Explore the best places to travel in December for a festive winter wonderland or warm weather getaway, from European cities to Caribbean islands 🌎
December brings festive cheer, twinkling lights, and a wonderful time to travel as the year winds down. From European Christmas markets to warm beach escapes, December offers a diverse array of destinations to cure the winter blues or lean into the holiday spirit. This article explores some of the best places to visit in December for Christmas magic, winter sports, nightlife, beach retreats, and unique holiday experiences.
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is one of the best places to visit in December for an utterly unique holiday experience. This charming city goes all out for the holidays, serving massive plates of Southern hospitality and Christmas cheer. Throughout the month, visitors can enjoy the 34th Annual Holiday Festival of Lights from November to December, featuring over 2 million dazzling lights. Holiday Swing on December 2nd offers a jazzy night of carols courtesy of the Charleston Jazz Orchestra.
The French Quarter Inn provides luxurious lodging decked out for the season, with a Christmas tree in the rotunda and free gingerbread cookies. Its Sleigh Bell Suite takes festive accommodations up a notch with in-room holiday movies, an eggnog bar, freshly-baked cookies by the fire, and a special reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas from Santa himself. Charleston in December is one of the best places to visit for holiday charm alongside history, nightlife, and hospitality.
Banff National Park, Canada
For an utterly enchanting winter wonderland, it’s tough to beat Banff National Park. Snow-dusted peaks, glaciers, pine forests and wildlife transform this Canadian Rockies gem into a festive paradise. Three ski resorts offerslope access and stunning vistas, including Lake Louise with views that rival any on the planet. Even non-skiers can embrace the season on snowshoe tours or by wandering the villages of Banff and Canmore, adorned with lights and holiday storefronts. With candlelit restaurants and picture-perfect winter scenes around every corner, Banff in December is a snow-globe brought to life.
Hotel Drover and Little America Hotel offer vacation packages in December featuring Santa visits, sleigh rides, festivals of lights and more family-friendly holiday happenings. Few places capture the magic of the season better than Banff – it’s one of the best places to visit in December for a white Christmas or winter getaway.
It’s tough to top Paris during the most wonderful time of the year. The Champs-Élysées dazzles with lights, storefronts flaunt festive displays, and the scent of holiday treats fills the air. This December welcomes new direct flights on French Bee and a crop of hotel openings like Hôtel Madame Rêve, housed in a former post office. For the ultimate Christmas in Paris experience, book the December group trip by French Affaires – highlights include a holiday lights tour, Louvre visit, Buche de Noel cooking class and teas at Palace hotels.
December also brings smaller crowds before the holiday rush. Visitors can wander festive arrondissements with ease and soak up the seasonal ambiance of this famed city. With its architecture adorned in holiday finery and festive vibes abound, Paris shines brighter than ever this month and stands tall among the best places to visit in December.
Though popular in warmer months, Venice casts an utterly enchanting spell in December. Canal-side streets filled with twinkling lights make it feel like a festive dream, as Christmas cheer fills the floating city. Visitors in December encounter smaller crowds, cheaper hotels, and less summertime odor along the canals.
Embark on a peaceful stroll over 400 bridges that cross Venice’s famed waterways, wander narrow alleyways adorned with holiday decor, explore opulent palaces and churches, and warm up in cozy cafes and wine bars between sights. Venice already seems too fantastical to exist – and the addition of holiday magic in December makes it one of the best places to visit this month, with romance, wonder and discovery awaiting around each misty corner.
San Diego, California
For fair SoCal weather and seasonal attractions, San Diego shines among the best places to visit in December. Along with the area’s top sites like the San Diego Zoo and beaches, the month brings special holiday happenings. Skating by the Sea returns to Hotel del Coronado from November into January, with an oceanfront ice rink and festive lounge for fireside s’mores. Downtown events include December Nights featuring lights, music, food and entertainment across Balboa Park.
The 62-foot Norway spruce dressed in 60,000 LED lights and massive Christmas tree display at Hotel del Coronado also help set festive vibes. Visitors can combine seasonal pastimes with year-round enjoyment of museums, shopping, nightlife and attractions in this sunny beach city by the bay. With the added bonus of holiday events and decor, San Diego stands among the most festive and enjoyable places to visit in December.
Best Places to Visit for Beaches and Warm Weather
While much of the Northern Hemisphere cools down for winter, December offers prime weather to visit warm and beachy destinations across the Southern Hemisphere, tropics and globe. Here are some top places to soak up sun, sand and seasonal joy if you’re looking to escape winter’s chill this December.
The Florida Keys
Any month is ideal in the Florida Keys, but December brings dry sunny weather, smaller crowds after the holidays and costs before peak winter rates hit. Visitors can road trip down the scenic Overseas Highway linking the islands, hopping between beaches, watersports, and unique Keys communities. Key West offers festive atmosphere with holiday events coinciding with its lively ambiance and sunset celebrations. For an eco-friendly stay, The Bungalows Key Largo was named among the best new hotels of 2022 by USA Today. December brings ideal weather and offerings to explore these islands in paradise.
As a Caribbean jewel located south of the hurricane belt, St. Lucia offers perfect weather and holiday vibes in December. Average highs reach the mid 80s while lows stay in the 70s, with plenty of sunshine. Many resorts like Jade Mountain and Ladera Resort help visitors get in the spirit with Christmas meals, decorations and events. Of course St. Lucia also entices with its lush rainforested interior, iconic Pitons mountains, fishing villages, natural sites and island culture and charm. December falls in the short off-season between summer and winter rates, adding value to a trip tailored to relaxation or festive getaways.
