You still get warm ocean breezes and 70-degree temperatures, plus the Hawaiian islands go all out for the holidays. Locals host potlatch-style parties where the Christmas goose is replaced by a luau pig, and the resorts deck themselves out like tropical North Poles, including a massive tree-lighting ceremony at the Outrigger on Oahu and tree-decorating contests at Mauna Kea on the Big Island. Residents there climb to the top of the 13,000-foot-tall volcano, shovel snow into their trucks and speed back down to build snowmen in their yards before it melts.
In colder weather it’s probably better to focus on the great cities rather than places more known for scenery and outdoor activities. If your budget is generous then my top choice would be London, Paris, and Amsterdam. You could fly into any of those and then visit the others by high-speed train. The train that connects London to Paris and Amsterdam is called the Eurostar, and the earlier you buy your tickets the cheaper they will be. Paris and Amsterdam are linked by normal high-speed trains, which are also cheapest when you buy early. Speaking of that, your dates are prime travel dates over the Christmas holidays so the airfares will be kind of expensive and they will only go up from here. In other words, buy as soon as you can.
If you are mainly just looking to relax, you've found the perfect place, with warm weather and amazing off-season deals. The all-inclusive resorts tend to be much cheaper in the long run, although they do make it more difficult to experience the local culture and explore the whole island. If you don't care about leaving the resort and you want the best all-inclusive value in the Caribbean, head straight to Punta Cana, which is mentioned just below.
All of my best suggestions are in the article above, but I’ll try to expand a bit more. The tricky thing, as you probably know, is that November is part of the heavy rain season in most of Thailand and the other popular southeast Asian countries. There are wet months in summer with just short rain storms, but in November it can often be rainy all day.
Mexico’s spectacular Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), bewitches Mexico City at the start of each November. Donning the skeleton face paint for the mass parades in the main Zócalo square is a must, but take time to step back from the party and seek out more intimate family celebrations where deceased loved ones are honoured with candles, sugar skulls and, of course, tequila. If you’d prefer to relax with a rum, then Barbados in November may be more to your tastes. The sugar-cane liquor is thought to have originated here in the 17th century and continues to be the local tipple of choice. Toasting the sunset from one of the island’s magnificent beaches is a quintessential experience.
If you really want to see the city up close, visit in November or December, when the crowds have dispersed. Hotel prices are comparatively low, and gondoliers are more appreciative of customers. And once you have your fill of religious art, head for the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which displays 20th-century American and European art in a home and garden setting. Note: October through January is the time of acqua alta, when Venice may flood. Usually it's not severe, and the city puts up wooden walkways for visitors and residents to traverse the water.
Of course, the Caribbean has its own share of problems. As I just mentioned to another reader, my list of Caribbean destinations from cheapest to most expensive has 32 entries and only about 6 of them were damaged by the recent storms. I would probably choose one of those instead. November is still technically the final month of hurricane season, but November storms are extremely rare. And the islands closer to South America haven’t been hit in over 50 years or so, such as Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.
As for key events in December, I typically avoid those sorts of things myself, so I’m not a good source on that. I actually visited Rio de Janeiro during Carnival, by accident, and it drives hotel prices so high and also crowds that it’s probably the worst time to visit unless you specifically want to spend all night watching the parades. And Oktoberfest, as another example, literally triples the prices of hotel rooms in Munich, so it’s only worth it if you REALLY want to get involved in the Oktoberfest thing yourself. But plenty of other travelers love to go witness the biggest events, and I assume they love it, so there is no right or wrong.
Not surprisingly, the weeks around Christmas and New Years are literally the busiest of the year in Goa, so either book a hotel way in advance or be flexible once you arrive. Some towns, like Calungute, are lined with package hotels that fill up completely, but other towns, like Anjuna and Vagator, are usually booked in person or by email, so you can often find a place just walking around. If you are in the mood to tour around, Mumbai has great weather during December, and Delhi has warm days but cool evenings this time of year. Goa has some of the best beaches in December in all of Asia, so give this one a serious look.
Visitors travel from around the world to experience Nuremberg's iconic Christmas Market. "Christkindlesmarkt," as it's called, is a tradition that dates back to 1628 and features more than 180 stalls. Though you could easily spend several days wandering the market, there are plenty of other things to see in the area, namely museums—Nuremberg is home to 43 of them.
Another option would be Cambodia and/or Vietnam. The town of Siem Reap, which is just next to the Angkor Wat Temples is the real highlight. Phnom Penh is worth a quick look, but not on a shorter trip. Vietnam itself is a wonderful and gorgeous country, and you can see a lot of the highlights in 10 days or so. It’s also very cheap, even around Christmas. You could fly into Hanoi and then go see Ha Long Bay, and then take a train down to Hoi An. After that you could go to Nha Trang for the best beach experience or the hilltown of Sapa. The city of Ho Chi Minh City is quite crowded and you might not like it for more than a day or two.
Those temples are all outdoor for the most part, so cooler and dryer conditions mean you can spend more time touring the temples and still being comfortable. Almost any other month of the year and you'll be better off going back to your hotel for a few hours in the afternoon, but in December you can carry on all day if you like. The town of Siem Reap is a delight in itself, but of course it fills up near Christmas.
