Are you looking for the best places to travel in December in the USA and abroad? There are so many opportunities to celebrate the holiday season. From Christmas market shopping, to holiday festivals, to epic outdoor activities, the world is truly your oyster for cool places to visit in December.
Travel in December is the best time of year for many destinations. In some cases, the crowds will be thinner. Either way, with so many choices, you may even find a new holiday tradition.
The Best Places to Travel in December in the USA
Christmas in Sedona is one of the best times of year to visit. There’s plenty to see and do in this beautiful red rock country.
Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village hosts multiple holiday events. The Christmas tree lighting kicks off the season.
The Festival of Lights takes place the following week and features over 6,000 luminarias. It’s truly a sight to behold. Both events have a visit from Santa, live entertainment and lots of holiday fun.
And of course, no visit to Sedona would be complete without taking a Red Rocks Jeep Tour or going for a variety of hikes.
Devil’s Bridge is an easy hike with lots of bang for your buck. The weather in December is perfect for getting outside, especially with a touch of snow.
Whether you go for a hike, meander through galleries, do some shopping, get a massage or see an energy healer, you may notice that you feel great in Sedona.
Some say it’s the Sedona Vortex. Others attribute it to the fresh air and physical activity but everyone agrees that Sedona is the perfect place to visit in December!
HOTEL: Enchantment Resort
Palm Desert, California
The big reason to head to the desert in December is for sunny days in the 70s and beautiful blue skies. Lay by the pool, play a round of golf or take a hike and get busy relaxing.
If you want to get into the holiday spirit, Wildlights at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens is an illuminated journey around the zoo.
In the first week of December, the Festival of Lights Parade down Palm Canyon Drive is a blast. The McCallum Theater also has quite a few holiday shows.
Want to see some snow? Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for amazing views and you might just find snow at the top. Or try the scenic Palms to Pines Highway. It’s a 67 mile route that will take your from deserts to forests and snow capped mountains.
For holiday shopping, try Palm Canyon Drive or the upscale shopping at Palm Desert’s El Paseo. You’ll also find galleries and plenty of places to go out at night.
LaQuinta, another golf and tennis favorite, has a farmer’s market and shopping in Old Town.
There are some great day trips to enjoy in the area. Joshua Tree National Park has stunning landscapes, hiking and rock climbing.
The Salton Sea is one of the largest lakes in California. It’s not the type of place to get out in the water but you can check out weirdly artsy and deserted Bombay Beach or head to Salvation Mountain.
HOTEL: Dive Palm Springs
RELATED POST: 15 Best Places to Visit in California in December
Asheville, North Carolina
The whole town of Asheville is full of Christmas spirit but the biggest draw to Asheville in winter is a visit to the Biltmore Estate.
You’ll find carolers, horse drawn sleighs, and the mansion decorated with more than 50 Christmas trees and 30,000 ornaments. The largest private home in the United States has been hosting holiday visitors since 1895.
Downtown Asheville has amazing Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum, Historic Biltmore Village and Pack Square Park. It’s also a great place for unique holiday shopping.
Gingerbread house aficionados should stop by the Omni Grove Park, home of the National Gingerbread House Competition. While the winners are announced in November, all the entries are on display for the whole holiday season.
Outdoor enthusiasts can take a snowy winter hike to the frozen waterfall at Looking Glass Falls or catch a Blue Ridge Mountains sunrise. It’s one of the best things to do in Asheville for nature lovers.
If you have the kids in tow, take the Craggy Mountain Trolley for a visit with Santa or get some mini goat time at the Appalachian Santa and Highlands Experience.
HOTEL: The Inn On Biltmore Estate
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Leavenworth, Washington is best known for being an alpine village straight out of a Bavarian fairytale. Complete with charming Bavarian buildings, yummy German food, and cute shops, you’ll feel like you’re in Europe.
