If I had more information about destinations in East Africa that would qualify I would love to include them. But unfortunately, it’s one of the few regions I haven’t been to myself, and according to every source I hear, very few foreigners are visiting as well. I know many (especially wealthy) people do the safaris in that region, or they walk up Kilimanjaro, but outside that it still sounds like there is almost no tourist infrastructure or even a backpacker scene. If you know things to be different, please let me know because I’m very open to it. -Roger
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.
Far from the crowds and heat of summer, a visitor to Rome in December will find that it’s a lovely time there, with fewer lines at popular tourist spots, more attractive prices, and a chill in the air. With a warm jacket, comfortable shoes, cozy hat and gloves, you’re ready to explore the Eternal City. Stroll through the main streets to enjoy colorful lights, decorated trees, and Nativity scenes. The Piazza Navona hosts a Christmas market, and stores welcome shoppers with longer hours and attractive displays. Rome’s Jewish community celebrates Hanukkah with a large Menorah in Piazza Barberini where candles are lit each evening of the eight-night holiday, this year from December 2–10. The Catholic community celebrates the Immaculate Conception on December 8 when the Pope leads a procession from the Vatican to the Piazza di Spagna. December is the perfect time to visit the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and museums that are usually filled with tourists during warmer months. Even without crowds, it’s still most convenient to book ahead through a tour company such as City Wonders or Access Italy, for no-wait entry, professional guides, and early admission. Food is always one of the great pleasures of a visit to Italy, and in December, a warming plate of spaghetti carbonara or hot chocolate and seasonal panettone taste especially good. The new Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel, Autograph Collection is a convenient home base in the center of the action with a beautiful rooftop overlooking the Pantheon.
Those who find a healthy dose of decadence aids the de-stressing process should make a beeline for UAE capital Abu Dhabi, where infinity pool-rimmed spa hotels offer a taste of the world of the rich and famous amid guaranteed November sun. In Madrid, it’s the laid-back lifestyle of the madrileños that draws travellers, who can browse works by Picasso in the Reina Sofia, quaff Tempranillo in grand plazas and tuck into warming cocido madrileño (traditional chickpea stew), without the stifling crowds of summer.
Make like a Viking and soak those sore muscles in one of the many outdoor heated pools, some hidden away and others modern day gathering spots. The famed Blue Lagoon is Iceland’s best-known geothermal spa with temperatures of 98-104 degrees Fahrenheit. The lagoon’s waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur and are reputed to have healing powers for skin problems. There are saunas, lockers, showers, and towels available for a reasonable fee as well as restaurants and a lagoon side bar. Whale watching, though not prime season, is always an option in Iceland, as is dog sledding — on snow if available or dry land if not. Either way it is an amazing experience, and the meet and greet part allows you get up close to these beautiful dogs. The younger crowd might enjoy the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival to be held in Reykjavik this Nov. 7-10 showcasing hundreds of acts, both famous and newcomers. Venues include bars, bookshops, theaters and concert halls.
The Maldives could be great if you can afford it. December is the most expensive month there, at least the second half of December. There are about 100 private-island resorts there, and most of them have water villas that start at around US$400 per night and go WAY up from there. But island rooms are cheaper. I wouldn’t recommend going to Male or any of the other populated islands that have several smaller hotels. It’s just not the same experience that you get from the private-island resorts. I can help much more with this if you decide to go to the Maldives.
As for alternatives, the most obvious are the various islands of Thailand, with Phuket being the largest. It’s peak season in December in Thailand, but still pretty affordable by most standards. I spent a month in Phuket the following December, interestingly enough, and I prefer Bali even though it’s hotter and more humid. Hopefully this helps and let me know if you have other questions. Helping people figure out where to go is something I really enjoy. -Roger
Montego Bay is home to one of the Caribbean's busiest airports in addition to a few hundred hotels and resorts, so it's an ideal destination for even a shorter getaway in November. The rainy season is over but the busy holiday peak season doesn't begin until just before Christmas, so the weather is perfect and hotel prices are still very low. Flights should be cheap from most hub cities as well, so even a long weekend is within reach for budget travelers this month.
On the morning of our last day we hit the hotel cantina again for another round of breakfast bowls and bacon (Meal 5), which I had with fatty coffee. Afterwards we headed out for our final day. After riding a few things and checking out some of the tours, we found a place for a late lunch/early dinner at around 4 pm. This was the only sit-down, table service place we patronized on the entire trip and it was worth it. The menu didn’t seem to have a lot to offer the carb-conscious, but after explaining briefly to my server that I avoid carbs and sugar, I settled on the Kobe beef burger, bunless, and the server offered to replace the side of fries or rice with a bowl of stir fried veggies. My plate arrived (Meal 6) and looked gorgeous! The veggie bowl consisted of onions, peppers, mushrooms, snow peas, baby bok choy, and some carrot sticks which I mostly ate around. After stirring in a smidgen of the offered soy sauce and Sriracha, I must say I was greatly pleased with this side. The chef also garnished my plate with a small sample of cucumber salad, which was delicious. The burger was as thick and round as a steak and was probably the best restaurant bunless burger I’ve ever had. It was served with a sesame-soy sauce mayonnaise as a condiment which really complimented the burger well. This was probably my favorite meal of the trip and it was well worth the price and effort of sorting through the menu.
Looking to shake up the traditional holiday season table? We’ve got just the foodie forays for you this festive month. Tuck into a spicy blend of fabulous flavours at Malaysia’s hawker food stalls, where bright bowls of creamy laksa (noodle soup) and deliciously deep-fried lor bak (pork or prawn wrapped in tofu skin, deep fried and served with dips) will soon do away with any cravings for Christmas pudding. With tourist numbers low, now is the ideal time to visit Spain’s Basque Country, seeing out the year with a plate piled high with pintxos (tapas); or check out Cuba’s capital, exploring the crumbling, colonial architecture with a rum-based cocktail in hand.
My family and I are planning our first trip to Europe for the last week of December (2018) and the first week of January (2019), I know this is a long way off but I am a planner and to me that is half the fun! I know to most people that time of year in Europe is not ideal, but we LOVE cold weather, snow, rain, etc. and I am drawn to the lower prices and smaller crowds. So far I am considering Rome for 6 nights, Venice for 2 and Munich for 6 nights. I want to take day trips from Rome to see Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast and from Munich to see Rothenburg and Nuremburg. Does this seem like a good itinerary? Since I love the cold weather are there any other itineraries you think would be ideal for that time of year? Any advice you have would be very much appreciated.
What a great site, I am planning to travel for about 7 days late Oct. The original plan was to go to Orlando/Florida but with the recent hurricane I think i need a new location. I want to go somewhere warm/hot with a budget of about £500. Can you recommend anywhere. I would be travelling from the United Kingdom (London). I have been to Tenerife, Gran Canaries before, so would like some alternatives. Thanks
If those flights are too expensive you might think about going somewhere else in Mexico or to Costa Rica. The area around Cancun including Playa del Carmen and Tulum and Cozumel has a LOT going on. And if you’ve been there you could instead go to the Puerto Vallarta area, which is very different and also great. For activities though it’s hard to beat Costa Rica. I think they invented zip-lining and the country is about one-third national parks with all kinds of fun activities. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger