Traveling during the last ten days of December means crowds and exorbitant prices throughout much of the world, but the first two-thirds of the month—before holiday airfares and hotel rates go into effect—can be a serene, value-laden, and just plain lovely time to vacation. Europe is all decked out for the holidays—with locals generally friendly and in high spirits; in the Southern Hemisphere, spring is in bloom; and in the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Mexico, hurricane season is over, the weather is gorgeous, and there are free upgrades galore.
(Don’t miss the rest of our “Where to Go When” series on the best destinations for every month of the year. If you’re wondering when’s the best time to book your destination to get the best value for your dollar, see our “Where to Book Now” series.)
Some islands were devastated by storms in 2017 (here’s how you can still help), but others were untouched and are being overlooked by travelers. Few people travel between Thanksgiving and Christmas—specifically, from the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to the Thursday or Friday before the peak Christmas rush—so you can enjoy substantial savings off peak-season rates (four nights for the price of three, seven nights for the price of five) and your chances of an upgrade are good—if you book through a Caribbean specialist with clout.
Learn more in our Insider’s Guides to the Best and Worst of the Caribbean and Finding Your Perfect Caribbean Island Resort, and plan your trip through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.
Hurricane Irma damaged St. Barts’ beachfront hotels, most of which will not reopen until March. But there are many villas on the island, as well as boutiques and restaurants, that suffered only minor damage and are already back up and running—and the local citizens who own and work at these places need your support more than ever. Overall, the island is recovering well and is greening up. (Flights via Sint Maarten’s airport have been reduced due to hurricane damage there, so in many cases it is easier to connect via San Juan or Antigua.)
Locals head to the beach during the Christmas /New Year’s period, which means you’ll encounter fewer crowds at Mexico City’s cultural sites and much less traffic in this famously congested city. It behooves leisure travelers to visit over a weekend: Most hotels are full of business travelers during the week and typically offer lower rates from Thursday through Sunday.
If you can get away during the first two weeks of December, you’ll avoid the holiday crowds, enjoy the transition from rainy to dry season when everything is still lush and green, and enjoy low-season rates.
From December until mid-February, the country is lush and green, there is no rain, and the breezes keep the temperatures in the high 80s during the day.
The Amazon and Bahia, Brazil
December is the best month of the year when the weather is ideal in the states of Bahia—home to the Afro-Brazilian capital of Salvador and Trancoso, a gorgeous beach town—and Amazonas. Bahia is sunny and pleasant, and the Amazon is at the end of its dry season, so there are beautiful beaches along some rivers.
December is an ideal time to visit Mendoza in any year: The grapevines are alive, and the backdrop of the majestic Andes after the winter snows makes for dramatic scenery. Wine season is in full swing, and there’s a beer festival in Godoy Cruz during the first week in December—a four-day street party with live music and heavy partying. (Christmas and New Year’s, though, are high season for hotels, and the wineries close on December 24, 25, 31, and January 1.)
Christmas/New Year’s is one of the prettiest times in the city, which is already beautifully lit even before the seasonal lights go up. Just be aware of Christmas/New Year’s closing times, expensive set menus in restaurants on Dec 31, and the sheer difficulty of getting around the city that evening.
Christmas markets sprout up all over the country this month, and from the smallest towns to the biggest cities they’re a great place to mingle with locals, learn about regional handicrafts, and sample seasonal delicacies. Depending on the venue, you can find anything from medieval reenactments to outdoor concerts. But they’re usually at their prime once darkness has set in and the fairy lights are out in full force (which means there’s also time in the day for museum visits and city touring before indulging in the market flurry). Some travelers skip dinner altogether for a smorgasbord of yuletide samplings at the wooden market huts!
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Athens is an ideal spot for a short break in December. Winters in Greece are mild, with only a few rainy days. Even if you’re not brave enough for a swim in the brisk sea, places like Glyfada and Vouliagmeni, on the Athenian Riviera, stay lively year round and offer an excellent choice of shopping, café, and dining options. A number of cultural activities, as well as seasonal shows and holiday festivities, make the city particularly vibrant in December.
People don’t think of Moscow for winter, but it’s such a wonderful time to be there. The weather is no worse than what you’d find in New York City, and the huge advantage is the people—or, really, the lack of people! No masses of tourist buses descending on the Kremlin, no huge lines for museums (of course, we ensure our travelers skip all museum lines anyway), and no crazy crowds in Red Square. Something magical happens in Moscow in the off-season: It actually becomes more approachable and less intimidating. (Plus, December falls in the heart of the theater season, so for culture vultures this is the best time to visit.)
Late October (when the rains end) through February is an exceptional time to visit the northern part of the country, from Sukhothai through Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The King’s Birthday, on December 5, ushers in the festive season (Christmas and New Year’s certainly aren’t traditional holidays here, but many Thais celebrate them anyway) and cooler, less humid weather. In general, the beaches are blissful from the end of December through March. Mid-November through January see the lowest temperatures and least humidity in Bangkok.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
If you must travel with the busloads of Chinese and Korean tourists in the cooler dry season (which runs from November to March), try to do so during the first two weeks of December for far fewer crowds and great hotel deals.
Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Angkor Wat and Siem Reap Without the Crowds, and plan your trip through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip
December is a fun time to be in Rajasthan (though a busy one—this is peak season). The weather is cooler—something to relish, as it means long explorations into the bazaars, wonderful walks around the forts, and a chance to explore the villages on foot without overheating. Evenings are spent wrapped in beautifully decorated Rajasthani shawls and blankets as you dine outside by firelight. The winter light is beautiful, particularly in the villages, making this an ideal time for any travelers with a passion for photography.
In the first two weeks of December (before the madness of the holiday season begins and rates go up), you can see newborn lambs dotting the hillsides all over the country. New Zealanders love their gardens, so flowers are blooming everywhere too. The peace and beauty of the landscape and the people can be so restorative to the soul.
Other Good Options This Month
Click on any of the destinations below to find out why November is a good time to go.
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