The best part about this alpine village in winter is undoubtedly the Christmas lighting festival. Every year, over half a million lights are used to decorate the buildings and trees in the town center.
Take a sleigh ride or stroll through town at night to enjoy it. Also visit Christkindlmarkt to do some Christmas shopping with its selection of German-imported gifts and decorations.
Washington is one of the most beautiful states in the USA. In Leavenworth, you’ll be able to enjoy all the outdoor fun from ice skating to nordic skiing to snowmobiling and sledding.
There are trails for snowshoeing and winter hiking, or if you are feel very adventurous, try ice climbing, Don’t forget to stop by the Levenworth reindeer farm!
With all these festive activities, it’s no wonder Leavenworth is one of the best places to visit in December in the USA.
HOTEL: PostHotel Leavenworth
New York, New York
New York City has always been on the list of the best places to travel in December in the USA because there are so many things to do in NYC at Christmas. The city comes alive with festive lights and impressive 5th Avenue shopping windows.
Do the holiday favorites – see the Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center, the Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes, go skating Central Park skating, swim in the Poolcuzzi at the TWA Hotel, and the NYE Ball Drop in Times Square.
The art scene is thriving during the holiday season with special light installations like the New York Botanical Garden Glow or the Lightscape at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Manhattan Skyline tours are also fun during the holidays.
At the Chelsea Art Center, Spectacular Factory: The Holiday Multiverse is an immersive art experience.
And what used to be home of Fall Fashion Week is now the setting of a world-class Christmas market.
Bryant Park transforms itself every holiday season into a Winter Village complete with a skating rink. The European style open-air market has vendors selling everything from exquisite jewelry to food to handcrafted wares from all across the globe.
HOTEL: 1 Hotel Central Park
Key West, Florida
If you’re looking for great winter weather, you’ll find it in the southernmost part of the continental US. Drive down from Miami or fly straight to Key West.
In December, Key West is downright festive. From the Historic Inn Tour to the Lighted Boat Parade to the historic homes decked out for a coastal Christmas, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do.
A great way to see all the amazing holiday decorations in town is to take the Christmas Light Trolley Tour. The I Love Stock Island Festival is another fun event with live music, food trucks, local artisans, and more!
After a busy day shopping or snorkeling the clear blue waters around Key West, visit Mallory Square at sunset for food, drink and entertainment. Another memorable option is a sunset cruise. Either way, make sure to indulge in a slice of Key Lime Pie.
Make sure to visit Dry Tortuga National Park located about 10 miles offshore from Key West. It’s accessible by boat or ferry and a great place to go hiking, bird watching, or just to enjoy the beautiful views.
America the Beautiful Pass Holders can get in free.
Or for something a little different, take a day trip to Islamorada and enjoy some of the best fishing in the country. With so much to see and do, Key West is the perfect place to spend your Christmas vacation.
HOTEL: Kimpton Lighthouse Hotel
If you find yourself in the Sunshine State in December there are plenty of festive activities to keep you entertained. From Christmas theme parks to botanical gardens illuminated in holiday lights, there’s something for everyone.
Get into the holiday spirit at Santa’s Enchanted Forest, a Christmas-themed amusement park that features over 100 rides, shows, games, and attractions.
The Night Garden at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens is another magical place during the holidays where 23-acres of gardens are transformed into a fairyland with over 1 million lights illuminating the way.
Art lovers should experience Miami’s hidden gems in the Wynwood Art District known for murals and graffiti art. A performance of The Nutcracker by the Miami City Ballet, one of the world’s foremost dance companies, is another top choice.
South Beach is one of Miami’s most popular tourist destinations, and for good reason. Its Art Deco district is home to some of the most iconic architecture in the city and the gorgeous beaches are the perfect place to get your winter tan.
So put on your Santa hat and enjoy all that this sunny city has to offer or add on a one hour flight to the Bahamas or Cuba for even more fun.
