This is a really interesting question. If you want to avoid crowds then you have already figured out that it’s best to avoid Honolulu and I would avoid Oahu completely. The Big Island is very interesting because of the volcano and some of the other scenery, but the most beautiful islands are Maui and Kauai. I haven’t made it to Kauai yet, but everyone I know has been there and they swear it’s the most photogenic, which looks right based on the photos I’ve seen. Maui is also really gorgeous and all islands other than Oahu are uncrowded even in high season. I drove all over Maui in a rental car and loved it and I don’t think there is as much to see on Kauai. So either of those will be great choices and the weather should be almost perfect in December with warm (but not scorching) temperatures and almost no rain. Have a great trip and let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
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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.
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.
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I’m sure you’ll have a great time. I don’t have any good suggestions for where to celebrate Christmas, but I’m sure you’ll have no problems finding something by just walking around or checking online. The top draw in Barcelona is the architecture, and especially the 20th Century buildings by Gaudi. I recommend the hop-on, hop-off bus tour because it allows you to see almost all of the famous buildings from the street in just a few hours. Park Guell is worth a visit, but of course the main attraction is the Sagrada Familia cathedral. Check opening times and reserve a ticket in advance if you can.
As for alternatives you might consider Argentina, where of course it will be late spring in November. Buenos Aires is a wonderful city and recently they’ve been going through a financial meltdown again so their currency has dropped a lot, making things unusually cheap again. You could spend 3 or 4 days in Buenos Aires and the rest in the Mendoza wine country or Iguazu Falls or Bariloche for some adventure. From everything I have heard it’s all safe and civil there, so it’s just a matter of the local currency going down in value.
Sri Lanka could also be great, and it’s very different. In fact, you might even consider a trip to India itself, which is obviously similar to Sri Lanka. But Sri Lanka is far easier to do in about 12 days, with most of your time spent in the mountains and a bit along the southern coast. Colombo is mainly just good for flying in and getting your bearings. Sri Lanka is also a bit more expensive than Vietnam, but both are great value. And again, you could instead go to Kerala and Goa in India on a short trip, although those are more about relaxation than culture. Let me know if you have any other questions, and I hope this helps. -Roger
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.
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.
Warm weather, Caribbean beaches, and fascinating history beckon visitors to this coastal city during December. Once a 16th-century Spanish port, Old Town Cartagena, surrounded by ancient stone walls, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors strolling through its streets will see original Spanish Colonial architecture among new restaurants, restored homes, and boutique inns. From street food to upscale restaurants, Cartagena offers the best in local seafood, meat, and fresh fruits. In December, the city becomes a festival of lights, with nativity scenes, decorations, and holiday celebrations culminating with New Year’s Eve fireworks. Holiday shoppers will want to take home gifts of colorful handcrafts sold at markets throughout the city, with special Christmas markets arriving in December. Colombia supplies nearly 90 percent of the world’s emeralds, and a quality gem from a reliable source would make a memorable keepsake. Nearby Rafael Nunez International Airport makes arriving by air quite convenient, and visitors will find a range of lodging in and around Cartagena. For a luxurious vacation, the new Conrad Cartagena offers four pools, a private beach club, a golf course, seven restaurants, tennis courts, a spa, and stunning ocean views from every room.
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.
If you're determined to travel during the holiday periods, though, book your vacation flights, hotels, and cruise far in advance. If it works with your schedule, fly on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas day; those are the least crowded days of the holiday season. And if at all possible, avoid traveling during weekends, on the days right before or after the holiday, and late in the day. It's not only crowded at airports but also northern storms can wreak havoc and create weather delays that cascade across the system.
The Canary Islands are always an option and the weather in November is pretty decent. I spent almost a month on Tenerife a couple years ago and I thought the nightlife was mostly pretty cheesy, although at least the drinks are cheap. I think in summer the nightlife there might be good, but in the other months I think it’s pretty quiet because it’s mostly older visitors from northern Europe.
The Norwegian coastal city of Tromso, located more than 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is an enchanting winter wonderland in December. During the Polar Nights — when there is no sun at all — the opportunity to witness the Northern Lights is greatly increased. For another awesome view, take a cable car or an adventurous hike up to Floya, overlooking the city of Tromso and the surrounding mountains and fjords. The Polaria Arctic Experience Center and Aquarium is a family-friendly destination, both educational and fun. The 360-degree Planetarium at the Science Center in Tromso is another family option with breathtaking photos and a lifelike video of the Northern Lights. Stroll along Storage Street to be amazed at the number of cafes, restaurants, pubs, and shops featuring artwork, clothing, and crafts by local artisans. Mack’s famous Olhallen beer hall, established in 1928, is Tromso’s oldest pub, boasting Europe’s longest tap beer tower and a micro brewery. Their acclaimed Christmas Beer is released every December. Experience the Tromso wilderness on a dog sled or chase the glowing night sky on a reindeer sled with a native Sami guide. Tours range from four hours to five days. Whale watching is also ideal in December when humpbacks, killer whales, and several other species thrive on the plentiful herring fish in the fjords. Downhill and cross-country skiing opportunities abound for all skill levels.
The December weather is pretty much perfect and dry, and airfares and hotel rates are very reasonable up until Christmas itself. If you are in California you might also consider Los Cabos, although Puerto Vallarta is more interesting and usually cheaper as well. This is definitely one of the best places to go in December if you are anywhere near the Pacific Ocean.
Thanks. I’ve been to other places in Egypt, but have yet to make it to Sharm el-Shiek. It’s hard to find places that are that inexpensive these days. Most of my best suggestions are in the article above. If your main priorities are beaches, sunshine, and nightlife, my favorites are Goa, India; Boracay Island, Philippines; and almost any of the Thai islands. Goa has many family-oriented beach towns, although some others are not so family oriented so you have to choose carefully there.
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.