hotel has rooms for €191 per person B&B. Alternatively, book a package with Sunway Holidays, including flights, accommodation and transfers, from €285 for four nights.
Get there Ryanair flies from Dublin to Luqa, on the main island of Malta, from €61 return. The ferry to Gozo costs €12. JL

8. Gran Canaria, Spain
There’s much on offer in Gran Canaria, from hiking and dolphin watching to shopping and people watching. From the Maspalomas Dunes to sunset cruises, a winter stay will be fun and sun-filled.
Where to stay Seaside Grand Hotel Residencia is a colonial-style luxury hotel in Las Palmas. Doubles from €614 per night.
Get there Fly from Dublin with Ryanair or Aer Lingus from €118 return. JL

9. Agadir, Morocco
With temperatures reaching upwards of 25 degrees in the winter months, this coastal destination could be a dream escape for those in need of an active holiday. Kayak, surf and hike in the nearby mountains, or explore the traditional Berber villages.
Where to stay The all-inclusive Hotel Riu Palace Tikida has everything you need for a fuss-free family holiday. A four-night stay starts from €845.
Get there Fly from Dublin with Air Arabia Maroc from €144 return. JL

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WEEKEND BREAKS AROUND EUROPE

Paris. Photograph: iStock
Paris. Photograph: iStock

10. Paris, France
Long candlelit evenings in cosy bistros and bars, frosty walks along the Seine in the twinkling light of sundown, everyone looking impossibly chic and, best of all, no queues. Winter is the most romantic time to visit Paris, and nobody seems to know it.
Where to stay A 19th-century mansion hidden from the outside world in a leafy garden, Hotel Particulier Montmartre costs €580 for two nights for two sharing.
Get there Aer Lingus flies to Charles de Gaulle airport from Dublin and Cork for about €150 return. Darragh Geraghty

11. London, England
There’s a 50 per cent chance London won’t be a desolate wasteland filled with roving cannibal raiders this winter, so it should still be a good bet for a minibreak. London is a huge city, so pick an area you want to see and stick to it. If you’ve never been before, you can’t go wrong with Covent Garden.
Where to stay In the heart of the West End with amazing views of the city, St Martin’s Lane is offering 30 per cent off stays until December 30th. Doubles start at £260 a night.
Get there Return flights to London Gatwick from Dublin start at €60 with Aer Lingus. DG

Athens. Photograph: iStock
Athens. Photograph: iStock

12. Athens, Greece
Much like Paris, the pros far outweigh the cons for visiting Athens during winter. With more than 70 museums, as well as the Acropolis and the Agora, it is like a different city without the pushy crowds and sweltering heat.
Where to stay Dripping with old-world opulence, the five-star Hotel Grande Bretagne has been an Athens institution since 1874. A three-night stay for two in November starts at €916.
Get there Ryanair flies to Athens from Dublin for €103 return. DG

13. Amsterdam, Netherlands
If it’s cold enough to skate on the frozen canals, you will experience Amsterdam at its best. This, coupled with the annual Light Festival (November 28th to January 19th) transforms the already beautiful city into a glittering wonderland.
Where to stay On the banks of Amsterdam’s oldest canal, and filled with crystal chandeliers, luxurious fabrics and expressive prints, Hotel Estheréa is plush and welcoming. A two-night stay for two costs €445.
Get there Return flights from Dublin cost €72 with Aer Lingus. DG

Lisbon. Photograph: iStock
Lisbon. Photograph: iStock

14. Lisbon, Portugal
With a winter daytime average of 15 degrees, Lisbon makes for a pleasantly mild city break at this time of year. Walking hilly cobbled streets, hopping on a charmingly rickety tram, and enjoying the culinary renaissance taking place are made all the more enjoyable by the lack of summer crowds.
Where to stay Located on the swanky Avenida da Liberdade, Hotel Valverde is a 25-room boutique hotel offering a two-night stay for €516 for two.
Get there Aer Lingus flies return from Dublin from €95. DG

