7 last-minute winter holidays: from meeting Santa in Finland to unwinding in the Maldives

Whether you fly to Kyrgyzstan, travel to Nepal or take a cruise from Dubai, these epic holidays offer a festive season to remember

Powered by automated translation

As 2021 comes to an end, you may have found yourself in the fortunate position of having more annual leave left over than you know what to do with.

While the travel spectrum is perhaps a tricky one to navigate right now, given the new Omicron Covid-19 variant, if you do plan to get away from it all, there are plenty of places still welcoming travellers this winter.

Whether you’re seeking snowy vistas or fancy seeing out the year with some tropical sunshine, these last-minute getaways guarantee an end-of-year escape to remember.

Of course if you're happier staying put in the UAE, there's plenty to keep you busy here from festive brunches to winter celebrations at Expo 2020, and plenty of staycation deals across the Emirates.

1. Set sail on a Christmas cruise from Dubai

The largest cruise ship to be named in the Middle East will set sail on Christmas Day for a seven-night adventure at sea. Travelling aboard the luxurious MSC Virtuosa, guests will spend December 25 in Dubai before cruising to Abu Dhabi on Boxing Day. The following day, the cruise will head to Sir Bani Yas Island where there are plenty of outdoor activities to try including nature drives, mountain biking and kayaking. December 28 will be spent at sea and you’ll reach Dammam in Saudi Arabia the following day. Finally, enjoy a day in Doha before returning to Dubai on New Year’s Eve.

With its own water park, theatre, shopping district, casino, spa, bowling alley and more, the Virtuosa has plenty to keep the whole family entertained as you sail the Arabian Gulf.

All travellers need to be fully vaccinated and the cruise also provides a Covid-19 protection plan for cancellation, medical and or transport-related expenses owing to the coronavirus.

Sets sail on December 25, rates from $798 per person; msccruisesusa.com

2. Escape to snow-covered mountains in Georgia

For mountains, snow-covered slopes and endless fresh air, a winter escape to the Georgian mountains ticks all the boxes. Holiday Factory’s festive package includes a nine-night stay in the Caucasus country, which is less than a four-hour flight from the UAE.

Fly from Sharjah on January 23, and spend your first five nights in Bakuriani, one of the country’s best ski resorts. Hit the slopes, go snowmobiling or simply enjoy endless views of mountain peaks and pine forests. Then, transfer to historic Tbilisi for four nights where you can visit the sulphur baths, take in a show at the Rezo Gabriadze Marionette Theatre and revel in Georgia’s festive spirit. The trip includes all transfers between the airport and your hotels, travel insurance and even a PCR test before you return, so you can simply get on with enjoying the winter escape.

You’ll have to be fully vaccinated and show a negative PCR test on arrival to travel to Georgia at this time.

From Dh2,899 including flights and a 3-star hotel stay; holiday-factory.com

3. Hideaway in a luxury retreat in the Maldives

If this year has all been a bit much, why not treat yourself to a little respite this holiday season? The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort is welcoming guests for a tranquil stay. As well as uninterrupted ocean views over the Baa Atoll, which is a Unesco Biosphere Reserve site, guests can bed-down in private villas, each of which comes with an infinity pool, a private sundeck and ocean views.

Encouraging travellers to unwind as 2021 draws to a close, the resort is running a host of wellness activities, and holidaymakers can indulge in a spot of sunrise yoga, try a breathwork class or go paddle boarding on the Indian Ocean. Known for its thriving coral reefs, the Baa Atoll also offers an underwater wonderland for guests to explore, with more than 250 species and one of the largest concentrations of manta rays and whale sharks in the world.

Festive dining is on the menu at the resort's three restaurants, and guests can partake in seasonal cooking classes. The Westin Family Kids Club has plenty to keep little ones entertained with Christmas mask and snowflake making, festive puppet shows, Christmas movie nights and a visit from Santa.

Travellers flying to the Maldives must show a negative PCR test on arrival and complete a health declaration form 24 hours before departure.

