With the holiday season under way and Christmas and the New Year just around the corner, December is the perfect time to dust off your passport and celebrate in style. Whether sipping mulled wine at Europe’s legendary Christmas markets, seeing in the New Year on the beaches of Rio or escaping the snow in the tropics, here are some ideas for where to go in December.
Opt to spend the holiday season in the Holy Land and reconnect with the spirit of Christmas minus consumerism, visiting revered sights like the UNESCO-listed Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. December in Israel kicks off with Hanukkah, which this year runs from December 6th-December 14th, but if you’re in the country on Christmas Eve, don’t miss the carol singing and public broadcast of Midnight Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger’s Square and the Christmas Parade and market in Nazareth.
2. Kerala, India
Swap frosty mornings for an Indian summer in Kerala, where locals will be enjoying the end of monsoon season by hitting the beaches in droves. The real highlight of Kerala is the chance to get away from it all so take a boat cruise around Kochi harbor, explore the Kerala backwaters on a traditional houseboat or watch the sunset over the idyllic Kovalam beach. The region’s large Christian population means you won’t have to miss out on Christmas celebrations either.
3. Chile’s Atacama Desert
If you’re looking for a unique destination to spend the holiday season, you can’t get more different than Chile’s Atacama desert, the driest place on Earth. Settle into a cozy guesthouse in the atmospheric desert village of San Pedro de Atacama, then head into the Los Flamencos National Reserve to explore some of the world’s most dramatically varied scenery. Whether hiking, cycling or horseback riding through volcanic fields, marveling at the Salar de Atacama, Chile’s largest salt flat, or star-gazing from the sand dunes, overlooking the eerily beautiful Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), the fantastical landscapes provide an unforgettable backdrop.
With hurricane season over, now is a good time to dodge the January crowds and make the most of sun-soaked Belize. While you’ll likely have to pay high season prices traveling this month, it’s the perfect weather for taking in the country’s varied sights, from delving into Mayan history on a tour of ancient Xunantunich and the vast Caracol archaeological site, to lounging on a beach along the Caribbean coast. Belize is also renowned for its adventure activities, so head to the island of Ambergris Caye where you can enjoy snorkeling, zip lining and tubing, or go scuba diving at the incredible Great Blue Hole.
Nearby Guatemala is also heading into peak tourist season, so hop over the border and discover sights like the grand Mayan city of Tikal, cruise along the Rio Dulce or scale the peak of an active volcano. December also brings a number of celebrations in the run-up to Christmas day, including the Burning of the Devil on December 7th, when Guatemalans burn waste paper and unneeded household items en masse, in preparation for the holy weeks ahead, and the unique St Thomas’ Day festival held in the highland city of Chichicastenango on the 21st.
6. Rio de Janeiro
Rio’s biggest parties kick off in February when the dazzling Carnival crowds take over the city, but another atmospheric time of year to visit is over the Christmas holidays. Of course, nowhere knows how to celebrate like Rio and the festive season means palm trees glittering with fairy lights, surfers riding the waves in Santa suits and the world’s largest floating Christmas tree lighting up the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. Stick around for December 31st when Copacabana beach hosts an epic New Year’s party, bringing over 2 million revelers to the white sands for a night of live music, street food and fireworks, accompanied by plenty of champagne.
Read more about Christmas in Rio
With the Eiffel Tower flanked by Christmas trees and the elegant Champs-Elysées shopping street dancing with over 150,000 twinkling lights, few European cities are as magical as Paris at Christmastime. Discover the spectacular illuminations of the City of Lights with a Christmas lights tour around Paris, stock up on unique souvenirs at one of the many Christmas markets, or learn to cook festive delicacies like pumpkin soup and Bûche de Noël cake with a Christmas cooking class in Paris.
With fewer crowds and cheaper prices, December can be a good month to travel to Fiji and with more than 330 tropical islands to choose from, you’re unlikely to get bored. Between island-hopping cruises, scuba diving and Christmas picnics on the beach, there’s plenty to do, and if you stick around for December 31st, you could be among the first people in the world to welcome in the New Year.
December is the start of peak season in Malaysia, so make the most of the idyllic weather by wildlife spotting in the Taman Negara rainforest, hiking among tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands or climbing to the summit of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Mt Kinabalu. Be sure to pay a visit to Kuala Lumpur too, where the famous Petronas twin towers provide a dramatic backdrop to the NYE fireworks.
Renowned as the ‘Vegas of the East’, Macau is as famous for its casinos as it is for its sandy beaches and UNESCO-listed landmarks, but the best reason for visiting Macau this month is to celebration the New Year. The city’s 33 casinos will be throwing glitzy bashes to mark the countdown to 2015, but the main attraction will be the dazzling fireworks display over Nam Van Lake.
