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The 20 best places to visit in December

Whether you're after winter sun or the full Christmas experience, or simply have the month to yourself and want to explore somewhere far-flung, these peak December destinations are for you...

Rovaniemi, Finland (Shutterstock)

December is a great month to travel, whether you're after some sub-zero temperatures and pristine snowy landscapes, or want to get away from the cold at home and sun it up on a beach somewhere far, far away. There are plenty of unusual cultural festivals and Christmas markets to visit, too. 

So, whether you’re looking for planning a longer-term trip around the globe, or are on the market for a long weekend somewhere festive, we’ve got recommendations for you.

Skip ahead to your chosen travel type by clicking on one of the below, or keep scrolling for the full list:

Here are the 20 best places to visit in December…

Where to go in December for snow

1. Dresden, Germany

Dresden's Christmas market (Shutterstock)

Dresden's Christmas market (Shutterstock)

Known for being mercilessly bombed towards the end World War II, and for being somewhat gloomy on a cloudy day, it's a real delight to see the centre of the Saxon city Dresden come alive with colour, Christmas cheer and twinkly lights throughout the month of December.

Dresden's Christmas market, Striezelmarkt, is the oldest of its kind in Germany, so it's well worth visiting for the history alone. Not to forget the mulled wine, funfair-style carousels and classic, fruity German stollenloaf – or the fact you can actually try baking the fruit bread yourself.

You won't quite freeze your socks off on this wintry getaway, as the average temperature for the month comes in at 2°C, but it will still be chilly. So, wrap up warm and admire the Old Town's Baroque architecture, feel really, really cool in quirky Neustadt (Dresden's arty district) and embark on a World War II walking tour. 

Find more German cities and towns with awesome Christmas markets

2. Rovaniemi & Levi, Finnish Lapland

Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland (Shutterstock)

Santa Claus Village, Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland (Shutterstock)

What better place to visit in December than the official home of Santa Claus himself? Rovaniemi is the capital of Finnish Lapland, the northernmost region of Finland, and is the very definition of a winter wonderland. With temperatures typically ranging between -4°C and -11°C, you're guaranteed piles of snow.

Expect family-friendly travel experiences, as well as those best-suited for nature lovers. You can do everything from meeting old St Nick to experiencing the full majesty of the Northern Lights, deep in the forest. Cuisine is another highlight of Rovaniemi, where you'll be able to eat rustic feasts of reindeer, lingonberries and leipäjuusto (a delightfully gooey 'bread cheese' dessert).

If you're keen to explore more of what Lapland has to offer, consider a trip to Levi. It boasts the 'purest air in the inhabited world', and over 20km worth of hiking trails. Get out your snow boots, and prepare for a snowscape unlike any you've seen before.

3. Hokkaido, Japan

Goryokaku, Hokkaido, Japan (Shutterstock)

Goryokaku, Hokkaido, Japan (Shutterstock)

Glorious snow! Steaming hot springs! And plenty of ski slopes to swoop, swoop, swoop down... it's officially the best month to visit the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan. Peak season is typically December to February. 

The snow sport-friendly region is hotly-tipped for travel glory in 2020, but has yet to reach the dizzying tourism highs of Tokyo and co, so don't worry too much about crowds.

Once you've skied yourself out – and followed up with a dip in a warm, steamy onsen – take yourself to Hokkaido's breathtaking and remote national parks: Daisetsuzan National Park in Higashikawa houses the volcanic Mount Asahi, Hokkaido's tallest mountain, and the hot spring-rich Shikotsu-Tōya National Park, which is perhaps best known for encompassing its namesake lakes.

Read more: Wanderlust spends winter in Hokkaido

4. Bath, United Kingdom

The Roman Baths steaming during winter, Bath, UK (Shutterstock)

The Roman Baths steaming during winter, Bath, UK (Shutterstock)

Speaking of hot springs, we can't think of a better UK city to visit than Bath during the f-f-f-freezing month of December. The Roman Baths, protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will be particularly atmospheric, with steam rising from the naturally warm, once-public bathing pools.

Sadly, you can't take a dip yourself. The water in the Roman Baths is managed through the same pipes as created by the Romans, which means it hasn't been treated to make it safe for swimming. That's not to say you're without a spa opportunity in Bath – there's also a swim-safe Thermal Spa.

Naturally, a city bursting with history and English charm has its own Christmas market, surrounding its towering cathedral and adding a sprinkle of festive magic to its streets. The market usually runs until mid-December, so visit in the first half of the month to experience one of the UK's finest.

Discover Bath's unexpected highlights and the best walks in Bath

5. Sweden

Sweden's capital Stockholm on a December afternoon (Shutterstock)

Sweden's capital Stockholm on a December afternoon (Shutterstock)

A touch (and we mean a touch) warmer than Finnish Lapland, the southern regions of Sweden typically hover around 0°C, while northern parts of the country tend to drop as low as -10°C. 

