The best places to travel in December

When Christmas shopping has you feeling more like Scrooge than Will Ferrell’s Elf and the sound of Mariah Carey crooning over the department store speakers has you set to screaming, you know it’s about time to get away. Instead of hibernating through December, get your vacation cap on and jet off somewhere. Switch hemispheres for a little winter sun, move south to America’s more tropical climes or keep your gloves on and head to Europe’s top cities for new takes on festivities. Here’s our list of the best places to visit in December.

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Hawaii | Photo: Mariah Krafft

1. Hawaii

From November to March, Hawaii is a winning winter escape, not least for its ideal temperatures and whale watching opportunities off the west coast of Oahu. To experience the festive side of Hawaiian Christmas, start with a lū‘au feast at your resort or a Christmas Eve cruise around the islands, moving to Maui’s malls and commercial hubs for a full schedule of events, including light displays, Santa Marty visits and even snow displays.

Hawaii in December – particularly the Big Island – is always popular among US families on Christmas vacation, causing crowds in the more obvious destinations, but solitude in nature can still be arranged. Oahu is preferred among surfers, party animals and outdoorsy types, while Kauai comes primed for honeymooners and lovers of luxury. Throughout the islands, unique landscapes will certainly be found, across black sand beaches, cooled lava deserts and lush rainforest backed by volcanic peaks. One of the fun things about Hawaii is that its geography of constantly in flux, in part due to the volcanic activity of one Kilauea volcano which spits fire on the regular. As such, Hawaii never stays the same two days in a row, making each hiking, snorkelling and sailing excursion all the more intriguing.

Expect Hawaii weather in December to hover around 25-28°C, at which the seasonal poinsettias go to full bloom. At night, the air chills and can dip to below 20°C, making a warmer wardrobe necessary, particular if exploring outdoors or heading to higher elevations. December is actually the rainiest month in Hawaii, though this shouldn’t disrupt your travels too much as showers tend to be brief. Carry an umbrella and, if still worried, book your hotel on the leeward side of the island, away from direct ocean winds. Water sports lovers however will want to seek out these winds for surfing, windsurfing and more, in waters that remain warm from summer. See our Honolulu travel guide for more, or plan your trip using our Hawaii vacations: a great Big Island itinerary.

Photo: Darren Lawrence

Hawaii | Photo: Braden Jarvis

2. London, UK

Flipping the script with a frostier European option, we offer up London for festive Christmas getaways. London in December may warrant a heavier suitcase complete with hat, scarf and mittens, but it can reward visitors with twinkling lights, Christmas markets, ice skating and all kinds of cosy indoor treats. This UK city comes busy year-round, with Christmas tourists pushing up both airfare and hotel prices. Book well in advance for the best prices and options, planning to avoid the tube at rush hour. Though you’ll find Oxford Street and key attractions bulging with people throughout December, there are still lesser-known secrets to discover and quieter areas to relax in.

After seeing the landmark Norwegian Christmas tree encircled by carol singers on Trafalgar Square, stop by Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland to get your fill of fairground rides, mulled wine and festivity alongside everyone else. Though busy, there’s enough to do for everyone, including ice skating, exploring the magical ice forest and attending ice sculpting workshops and performances such as Peter Pan on Ice beside the iconic Observation Wheel. To avoid excess crowds, however, get outside of Central London with a visit to Kew Gardens. Here you’ll find botanical garden trails lit by over one million lights as well as the Cathedral of Light tunnel, fire garden and origami boat-covered lake. Schedule your visit to coincide with live performances and concerts for the most Christmas cheer.

While on an obligatory walk along the Thames River, passing by the London Eye, London Dungeons, Big Ben and more, make sure to go as far as the Southbank Centre which transforms every December into a winter festival space hosting markets, shows and entertainment to keep you warm and amused. Then, when a steaming beverage can no longer do the trick, get warm inside with a last-minute ticket to a West End show (available at the Encore Box Office) or go for free to the British Museum, Natural History Museum, National Gallery, Tate Modern, Science Museum and more. See more than just Big Ben et al with our London gay travel guide.