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WEEKEND BREAKS AROUND IRELAND

15. Jazz it up in Cork
There’s never a bad time to visit Cork, but for an extraspecial weekend go for Cork Jazz Festival, running from October 24th to 28th. With a stellar line-up, including Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and Kurt Elling, there will be gigs (many free) at more than 70 venues.
Where to stay The River Lee Hotel, a short walk from the city-centre action, offers a two-night weekend deal with breakfast, afternoon tea and a guided Fab Food Trails walking tour for €570 for two people sharing. DG

The Wexford Opera Festival is among the oldest of its kind globally. Photograph Clive Barda/ArenaPAL
Wexford Festival Opera is among the oldest of its kind. Photograph Clive Barda/ArenaPal

16. Opera in Wexford
Atone for all those binged box sets and squeeze your culture quota for the year into a single weekend at Wexford Festival Opera. Now in its 68th year (October 22nd to November 3rd), it is one of the leading opera festivals in the world. Usually focusing on neglected works or forgotten masterpieces, it is absolutely not as intimidating as it sounds.
Where to stay The Ferrycarrig Hotel has a midweek opera package, including tickets to a show at the National Opera House and a three-course meal at the Reed Restaurant, for €215 per person sharing. DG

Northern Lights in Donegal. Photograph: iStock
Northern Lights in Donegal. Photograph: iStock

17. Northern Lights in Donegal
If you’ve ever wanted to see the Northern Lights but don’t fancy dropping half your life savings on an Arctic expedition, just head up to Co Donegal, where a lack of light pollution means the aurora borealis can be seen in all its shimmering, colourful glory on a cold, crisp winter night.
Where to stay A modern guesthouse that blends with the rugged landscape of Horn Head, Breac House is a perfect base for your aurora hunt. A two-night stay costs €550, including breakfast and a picnic backpack. (Closed mid-November to February). DG

Dubliner John Sheahan with young music fans Kate Mulcahy and Lily Bourke, both from Donabate, folk singer Muireann McDonnell and Ryan O'Shaughnessy ahead of the 2019 TradFest. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/ The Irish Times
Dubliner John Sheahan with young music fans Kate Mulcahy and Lily Bourke, both from Donabate, folk singer Muireann McDonnell and Ryan O'Shaughnessy ahead of the 2019 TradFest. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill/ The Irish Times

18. Trad in Dublin
Nothing beats a cosy winter pint in Dublin; throw in a hefty dose of trad music and you have a match made in heaven. Temple Bar TradFest runs from January 22nd to 26th and, despite the name, isn’t confined to the cobbled streets of Temple Bar. Gigs are held all over the city, in some remarkable venues like City Hall, Kilmainham Gaol and Rathfarnham Castle.
Where to stay Stylish and centrally located, Brooks Hotel, on Drury Street, costs €480 for a two-night stay for two sharing during TradFest. DG

19. Culture in Limerick
As the city is one of Ireland’s major (and often overlooked) cultural hubs, a weekend spent exploring Limerick’s world-class museums and galleries is a weekend well spent. The vast and varied collection of the Hunt Museum (free on Sundays) is a good place to start, before moving on to the contemporary masterpieces of Limerick City Gallery of Art and the intimate Frank McCourt museum.
Where to stay No 1 Pery Square, in the heart of the Georgian quarter, is a boutique hotel with character to spare. Two nights’ B&B in a period-style double room costs €550. DG

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TOP SKI DESTINATIONS

Prices are for mid-January unless specified 

Flaine, France. Photograph: iStock
Flaine, France. Photograph: iStock

20. Flaine, France
In a large bowl with many slopes leading back to the resort, Flaine is a family-friendly destination with plenty of challenging runs. It also connects to the Grand Massif ski area, offering 139 pistes. The town, designed by the Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer in the 1960s, is so stark it is almost beautiful.
Where to stay Terminal Neige Totem is a short walk/slide across snow from the lifts. There are also various budget apartments at the top end of town, reachable by funicular. Double rooms with breakfast cost €1,440 for seven nights.
Get there Fly Aer Lingus return from Dublin to Geneva from €150, or with EasyJet from Belfast for £60 (about €67). Emma Cullinan

