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Where did everybody go? Where did everybody go?

Where did everybody go?

Gambia, Cuba and Jordan were just some of the rising stars for UK holidaymakers in the first part of 2023.

Banjul | Gambia

Melbourne | Australia

Sharm el-Sheikh | Egypt

Varadero | Cuba

Enfidha | Algeria

Amman | Jordan

The Maldives


Tirana | Albania

Florence | Italy

The UK's fastest-growing holiday destinations so far this year are a fascinating mix of exotic new beach breaks and unusual city breaks on the European periphery.

At Holiday Extras we analysed nearly 100,000 trips booked since the start of 2023. Traditional European city breaks are down. The USA is way down. Exotic beaches and newer eastern European city breaks are up. And almost everywhere, canny British holidaymakers are finding holiday spots where the currency has moved in our favour to book themselves holidays that are both more interesting and cheaper than the traditional choices.

The biggest winners so far this year? At number one is Banjul in Gambia, a new package destination served by TUI where sterling is performing strongly against a weak dalasi. Also in the top 20 biggest risers are Sharm-el-Sheikh and Cairo (the Egyptian pound is down nearly 70% over the past year) and Antalya and Izmir, where despite the recent disaster in Turkey, the combination of a very weak Turkish lire (down more than 300% over two years) and sunny beaches free of the EU's Brexit paperwork keep drawing UK tourists back.

Other big winners from cash-conscious Brits looking further afield are the Albanian capital Tirana, premier Cuban beach resort Varadero, North African hotspots Agadir and Enfidha, and Amman in Jordan.

We rounded up the top 10 risers during the first part of this year, so if you want to go where everyone else is going (or alternatively avoid the new crowds and try somewhere different!), here's where everybody's gone.

1. Banjul | Gambia


Banjul is a completely new package holidauy destination for 2023. Capitalising on its success taking UK winter sun seekers to Dakar last year, TUI has opened up the country to package holiday travellers this year with regular flights to Banjul for Brits looking for some extremely reliable sun and sea but in a much more interesting and exotic setting.

The tiny west African nation, surrounded on three sides by Senegal and to the west by the warm Atlantic coast, runs on UK time so you can head there without any jetlag. And once there it's easy to explore - 30 miles wide at its widest point, nothing is too far away. The eponymous river Gambia flows through the whole country, giving you chance to see African river wildlife like hippos, monkeys and crocodiles (from a safe distance!). And the Atlantic coast is pleasantly uncrowded, with remarkably affordable bars and restaurants to enjoy. Our top tip is to get here while it's still relatively empty, and enjoy the peace and quiet.

2. Melbourne | Australia


Australia was one of the last major tourist destinations to reopen to visitors, and Melbourne is the second fastest-growing destination on our list for the first part of 2023, knocked into second place only by the sheer novelty of Banjul as a holiday spot. Visitors here are up eightfold on 2019.

Australia has long been a bucket list destination for Brits, and with so many of us having family and friends out there it was inevitable that as soon as it reopened we'd be out there to visit. Melbourne in particular is enjoying a boost from hosting sporting events that people are willing to cross the world to attend, so is expected to stay at the top of the popular destinations list for most of this year.

Australia comes 6th on our Good Trips Index – strong in almost all areas, it's especially strong on sustainability and animal welfare.

3. Sharm el-Sheikh | Egypt


Egypt comes dead last in our Good Trip Index, with especially poor scores for press freedom, human rights, women's rights and LGBTQI+ equality, so if you're planning a responsible or sustainable holiday here it'll take more than the usual degree of planning. That said, with some care it's possible to have a Good Trip almost anywhere, so if you're happy to put the research in, we're definitely not saying "don't go".

Sharm is a beach resort on the Red Sea, reliably hot and relatively affordable. It was closed before the travel lockdowns so has been on the up ever since 2022, and with the Egyptian currency falling sharply against the pound it's more affordable than ever for UK holidaymakers. If you want to relax on a deckchair for a week or two you can definitely do it here. If you'd like to use it as a base to explore the treasures of ancient Egypt, Luxor or Aswan are both better bets. But you can certainly head out from Sharm to see the Valley of the Kings, Sahara Desert and other highlights of southern Egypt if you're willing to spend a day getting there.

Also in the top 20 highest risers so far this year are Cairo and Hurghada, so Egypt is proving very popular this year all round.

The Holiday Extras Good Trip Index

Leave only footprints, take only photos by picking destinations you can visit sustainably and responsibly.

4. Varadero | Cuba


Varadero Beach is one of the top three beaches in the world, according to Tripadvisor's latest Traveller's Choice Awards, which may well be reason enough to visit. It's a 13-mile-long peninsula with a sheltered bay to the south, and spectacular sand, sea and all-inclusive resorts all the way along. With direct flights and package holidays now heading out here, UK visits to Varadero have quintupled since pre-pandemic.

