This is a huge question and I’d need to know more about your preferences and your budget to answer it properly. But I can give you a short version here. In my opinion, which is matched by many other people, the most interesting and dramatic cities in Europe are London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, and Venice. Visiting those would require about 16 days to do it properly because you’d want to spend 3 or 4 days in each city, except maybe only 2 days in Venice because it’s quite small.
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.
Most of the destinations below are in Latin America and Southeast Asia, so depending on where you are starting from it might be a rather long flight to get there. Many of us can take two weeks or even more around this time of year, but that fact means that all of these places do get crowded and raise hotel prices for the weeks around Christmas and New Year's. Speaking of that, we have a separate list of cheap and warm places to go over Christmas and New Year's, only listing beach areas around the world with affordable hotels during that period.
Spend the past two days discussing your ideas. Group thoughts; Is that adventurous and cultural enough? We want a “wow” factor. We have vacationed in Cayman Islands about a dozen weeks since the kids were little (been there done that.). We have ruled out Asia only because don’t see a huge Wow factor for the amount of travel. What about African Safari? Still not ruling out your ideas, just want to know what is Wow about Puerto Rico? Costa Rica?
Not surprisingly, the weeks around Christmas and New Years are literally the busiest of the year in Goa, so either book a hotel way in advance or be flexible once you arrive. Some towns, like Calungute, are lined with package hotels that fill up completely, but other towns, like Anjuna and Vagator, are usually booked in person or by email, so you can often find a place just walking around. If you are in the mood to tour around, Mumbai has great weather during December, and Delhi has warm days but cool evenings this time of year. Goa has some of the best beaches in December in all of Asia, so give this one a serious look.
This country-style dish from vegetarian cooking icon Deborah Madison is delicate and delicious and makes a lovely side dish for turkey. The recipe calls for baking it for 50 minutes in a 375 degree oven, but the results can be achieved in a 325 oven – the temperature for most turkey recipes – so it can be baked at the same time as the bird (provided your oven is large enough). Just allow 60 to 70 minutes total baking time.
From Atlanta, the places that come to mind with the theme of “nature” would be Costa Rica and Belize. Costa Rica is probably the better choice, as it famously has around a third of its land as natural parks. Much of it is jungle, and they have all sorts of activities including zip lining, but also canopy tours and much more. There is also the Arenal volcano there, which is really nice and has some fun hot springs around it. They also have beaches, of course, but there is plenty in the interior of the island to keep you busy. If you know a bit of Spanish, it helps, but most other visitors know little or none.
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 have a flexible schedule, or if you just happen to have some time off in November, you are in luck. This is honestly the best month of the year for finding cheap destinations that also have fantastic weather. Since most people don't start their winter travel until mid or late December, it means crowds are small and hotel prices are low through huge sections of the travel world. Those wondering where to go on holiday in November have many great choices at bargain prices, although airfare may cost a bit.
In spite of its image of being blazing hot all the time, December in Cairo can actually be on the cool side, at least in the evenings. This is great though because almost all the important sights are outdoors and requite a lot of walking between them. For 9 months of the year it can get very hot doing that, so these few cooler months are ideal for visiting the famous sights.
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?
As for your Europe trip, I highly recommend spending 3 nights in any city you visit. If you change cities every day or every other day you’ll end up spending most of your holiday on trains or in airports rather than seeing the places you flew all that way to see. So if Amsterdam and Barcelona are musts, I would add exactly one other city if you’ve only got 9 days. Unfortunately it’s not on your list, but the best and easiest one to add between them is Paris. There is a train from Amsterdam to Paris in a bit over 3 hours, and another high-speed train to Barcelona from Paris in 6 hours 27 minutes with no changes. Paris is easily one of the most impressive European cities for tourists, but if you’ve been there before and don’t want to go again you can obviously choose something else.
If you’re a bit more on the timid side, you can always use Yelp and TripAdvisor to get good insights on places people have visited. As a disclaimer, some of the ratings may not be accurate on these sites, so make sure you go through and read some of the more recent reviews that people have written. We did this for a few of the places we visited and had no issues.