21. St Anton, Austria
The classic Tyrolean resort of St Anton, with 300km of ski runs and 200km of off-piste, caters for intermediate and advanced skiers. Skiing from the top of the resort to the base is exhilarating, although many get waylaid at the infamous on-slope Krazy Kanguruh bar and open-air dancefloor. St Anton recently linked to the smart resort of Lech.
Where to stay Hotel Ehrenreich is three minutes from town and 200m from the lifts. Half-board starts at €115 a night per person sharing.
Get there Fly Dublin to Zurich with Aer Lingus from about €200 return, or to Memmingham Munich West with Ryanair from Dublin for €100. EC

22. Soldeu, Andorra
At the centre of the Grandvalira ski area, Soldeu has access to 210km of runs, making it the largest resort in the Pyrenees. It is good for beginners and intermediates, not only in terms of slopes but also for its relaxed vibe.
Where to stay Hotel Himalaia, 50m from the cable car, has doubles from €133 a night with breakfast.
Get there Fly to Barcelona from Dublin with Ryanair or Aer Lingus, from about €120 return, or Toulouse with Aer Lingus from about €120. EC

23. Cortina, Italy
Just up the road from Venice, this resort is full of Italian people’s second homes so has the feel of a real town rather than a ski resort. Sports shops rub up against hardware stores and traditional eateries, serving Italian hot chocolate you can stand a spoon in. It comprises three ski areas linked by bus, and will be co-hosting the Winter Olympics in 2026 with Milan. dolomitisuperski.com
Where to stay Hotel Panda is run by a lovely family with a fluffy dog. Doubles with breakfast start at €140 per night.
Get there Fly to Venice with Aer Lingus from €100 return, and Venice Treviso with Ryanair from around €60. - EC

24. Steamboat Springs, Colorado
You won’t miss the fact you are in cowboy country here, as staff wear Stetsons, and you can go horse-riding in the snow. The mountains are rounded, but the 105km of slopes run the gamut from beginner to black, and a few Olympic skiers have emerged from the resort. The snow here has a lower water content than average, making the powder very skiable – it has been trademarked as Champagne Powder – and there are lots of trees (some marked with bear claws) to slide between.
Where to stay The Steamboat Grand, at the base of the slopes, has doubles from $189 (€173) per night.
Get there British Airways flies Dublin to Denver via London from about €260 return. Drive from there or fly on to Hayden Airport with United Airlines from €281 return. EC

Skiers, cyclists and stargazers all do their thing at Grand Tourmalet in Spain.
Skiers, cyclists and stargazers all do their thing at Grand Tourmalet in France.

25. Grand Tourmalet, France
Skiers, cyclists and stargazers all do their thing at Grand Tourmalet, the biggest resort in the French Pyrenees, with 100km of runs. It is home to the Col de Tourmalet, the famed ascent in the Tour de France, which has a string of people cycling at various speeds up to its summit. Towering above the resort is the Pic du Midi mountain – you can freeride from the top in a cable car.
Where to stay At the Pic du Midi observatory, with amazing views of mountains and stars (this is one of the world’s top dark sky spots), you can stay in rooms once occupied by scientists, astronomers and technicians. Doubles cost about €439 with dinner, breakfast and stargazing.
Get there Fly to Lourdes with Ryanair from about €75 return, or Toulouse with Aer Lingus from €120. EC

Skiiing at Westendorf, Austria. Photograph: iStock
Skiiing at Westendorf, Austria. Photograph: iStock

