Christmas market, Germany (German National Tourist Board)

Where to go in December

Want to know where to go in December? Head to California for whale watching, winter fun in the northern hemisphere or for some sun, how about Oman or Swaziland?

Merry Christmas! Or maybe not so… prices are hiked for those travelling in the festive season (travel in the first half of December to avoid premium fares). But it can still be magical: Christmas markets light up European cities while snow sports get into full flow from the Canadian Rockies to the Japanese mountains, via the Alps.

Sun-seekers can rejoice: the Caribbean finally emerges from hurricane season to tempt with sunny beaches and the southern hemisphere is hot, hot, hot (head to Australia and New Zealand for sun and surf). Plus there’s the small matter of New Year’s Eve to plan…

Events & festivals

MARKET MADNESS – Christmas markets, think fairy lights, mulled wine, gingerbread houses and festive goodies, are most prolific in Europe. Head to Cologne, Munich and, well, most of Germany, Prague, Czech Republic, Vienna, Austria and Tallinn, Estonia for big ones; Chicago and Denver, USA host Christmas markets too.

NEW YEAR HOTSPOTS – Scotland’s Hogmanay draws revellers to Edinburgh and beyond. Other great places to see in the New Year include: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for seaside rituals and raucous parties; New York, USA, to see the ball drop on Times Square; and Gisbourne, New Zealand, for the pretty much the first sunrise of the new year.

RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE – Head to the Whirling Dervishes Festival in Konya, Turkey, where the mesmeric spinning dancers honour a Sufi saint, while in Guatemala, at the Fiesta de Santo Tomas in Chichicastenango, men twirl from ropes suspended from a 30m pole.

CHRISTMAS – Swap the turkey roast for a cold beer and a barbie on Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia, or combine Christmas with the carnivalesque Junkanoo Festival on the Bahamas. Other fun festive picks include meeting St Nic in Finnish Lapland (or more alternative Greenland), cracking open the Aquavit early for Julaften (Christmas Eve) in Denmark, and saying ‘aloha’ to Santa during Hawaii’s December City Lights festival.


WHALES – Sail off the coast of California, USA to see 20,000-plus Pacific grey whales pass by. Or head to Sri Lanka to see the world’s biggest creature: blue whales can be seen here in December. Other hotspots include New Zealand, southern Ireland (for humpbacks) and Hawaii.

BIRDS AND BUTTERFLIES – Millions of orange monarch butterflies cluster the forests of Michoacán, Mexico, where they over-winter November to February before heading back north, while the wilds of Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Rajasthan, India, are alive with migratory birds. Voyage to Antarctica to see million-strong rookeries of penguins laying their eggs, as well as seals, whales and walrus.


TREKKING – Lace up in South Africa’s Drakensbergs or nearby mountain kingdom Lesotho for hiking in the African sun. Other possibilities include the lush Caribbean isle of Dominica (also great for diving), New Zealand’s Southern Alps and wild Torres del Paine, Patagonia. Morocco’s Mount Toubkal can still be scaled in winter.

WINTER FUN – The Arctic deep freeze provides a host of activity opportunities: try husky-sledding in Alaska, cross-country skiing in Norway, snowmobiling with (maybe) polar bears in Svalbard and snow-shoeing in Quebec, Canada.

WATER FUN – For pleasant cruising sail down the Mekong to Luang Prabang Laos, or the backwaters of Kerala, India – the weather is dry and warm. Dive Egypt’s Red Sea, or off Central America – try Belize and Honduras for good weather, big fish and impressive reefs.

Natural phenomena

NORTHERN LIGHTS – The aurora borealis sparkles in the far north in December – hotspots include Arctic Norway and Sweden, Alaska and Iceland: great places for winter pursuits too.

METEORS – The Geminids Meteor Shower, widely considered to be the best celestial storm in the skies with up to 120 meteors falling per hour, occurs in December. For the best viewing get to a spot with super-dark skies: perhaps Outback Australia or Chile’s Atacama Desert.

GREEN SEASON – The rains arrive in Botswana’s Okavango Delta: you might get a little wet, but it causes the vegetation to flourish, an influx of birds, and significantly cheaper lodge prices.

The weather is nice in...

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic 20-30°C

MBABANE, Swaziland 25°C

CHAING MAI, Thailand 16-29°C

MUSCAT, Oman 21°C

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica 15-25°C

Whatever destination in Europe, the weather is likely to be cold and wet with snow or rain, but that isn't to say that you can't wrap up warm and still enjoy festive Christmas markets, whether in Helsinki, Finland with temperatures ranging from 5°C to -5°C, or in Vienna, Austria at a crisp 3°C.

In the east December is the best time to travel around Bangladesh, or to head over to Thailand where the rains have stopped and the weather is warming up.

Conventional wisdom says:

Travel is for the young and energetic.

Wanderlust says:

Life begins after retirement; become a full-time traveller and take on a challenge by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or exploring Africa on a safari.

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