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.
Thank you, and I’ll be happy to try to help. But first I have to mention that ALL of Europe is quite cold in December and there are no beaches that are anywhere near warm enough to even spend time on, much less go swimming. The only place that could possibly fit the bill is the Canary Islands, which is off the northern coast of Africa although technically part of Spain. It’s reasonably warm there during December, and there is quite a bit to do.
Austria Salzburg, Vienna Belgium Bruges, Brussels Bosnia and Herzegovina Sarajevo Bulgaria Sofia Croatia Dubrovnik, Split, Zagreb Czechia Cesky Krumlov, Prague Denmark Copenhagen Estonia Tallinn Finland Helsinki France Lyon, Nice, Paris Germany Berlin, Hamburg, Munich Greece Athens, Mykonos, Rhodes, Santorini Hungary Budapest Iceland Reykjavik Ireland Dublin, Galway Italy Florence, Milan, Naples, Rome, Sorrento, Venice Latvia Riga Lithuania Vilnius
The sizzling summer days are in the past, and it’s time to enjoy your favorite outdoor activities whether they’re hiking, window shopping, al fresco dining, relaxing poolside, or strolling through Palm Springs — an adventure in itself. The Uptown Design District boasts home décor stores, boutiques, retro and resale shops, some specializing in the mid-century modern style that Palm Springs is known for. Further downtown, restaurants, small shops, and designer boutiques invite diners and shoppers.
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!
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?
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
Vietnam and Sri Lanka could both be excellent choices for what you have in mind. Both are best for people who already have experience in these sorts of places, which you do. Twelve days could be a perfect length of time for a classic tour of Vietnam, flying into Hanoi and spending a few days there and in Halong Bay (with a possible side trip up to Sapa), and then taking the train down to Denang for a quick transfer to Hoi An. Hoi An is really a wonderful place and 3 or 4 days there would be great. There are good beaches nearby as well. Then take the train down to Ho Chi Minh City for a few more days before flying home from there. You could also do a side trip to Nha Trang (wonderful beaches) or Dalat up in the mountains. Vietnam really is gorgeous and the food is wonderful (French influences remain) but it can be a bit complicated for new travelers because you’ll find that many people you meet are trying to hustle you a bit, particularly travel agents booking trips and tours. The hotels are generally honest and great value, and so are the restaurants. You’ll learn to ignore the annoying people quickly.
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.
As chilly temperatures arrive in the northern hemisphere, it’s spring in Buenos Aires, an ideal time to visit. The city’s jacaranda trees are decorating the streets in purple petals, hotel prices are attractive, and the weather is comfortable and dry. A cruise along the Rio de la Plata would be a good place to start, for a relaxing overview of neighborhoods, homes, markets, and the waterfront. On Sundays, get some authentic local flavor at Feria De Mataderos, about an hour from downtown, with gauchos on horses, craft vendors, musicians, tango dancers, and regional foods.
It looks like you’ve been to most of the more popular options for winter holidays already, and since you listed them I assume you want to go somewhere new. The one that is missing, which I think could be perfect for you, is the Guanacaste area in northern Costa Rica. The weather will be perfect and you should be able to get a reasonably priced flight into nearby Liberia Airport. There are a variety of smaller towns along those beaches, and Tamarindo might be the most famous. They offer a mix of traditional hotels and resorts in smaller towns along with newer 4-star and 5-star hotels on large properties that tend to be away from the towns. The weather will obviously be similar to Panama, as long as you were on the west coast. Costa Rica is the adventure capital of Latin America and one-third of the country is national parks, so there is plenty to see and do. There isn’t much history there, but you can’t have everything.
Bali, which is just south of the equator, would be a good choice in November. It does rain a bit that month, but they are summer storms that tend to only last 30 minutes or so. It’s a wonderful island with great prices on most things, including massages. The complicated thing about Bali is that the main tourist areas of Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak are now so crowded that they can be unpleasant. I spent a month there again earlier this year, and I don’t think I’ll go back to that part of the island.
Get acquainted with San Antonio on a River Walk boat tour as you pass restaurants, shops, historic architecture, and the Museum Reach, a 1.3-mile section with art installations and native landscaping. November weather, in the mid-60s, makes outdoor activities comfortable for exploring the city and enjoying the month’s events. November begins with Dia de los Muertos, the traditional Mexican holiday that remembers those who have passed away. Music, processions, performances, and costumed dancers will pay tribute in Pearl Park (Nov. 1-2) and Market Square (Nov. 3-4).
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.