26. Westendorf, Austria
A stalwart of Irish tour operators in times past, Westendorf often felt like Ireland-on-Alps. On a plateau in the Brixental valley, it is great for beginners, but good intermediates will ski the whole resort quite quickly. There is the option of taking a bus to access the rest of the vast SkiWelt area. The village is pretty, with traditional chalets and an onion-dome church.
Where to stay Pension Christoph, 150m from the lifts, costs €102 a night for two with breakfast.
Get there Fly to Salzburg with EasyJet from Belfast International from about £45 (€50) return, from Dublin to Munich with Aer Lingus for €120, or from Dublin to Memmingham Munich West with Ryanair for €100. EC

27. Val Thorens, France
The highest resort in the Alps, with its top run at a lofty 3,200m, Val Thorens is pretty snow sure, with a long season. It sits on top of the Trois Vallées, with 600km of slopes incorporating Les Menuires, Meribel and Courcheval. It takes skiing seriously, with off-piste guides, fitness sessions in skintight clothes, and dusk walks.
Where to stay Odalys Résidence L’Altineige is right on the slopes; a 20sq m apartment (sleeping up to four) costs €652 a week in January.
Get there Fly Dublin to Lyons from €130 return with Aer Lingus, Dublin to Geneva with Aer Lingus for €150, or Belfast to Geneva with EasyJet from about £60 (€67). EC

28. Champéry, Switzerland
Champéry is a pretty town of traditional chalets, with hotels and restaurants run by families who have lived here for generations. A cable car runs out of town to local slopes, also linking to the huge Portes du Soleil cross-border ski area, which includes the more famous Avoriaz and Morzine on the French side. A lovely doable challenge is to ski right around all of the resorts in one day.
Where to stay Hotel Suisse, a traditional-style, wood-rich hotel in the town centre, looking out to the mountains, has doubles from 274 Swiss francs (about €251) a night with breakfast.
How to get there Fly Aer Lingus from Dublin to Geneva for about €150 return. EC

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THE BEST CHRISTMAS MARKETS

Zagreb is Often voted the best Christmas market destination. Photograph: Julien Duval
Zagreb is Often voted the best Christmas market destination. Photograph: Julien Duval

29. Zagreb, Croatia
Gift-buying is just one facet of the Yuletide celebrations in Zagreb, which is often voted the best Christmas-market destination. From November 30th to January 7th, Jelacic Square transforms with chalets, light displays, live choirs and an ice rink. Nearby, the hip Fuliranje (“fooling around”) market – with DJs and high-end Croatian cuisine – could put the Christmas spirit into the Scroogiest of personalities.
Where to stay Hotel Jägerhorn is comfy, cool and a few minutes’ walk from the heart of the Christmas action. Doubles from €234.
Get there Croatia Airlines has return flights from Dublin to Zagreb from €242. SG

30. Birmingham, England
With a favourable exchange rate, there’s a bargain to be had in England, and its second city trumps many of the rest when it comes to Christmas. From November 7th to December 23rd at Victoria Square (with an added craft market on Centenary Square), Birmingham calls its event “the largest authentic German market outside Germany and Austria”.
Where to stay The boutique Penta Hotel, with an appealing bar and restaurant, is a 10-minute walk away. Doubles from £68.
Get there Ryanair has return flights from Dublin to Birmingham from €41. SG

31. Tromsø, Norway
Home to the world’s northernmost university, Tromsø has long been a go-to location for chasing the Northern Lights, and there’s an added curiosity in December as the city plunged into perpetual darkness. This year it’s bringing a Christmas market to the main street of Storgata. Expect craft stalls next to food stalls next to warming-drink stalls. Santa’s bound to appear – and his reindeer will be real.
Where to stay Get your fill of Scandi chic at Ishavshotel, near the market. Doubles from €111.
Get there Norwegian Air Shuttle flies from Dublin to Tromsø via Oslo from €245. SG

32. Helsinki, Finland
Do Christmas the Finnish way in Helsinki. From December 1st to 22nd, visit snow-topped Christmas markets in Aleksanterinkatu, drink glögi – made of spiced wine, vodka, almonds and raisins – and keep warm at a Finnish sauna. The city has 58 ice rinks, so skaters are spoilt for choice.
Where to stay Treat yourself at Hotel St George, one of Helsinki’s plushest abodes, in an 1840s building. Doubles from €220.
Get there Finnair has return flights from Dublin to Helsinki from €171. SG