From $490 per night, including breakfast but excluding taxes; www.marriott.com. Emirates and Etihad fly to the Maldives with December flights starting from Dh3,659 return

4. Enjoy Christmas with nomads in Kyrgyzstan

Experience a real-life winter wonderland with TrekkUp Dubai's Christmas trip to Kyrgyzstan. Setting off from Dubai on December 23, get set to celebrate the festive season like you never have before. Travellers will need to wrap up warm as December temperatures in this mountainous central Asian destination are frosty and cold, perfect for Christmas.

Spend the first day at Chong-Kemin valley, where you'll be welcomed into a nomadic village and shown the yurt you'll be sleeping in. Enjoy horse-riding, a festive dinner and a visit from Santa Claus. Next morning, after a traditional nomad breakfast, get set for a horse sleigh party that includes white mountains, forests, a roaring campfire and a festive barbecue. After a visit to The Chuy Valley – part of the ancient Silk Road – the group will head to Bishkek to visit local markets and restaurants before checking in to a hotel for the final night of your stay.

Tourists visiting Kyrgyzstan need a negative PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival, regardless of vaccination status.

From Dh3,180, including flights and accommodation; meetup.com

5. Visit Santa Claus in Finland

If you’re looking for a winter holiday that the children will never forget, they don’t come much better than a trip to Finland to visit Santa Claus.

A once-in-a-lifetime trip awaits with Dnata Travel’s four-night holiday to Lapland. You’ll be staying at the Santa Claus Holiday Village in Rovaniemi, the official home town of Father Christmas since 2010.

Children can join the gingerbread club, take part in classes at elf school, go on a dog-sled through the snow and enjoy winter walks through Lapland’s capital. There are also good ski opportunities in this winter wonderland. Off course, the icing on the cake is the moment children get to meet and greet Santa Claus in his own home. Just don’t go after December 23, as Santa departs on his annual mission to hand out presents to children around the world on that date.

Travellers need to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to travel to Finland at this time.

From Dh6,605 per person, including economy flights; dnatatravel.com

6. Ring in the New Year with Basement Jaxx in Edinburgh

One of the best New Year’s Eve parties in the world is returning this year after being cancelled in 2020 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay takes place in Scotland on December 31, and English electronic music duo Basement Jaxx are joining the party in Princess Street.

As well as the musical maestros, revellers can enjoy a midnight fireworks display above Edinburgh Castle, festive markets and a fairground. For a truly Scottish affair, check in at Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel. Overlooking one of the city’s most picturesque private gardens, this hotel is made up of seven interconnecting Georgian town houses and is located in the New Town, a Unesco World Heritage Site that’s delightfully removed from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

Brave holidaymakers can also sign up for the Loony Dook challenge on New Year’s Day, where people in fancy dress will plunge into the chilly waters of South Queensberry Dock to welcome in 2022.

Travellers flying to the UK will need to be fully vaccinated and show a PCR test taken in the two days before travel and you’ll need a Covid passport to attend the street party.

Stays from $284 per room; kimptoncharlottesquare.com; Edinburgh Hogmanay street party tickets from $35. edinburghshogmanay.com. Emirates fly direct to Scotland with fares from Dh2,970 around the new year

7. Have a healing weekend in Nepal

Nestled south of the Himalayas, Nepal is known for its trekking, but the country is also a great pick for a restorative holiday. Head to the capital of Kathmandu with Trekkup Dubai for a New Year celebration with a difference during a weekend of yoga, mediation, ancient healing practices and plenty of sightseeing.

The four-day excursion, which departs Dubai on December 29, includes singing bowl therapy, daily yoga, meditation and more. There's also a trip to Boudhanath, a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the most imposing landmarks in Kathmandu. It is the largest stupa in the valley and stands at an impressive 36 metres high. It's surrounded by monasteries, making it a great place to learn more about Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal.

The ancient town of Bhaktapur is also on the schedule. Famously known as the "city of devotees", it is home to Durbar Square and its numerous pagodas. New Year's Eve includes a traditional gala dinner in the hotel, and a night out in Thamel, known for its nightlife.

Travellers to Nepal must be vaccinated in order to avoid a 10-day quarantine on arrival.

From Dh3,850 including flights, hotel and most meals; meetup.com

NB: Prices and availability for all trips, plus travel rules relating to Covid-19 for each destination were correct at the time of writing but could change

Updated: December 15, 2021, 10:19 AM