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 biggest single highlight in the region is the Angkor Wat temples near Siem Reap in Cambodia. It’s one of the most impressive tourist sights in the entire world, and Siem Reap is a fun and mellow town that you can linger in for a while. Vietnam is really lovely and cheap as well. The food there is excellent, as it’s a fusion of French and traditional Asian. You can go from Ho Chi Minh City in the south on the train to Hoi An near Da Nang, and then up to Hanoi to see Halong Bay. I wouldn’t start in Vietnam because it can be a bit trickier than the others. In the rest of the region it’s easy to book tours and buses and such, but in Vietnam the travel agencies are a bit harder to trust, so you have to be more careful. Things there are very cheap though, so even if you pay more for a reputable agency, it’ll still be cheap.
Even when those quick rain storms come, you can see them forming and head indoors for a while. Nearly every hotel on Boracay is on the beach or within 200 meters of the beach, so it’s really easy to stay dry. If you stay along White Beach (where most hotels are) I think it would be easy to meet other people if you choose as well. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
On Monday morning we arrived at our hotel, dropped our stuff in the room, and headed out to our first stop. We had a light breakfast at home, and mine consisted of a fatty coffee and 2 pieces of bacon. So we were all pretty hungry by around 1 pm. We headed to one of the food joints nearby, and I found a southwest grilled chicken salad (Meal 1) on their menu. After asking them to hold the black bean relish and sugary dressing, I ended up with a decent sized bowl of salad mix topped with half a grilled chicken breast and a good-sized scoop of chopped avocado. I topped it off with salt, pepper, and a packet of blue cheese dressing.
November is the time to catch the last days of spring’s moderate weather and prices in New Zealand. Temperatures vary during the month, but average in the high 60s with relatively dry weather in most areas. New Zealand's spectacular scenery invites outdoor activities, and November is the perfect time for hiking, biking, river rafting, and exploring the national parks, forests, lakes, mountains, beaches, and thermal reserves. Fresh seafood including green-lipped mussels, crayfish, oysters, and finfish, as well as lamb and award-winning cheeses are served in local restaurants.
Take Meal Times in Stride – Although I had intentions of planning keto/low carb meals by researching restaurants beforehand, especially at Disney, that never happened. Did I mention I have four kids? Yea, I don’t have a lot of downtime. Even so, I never had any problem finding foods that I could eat at restaurants. When we were out and about in Orlando, if we were thinking about eating at a restaurant that I hadn’t eaten at before, I looked their menu up online in the car before walking in. As long as they had a keto/low carb option, it was a go. I wasn’t picky. In fact, I ate either a bunless burger or bunless grilled chicken club almost every day at Disney or Universal. When my kids wanted to order pizza one night at our condo, I ate the toppings off with a fork. When they wanted Mexican food, I enjoyed Chicken Fajitas on a bed of lettuce. Whatever my family wanted, I found a way to make it work, and I never felt deprived. We typically ate breakfast at our condo, a late lunch (at Disney or Universal if it was a park day), then a late dinner out. By doing so, we also saved a great deal of money since eating inside the park can be so expensive. Since we stayed off site, the dining plan wasn’t an option.
Otherwise the big draws are the Great Barrier Reef, which is obviously focused on diving, snorkeling, and water activities, so it may not be too interesting, and Uluru, which is the big rock in the center of the country (and not near anything else of interest). There is also wine regions in the south near Sydney, and of course nature parks to see kangaroos and the other indigenous animals.
Venice can get pretty cold and they also have those famous Acqua Alta floods in winter, so read up on that before you go. But Rome and Munich should be easy to visit in December. One suggestion I will make is to consider visiting Rome for 3 or 4 nights and then base yourself down on Sorrento for the remaining 2 or 3 nights. Rome is one of those cities that is crowded and chaotic even in winter, to the point that just crossing the street can be frustrating, so many people get tired of that after they’ve seen the main sights. And Sorrento, on the other hand, is a lovely small city that is close to Amalfi, Pompeii, Naples, and the Isle of Capri, so it’s an ideal base to visit all of those. Sorrento is also cheaper than Rome, and a surprising number of locals speak English there, so it’s easy and pleasant. That time of year I’m not even sure if the tourist buses are running to Amalfi, although the local ones will be.
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.
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.
My other two suggestions are San Juan, Puerto Rico and Cartagena, Colombia. Both cities have really wonderful colonial districts and modern resort districts nearby. San Juan is more expensive, but still reasonable, and it has far better beaches. Both have a bit of rain in November, but it tends to come and go quickly. You’ll get similar rainstorms in most of the Caribbean in November, so it’s a bit tricky. I hope this helps. If you had something else in mind let me know and I’ll try again. -Roger