A winter sun holiday is appealing for obvious reasons, but a winter break with the kids doesn't have a mean a huge resort, rowdy kids clubs, sprawling buffets and cabaret. We've rounded up the best winter sun destinations with soul, character and authenticity, so that you can have a holiday with more than just sun this winter.
Think beaches for penguins instead of just paddleboards; World Heritage cities with great urban beaches; islands at the heart of real-life aquariums; or just somewhere you’ve never been and kids will remember forever – for all the right reasons.
Islamorada is a tiny chain of islands less than two hours from Miami on the iconic Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys. Winter sun shines on the Gulf of Mexico here and there’s not a white-knuckle ride in sight. Sounds impossibly romantic? It is and kids love it. The beaches are big, white-sand playgrounds trimmed with nodding palms and known for mile-apart sun loungers. The overall theme is complete freedom. And the only waterpark is natural and one of the world’s best for deep-sea fishing, sailing, swimming, diving and snorkelling – or learning how from the experts.
The Moorings became almost famous recently as a paradise setting for the Netflix series, ‘Bloodline’. But no dark drama lurks round the historic resort in real life. It’s all just lush, tropical gardens and beachy, barefoot fun - if you want extra excitement, Miami or Key West are easily doable days out.
How to get there: In December British Airways flies from London Heathrow direct to Miami from £820 return
Travel time: The flight from London to Miami takes around 10 hours
Fly into Providenciales, side-step the sprawling tourist hotels and catch the local pond-hopper to Grand Turk. This is the capital of Turks & Caicos where the only city’s less than two kilometres long, called Cockburn Town and has more beach than buildings.
It’s also the island where free-roaming donkeys outnumber cars, stunning white sands ring the coast and kids don’t need aquariums, they have the real thing: stingray safaris, eco-voyages, kayaking, cave sailing and exploring round astonishing marine reserves. Slip into the way of island life at Turks Head Inne. Loved for gentle Creole atmosphere and Colonial good looks, this great family hotel has bunk rooms for older kids and yet another incredible Grand Turk ocean view.
Travel time: The journey time from London to Grand Turk is around 25 hours
Three essential need-to-knows about the smallest of the Seychelles’ main islands: it has the most photographed beach in the world (Anse Source d’Argent), hardly anyone bothers to drive (the island’s less than 10km²) and you may never want to leave.
La Digue is just over an hour by ferry from Mahé International Airport and it’s jungle-like, gorgeously green, edged with fabulous beaches and people move about on bikes or oxen-drawn carts – it’s true. When you’re not in the sea, exploring forests and cycling round tiny towns and villages, La Digue is the place for heritage plantations and horse-riding on the beach. Kids can island hop to see giant Aldabra Tortoise and Hawksbill Turtles or sail to neighbouring Praslin for Vallée de Mai nature reserve. And, small as it is, La Digue has an excellent choice of pretty, family lodges and sweet beach villas.
How to get there: In December Emirates flies from London Heathrow to Mahé from £1005 return. The journey includes a stopover in Abu Dhabi
Travel time: The flight from London to Mahé takes around 15 hours and La Digue is 90 minutes by ferry from Mahé
La Réunion is France right down to its west coast Riviera. Only this particular part of the Republic happens to float in the Indian Ocean close to Mauritius. Not as developed as its better known neighbour, Reunion is a winter sun favourite with the French and works family holidays with a lot of charm.
A big slice of the appeal is a spectacular and accessible landscape of volcanoes, cirques, swathes of dense forest and more waterfalls than seems strictly fair. Reunion’s beaches are wonderful too. And the island’s mix of fun activity and easy-going friendliness is as appealing to UK kids as it is to their French counterparts. Relaxed Hotel Le Recif is ocean-front in pretty Saint-Gilles but so close to the mountains they’ll lend you bikes for adventuring.
How to get there: In December, Air Austral flies from London Heathrow to La Reunion from £1274 return. The journey includes a stopover in Paris
Travel time: The flight from London to La Reunion takes around 17 hours
Go to Havana for Christmas. Cuba has only marked the event since 1997, so it’s a bit of a novelty which makes it all the more colourfully chaotic and eccentric - especially in the capital. If you can’t make it for December, the rest of winter still has fabulous urban beaches, World Heritage Old Havana and guided tours round the city in a pre-1959, hot-pink Buicks and the like – a favourite with kids.
Temperatures are about 25˚C and higher all year round. So, you might want to escape the heat in the cool green hills and valleys of gorgeous Vinales – just west of Havana and yet another World Heritage site. Most Cuban hotels and guesthouses are state managed so in the city, opt for inexpensive Casa Particulares or Habaquanex Hoteles where you can stay (for very little) in truly historic buildings.
How to get there: In December, Virgin Atlantic flies direct from London Gatwick to Havana from £616 return
Travel time: The flight from London to Havana takes around 10 hours
Cape Town is South Africa’s oldest city and a once-in-a-lifetime great. But it can be hectic, crowded and wildly busy in winter. So travel a little further south, swap the North Atlantic for the Indian Ocean and stay by Boulders Beach for white sand, immense Neolithic rocks, clear blue sea and a permanent colony of 2000 African Penguins. It’s just as strange and captivating as it sounds, kids are mesmerised and swimming in the sea with gregarious fledglings is a perfect childhood memory.
Boulders is just 35km from Cape Town, but quaint Simon’s Town is right by the beach and handily enough, it also has some of Western Cape’s prettiest family lodges and bungalows. If you can drag the kids away from the penguins, go take selfies at the Cape of Good Hope one afternoon, it’s only half-an-hour’s drive away.
How to get there: In December, SWISS flies from London Heathrow to Cape Town from £995 return. The journey includes a stopover in Zurich
Travel time: The flight from London to Cape Town takes around 15 hours