Fortunately, if you bundle up and keep yourself busy, you'll be able to battle the cold and experience what wintry Sweden has to offer. Frozen Stockholm, pictured here in late December, is impossibly pretty, and the fluttering snowfall as you stroll through Gamla Stan, the Old Town, indulge in a shopping session in trendy Sodermalm or explore the museum district, just adds to the magic.

For something a bit different, keep cool with an overnight stay in an ice hotel, or for wildlife experiences, head to Kiruna in the north, and take a moose and reindeer safari. As with Finland, the early and deeply dark skies will allow for prime Northern Lights city the country over – so make sure to include a trip to somewhere with low light pollution during your visit. 

6. Brno, Czech Republic

Brno, Czech Republic (Dreamstime)

Brno, Czech Republic (Dreamstime)

With an average temperature of -0.6°C, Brno in south Czech Republic makes for a long weekend that won't leave you with agonising frostbite. Brno is also a pleasant reprieve from well-worn city break suggestions like the Czech capital, Prague (which, if you have yet to see for yourself, still comes highly recommended).

Expect a stunning cityscape, perfect for snap-happy travellers who happen to love the snow. For history and culture lovers, Brno offers a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and a few medieval castles to spend your time exploring. 13th-century Veveri Castle is a real gem.

Keep out of the cold and enjoy breakfast, brunch or lunch at one of Brno's many stylish coffee shops, or warm up in the evening with a traditional bowl of goulash or česnečka (garlic soup).

Where to go in December for winter sun

7. Teide National Park, Tenerife

Teide National Park, Tenerife (Shutterstock)

Teide National Park, Tenerife (Shutterstock)

If you're after December sun, you usually can't go wrong with Tenerife, the most populous of the seven Canary Islands. Temperatures hover around 20°C, if not a little higher. Perhaps best known for being a 'fly and flop' hot spot, there's more to Tenerife than meets the eye.

Yes, the beaches are brilliant, and if you're after sun, sea and sand then you've come to the right place. But there's also an adventurous side to the island, and the best place to seek it out is Teide National Park. Not only is it the largest national park in all of the Canary Islands, but its also home to Spain's highest peak, the 7,500m-tall stratovolcano Teide-Pico Viejo.

Trek to Roque Cinchado, the island's beloved rock formation. Hire bikes and follow numerous nature trails. Love to hike? Then Pico Viejo is a worthwhile challenge. Once you're all worn out, admire killer views of the park from its cable cars.

8. Florida, USA

Manatees in the Crystal River, Florida (Shutterstock)

Manatees in the Crystal River, Florida (Shutterstock)

It's no secret that manatees – particularly West Indian manatees – like to mosey away from the cold and into warmer waters to ensure their survival when the temperature drops. So, in December, they'll make their way to Florida's Crystal River, which is quite literally swimming with marine life.

The best place to see manatees is through the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge, from November to March. It's fairly easy to catch a glimpse of these great, but peaceful, creatures in the water – especially if you're getting your feet wet on the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail, or sailing along Pine Island Sound.

For us non-sea creatures, Florida weather on dry land tends to hit average highs of 22°C in December, meaning there's no excuse to explore what else the Sunshine State has to offer...

Why you should visit Fort Myers, Florida

9. Cuba

Havana, Cuba (Shutterstock)

Havana, Cuba (Shutterstock)

December is the very beginning of Cuba's dry season, offering bright, cloudless skies, warm temperatures and a serious lack of rain. Perfect if you're exploring the capital, Havana, on foot or by classic top-down car.

Colourful and retro car-happy Havana seems an obvious choice, already high on many Cuban travel wish lists. So, if you have the time to spare, get out into Cuba's varied regions and explore a side of the country that's far off the well-trodden track.

Baracoa, a traditional sandy beach town, feels a million miles away from Havana's neverending hustle, but it's not just a relaxing jaunt – it's a very poignant place to visit, as one of explorer Christopher Columbus's first ever landing sites in the late 1400s. Trinidad has the colonial, colourful facades of Havana, with less of the noise, and is also an hour away from Sancti Spiritus, another rainbow-hued town well worth a stop.

10. Penang, Malaysia

Kek Lok Si Temple on Penang Island, Malaysia (Shutterstock)

Kek Lok Si Temple on Penang Island, Malaysia (Shutterstock)

Malaysia can be a bit of a minefield at times, so keep things simple during your stay. Stop by the underrated capital, Kuala Lumpur, and then travel on to Penang: a coastal state offering endless adventure on the island itself, Buddha's largest temple, sumptuous (if spicy) street food dishes available on just about every corner, and the multicultural island capital (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) George Town.