HOTEL: 1 Hotel South Beach
If you’re looking for a festive and tropical destination to celebrate the holidays, look no further than Puerto Rico. This US territory, located in the Caribbean Sea, is known for its sandy beaches, lush rainforests, and vibrant culture.
In December, the island comes alive with holiday celebrations. One of the best places to experience the festivities is Old San Juan.
This historic district is full of Spanish colonial architecture, quaint cafes, lively nightclubs and holiday lights. Don’t miss El Morro, the almost 500 year old fort and the holiday boat parade in the San Juan Harbor.
Other unique holiday experiences include the Festival del Petate in Sabana Grande and the Hatillo Masks Festival. During this event, participants dress up in hand-crafted masks and parade through the streets.
For great day trips, hike to Juan Diego Falls in El Yunque, the island’s stunning rainforest or take a boat to Vieques, an uninhabited island off the coast of Puerto Rico.
With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder Puerto Rico is one of the best places to visit in December.
HOTEL: Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve
The Best Places to Travel in December Abroad
Christmas markets throughout the Alsace region have made Strasbourg, France one of the best places to travel in December. Strasbourg is one of the European Union’s oldest holiday markets that first opened in 1570.
With 300 stalls, you can spend several days here perusing everything, and come home with some fantastic gifts. Delight in Place Kleber, where you will find the Great Christmas Tree. Drink the local Alsatian wine and indulge in all the festivities.
This beautiful Christmas town is located in picturesque eastern France, right next to the German border. It’s actually just one of the Fairytale Alsace Christmas Markets in France.
You can get to Strasbourg by flying into Paris and taking a train or better yet, renting a car. Then you can spend a few days exploring all the little villages, each with their own unique allure.
If you love the area, you might want to try Alsace in the summer too for a completely different experience.
HOTEL: Sofitel Strasbourg Grande Ile
One of the most unique places on Earth is Antarctica.
It’s a place where you can cross the Drake Passage, take the polar plunge, and go kayaking near humpback whales and icebergs. Where else on earth can you camp under the stars on a glacier and see the Milky Way!
Mid-December is the perfect time to visit Antarctica. You will get up to 20 hours of sunlight, with December 22nd being the longest day. This is when the wildlife really comes out to play.
See thousands of penguins in Antarctica, seals and the occasional whale. You may even see a baby penguin or two, as this is prime penguin egg-hatching season.
Antarctica in December is an amazing place to visit. The weather is cold, but the landscapes are stunning. The wildlife is incredible and the experience is truly unforgettable.
If you’re looking for an adventure of a lifetime, Antarctica is the place to go. If you’re booking at the last minute, many cruises will give you a significant discount.
Cruise: Quark Expeditions
December is one of the best months to visit Tasmania, just south of Melbourne off the coast of Australia. Its dry and warm summer climate is not as hot as the rest of Australia, making it perfect for hiking and scuba diving.
December is the perfect time to hike the Overland Track, the highly popular hiking trail that runs for approximately 65 kilometers and takes 5-6 days to complete.
The trail takes hikers through some of Tasmania’s most stunning scenery, including mountains, forests, and alpine meadows.
Take a drive from Hobart to Port Arthur, a coastal town set on the edge of a peninsula on the south side of the island, is a big draw.
Also from Hobart, you can do a Wilderness Cruise to Tasman Island to see seals, migrating whales and the highest sea cliffs in the Southern Hemisphere.
Or do a Full Day Sightseeing Tour of Bruny Island where you can see unique wildlife, including kangaroos, wallabies, echidnas, and platypus.
You’ll also tour the Historic Bruny Island Lighthouse, sample the local delicacies, and view the wild and beautiful landscapes.
Lastly, there are numerous festivals all around, such as The Falls Festival and Taste of Tasmania. If you are a wine drinker, there are plenty of wineries with which to plan an afternoon of wine tasting.
HOTEL: MACq 01 Hotel
December is an excellent time to visit Costa Rica as the dry season is in full swing and there are plenty of fun festivals and activities to enjoy.
