Now is a great time to start planning a Christmas beach vacation. December is the perfect time of year to escape frigid temperatures for a few days in a sunny destination.
Here are some of the best places to spend Christmas on the beach in 2023. And don’t think you have to forgo a Christmas tree or meal with family. You can still celebrate all day long—you’ll just have a little more sun and sand than usual.
Key West, Florida
Quirky, free-spirited Key West doesn’t disappoint when it comes to Christmas. You’ll probably be sipping a festive rum punch rather than a hot toddy here.
There’s no shortage of holiday spirit here, though you’ll most likely spend at least part of Christmas Day lounging under a tropical sun.
As you spend your day in Key West, check out the lavish decorations festooning the houses. Cycling is a great way to get around, all the more so as there are no hills.
Take to the water on a catamaran cruise and look out for wild dolphins before jumping into the warm water to snorkel over dazzling corals.
Snap a selfie at the buoy marking the southernmost point of the United States. See the villa where writer Ernest Hemingway lived, or follow in his footsteps and try your hand at sport fishing.
Remember to make time for a snack stop to try the tangy Key lime pie that Key West is known for.
With so many beautiful beaches, scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities, incredible outdoor adventures, and ancient history, Cozumel is a must-visit destination any time of year. But it feels especially exotic and luxurious to spend Christmas Eve on the beach here while looking out for dolphins in the water and feeling the tropical sun on your face.
If your goal for the holiday is to spend as much of it on the sand as possible, Playa Mia—one of Cozumel’s best beaches—may be the spot for you. In addition to having a gorgeous beach, beach chairs, kayaks, snorkel gear, and even an inflatable over-the-water obstacle course for adults, there’s more just away from the sand.
That includes several pools, a lazy river, a hydro-massage hot tub, and a swim-up cocktail bar. The weather is almost always warm and sunny in Cozumel, so you may want to swap your egg nog for a tequila sunrise instead.
If you prefer a more adventurous holiday in the Caribbean, Cozumel is still a top pick. There are several Mayan ruins near Cozumel, including San Gervasio, dedicated to birth and fertility goddess Ix Chel, and Chichen Itza, a massive Mayan city eventually taken over by the Spanish in the mid-1500s.
For a destination so close to the U.S., Cozumel offers the chance to spend Christmas in the Caribbean completely unlike the holiday you’d have back at home.
Tenerife, Canary Islands
Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands and also the most mountainous. The volcano Teide, which is in fact Spain’s highest mountain, dominates the scenery. At Christmas, is likely to be sporting a snowy cap.
You can take a tour up the mountain for magnificent views down over the surrounding countryside and, of course, throw a snowball.
Christmas is an important holiday in the Canary Islands, usually spent with family, but there’s still plenty to do. Soak up the festive scene; as well as Christmas trees and nativity scenes, the palm trees are wrapped with lights.
You’ll hear Christmas carols everywhere, and there’s even an annual concert in Santa Cruz on Christmas Day by the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra.
The novelty for most visitors, especially if you come from a cold country, is to spend Christmas day on a beach in Tenerife. With December weather typically warm and sunny, a lot of locals do this, and many of the beach restaurants and cafés are open over the holidays.
Hiking is one of the best things to do in Tenerife, which immerses you in nature as you stroll along clifftops and through verdant gorges. Winter is the perfect time to set out on a hike, as it should be sunny but not too hot.
There’s something to be said for escaping the festive season completely, and there’s no better place to immerse yourself in nature than the Galapagos Islands, a volcanic archipelago scattered across the Pacific, 850 miles from mainland Ecuador.
You’ll see endemic species here that are found nowhere else on Earth. You can snorkel off sparkling black sand beaches to swim among Galapagos penguins and graceful sea turtles.
Pick your way over the sand past snoozing sea lions, which, like all the Galapagos animals, are completely oblivious to humans. Gaze at thousands of craggy land and marine iguanas, posing like statues on the rocks, and look out for blue-footed boobies performing their curious courtship dance.
The pristine beauty of the islands, which are all different in appearance, and the chance to get so close to the wildlife is a truly life-affirming experience; a vacation here is one of the best Christmas gifts you can give yourself.
Ko Samui, Thailand
Tropical islands don’t come more dreamy than Ko Samui, a reef-fringed gem in the Gulf of Thailand.
Tall coconut palms arch over long, powdery-white beaches, and fish in dazzling colors flit over thriving reefs in the clear water. The island’s interior is mountainous and jungly.
You could celebrate the festive season with a Thai massage on the beach or fresh coconut water straight from the shell.
Chaweng is one of the best beaches, where you’ll find a long sweep of sand with warm, shallow water. The beach is lined with bars and restaurants serving authentic Thai food, and there are plenty of umbrellas for shade.
