- Shayanne Gal/Business Insider
- To find the best places to visit in December 2018, Business Insider looked at climate data, cultural calendars, and peak travel times.
- December offers all kinds of travel experiences, from unforgettable Christmas and New Year’s celebrations to relaxing getaways on tropical islands.
- The best places to visit in December include the “Hamptons of South America,” a European capital filled to the brim with Christmas markets, and the rugged wilderness of Australia’s southernmost state.
As December nears and the year draws to close, travelers are looking for the site of their last big vacation.
Thanks to the popularity of Christmas and New Year’s Eve vacations, December is often one of the most expensive months of the year to travel to the world’s tourism hotspots.
Whether you want to indulge in the holiday festivities or escape to a sunny island paradise, there are endless options for travelers in December.
We looked at airfare trends, climate data, and worldwide cultural calendars to select 13 vacation spots that should be on your radar for a December vacation. They include a glitzy resort town in Uruguay that’s called the “Hamptons of South America,” an icy European wonderland filled with Christmas markets and holiday cheer, and the rugged wilderness of Australia’s southernmost state.
Take a look at the places we recommend for a December trip, and plan away.
No city knows how to party quite like Miami, and on New Year’s Eve, the city takes it to another level. You’ll have your pick of parties, from sparkling rooftop soirees to thumping ragers on South Beach.
There are plenty of other non-party activities to keep you busy, too. It’s always beach weather in Miami, with December highs typically reaching the mid-70s Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, tourist favorites like the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and Zoo Miami host special holiday-themed events in December.
Note that December is a huge month for traveling in Miami, so book airfare and hotels early for the best rates.
Another Southeastern city that should be on your radar for December is Atlanta, Georgia.
Only Chicago and New York City see more visitors than Atlanta each year, and for good reason. Must-sees for first-time visitors include the World of Coca-Cola and a studio tour at the CNN Center – both companies are headquartered there – the Georgia Aquarium, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, which includes the civil rights leader’s childhood home and church.
If you can tolerate temperatures in the 40s and 50s Fahrenheit, Piedmont Park and Centennial Olympic Park are always good for a daytime stroll, and nearby Stone Mountain offers an epic lights-filled Christmas celebration each night.
San Antonio, Texas
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The end of the year is the perfect time to visit San Antonio, as hotel rates plummet but the temperature stays mostly warm.
The Alamo is San Antonio’s biggest claim to fame, and there are plenty of other activities that make the city worth an extended stay. Locals love the quickly growing Pearl District for its eclectic mix of food, shopping, and art, as well as the 15-mile River Walk and its unique canals, pathways, and architecture. First-time visitors should hop on a cruise for a guided tour.
Banff National Park, Canada
- Flickr Creative Commons/Rene Rivers
Banff National Park in Alberta is one of Canada’s best winter destinations.
The 2,500-square-mile park becomes a winter wonderland every December, as visitors marvel at its jagged Rocky Mountain peaks, serene glacial lakes, and abundant wildlife.
Opportunities for winter sports abound, from skiing at each of the “Big 3” Banff resorts, outdoor ice skating, snow tubing, and even snowshoeing and dog-sledding.
Punta del Este, Uruguay
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The glamorous resort town of Punta del Este, Uruguay, attracts ritzy crowds from Argentina, Brazil, and beyond.
With high-end hotels, casinos, restaurants, and nightlife all down the beachfront, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Punta del Este is known as the “Monaco of the South” and the “Hamptons of South America.”
December, being the height of summer in Uruguay, is when Punta del Este is at its liveliest – in fact, it’s mostly empty for much of the rest of the year. It’s also when hotels are at their most expensive, but budget travelers have found plenty of free or cheap things to do there.
- Flickr Creative Commons/mariusz kluzniak
Madagascar is paradise for animal and nature lovers – according to the World Wildlife Foundation, the island is home to 5% of all the animal and plant species on Earth.
