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.
If you are looking for an all-inclusive resort with reasonable airfares from Chicagoland, your best bets will be in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, or the Cancun/Playa del Carmen area. Both have everything on your list, except perhaps wild life, depending on how you define that. You can get cheaper flights into Cancun, and there is a wide variety of offerings once you are there. If you don’t think you want to leave the hotel much, then stay in the Cancun hotel district or along the Maya Riviera nearby. But if you want to interact with a real and lovely town, then stay in Playa del Carmen or over on Cozumel. There are many nearby activities and some very interesting ruins.

You might also consider Malaysia and perhaps a stop in Singapore. Malaysia is actually more modern than Thailand so everything is easy and reliable. They have cheap VIP buses that are very comfortable. Penang in the north is really nice and also interesting. Kuala Lumpur is a modern and pleasant big city. A bit south of that is the colonial town of Malacca, which is also very nice and worth a look. Going south from there you can reach Singapore in a few hours, and that is an amazing city, although accommodation there is expensive.
I think Spain is probably your best bet, and you can probably get there on a reasonably priced flight with a change in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. The winter weather is decent and the big cities are always packed with locals rather than so many tourists. Barcelona is probably more fun than Madrid, though both are big cities with a lot to see and notoriously good nightlife. If you get a cheap enough flight I don’t think you need to do a package. It’s pretty easy to get around Spain’s big cities just on English, as long as you do a bit of research. In 5 days you could spend 3 days in Barcelona and then 2 days in Madrid, or just 5 days in the Barcelona area. It’s a big city with plenty to see and some good day trips. You could also go to Valencia, which is also really fun and a short train ride away.
As with most on this list, hotels get very full and more expensive just before the Christmas holidays, so it's better to come early in the month if possible. That way you'll have your pick of places at some surprisingly good room rates, even at some high-end places on the famous beaches. If you are coming during Christmas then book a hotel NOW because they'll be full and will keep getting more expensive the longer you wait.
The second option you have is food trucks – although you really have to be weary on this one. Don’t be afraid to ask them what the ingredients are, as the food is made fresh and they’re usually proud to tell you what’s in their food. Luckily, we encountered a Paleo food truck while in Portland called Cultured Caveman (pictured below) that served some keto friendly items.
Lovers of historic architecture should consider tiny Malta in November, which still basks in glorious warm weather as much of Europe starts to shiver. The baroque palaces, churches and fortifications of its harbour-hugging capital Valletta look much the same as they did 400 years ago, and are extra lovely when observed from a traditional dghajsa (open boat) water taxi. If a life on the high seas has always appealed, then charter a course for the Cayman Islands come November, when the serene Caribbean isle hosts Pirate Week, a fun-filled festival that includes costume contests, street dancing and a horde of swashbucklers ‘invading’ the island and capturing the governor.

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.
November is a perfect time to visit Bermuda, with temperatures in the mid-70s and pink sand beaches that are less crowded than in high season. There are many ways to explore the 21-square-mile island, from under the sea where you can snorkel or dive among coral reefs or shipwrecks to the Bermuda Railway Trail, an 18-mile abandoned rail bed that winds through scenic landscapes and shorelines. The Crystal Caves take you into an underground world with a subterranean lake and white limestone stalagmites. The 36-acre Botanical Gardens, established in 1898, inspired John Lennon during a two-month Bermuda stay that led to his Double Fantasy album.
Since you might be open to flying then another nearby option to consider is Siem Reap in Cambodia. It’s a pleasant tourist town on its own, but it only exists as the gateway to the amazing Angkor Wat temples nearby. Those temples are by far the most dramatic and memorable tourist attraction in southeast Asia, and I think your daughters are old enough to appreciate it all. But again, the town of Siem Reap is nice with plenty of other things to do, so it’s a great all around stop.
Cambodia could work because Siem Reap is inland and the amazing Angkor Wat temples are worth a full day or two, and the town of Siem Reap itself is quite nice. You could actually combine a couple days in Siem Reap with a few days in Bangkok, and take a (cheap) luxury bus between the two. Bangkok is a really fascinating city with a lot to see, plus it’s a great transport hub. The other main non-beach option in Thailand is the city of Chiang Mai, which is wonderfully inexpensive with quite a bit to see. It’s even a bit cool during December, so that might be a nice change of pace from India. Many people are also going to Myanmar these days, although I haven’t been yet so it’s hard for me to recommend it. I’d say if you combined 2 or even 3 of these places you could have a very interesting holiday.