If you’re looking for a festive atmosphere, be sure to check out the Festival de la Luz in San Jose, which features marching bands, floats and colourful light displays. Or catch the El Gran Tope Nacional, the most anticipated horse parade.
For a more traditional Costa Rican experience, head to the Zapote Festival, where you can watch bull riding (more like a rodeo) and enjoy the fairgrounds with rides, food and live music.
Nature lovers can explore the Arenal Volcano National National Park and experience the rush of ziplining in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.
Surfers can catch some waves on the Pacific side, while adventure seekers can go whitewater rafting or do a Guided Hike to La Fortuna Waterfall and Hot Springs.
And of course, there are plenty of opportunities to relax on one of the many beautiful beaches. Whatever your interests, you’re sure to find plenty to do in Costa Rica in December.
There’s nothing like celebrating the season pure vida style with a drink in your hand and delectable food every day.
HOTEL: Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo
December is one of the best times and peak season to visit the Kingdom of Wonder. You can expect near perfect weather.
With thousands of temples, Angkor Wat Archaeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see during sunrise for an unforgettable experience.
Cambodia is full of memorable things to do from walking with elephants at the Elephant Valley Project to taking a ride on the Battambang Bamboo Train, a fun and unusual way to see the countryside!
Bassac Lane in Phnom Penh is known for its numerous bars and nightclubs. The Phare Cambodian Circus, inspired by Cirque du Soleil, has talented orphans and underprivileged youth as its performers.
Don’t miss Koh Rong, an island off the coast of Cambodia with some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. It’s the perfect place to relax and soak up some sun!
Although a Buddhist country, you will still find festive Christmas decorations and many events throughout the month. Combine your Cambodian adventure with a trip to neighboring Laos and Vietnam.
HOTEL: Six Senses Krabey Island
Delve into Japanese culture with all sorts of festive fun. While New Year’s is the primary event, the activities throughout December are sure to delight.
Go to Shimai Kobo on December 21 and Shimai Tenjin on Christmas Day. These two markets offer wonderful ceramics and handcraft shopping. Delicious food and drink can also be had here.
From the beautifully decorated Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine to the stunning Kinkakuji Temple, there are plenty of places to explore.
And don’t forget about the Nishiki Market, where you can find everything from traditional Japanese snacks to seasonally-themed souvenirs.
If you’re looking for a truly unique experience, participate in a tea ceremony at one of Kyoto’s many tea houses. Or simply wander through the Gion District, taking in the sights and sounds of this historic city.
Around Arashiyama December 8-17, lanterns in the thousands will be placed all around, including the enchanted bamboo forest. And if you are here on New Year’s, do not miss the bell-ringing ceremonies at the city’s largest temple, Choin-in.
On a 3 weeks in Japan itinerary, you can add Nara, Tokyo, Osaka, Okinawa and more. No matter what you do, you’re sure to enjoy your time in Japan.
HOTEL: Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto
Havana, Cuba is one of the best places to visit in December. The weather is warm and sunny, making it perfect for exploring the city’s many attractions. Start your visit with classic car tour of Old Havana. You will feel as if you stepped back in time.
El Morro Castle is another popular tourist spot, and a free walking tour of Old Havana is a great way to learn about the city’s history and culture.
The Cuban National Ballet is also worth checking out, and Ernest Hemingway fans will enjoy visiting his former home.
Take a day trip to Viñales to ride horses, see the tobacco farming and pick up some Cuban cigars.
For a taste of local culture, be sure to try some traditional Cuban food. From fritas to mojitos, there are plenty of taste buds to tantalize in this vibrant city.
Holiday events include Las Parrandas de Remedios Christmas festival that’s a huge street party. Cathedral Square is another must-see, and New Year’s Eve is the perfect time. There’s a cabaret show and concert to ring in the New Year.
