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.
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.
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.
And you mention that you’ve been to Cancun and Yucatan, but just in case you haven’t been to Playa del Carmen or Cozumel, those could also be worth a look. They are both much more real tourist towns as opposed to Cancun, which is primarily a long strip of high-rise hotels and time-share buildings on a beach. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
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.
Santa Barbara has earned its nickname, “The American Riviera,” with its stunning coastline, lush landscapes, cafes, restaurants, and year-round Mediterranean-like weather. Sandy beaches invite sunbathers, and for those interested in more activity, there’s biking, paddle boarding, surfing, and kayaking. In the heart of Santa Barbara County wine country, the city presents more than two dozen downtown tasting rooms on its “Urban Wine Trail.” The artsy “Funk Zone,” with a variety of cleverly designed eateries and shops, is just blocks from the beach. The community is recovering from devastating fires and mudslides, and its resilience is apparent with new hotels, restaurants, and attractions. The Montecito neighborhood, particularly hard hit by the tragic events, is home to the recently renovated Montecito Inn and its new dining venues, Phillip Frankland Lee's The Monarch, and the suave Chaplin’s Martini Bar, commemorating Charlie Chaplin, one of the hotel’s original owners when it was built in 1928. The elegant oceanfront Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara offers a luxurious spa and views of Butterfly Beach. Less than two hours north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara celebrates the holiday season with colorful lights, a Holiday Parade (Dec. 7), Harbor Boat Parade with fireworks (Dec. 16), European-style Christmas market, and the traditional "Nutcracker Suite" at the Granada Theater.
The traffic in Bali makes sightseeing notoriously challenging in June through August, but November is less crowded so it's a good time to come and spend a day in Ubud or even take a tour of the towns along the northern shore. In fact, if you want to avoid the huge Kuta crowds altogether you should consider basing yourself in the Lovina area of the north shore. It's as lovely and charming as the whole island was 20 years ago, but that may not last.
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, head to Tallinn to see the medieval city decked out in a blanket of snow, complete with flickering candles lining the streets and markets flogging quintessential Christmas curiosities and festive treats. And if that’s not enough seasonal charm for you, make for Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland, the ‘official home’ of Santa Claus. Once you’ve dropped your gift list off with the big man himself, treat yourself to a husky sledding excursion or reindeer safari to explore the region in full effect.
The fastest high-speed trains between those cities only take 2.5 hours, although most departures are closer to 3 hours. Definitely take the train and also buy the ticket as far in advance as possible for the lowest fare. Not only is it FAR quicker than flying (and of course the coach), but it’s far more comfortable and more enjoyable. This is a link to the official Spanish rail site. The scenery isn’t all that special, but it’s still interesting. Have a fantastic trip. -Roger
If you wanted to spend maybe 7 days outside of Singapore, I think I’d do 2 or 3 in Malaysia and then the rest in Thailand. Bangkok is another huge city but it’s also somewhat exotic compared to the other two, and much cheaper as well. Or if you wanted to spend some time on a beach you could instead go to one of Thailand’s islands. Phuket is the easiest to reach, but it’s not very interesting. Kho Phi Phi or Kho Samui are probably better choices because they really feel like islands (Phuket is more of a peninsula) and there is still plenty to do.
I’d recommend 1 night in Auckland, then 3 nights on the North Island, and then a ferry to the South Island. If you can spend a week there, and return the camper van or car to Christchurch for a flight to Auckland and home, it would be perfect. As long as you can spend at least 4 nights on the South Island, it will be worth it. But if your schedule or budget don’t allow that much, you might just stay on the North Island. The most interesting place on the South Island is Queenstown, but there is plenty to see all over.
Traveling in December means you either fully lean into the holiday season, or else escape it entirely and flee to somewhere warm. Personally, I try to appreciate the cold weather while we have it and max out on warm seasonal beverages, colorful lights, soft snow, and good company. True, some places are overwhelmed by the capitalist engine that powers Christmas, but you can still get a non-denominational-winter-wonderland fix, if you know where to look. No matter your travel preference, there’s a perfect place in this world for you to bask in those final sunsets of 2018.
As for Costa Rica, I think it would be ideal for what you have in mind. It’s by far the most tourist-friendly (and English speaking friendly) country in that area, so it’s a great starting point. Belize is pretty easy as well, although there is far less nature to enjoy. Panama and Nicaragua are a bit cheaper and have similar things to offer, but Costa Rica has the best infrastructure and nature parks, so it’s less stressful for a first-timer. The snorkeling is better on the Caribbean coast, I believe, but the better tourist beaches are on the Pacific. The country is pretty quick to get across, so you could easily spend a few days on both sides, plus another few exploring the rain forests and volcanoes and such.