December welcomes ideal weather and wildlife viewing opportunities in lush Costa Rica. Dry conditions prime the land for animal sightings along jungle trails and waterways, especially compared to the rainier months before and after. Village holiday celebrations also kick off this month, like the Festival of Lights in San Jose. And while surfing conditions vary across beaches, spots like Playa Hermosa and Santa Teresa offer solid December waves. For wellness travelers, yoga retreats like the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations at Blue Spirit are the perfect way to unplug amidst nature and welcome 2024. With ideal weather and one-of-a-kind wildlife and wellness experiences, Costa Rica shines among top destinations this December.
Australia & New Zealand
Beat the Northern Hemisphere’s winter by heading Down Under, where December falls in the summer season. In New Zealand, explore the beaches and vineyards of the North Island or adrenaline-pumping adventure capital Queenstown, while enjoying summer vibes often accentuated by holiday happenings. Australia also offers urban delights in Melbourne alongside iconic sites like the Sydney Opera House and Great Barrier Reef – not to mention endless Outback adventures. December also brings summer holiday celebrations, concerts, festivals and ideal weather to two of the planet’s most spectacular destinations.
Bustling Festive Destinations
Aside from well-known winter destinations, some unlikely urban locales shine for December festivities. Las Vegas hosts never-ending holiday celebrations, with themed decor, entertainment and events across the Strip and Downtown Fremont district. Bars, nightclubs and dining establishments serve special menus, while hotels get decked out with massive Christmas trees and glitzy decor. New Year’s Eve pyrotechnics displays dazzle visitors before ringing in 2023, especially the 8-minute Las Vegas Strip fireworks show. With iconic landmarks dressed up for the holidays amidst dazzling lights, December is prime time to experience this entertainment capital.
Increasingly known for arts and culture, Detroit livens up with all kinds of holiday happenings in December. Winter Wonders sets up holiday shops and an ice rink downtown, a drive through millions of lights illuminates Hines Park, and the Noel Nights festival in arts hub Midtown spans food, cultural sites and performances. For lodging, Hotel St. Regis Detroit offers a unique holiday hotel package including ice skating passes and hot chocolate. US cities that may surprise visitors with especially festive December offerings include Detroit, Albuquerque with its Christmas culture and iconic River of Lights display, and New Orleans given its French Quarter, cuisine and holidays like Christmas Eve bonfires on the Mississippi.
December Adventures and Family Fun
Florida adventure destinations fill up for winter, but still offer plenty for December visitors amidst balmier weather. At Gatorland in Orlando, holiday events include Gator Claus shows with visiting Santa, animal feeding opportunities and light displays. LEGOLAND Florida Resort extends its popular brick displays, entertainment and rides with holiday fireworks, Christmas productions, visits from Santa and more. On the Nature Coast, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park puts on holiday events like Candy Cane Creek and Winter Wonderland among resident bears, panthers, hippos and other wildlife around the park. For both events and cozier winter weather, Florida adventure destinations entice this month with extra holiday magic.
Salt Lake City, which offers epic ski resort access, holiday charm, and warm city vibes in winter. Winter Carnival at historic Park City Mountain runs November 24- January 1, featuring a parade, fireworks and mountainside events. In Salt Lake City, festive happenings include the Bavarian Christmas City with shops and food downtown, the beloved Christmas concert by The Tabernacle Choir, and Ogden’s Christmas Village offering Nordic delights. Hotel Monaco downtown sets the festive stage with Christmas trees, a holiday open house and seasonal cocktails – plus pet goldfish for guest rooms upon request. For family fun plus urban holiday offerings, Salt Lake City is among America’s top places to visit in December.
Wellness and Beach Retreats
For wellness amidst natural beauty, Sedona’s red rock vistas and vortex magic dazzle even more with holiday lights like December’s Illumination Festival. Many area resorts like L’Auberge de Sedona offer holiday wellness retreat packages, along with holiday energy ceremonies, spa treatments, and Sedona’s signature outdoor activities and spiritual tours. Just south near Scottsdale, the Boulders Resort & Spa hosts wellness weekends focused on holiday detoxes, stress relief, fitness and more – plus evening winter stargazing events. Arizona resort destinations allow travelers to refresh and rejuvenate this season with wellness offerings amidst inspiring desert settings.
While winter spreads across the Northern Hemisphere in December, the Caribbean Sea keeps warm and entices beach goers for end-of-year retreats. At Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, Sir Richard Branson will host guests this holiday season in newly reimagined rooms and suites along sandy beaches and tropical forests. Soak up ocean views in an infinity pool or book water sports like wake boarding and waterskiing. For a more eco-friendly stay in Anguilla, Saba Rock is a boutique resort and marina run on solar power with efforts like eliminating plastic water bottles. Off the eastern coast of Australia, Lady Elliot Island offers guests a remote island eco escape amidst December’s summer season, prime for snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, visiting nesting sea turtles, trying glass-bottom boat tours and more adventures that capitalize on ideal seasonal weather.
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December brings no shortage of places to cure cabin fever or deepen seasonal joy, whether blanketed in snow, bathed in tropical warmth or lit by festive bulbs. Urban holidays in the likes of Paris, Venice and New York cast familiar cities in a magical light. Ski towns like Banff and adventures in Patagonia satiate winter cravings amidst stunning settings. Beach havens from Australia to the Florida Keys up the ante with summer vibes. December helps destinations shine their brightest – so take your pick from these best places to visit for seasonal magic tailored to cherish the last month of the year.