You could combine Bophut Beach—one of the best beaches in Southeast Asia—with a visit to the enormous, gilded Big Buddha statue, housed in the colorful temple Wat Phra Yai.
For a much quieter beach, head to Maenam in the north of the island, or Lamai, where the mountains slope right down to the sea.
Snorkeling enthusiasts could join a boat trip to Ang Thong National Marine Park, an archipelago of 42 forested islands, with waterfalls, emerald lagoons, and monkeys scampering through the treetops. The beaches here are beautiful, and as you drift over the coral reefs, you may have green and hawksbill sea turtles for company.
For a quick getaway from just about anywhere on the east coast, set your sights on Nassau in the Bahamas. Nassau is one of the easiest places to reach from the U.S., but that doesn’t mean it feels like anything you’d find in the States.
It’s colorful, friendly, welcoming, and has fantastic food, so it’s a perfect place to celebrate Christmas on the beach if you want to swap your mashed potatoes for conch chowder.
For a special Christmas, spend the day at the Atlantis Resort which packs an incredible amount of adventure into one lavish destination.
Walk (or take a waterslide) through a shark tank, explore a sprawling marine aquarium, visit the Aquaventure Water Park, or rent a private cabana for two by the pool or beach. There are also plenty of family and adults-only activities offered around the holidays.
For an indulgent Christmas Day celebration, book a trip to Balmoral Island, just off the coast. The private beach resort has everything you need for a perfect Christmas at the beach, including loungers, snorkel gear rentals, a restaurant and bar, and opportunities to get in the water with stingrays and dolphins.
It’s just a quick ferry ride to the island, and beach floats and tubes are available so you could spend Christmas just drifting around in the sun.
Take a break from the sun on a wine-themed adventure at the Bahama Barrels Winery, housed on the grounds of a 1930s church.
Oenophiles will probably know that it’s quite hard to grow grapes in The Bahamas, so the winery sources grapes from around the world to make incredible blends and varietals on-site.
Visits usually include a tour, a hands-on winemaking class, and even a chance to make your own custom blend. Now, there’s a perfect Christmas present.
Read: Best Beaches in Nassau
Lanzarote, Canary Islands
Stark, volcanic Lanzarote offers a warm welcome at Christmas. Despite the fact that the island is usually bathed in sunshine, you’ll see Christmas trees, lights, and nativity scenes everywhere.
Lanzarote has many curiosities. Vines are grown in little pits in the ground, thriving on the fertile volcanic soil and protected from the wind. Raise a glass to happy holidays with one or more vintages from the Geria Valley on the island.
You’ll also see salt flats, rippling sand dunes, and volcanoes. One of the best things to do in Lanzarote is to visit Timanfaya National Park, which has an otherworldly feel and is dotted with craters.
Guides demonstrate the powerful geothermal heat by pouring water into a hole in the ground, only to have it whoosh skywards in the form of a geyser seconds later. There’s also a chance to ride a camel against a backdrop of sand dunes that change color during the day as the sun crosses the sky.
The island is home to some of the best beaches in the Canary Islands, some with glittering black sand.
Playa del Reducto, the urban beach in Arrecife, the capital, is in fact a long sweep of golden sand. Make your way across the island to El Golfo to see its dramatic black sand beaches. A sandbar pounded by Atlantic rollers protects a green lagoon, making this an unusual and starkly beautiful spot to spend a few hours.
Grand Cayman is home to some of the best beaches in the world. One of those is Seven Mile Beach, which is actually a long series of beaches, coves, and stunning vistas. This is a great stretch of sand on which to celebrate Christmas on the beach.
Relax on a beach chair, go for a snorkel, or pop by a local beach bar for an afternoon cocktail. You can then stroll on the beach and check out some of the nearby coves and tidepools. If you’re lucky, you can spot a sea turtle or two in the shallow water.
Going to Hell on Christmas Day may not sound appealing, but it is when you’re in Grand Cayman. The “Hell” rock formation is an extremely photogenic section of the island where black limestone formations create a jagged landscape reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno.
In Grand Cayman, you can also spend Christmas morning just west of the beach—and yes, that puts you in the middle of the ocean. Take a quick boat ride to one of the best Grand Cayman snorkeling spots—Stingray City, a sandbar just off the shore where stingrays and nurse sharks often congregate.
They’re incredibly used to people, and the water is very shallow, so you can hop off the boat with snorkel gear and swim just a few feet above them, or stand in the warm shallows. Tidbits offered by the guides lure rays, who will brush gently past your legs. It’s a thrilling encounter with such majestic sea creatures.
Escape to the beach this winter on a Christmas cruise. You’ll be whisked from one stunning beach destination to another while indulging in world-class dining, unmatched service, and festive Christmas decorations on board.