Embrace the magic this holiday season in destinations both warm and cold.- LINDSEY OLANDER
As a whole, the month of December is a whirlwind. Even as the chaos of Thanksgiving weekend begins to fade, the world is already preparing for the end-of-year holidays. Balancing the frenzy of shopping, company parties, and family time can be daunting, but those who manage to squeeze in time to get away—or perhaps, give the gift of getting away—will find affordable rates, seasonal revelry, and beautiful landscapes in which to cap off another great year.
Winter’s best features are on full display in December: fresh snowfall, festive storefronts, and drinks that warm your core. Some of the best holiday markets in Europe are found in picturesque Prague, arguably one of the best places in the world to spend Christmas. Over in Scotland, Edinburgh celebrates the season with Hogmanay, a three-day festival of musical performances, public dance, food, and—yes—fireworks. Quebec City, meanwhile, lays on the romance: you’ll find couples riding horse-drawn carriages and ducking into low-lit cafés for hot cocoa.
One of Germany’s largest Christmas markets is found in Frankfurt, surprisingly one of this month’s most affordable places to travel. Those interested in saving should also look to Las Vegas, where hotel prices plummet with the oncoming holidays.
Hoping to flee the cold weather? A trip to sunny beach getaways like Hawaii’s Big Island, Mexico, or the Bahamas will surely cure any winter woe. Better yet, avoid the sand altogether at balmy spots like Siem Reap (where dry season spells clear skies) or Florida’s Everglades, a mecca for wildlife enthusiasts with its populations of greater flamingoes, Florida panthers, and American crocodiles.
December marks your last chance to cash in on this year’s travel resolution before they reset in the new year, so let the magic of the season take you to a place near or far. (And be sure to catch up on all our recommendations for the best places to visit in January, February, and beyond.)
It may not be Berlin or Munich, but Frankfurt, Germany’s financial capital, still has a lot going for it: innovative supper clubs, futuristic architecture, buzzy restaurants helmed by expats, and cocktail dens that draw the city’s international crowd. December brings a magical feeling to the city, when Christmas markets and ice skating rinks open to the public, and the city’s famous apple wine is served at every corner. Another reason to go: Frankfurt is one of the cheapest places to travel this month, as hotel rates dip to their lowest points.
Los Cabos, Mexico
Cabo is back on track since Hurricane Odile devastated its coastline, and major hotels are opening throughout the Mexican resort town. Two newcomers we love: the Cape, from Thompson Hotels, with rooms overlooking the arch-shaped El Arco rock formation and a restaurant by chef Enrique Olvera; and the design-centric Mar Adentro, whose show-stopping sushi restaurant is housed in a cocoon of twigs. Nearby, the whale-watching program at the Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort kicks off in December, where every room—and every restaurant—has a bird’s-eye view of humpback mothers and their calves frolicking in the Sea of Cortés.
The state of Kerala is a far cry from India’s chaotic urban cities. Here, houseboats cruise the backwaters, wellness retreats are tucked into jungle forests, and life moves at a leisurely pace—no different in December, when the weather is blissfully cooler. Kochi, the historic center, is experiencing new energy this season as it hosts the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, an influential exhibition of contemporary art by emerging Indian and established international talents. Hoping to see a little bit of everything? Embark on a luxuriously slow-moving trip of a lifetime for an insider’s look at the country’s interior.
Las Vegas, Nevada
After the tragedy at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, United Airlines issued travel waivers for travelers who booked flights to or from Las Vegas. Check with your airline or hotel for the most recent travel information.
If you’re in for games, thrills, and pure sensory overload, Las Vegas is the way to go. December sees the lowest hotel rates all year—and if you play your cards right, you can score even more than savings. Downtown’s food scene is explosive right now. You’ll find delicious street food and “more tequilas than seats” at La Comida, while sommeliers help pair sakes with ramen you construct yourself at Itsy Bitsy Ramen & Whisky. Look out for the brand new Morimoto Las Vegas opening at the MGM Grand later in 2016, as well as an outpost of Chris Santos’ Beauty & Essex.