London

Photo: Justin Luebke

3. Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Have your Yule log and eat it too with this two city vacation in South Florida, where Christmastime comes wrapped in corn tortillas and celebrated in summer sun. Though a white Christmas is impossible here, festive traditions remain by way of marathon shopping sprees at Miami’s best malls (Dolphin Mall and Dadeland specifically), Noche Buena parties doused in coquito (aka Puerto Rican eggnog) and trips to Santa’s Enchanted Forest. The latter is Florida’s largest – and only – Christmas-themed amusement park, lighting the way with thousands of festive lights in Tropical Park. Open from October to early January, Santa’s is a big deal, hosting over 100 rides, shows, games and attractions as well as South Florida’s tallest Christmas tree and a nightly light show to boot.

If a high-flying ejector seat doesn’t do it for you, Miami in December is also good for taking in one of world’s largest art events at Miami Beach Convention Centre. Established by Art Basel, the event is a celebration of living artists around the globe, with satellite festivals happening around the city, such as Contemporary Digital and Art Fair at Mana Wynwood where graffiti takes over the streets. See our Miami travel guide for more or head straight on to Fort Lauderdale for more sunny days on snow-white beaches. Travelling South Florida in December you can expect temperatures ranging between 12-26°C, making it one of the best warm places to visit in December where beach days are still in the offing, particularly for snorkelling, paddle boarding, fishing and surfing in Fort Lauderdale’s crystal-clear waters.

Photo: Taryn Elliott

Miami | Photo: Jason Briscoe

4. New York, New York

If warmth is not a prerequisite, then New York sits beside London as one of the best places to visit in December thanks to its world-class light displays, iconic ice-skating rinks and general Christmas cheer throughout. New York in December is when Fifth Avenue stores like Saks and Bergdorf Goodman put on all their best window displays and the streets turn into twinkling grottos from uptown through downtown. The rinks at Central Park and Rockefeller Plaza are popular for romantic nights out, the latter well-known for its Swarovski-topped Christmas tree, while the Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink may come less crowded with ice hockey and skating classes available. The rink at Bryant Park is equally as fun, also offering one of the city’s best holiday markets alongside. Then, pay your respects to new-born Jesus Christ along with a million others at Saint Patrick’s cathedral, an NYC architectural icon with traditional carols ringing out each day leading up to Christmas and beyond.

Enjoy a cinematic New York December to the fullest by booking accommodation well in advance and considering staying outside of midtown (such as well-connected Brooklyn) to get more choice. Get extra luggage space to allow for your winter wardrobe as you’ll need to pack for freezing temperatures. Snowfall is common in the city too – with average snowfall in December at 11.5 inches – meaning grippy shoes are also a good idea! To bear the cold, eating is one of the best things you can do in NYC, working your way through gourmet pop-up markets such as the Union Square Holiday Market and the Grand Central Holiday Fair among others, which also host arts, crafts and clothing stalls. For a spot of music while in town, the long-running Radio City Christmas Spectacular is a must, featuring dancing and from the Rockettes and an original score performed in a 1930s Art Deco music hall festively decorated each December. Discover more with our New York City travel guide.

New York City | Photo: Johnell Pannell

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New York in December is when Fifth Avenue stores like Saks and Bergdorf Goodman put on all their best window displays and the streets turn into twinkling grottos from uptown through downtown

5. Los Cabos, Mexico

Summer lovers will consider Los Cabos as one of the best places to visit in December, in easy reach of mainland US via flight or drive through the Baja California peninsula to its southern tip. December is arguably the best time to go to Cabo as the party reaches its festive peak, particularly in Cabo San Lucas. For more artsy vacations, San Jose del Cabo is also a contender, while private holiday villas and remote properties can satisfy those seeking quietude. Wherever you decide, you can find the most reasonable prices either side of Christmas, with late November and even early December offering snap-up deals.

