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.
I’m happy to hear that this information is helpful. My first thought is to wonder if you’ve been to Goa yet? I’ve spent 4 total months in India to about 15 different places, and I know all about the insane crowds and whatnot that you would prefer to avoid. In my experience, Goa is totally different, and that’s where I’ve spent by far the most time. I remember spending time on Calungute Beach and I was surrounded by mostly domestic Indian visitors including many families. There are other beach towns and areas that are even more mellow in the south. The beaches there are quite nice as well, which is something I didn’t find as much of in Kerala, Putacherry, or even Puri. At least it would be the fastest and most affordable destination, and it should be very nice in December.
The hotel rates all over Goa are highest in December and January, but in Anjuna or Vagator they still start at around £10 per night for a private room with ensuite. The cheap places are quite shabby, so it might be worth spending more. Vagator has an amazing beach, but it’s often filled with Russians these days. Anjuna is famous for its beach raves and music scene, but I’ve honestly heard nice things about many other beach areas in Goa.
New Zealand wines are world famous, and wine tours are popular with visitors. Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, is set on the waterfront, with beaches, parks, and cruises to the nearby islands. The capital city of Wellington on the southern tip of North Island is home to New Zealand’s national museum, a great place to learn about the country’s cultural history. Christchurch and Queenstown are located on the South Island. There's so much to do in New Zealand — and it's convenient to reach on Air New Zealand’s nonstop flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, and Honolulu, with a nonstop from Chicago to Auckland beginning Nov. 30.
The rainy season in Belize doesn’t really end until early January, which is why it didn’t make the December list. Belize is definitely affordable enough to make this list and it appears for many of the following months. If you are thinking about going to Belize in December I think it’s a good choice. As you probably know, the Tropical rain patterns are such that the showers tend to come and go quickly, and they are often overnight. -Roger
Being from Mumbai you can be forgiven for not realizing how unappealing beach areas are when the air temperatures are only a bit above freezing. Seriously, even beach on the European mainland is totally deserted by November 1, and many of the local hotels and restaurants are closed by then until April or so. Now, if you are mainly after the novelty of being on a beach in the European winter, you can certainly go and still find open hotels and restaurants. If I had to recommend one place to consider it would be Spain’s Costa del Sol, which is the resort area around Malaga. The average high in December in Malaga is 17, and the average low is 8. You’d be the only one on the beach, which might be kind of nice. It’ll also probably be windy. If you were going to do that I’d recommend staying in Malaga itself, which does have a nice beach area in the city, and since it’s a city the hotels and restaurants will all be going.
Over in the Americas, meanwhile, it’s all about downhill thrills. Mt Hood, an 11,250ft (3429m) stratovolcano in Oregon’s Cascade Range, has North America’s longest ski season, with good quality powder dumps arriving in earnest at the beginning of November (before the real ski crowds descend). Runs are split fairly evenly between grades, making it a great spot for skiers of all abilities. Those looking to really ramp up the thrill factor, however, should head south to Nicaragua, where volcano boarding – tobogganing down their slopes – provides a one-of-a-kind adrenaline rush.
As for flight connections, Barcelona and Madrid should have decent connections to Toronto and Delhi, while Casablanca (Morocco’s largest airport) probably does not. So Spain is the better choice by that standard. On the other hand, you can get to Morocco by ferry from Spain in a short time, so you could go to Spain and also visit Morocco for a day or two.
Without knowing more about your interests, my top suggestion would be to focus on Sydney and Melbourne and the areas around both. The Blue Mountains near Sydney are also nice for a couple days or so. The main challenge you’d have in seeing a lot of Australia is that it’s all so spread out. You can hire a car for Melbourne and Sydney and that whole area, but it’s better to fly to get to Uluru (near Alice Springs) or Brisbane or Cairns/Great Barrier Reef or Perth. You’d be driving for days in between those places if you started from the southeast area where most people live.
Your December plans probably seemed fine until this very moment when you realized they didn’t yet include Reveillon on Copacabana beach -- one of the biggest and best New Year’s Eve parties anywhere in the world. December is summertime here, so you can spend your trip under illuminated palm trees on the beach, before joining two million (yes) other humans for the debauchery of Reveillon. To extend the trip, join a week-long tour that gives you a blend of rainforest, city, and beach.
You’ve been to Cancun, but have you been to Playa del Carmen? Personally I much prefer it because PdC is a lovely tourist town with hundreds of little hotels and restaurants and bars, unlike Cancun, which is mainly a long string of high-rise beach hotels that are so spread out that you are nearly trapped in your own hotel. It’s about an hour south of Cancun airport by taxi or shuttle. That would be another of your cheaper options, partly because flights into Cancun are pretty cheap. It will be the tail-end of the rainy season in all of these places, but that usually just means a 30-minute rain storm a few afternoons each week.
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.
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.
