Where to go in December

Looking for where to go in December? From Christmas markets scattered across Europe to winter sun in South-East Asia, our top 14 recommendations will help you plan the perfect trip
Rio De Janeiro
Rio De Janeiro

Rio De Janeiro. Photo: Shutterstock

Planning a trip in December can be tough. With festive breaks and high-end prices to match, holidays need to be planned well in advance to get the most for your money. From Brazil to Burma, here are our favourite places for an end-of-year escape

It may feel a little far off right now but it's time to plan your trips for the end of the year. Whether you're looking to avoid the winter weather in the northern hemisphere or track down the season's best wildlife watching opportunities, here's our favourite places to go in December. 

1. Myanmar/Burma

Myanmar makes for a magical destination at any time of year, but visit in December and you'll find the weather is relatively dry and cool. Spend your days exploring Yangon's beautiful pagodas or cruising the waters of Inle Lake, under clear blue, sunny skies. This time of year makes touring Bagan by bicycle a lot more pleasant than the dry, hot months of March onwards.

This is peak tourist season too, however, so get your trip booked well in advance. Insight Guides' Myanmar Dreams holiday will take you to the country's highlights while steering clear of the tourist crowds. 

2. Baja California, Mexico

For centuries, grey whales have travelled from Alaska's icy waters to mate and spawn in the warm, shallow waters off the coast of Baja California. They arrive in December each year, after a two-three month, 9,500km journey (the longest migration of any mammal on earth), making it an ideal time to travel to this region of Mexico.

Early morning or late in the day are the best times for whale-watching, either from the shore or else from locally chartered boats, which provide an even closer view of these magnificent animals. It is a little-touted fact, but other whale species are also prevalent in the Baja area ( including finbacks and blue whales) and you'll find plenty of opportunities for catching a glimpse of them on Insight Guides' Baja: Pacific Coast Paradise holiday

3. South Africa

With the southern hemisphere enjoying summer from October to April, December falls slap bang in the middle and makes for a winter sun escape. This is also the dry season in the Western Cape, so the warm temperatures and long days are complemented by rainless skies, providing for the perfect opportunity to take in Cape Town and around. Drive along the Cape Peninsular, discovering golden beaches and mountainscapes as you go. Insight Guides' Cape Town: Cape Explored hosts the ultimate itinerary for exploring the area. 

4. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The Olympic Games may be over and the Paralympics set to start but there is plenty more for visitors to do on a trip to Rio than sporting fun. The temperatures here hit their highest in December and the city makes for an alternative festive season. Spend your days lazing on the city's best beaches or tucking into the finest food, before exploring up high to see the Rio's best views. 

The city's New Year celebrations, from beach parties to street fiestas, make our list of best ways to see in 2017 too. Ever year, Copacabana's beach is packed with millions of residents all waiting for an epic fireworks display out over the bay. 

Want to celebrate Christmas in Brazil? Our local experts can plan your festive break from start to finish: submit a trip enquiry online now.

Cibeles square at Christmas, Madrid

Cibeles square at Christmas, Madrid. Photo: Shutterstock

5. Madrid, Spain

Think Paris or London at Christmas time and familiar images spring to mind: cold, dark days, Christmas markets and warm wine. Madrid, on the other hand, has a whole other festive feeling. The southern European capital still enjoys mild days even during December, with temperatures usually hovering around 14C, making for a refreshing break. 

Explore the city's raucous barrios, take in the impressive architecture (both new and old), and enjoy the local, excitable atmosphere. See this and more as you discover the best of the capital with Insight Guides' Made for Madrid holiday.

6. Kerala, India

Kerala: a land of lush, physical beauty that contains a rich storehouse of legend, history, culture and tradition. If that wasn't enough to tempt you to one of India's most beautiful regions, you'll also find a wealth of beautiful white-sand beaches, labyrinths of backwaters to get lost in, and a riot of culture and colour. 

However, with balmy, pleasant weather, December also makes for one of the busiest times of the year for tourists. Get off-the-beaten-track with Insight Guides' Magical Kerala tour. Take to the backwaters, which you'll find are a bustling tropical townscape, lined with tidy gardens and interlaced with slender canals. Backwater boats carry everyone from commuting locals to pleasure cruises, delivery men to day-trippers.  

7. Thailand’s islands

What better way to escape the winter weather in the northern hemisphere than with a two-week break on Thailand's paradise islands? Learn to dive on Koh Tao or party hard at Koh Pha Ngan's wild New Year's Party. Families can take an alternative Christmas break to the best of Koh Samui's plush resorts, or head over to the Andaman Sea islands for beach bliss and chilled out vibes. Active travellers can opt for a combination trip, relaxing on the country' pristine beaches before travelling to the northern jungle region, like on Insight Guides' Islands and Highlands holiday. Browse all holidays to Thailand online now to find the right trip type, budget and duration for your December escape. 