Cabo weather in December remains warm and dry throughout, with more bearable temperatures than summer and less humidity than rainy season (August through September). Expect averages of 20°C with balmy water temperatures sitting around 22-25°C. As the weather is so comfortable, there’s a lot of choices when it comes to filling your days. As well as commercial attractions in Cabo San Lucas, snorkelling and swimming with humpback whales and whale sharks nearby is especially memorable in December when these majestic mammals finish their 5,000-kilometre migration during a 12 month gestation period! Or, try the Humpback Whale Safari as a drier way to appreciate these 80,000-pound gentle giants. Other outdoor activities while in town include ATV tours across the desert and luxury sunset cruises.

Spend your Mexican vacation in style at one of the best gay-friendly hotels in Baja California.

Photo: Ranae Smith

6. Joshua Tree National Park, California

California is one of the warm places to visit in December in USA and Joshua Tree National Park is, therefore, no stranger to winter tourism. With highs of 15°C and lows of 4°C (below freezing on some nights and at higher elevations), Joshua Tree is hardly Baja, but its desert landscape and glamping options make it a festive consideration.

The best Joshua Tree National Park December vacations take into account the weather report, opting for more developed glamping sites that offer electric blankets and/or heated structures (or RVs) instead of the most basic tent/tap facilities. Pack a high-quality sleeping bag if braving a regular camp, layering up come nightfall for perfect stargazing opportunities. The cool weather in Joshua makes for some great daytime adventures too, particularly hiking in both Colorado’s low desert and the Mojave high desert, each with their own distinct ecosystems. Some hikes that are too hot to attempt in summer now become accessible in winter, such as the Panorama Loop, Lost Horse Mine and Discovery Trail, with optional trips to Palm Springs later on to recoup and/or party.

Joshua Tree National Park | Photo: Paulius Dragunas

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park | Photo: Nathan Dumlao

7. Belize

Welcome to Central America, a winter sun destination famed for its coral reefs, ancient culture and warm waters. Of our favourite destinations in the region, its gay Belize that has us in a spin, encapsulating Central America’s best bits with the added bonus of Caribbean shores to rival Mexico’s Quintana Roo (just north across the border). Unlike other spots in the Caribbean at peak season, a Belize December is not so jam-packed, allowing for sailing, snorkelling and diving with fewer crowds, as well as off-the-beaten-track excursions towards waterfalls and Mayan ruins in the jungle. Belize is also more easy to reach, with just a 3-hour direct flight from several major US cities, with outlying islands like Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker accessible by both plane or boat. If an island vacation is what’s needed, try the adults-only Matachica Resort Belize or the Cayo Espanto for tropical luxury.

Late November to mid-April is considered the best time to visit Belize, and is notably busier during this period, especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas periods. To save money on accommodation, consider the period between the two holidays (1st – 20th Dec), when room upgrades can be negotiated through Caribbean specialist agencies. Your Belize in December weather report is pleasantly predictable, usually noting long, sunny days and warm enough temperatures to make every day a beach day. Despite being the second-smallest nation in Central America, Belize is diverse. Up north, you’ll find jungles, rainforests and lagoons, while towards the centre waterfalls, caves and archaeological sites take over the remaining jungle, with ruins dating as far back as the Mayan Empire (250-900 AD). Then Belize beaches have their own version of culture below the waves, homing the world’s second-largest barrier reef, a number of coral atolls and the Great Blue Hole that needs to be seen to be believed.

Belize | Photo: Meritt Thomas

Photo: Briona Baker

8. Thailand

Travel in December inevitably takes us east to explore the wonders of Southeast Asia while avoiding typhoon season and the most humid weather. Thailand in December is especially nice (with average lows of 26°C), allowing visitors to join in the King’s birthday celebrations (around December 5th) as well as festive Christmas events appropriated from Western traditions. Expect great weather from December through to March across the country, with exceptional weather starting from late October in the north, from Sukhothai to Chiang Rai. As well as the white sand beaches and New Year parties of popular islands such as Pattaya, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui and Phuket, Thailand brims with diverse options elsewhere, spanning the weekend markets of Bangkok, the spas and temples of Chiang Mai and several elephant reserves and nature parks in rural locations.