With so much to see and do, Havana is sure to make your December unforgettable.
HOTEL: El Candil Boutique Hotel
RELATED POST: What You Need to Know Before You Visit Cuba
These are the top places to travel in December around the world to celebrate the festive season. Whether you are planning a trip for winter vacation or a New Year’s getaway, get booking. It’s a busy travel time. If you still need more inspiration, check out the best places to travel in November.
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MerelJanuary 2, 2020 at 9:05 pm
These places look amazing! Wow 🙂
melanie silkNovember 24, 2019 at 11:53 pm
What great recommendations! Thank you, thank you for reminding me about Art Basel. I haven’t made it down yet, but now I have it on my calendar. Last year I was there the week prior when they were setting up for it.
JeniferNovember 25, 2019 at 3:05 pm
Art Basel is a feast for art lovers. I’ve been starting to keep a list of event dates to reference when I’m planning trips. So many fun things to do!
MerelNovember 24, 2019 at 12:30 am
These places are amazing! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Julie | This Main Line LifeNovember 22, 2019 at 8:36 pm
These are all gorgeous places to visit. I’d love to see Antarctica and anywhere tropical.
The Exclusive Beauty DiaryNovember 22, 2019 at 6:53 pm
All of these places looks stunning. Thank you so much for sharing.
KaraNovember 22, 2019 at 1:54 am
Visiting Antarctica at this time of year would be so cool! I have always wanted to take a trip in December when it’s cold and not very crowded. Thank you for the suggestions!
JeniferNovember 24, 2019 at 2:19 am
Visiting Antarctica would be such a dream. December travel has so many great and interesting options.
KateNovember 21, 2019 at 9:01 pm
Omg they’re all SOOOO pretty!
JessicaNovember 21, 2019 at 1:01 am
Great list dear. Can’t go wrong with any of these, especially NY!
Mariann YipNovember 18, 2019 at 9:33 pm
Yes! It’s such a beautiful time to be in NYC during December. I also love Costa Rica so both are great recommendations 🙂
JeniferNovember 18, 2019 at 9:51 pm
Thank you! NYC is so amazing at Christmas.
SimoneNovember 18, 2019 at 7:46 pm
I would love to see these cute little Penguins once in my life. The white landscape in the Antarctica must be so beautiful to experience. I always love to get inspired by your amazing recommendations Jenifer!
JeniferNovember 18, 2019 at 9:19 pm
Thanks Simone. I’d love to see those cute penguins too! Now that I know you can fly over the Drake passage, I’m dying to go to Antarctica.
Kelli NordhusNovember 18, 2019 at 7:41 pm
You really put so much thought and detail into each blog post, and this is no exception. Love all of your choices!
JeniferNovember 18, 2019 at 9:21 pm
Thanks Kelli! I love including what’s available to do at each location because it’s such a huge part of the adventure.
Nancy WeissNovember 18, 2019 at 3:43 pm
How informative, I’ve never traveled abroad during the holidays, but you have just inspired me to plan for the future. If I can’t physically be there at least I get to dream right 😊
JeniferNovember 18, 2019 at 3:49 pm
Dreaming about travel is great! Since our kids are bigger, I like to travel in the beginning of December or January. That way, I get the holiday travel without too much craziness at the airport.
jess jannengaNovember 18, 2019 at 3:30 pm
I really enjoyed reading the places that are great to travel to in Dec. We never travel then due to the holidays, but I would be ready for January! Costa Rica would be my speedy for the winter months. My Aunt is traveling to Germany in Dec and visiting the Christmas shops there.
JeniferNovember 18, 2019 at 3:51 pm
I’ve never done the Christmas markets but would love to. Costa Rica is so perfect in December and January. So dreamy!
JenniferNovember 18, 2019 at 1:25 pm
I really want to go to Strasbourg!
JeniferNovember 18, 2019 at 2:56 pm
Me too! It looks so pretty at Christmas.