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Where to Go in December: The Best Places to Travel

by Brook Wilkinson | November 23, 2018

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 Sulek

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 use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Mexico

Museo Soumaya, Mexico City

Mexico City is full of cool architecture and museums (like the Museo Soumaya, pictured), delicious food, and historical sights. Photo: Billie Cohen

Much of Mexico is ideal in December, after the rainy season has ended; if you go early in the month, you’ll avoid the peak holiday-season rates that kick in around December 18. On the Pacific coast, the landscapes are still ultra-tropical green, and the ocean is bathtub-warm (80s), with exceptional clarity for scuba diving and snorkeling. Mexico City is a smart place to spend the holidays, when the locals have headed to the beach and you’ll find much less traffic in this famously congested city. (Do keep in mind, though, that some of the more sought-after restaurants and galleries will be closed.)

Learn more in our Insider’s Guides to Mexico City, Riviera Maya, and Puerto Vallarta, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

Costa Rica

Rio Celeste Waterfall photographed in Costa Rica

Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

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 use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

Nicaragua

Nicaragua mountains

Nicaragua. Photo: TPS Dave/Pixabay

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 use Wendy’s trip request form 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 use Wendy’s trip request form 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 use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

Paris, France

Christmas in Paris. Photo: David C. Phillips

Christmas in Paris. Photo: David C. Phillips

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 use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

Germany

heart shaped cookie from famous Striezelmarkt in Dresden Germany. It says Merry Christmas in icing

A cookie from Dresden’s Striezelmarkt. It says “Merry Christmas.” Photo: Truffle Pig

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!

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Bavaria, and use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Thessaloniki, Greece

white tower of Thessaloniki, Greece

Thessaloniki, Greece. Photo: Pixabay/EmiliaMaghiar

Thessaloniki is Greece’s second-largest city, and a fascinating palimpsest of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Jewish heritage. In December, Thessaloniki’s streets come to life with festive decorations and colorful lights. Divide your time between historical sightseeing, holiday shopping, and sipping a hot beverage in a cozy café.

Use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

Moscow, Russia

Red Square at night, Moscow, Russia

Red Square at night, Moscow. 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 use Wendy’s trip request form to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip

Thailand

Wat Arun Ratchawaram The Royal Thai Consulate Rattanakosin Town Hall skyline of Bangkok at night

Bangkok has some of its best weather in December: lower temperatures and less humidity. Photo: Shutterstock

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.

Ask Wendy to find the right Trusted Travel Expert to plan your 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 use Wendy’s trip request form 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 use Wendy’s trip request form 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 use Wendy’s trip request form 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.

Africa Cruises

Antarctica Cruises

Australia: Sydney

Austria: Christmas Markets

Brazil: New Year’s in Trancoso

California: Joshua Tree National Park

Chile

Cuba’s tobacco-growing region

Ecuador: Galapagos

England: London apartment rentals

Fiji: Deals

Florida: Disney World, Orlando

France: Paris Apartment Rentals

Greece: Athens

Hawaii: Oahu whale watching

India: south and central regions

Indonesia: Bali’s rainy season deals

Italy: Sicily feast days and food festivals

Laos

Maldives

Mexico: Los Cabos beach vacations and Puerto Vallarta

Myanmar’s tropical areas

Nepal’s lower elevations

Norway: winter activities

Panama

Paris: Apartment rentals

Philippines

Portugal: Lisbon

Russia: St. Petersburg

Turkey: Cappadocia and Istanbul

United Arab Emirates: Abu Dhabi

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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2 Comments

  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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