For Christmas surprises, head to the ‘Times Square of Thailand’, aka Bangkok’s Central World Plaza where crowds congregate before nightly parties and bar crawls. For added culture, the Emerald Buddha Temple, Wat Arun and Wat Pho await, while day trips out to Elephant Nature Park, Phang Nga Bay and Tiger Temple are great ways to escape the urban chaos. At all other times, the islands’ relaxing hotels and resorts can bring a Monk-like level of zen, with boat tours, spa treatments and authentic cuisine to remember. Thinking of spending more than a weekend in Thailand? Fill your time with our ultimate Thailand 10-day itinerary.

Bangkok, Thailand | Photo: Chait Goli

9. Australia

Turning the Western hemisphere’s idea of Christmas on its head, Australia traditionally enjoys the 25th by barbequing with Santa in red ‘swimmers’ on Bondi Beach. Not quite the height of summer, an Australia December sees average temperatures of between 20-30°C allowing for water sports on Boxing Day and a balmy New Year’s Eve watching the fireworks from Sydney Harbour. If the warm water is your main reason for travelling, head for Noosa on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, or further north to the town of Seventeen Seventy for kayaking and surfing. On the other side of the country meanwhile, the state of Perth also has its beaches, most notably those on Rottnest Island. Besides beaches, one can also enjoy winter cultural activities in the capital of Canberra or seasonal foodie fun in Hobart for the Taste of Tasmania food and wine festival.

Cities like Melbourne, Perth, Gold Coast, Queensland and Brisbane are all top choices for Christmas in Australia, though the corals and marine life of the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns also comes calling. Road trips down the Great Ocean Road can be broken up with stops at the Twelve Apostles, Sea World and Warner Bros Movie World, while Hunter Valley and its wineries can bring both culture and unlimited grapes. Of Australia’s best island getaways Philip Island and the Whitsundays guarantee a fun weekend, but, to you can still get out of the loop and into nature on the mainland at Murramarang National Park and Lucky Bay, where wildlife abounds. Get more from the Land Down Under with our 2-week Australia itinerary.

Sydney | Photo: Jordy Chapman

Bondi Beach, Sydney | Photo: Belle Co

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Turning the Western hemisphere’s idea of Christmas on its head, Australia traditionally enjoys the 25th by barbequing with Santa in red ‘swimmers’ on Bondi Beach

10. New Zealand

Last on our Christmas wish list is New Zealand for wild adventures in nature and sunny days at the beach for all who want them. The nation’s unique geography makes for some sublime road trips passing grassy plains, volcanic craters, lakes, rugged coastline and more, though you should board a boat to best cover Milford and Fjordland, switching to a plane for Abel Tasman and sturdy hiking boots for the Fox Glacier. Along the way, learn of aboriginal culture at Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua, while Wai-O-Tapu (Thermal Wonderland) can entertain with its spitting mud pools. And to finish off a long week? It’s the Amisfield Bistro and Cellar Door for wine tastings of course.

Like Australia, New Zealand in December offers average temperatures of between 20-30°C, though mountains on the South Island can still offer snow. Get out to the beach on sunny days for water sports and hiking, while wetter weather makes for optimum waterfall viewing, shopping and clubbing in both Auckland and Wellington. The national museum (Te Papa Tongarewa) is also another of Wellington’s highlights, while Queenstown is reserved for adrenaline-inducing activities such as bungee jumping at Kawarau Bridge. New Zealand’s lesser cities such as Christchurch and Gisborne are also great at Christmas and New Year’s, when local Santas dress up in sandals and rugby shirts to parade the streets and carol sing. Live music events, light and firework shows also run throughout the season. Let NZ woo you further with our ultimate New Zealand itinerary.

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New Zealand | Photo: Tim Grundtner

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