Penang is never short of natural highlights. Penang Hill in particular is a nature haven of protected fauna, which lives high up above the city. A ride in the funicular to reach it is well worth the effort, as the views over George Town are quite special.   

P.S. We're giving away a trip to Penang & Kuala Lumpur right now!

11. Goa, India

Goa, India (Shutterstock)

Goa, India (Shutterstock)

December is the ultimate peak season in Goa, so you'll have to share the 30°C weather with plenty of other sunseekers. Fortunately, even when they're a bit crowded, Goa's beaches are undeniably beautiful.

The northern part of Goa gets the busiest, so for a slightly toned down crowd, head towards southern Goa. Cola and Majorda beaches offer long stretches of golden sand fringed with coconut trees – the postcard-perfect image you've been searching for.

Another south Goa gem would be Palolem Beach, known for its rainbow-painted huts, pure white sand and as the evening rolls in, its quirky silent discos, ideal for travellers ready to party.

Where to go for long-term travel in December

12. Bolivia

Flamingoes on Laguna Colorada, Bolivia (Shutterstock)

Flamingoes on Laguna Colorada, Bolivia (Shutterstock)

It may seem odd to include Bolivia in our December round-up, given that December to April is rainy season – usually quite relentless rain, too. Indeed, the weather can get a bit precarious, depending on which part of the country you're visiting.

On the plus side, you'll certainly avoid the peak season tourist traffic. And along with the rainfall comes an abundance of birdlife, particularly the multitude of dazzling pink flamingoes flocking to the algae-packed, crimson-tinted Laguna Colorada.

Of course, there's another very good reason to see Bolivia in December: the blindingly white salt flats of Salar de Uyuni. The wet season is the best time to capture the glossy, reflective 'mirror effect' on camera – though as our guide warns, you'll need to time your visit perfectly to avoid torrential downpour.

13. South Australia

Sunset in South Australia (Shutterstock)

Sunset in South Australia (Shutterstock)

For an experience slightly off Australia's beaten track, South Australia is a good place to start – and December is the time to go. December is the beginning of summer, and an almost-guarantee you'll be able to enjoy dry weather, hot sunshine and gorgeous beaches.

Adelaide is South Australia's best-known (and loved) city. Here, you can soak up the art scene, lounge on the beach and enjoy its vibrant nightlife – but most come to South Australia for the state's natural sights: 'Australia's Mississippi' Murray River, the desert town of Coober Pedy, the gorgeously green vineyards of Barossa, and the epic rock formations of Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park.

Check out the Wanderlust guide to South Australia

14. New Zealand

Pohutukawa blossoms on the north shore of New Zealand (Shutterstock)

Pohutukawa blossoms on the north shore of New Zealand (Shutterstock)

Unsurprisingly, it's also summer during December in neighbouring New Zealand. The perfect time to spend some time in the city, hit the surf, or better yet, get up into the mountains. Of course, you won't be the only one with this bright idea, but we think sharing New Zealand with other visitors is a price worth paying.

There's no need to choose between visiting North or South Island, as both have their perks in December. Unless, of course, you're pressed for time, in which case you've got a tricky decision to make...

In the northern corner, Wellington and its surrounds typically reaches 15°C to 20°C. Cities all but close down on Christmas day, but in the run up there's a real festive spirit on the streets, plenty of opportunities to shop, eat, drink and be merry. Of course, the North Island's beaches are legendary. And Mount Victoria, near Wellington, is an ideal peak to climb.

South Island counters all of the above with excellent hiking opportunities (Roys Peak and Queenstown Hill), impossibly stunning sights (Te Anu glowworm caves, for example) – plus an extra special whalewatching experience in the summer: the chance to spot orcas (killer whales) swimming around.

Let's hope you don't have to choose between the two.

These are the best things to do in New Zealand

15. Myanmar (Burma)

Bagan Temple, Myanmar (Shutterstock)

Bagan Temple, Myanmar (Shutterstock)

One the biggest draws to Myanmar (Burma) in the month of December is just how blissful the climate is. Expect cool, easygoing weather in the Highlands and warm, dry days everywhere else. Temperatures average at around 31°C, so lovely and toasty compared to Europe's brisk winter weather.

Begin your adventure with the 'obvious' destinations: Bagan Temple in Old Bagan, the picturesque Inle Lake with its pagodas and villages on its fringes, and Yagon, which is perhaps best known as the home of the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda, and some of the country's best examples of colonial architecture. 

(P.S. You may want to check out the FCO's official travel advice before planning a visit here.)

