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Saturday, December 10, 2011

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Looking for holiday ideas? Our editors – The Sunday Times travel writers David Wickers and Mark Hodson – have revealed their top 10 holiday destinations.

These are the most popular destinations with our readers, along with our own personal recommendations. We also have the latest Government data on the numbers of UK visitors travelling abroad.

If you are travelling with children, see our family holiday ideas. If not, search holiday ideas for couples. Or visit our sister sites for 101 honeymoon ideas and 101 short breaks.

If you know when you plan to travel and are looking for ideas of where to go, see Best Time to Visit. Also see our complete guide to the best holiday destinations.

Spain has long been a favourite of British holidaymakers, and it remains our number one holiday destination. In particular, the Balearic islands of Mallorca and Ibiza are perennial big-hitters (not forgetting Menorca), along with Canary Islands such as Tenerife and La Palma. Other great beach destinations include the Costa de la Luz and Catalonia.

But there’s a lot more to Spain than beaches. There are great walking holidays in Northern Spain and cycling in Catalonia. The rise of low-cost airlines has benefited city breaks in places like Palma and Seville – both of which are rich in culture. Meanwhile, lesser-known islands such as La Palma in the Canaries are well worth a visit.

For sporting holidays you can’t beat La Manga Club which has world-class tennis facilities and three championship golf courses. You can also explore Spain on a luxury rail holidays using the superb state-run trains such as the Transcantábrico and La Robla.

The relationship between the British and French may have had its ups and downs over the years, but our love of all things French shows no signs of abating. From the Channel ports to the islands of the Mediterranean, Francophiles are never short of new destinations to discover.

Among our favourite holidays are the beaches of the Atlantic coast, Corsica and the Ile de Ré. You can visit Monet’s Garden in Giverny, take a cycling holiday, a walking break or a battlefield tour.

In the French Alps you can ski on a budget, or with a family, plus they make a great destination in summer. Other highlights include Normandy and Paris.

You can rent a French chateau, take a horse-racing holiday in France or watch the Monaco Grand Prix in May.

No list of holiday destinations for UK travellers would be complete without mentioning our own great country: not just England, but Wales, Scotland, Northern Island and some of our lesser known islands such as the Scilly Isles, Lundy Island (in the Bristol Channel) and the Isle of Wight.

The UK’s most popular tourist destinations include Devon and Cornwall, the Lake District, the Cotswolds, Dorset and Scotland.

Britain offers many interesting holiday experiences. You can rent a lighthouse keeper’s cottage or go boating on the Norfolk Broads.

In the Highlands and Islands of Scotland you could take a whisky tour, ride a steam train on the West Highland Line or take a tour of Mull where you can see minke whales, otters, seals and porpoises. Take a city break in Edinburgh or rent a big house in the countryside. You can even rent a Downton Abbey-style historic house sleeping 6 – 60 people. Perfect for birthdays or anniversaries.

Explore more UK holiday destinations.

Holidays in Greece are all about simplicity. Despite a recent profileration of five-star hotels, it is the whitewashed villas, the friendly tavernas, the hot sun and blue seas that keep us coming back year after year. Even Greek food is a masterpiece of simplicity, both traditional and healthy.

It is the islands that attract the most visitors. Corfu’s villas never lose their appeal. If you’re looking the quintessential small Greek island, we recommend Paxos, which has no airport and is a great place for lazy days, boat trips and lovely villas.

If you fancy being slightly more active, the Lakitira Beach resort on Kos, just off the Turkish coast, offers a wide array of watersports. Or learn to sail in Greece.

Crete is the largest and arguably the most interesting of the islands. Steer away from the tacky resorts and stay at one of these stylish houses for rent or family villas.

Mainland Greece  offers a wonderfully diverse range of holiday options. Relax by the pool at the beautiful Sani Asterias Suites or soak up the unrivalled culture in Athens and the stunning new Acropolis Museum.

See David’s pick of the best Mediterranean holidays.

Ancient culture, great beaches, fantastic food and beautiful weather – it’s no surprise that so many of us decide to holiday in Italy. For a taste of la dolce vita, head to the wonderful cities of Rome, Florence and Venice – for an extra dash of old-school glamour, travel there on the Orient Express.

Umbria is a beautiful area of Italy, boasting medieval market towns, wonderful vineyards and great works of the Renaissance – and largely untouched by tourists. Beach lovers will be blown away by the 500 miles of coastline in stunning Puglia, not to mention the traditional architecture and terrific food and wine.

The Italian Lakes attracted some of the first package tourists from the UK and they continue to be popular for their beautiful setting, mountain views and great transport links for visiting local sights.

The lesser-known area of Le Marche offers everything you would expect from Italy – great beaches, historic palaces and galleries stuffed with masterpieces. The island of Sicily combines historical sites with a gorgeous coastline, while Sardinia has the country’s best beaches, and the Amalfi Coast is a fantastic base from which to visit Sorrento, Capri, Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii.

Britain’s much-vaunted special relationship with America doesn’t stop at politics – it also extends to tourism. It may sound like a cliche, but a country as large the United States really does have something for everyone.

The beautiful resort of Cape Cod gives visitors a taste of old-fashioned American seaside resorts, or you can rent a car for some fly drive California, taking in everything from Beverley Hills Napa Valley vineyards.

