Whether you want to escape the cold, enjoy family time during a school break, or unwind at the end of a long, busy year, December is an ideal time to travel. The best part? So. Many. Options. In some parts of the world, December brings with it fresh snow for skiing, snowboarding, and sledding, and eye-poppingly pretty winter scenery. In others, sunny skies and warm weather await.
Not sure where to take a trip in December? Discover our winter travel tours. From Europe’s snow-covered Alps to Australia’s sun-drenched coast, here are nine places to travel in December to help get your planning started.
If you relish the festive cheer of the holidays, one of the best December travel destinations is Europe. That’s when cities across the continent come alive with Christkindlmarkts, or Christmas markets, offering locally made gifts, old-world and local fare, and festive entertainment. One of the best reasons to visit Budapest in the wintertime is the capital city’s own sprawling Christmas market. There, visitors can hop between busy food kiosks serving heaping helpings of flavorful Hungarian foods (be sure to down a chimney cake for dessert), and chat with friendly vendors who sell handmade gifts ranging from wooden toys to painted pottery.
See more reasons why you should visit Europe during the holidays >
The Swiss Alps are arguably Europe’s most famous mountain range, and come wintertime, the snowcapped peaks are a dramatic background to behold while exploring the Old Town of Lucerne or one of its countless ski resorts. A fresh coating of snow makes Alpine villages—already chock-full of cozy shops, cafes, and lodges—all the more charming. Soak in some stunning winter scenery on our A Week in Switzerland, Germany & Austria tour.
Wondering where to travel in December to escape winter’s chill? Consider Australia. While everyone back home is bundling up in their warmest winter clothes, you can be Down Under in December, sunning yourself (and surfing!) at Bondi Beach, snorkeling around the Great Barrier Reef, and marveling at Uluru as the warm desert breeze blows around you. (For even more fun in the sun, travelers can hop over to neighboring New Zealand and Fiji.) Also happening Down Under in December? One of the most famous—and spectacular—New Year’s Eve fireworks displays in the world, over Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The countries of Scandinavia spend most of December (and January, and February… ) cloaked in darkness. They’re also a few of the best places to visit in December if you want to see the dancing colors of the aurora borealis, a.k.a. the northern lights—which is one of the top reasons to visit Scandinavia in the winter, if you ask us! But those pretty purple and green lights aren’t the only reason that Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark should be on your December travel radar. You can do as the Scandinavians do and celebrate winter by sharing fika with friends in a candlelit coffee shop, sipping schnapps in a cozy bar, bundling up for snowy hikes, and sharing long, steamy sauna sessions.
Not sure what to take with you? Check out 5 packing tips for your cold-weather getaway >
Some consider Iceland part of Scandinavia, but we say the island nation in the North Atlantic is worthy of its own spot on our list of places to visit in December. Why? In winter, waterfalls that rush and roar in warm months freeze into abstract ice sculptures, and the country’s otherworldly landscape takes on an entirely different appearance under a blanket of shocking-white snow. Oh, yeah—the northern lights are on full view here, too. See it all, plus Iceland’s stylish capital city, Reykjavik, on our Iceland tours.
Check out 4 reasons to go on a winter vacation >
A tour around Costa Rica is one of the best trips to take in December if you love nature and the great outdoors. There, the dry season starts in the middle of the month, which means warm days, blue skies, and gentle breezes—perfect weather for heart-pounding outdoor activities like hiking, surfing, and zip lining. Animal lovers can keep their eyes peeled for colorful birds and other creatures while exploring the rainforest, and coffee connoisseurs can enjoy a tour and tasting at a family-owned coffee estate.
Portugal & Spain
These neighboring countries on Europe’s Iberian Peninsula are among the best vacation spots in December for travelers who love architecture, food, and history—but not crowds. Crowds are thinner in December, when cool temps clear out the countries’ beaches and cities. For travelers who tour Portugal and Spain in this off-season period, that means shorter lines and more space to soak in views of awe-inspiring architecture in Lisbon, Granada, and beyond. If mercury takes a dip, warm up with dishes like Portuguese caldo verde (translation: green soup). Or, in Spain, try crispy churros dunked in the country’s famously rich hot chocolate.
Fewer crowds, wallet-friendly prices, and seasonal celebrations make Italy one of the best places to visit in December. In the fashion capital, Milan, designer boutiques are decked out with over-the-top window displays. (Not looking to blow your whole Christmas-shopping budget on couture? Check out the city’s central Christmas market for more affordable, authentic finds.) If your visit coincides with snowfall, consider yourself lucky; seeing architectural treasures in cities like Venice, Florence, and Rome under a blanket of snow is an eye-popping treat relatively few travelers get to enjoy.
If your December travel plans include a tropical escape, Thailand is tough to beat. Humidity is low in December, and daily temps hover around 80 degrees—a combo that’s ideal for hopping between temples in Bangkok or touring gardens and palaces in Chiang Rai. Phuket, an island in the Andaman Sea, is a can’t-miss for beach bums. Its western coast is home to some of Southeast Asia’s most gorgeous beaches. (The sand on Karon Beach is so fine and soft that it squeaks underfoot.) Waters here are calm in December, and consistently clear, sunny weather allows for enjoying long, lazy beach days, exploring busy markets in Phuket City, bar-hopping in Patong, and taking part in outdoor activities from whitewater rafting to canoeing.