This year’s holidays are bringing some unexpected gifts: the potential for extraordinary last-minute trips you may not have realized were even possible.
We’ve tapped the experts on Wendy’s WOW List—the well informed, on-the-ground trip planners who’ve been wowing our readers throughout the pandemic—to find destinations that are still able to be booked for last-minute Christmas or New Year’s vacations. These aren’t merely places that have random spots of availability; these are places where they can still find you the most charming hotel rooms and the savviest private guides and can put together a Covid-safe and high-caliber trip.
The list includes some spots that are newly reopened (like Thailand) and others (like Italy) that have been open but are enjoying a break from the usual crowds. In every case, the WOW Lister knows how to handle all Covid requirements for arrival and return and can remove that stress from your plate. All you have to do is show up and bring the holiday cheer.
*Covid situations continue to change all the time. Please talk to your WOW List specialist for on-the-ground intel in the places you are considering and consult available current data (vaccination info by country and Covid cases by country) to determine your comfort level.
Families with kids young and old, multigenerational clans, and groups of friends can still nab a dream home in Cabo in December. Our WOW List expert for Cabo has plenty of availability Christmas week (but not the week after) in seaside villas that range from four to ten bedrooms, and that offer plenty of indoor and outdoor space for hanging out together—in gourmet kitchens, al fresco dining areas, large living rooms, or by a pool, fire pit, or Jacuzzi. Some properties are near beach clubs, tennis courts, or golf clubs, but if your crew is more interested in lounging around, private chefs and in-villa spa treatments can be arranged too.
U.S. National Parks
While marquee parks such as Yellowstone and Grand Teton are fully booked for the holidays, you can still find availability in and near some parks out west (think California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona). Whether you’re hiking, mountain biking, canyoneering, horseback riding, or driving four-wheelers, you’ll be spending your days in the fresh air, accompanied by vaccinated private guides.
Italy’s cities light up with magic for the holidays. Spend yours in Rome, Florence, or Venice, where our WOW Listers can arrange for an array of outdoor experiences, from learning how to ride a Vespa in Rome (where temps are in the 50s in December) to learning how to row a gondola in Venice. Florence is more about indoor venues —museums, palazzi, legendary boutiques—but these feel safe because entry is limited to those with a Green Pass (the Italian equivalent of the CDC vaccination card). And this year museums are limiting group sizes indoors, so you can take in Italian masterpieces without a sea of heads in front of you. At Christmastime these cities’ holiday lights, outdoor Christmas markets, and gastronomic treats—tortellini in brodo, panettone, pandoro—will have you feeling like a local in a way you never can in summertime.
Europe’s Christmas Markets
Certain of Europe’s festive, charming Christmas markets are staying open for longer than usual this year, in many cases until the Epiphany (January 6). Christmas markets in Italy (both in Rome and in northern Italy by the Dolomites) and London (Covent Garden and Leicester Square) are among those that are open into the first week of the New Year. Be aware that Covid is currently spiking in some European countries, including Austria (which imposed a national lockdown) and Germany (where some areas, including Munich and Bavaria, have canceled their Christmas markets). We can recommend well-informed, well-connected WOW Listers who can provide local intel and help evaluate the on-the-ground realities—for instance, whether local restaurants and indoor venues are requiring proof of vaccination for all who enter, where free testing is available, how mask-compliant the locals are, and even which hotels are offering special deals.
Thailand has only recently reopened to international travelers, so it does have some hoops for travelers to jump through (e.g., pre-trip and post-arrival tests), but our WOW List experts are well versed in the process. They can spare you the logistics so that you can focus on enjoying what the country has to offer before next year’s tourist hordes return: gorgeous beaches and island-hopping in the Phuket and Krabi areas, the bustling energy of Bangkok, the historic temples of Chiang Mai, and the rich cultural heritage and local artists of Chiang Rai.
Even in December the weather is still mild enough to enjoy outdoor sightseeing and many meals al fresco. Plus, you can get around privately everywhere with the right trip planner, not just via spacious, WiFi-equipped vehicles but via private boat and balloon too. This was Wendy’s experience of Istanbul during Covid; other outdoor experiences include cooking classes and backstreet food tours. Top it off with Cappadocia—the unique lunar landscape with otherworldly rock formations and ancient cities carved into rock—for sightseeing by hot-air balloon and unforgettable hiking, biking, and ATV rides.