Quebec City, Canada
Few can deny the romance of Quebec City come wintertime. Within the walled city, horse-drawn carriages rumble down Old Town’s streets, low-lit wine bars fill with hand-holding pairs in deep conversation, the Place D’Youville opens its rink for ice-skating, and the castle-like Fairmont Le Château Frontenac overlooks it all. Enjoy a fresh snowfall during a stroll along the banks of the St. Lawrence River, or from a room at Le Monastère des Augustines, a new hotel and wellness spa where “rest” gains a whole new meaning.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
December spells dry season for Siem Reap, where visitors can enjoy consistently cloudless skies and refreshingly comfortable temperatures—perfect for active pursuits like walking tours of Angkor Wat or cycling through the city streets. Inevitably, this part of the year is also high season, so book your travels early, especially if you’re looking to stay at one of Cambodia’s best hotels like Phum Baitang. Its 45 stilted villas have soaking tubs and hang over rice paddies, while the spa specializes in coconut-milk massages.
Old and new swirl together in Scotland’s cultural capital, Edinburgh—home to narrow medieval alleys, Georgian architecture, and historic Edinburgh Castle, along with the futuristic Scottish Parliament and forward-thinking restaurants putting new twists on old classics. Some 150,000 people flood the city come December for Hogmanay, an end-of-the-year celebration marked by three days of concerts, fireworks, and various processions. Don’t miss Inverlieth House, which doubles as an art gallery and exhibition hall for books and drawings, and Mary’s Milk Bar,
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Wyoming’s Teton Range is a playground for outdoor adventure: hiking, camping, and, come winter, skiing and snowboarding. Jackson Hole is well loved for its luxe alpine hotels—including the Four Seasons and Hotel Terra—and close proximity to some of the state’s best descents. For the ultimate ski experience, head to the backcountry of Grand Teton National Park, where trails follow slopes and ridges, and everywhere you look, there are jaw-dropping views of the surrounding mountain peaks.
If you’re looking to swap chilly weather with chilling on the beach, we can think of no better place to soak in the rays than the Bahamas. Atlantis is a perennial favorite for families, thanks to its Dolphin Cay and iconic faux Mayan Temple, complete with a 60-foot water slide. In December, the Junkanoo Festival takes over Nassau, where stirring street parades combining dance, music, and colorful costumes entrance onlookers from Boxing Day to New Year’s. The place to stay: the refreshed One&Only Ocean Club on Paradise Island, now with an oceanfront infinity pool from which to clink martinis and ring in the new year.
Prague, Czech Republic
What could be more magical than Prague during the winter season? With its historic streets, Baroque and Gothic architecture, looming cathedrals, and storied holiday markets, it’s no wonder Prague is considered one of the best places to spend Christmas. Among the many things to do in Prague, you might consider a walking tour of Prague Castle, strolling over the famous Charles Bridge, or pairing dinner with a Mozart performance at Lobkowicz Palace.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Due to damage sustained during Hurricane Irma, visitors should be aware that many areas may be closed. Check with the National Park Service before booking travel to Everglades National Park.
December is one of the best times to visit south Florida’s Everglades, when humidity is at an all-time low and less rain means wildlife congregate at predictable spots—ideal conditions for spotting elusive species like the Florida panther or the area’s iconic American alligator. The Flamingo Marina, open year-round, has canoes and kayaks for rent, along with binoculars for those looking to strike out on their own. Alternatively, captains from Everglades National Park Boat tours can lead the way, pointing out wading birds and other points of interest while navigating mangroves and swamplands.
Big Island, Hawaii
Snowbirds flock to Hawaii in December, which means high-season crowds and rates are in full effect. The Big Island, however, sees lower rates than the others, not to mention far less rain—making it a fantastic place to catch some surf (waves peak this time of year) or a glimpse at humpback whales breaching offshore (December signals the beginning of their migration season). For an even hotter experience, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is unlike any other in America: visitors can spot molten lava from the continuously erupting Kilauea Volcano.