Christmas markets sprout up all over the country this month, and from the smallest towns to the biggest cities they’re a great place to mingle with locals, learn about regional handicrafts, and sample seasonal delicacies. Depending on the venue, you can find anything from medieval reenactments to outdoor concerts. But they’re usually at their prime once darkness has set in and the fairy lights are out in full force (which means there’s also time in the day for museum visits and city touring before indulging in the market flurry). Some travelers skip dinner altogether for a smorgasbord of yuletide samplings at the wooden market huts!
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.
Assuming you might be in the US or Canada, my first hunch is Costa Rica, or Panama, which is a bit cheaper though not as well organized. Costa Rica has good surfing on its Pacific beaches, and there are very few all-inclusive resorts, which means that the restaurant scenes in resort areas are vibrant and interesting. Costa Rica also has limitless adventure opportunities, like zip-line tours and such, although they aren’t exactly cheap. Going inland you’ve got loads of national parks, as well as the famous volcano and its little spa town.
Interestingly, December though February do get a bit cool in Cairo, so it's not a great winter break, but in November it's still pleasantly warm and bone-dry so you can enjoy the outdoors for long periods of time. If you don't mind staying in a locally-owned hotel you can save a lot of money and see some old-world charm at the same time. Reservations in advance aren't necessary, but it's best to book your first couple of days just to avoid all the confusion once you arrive.
There’s also Mad River Valley in Vermont, another place to spot amazing hues of fall foliage within Green Mountain National Forest, which provides one of the most gorgeous November vacations. Enjoy quiet seclusion in the small towns near and around Central Vermont for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see autumn’s last breath and the birth of winter white splendor. Plus, November also happens to be primetime for skiers in Vermont and surrounding Eastern states. Enjoy a slice of wondrous heaven this Thanksgiving holiday.
For traditional holiday atmosphere, think about Rome or Vienna, with Christmas markets, nativity scenes, and decorated cathedrals. In Edinburgh, they know how to welcome the new year with several days of celebrations culminating in New Year’s Eve. For travelers seeking a wintery destination, Tromso in Norway has skiing, reindeer, and a chance to see the Northern Lights. Bundle up for a dogsled tour or join a whale watching excursion.
Yes, I’ve been to all of the Nordic countries, but mostly during the summer months. However, I know that those Northern Lights tours are popular and well established. On one hand, you know you’ll be visiting areas where there is only a bit of sunlight in the middle of each day, so it won’t be great for general sightseeing. But the cold months are also the best Northern Lights months, and if you want to see them then it’s your best bet.
And if you are mostly interested in adventure and nature rather than cities, you might also consider India. The cities in India are complete insane asylums, but once you get outside of them it’s a beautiful country. The area of Kerala and its backwaters are a big highlight. They’ll remind you a bit of Sri Lanka in some ways, although things are cheaper and the scenery is quite different. The various beach areas of Goa, just to the north of Kerala, are also worth considering.
Thank you so much for the kind words and I’m always happy to hear that people find this information useful. As far as Turkey in December is concerned, I wouldn’t recommend it. I actually lived in a small town near Antalya on the Mediterranean for a bit over a year and I was surprised by the fact that almost everything closed down around 1-November and didn’t start opening again until March or April. Actually, I think Istanbul would still be enjoyable in December and so would Bodrum or any of the other larger cities including Antalya. But anywhere on the coast will be a ghost town and I’m pretty sure that Cappadocia would also be mostly shut for the winter. Ephesus probably stays open, but similar to Cappadocia, the attractions are all outdoors and they can get pretty fierce rainstorms in winter.
So, I am from bombay. I wish to see much of Central and/ or South America this December. Would love to know your take on the most interesting places in terms of culture, language, people, good nightlife, nature, adventure, wildlife, on a shoe string budget possibly. I have never stayed at a 3/5 star so just backpacking hostels, couchsurfing and potential friends. I am also open to your suggestions about Africa and any other musts if any, but not in asia. Since you do know how versatile Goa is, are there places equivalent, close to or better than it? Also, if its not too much to ask and too hard to pin down, what places/destinations would make your top 10 or 15 in all? Irrespective of the time of the year or whether it is a city or an island or the Himalayas, what places would make the ‘touched the heart & soul’ list? That have become a feeling to you, rather 🙂 cheers
From England I would say your cheapest and best late December destination with warm weather and reasonable prices is going to be Phuket. There are some other Thai islands that might be a bit cheaper, but they would be more complicated to reach, and they’d have fewer activities for the boys. Here are some Phuket resorts good for families. You can see that the price range is wide from cheapest to most expensive. In late December it’s peak season so you’ll pay at or near the top of those ranges.
If you're determined to travel during the holiday periods, though, book your vacation flights, hotels, and cruise far in advance. If it works with your schedule, fly on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas day; those are the least crowded days of the holiday season. And if at all possible, avoid traveling during weekends, on the days right before or after the holiday, and late in the day. It's not only crowded at airports but also northern storms can wreak havoc and create weather delays that cascade across the system.
In Laos, Luang Prabang is a really lovely city, and Vang Vieng is nice, but Vientiane is kind of plain and probably not worth a stop. I don’t think I’d recommend Laos for a multi-generational trip, unless you just want to fly into and out of Luang Prabang. Laos is really interesting for backpackers and adventure travelers, but it’s behind the times for family travel.
Of course in November you can pretty much forget about Europe if you want warm weather and little chance of rain. Fortunately you can go almost anywhere in Latin America and through many parts of Southeast Asia on a cheap flight, and you'll be in the sun with shockingly low prices, easily making the flight duration and cost worthwhile. The best holiday destinations in November are found all over the world, which you'll see on the list below.
For a cheap destination in December that has great clothes shopping opportunities I can only think of two really good options. The closer of the two is Dubai. I’m not sure if you’ve been there before, but it has some of the best shopping in the world with every store imaginable and very good prices because duties and taxes are low. In spite of its reputation, Dubai can actually be visited quite cheaply if that is important. It’s famous for expensive hotels, but it’s got hundreds of more affordable hotels that can be pretty nice.
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