Hurricane season is over so you can once again enjoy the Bahamas without scrutinizing the daily weather forecast, and what better time to discover the party capital of the Caribbean than the holiday season? Held on Boxing Day and New Year’s day, the Junkanoo Festival is one of the biggest events of the year, with riotous street parties and colorful carnival-esque parades held all over the county. The largest and most vibrant parade is held in Nassau, replete with gyrating dancers, sequin-encrusted costumes and booming drums, but Grand Bahama, Abaco and Exuma host similarly flamboyant events.
Read more about Christmas events in the Bahamas
12. Kangaroo Island and Adelaide
Pass up on the holiday crowds of Sydney and Melbourne in favor of laid-back Adelaide, where there’s still plenty of fun to be had. Christmas markets, carol concerts and magnificent light displays should get you in the festive mood, but with the sun shining, you might feel more like a wine tasting tour in the Barossa Valley, a dolphin-watching cruise or a trip to nearby Kangaroo Island, where you’ll get to cuddle up to koalas and, of course, kangaroos.
There’s no winter wonderland as breathtaking as Antarctica, so why not make this the year to check an Antarctic cruise off your bucket list? Set out from Ushuaia or Punta Arenas in Patagonia for the journey of a lifetime and spend the holiday season exploring the frozen continent. Whether you opt for the ultimate 20-day cruise or a 1-week taster, you’ll be treated to an endless panorama of towering icebergs, vast penguin colonies and icy waters teeming with whales and elephant seals. Just make sure you pack some thermals!
14. Lake Tahoe, California
You’re guaranteed a white Christmas at Lake Tahoe and with the lakeside lined with snow-dusted pine trees, glittering light displays and atmospheric Santa’s grottoes, there’s plenty of festive cheer to go around. Get in the mood with a horse-drawn sleigh ride around Lake Tahoe, then make the most of the snow with a snow-mobiling, sledding or ice skating trip. Of course, wintertime is also ski season and ski and snowboard enthusiasts will be spoiled for choice at the many mountain resorts surrounding Tahoe.
15. Los Cabos
Los Cabos will be in a celebratory mood over the holiday season, but with whale watching, scuba diving and zip lining on the itinerary, it’s safe to say this won’t be a traditional Christmas. As well as some of the country’s best New Year’s Eve parties, this month also sees the Sabor a Cabo culinary festival descend on the city, so it’s the perfect excuse to over-indulge in seasonal specialties. Don’t worry – you can burn off the extra calories horse riding on the beach, mountain biking in the desert or kayaking around the bay.
Escape mainland Australia for a sun-soaked break on the shores of ‘Tassie’, where you can take a scenic drive around the Bay of Fires, hike through the Huon Valley and come face to face with Tasmanian devils. Even if you don’t fancy exploring the Tasmanian wilderness, there are plenty of fun ways to celebrate the festive season in Hobart, with key events including the hugely popular Taste of Tasmania Festival, which fills the waterfront with gastronomic goodies, local wines and entertainment over the New Year, and the legendary Sydney to Hobart yacht race on Boxing Day, one of Australia’s greatest sporting events, culminating in the Hobart prize giving ceremony.
With the mercury pushing 90°F it can be hard to get in the holiday mood, but Singapore’s extravagant Christmas light displays and NYE fireworks over Marina Bay show that the Lion City has embraced the festive season with gusto. Even if you’re not there for the main celebrations, December is an ideal time for sightseeing, so take in the views from the Singapore Flyer, tuck into street food in Chinatown, splash out on a cocktail at the lavish Raffles hotel, or get your pulse racing at Universal Studios Singapore.
It’s summertime in Australia’s largest city but that doesn’t stop Sydney-siders from getting in the Christmas spirit. From enormous inflatable Santas bobbing in Darling Harbour and a spectacular lightshow brightening up Sydney Town Hall, to nightly carol concerts and festive turkey BBQs on the beach, there’s no more atmospheric time to be in the city. Save some energy for the after Christmas too – the famous Sydney to Hobart yacht race departs from Aussie shores to huge crowds on Boxing Day and the mammoth New Year celebrations in Sydney Harbour feature a breathtaking fireworks display, boat procession and street party.
Read more about Sydney at Christmas
19. Queenstown, New Zealand
New Zealand’s adventure sport capital is a fun place to be at any time of the year but now is the perfect time for whitewater rafting down the Shotover River, braving the country’s highest bungee jump or taking in the views from the Skyline Gondola. Stick around for New Year’s Eve when a dramatic firework show kicks off the biggest event of the summer – the month-long Summerdaze Festival.
With thousands of Christmas lights brightening up Oxford Street, a gigantic Winter Wonderland taking over Hyde Park, a reindeer petting zoo in Covent Garden and a giant open-air ice rink beneath the Tower of London, London pulls out all the stops for the Christmas season. Once you’ve stocked up on gifts at the city’s many Christmas markets, spent Christmas with Harry Potter at the Warner Bros Studio and visited Harrods’ spectacular Santa’s grotto, save some energy for the legendary January sales (which, conversely, kick off on Boxing Day) and the world renowned NYE fireworks display, held against a backdrop of the London Eye and Big Ben.