Whether your heart is set on skiing and nights by a fire or frolicking in the ocean as the warm breezes blow, your dream vacation awaits. From the exotic to the charmingly traditional, your options are seemingly endless. Are you having a hard time deciding on the perfect place to travel in December? Read on for our suggestions for some the best Christmas holiday destinations and get ready to make the season merry.
Costa Rica in December offers a warm weather destination that, at times, feels almost dreamlike. Temperatures are usually in the mid-80s and the rainy season, except on the Caribbean coast, has ended, leaving everything lush. If you want a city experience with enticing day trips, choose a home-away-from-home base in San José. If you want something tropical and serene (yet filled with adventurous possibilities), think about spending time in Guanacaste or the southern area of Puntarenas Province. Pristine beaches, small villages, amazing fresh seafood and eco-tours for the adventurous are all possibilities here and among the many reasons that Chef Andrew Zimmern told Travel + Leisure that the Nicoya Peninsula is among his favorite holiday destinations. He raves, “’You can connect with local companies that do excursions there and take horseback rides in the jungle and come out into abandoned orchards … ride horses through streams and wild fruit trees that have gone unattended and look at the monkeys and sloths in the trees.’”
Skiers rave about Whistler as a Christmas holiday destination. Filled with family-friendly activities, it’s also an incredible place to travel solo or with friends. Early season skiing and snowboarding beckon the athletic and the adventurous, while “the town of Whistler comes alive with twinkling holiday lights” raves Departures. There are also plenty of opportunities for visitors to join in caroling, crafting and culinary traditions. And, of course, there is always time to relax at the lodge by the fireplace while enjoying some adult-style hot cocoa.
Playa Grande, Dominican Republic
If golden sand, eco-tours through the jungle and championship-level golf are in your December holiday dreams, consider traveling to the Dominican Republic. The editors at Travel + Leisure give particular kudos to Aman’s Amanera hotel in Playa Grande for getting in touch with nature while living in the lap of luxury. They explain, “[m]ake your days merry and bright poolside by relaxing in your chic casita or simply enjoying the incredible views of the turquoise waters outside your door while visions of sugar plums dance through your head.”
Experts frequently mention Edinburgh, Scotland as being among the best Christmas holiday destinations. The city is not besieged like many European destinations, so it’s still relatively easy to enjoy dinners out, and it is still blissfully active even if your vacation time extends beyond January 1. It does not usually snow in December, but the Christmas lights and decorations bring a truly traditional feel. Festivities continue into the New Year, but Christmas celebrations not to be missed “center around the Princes Street Gardens with a Santa contest, Christmas market, and a reindeer garden,” according to Departures. If you do stay until the New Year, you’ll love being part of multi-day celebrations, including legendary fireworks, for Hogmanay.
Mexico City, Mexico
December in Mexico City sees warm weather and the traffic easing, offering you a terrific opportunity to see this historic city at its best. Enjoy walking tours, exploring its incredible past and tasting every bite of the local cuisine. The closer you get to Christmas, the more the city blooms with decoration for the Las Posadas festival. Departures explains that the festival “honor[s] Mary and Joseph’s search for a room in Bethlehem” and recommends placing yourself near one of the Catholic churches for a prime position to see one of the local parades.
There are few more magical natural events than the Northern Lights, making Iceland an incredibly tempting Christmas holiday destination. Fly into Reykjavik and enjoy the multitude of things to do in the city. Join in the Christmas fun, which include events celebrating the Yule Lads folklore, where 13 different characters actually represent Santa Claus. Make a spa trip out to the legendary Blue Lagoon and then make your plans to see the Northern Lights in all their glory. Award-winning photographer Chris Burkard tells Travel + Leisure that Reykjavik was among the most amazing places he’s ever spent the holiday. He explains, “’[t]ons of fireworks. They also keep the lights on all night long since geothermal energy powers the city of Reykjavik, and there were festive treats, drinks and cookies everywhere you go…’”
The Spice Islands (aka Malaku) off of the coast of Zanzibar make for a romantic, luxurious choice for December travel. Set in the Indian Ocean, it once played a critical role in the spice trade. The streets still smell both perfumed and magical. Where should you stay? Travel + Leisure recommends that “[a] fter you’ve traveled so far to reach the bougainvillea and palm tree-filled tropical paradise, the Zawadi Hotel will treat you like visiting royalty — no frankincense, myrrh, or gold required.”
Of course, no discussion of the best Christmas holiday destinations could be complete without recommending a journey to Strasbourg, France. People travel from all over the world to visit one of their 11 Christmas markets. If you have to narrow your explorations to just one, the market by Strasbourg Cathedral, built in the Middle Ages, is the place to indulge. Approximately 450 years old, editors at Departures note that the “market in Old Town is one of the oldest in the world and is a bona fide UNESCO World Heritage site.”
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