8. Edinburgh, Scotland

When it comes to alternative ways to see in the New Year, Edinburgh has it sorted. Hogmanay is a NYE festival unlike any other. For starters, it last three days, with street parties, torchlit processions, candlelight concerts and more. For the midnight countdown on the 31st, join thousands of revellers in popular spots like Edinburgh's Princes Street or Glasgow's George Square, with fireworks, singing, live music and a few drinks.

9. Sri Lanka

The island has an unusual blend of climatic features. It is possible to travel from the tropical heat to cool, misty weather, then to the dry zone, all in one day, making Sri Lanka a great year-round destination. So why December? At this time of year you'll find blue whales migrating off the southern coast. 

Passing within just a few kilometres of the coast, Sri Lanka has been dubbed one of the best places in the world to spot the mighty marine creatures. Make Mirissa your base and take to the waters. 

Want Insight Guides to take you there? Our Sri Lanka: Culture and Coast holiday includes a marine safari and a chance to spot whales too. Talk to an expert today to get your trip planned.

Koh Phangan beach. Photo: Shutterstock

Koh Phangan beach. Photo: Shutterstock

10. New York City

For over 80 years, NYC's Rockfeller Center and its bold, spectacular Christmas Tree have been synonymous with the festive season. December is an obvious time to visit NYC, with the city decked out in decorations galore. 

Aside from seasonal shopping and snacking on hot treats in the warm, visitors should stroll down Fifth Avenue to glimpse the magical, kitsch and often over-the-top decorations on display. For decades the shops along this stretch have tried to out-do each other, with the clear winners often being Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Saks. Some, you'll find, have the traditional handmade touch, others master twinkling light displays, while some are downright weird...

From film fantasies to ice-skating, discover our five favourite festive things to do in NYC here.

11. Sydney, Australia

Australia offers an alternative Christmas for many who spend the festive season surrounded by dark days and cold weather in the northern hemisphere. Travel Down Under in December and you'll find surfing, lazing on golden beaches and cooking up BBQs are popular activities. Shall we throw another shrimp on the barbie? 

How to you like to ring in the New Year? If it's with a bang, Sydney hosts one of the most impressive fireworks displays in the world come midnight. An estimated one million people watch the two major firework displays, one at 9pm and another at midnight. Both are launched from city skyscrapers, barges anchored in the harbour, and from the Harbour Bridge itself.

 What's not to love? Talk to one of our travel experts to get your trip Down Under planned today.

12. Costa Rica

Ever imagined zip-lining above rainforests on Christmas Day, surfing the world's best waves in the middle of December, or recharging in natural hot springs? Travel to Costa Rica this festive season for a trip unlike any other. Swim through waterfalls, track down sea turtles, hike past active volcanoes and more on Insight Guides' Tropical Costa Rica trip. It's safe to say, adventure reigns supreme in one of our favourite Central American destinations.

13. Europe's Christmas markets

A classic December trip but which city to choose? Christmas markets have boomed in popularity over the past few years, and with good reason too. Who wouldn't want to wander amongst the tiny, twinkling sheds, decked out in Christmas kit, with a gluhwein in hand and a festive gingerbread treat? 

However, many travellers get caught out with the best markets to visit; some are naff, others overpriced and many are packed with people. Our favourites? Munich makes the list with a range of markets scattered throughout the city: just follow the sweet smell of roasted almonds to uncover each. Bath, in the UK, is busy but one of the country's best. While Belgium's big cities: Bruges, Ghent and Brussels all offer a great range of authentic, fun experiences too. Eastern Europe hosts many a market, with Prague and Warsaw topping our the wishlist. 

What are you waiting for? Ask Insight Guides' experts help plan your trip to your European city of choice now.

14. The UAE

If you're looking for winter sun, get set to feel scorched. The United Arab Emirates, and destinations like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, are known for their relentless heat. While December marks the middle of the 'cooler' season (which runs from October to April), daily temperatures still hit 30C. Plus, if you're looking to escape the festivities of this time of year, the UAE is about as far from Father Christmas as you can get. Indulge in a fly-and-flop holiday relaxing in the area's best spas, taking on a desert safari or shopping until you drop. And, if you're really missing the cooler weather, there's always Ski Dubai. Browse Insight Guides' suggested trip itineraries to the UAE online now.

Want to travel elsewhere? Our trip planners are ready to make your winter getaway a reality. Submit a private trip request online now

Plan your trips for alternative times of the year:

10 best places in Europe to explore in spring

Where to travel in June, July and August

Plan a last-minute summer adventure

Where to travel in September, October and November

5 trips to extend your summer with

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