Midway through December is when Madagascar’s rainy season begins, so go earlier in the month if you want a better chance at clear skies. But rainy weather brings out heightened activity for some species, and parks like Andasibe and Mantadia National Park, Isalo National Park, and Parc National de la Montagne d’Ambr offer opportunities to see unique species of chameleons, frogs, and snakes, not to mention the island’s famous lemurs and iconic baobab trees.
- Facebook/Bath Christmas Market
The quaint town of Bath in southwestern England transforms into a holiday paradise every December, making it one of the top destinations for Christmas-time vacationers.
Travelers come from far and wide to check out the hugely popular Bath Christmas Market, where vendors peddle holiday gifts and throngs of shoppers add to the festive atmosphere.
History buffs will also appreciate Bath’s legacy as a Roman and Georgian spa city – the Roman Baths are a must-see for visitors. Bath Abbey, Pulteney Bridge, and Great Pulteney Street are other landmarks you won’t want to miss.
- Alexander Koerner/Getty Images
Speaking of Christmas, there’s arguably no other city in the world that celebrates the holiday like Vienna, Austria.
As temperatures drop to near-freezing, Vienna comes alive as its legendary Christmas markets take center stage. Mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, angelic choir music, and spectacular sky-high Christmas trees set the scene for shoppers looking for unique holiday gifts. You can check out a guide to the best Vienna Christmas markets here.
For lovers of the arts, splurge on tickets to “The Nutcracker” ballet performed at the Vienna State Opera. And all across the city, churches like St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Malteserkirche play host to seasonal classical concerts that will get you in the Christmas spirit if you weren’t already.
St. Petersburg, Russia
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Like much of Russia, St. Petersburg turns cold, icy, and dark in the wintertime. But if you don’t mind the freezing temperatures, St. Petersburg can be an enchanting place for travelers in December.
Sites like the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, the Hermitage Museum, and Peterhof Palace have an air of calmness and serenity in the winter air. For a night of culinary delight, enjoy traditional borscht and 215 varieties of vodka at the Russian Vodka Room Restaurant.
December is one of the least crowded months for tourists in St. Petersburg, so you can take in the splendor of the city at your own pace. Just make sure to bundle up – trust us.
December in Hong Kong means pleasant weather, clear skies, and lots of culture.
Hong Kong Winterfest is the city’s unique celebration of Christmas, when travelers marvel at spectacular light shows, breathtaking fireworks displays, and citywide special shopping and food-tasting opportunities.
If you’re around for New Year’s, you’ll want to head to Hong Kong Times Square to be in the heart of the festivities. Otherwise, the Tsim Sha Tsui district and Victoria Harbour are favorites for shopping and nightlife.
Mekong Delta, Vietnam
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For a truly one-of-a-kind experience, head to southern Vietnam’s Mekong Delta and discover a world that revolves around the river.
The most popular activity for travelers to the region is guided boat tours through the maze-like Mekong and its many offshoots. There, you’ll see incredible floating markets like the one in Can Tho, where bustling crowds of locals navigate from boat to boat trading their goods. You can also get a breathtaking view of the delta from Sam Mountain near Chau Doc.
- Flickr Creative Commons/Indigo Skies Photography
The luxurious island of Boracay is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Philippines, and for good reason – you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better place for beach-hopping, sunbathing, and experiencing natural beauty.
There are 13 beaches on Boracay, meaning an adventurous traveler could tackle them all in one vacation. You’ll quickly discover why Boracay is a favorite for scuba divers and sunbathers alike.
- Flickr Creative Commons/Bridestowe Lavendar Estates
The Australian island state of Tasmania beckons travelers from all over the world with its rugged beauty and charming culture.
Adventure lovers who want to take advantage of the breezy summer weather will enjoy hikes to Montezuma Falls, Stanley Nut, and Mount Williams National Park, and while you’re there, you can swim in the Bay of Fires, whose shores are marked by orange-hued granite rocks.
If you travel at a slower speed, you’ll want to see the Bridestowe Lavender Estates in full bloom, and you could spend days roaming the capital city of Hobart, home of the unusual Museum of Old and New Art and countless markets and restaurants offering scrumptious cuisine.