Wondering what are the places to visit in December? Come December, the hurricane season in the South Pacific ends, summer in the Southern Hemisphere is in full swing and Europe is transformed into a winter wonderland. December might just be the best time of the year to travel.
Whether you want to see out the year on the sun-drenched shores of South East Asia and the Caribbean, or tick off bucket list destinations like South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, these 15 fabulous places will soon do away with any cravings for Christmas pudding and holiday movie marathons.
And don’t worry, we won’t leave you entirely bereft of any festive fare. Come mid-November, Christmas classics like New York, Germany and the snowy peaks of Austria all serve up centuries-old traditions with all the trimmings. So, no matter your travel preference, there’s a perfect place in this world for you to revel in those final moments of the year.
True, you won’t be the only person dreaming of an end of year escape, so expect more tourists and higher hotel rates. Although, travel during the first two weeks of December and you’ll find plenty of chances to bag a bargain. Just be sure to book your accommodation several months in advance to ensure availability.
Ready to shake up the holiday season?
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Cape Town, South Africa
Nestled between dramatic Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Town provides the perfect setting for anyone looking for a sunshine destination with a difference. With spectacular scenery, a fascinating history, and wine and whales on its doorstep, Cape Town has something from everyone. The weather is warm but not overwhelming, with average daytime highs ranging from the mid-to-high 20s.
Stroll the lively V&A waterfront lined with festive window displays, take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain for the best views of the city, or enjoy a scenic coastal drive along Chapman’s Peak. When you’re ready to relax, head to one of Camps Bay’s highly acclaimed fish restaurants to savour a delicious seafood dinner. For something extra special, take a helicopter ride over Cape Peninsula’s spectacular coastline or spend an afternoon at one of the many wineries surrounding the city.
If you’re looking for a calm and relaxing break during the hectic holiday season, you’ll find it here on Krabi’s coral fringed beaches, where craggy cliffs rise dramatically from the Andaman Sea. In fact, Krabi province has some 200 islands, making it the perfect place to swim, snorkel or kayak. But if that sounds like too much activity, simply kick back and enjoy island life. When the sun begins to dip, enjoy a rejuvenating Thai massage before feasting on a traditional Thai curry.
New York, USA
New York in December is a no-brainer. Sumptuous Christmas trees, dazzling light displays and holiday markets are only part of the city’s Christmas allure. Take a horse and carriage ride around Central Park, skate under the twinkling lights of the Rockefeller Center and shop till you drop on Fifth Avenue. Time it right and you could be ringing in the New Year in Times Square.
Christmas shopping doesn't have to mean joylessly battling through department stores. Come mid-November, Germany’s cities look like they’ve jumped right out of a fairytale as Christmas markets pop up on every corner, each offering something unique. From handcrafted goods and quirky ornaments to tasty local treats and belly-warming beverages, Germany’s Christmas markets promise one hell of a festive show. While there are several contenders for Germany's reigning Christmas market, Nuremberg surely claims the crown. Rothenburg, Dresden, Cologne and Munich are other festive favourites.
Hawaii provides all the Christmas cheer without the chilly climes. You can’t help but feel festive when you arrive at one of Hawaii’s Airports in December, where you’re greeted by seasonal sounds and Christmas displays. Holiday sand sculptures, Santa fun runs and month-long Christmas displays all add to the festive fun.
Oahu is the busiest of all the islands and most of the thrill takes place on world-famous Waikiki Beach. Try your hand at surfing, park up in one of the many beachside bars, or take a sunset cruise to Diamond Head. For a more relaxed vibe, the neighbouring island of Maui offers a peaceful escape. Wind your way along the road to Hana, a spectacular 50 miles coastal drive through tropical rainforests, flowing waterfalls and traditional towns. Or, hop aboard a catamaran cruise to the marine protected island or Molokini – considered Hawaii’s top snorkelling spots.
Bath pulls out all the stops when it comes to Christmas. As the only UNESCO World Heritage-listed city in England, Bath is already one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But add to that 150 twinkling chalets spread out across picturesque Georgian streets, selling everything from sweet roasted chestnuts to tasteful trinkets, and you have yourself a winter wonderland. Soak up the sounds of cheerful choirs singing carols under the Abbey, fill your belly with moreish mince pies at The Bird, and enjoy a mug of steaming mulled wine at the Après Ski Bar. Don’t miss the outdoor ice rink, complete with glow-in-the-dark mini golf and a bar serving festive drinks. After a day of exploration, soak in the soothing waters of one of Bath’s many thermal spas – the perfect place to unwind before the Christmas chaos kicks in.
