The 13 best places to visit in December in the USA, Europe and beyond

These are the best places to visit in December for winter sun, festive cheer and breathtaking landscapes...

Composite image showing the best places to visit in december for sun, and christmas cheer
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The best places to visit in December all depend on what you're looking for from a vacation: sun-soaked shores, cities steeped in culture, or perhaps a little festive cheer to brighten those winter days.

Now's the perfect time to put those travel plans into action as the world opens up again and tourists venture to international destinations around the globe. 

Many of the best places to travel in 2022 come alive in December, while others offer cooler temperatures and fewer tourists meaning you can score some of the best travel deals.

From the best islands in Europe to far-flung destinations and everything in between, here are the places worth checking out in December.

Best places to visit in December in the USA

New York

New york, one of the best places to visit in december

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Best December holiday for: Spending Christmas

According to data from travel agency KAYAK (opens in new tab) exclusively shared with woman&home, New York is the top searched US destination for December for British people, and it's easy to see why. You might not be able to catch the sunshine, but Christmas in New York is a true bucket list experience. From glittering festive window displays to buzzing outdoor markets and Broadway shows, it's a magical place to be in December. There's a reason why so many of the best feel-good Christmas movies are set there, set against the backdrop of the iconic Rockefeller Christmas tree and snow-capped Central Park. 

Check out the tree in its full 79-foot glory, then head to the Rink at Rockefeller Center for a quintessential New York skating experience. Or alternatively, go to Bryant Park - the only admission-free ice skating rink in the city (but note that advance booking is required).  Just remember to wrap up in your best winter coat; it will be cold. And of course, no trip would be complete without also paying a visit to Broadway - home of musical theatre and the annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular which has been running since 1933. 

Don't forget to hit the shops when you're there either - even if you're not on the hunt for Christmas presents, the dazzling light displays at Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenues are a sight to behold.

Top tip: Save money on admission to New York’s best attractions such as the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock observation deck with a CityPASS (opens in new tab). Valid for nine consecutive days, beginning with the first day of use, it costs $129 for adults and $109 for ages 6-17.

See the latest official tourism travel advice for the US here.

Key West, Florida Keys

A beach on key west - one of w&h's best places to visit in december in the usa

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Best December holiday for: Winter sun with a festive spirit

Craving some winter sunshine? Head to Florida Keys, where temperatures average a pleasant 21-24°C in December - meaning you can still island hop, explore the beaches and go snorkeling. Closer to Cuba than it is mainland Florida, the intense heat of the summer months has subsided but you'll still avoid the winter chill you'll find in most other parts of the country. 

If you're looking for some Christmas cheer, the Key West Holiday Fest hosts in a range of festive celebrations including a lighted boat parade, artisan markets, and the annual hometown holiday parade. If you visit towards the end of the month, see in the new year at the iconic Duval Street, where several New Year's Eve 'drops' take place.

Ensure you allow time to go island hopping through the island chain’s five districts, Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys, and Key West. Connected via the Overseas Highway, the 113-mile trip is often voted one of the most scenic drives in the US, thanks to the endless azure seas, limestone islets and mesmerizing sunsets that you'll encounter on the way.

For a complete lux experience, you can rent private island East Sister Rock Island. Prices start from $1700/night with a 7-night minimum stay.

Top tip: Watch the sunset from Mallory Square at least once during your stay. The nightly sunset party, featuring artists, musicians, food vendors and other performers, begins two hours before sunset. 

See the latest official tourism travel advice for the US here (opens in new tab).

Best places to visit in December in Europe 

Paphos, Cyprus

Turquoise sea with bobbing boats in Paphos


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Best December holiday for: Guaranteed sunshine and scenery 

The legendary birthplace of Aphrodite, the coastal city of Paphos in Cyprus combines idyllic Mediterranean beaches with a decent smattering of history making it one of the best family holiday destinations in Europe. It's not super hot - averaging a high of 19°C - but it's definitely not cold.

One of the best places to travel in December, most people head here for the brilliant Blue Flag beaches and glass-like waters, but there's also some rich culture and stunning scenery to be had, not to mention excellent drinking and dining. 

Arguably one of the most important sites in Cyprus is the Unesco-listed Paphos Archaeological Park. This is where you'll find some of the most impressive Roman mosaics in the Mediterranean.  