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Hi Roger, Just wanted to thank you for taking the time to compose this list. I always refer to your destinations (with great weather) lists prior to booking future-dated vacations. I was a little worried that you didn’t mention Bali but there was more than enough in the comments to reassure me that it would be a great spot to visit in December. I also saw your other post for places to visit over Christmas and NYE. Thanks again!
Two of the easier other choices would be London or Madrid. From Amsterdam you can take a train to Brussels and then change for the Eurostar train to London, or you can fly. From London to Barcelona you’d want to fly for sure. If you chose Madrid you can go to Amsterdam and then fly to Barcelona and then take a train from Barcelona to Madrid in only 2.5 hours.
St. Bart's is a French island and a member of the European Union. First discovered by Columbus in 1493 and named after his brother Bartolomeo, St. Bart's has been populated through the years by native Arawaks, pirates, French colonists, Swedish settlers, and French citizens attracted by the island life. Owned for a time by Sweden before being returned to France, St. Bart's capital, Gustavia, was named for a Swedish king, and the language, along with French, is used for many street signs. In Gustavia, visitors interested in the island’s history can explore 17th-century forts, a lighthouse, and the small Wall House Museum. With 14 public beaches, there’s one for every taste and activity, including a swimsuit-optional spot. Boating, windsurfing, kayaking, sunbathing, shopping, people watching, and exploring the island’s shallow reefs are favorite pastimes. Last September’s Hurricane Irma caused significant damage to the island, but recovery has been swift. After closing a year for renovation, Le Barthelemy Hotel & Spa has just re-opened. Set on the Anse de Grand Cul de Sac, an ideal area for watersports, the eco-friendly hotel emphasizes wellness, with an expansive spa offering hydrotherapy, sauna, and beach yoga. This perfect December island escape is accessible by air or ferry from nearby St. Maarten.
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.
Portugal does have one of Europe’s best autumn climates, but as you’ve noticed November can be a bit rainy. That said, in my experience it rarely rains for long periods in that part of Europe so I think it’s very unlikely that a big part of your trip would be “rained out.” Also those cities have lots of great indoor attractions so if you see that it’s supposed to be clear in the morning and drizzly in the afternoon, you can plan to explore neighborhoods in the morning and plan to visit a museum or castle in the afternoon. It’s a bit of a crap-shoot and generally Portugal has nicer weather than most of the rest of Europe at any given time. I hope this helps. -Roger
Hotel prices remain low through all of November for the most part, so you'll have a good shot at deals at 3-star and above beach resorts that are trying to fill rooms during the slow season. Even if you are paying near the high season rates the hotels and everything else are bargains here compared to almost anywhere else. Cartagena is one of the cheapest places to travel in November on a beach, and you'll get less rain as the month goes on.
Europe in general and Greece in specific are not ideal in January because it’s cold and many sights are closed. I’d go to Thailand, which has a great variety of things to see and do, and January is the best weather month. Spend at least a few days in Bangkok and then either go to one of the islands like Phuket or Kho Samui, or head up to Chiang Mai for its temples and shopping and outdoor activities. You could even head over to Siem Reap to spend a couple days seeing Angkor Wat. Let me know if you have other questions. -Roger
On the hunt for a non-traditional ski vacation? Look no further than the Japanese Alps. According to American Express Travel, the region has seen an increase in bookings during the holidays in recent years. And while December has historically been less popular than Japan’s peak season—April-November—adventurous travelers are now intrigued by the wilderness of Japan in the winter. The Hida, Kiso, and Akaishi alps are home to indigenous snow monkeys, volcanoes, and lava plateaus, plus, visitors are drawn to the area for its pristine ski offerings, natural hot springs, and rural hiking.
I too am a planner, which is how I got involved in this, and so I totally understand your motivation. I think your plan sounds quite good. The weather in the places you are planning is actually fairly mild, and none of them are too far north. For some of us it’s easy to forget how far north parts of Europe are, and in those areas it’s not so much the cold but the fact that the sun rises at 10am and sets at 3pm that time of the year.
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!

I haven’t followed the Zika list, but I do understand the concern. Since you aren’t big beach people, you might just bring jackets and go to a more romantic city like Paris, and then maybe down to Nice for part of the trip and something a bit different. I’m not sure if this is helping, but if you have any questions about any of this I’m happy to keep trying. -Roger
Of the others, I’d say that Thailand would probably be your better choice. Goa is obviously famous for its beach parties, and drugs are easily available there just in case that is important, but there really isn’t much else to see or do there. Goa is a collection of beach towns, some of which are filled with raucous Westerners all winter. But once you go inland, it’s kind of falling apart, and it’s not even very “Indian” because it was run by the Portuguese until about 60 years ago.
To name at least a few, I love Bali and will spend a month there again early next year. Iceland is very high on my list, partly because it’s so different from everywhere else. I also love New Zealand, partly for the same reasons. I’ve really enjoyed much of what I’ve seen in India, and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that Goa is the place I’d like to go back to most because it’s relatively uncrowded and low-key compared especially to the cities of India. By the way, Varanasi is the single weirdest place I’ve ever visited. I love a lot about Vietnam, although like many other people, I’m not crazy about how you always have to be on guard for people trying to scam you there. Laos is nice, although with no coast and far fewer scammers.
November is a wonderful time to explore this diverse country without the crowds and heat of the summer months. The ancient city of Marrakesh presents an uncommon blend of ancient traditions and modern conveniences. Accommodations include traditional Moroccan houses, or riads, once the homes of upper class Moroccan families. Riads range from budget-friendly room rentals to luxurious palace-like dwellings. Shop the souks or markets of the old city for leather goods, textiles, pottery, spices, and much more. Be prepared to haggle with the vendors for the best prices.
Southeast Asia is easier to deal with, and there are cheap flights connecting in the Middle East and landing in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. Each of those is a very interesting city, and there are many smaller places to go in the same region. In Malaysia there is Penang and Melaka. In Thailand there is Chiang Mai and quite a few others in that area. In Laos you can visit Luang Prabang, which sounds like it could be a winner for you. And there is also Siem Reap, which is home to the amazing Angkor Wat temple complex.
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