A visit to Vienna in December might be a holiday experience of a lifetime. From the festively adorned palaces, magical Christmas markets, classical concerts, and choirs to the cozy cafes and restaurants, the surreal atmosphere seems like a Hollywood movie. With nearly a dozen Christmas markets to choose from, the one in front of City Hall is notable for its giant tree, ice skating rink, carousel, and reindeer train. At another in Freyung Square, you’ll find delicious mulled wine, gingerbread, roasted chestnuts, and a variety of regional snacks in addition to jewelry, handmade toys, candles, and more. The market at Spittelberg, set amidst lovely townhouses and narrow streets filled with bars, restaurants, and galleries, is a wonderful place to sip champagne and browse the many shops. Set in front of the world famous baroque residence, the Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace should not be missed. Book a Christmas concert at the renowned Kursalon where Johann Strauss was the concertmaster or enjoy a recital at one of the many distinguished churches through Vienna. You can even take a walk or a “hop on, hop off” bus to enjoy the Christmas displays. No winter night is complete without a stop at a sausage stand for a succulent bratwurst served with mustard, horseradish, and a classic bun. In the heart of the city, the magnificent Hotel Grand Ferdinand would be the perfect home base for exploring Vienna.
St. Bart's is a French island and a member of the European Union. First discovered by Columbus in 1493 and named after his brother Bartolomeo, St. Bart's has been populated through the years by native Arawaks, pirates, French colonists, Swedish settlers, and French citizens attracted by the island life. Owned for a time by Sweden before being returned to France, St. Bart's capital, Gustavia, was named for a Swedish king, and the language, along with French, is used for many street signs. In Gustavia, visitors interested in the island’s history can explore 17th-century forts, a lighthouse, and the small Wall House Museum. With 14 public beaches, there’s one for every taste and activity, including a swimsuit-optional spot. Boating, windsurfing, kayaking, sunbathing, shopping, people watching, and exploring the island’s shallow reefs are favorite pastimes. Last September’s Hurricane Irma caused significant damage to the island, but recovery has been swift. After closing a year for renovation, Le Barthelemy Hotel & Spa has just re-opened. Set on the Anse de Grand Cul de Sac, an ideal area for watersports, the eco-friendly hotel emphasizes wellness, with an expansive spa offering hydrotherapy, sauna, and beach yoga. This perfect December island escape is accessible by air or ferry from nearby St. Maarten.
But again, Vietnam can be a bit complicated for first-timers. Specifically, you need to book trains and tours through travel agencies, and Vietnam’s many travel agencies have a worldwide reputation for being hard to trust. They are all great salespeople but the product they deliver isn’t always what you expected. I spent 4 months in Vietnam and loved most of it, though I think it was much easier as a solo traveler who didn’t have a set schedule.
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.