Brussels at Christmas. Photograph: IStock
Brussels at Christmas. Photograph: IStock

33. Brussels, Belgium
The European capital comes alive at Christmas, as regular sound and light shows animate the ornate buildings of the Grand-Place, and 200 chalets cram into every spare centimetre of its cobbled centre. This year there’s a new emphasis on tech installations, with art projected on to facades of key buildings, and a domed tent featuring 360-degree shows. Add the obligatory Belgian frites, waffles and chocolate, and you’re on to a winner.
Where to stay Hotel Indigo is Brussels’ newest, with state-of-the-art rooms in a prime location. Doubles from €134.
Get there Ryanair has return flights from Dublin to Brussels from €34. SG

Christmas markets in Munich. Photograph: iStock
Christmas markets in Munich. Photograph: iStock

34. Munich, Germany
The Bavarian city may have just recovered from Oktoberfest, but it does Christmas markets with aplomb. Marienplatz is the heart of the action, with the gothic Old City Hall a magnificent backdrop, but you’ll find clusters of festive scenes and chalets across the walkable city. Although mostly traditional, its vegetarian food stalls and queer Christmas market prove it’s also open to modernity.
Where to stay Splurge at Beyond by Geisel – if not for the decadent rooms with Aesop toiletries, then for the cocktail bar overlooking Marienplatz. Doubles from €380. 
Get there Ryanair flies Dublin to Munich from €66 return. SG

35. Seattle, United States
Far away from Europe, Seattle’s Enchant festival, from November 22nd to December 29th, veers away from the traditional Christmas market. Instead, its second year brings together 70 stallholders, light installations, an ice rink and Christmas light maze.
Where to stay Loews Hotel 1000 is an elegant, contemporary hotel between Enchant and central Seattle. Doubles from €234.
Get there Aer Lingus flies from Dublin to Seattle from €386 return. SG

36. Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich train station houses the largest indoor Christmas market in Europe; it also features a 15m tree dripping with 7,000 Swarovski crystals. Elsewhere, Wienachtsdorf is a contemporary Viennese-style market with upcycled wares, and between its gift, food and drink stalls, Werdmühleplatz hosts regular shows by their singing Christmas tree.
Where to stay In a pricey city, the comfortable, contemporary Leoneck Swiss Hotel is good value. The tram stops just outside. Doubles from €134.
Get there Swiss International Air Lines has return flights from Dublin to Zurich from €90. SG

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RING IN THE NEW YEAR

37. Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festival is a three-day citywide extravaganza culminating in a huge street party on New Year’s Eve. It’s one of the most popular parties in the world, headlined this year by Mark Ronson.
Where to stay You won’t get much more central than Hotel Indigo, on Princes Street. A three-night stay for two, including breakfast and tickets for Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party, costs £803 (€1,000).
Get there Aer Lingus has return flights from Dublin to Edinburgh from €156. DG

New Orleans. Photograph: iStock
New Orleans. Photograph: iStock

38. New Orleans, United States
Everyone should visit the Big Easy at least once, and there’s no better time than winter, as you’ll avoid the crippling summer humidity, constant thunderstorms and prehistoric-sized mosquitoes. Although not quite reaching the chaotic lunacy of Mardi Gras, it’s still a hell of a place to ring in the new year.
Where to stay Dripping in southern elegance, Maison de la Luz is a boutique guesthouse close to the French Quarter. A two-night stay costs $670 (€614) for two, with breakfast.
Get there Return flights via Boston with Aer Lingus costs €842. DG