Sri Lanka could also be great, and it’s very different. In fact, you might even consider a trip to India itself, which is obviously similar to Sri Lanka. But Sri Lanka is far easier to do in about 12 days, with most of your time spent in the mountains and a bit along the southern coast. Colombo is mainly just good for flying in and getting your bearings. Sri Lanka is also a bit more expensive than Vietnam, but both are great value. And again, you could instead go to Kerala and Goa in India on a short trip, although those are more about relaxation than culture. Let me know if you have any other questions, and I hope this helps. -Roger
Another option is Chiang Mai, Thailand, which has wonderful weather in December as long as you don’t require constant heat. It is popular with tourists and expats, but it’s not an overly touristy city so it never seems too crowded. Other options in that general area to consider are Luang Prabang, Laos, and Siem Reap, Cambodia. Let me know if any of these sound interesting and I can provide more info if you need it. -Roger
It’s only fitting that the closest big tourist destination to the North Pole would do Christmas up big. Reykjavik feels almost like a mini-New York in December, with the Oslo Christmas tree standing sentinel over the city and a public skating rink in Ingolfstorg Square. Seeing the northern lights is never a guarantee, even during days of near-perpetual darkness, but your odds are much greater in winter. On the other hand, who needs ’em when you have 13 official Santas walking around town posing for pictures? The Christmas Village at Hafnarfjordur is a top weekend destination for both locals and the newfound throngs of American visitors. Just beware their holiday tradition of eating ruinously smelly fermented skate.
Thank you, and I’m always happy to hear that people find this useful. Buenos Aires is a wonderful city and it feels very modern and very European, at least compared with most of the rest of South America. I would think that bringing a baby there would be similar to bringing one to, say, London or Paris. Rio de Janeiro is perhaps the most beautiful city location on earth, and it’s got some very rich areas (mostly along the beaches) and many dodgy areas. They also seem to struggle more with infrastructure there so bus service isn’t very modern and that sort of thing. That said, I haven’t been since they hosted the World Cup and Olympics and I’ve read that much of the situation has improved. Long story short, I think you might just have to be a bit more careful in Rio when choosing a hotel and neighborhood and that sort of thing, but generally I think you’d be good.
As December begins in the Caribbean, the hurricane season is officially over and the weather is pretty much perfect by any standard. Punta Cana is the Dominican Republic's most popular resort areas, especially for those who aren't particularly interested in absorbing the local culture. This is a resort area with wonderful beaches and not much history.
Thank you for the insightful details about South America and the others! Peru, Costa rica sound ideal! Always wanted to work at a sustainable place is Costa Reecs. However, I am also quite interested to know what Brazil , rather the different parts of Brazil are like, since it is so huge would be interesting to visit during the same time of the year.. Since I love and play Capoeira too, I’m pretty tempted to visit Brazil and draw inspiration. 🙂 And what is Colombia like?
Actually, all of my best suggestions for those things are in the article above. One challenge you’ll have is that all popular tropical destinations have their peak weeks at the end of December because so many people in cold areas have that time off. So flights to Central or South America are going to be fairly expensive, although buying soon can help. For hiking and views I think Costa Rica could be a good choice, or Nicaragua. You could also go to Bariloche in Argentina, though it’s probably not worth going all that way unless you were also going to spend some time in Buenos Aires and such.
If you book a resort hotel from home you'll probably think Goa hotel prices are much higher than you were expecting, but if you book a family-run place once you arrive you'll still find fantastic bargains. It's probably wise to book a few nights online before you get to India, because it can be incredibly confusing at first. After that you might be able to find a similar place for half the price by just checking around the same area.
I am from South Africa and our family are planning to travel to Thailand in December for 30 days. What ittinary could you suggest. Our Start off would be Bangkok (2 days then take overnight train to Chiang Mai stay about 3 days not sure then fly to Phuket but dont want to spent time their. What Islands can you recommend? Is it worth it to perhaps consider to work in a trip to Cambodia or Vietnam or even Malaysia.
Europe in general and Greece in specific are not ideal in January because it’s cold and many sights are closed. I’d go to Thailand, which has a great variety of things to see and do, and January is the best weather month. Spend at least a few days in Bangkok and then either go to one of the islands like Phuket or Kho Samui, or head up to Chiang Mai for its temples and shopping and outdoor activities. You could even head over to Siem Reap to spend a couple days seeing Angkor Wat. Let me know if you have other questions. -Roger
You mention New Zealand and of course it’s summer there then, so it would be a good choice. However, all of these places will be crowded and near peak hotel rates if they are warm. So I’ll be happy to give you advice if you tell me if you’d rather visit one or more European cities in the cold season, or if you are looking for a warm place like New Zealand where it will be fairly crowded. By the way, the southern European cities such as Rome and Barcelona are lively and enjoyable that time of year, as the Christmas season goes on, and there aren’t too many tourists except for a few that travel to see their families around the holidays. So it can be a good time for southern Europe, as long as you don’t mind wearing a jacket or jumper during the day, and maybe a bit more in the evening. Give me a bit more guidance and I’ll be happy to try to help. -Roger