The Best Places to Travel in December
The last month of the year can be hectic, but with some planning, you can make time for a getaway to relax and approach the holiday celebrations with energy and enthusiasm. Get shopping, decorating, baking, or whatever is on your to-do list out of the way, and take the family—or just yourself—on a little vacation. These are the best places to travel in December, whether you're looking for a beach weekend away or a trip to the European Christmas markets.
If you want to avoid the cold weather, we have a few ideas for you. Escape the chill and head to Miami, where you can find beaches and holiday festivities. Not far from Florida’s coast, hotels and resorts in the Bahamas are welcoming guests and providing support to the islands that were damaged by the recent storm. Most of the 700 islands escaped the wrath of Hurricane Dorian, and the return of tourism will help their residents and the hospitality industry. Punta Mita, warm and surrounded by the sea, is another beach-y destination to consider. For a casual road trip that includes wine, scenery, and a special art installation, visit California’s Central Coast.
If you have a little extra time this holiday season and you want to feel that Christmas spirit, think about a European river cruise to the historic Christmas markets on the Rhine or Danube. Those who would prefer to stay on land will find a visit to the charming Cotswolds the perfect introduction to the season. The city of Winston-Salem celebrates their history and Christmas customs each December as well, making it a great holiday destination. In Tokyo, light shows throughout the city make December an exciting time to visit. Speaking of lights, what glitters more than the Las Vegas strip? It’s always colorful there, especially at this time of year.
With so many choices, you can find the right place to spend a few December days. Embrace winter’s chill or fly away from it for a while. Take a long weekend or a whole week out of town. In this season of shopping and gift giving, remember that travel is a great gift to give yourself or others.
Christmas Market River Cruise, Budapest, Hungary
Europe’s historic cities welcome the holiday season with glittering lights, festive decorations, and markets featuring traditional gifts and seasonal foods. You and your family can get into the spirit aboard a Rhine or Danube cruise with stops at magical destinations and celebrations on board as well. Along the Danube, you'll find Hungary’s largest Christmas market in Budapest (which features only handcrafted items), and Vienna’s Christkindlmarkt, set in front of its 19th century town hall. Nuremberg’s 400-year-old Christmas market includes live music, a carousel, and children’s steam train. The Rhine River cruise features markets in Cologne, with its landmark cathedral, and Strasbourg, home to France’s oldest and largest Christmas market.The holiday-themed fun continues onboard with tree trimming parties, special cookies, and the “Shoes for St. Nick” tradition, when children leave slippers outside their stateroom doors and find them filled with goodies in the morning. AmaWaterways offers Christmas Market cruises from late November through December on both the Danube and Rhine. On their New Year’s cruises, you can celebrate 2020’s arrival in European style with several late December departures on both rivers.
More than just a place to escape December’s cold weather, Miami is a destination with lots to offer during the last month of the year. For families anticipating the holiday season, there’s Zoo Lights Miami every Friday and Saturday from November 29 through December 29, with Snowman’s River Boat Rides, Santa photos, fun events, and performances. A holiday tradition for many, the Nutcracker will be presented by the Miami City Ballet from December 13-29. Kids will enjoy a visit to Santa’s Enchanted Forest at Tropical Park where they’ll find rides, shows, games, and dazzling decorations. Art lovers will want to join the crowd at the 18th annual Art Basel Miami Beach to be held December 5-8 at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Large scale works, performances, and film screenings will take place at nearby Collins Park and SoundScape Park. A stay at luxurious beachfront The Betsy-South Beach continues the art experience with the hotel’s own exhibition featuring new and archival work by global photographers. Also along the ocean, the W South Beach offers a heated pool and rooftop tennis and basketball courts. For an elegant spot away from lively South Beach, stay at the Ritz Carlton Coconut Grove, set in Miami’s historic neighborhood among art galleries, boutiques, and a variety of restaurants.
Punta Mita, Mexico
Just 25 miles north of Puerto Vallarta International Airport, Punta Mita lies on a peninsula surrounded by the white sand beaches of the Pacific Ocean. A resort and residential community, Punta Mita is home to luxury residences, oceanfront estates, exclusive resorts, golf courses, and private clubs. Naturally, water sports abound, with surfing, sailing, kite surfing, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, diving, and snorkeling experiences readily available. Marine life includes colorful tropical fish, manta rays, dolphins, and migrating whales, beginning in December. Winters are dry and warm with gentle sea breezes, making Punta Mita one of the best places to travel in December. Golfers will enjoy the views and the challenge of the Jack Nicklaus designed championship courses. Away from the beach, recreational trails for running, biking, or walking weave through the peninsula. You’ll also want to explore downtown Puerto Vallarta for shopping, dining, and visiting galleries displaying Huichol art and handcrafts. The cultural influences of the Huichol indigenous people are valued in Punta Mita, and visitors are welcome to tour a village in the Sierra Madre Mountains to learn more about the Huichol customs. For authentic style and luxury, stay at the beachfront Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, with 174 ocean view suites and casitas, a private yacht, and Dos Catrinas restaurant. Vacation rentals and the St. Regis Resort Punta Mita also await your visit.