39. Berlin, Germany
Berlin goes all out for New Year’s Eve. A million people hit the “party mile” in front of the Brandenburg Gate for one of Europe’s biggest outdoor parties. Clubs stay open for days, and a glorious madness descends over the city. You might want to book a few extra days off work for this one.
Where to stay The ultracool Michelberger Hotel has rooms for €168 per night for two sharing.
Get there Return flights with Aer Lingus over the new-year period cost €224. DG

40. Cartagena, Colombia
Colombians celebrate New Year’s Eve as a huge family reunion, with everyone spilling on to the streets for dancing and drinking well into the small hours. On the Caribbean coast, Cartagena has a particularly festive atmosphere, with families from all over the country visiting for the holidays. Watch the fireworks from the walls of the old town before heading to Alquímico (alquimico.com) for a rooftop champagne party.
Where to stay Housed in a 15th-century colonial house in the old town, Bastion Luxury Hotel offers two nights’ B&B for €640 for two sharing.
Get there KLM flies from Dublin to Cartagena via Amsterdam and Bogota for €1,505 return. DG

Bologna. Photograph: iStock
Bologna. Photograph: iStock

41. Bologna, Italy
At the stroke of midnight every December 31st on Bologna’s stunning medieval Piazza Maggiore, a giant wooden statue is set ablaze to rapturous cheering. The traditional fireworks display has been banned this year, but there will still be plenty of festivities to enjoy.
Where to stay Around the corner from Piazza Maggiore, Al Cappello Rosso is a gorgeous boutique hotel with 33 bedrooms and 10 apartments. Doubles cost €180 per night.
Get there KLM flies from Dublin via Amsterdam for €324 return. Or fly with Ryanair or Aer Lingus to Pisa or Rome and be in Bologna by train in less than two hours. DG

New Year celebrations in Sydney. Photograph: iStock
New Year celebrations in Sydney. Photograph: iStock

42. Sydney, Australia
If it’s fireworks you’re after, one city does it better than anywhere else. This year more than a million people will jostle around Sydney’s harbour for the best view of the breathtaking display. Besides the pyrotechnics, there will be a ludicrous number of parties, from a Gatsby-style bash to a New Year’s Eve cruise.
Where to stay With spectacular views of the opera house and harbour bridge, the Shangri-La Hotel is a perfect place to watch the festivities in your slippers. Over New Year, doubles start at €900 per night.
Get there Emirates and Etihad fly to Sydney via Dubai or Abu Dhabi for about €2,000 return. DG

Reykjavík. Photograph: iStock
Reykjavík. Photograph: iStock

43. Reykjavik, Iceland
Most cities opt for an organised and safety-oriented official fireworks display. Iceland’s capital takes things to the other extreme, with everyone and their mother setting off a bonanza of screamers and bangers throughout the night.
Where to stay Nordic Visitor organises a five-night tour of Iceland with accommodation included, as well as a festive New Year’s Eve party, with a gourmet dinner, wine and music for €1,840 per person.
Get there Iceland Air flies from Dublin to Reykjavik for €560 return. DG

44. Madrid, Spain
Tourist off-season in Madrid runs from December to March, so the best thing about visiting for New Year is that you’ll get to experience it as the locals do. Head to the Puerta del Sol square, where it is tradition to eat 12 grapes, one for each chime of the midnight bell.
Where to stay With a food truck on the terrace, and the check-in desk behind a cocktail bar, Vincci the Mint hotel is stylish and fun. Two nights’ B&B costs €622 for two sharing.
Get there Return flights from Dublin cost €222 with Aer Lingus. DG

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INDULGE IN A SPA BREAK

45. Monart, Co Wexford
Recognised internationally for its exceptional treatments, robe-friendly dress code and device-free culture, Monart adopts an ethos that is all about escape. A day in its thermal suite is a treat, but with in-house wellness specialists providing mindful activities, you can be as active or passive as you desire here. A two-night midweek rejuvenation break from Sunday to Thursday costs from €280 per person sharing. JL

Adare Manor
Adare Manor

46. Adare Manor, Co Limerick
The newest luxury spa in Ireland comes by way of the five-star Adare Manor and its exclusive La Mer package. Expect gold-standard service and high-end treatments with its sea-inspired products. The La Mer Signature Facial is 90 minutes of bliss. Rooms start at €360 per night. JL

The Europe.
The Europe.

