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.
Fortunately, Bangkok remains very cheap by almost anyone's standards. If you want to splash down for a nice 3-star room then it'll be half the price of a similar room in Europe or the US, and if you are fine with something more basic then you can find a room for next to nothing, even in the fun Khaosan Road backpacker district. Street meals for around a dollar are always there too, so you'll be able to afford a bit more for a room anyway.
Always happy to hear that people find this useful. If you are looking for a driving holiday with warm weather in December I think you’ve already narrowed down the best choices. New Zealand will be ideal, although maybe not for more than two weeks or so. As you might know, the South Island is more scenic than the North, but the North has many great things to see and do as well.
Turkey has bars all over Istanbul and the other tourist cities, but there are also cafes and tea shops and that sort of thing that are filled with locals (and some tourists) all evening. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the only bars are attached to hotels (and there are a LOT of them), but almost no locals drink, so there are unlimited evening alternatives. Other nearby Muslim countries such as Oman and Bahrain are similar, except with far fewer tourists (and drinkers).
I’ll be happy to give you some suggestions, but it would really help to know your starting point and approximate budget. At this moment I am writing this reply from Cancun, which could be perfect if you are in or near the US, but if you are in another part of the world there will likely be better choices. Although thinking about it, even if you are in Europe, a place like Cancun might still be best. Let me know and I’ll give you my best answer and an alternative or two. -Roger
Thanks for all of this Roger! It looks like in the comments you mention Portugal a couple times and I wanted your opinion – we’re looking at the first two weeks and probably focusing on Lisbon to Porto (since we know it will be too cold to do the beaches in the south). While Portugal seems to be highly recommended, I keep seeing conflicting information about November being rainy – we definitely don’t want to spend 2 weeks in the rain but in your experience what are the chances of that? Thank you!!
The three places that jump out to me are the Playa del Carmen area just south of Cancun in Mexico, the island of Puerto Rico, or Costa Rica. All of those have endless beach activities and sights and great food and everything else, and they are all well within your budget. Puerto Rico would be easiest, and probably my first choice. Costa Rica is better known for adventure activities that might suit the younger ones. There are several good resort areas along the Pacific coast that would work.
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.
This diverse and rapidly growing capital city of Texas is known for its live music scene, world class museums, beautiful outdoor spaces, pleasant weather, fine dining, and nightlife. A little bit city, a little bit country, Austin has no shortage of December activities for all. The Zach Theatre presents a rocking adaptation of the Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol" from Nov. 21 through Dec. 30, guaranteed to have you dancing in your seat. In its 56th year, Ballet Austin’s annual production of "The Nutcracker" returns to the Long Center Dec. 7-23. Holiday shoppers gather at the Blue Genie Art Bazaar to purchase unique handmade gifts including paintings, photography, jewelry, clothing, and more. Zilker Park transforms into a glittery wonderland with more than 2 million lights, 40 displays, interactive experiences, food trucks, and live music on two stages. The Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, an art and music festival, runs from mid-December through Christmas Eve with live music, two full bars, and local food specialties. Over 175 national and local artists display paintings, sculptures, woodworks, and an assortment of handmade gifts. Winter Wonderland at the Circuit is great family fun with holiday lights, a skating rink, Santa’s Village, petting zoo, carnival rides, and of course, live music. In the heart of downtown, the historic Driskill Hotel celebrates with an enormous Christmas tree and seasonal music. On Sunday, Dec. 16, Austin’s best bakers will share their holiday cookie collection, with the event’s proceeds supporting the Driskill’s traditional charity, “Cookies for Caring,” benefitting the community.
Let’s get started. For the November trip you are going to have a lot of competition for those flights and hotels because those are prime Thanksgiving flight dates. I would normally recommend Puerto Rico, but they won’t be ready for visitors until next year from what I hear. Just a few days ago I published a new article on which Caribbean destinations have no hurricane damage. There are a lot of great choices, including all of the busiest ones, that were untouched by the storms. You might also consider Cartagena, which is probably the cheapest option once you get there. It’s got a wonderful walled historic town area, and it’s a short bus or taxi ride to the modern area with beach hotels and such. The sand there isn’t great, but the value is very good. I wouldn’t go outside of Cartagena at the moment.
Even though November is one of the busy months in Pokhara, they've built so many new hotels in the past few years that finding a room – even at a decent price – should always be possible. The high-season rates are still very cheap by almost anyone else's standards, and food and drinks are always very affordable, but if you look around a bit you'll be able to do even better.
November is a tricky month in tropical Asia, as you’ve discovered. In Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, it can be rainy, and that includes some days where it rains the whole day rather than the quick cloudbursts you get in June and July. The best tourist beach in Vietnam is in a town called Nha Trang in the south, and there is Da Nang near Hoi An in the center of the country, but you’ll get November rains in both of them.
I’m not really an expert on surf destinations and even less so on skate parks, although I am aware of many places that do have good surf beaches. From Ireland I think your two best bets would be either Rincon, Puerto Rico, which has the best surfing in the Caribbean and is good for longer rentals like that. You could get a reasonably priced flight into San Juan, which is also a really nice place with some surfing and great beaches, and then hire a car for the drive to Rincon.