Authentic Cuba this is not – it's a seaside playground for rich tourists, and if that's what you're looking for it's what you'll get here. You're also close to Varahicacos Ecological Reserve, a nature preserve that's been protected for almost 50 years. And Havana is only a couple of hours' drive away, so you can split your time between relaxing on the near-perfect beaches and taking a look at Cuba's fascinating capital city.

Cuba comes in the middle of our Good Trip Index at 87. It's especially poor for freedoms, in particular freedom of the press.

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5. Enfidha | Tunisia


You'll just fly in and out of Enfidha airport if you're visiting the Tunisian coast, but from there you can head out and explore any number of beautiful Mediterranean coastal resorts such as Sousse or Monastir, with authentic souks and traditional food and culture. Or stay in one of the new purpose-built resort towns such as Skanes and Port El Kantaoui. Tunisia is up for affordable package beach holidays with reliable weather and a dash of adventure as you visit the mosques and markets beyond the resort gates.

Tunisia comes 125th on our Good Trip Index, scoring especially poorly for the rights of women and the LGBTQI+ community.

6. Amman | Jordan


Famous of course for the ancient city of Petra, Jordan's capital Amman is twice as popular as it was in 2019.

Still much more a self-guided adventure holiday than a package destination, Jordan is popular with travellers who are comfortable making their own itinerary and striking out to see the sights. Visitors normally fly into Amman and then either connect for, or travel to, Petra at the other end of the country.

Jordan is also a notable destination for film buffs - not only Indiana Jones but various parts of the Star Wars films were made here, and fans therefore flock to the locations to see their favourite locations for real.

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7. Male | Maldives


A straightforward island paradise, given over almost entirely to tourism, at this point the Maldives are effectively a string of luxurious resorts scattered across a perfect, warm, green sea. Come here to swim, relax and be waited on hand and foot and you'll pay accordingly.

Visitors to the Maldives have almost doubled since pre-pandemic, so the luxury end of the travel market is clearly holding up - if you want to be pampered in absolutely spectacular surroundings, this is the place to do it.

8. Türkiye


Türkiye scores poorly on the Good Trip Index, notably for freedoms and LGBTQI+ rights. Since the failed coup in 2018, President Erdogan enacted an authoritarian crackdown on dissent and personal freedoms, and while homosexuality remains technically legal this increasingly conservative, muslim country can be unwelcoming and unsafe for gay travellers. In brighter news for UK travellers, a long period of erratic leadership and financial mismanagement has taken its toll on the lire, so holidays here are cheaper than ever.

Türkiye was a favourite in 2021 as one of the last destinations open when others closed down. Turkish resorts were up in 2022, but it seems the country still has room to grow as a UK holiday destination because both Anatalya and Izmir were up again in the first part of 2023.

Three of Türkiye's hidden gems

If you haven't seen Pamukkale, Fethiye or the Temple of Artemis, find out why you should.

We usually recommend Fethiye – we've visited before, our friends at the Travel Foundation have a major conservation project there and it hits all the right notes for a week or two enjoying the Med.

9. Tirana | Albania


Albania? Yes, Albania. Cheap as chips and twice as warm, the Adriatic coast of Albania is every bit as inviting as Spain, Greece or Italy. Tirana – the Albanian capital – therefore makes our list of highest risers for UK holiday destinations for a second year as more and more canny Brits head out to explore 'Europe's last unturned stone'.

The food is great, the people friendly and Albania is also renowned as one of the safest places you can go, so you'll enjoy that very special combination of properly exotic without the danger that sometimes accompanies a big adventure.

10. Florence | Italy


Almost every longstanding European city break is down on 2019. Barcelona? Down. Berlin? Down. Krakow? Down. Budapest? Down. Rising stars are new and undiscovered fifth or ninth cities like Poland's Lublin or Lithuania's Kaunas.

Completely bucking that trend, and up 70% on its 2019 visitor numbers, is Florence in Italy, tenth highest riser of any destination for UK travellers in the first part of 2023.

There are more cheap flights heading here now, and that's certainly a factor. But if you've been, and gazed down at the city from the surrounding hills at sunset or strolled through the Boboli Gardens in the morning, you'll know what's drawing people here. Florence is just an uncommonly beautiful place for a city break, with that perfect combination of history, art, food, culture and weather that brings people back again.

Italy is also a healthy 27th on our Good Trips Index, barely lower than the UK, so come here in good conscience and just for a weekend walk where the Medicis walked and enjoy the sunshine.

Our guide to Florence

See the birthplace of the Renaissance first-hand