16. Sierra Leone

Emerald starling in Sierra Leone (Shutterstock)

Emerald starling in Sierra Leone (Shutterstock)

Sierra Leone recently landed on our list of little-visited and undiscovered Africa trips, for the chance to see its native chimpanzees and array of multicoloured bird species.

December is the prime month to visit for birders, who should head to Tiwai Island for the best sighting opportunities. The whole island is covered in rainforest, and is protected as a sanctuary for animals of all kinds. It's run by the organisation Environmental Foundation for Africa, and designed to accommodate visitors from abroad.

You can expect to find up to 135 different species of bird on Tiwai, including the shimmering green emerald starling, hornbills and endangered birds such as the yellow-splashed gola malimbe and the white-necked rockfowl - according to UNESCO, where it sits on the tentative list. 

Overall, Tiwai is remarkably compact at 12 sq km, but packs in even more incredible wildlife opportunities, with a huge number of mammals roaming the island and over 500 species of butterfly and moth.

17. St Helena & Ascension Island

Long beach on Ascension Island (Shutterstock)

Long beach on Ascension Island (Shutterstock)

November to January is undoubtedly peak season for St Helena: the island off Africa's west coast that was first brought to prominence when French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled there, over 200 years ago. Indeed, the weather is lovely, and as a British overseas territory, it's the perfect place for Brits to escape the bitter cold of the United Kingdom's mainland.

Visiting Napoleonic points of interest (Napoleon's tomb, Briars Pavilion, Longwood House) are a must for history fans. Parts of the island are easy to traverse on foot, so this hit list makes the perfect self-guided trail. One thing you must do in St Helena is embrace the water – just dive straight in. If you're brave enough, you're able to go swimming with whale sharks, with the help of a qualified guide. 

On to Ascension Island, another island in the Atlantic technically classed as a British overseas territory, but one with less obvious appeal than St Helena. There are no citizens of Ascension Island, there's very little to do there, and it's reputation as remarkably difficult to get to proceeds itself. But the beaches remain completely untouched, and the challenge alone makes it worth a punt...

The top 7 things to do in St Helena

Where to go for cultural experiences in December

18. Chawmos Festival in Kalash Valley, Pakistan

Rumbur Valley dwellings in Chitral, Pakistan (Shutterstock)

Rumbur Valley dwellings in Chitral, Pakistan (Shutterstock)

For two weeks each winter, during the winter solstice (7 to 22 December), the locals living in the villages of Pakistan's Kalash Valley come together to celebrate Chawmos. 

The first part of the festival – so, the first week – is a private celebration for the Kalash. Celebrations in each village – Rumbur and Birir among them – differ slightly. High in the hills a bonfire is lit, after the village Elders declare New Year has begun, and Kalash women have selected their grooms through a series of traditional rituals.

During the following week, the Kalash give thanks to their God, Balimain, and mark harvest's end with music, revelry and according to reports, the sacrifice of many goats. Outsiders are allowed to observe this part of the celebration, so if you'd like to see it for yourself, you'll need to time your visit carefully.. After the festival comes to a close, the Kalash return to their homes, and outsiders are once again forbidden to enter for another week.

19. Whirling Dervishes in Turkey

Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul, Turkey (Shutterstock)

Whirling Dervishes in Istanbul, Turkey (Shutterstock)

From 7 to 17 December, the city of Konya in central Turkey hosts the yearly Rumi Festival. During the festival, the iconic Whirling Dervishes perform the Semazen dance: a religious performance and somewhat meditative experience, in the form of countless anticlockwise spins, designed to help bring the dancer closer to God.

Visitors are welcome to join over 100,000 Sufi pilgrims to witness this spectacle, though the dance isn't danced for travellers to admire. It's an important tradition in Sufism – and the Mevlevi Order (the true name for the Whirling Dervishes) have been performing it for centuries.

It's also worth nothing that Konya is a conservative city, so you'll need to be respectful in your dress as well as your attitude. 

20. Els Enfarinats in Ibi, Spain

A floury mess for Els Enfarinats in Spain (Shutterstock)

A floury mess for Els Enfarinats in Spain (Shutterstock)

And now for something completely different... Els Enfarinats is Spanish for 'the floured ones', and on 28 December in the town of Ibi in Alicante goes mad and devolves into what seems, at first glimpse, as a huge, incredibly messy flour fight. 

It isn't just chaos; it's actually a mock coup d'etat, with Ibi residents donning military uniforms and face paint, and (at first, at least) acting out the takeover of the town, or the appointment of one of their residents as mayor.

Then... well, then it does become chaos. Bags and bags of flour are tossed around. Eggs start flying and cracking in every direction, too. If you'd like to experience it for yourself, you'll want something to protect your eyes, and clothes you aren't too fussed about bringing home with you!

Where to go when:

December's best wildlife sightings

The best places to visit in November

The best places to visit in October

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