On a budget? Hit the road in a rented car, staying each night with Motel 6, which offers clean, smart rooms in great locations across North America. It also has a free journey planner at Goin’6.

For an unrivalled splash of glamour, nothing comes close to the glitz of Las Vegas, or for a taste of the Wild West head to a dude ranch for a hands-on holiday. Or visit the settings of classic TV shows and movies on a selection of location tours.

Florida, with its theme parks and beaches has long been a favourite of British families, while Miami is a fantastic mix of beaches and city bustle.

Find David’s pick of the best holidays in America.

Turkey has benefited from its exclusion from the Eurozone. Although it suffers from inflation and isn’t as cheap it was 20 years ago, it still compares favourably to its western neighbours.

With its endless Aegean coastline, Turkey has some of Europe’s finest beaches, many of which remain relatively unspoilt. And you’re rarely far from a slice of ancient culture. Although most summer sunseekers  head straight to the coast, a short break in Istanbul should not be missed, ideally in spring or autumn.

You can also explore the coastline of Turkey on a magical gulet cruise.

It’s difficult to know where to start with the historic treasures that Egypt boasts, but a great way to explore them is on a Nile Cruise. Float in luxury between the temples of Karnak and Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, and Aswan. The capital Cairo is home to the Egyptian Museum where you can see King Tutankhamen’s solid gold death mask, and just outside the city are the iconic pyramids and Sphinx.

For a more laid-back experience head to the sparkling waters of the Red Sea resorts which offer some of the world’s best snorkeling along with luxurious, good-value hotels.

The pristine coastline of Croatia is one of the most beautiful in the world – and one of the most unspoilt in Europe. It’s also good value compared to other Mediterranean countries.

Either stay in one of the beautiful resorts that dot the coastline, or head out to one of the many stunning islands that lay off the coast. The island of Hvar is a real stunner, easily reached by ferry from Split. It has fabulous beaches and a great selection of budget hotels and luxury hotels.

The historic city of Dubrovnik has been beautifully restored in recent years. Originally built by the Venetians, the Pearl of the Adriatic has some great food and is a wonderful base from which to take the ferry to surrounding islands.

Thailand, the Land of Smiles, continues its meteoric rise from backpackers’ haven to mainstream holiday favourite. The appeal is obvious: beautiful countryside and beaches, great food, friendly people and low prices. But Thailand also has a fascinating unique cultural heritage, enfused by Buddhist ideals. And Bangkok, the capital, fizzes with energy.

It’s the islands that attract the most attention, however, with Phuket bringing in most visitors. Most of its hotels are world class. Not far away, in the Gulf of Siam, the idyllic island of Koh Samui has some delightful small luxury hotels, and its neighbour Koh Phangan is on the up. Thailand is also a great destination for a spa break, most notably at Chiva-Som.

There are many ways to explore Thailand, include aboard a tall ship on a traditional sailing trip.

Need more inspiration? Try out fun holiday quiz. Just answer 10 simple questions and we’ll give you personalised recommendations.

With so many great places to visit around the world, how could we possibly restrict ourselves to just 10? There are many great countries that didn’t quite make the list, which we just have to mention…

The Arabian Gulf is a fast-growing destination served by great airlines and offering guaranteed winter sun. The glittering city of Dubai is a proven winner and many people are discovering its fascinating, culturally-rich neighbours, Oman and Abu Dhabi.

The growth of the Maldives shows no sign of slowing. With each resort on a private island, it’s obviously a great destination for honeymoons, but is also getting into the family market.

Although it doesn’t rank amongst the most popular holiday destinations, it’s impossible to ignore India for its sheer sensory overload, astonishing diversity, natural beauty and cultural wealth. You could tour the beguiling southern state of Kerala, see tigers on a wildlife holiday in one of the many national parks or book a berth on the Maharajas’ Express luxury train. Find more custom-made journeys in India.

Canada has stunning scenery. We’re huge fans of the Rockies where you can jump on board one of the world’s great trains, the Rocky Mountaineer. It’s not just railways – you can take a wildlife tour, a fly-drive or a cruise.

We couldn’t ignore Australia where the must-sees include the golden triangle of Sydney, Ayers Rock and the Great Barrier Reef. Neighbouring New Zealand has some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes from this nature cruise in Milford Sound to a 21-day Tasman Rail Odyssey.

South America is a part of the world that many Brits don’t know at all, yet it’s rich in culture, beaches, adventure, has fantastic food and wine, great places to stay, vibrant cities and pristine wilderness. We particularly love Chile, Argentina and Brazil.

According to the most recent government statistics, UK residents made 58.6 million visits abroad in 2009. That was a dramatic drop of 10.4 million (15%) on the previous year’s figure of 69 million.

This was the biggest drop in a generation and blamed on a combination of economic pressure and unfavourable exchange rates.

In 2009, North America took the biggest hit, with visits from the UK down by 21%. Visits to Europe were down 16% with other countries hit hard including Mexico (down 41%), New Zealand (down 30%) and Malta (down 28%). It is thought that Mexico suffered because it was widely reported as the source of the swine flu epidemic.

The underlying trend is towards increased visits to countries outside Europe and America. But despite this, 9 out of the top 10 countries visited by UK residents are in Europe (see chart below). Spain and France together accounted for 21.3 million of the total 58.6 million visits abroad in 2009.

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