47. The Europe, Co Kerry
Nestled in view of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, overlooking glassy lakes, the spa at the Europe here connects the great outdoors with the cosiest interiors. Treatments are best enjoyed after a dip in the outdoor heated pool. Spend that little bit extra on a lake-view room. Dinner, bed and breakfast starts at €380 for two. JL

48. Culloden Estate and Spa, Belfast
The Culloden hotel’s spa has a new Autumn Equinox Experience for €115. Aromatherapeutic formulas will help boost energy levels, support the immune system, and bring a sense of balance – an antidote to winter’s harsh effects. Add an overnight stay from €105 per person sharing. JL

Aqua Sana is part of the Center Parcs Resort in Co Longford.
Aqua Sana is part of the Center Parcs Resort in Co Longford.

49. Aqua Sana, Co Longford
Ireland’s first forest spa has recently opened in Co Longford, as part of the Center Parcs resort. Everything from the Scandinavian-inspired Hot Springs to the 14 treatment rooms has been designed with relaxation in mind. The team uses Elemis and Voya products for treatments, but with 21 different hot, cold, sensory and meditative experiences, the spa itself is a real treat. A spa day costs from €55 per person; a stay at Center Parcs in a three-bedroom Woodland Lodge costs from €799 for three nights. JL

50. Royal Mansour Spa, Marrakesh, Morocco
There’s nothing quite like an authentic hammam. To fully immerse yourself in the ancient Turkish bathing ritual, try the Royal Mansour spa in Marrakesh. Enter the city sanctuary via its citrus garden, and be guided on a cleansing and rejuvenating journey. A superior Riad room at the five-star hotel costs €1,216 per night.
Get there Fly Dublin to Marrakesh with Ryanair from €127 return. JL

Buchinger Wilhelmi.
Buchinger Wilhelmi.

51. Buchinger Wilhelmi, Germany
Described as a world-famous clinic rather than a spa, this wellness centre offers everything from clean diets and full-body detoxes to massage and facials. Stay from €220 per night, including access to the daily activity programme. Meals start at €70 per day.
Get there Fly from Dublin to Zurich with Swiss from €111 return, with a 45-minute transfer from the airport to the spa. JL

52. The Scarlet, Cornwall, England
From the clifftop hot tub to luxury tented treatment rooms and a holistic and wellbeing-inspired menu of facials and massages, the spa at the Scarlet Hotel puts a Cornish twist on the ancient Ayurvedic ethos. The hotel’s two-night spa break includes a candlelit dinner, massage and more from €310.
Get there Fly Aer Lingus from Dublin to Newquay from €71 return; transfers to the hotel are available from the airport. JL

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ONCE IN A LIFETIME TRIPS

53. Sri Lanka
Recent events shouldn’t deter holidaymakers from choosing this teardrop-shaped island. From the impressive heights of Lipton’s Seat, in the central tea-growing region, to the surfing beaches in the south, there are natural and cultural attractions in spades, best visited in the sunny months of December to March. And the food is out of this world.
Where to stay Calamansi Cove is a relaxing beachside retreat, with the authentic village of Balapitya within walking distance. Doubles from €196.
Get there Swiss has return flights from Dublin to Colombo via Zurich from €551. SG

Costa Rica. Photograph: iStock
Costa Rica. Photograph: iStock

54. Costa Rica
Central America’s most popular destination offers cloud rainforests, vibrant cities, magnificent volcanoes and biodiversity to rival the Galapagos Islands’, plus bohemian beaches on the Pacific coast and wild waves on the Atlantic coast. It’s easy to live la pura vida in this broad-ranging country.
Where to stay Latitude 10 is a luxury boutique hideaway on the beach in Santa Teresa, surrounded by exotic foliage. Doubles from €453.
Get there Air France has returns flights from Dublin to San José via Paris from €666. SG

