Far from the crowds and heat of summer, a visitor to Rome in December will find that it’s a lovely time there, with fewer lines at popular tourist spots, more attractive prices, and a chill in the air. With a warm jacket, comfortable shoes, cozy hat and gloves, you’re ready to explore the Eternal City. Stroll through the main streets to enjoy colorful lights, decorated trees, and Nativity scenes. The Piazza Navona hosts a Christmas market, and stores welcome shoppers with longer hours and attractive displays. Rome’s Jewish community celebrates Hanukkah with a large Menorah in Piazza Barberini where candles are lit each evening of the eight-night holiday, this year from December 2–10. The Catholic community celebrates the Immaculate Conception on December 8 when the Pope leads a procession from the Vatican to the Piazza di Spagna. December is the perfect time to visit the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and museums that are usually filled with tourists during warmer months. Even without crowds, it’s still most convenient to book ahead through a tour company such as City Wonders or Access Italy, for no-wait entry, professional guides, and early admission. Food is always one of the great pleasures of a visit to Italy, and in December, a warming plate of spaghetti carbonara or hot chocolate and seasonal panettone taste especially good. The new Pantheon Iconic Rome Hotel, Autograph Collection is a convenient home base in the center of the action with a beautiful rooftop overlooking the Pantheon.
This is a difficult question to answer without quite a bit more information. First off, it’s obviously going to be pretty cold in most of Europe that time of year, although most of the major cities aren’t known for accumulations of snow. As long as you are okay with cold weather then it’s mostly down to budget and your main interests. I’m guessing that you haven’t been to Europe yet since you didn’t mention any places that you’d prefer to skip this time.
If you didn’t want to go to Asia you could instead consider the ABC islands, which don’t get much rain and haven’t had a major storm in many decades. Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao are known for good snorkeling as well and you’d get good hotel rates that time of year. Two weeks might be a long time to spend on those islands though, so I would go to Asia if you can. Late November is a perfect time of year for a visit there, and you can even include a few days in Siem Reap to visit Ankor Wat. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Lace up your boots for an end-of-year adventure at the wild ends of the Earth. December is the ideal time to explore Patagonia’s mind-blowingly beautiful Torres del Paine National Park. Embark on an epic trek along the eight-day circuit, or take the four-day ‘W’ trek for Instagram-worthy views of Los Cuernos (the ‘horns’), the region’s iconic jagged granite peaks. Similarly breathtaking experiences can be had diving the coral reefs around Thailand’s Similan Islands. Beneath the sparkling surface of the ocean you’ll find sharks, barracuda, rays and green and hawksbill turtles – it’s Finding Nemo brought to life.
New Zealand will also be crowded, but the country is otherwise mostly empty so it is still wonderful. You could fly to Auckland for one day or so and rent a campervan/motorhome. Drive it for 3 or so days on the North Island, and then onto the ferry to the South Island for the rest of your time. The South Island is far more scenic and less crowded. You’ll be doing some driving and looking, but after a few hours of that you can stop at a campground and have plenty of things to do such as hiking or water sports and much more.
It would help to know your starting location, but I’ll assume it’s the US or Canada because you didn’t say. My first thought for this is Argentina, which of course is in mid spring in late October. Buenos Aires is a wonderful city with great food and culture. You could also visit Mendoza, which is the lovely wine region, and Bariloche, which is a mountain resort area with year-round activities and such. Then there is always the amazing Iguazu Falls on the border with Brazil and Paraguay. It’s by far the most amazing waterfalls and area I’ve seen. Things are pretty cheap in Argentina these days for outsiders because of their weak currency. It’s also got very good outdoor activities in many different areas that should have nice weather in late October. It’s easier if you know Spanish, but still doable if you don’t. I don’t speak Spanish and I enjoyed it so much I stayed for a month. Let me know if you have something else in mind and I can try again. -Roger
The Maldives is amazing for relaxing beach holidays and it’s within your range. The tricky thing for most people is that it’s quite expensive for a shorter trip. Of course the Maldives is famous for its water villa resorts, and those water villas start at around US$350 per night. Nearly all of those resorts also have island villas and rooms and those can start at as low as US$100 per night, but you also have to pay for a speedboat or sea-plane transfer from Male Airport to your resort. That can be as low as US$100 per adult for the closer speedboat islands, and up to US$600 per adult for the more remote sea-plane islands. On a shorter stay, that obviously adds to the price. Speaking of that, I run another site all about overwater bungalows and I have links from an article on this site about the cheapest overwater villas in the world. Have a look at that list as it will show you the more affordable options in the Maldives, as well as even cheaper options in Malaysia and elsewhere.
The most important holiday in Japan is oshogatsu (New Year), and the month leading up to it is packed with fun festivals and markets. Standouts are Shimai Kobo (December 21) and Shimai Tenjin (December 25) both of which offer great ceramics and handicraft shopping, in addition to lots of good things to eat and drink. From December 8 through the 17th, thousands of lanterns will be placed around Arashiyama, including in the enchanting bamboo forest. If you’re there on New Year’s, you’ll catch the famous the bell-ringing ceremonies -- get up real early and see the monks at Kyoto’s largest temple, Chion-in, or drop by a small-scale local shrine instead.
Prices go up a bit when you go south into Malaysia, but it’s worth it if you’ve got the money. You might even consider Myanmar as well, which I’ve yet to visit, but I keep hearing great things about. It’s honestly the perfect time of year there. By April it’s insanely hot (the hottest month of the year), but December through February is lovely. It’s all quite safe as well, as long as you keep your wits about you. I’m happy to help with more information if you need it.
My first thought was Goa, which you say you’ve been to before, but maybe you don’t realize that there are about 20 different beach areas that are different from one another in terms of vibe and types of visitors? Personally, I found that Anjuna and Vagator were both kind of mellow but also busy enough and easy to meet other people. But if you don’t like those, there are many different beaches in the south, which I’ve heard are also great and draw different groups. It’s something to think about because it doesn’t get much cheaper than Goa for beaches anywhere in the world. -Roger
Early December is the end of the rainy season in those areas. The storms tend to be short by that time, but still you will probably get a few quick downpours a week. I’m not an expert on getting around in the Philippines, though I do know that it’s rarely fast or easy. If you want a place to relax then Boracay Island might be the best. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help. -Roger
Since flights to Mexico City from the US and Canada are usually quite cheap this time of year as well, this could be a perfect short cultural holiday. This city has great shopping, dining, and nightlife, and the central historic and tourist districts are far safer than most people would expect. There are ruins just out of town as well, so a bit of everything is available.