Whether you want to browse the local handicraft shops or enjoy a drink at sunset, Paphos harbor is a wonderful place to linger for a while, with many bars, cafes and restaurants offering tables next to the ocean.

Michelle Tole, travel expert from vacation rental search machine Bluepillow (opens in new tab), recommends Paphos as a Christmas destination too, telling us, "Christmas festivities are held for two weeks, from the 24th of December until the 6th of January, so spending Christmas here is a great idea if you love the festivities but hate the cold. Everyone across Cyprus decorates their houses, shops, and streets with bright lights and even fake snow – the perfect hybrid for a warmer winter holiday! 

"Although Cyprus can be known as a party destination, traditional New Year’s Eve celebrations are much more wholesome. Families and friends traditionally gather for dinner and then, at midnight, they cut the Vasilopita, a cake with a hidden trinket or coin inside. The Vasilopita is then cut into slices, one for each member of the family, and whoever has the coin in their slice is said to have good luck for the entire year."

Top tip: Paphos old town is a great place to explore with panoramic views, a market, street art and local handicraft shops.

See the latest official tourism travel advice for Cyprus here (opens in new tab).

Valletta, Malta

Valletta harbour with historical building


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Best December holiday for: History and culture

Valletta is known as Europe's smallest capital and is steeped in history and culture. However, there's so much more to this easy-to-navigate Unesco World Heritage site than ancient buildings. There's also a buzzing bar and culinary scene, plus some great beaches to relax on.

Take a walking tour around the fortifications and limestone pavements, and listen for the noon gun salute courtesy of the cannons. There's also Fort St Angelo on the waterfront, originally built in 1691 over the ruins of a medieval castle.  

The Grand Harbour is a great place to take in a sunset, before heading to one of the many restaurants for dinner.  Make sure you try some authentic Maltese food, particularly ftira, a flatbread with tomato, tuna, olives and capers, and pastizzi, a savory pastry usually filled with curried peas or ricotta cheese. 

Top tip: Did you know Malta was once also home to the Queen? Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip lived in Villa Guardamangia in Malta, a beautiful grade 2 listed villa that is now privately owned but can still be viewed from the outside if you visit Marsamxett Harbour.

See the latest official tourism travel advice for Malta here (opens in new tab).

Gran Canaria, Canary Islands

Gran Canaria town square with historical buildings


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Best December holiday for: Combining culture with relaxation 

The Canary Islands account for three of the top ten searched-for destinations in Europe, according to KAYAK. This makes sense, as sunshine is pretty much a guarantee at any time of the year. Particularly nice in December is Gran Canaria, where temperatures reach an average high of 22°C.

The “miniature continent” of Gran Canaria is known for its black lava beaches and contrasting landscapes—one minute you could be lounging on a superb beach, the next standing in a lush pine forest such as the Tamadaba Natural Park. 

Also known as “dragon’s tail’, Tamadaba is one of the best preserved primitive pine forests in the Canary Islands, along with the Inagua Reserve which is home to the Gran Canaria blue chaffinch, a small bird that is native to the island.

Inland, you'll find charming villages such as Tejeda, known as one of the prettiest towns in Spain, and museums in abundance—notably El Museo Canario, which houses curious pieces including skulls and mummies, and Casa de Colón (Columbus’ House), which demonstrates Christopher Columbus’ connection with the Canary Islands.

Top tip: The westerly resort of Puerto de Mogán is ideal for snorkeling as the waters are calm and clear.

See the latest official tourism travel advice for Gran Canaria here (opens in new tab).

Copenhagen, Denmark

Nyhaven, Copenhagen in winter


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Best December holiday for: A cosmopolitan yet traditional city break

Copenhagen really does have everything for all ages, and winter is the perfect time to visit and explore this dreamy destination. 

You'll need to wrap up warm, although there's so much to see and do you won't notice the chill in the air. From fairytale castles to canal boat tours, first-class shopping and thrilling amusement parks, you may have trouble packing it all in.  

Must-see December highlights include the waterfront district of Nyhavn which is lined with colorful houses (and hopefully a sprinkling of snow), some of the best Christmas markets in Europe and Tivoli Gardens, the third oldest amusement park in the world and especially magical in winter.

