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The 6 Best Places to Travel in December

For many people, December means staying close to home. With all the holidays, school plays, office parties and shopping, it might not seem like the best time to grab your luggage and jet off to far away lands. However, the last month of the year is actually an affordable and exciting time to travel.

December features some of the world’s most exotic, colorful and memorable festivals. Whether you want to embrace wintery landscapes, soak up the sun on an island beach or ring in the new year in a medieval city, we’ve got some can’t-be-missed festival suggestions for intrepid travelers who want to end the year with a fabulous, and unusual, adventure.

Pour a cup of hot cocoa, sit by the fire and start Googling travel deals. Here are six of the best places to travel in December.

1. Fête de l’Escalade – Geneva, Switzerland

If you’re looking for a genuine winter wonderland, Geneva is for you. Switzerland’s second largest city sits beside the crisp waters of Lake Geneva and is surrounded by the snowy peaks of the Alps and Jura mountains, making it a mecca for winter sports enthusiasts. December visitors also get the joy of experiencing the city’s world-renowned Christmas markets, Marché de Noël à Montreux, Genève Marché International de Noël and Lausanne’s Marché de Noël. However, Geneva’s biggest celebration of the year, the Fête de l’Escalade, is what makes it one of the best places to travel in December.

december vacation ideas

Photo by Flickr user Pingus

Traditionally held on the weekend closest to Dec. 11 and 12, the joyous event centers on a thwarted 17th-century attack and a giant pot of chocolate. In the early morning hours of December 11, 1602, the Duke of Savoy and a group of soldiers attempted to scale Geneva’s fortification walls and attack the city’s inhabitants. However, according to legend, a woman named Catherine Cheynel spotted the intruders while she was making a giant pot of stew and poured the boiling liquid on them. The noise from her actions reportedly awoke Geneva’s army, which then successfully defeated the encroaching enemy.

best places to visit in december geneva

Photo by Flickr user Hewy

To celebrate this event, revelers dress in historical costumes, bang drums, roast pigs on spits, and shoot old-school weapons. Children also dress up and, much like Halloween, go from door to door asking for treats. The culmination of the festival involves a specially constructed pot made of chocolate, which is ceremonially smashed to release marzipan candies for the crowd’s enjoyment.

best places to travel in december

Photo by Flickr user Ferendus


2. Al Dhafra Festival – Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Abu Dhabi may play second fiddle to the United Arab Emirates’ crown jewel, Dubai, but it still has a lot to offer and is one of the best places to visit in December. For one thing, it has more history and culture than its blingy big brother, and cooler winter temperatures offer you the chance to explore some of its treasures, like the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, in comfort. For another, it is known for hosting the world’s largest camel beauty pageant.

december vacation ideas

Now those are some beautiful camels.

Yes, you read that right. There are beauty pageants for camels, and the biggest of them all is held during Abu Dhabi’s Al Dhafra Festival. The event, which begins in mid-December and spills into January, is a celebration of the Bedouin. These desert-living groups inhabited the area until the 1950s, when the city began to grow and modernize.

december vacation ideas

Photo by Kyle Taylor

As a nod to the city’s Bedouin past, people gather in Madinat Zayed to show off local crafts, cuisine, culture and, of course, camels. The camels are adorned in costumes and jewelry and allowed to strut their stuff. The prettiest, fastest and most prolific milk producers are lauded and often attract the interest of wealthy buyers. Visitors to the festival enjoy great food, entertaining races and the knowledge that they’ve laid their eyes on the best-looking camels in the world.

best places to visit in december



3. Junkanoo Festival – Nassau, Bahamas

If the desert isn’t your thing, but you would still like to enjoy some sand and sun during the holidays, you may want to check out Nassau. You already know about the island’s pristine beaches, relaxing resorts and diverse nightlife. Those things alone make it one of the best places to travel in December. However, on both Dec. 26 and Jan. 1, Nassau throws a wild party that should not be missed.

december vacation ideas

Photo by Cathy T

The Junkanoo Festival is a huge street celebration that’s half carnival and half masquerade ball. Beginning at around 2 a.m., elaborately-costumed dancers and lavishly decorated floats begin to parade down Nassau’s streets to the beat of goombay drums. Many of the people who participate in the parade work on their costumes all year long. Those judged to have the most extravagant costumes have their handiwork displayed in the Junkanoo Expo Museum.

nassau december vacation ideas

Photo by Flickr user Sasha

There is some debate among locals as to how the Junkanoo Festival began. However, most believe the celebration dates back to the days of slavery. British loyalists migrated from America to the Bahamas in the late 18th century, bringing their African slaves with them. Each Christmas, the slaves were given three days off, and they used this time to make costumes, sing and dance. After slavery ended, the tradition nearly died off. However, it was eventually revived and evolved into a massive annual event.