55. Vietnam
Vietnam has long attracted culture vultures, sun seekers and foodies in equal measure, and Hoi An is a top choice from January, when the weather is dry and sunny. Its Unesco-protected old town, lined with golden-yellow merchants’ houses, sheds light on its past as a 15th-century port, alongside Japanese, Chinese and Portuguese influences. The palm-tree beaches of Cam An are nearby too.
Where to stay Allegro Hoi An is a contemporary, clean hotel with a pool and spa, just outside the old town. Doubles from €107.
Get there Qatar Airways has return flights from Dublin to Da Nang via Doha from €708. SG

Northern lights in Lapland.
Northern lights in Lapland.

56. Pyhä, Lapland
The whole family will love the festive experience at this remote ski village, where elves host a three-day adventure in search of Santa. Husky-drawn sleigh rides and snowmobiles through ancient snow-covered forests, letters to the man in red, snow games and a festive dinner culminate in meeting Santa on the final evening.
Where to stay Three nights, including all activities at Pyhä Resort plus flights, costs from €1,650 per adult and €1,525 per child, departing on December 4th or 10th, through santaholidays.ie.
Get there Finnair flies Dublin to Rovaniemi via Helsinki from €259 return. JL

Safari in Kenya. Photograph: iStock
Safari in Kenya. Photograph: iStock

57. Kenya
Animal lovers will go wild for Kenya in winter. The heat is comfortable enough to stay outdoors, and it’s a fine season for safaris thanks to a breadth of newborn animals and flocks of migrating birds returning to the Serengeti. Wait until the second half of December, when rains subside and the landscapes look lusher.
Where to stay Governors’ Mugie House, in Laikipia, is a private conservation reserve home to giraffes, elephants, zebra and hartebeests. From €480 per person per night, including meals and game drives.
Get there KLM has return flights from Dublin to Nairobi via Amsterdam from €604. SG

58. Chad
In recovery from political turmoil, Chad is a relatively new tourist destination, but one unlike any other when it comes to an authentic African adventure. Safaris here include following camel-caravan routes carved out of the desert by nomadic tribes, exploring the lakes of Ounianga, a Unesco World Heritage site, the Ennedi Mountains and the Sahara’s highest mountain, Emi Koussi.
Where to stay Camp Nomade is in the heart of Zakouma National Park, a prime location for wildlife viewing. Eight luxury tents make for a unique stay. Price on request.
Get there Return flights from Dublin to Chad via London with British Airways start at €1,330 return. JL

Shimla, India. Photograph: iStock
Shimla, India. Photograph: iStock

59. Shimla, India
Surrounded by Deodar forest in the foothills of the Himalayas, Shimla is a place of unparalleled natural beauty. Nature lovers will revel in the hiking trails, sublime Hatu Peak and Kotgarh Orchards and strawberry farms, while the town bustles with handicraft shops and the famous Lakkar Bazaar.
Where to stay Taj Theog Resort & Spa offers a luxury escape after a long day exploring. Doubles from €281.
Get there Fly from Dublin to New Dehli with Finnair from €521 return, then onwards from New Dehli to Shimla from €391 return with Alliance Air. JL

Explore the colonial city of Havana, Cuba. Photograph: iStock
Explore the colonial city of Havana, Cuba. Photograph: iStock

60. Cuba
Experience the last days of Cuba’s lost-in-time magic. Explore the colonial city of Havana, the cobbled streets of Trinidad, a Unesco World Heritage site, or visit the port city of Cienfuegos and the famous tobacco route, all while soaking up this country’s electric music and dance culture.
Where to stay A Casa Particular is a far cooler alternative to a B&B. Stay with a local family and let them show you the Cuba they know and love. A private four-day Havana tour, including activities, accommodation, food and transfers, starts at €700 for two through locallysourcedcuba.com.
Get there Fly from Dublin with Air France from €653 return. JL

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