Top tip: Christmas markets just aren't the same without a mug of hot gløgg— steaming mulled wine with almonds and raisins.

See the latest official travel advice for Copenhagen here (opens in new tab).

Lisbon, Portugal

Trams in Lisbon, Portugal

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Best December holiday for: A European city break

There is a real buzz around Lisbon right now. From castles and culture to excellent cuisine and vintage tram rides, we defy you to be anything less than captivated.

For those on the culture trail, the city is brimming with must-sees, from the imposing Lisbon Cathedral to the Oriente Museum of Asian art. Once a Moorish castle, São Jorge Castle offers first-class vistas over the city, with its narrow rambling lanes and terracotta skyline.

And once you've had your culture fix, head to the Belém promenade for a stroll on a mild evening – you may even catch a live band before admiring the views towards the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge.

Top tip: Market lovers will enjoy the quirky Feira da Ladra (thieves’ market) which runs every Tuesday and Saturday and sells anything from old vinyl to retro phones and furniture.

See the latest official tourism travel advice for Portugal here (opens in new tab).

Prague

View of Prague's sunset in December - one of the best times to visit

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Best December holiday for: Christmas markets

One of the best European city breaks, and home to some of the best Christmas markets in Europe, Prague is a magical place to visit in December as it transforms into a winter wonderland, packed with markets, sparkling lights and trees. It's cold, but that's the appeal, and watching the snowfall over the 1,000-year-old cobbled streets is a truly unique experience. 

Visit the castle with its snow-capped turrets, peruse the Christmas markets and take a river cruise through the Vltava River (most of which are covered and heated during the winter months). Retreat into the local bars and restaurants (of which there are many) and indulge in traditional mulled wine and hearty Czech food.

Top tip: Wear layers and lots of them. The city is best explored by foot but December brings cold temperatures and snow, so you need a warm, waterproof jacket and your best winter boots. This is the time to let your capsule wardrobe shine.

Best places to visit in December across the world

Northern Vietnam

Halong Bay during December

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Best December holiday for: Stargazing and meteor spotting

It's not an obvious choice for a winter trip, but December is an ideal time to travel around Northern Vietnam - thanks to the balmier temperatures (around 15-20°C), you can explore freely, unburdened by the scorching heat that the area encounters during the summer months. Do be aware, though, that the weather can be hit or miss, so pack for all eventualities. 

Graham Carter, Group Director of luxury travel company, Unforgettable Travel Company (opens in new tab), recommends traveling between one of the prettiest cruise destinations, Halong Bay, and Hanoi. 

"In December, I recommend visiting Northern Vietnam. During this month, the weather is pleasant (rather than overbearingly hot) and there is less rainfall and drier conditions compared with the summertime. The light sunshine is perfect for relaxing on the beach too," he tells us

"First, visit Halong Bay with emerald green waters and ethereal limestone islets that create a landscape of breathtaking beauty. Then, at night, the sky is really something to behold, filled with stars as your rural location avoids the light pollution of Northern Vietnam’s cityscapes. Another fantastic reason to visit during December this year is that a Geminids meteor shower will be visible on the 13th and 14th of the month. which means that you’ll experience the night sky dancing with over a hundred multicolored meteors per hour - a truly unique phenomenon.

"Then, if you're lucky enough to visit over Christmas, head to Hanoi. Even though Christmas is not a national holiday, the Vietnamese still love to celebrate it. The city is atmospheric at any time of year but it is particularly romantic around the festive period. Take evening strolls around its picturesque lakes, head to Hang Ma Street in the Old Quarter to marvel at the lavish Christmas ornaments and lights, and there is even a German Christmas market in the city!"

Top tip: December is a good time to go kayaking at Halong Bay - many cruise companies offer this on their itineraries, but you can also book one or two-day cruise ships that tour from Hanoi. Ensure you book on to a bigger boat with good facilities, just in case the weather doesn't play ball; temperatures can be temperamental at this time of year. 

See the latest official travel advice for Vietnam here (opens in new tab).

Cairo, Egypt

Cairo pyramids at sunset


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Best December holiday for: A megacity break steeped in history 

There are few more mystical places than Cairo, the capital of Egypt. And if you're into ancient cities and history, this should definitely be on your bucket list.