Book This Deal:
Four Seasons Punta Mita, skylark.com, rates from $402/night
Includes $100 food and beverage credit, daily breakfast for 2.
Central Coast, California
Wine, seafood, scenery, and history are just some of the reasons to visit California’s Central Coast. Four cities are located on the road between San Francisco and Los Angeles: Monterey Bay, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. Beaches, rocky shores, hills, mountains, and spectacular views attract visitors, and December weather is mild. San Luis Obispo is a lively college town with a variety of restaurants, pubs, shops, and places to stay including the new Hotel San Luis Obispo. Nearby Hearst Castle offers tours of the grand estate and its art, gardens, and history. One hundred years ago, William Randolph Hearst and his architect Julia Morgan began their plans, and 2020 will celebrate the centennial of this famous home's groundbreaking. Another must see, before it goes away in early January, is the Field of Light at Sensorio, an enormous walk-through art installation of more than 58,800 fiber-optic stemmed spheres illuminating the hills of Paso Robles. The newly opened luxury boutique hotel The Piccolo in downtown Paso Robles would be the perfect home base for tasting the wines of more than 250 wineries in the Paso Robles area. A bit further south in the Central Coast’s Santa Barbara region, visit beaches, the Danish-style town of Solvang, even more wineries, and the luxurious Santa Ynez Inn in the charming town of the same name.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
North Carolina’s fifth largest city, Winston-Salem, is centrally located in the state. It officially became a hyphenated city in 1913 when Salem, founded by Moravians from Eastern Europe in the mid-18th century, and industrial Winston to its north pooled resources, streamlined bureaucracy, and merged. Nicknamed the “City of Arts and Innovation,” Winston-Salem takes pride in its history as well as its progress in commerce and culture. In Old Salem, the holiday season is celebrated as it was hundreds of years ago with candlelight tours and hands-on baking of Moravian specialties like gingerbread and “Lovefeast” buns. Enjoy the decorations on Main Street, and perhaps pick up a gift or two. Reynolda House, once the estate of R.J. and Katharine Reynolds of Reynolds Tobacco, is now a museum of American art and a welcoming destination during the holiday season. Decorated for Christmas beginning in mid-November, the gardens, village, and house of the historic estate are open for shopping, Christmas carol performances, wreath and card-making workshops, and tours by costumed actors. The Downtown Arts District is the place for a stroll to enjoy outdoor art, with galleries, murals, and ever-changing artistic displays. Stay at the Kimpton Cardinal, the city’s first upscale boutique hotel located in a historic 1929 building that was the former home of the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company. Its convenient location, Southern style, and playful vibe make it comfortable and appealing.
Although Hurricane Dorian caused great destruction and loss of life in Grand Bahama and Abaco, many other islands were fortunately spared. In fact, some Bahamas hotels and resorts are even donating part of their revenues to support relief and rebuilding efforts on the effected islands, so you can actually help these efforts by vacationing in the Bahamas. With 700 islands not far from Florida’s coast, there are many wonderful places to choose from. Atlantis, Paradise Island has something for everyone: the world’s largest open-air marine habitat, a water park, eleven pools, five miles of beaches, an 18-hole oceanfront golf course, and the Atlantis Casino as well as more than 40 restaurants and lounges, including Fish by Jose Andres, Nobu by Nobu Matsuhisa, Olives by Todd English, and Casa D’Angelo by Chef Angelo Elia. Baha Mar, on the northern shore of New Providence Island on the white sands of Cable Beach, boasts three oceanfront hotels: the elegant Rosewood, hip SLS, and stylish Grand Hyatt, each with beach views, pools, and a selection of dining and nightlife venues. The resort also features a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, casino, full service spa, nature sanctuary, and kids’ explorers club. Great Exuma’s Grand Isle Resort & Spa on Emerald Bay offers luxury, golf, and the unique experience of swimming with Exuma’s famous pigs. South Andros Island, home to the world’s third-largest barrier reef and spectacular marine life, will soon see the opening of Caerula Mar, the island’s first new hotel in nearly two decades and its only five-star property.
Book This Deal:
SLS Baha Mar, fivestaralliance.com, inquire for rates
Includes $100 resort credit, daily breakfast for each guest.
