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Where to Go in December: The Best Places to Travel

Brook Wilkinson | November 28, 2017

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.)

Caribbean

beach of the Jamaica Inn, caribbean islands

The beach at the Jamaica Inn. Photo: Lindsey Epperly

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.

St. Barts

Hotel Taïwana in St. Barts

Hotel Taïwana in St. Barts. Photo: Hotel Taïwana

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.)

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to St. Barts Villa Vacations, and plan your trip through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

Mexico City

aerial view of Castillo de Chapultepec, Mexico City

Castillo de Chapultepec, Mexico City. Photo: Ricardo Gomez Garrido/Journey Mexico

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.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Mexico City, and plan your trip through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

Costa Rica

Pool at Kura Design Villas Cost Rica

Kura Design Villas, Costa Rica. Photo: Kura Design Villas

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.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Costa Rica Luxury Eco-Travel, and plan your trip through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

Nicaragua

Beaches surrounding San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Beaches surrounding San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Photo: Flickr/Adam Jones

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.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Nicaragua, and plan your trip through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

The Amazon and Bahia, Brazil

Walking along the shore of the Negro River

Walking along the shore of the Negro River. Photo courtesy Matueté.

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.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guides to Five-Star Brazil and the Brazilian Amazon, and plan your trip through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Mendoza, Argentina

Vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina

Vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina. Photo: Cavas Wine Lodge

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.)

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Mendoza, and plan your trip through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

Paris, France

Louvre Museum at night, Paris, France

The Louvre Museum at night, Paris. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay

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.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Paris for Food Lovers, and plan your trip through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

Germany

Passau Christmas Market

A ½-meter würst at Passau’s Christmas Market, Germany.

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!

Contact Wendy to find the right Trusted Travel Expert to plan your best possible trip.

Athens, Greece

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.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Athens, and plan your trip through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

Moscow, Russia

Red Square

View of Red Square from the Ritz rooftop. Photo: Dan Weisberg Photography

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.)

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Moscow, and plan your trip through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

Thailand

Young monk, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Young monk, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo: C. Kennerly

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.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Thailand, and plan your trip through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

Siem Reap, Cambodia

West gate of Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia

West gate of Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo: Ethan Crowley, ABOUTAsia Travel

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

Rajasthan, India

The market in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India

The market in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. Photo: Billie Cohen

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.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Rajasthan, and plan your trip through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

New Zealand

Stingray Cove, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Stingray Cove, Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Stephen Western.

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.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Affordable New Zealand, and plan your trip through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

 

Other Good Options This Month

Click on any of the destinations below to find out why November is a good time to go.

Abu Dhabi

Africa Cruises

Antarctica Cruises

Austria: Christmas Markets

Bali: Rainy-season deals

Brazil: New Year’s in Trancoso

Cuba’s tobacco-growing region

Disney World, Orlando

Fiji: Deals

Hawaii: Oahu whale watching

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Laos

Lisbon, Portugal

London: Apartment rentals

Maldives

Myanmar’s tropical areas

Nepal’s lower elevations

Norway: winter activities

Panama

Paris: Apartment rentals

Philippines

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Sicily: feast days and food festivals

South and Central India

St. Petersburg, Russia

Sydney, Australia

Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City and the south

 

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’s reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

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1 Comment

  1. Kathy @goseeittravel

    We’ve visited St Martin several Decembers, including the one upcoming, and it is a nice quiet and more affordable time to go! Now we’ve got to try some of your other suggestions!

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