december vacation ideas


4. Whirling Dervishes – Konya, Turkey

For those interested in more spiritual December vacation ideas, a trip to Turkey may be in order. A fascinating dichotomy exists within the city of Konya. For example, it is home to both ancient mosques and modern cityscapes. Meanwhile, it has a deeply religious populace, but it is also a university town with growing economic power. This tension between the old and the new, the religious and the economic is on full display during the city’s most famous event, the Whirling Dervishes Festival.

best places to travel in december

Photo by Nadia Ismail

The festival is a celebration of the teachings of Rumi, a 13th-century poet and Islamic theologian who practiced meditative twirling. Modern followers of the religious figure don tall hats and white robes to perform a feverish, spinning dance. The dizzying meditation, which is dedicated to love, tolerance and forgiveness, has been named a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. However, until the 1950s, the practice was banned by the secular Turkish government. It is commonly believed that the ban was finally lifted to boost Konya’s tourism revenue.

best places to visit in December

Photo by Adam Reeder

Because the festival is based on the Islamic religious calendar, the date of the event varies each year. However, it most often falls in November or December, and up to a million people come to watch the magical, moving and hauntingly beautiful celebration every year.

best places to travel in december

Photo by Ishlan Khosla


5. Hogmanay – Edinburgh, Scotland

When people talk about famous ways to ring in the new year, New York and Sydney, Australia, often come up. But those one-and-done New Year’s Eve celebrations have nothing on Edinburgh’s three-night Hogmanay street party. First of all, you can’t beat Edinburgh for its medieval beauty and charm. Second, the Scots know how to throw a really big, really long party.

best places to travel in december

Photo by Steve McCaig

Hogmanay dates back to the Norse invasion of Scotland when the Vikings marked the winter solstice with raucous parties. However, the celebration took on more meaning over time. You see, for around 400 years, Christmas was banned in Scotland because it was deemed to be too Catholic. As a result, many Scots worked on Dec. 25 and gathered to celebrate and give gifts on Dec. 31. This celebration eventually grew into a three-day event that includes music, fireworks, torchlit parades and the most heartfelt rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” you will ever hear. All in all, this marathon holiday event makes Edinburgh one of the best places to visit in December.

best places to visit in december

Photo by Andrew Snaps


6. The Christmas Market – Heidelberg, Germany

If your ideal December vacation is one with a whole lot of Christmas spirit, you’ll adore the quaint German city of Heidelberg and its beloved Christmas Market. One of the few German cities left unscathed by World War II, Heidelberg boasts an entirely original Old Town filled with medieval buildings, world-famous castle ruins, winding cobblestone streets, and impossibly idyllic hiking trails. In such a romantic setting, it’s easy to see why Heidelberg inspired the works of poets like Goethe and Schiller. It’s also easy to see why Heidelberg qualifies as one of the best places to travel in December.

Heidelberg best places to travel in december

Photo by Aaron White

The Heidelberg Christmas Market runs from late November up until Christmas. Christmas Markets are common all throughout Germany, but Heidelberg’s is special: rather than taking place in one large city square, as is the case in most German towns and cities, Heidelberg’s Christmas Market is spread out through the historic city center. You’ll wander through the picturesque streets from wooden hut to wooden hut, enjoying the smells of freshly grilled Bratwurst and sipping warm mulled wine, all the while with the illuminated castle looming overhead. With hundreds of merchants selling handcrafted goods and delicious eats, you’ll stay entertained for hours and get some serious Christmas shopping done.

Intrepid December travelers will find plenty of beautiful winter hiking in Heidelberg. Nestled in the Neckar Valley on the Heiligenberg mountainside, you can wander through the Odenwald forest for incredible views from above. A particular gem worth hiking to is the Thingstaette, the ruins of a massive open-air amphitheater and one of the few remaining relics of Nazi architecture in the region. Hidden in the woods atop the mountain overlooking Heidelberg, the structure is both ominous and eerily beautiful, especially when covered in a blanket of December snow.

heidelberg best places to travel in december

Photo by Flickr User Tales of a Wanderer

Get started planning the December vacation of a lifetime! The World Cup is coming to Qatar in November and December 2022. We’re busy putting together the ultimate Bucket List experience for World Cup Travelers. Sign up for updates about exclusive hotels, ticketing, exciting excursions, and VIP event access.

For more incredible recommendations for where to travel each month of the year, check out our full collection of posts on The Best Places to Travel by Month.

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