Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

Where to Go in December: The Best Places to Travel

by Brook Wilkinson | November 23, 2019

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.)

Last-Minute Holiday Availability: Caribbean Sailing off Belize

a yacht is anchored at Sergeant's Caye off the shore in Belize with yellow kayak on sand

Belize is known for its ultra blue ocean waters. Photo: Absolute Belize

Most warm-weather locales are already fully booked for the holidays, and what is left is prohibitively expensive. Not true in Belize—known for its world-class snorkeling and diving and crystal-clear Caribbean waters in 100 shades of blue—where our Trusted Travel Experts have a few private yachts that are still available for the holidays, at all-inclusive rates that come to less than $400 per person per night. Your first-rate Belizean captain will take you to toes-in-the-sand beach bars, jaw-dropping snorkeling spots, and fishing spots where you can catch your own dinner. Read reviews from other travelers who have done it.

Start an extraordinary sailing trip

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Belize.

Last-Minute Holiday Availability: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

chaise lounges overlooking infinity pool and blue ocean in Cabo San Lucas Mexico

This luxe,10-bedroom, staffed villa in Cabo is safe and private, with sweeping ocean views from almost every room.

You can still celebrate Christmas or New Year’s in Mexico, too: Our Trusted Travel Expert has a handful of private rental properties available for the holidays, from one-bedroom condos to 10-bedroom luxury estates.

Start an extraordinary trip to Los Cabos

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this. Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Los Cabos Villa Vacations.

Germany

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

A cookie from Dresden’s Striezelmarkt 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!

Start an extraordinary Germany trip

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like thisLearn more in our Insider’s Guide to Bavaria.

Mendoza, Argentina

Vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina

Mendoza, Argentina, is famed for its vineyards. 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.)

Start an extraordinary Mendoza trip

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like thisLearn more in our Insider’s Guide to Mendoza.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is ideal for hiking, and it’s convenient to Palm Springs. Photo: Visit California/Myles McGuinness

It can get cold at night in December, but the days in Joshua Tree are sunny with temperatures in the 60s (versus 110 or more in summer), making it ideal for hiking, with no crowds in sight. The park has two very distinct ecosystems: the low desert of the Colorado and the high desert of the Mojave, each with its own flora and fauna. The Mojave section also has some impressive granite monoliths and rock piles. Palm Springs is less than an hour away, so you won’t have to rough it while exploring the park—unless you want to.

Start an extraordinary trip to Joshua Tree

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this.

The Caribbean

turquoise ocean at Cap Juluca in Anguilla

The window between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a time for off-peak rates in the Caribbean islands, such as  Anguilla, pictured. Photo: Belmond Cap Juluca

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.

Start an extraordinary Caribbean trip

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this. Learn more in our Insider’s Guides to the Best and Worst of the Caribbean and Finding Your Perfect Caribbean Island Resort

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.

Start an extraordinary trip to Thailand

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this.

New Zealand

Stingray Cove, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Stingray Cove, Bay of Islands, New Zealand—just one place where you might find flowers blooming in December. Photo: 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.

Start an extraordinary New Zealand trip

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like thisLearn more in our Insider’s Guide to Affordable New Zealand.

Costa Rica

Rio Celeste Waterfall photographed in Costa Rica

The crowds disappear from Costa Rica during the first two weeks of December. 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 pay low-season rates.

Start an extraordinary trip to Costa Rica

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like thisLearn more in our Insider’s Guide to Costa Rica Luxury Eco-Travel.

The Amazon and Bahia, Brazil

Beautiful Trancoso beach near Porto Seguro in state of Bahia, Brazil

Trancoso and the state of Bahia, Brazil. Photo: Shutterstock

December is the best month of the year to combine Brazil’s coastline and rainforest, as 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.

Start an extraordinary trip to the Amazon

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like thisLearn more in our Insider’s Guides to Five-Star Brazil and the Brazilian Amazon.

Paris

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.

Start an extraordinary Paris trip

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this

Moscow

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, our Trusted Travel Expert will help you 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.)

Start an extraordinary Moscow trip

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like thisLearn more in our Insider’s Guide to Moscow.

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.)

Start an extraordinary trip to Mexico

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like thisLearn more in our Insider’s Guides to Mexico City, Riviera Maya, and Puerto Vallarta.

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.

Start an extraordinary Rajasthan trip

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like thisLearn more in our Insider’s Guide to Rajasthan.

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.

Start an extraordinary Siem Reap trip

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like thisLearn more in our Insider’s Guide to Angkor Wat and Siem Reap Without the Crowds.

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.

Start an extraordinary Greece trip

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like this.

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.

Start an extraordinary Nicaragua trip

You’ll be marked as a VIP and get a trip like thisLearn more in our Insider’s Guide to Nicaragua.

 

Other Good Options This Month

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

 

North America

Cuba’s tobacco-growing region

Disney World, Orlando

Hawaii: Oahu whale watching

 

Central and South America

Brazil: New Year’s in Trancoso

Chile

Ecuador: Galapagos

Panama

 

Europe

Austria: Christmas Markets

England: London apartment rentals

France: Paris apartment rentals

Italy: Sicily feast days and food festivals

Norway: winter activities

Portugal: Lisbon

Russia: St. Petersburg

Turkey: Cappadocia and Istanbul

 

Asia

India: south and central regions

Indonesia: Bali’s rainy season deals

Maldives

Myanmar’s tropical areas

Nepal’s lower elevations

Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City and the south

 

Africa and Middle East

Morocco: Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains

United Arab Emirates: Abu Dhabi

 

Australia and Pacific

Fiji: Deals

Sydney

 

Cruises

Africa Cruises

Antarctica Cruises

 

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.

Travel Tips

Summer Vacation Idea: British Columbia for Every Type of Traveler

by Billie Cohen | July 13, 2016

Travel Tips

The Impact of Brexit on Travel to the United Kingdom

by Billie Cohen | June 27, 2016

Family Travel

Adventurous, Exotic Travel with Young Kids: It Is Possible

by Brook Wilkinson | February 11, 2016

3 Comments

  1. balkrishna

    Germany is one of the best places to go to. You’ll find countless offerings, and December also happens to be one of the cheapest months to travel here. Dresden hosts the greatest number of Christmas markets in the eastern region of the country and offers the oldest seasonal event, the Striezel Christmas Market which dates all the way back to 1434. Want to know more about seasonal traveling check here https://travleisure.com/peak-season-and-off-season/

  2. 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!

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>