The article was written in 2013, but then updated and expanded every year. Since so many people visiting New Zealand do it in a rented car or camper van, all of the companies have deals that include the ferry crossing and returning the car on a different island. Just shop around online and you’ll find prices that include all of that. And also look into renting a campervan if that appeals to you at all. It’s really a wonderful way to see the country, and it’s cheaper than renting a car and staying in hotels or cabins.
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.
I’ve spent a few weeks on Boracay, but not in early November. From what I’ve read, the monsoons there are usually not too bad, and it’s mainly a matter of a couple of hours rain in the afternoon on the bad days. Throughout the Tropics it’s very rare to get rain all day on any given day, and I’ve spent many months in those areas during rainy seasons. So early November isn’t ideal, but if it’s the only time you can go I still think you’ll enjoy it. One nice thing about Boracay is that the hotels are all basically on the beach or right off the beach, so even if it does start raining you can be back in your room in like 2 or 3 minutes. Best of luck with this. -Roger
As the year winds down the parties amp up, none more so than in Scotland’s capital, where Hogmanay celebrations see flaming torches, fireworks displays and night-long parties take over the usually quiet cobbled streets. Slightly more sedate, the Caribbean’s southernmost island Trinidad simmers with stirring Spanish-style musical performances as the locals usher in the start of the dry season.
December is an ideal time to visit Mendoza in any year: The grapevines are alive, and the backdrop of the majestic Andes after the winter snows makes for dramatic scenery. Wine season is in full swing, and there’s a beer festival in Godoy Cruz during the first week in December—a four-day street party with live music and heavy partying. (Christmas and New Year’s, though, are high season for hotels, and the wineries close on December 24, 25, 31, and January 1.)
December is the end of the rainy season in Boracay, but by the middle of December you would probably only get a few quick tropical showers a week. Room rates are a bit lower at that time as well, so it can be a great time to visit. If you were looking for a place to go for 2 or 3 days, I wouldn’t recommend it because it does take some time to get there and you could be a bit unlucky with the rain. But if you are going for longer than that I’d highly recommend it. It’s a wonderful little island that feels like you’ve gone back in time to before mass-market tourism in places like Phuket.
Malta would have decent weather as well, but I think the nightlife there is pretty dead during the colder months because they don’t get many visitors. They don’t have proper beaches as well, as the coastline is mostly these huge rocks. If you really want a warm beach in December your best bet is the Canary Islands, and even then it can be slightly chilly in December. But the nightlife in Malta is pretty dull, since so many of the visitors are retired Europeans.
Hmmm…there may not be a Wow Factor in Puerto Rico, especially if you are that used to Caymen. I was thinking more about a really nice place that was easy and with great weather. Costa Rica could have the Wow Factor, however. The country is something like one-third national parks and it is packed with great scenery and adventure activities. It is the zip-lining and canopy tours capital of the Americas, so there are many great options along those lines. And there is the volcano and hot springs and really nice beaches. I’m not sure what you’d consider a Wow Factor, but Costa Rica is probably the most Wow destination other than Hawaii.
hi we have 3 boys age, 9, 7 and 5. we want to go on a two week holiday anywhere ( not europe or africa)over december for christmas and new year. we are from england. where is the cheapest to go/ fly to for a beach holiday and some day trips to experience the culture of the country? some tips on where to stay,best towns for families, and is package holidays better than booking everything individually? many thanks
I am trying to find advice on going to Cartegna, Colombia with my husband and 2 daughters next month, November 2017. We have never been there been, speak Spanish, and like the idea of the history and the hot weather. There is a US Travel Warning to Cartegna (as of June 2017) and I am thinking of cancelling our trip. There are so many websites of things “not to do” and “do not go there” and “do not where that” and “always have a full tank of gas” that I am scared. AND, the Travel Warnings says kidnapping! Do you think we should cancel and go to the Caribbean instead?
Of course, the Caribbean has its own share of problems. As I just mentioned to another reader, my list of Caribbean destinations from cheapest to most expensive has 32 entries and only about 6 of them were damaged by the recent storms. I would probably choose one of those instead. November is still technically the final month of hurricane season, but November storms are extremely rare. And the islands closer to South America haven’t been hit in over 50 years or so, such as Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.