With a dry, desert climate and very little rainfall, the best time to visit Cairo is winter, when temperatures range from mild to a warm 21°C.

Make sure you plan a day trip to the biggest-hitting tourist attraction in the region and the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the pyramids in Giza, located approximately 11 miles south of Cairo. 

The Egyptian Museum is also a must-visit and houses an impressive collection of artifacts, including a Royal Mummies Hall.

Top tip: The pyramids can be very crowded, so try to go early in the morning or just after lunch.

See the latest official travel advice for Egypt here (opens in new tab).

Barbados

Idyllic Barbados beach and deep blue sky


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Best December holiday for: Golden sand, turquoise sea and plenty of sun

If you're looking for picture-postcard beaches, swaying palm trees, friendly locals and a kick-back-and-relax vibe, the eastern Caribbean island of Barbados might possibly be your perfect holiday. With an average temperature in December of 29°C/84.2°F, it's certainly got the sun on its side.

With some of the more upmarket hotels and restaurants on the island, the west coast is the best place to stay for idyllic golden shores and bathwater-warm sea, while Unesco World Heritage site and capital Bridgetown is a historical highlight and also gives shopping addicts the opportunity to indulge in some retail therapy. 

If you're into wildlife, you can even swim with turtles (who nest on many of the beaches) or explore the botanical gardens and rainforests.

Top tip: In the mood to party? Head to Oistins fishing village and join the throng for a fish-fry and street party every Friday.

See the latest official tourism travel advice for Barbados here (opens in new tab).

Dubai

Dubai waterfront and Burj Al Arab


(Image credit: Getty Images)

Best December holiday for: Sunshine and shopping 

Enduringly popular with Europeans craving winter sun, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is a place of many contrasts, all rolled up in one seriously glamorous package. 

For starters, the architecture and buildings are on another level—literally. Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, so if you are looking for a stunning viewpoint and aren't afraid of heights, head here. 

Dubai is also a veritable shopping paradise. As it's tax-free, you can find some brilliant buys in the malls, while more authentic purchases can be found in the souks.

This glittering destination is blessed with year-round sun, and December sees the stars come out in force for Dubai’s International Film Festival, which is held every two years. The New Year’s Eve celebrations are also worth visiting for, with one of the best fireworks displays in the world. 

Dubai is hot in November, December and January - even though these are technically the country's coldest months. The average high temperature in Dubai in December is 26°C - perfect beach weather for most.

Top tip: Don't be afraid to haggle with the shop owners in the souks—they are eager to sell and will try to match your price, within reason. 

See the latest official tourism travel advice for Dubai here (opens in new tab).

Cape Verde

Cape Verde boats on the shore


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Best December holiday for: Tropical sun and glorious beaches

Located off the west coast of Africa and with a tropical climate, the underrated islands of Cape Verde are perhaps best known for their beaches, with each island possessing its own unique identity, thanks to a diverse blend of influences. 

Loggerhead turtles visit often to lay their eggs - Ervatão Beach, on the south-east coast of popular Boa Vista, is known as the third most important loggerhead turtle nesting site in the world. Boa Vista is also the place to spot majestic humpback whales and even dolphins.

One of the best places to travel in December for those looking for an active vacation, the archipelago is also a great place for water sports enthusiasts, with kitesurfing, windsurfing and scuba diving all on offer.

Top tip: Make sure you try the national dish cachupa rica, a maize, bean and fish stew that's normally accompanied by the local grogue - rum made from sugarcane.

See the latest travel advice for Cape Verde here (opens in new tab).

Best places to visit during every month of the year

Planning a trip for a different month? Check out our dedicated guides on where to visit for every month of the year.

Rebecca Barnes
Freelance travel writer & cruise expert

Award-winning journalist and editor Rebecca Barnes has written travel-related content for countless consumer titles and websites including The Telegraph, Daily Mail, Wanderlust, Tatler and Cruise Critic. 


A former editor of World of Cruising magazine, Rebecca is also co-founder of the premium blogazine, Cruise Blondes – as a cruise specialist, Rebecca spends much of her time sailing the world's oceans and waterways and checking out the latest ships - all in the name of research, of course.