Pay homage to the Native American heritage of the U S of A by taking in the sights and sounds of Arizona’s capital city for pure rest and relaxation before the holiday season. Phoenix anchors a sprawling, multicity metropolitan area known as the Valley of the Sun, which is highly regarded for its luxury resorts, vibrant nightclubs, designer golf courses, and long lasting sunshine and warmth—even through the winter months. Attractions include the Heard Museum and the Pueblo Grande Museum & Archaeological Park. Be sure to check them out!
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.
If the thought of another year crawling to a close has left you feeling a little low, November is the perfect time to give yourself a travel-fuelled lift, with an array of destinations primed for exploration during the penultimate month of the year. Trek in perfect conditions in Ethiopia and Nepal, visit Orlando’s theme parks at discount rates, sample an unusual Thanksgiving dinner in Puerto Rico or don your skeleton outfit for Día de Muertos in Mexico – trust us, the year is far from over!
November is typically the end of the wet season in Sri Lanka, and of course it’s hot every day of the year. I think you’ll be okay. In those areas there are often a month or two where it rains a LOT, and November is not one of those months in Sri Lanka. You might get a few storms per week, but they should be the kind that start at 3pm and finish 20 minutes later. They are easy to shelter from because you see them forming. You can get storms like that almost any time of year in the Tropics. Have a great trip. -Roger
The rainy season usually ends early in November in Siem Reap, and the tail end of it is rarely fierce, so this is an ideal month to hang out in town and spend multiple days at Angkor Wat. November is actually the coolest month of the year, by just a bit, at least during the days, so most people will appreciate more moderate temperatures when climbing up and over all the temples.
Spear fishing, kayaking, and zip lining across the jungle are popular activities. At Hol Chan Marine Reserve, you can safely snorkel alongside sharks and stingrays. The Belize Barrier Reef is a favorite destination for snorkelers and scuba divers and one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Experienced divers may want to plunge into the famous Great Blue Hole of Belize, designated one of the top 10 diving sites in the world by famed French explorer Jacques Cousteau. Family-friendly activities include cave tubing down the rivers of the Belizean rainforest, sailing, bird watching the over 600 species of birds, canoeing, horseback riding, or just relaxing on a beautiful sandy beach. Romantic sunset cruises are a wonderful adult option. Travelers can stay at beachfront properties like Banyan Bay Suites and Grand Colony Villas for an authentic Belize experience.
Those wanting to hike to Machu Picchu will also find this to be an ideal month, since getting in a group will be easy even without much advance notice. The train to Machu Picchu is expensive year round, and reservations should be easier to get the day before this time of the year. Hotels are always cheap in Cusco so you can afford to get something nicer than you are used to this month.
It’s no wonder this charming southern city has become an increasingly popular destination over the past few years among domestic and international travelers alike. You’ll find rich history, delicious food, swoon-worthy architecture, and of course—perhaps most importantly—unparalleled southern hospitality. Mild temperatures (think high 60s and low 70s) during the month of November make it an ideal time to visit. While you’re in town, be sure to check out the new South Carolina Historical Society Museum, which opens in September. The building is a National Historic Landmark, and promises to be a major draw for history buffs. There are plenty of great boutique hotels to choose from, but our favorites include 86 Cannon, Zero George, and The Dewberry.
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.
Flights, on the other hand, can be pricey if you buy too early. My recommendation would be to book a resort soon and then put a fare-alert on the flights so you’ll get an email when the fare drops. For the Caribbean the cheapest fares are usually only 2 or 3 weeks out, and since that is a slow period you really shouldn’t have any problem (unless you are trying to go on popular Thanksgiving dates). Most likely the resort prices won’t change much as November approaches, so you could probably wait on that as well. There will definitely be empty rooms when you get there, so the resorts usually don’t start pushing up rates when they will be partly empty. Best of luck on this. -Roger
There’s really nothing like the holidays in Manhattan. December tends not to be too cold in New York -- you may actually pine a bit for snow as you mosey past Fifth Avenue shops, peering in at the elaborate holiday window displays. The rink at Rockefeller Center gets crowded, but catch it midweek and you’ll have room to skate a lap beneath the most famous Christmas tree in the world. And if you’re still picking up last-minute gifts, you really can’t beat the shopping in this town. Even usually gruff New Yorkers seem to have a brighter spirit this time of year, and carols echo through the subway stations thanks to the city’s many transit musicians. There’s no better time to go and bask in the Home Alone 2 Christmas vibes.
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
If you are going for one week I wouldn’t go all the way to Thailand, but if it’s two weeks I think it’s worth it. It takes most of a day in each direction, but flights are often reasonably priced, and everything there is cheap once you get there. I’ve actually lived in Thailand for 6 months and have visited many more times and it’s actually very easy and stress free once you are there. All the important signs are in English and nearly everyone you’ll encounter as a tourist will speak enough English to help you as well. You can get around by train or VIP bus for cheap, or fly to the islands for cheap. It’s very safe there as well. You could spend a few days in Bangkok and then head to one of the islands or take a train up to Chiang Mai.
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.
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.
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