Do you like: tropical beaches, gorgeous Art Deco hotels and lively music, arts and food scene. If the answer’s yes, the “Magic City” is for you. Miami has the warmest winter temperatures on the US mainland, making it the perfect spot for hip, sun-loving travellers. Spend your days soaking up the South Beach scene, dining at trendy eateries and exploring the Art Deco architecture and galleries dotted throughout the city. In fact, every December, Miami transforms into an international art hub, with the main event, Art Basel, drawing more than 73,000 art dealers and aficionados.
Miami is not short of shopping venues, either. Sweeping malls, shopping plazas, pop-up shops, farmer's markets, and entire districts devoted to all things shopping, make Miami the ultimate place to shop for festive gifts. And when night falls, join the party people at one of the city’s many salsa dance halls, rooftop bars or exclusive lounges.
The City of Lights gets an extra dose of sparkle during the festive season. From mid-November, Paris’s streets are adorned with twinkling lights and festive decorations, and Christmas markets pop-up all over the city. To see the most lavish display, head straight to Champs Elysées where millions of lights are draped over the trees between Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe. Stroll along the wooden stalls of the popular Champs Elysées Christmas market, where you’ll find holiday treats, handmade crafts and festive beverages. More merriment can be found at the Christmas Village across from the Eiffel Tower or the smaller markets in Place Saint Sulpice and Place Saint Germain de Pres. For more upmarket purchases, head to the Grand Magasins, where the famous window displays of department stores like Le Bon Marché, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, are a time-honoured tradition. Stay in Paris for at least 3 days to fully enjoy the city.
Carve up the ice at one of the city’s outdoor ice rinks, many of which are conveniently located next to Christmas markets. Built 57 metres above ground, the Eiffel Tower Ice Rink offers incredible views over the capital and is an experience not to be missed. Paris in winter is pretty spectacular.
I’ll let you in on a secret. Thailand is not the only place in Southeast Asia with crystal clear waters and sandy shorelines. Dominating an archipelago of more than 100 islands on Malaysia’s west coast, Pulau Langkawi, is renowned for its blonde beaches flanked by swaying coconut trees, luxury resorts and beach bars serving up delicious mai tai cocktails. Malaysia’s busiest island hits high season in December through February when the rainy season has ended and the temperatures climb to 30-35°C.
Many of Malaysia’s islands are teeming with wildlife and Langkawi is no exception. Travel by boat through a mangrove maze in the unique Kilim Karst Geoforest Park, or hike the trails of Gunung Raya – the highest peak in Langkawi. You won’t regret trading in your mince pies for Malaysian street food. In fact, Malaysia is a fierce competitor in the Southeast Asian food scene, especially for those who want to eat like a local. Penang Assam Laksa (rice noodles in a fishy soup), satay celup (peanut satay) and nasi lemak (fresh banana leaf packages ) are all on the menu.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague feels even more magical and mysterious during the winter months, when the city’s cobbled streets and gothic spires are sprinkled with snowflakes, making the city even more photogenic. If you’re big on your Instagram game, Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, Letná Park and The Old Town Hall Tower offer inspiring vantage points. Like many European cities, December is busier and more expensive, because everyone wants a slice of those cosy Christmas markets so ensure you decide where to stay in Prague in advance. From the beginning of December to early January, Prague’s squares fill up with beautifully decorated stalls selling everything from Christmas ornaments and handmade gifts to hearty food and local beverages. You’ll find some of the best Christmas markets at the Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square, Peace Square and at Prague Castle. If you can’t stand the cold, dip into one of Prague’s many museums or churches, or warm up with a hearty meal in a traditional pub. Magical.
If activity-filled days, snowy vistas and cosy chalets are what you’re after, Austria will come up trumps. While Austria might not have the ski links of France, its picturesque villages offer wide, quiet runs, fantastic après ski, and a warm welcome. Sölden, located in the Ötztal valley of Tyrol, is a firm favourite amongst locals and tourists alike. In fact, it’s Austria's only ski area to boast three peaks higher than 3,000m, with spectacular viewing platforms that are easily accessible via modern mountain lifts. But Sölden boasts an even bigger party scene that starts on the slopes in the early afternoon and goes on well into the night at one of the resorts many bars and clubs. Time your visit right and you might have the chance to witness one of the many world-class ski events hosted in Sölden throughout the season.
If you don’t fancy strapping on your ski boots, Sölden still has plenty to offer. Take one of the many signposted winter hiking trails through snow-covered forests and white meadows, or meet the local Huskies on a sledding adventure. For something special, spend a relaxing afternoon at the Aqua Dome Thermal Spa, complete with twelve pools, seven saunas and plenty of mountain views.
Sure, it’s not the easiest place to get to, but take on the long flight to Sydney and you’ll be rewarded with beautiful beaches, world-class restaurants and unique experiences that will quite simply blow your festive-themed socks off. Thanks to Australia's location in the Southern Hemisphere, Sydney's warmest weather and peak tourist season falls between December and February. And while glorious sunshine and 22,000 miles of coastline are a huge draw, Australia is certainly not a place for just lying on a sunlounger. If learning to surf is on your agenda, look no further than the world-famous waves of Bondi Beach. Or for a different view of the ocean, take the cliff-top coastal trail from Bondi to Coogee, peppered with pretty bays, rock pools and parks.
The cobbled laneways and old pubs of Sydney’s historic precinct, the Rocks, offer a fascinating glimpse into Sydney’s past and present a stark contrast to the cosmopolitan hotels, waterside attractions and funky bars and bistros of Darling Harbour. Sydney Harbour is the city’s most striking asset, which is characterised by the sweeping curve of the bridge and the sails of the Opera House. While the bars and restaurants dotted around the harbour offer plenty of vantage points, for the very best views, hop aboard a harbour cruise or brave the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb.
Auckland, New Zealand
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, keep scrolling. December is the beginning of summer in New Zealand, so visitors to Auckland can expect warm temperatures of 22-25°C.
There’s a reason why Auckland is voted the third most liveable city in the world. Affectionately known as the city of sails, the harbourside city is surrounded by natural attractions, most of which are within an hour of the city. At Auckland’s heart, the iconic Sky Tower has views of Viaduct Harbour, which is full of superyachts and lined with trendy bars and cafes. The city’s west coast is flanked by the beautiful black-sand beaches of Piha, Muriwai, Bethells and Karekare, while its tranquil east coast overlooks a string of beautiful islands. The region is also home to 48 dormant volcanoes, carved with walking paths and nature trails.
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Just a 30-minute ferry ride from Auckland, in the Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke Island is a haven of beautiful beaches, olive groves and wineries. The islands that stretch across the Hauraki Gulf are also a Mecca for wildlife enthusiasts and a fantastic place to island hop. The Great Barrier Island lies on the outer Hauraki Gulf and shelters Auckland’s harbour from the swells of the Pacific Ocean. Covered in lush forest and home to a plethora of wildlife, this spot is perfect for all kinds of wilderness activities.
If you’re feeling adventurous, Auckland won’t disappoint. Calmer winds, more sunshine and longer daylight hours make December an ideal season for adrenaline junkies interested in outdoor adventure activities like bungee jumping and skydiving. Auckland also has a full calendar of events including wine and music festivals during December.
As the temperatures cool down during December in Goa, the party vibe heats up, making it a hotspot for travellers wanting to end their year on a high. And by “cool down”, I mean average temperatures of 25-33°C, which means visitors can still enjoy a healthy dose of winter sun. Goa’s biggest draw is its seemingly endless string of golden beaches, each of which holds its own unique charm. Choose from the wild and isolated expanses of Morjim beach; lively Baga Beach; Anjuna’s hippie vibe (also the hotspot for New Year’s Eve celebrations); or the popular tourist beaches of Candolim & Calangute. There’s a spot of sand for every type of traveller. When you’ve soaked up the sun, sand and sea, roam around the narrow laneways of the Fontainhas region, where the baroque architecture, traditional taverns and vintage cars serve as a reminder of India’s Portuguese heritage.
When it comes to December indulgence, tuck into a classic fish curry or a morning bhali-pau (bread roll dipped in curry). During the holiday season, you’ll also find bakeries serving up seasonal cakes and pastries that are sure to satisfy a sweet tooth. When your belly and heart are full, wander the streets lined with twinkling houses, hotels and restaurants.
If you’re looking to trade your winter blues for golden sands and turquoise waters, a Mexico getaway is a no-brainer. December is the coolest time to visit Cancun, when the waters are still warm enough to swim and the average temperature is around 30°C. And since dry season is in full swing, there's little risk of rain ruining your beach days.
You’d be forgiven for spending your days lazing in the sun with a good book, but set aside the seaside staples and you’ll find plenty of adventure beyond the beach. Forty-five minutes inland from Cancun, Selvatica offers a day of outdoor jungle fun including adrenaline-pumping zip-lining, swimming in a cenote and more. But if that’s not your thing, head two hours south of Cancun to the Mayan city of Tulum, where a knowledgeable guide will take you on a tour of the world-famous ruins. After a day of activity, head back to your five-star resort to enjoy a sundowner, or two. If you want to continue the party, you’ll find plenty of activity in the bars and clubs that line the beach.