If you’re highly susceptible to the Christmas spirit and haven’t already committed the entire holiday season to wrapping presents with Aunt Linda, consider Cologne. The city has a whopping seven main Christmas markets -- definitely don’t miss the Cathedral Market, which has the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland, or Angel’s Market, where you can sip eggnog punch and weave around people actually dressed as angels; Santa comes through once a week as well… on horseback. All that’s left for you to do is listen to the festive music and browse the stalls for an apology gift to send to Aunt Linda.
If you are interested in a place that isn’t focused on beaches in that area then I’ll point you to some recent answers just above where I mention the charms of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, or Luang Prabang in Laos, and/or Siem Reap in Cambodia. All of those are wonderful places with temples and other sights, and they are quite affordable once you are there as well.
A charming, historic city to visit any time of year, Edinburgh is especially festive during December. Walking through its cobblestone streets takes you back to medieval days when sheep, cattle, and grain were sold in what is now the center of the city. Today, the Royal Mile includes shops, cafes, and museums. Edinburgh Castle, a must for first-time visitors, dates to the 12th century, with its dramatic silhouette overlooking the city. For those seeking holiday celebrations, the Royal Botanic Garden is decorated with lights, music, and illuminated trees. European-style Christmas markets pop up at Princes Street Gardens and George Street, offering traditional crafts, gifts, food, and warming drinks, most welcome during chilly December. The annual Hogmanay celebration welcomes the New Year with fireworks, food, and festivities. Don’t miss the delicious and ubiquitous fish chowder called “Cullen skink,” and be sure to try haggis, served with “neeps and tatties” — mashed turnips and potatoes. Buttery shortbread and whisky from the country’s more than 100 distilleries are also Scottish specialties. A stay at the elegant and historic Balmoral Hotel will enhance any visit to Edinburgh, and while you’re there, you’ll notice that Scottish actor Sean Connery was a guest, as was J. K. Rowling who finished the last Harry Potter book in one of its suites.
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.
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