Those temples are all outdoor for the most part, so cooler and dryer conditions mean you can spend more time touring the temples and still being comfortable. Almost any other month of the year and you'll be better off going back to your hotel for a few hours in the afternoon, but in December you can carry on all day if you like. The town of Siem Reap is a delight in itself, but of course it fills up near Christmas.
If you’ve got 5 to 7 days and are starting in India I don’t think you want to fly halfway around the world, so it’s probably best to go somewhere between Dubai and Bali. Dubai has cheap flights from most places and it’s very family oriented with large play parks inside shopping malls and that sort of thing. You could get an apartment there in one of the many apartment-hotels for a reasonable price, and the December weather should be pretty good as well.
It’ll definitely be too chilly in Portugal or Malta to go in the water in November, and Malta has almost no beaches anyway. I really like Malta a lot, but it’s not a great beach destination. It will be warm enough in the Canary Islands, but the flight from Atlanta would be long and expensive because you have to change planes in Madrid. Also, I find the Canary Islands to be pleasant and the weather is wonderful, but it’s kind of boring there compared to the other places we are discussing.
I am planning a 12 night or close to 2 weeks holiday from London for the last week nov/or first 2 weeks of December to avoid the holiday season. Looking for a sunny holiday so nearest bets are a minimum 7 to 8 hr flight from here. I had few things on my mind mix a wildlife safari and beach holiday in Tanzania (but the safari’s appear v expensive!)or travel to south/central America I haven’t been to any part of south America and was considering costa rican region. Ideally looking for few days on a good beach snorkelling etc and few days exploring the country and nature. Do you think costa rica is a good starting point if it’s the first country I was visiting in south America ?
Actually, most of the popular European cities have fairly mild winters, in that they don’t spend much time below freezing and snowstorms are rare as well. It’s hard to make suggestions without knowing about your tastes, but I will tell you that the most popular European cities are London, Paris, and Rome, and none of them get snowed in often. If you are going to Italy, you should also go to Florence and maybe Venice as well.
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.
There’s really nothing like the holidays in Manhattan. December tends not to be too cold in New York -- you may actually pine a bit for snow as you mosey past Fifth Avenue shops, peering in at the elaborate holiday window displays. The rink at Rockefeller Center gets crowded, but catch it midweek and you’ll have room to skate a lap beneath the most famous Christmas tree in the world. And if you’re still picking up last-minute gifts, you really can’t beat the shopping in this town. Even usually gruff New Yorkers seem to have a brighter spirit this time of year, and carols echo through the subway stations thanks to the city’s many transit musicians. There’s no better time to go and bask in the Home Alone 2 Christmas vibes.
Plus, Colorado is home to the world-renowned Breckinridge, a historic town at the base of the Rocky Mountains’ Tenmile Range that’s well-known for its ski resort, year-round alpine activities, and Gold Rush history. You’ll also find tons of shops, galleries, and restaurants housed inside colorfully-painted Victorian buildings, along with four whole mountain peaks that provide 2,358 acres of enough variety to suit even the most seasoned of skiers, boarders, or even snow-shoers. It’s also important to mention that last season, the Summit County municipality saw 447 inches of snow. Lifts open up in November, so what are you waiting for?!
As for alternatives, the most obvious are the various islands of Thailand, with Phuket being the largest. It’s peak season in December in Thailand, but still pretty affordable by most standards. I spent a month in Phuket the following December, interestingly enough, and I prefer Bali even though it’s hotter and more humid. Hopefully this helps and let me know if you have other questions. Helping people figure out where to go is something I really enjoy. -Roger
Blisteringly hot in summer, Tokyo is a breeze in the cooler months. Fight the dizzying jet lag and head out for the world's best sushi or ramen, shop in the city's amazing department stores, and visit the parks surrounding the Imperial Palace in the center of the city. Escape the crowds somewhat by heading to Yanaka Ginza, which retains a bit of old Tokyo and has plenty of places to eat and shop. Do make time for a side trip to Hakone, where you can visit a Shinto shrine and see magnificent Mount Fuji on a clear day.
During the holidays in Europe, Christmas pop-up markets open in November, bringing intoxicating tastes and aromas (mmm...gingerbread) that brighten even dreary-weather days. On Viking Cruises, for example, the Danube Waltz itinerary enables passengers to experience a variety of markets, which are great places to shop for affordable holiday gifts. Vienna and Budapest both host multiple markets, and each one is different and features different merchandise. Smaller Passau has a more intimate market, and you get to stroll through a charming town to reach it.
Thank you for the kind words. I know what you mean about the image of Thailand and Bali, particularly among Australians. On one hand you could go to either of those places and easily avoid the most notorious party neighborhoods, but it’s probably easier to head somewhere else since both of those places are so crowded that time of year anyway. I do have a few suggestions, which I’ll describe briefly and then if you want more details about any that appeal to you I can do that in a follow up comment.
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