The weather is wintery at this time of year in Tokyo, with daytime temperatures in the low to mid 50’s. Wear a warm coat and hat for touring, and you’ll appreciate the smaller crowds exploring the Japanese capital in December. The magnificent Winter Illuminations throughout the city make this a great time to visit. The elaborate light displays have parks, gardens, and buildings glowing and twinkling, many with synchronized music, beginning in November. Although Christmas is not celebrated as a religious holiday in Japan, the season is festive, and there’s actually a European-style Christmas market in Hibiya Park. Harajuku, known mostly for popular youth fashion culture, is the place for boutiques, shops, cafes, and restaurants. Nearby is one of Tokyo’s most important shrines, Meiji Jingu, open to the public with a museum, garden, and shrine buildings. Stroll the grounds of the Imperial Palace, home of the Emperor of Japan and an extensive art collection. Disney fans might want to visit Tokyo Disneyland, where there will be special events, decorations, and holiday performances. Stay at the elegant and conveniently located Mandarin Oriental Tokyo for five-star luxury with stunning views, dining, and a spa. Non-stop flights on ANA All Nippon Airways from eleven North American cities including Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Houston, and San Francisco get you started on your trip in style and comfort.
Book This Deal:
Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, skylark.com, rates from $753/night
Includes $100 resort credit, daily breakfast for 2.
Las Vegas, Nevada
December is a great time to visit Las Vegas, with the holiday spirit all around in decorations, music, and performances. The gorgeous Bellagio Conservancy & Botanical Garden will be decked out for the season from December 7 through January 4, and it’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at no charge for visitors. In nearby Henderson, the Cactus Garden at the Ethel M Chocolate Factory will be illuminated with thousands of lights, and Santa might even make an appearance. The National Finals Rodeo, in its 35th year in Las Vegas, will be held at the Thomas & Mack Center from December 5-14. For more family entertainment, the LINQ Promenade will feature holiday decorations, carolers, music, shops, and the High Roller Ferris wheel. If you’re in the market for gifts, you can find unique items and shopping fun at various places including the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, Miracle Mile Shops, Boulevard Mall, and the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. There’s a hotel for everyone’s taste and budget, and dining has become an adventure and a pleasure in Las Vegas as well. From the popular buffets to upscale restaurants with well-known chefs, the town has it all when it comes to food. Chef David Chang, founder of the Momofuku restaurant group, is about to unveil his latest venue, Majordomo, at The Venetian.
Book This Deal:
The Venetian, fivestaralliance.com, inquire for rates
Includes daily breakfast, complimentary Signature Champagne in suite
The Cotswolds, United Kingdom
The Cotswolds, located in western England, is an area of hills, quaint small towns, and historic buildings once known for its sheep and wool trade. In December, it’s even more picture-perfect with holiday decorations, Christmas markets, and maybe a bit of snow covering the hills and rooftops. About 80 miles from London by car or a two-hour train ride from Paddington to Evesham, it’s one of the best places to travel in December for a cozy wintery escape. The Spectacle of Light at Sudeley Castle returns at the end of November with a dazzling light show starring Peter Pan and Wendy. The Enchanted Christmas at Westonbirt Arboretum is also a must see. In Broadway, one of the most picturesque of the Cotswold villages, you’ll find antique shops, boutiques, and the wide street that gave the village its name. Every year, the village has “late night” Christmas shopping events (this year on November 29 and December 6, 5:30 - 8:30 pm) with music, carolers, festive foods, Christmas lights, and mulled wine for the perfect holiday atmosphere. The Lygon Arms creates its own festive holiday programming that includes afternoon tea, cocktail receptions, Christmas lunch, and traditional Boxing Day dinner. If a stay in London is on your travel schedule, spend a night or two at the hotel’s sister property, 11 Cadogan Gardens—classic, elegant, and also ready for the holiday season.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
It’s spring in the southern hemisphere, and the weather is gorgeous in Buenos Aires with daytime temperatures in the high 70’s to low 80’s. If you’re looking for warmth, great food, historic atmosphere, and tango dancing, this is where you should plan to be in December. Carnivores will love dining in Argentina, known for both superb steaks and their rich Malbec wine to go with it. History fans will want to see the pink palace, Casa Rosada, where thousands gathered to hear their beloved first lady Eva Peron speak from the balcony. Her crypt and many other magnificent tombs, mausoleums, and statues can be seen at the Recoleta Cemetery. One hundred years old this year, El Ateneo Grand Splendid is an ornate bookstore that began life as a theater. Visit for coffee, music, and art (even if you have no plans to buy a book there). Museum fans will not want to miss the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes with its collection of 19th century European art and special exhibits. For modern art, visit the Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art in San Telmo. While you’re in the area, browse the street art, galleries, antique shops, markets, and colonial architecture in the city’s oldest neighborhood. Nightlife sizzles in Buenos Aires, with many places to see the sensual Argentine tango and even take a lesson. Look for a cocktail bar or speakeasy-style lounge for an evening of entertainment.
Book This Deal:
Park Hyatt Buenos Aires, skylark.com, rates from $343
Includes daily breakfast for 2, wine and cheese tasting for 2.