The best destinations to visit in December
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Holiday season is in full swing, and whether you’re hoping for a Christmas-inspired escape toward the end of the month or a quick post-Thanksgiving getaway to clear your mind for the upcoming celebrations, December is the perfect month to travel.
Many deals and off-peak awards can be found during the first half of the month, once all the Thanksgiving travel chaos has died down. And although travel toward the end of December can be more hectic and expensive, it never hurts to take advantage of paid time off (or unusually festive airports). Plus, flying on Christmas day — if you don’t mind missing the holiday ham —is a great way to avoid crowds and expensive airfare.
From far-flung exotic escapes like India and South Africa, or a weekend a little closer to home in Las Vegas or Panama, here are some of the best destinations to travel to this December.
Thinking about your 2020 travels? Check back for our monthly favorites from 2019 to get some ideas.
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Although it doesn’t get much farther from the U.S. than New Zealand, it’s possible to get there nonstop, though you’ll be airborne for around 15 hours.
Fly to Auckland (AKL) nonstop from San Francisco (SFO) on United, and via Air New Zealand from Chicago (ORD), Houston (IAH) and Los Angeles (LAX). Los Angeles-based travelers can also fly on American Airlines from the California hub to Auckland nonstop). Plus, if you’ve ever wanted to fly the Skycouch, the world’s first economy product that turns into a sofa, 2019 is a great time to do so.
New Zealand is perfect for travelers wanting to kick back and enjoy wide-open spaces — it’s about two-thirds the size of California but has just 12% of the population, meaning there’s a lot of outdoors to explore.
Warm, dry weather also makes December prime bungee-jumping season, an activity popular all over the country. Some of the most popular areas for jumping daredevils are the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown and over the Waikato River in Taupo.
And you can celebrate Christmas exactly how the locals do: with a barbecue on the beach.
While northern India made our list of great destinations to visit in October, central-southern India is the place to be in December, thanks to dry, warm weather in many of the nation’s major cities including Mumbai, Goa and Kerala.
Flying to the country will soon be a bit easier, especially if Christmas in India seems like the perfect vacation plan. Delta’s brand-new nonstop route, New York-JFK to Mumbai (BOM) launches Dec. 22, 2019. The flight will be operated on a Boeing 777-200LR aircraft, featuring the new Delta One Suite in business class and Premium Select in premium economy as well as Comfort+ and standard main cabin seating.
The newness doesn’t stop there. The Hilton Goa opens Dec. 1, 2019, and features four outdoor pools and amenities like a massive kids club and bicycle rentals. Some of the suites also come with private plunge pools.
But if you choose to hang around in Mumbai, the new(ish) Soho House Mumbai is the place to see and be seen. The hotel, restaurant, pool and cinema all have that stylish Soho House aesthetic, with a bit of India’s colorful culture mixed in, too.
Cape Town, South Africa
December is an especially exciting time to fly to South Africa: The first and only nonstop route that links the U.S. and Cape Town is launching on Dec. 15, 2019. United will fly between Newark (EWR) and Cape Town (CPT) on the following schedule:
- Departing Newark at 8:30 p.m., arriving to Cape Town at 6 p.m. (+1) on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.
- Departing Cape Town at 8:50 p.m., returning to Newark at 5:45 a.m. (+1) on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.
The best thing to do in December in Cape Town is play outside. With sunny skies and warm temperatures, you can explore the Western Cape’s beautiful beaches, hike Table Mountain and wander around the colorful neighborhoods of Bo Kapp or the breezy Victoria & Albert Waterfront.
The waterfront hosts many outdoor concerts and events during the month of the December and, despite the warm temperatures, the city’s Christmas decorations will be switched on Dec. 1. Many of the vineyards near Cape Town in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek offer picnic, music and craft fair experiences during the month of December, too.
But swimmers beware, the water temperatures don’t mirror the warmth felt in the air, as melting Antarctic glaciers make the ocean water chilly during the country’s summer season. So, surfers, plan to wear a wetsuit.
For a trip just a little closer to home, visit Las Vegas, Nevada, this holiday season. While there’s never really a bad time to head to Vegas, December offers a quirky alternative to the usual gambling, nightclubs and shows: the Las Vegas Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Running from Dec. 5 to 14, the rodeo has all the typical events, including team roping, steer wrestling, bareback riding, barrel racing, tie-down roping, saddle bronco and bull riding, plus special events such as the Miss Rodeo America contest, Cowboy Christmas, charity events and after parties.
And make sure to check out the special holiday display at the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Garden (Dec. 7, 2019, to Jan. 4, 2020) next to the hotel lobby.
For more holiday-themed fun, the pool on the top of the Cosmopolitan Hotel will be turned into an ice rink (through Jan. 5, 2020). If you’re lucky, you may even catch one of the light “snow showers” that happen every 30 minutes during select times throughout the season. There are also movies shown at the rink, where you can skate or warm up by the fire as you watch holiday favorites such as “The Grinch” or “Beethoven’s Christmas Adventure.”
As Atlantic hurricane season officially ends Nov. 30, December is the ideal time to visit the Central American nation of Panama. It’s warm (temperatures are in the mid-80s) and dry, and it’s the ideal spot to get that sunshine fix when weather is freezing in many areas of the United States.
If it does happen to rain, head indoors for a Marc Anthony concert (Dec. 5) or a tribute to Metallica (Dec. 7). After the holidays, enjoy special performances of Don Quijote in honor of the Panama Ballet Festival (Dec. 27 and 28).
Getting to Panama is pretty easy, especially if you’re based in the Southeast. Low-cost carrier Spirit has one-way flights in December hovering around $100 on select dates for the one-stop hop connecting in Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Panama City (PTY).
For those wanting a sustainable trip, head out of the city and over to a private island, the new eco-resort Islas Secas Reserve and Lodge. With its own dive center (and the possibility of spotting more than 750 species of fish) and a chic Hemingway-inspired bar, you might forget that the hotel is 100% powered by solar energy.
It wouldn’t be a December roundup without including a European destination with a Christmas market. This trip is for those who want to dive headfirst into holiday cheer, exploring a forgotten winter wonderland that’s been overshadowed by more popular Christmas market destinations such as Prague, Vienna and Munich.
Tallinn’s Christmas market features all the typical holiday foods and mulled wine, as well as numerous vendor stalls, a giant Christmas tree and a stage featuring all sorts of holiday-themed music, dance, theater and other live performances (through Jan. 7, 2020). There’s also an outdoor ice rink in the historic city center for skaters.
If you can’t get enough of one of Estonia’s most traditional holiday treats, gingerbread, you can actually take a workshop or class at some of the bakeries and cafes around Tallinn, where you’ll learn how to make the seasonal treat.
True gingerbread addicts need to visit PiparkoogiMaania (this means “gingerbread mania”), an art exhibition where everything is made from gingerbread (Dec. 5, 2019, to Jan. 5, 2020). This year’s theme is mythology, so get ready for some unique gingerbread artistry. No eating allowed, though.
Featured photo of a Hindo Temple in Goa by Sisoje/Getty Images.
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