From beachy getaways to cozy Christmas markets and ski bum paradises, there are some seriously cool places to visit in December. Personally, I like to hang out in the Southern Hemisphere during this time, where the seasons are flipped and winter in the U.S. is summertime elsewhere.
As a USA local and an avid national and world traveler, I’ve been to some pretty fun (and not so fun) destinations in December. In this article, I’ll dish out the best European Christmas markets, tropical island beaches, desert escapes, cobblestone villages, and more. Let’s dive into December!
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Places to Visit in December in the USA
Kick off the spirit of the holidays at California’s most popular theme park.
Disneyland may not receive real snow in December but it’s still a winter wonderland. Disneyland comes alive during the holidays with fun decor, Christmas parades, hot cocoa, and simulated snow around the park.
December is one of the busiest times to visit Disneyland, so I recommend going as early in the day as possible to enjoy some early morning rides without lines. Every Disney trip runs a lot smoother with the helpful Disneyland app as well.
From the app, you can reserve fast passes (or Disney Genie+ passes), order food online, check specific ride wait times, and check showtimes. Check out our other top Disneyland tips before you visit one of the most popular theme parks in California for a hassle-free experience.
When the rest of the U.S. is experiencing freezing temperatures, you can always count on Tucson to warm you up.
A desert oasis with botanical diversity, stunning hikes, and intriguing museums, Tucson is one of the best December destinations in the Wild West. So much so, that you’ll find a wintertime influx of Snowbirds – i.e. folks who follow the best weather in the U.S.
The sunny, warm desert weather of Tucson, Arizona has beautiful, balmy days in the winter but, admittedly, warms up a little too much in the summer.
My favorite thing to do in Tucson is visit Saguaro National Park, one of the best places to visit in Arizona. The national park is engulfed by thousands of giant cacti of the same name, a quintessential trademark of the American Southwest.
St. George, Utah
A warm Southwestern city that’s near many of Utah’s national parks.
The Southwestern desert states are my top places to visit in December thanks to their warm, semi-arid climates. While St. George may receive chilly evenings during the holiday season, daytime in the southern Utah desert is next to perfect.
St. George is the perfect destination to set up a base camp for exploring the deep Navajo Sandstone gorges, slot canyons, and hiking trails of the Pine Valley Mountains.
For more, check out McKenna’s full list of the top things to do in St. George.
Palm Springs, California
A famous Southern California resort town with early summer temperatures in the wintertime.
Palm Springs is another classic Snowbird destination. This Southern California city accredits its famous hot year-round weather to its low position in the Coachella Valley. Winter temperatures average 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the perfect warm weather in my book.
Palm Springs is a resort town with a bustling Thursday night farmers market. This desert town is also a mecca of shopping and restaurant/bar hopping. The fun things to do in Palm Springs don’t stop there. Hiking trails in the nearby San Jacinto Mountains are my favorite Palm Springs pastime and the famous Joshua Tree National Park is only an hour away.
Joshua Tree, California
One of California’s most popular desert national parks is also home to a trendy desert town and a spooky revived ghost town.
Joshua Tree is one of the best places to visit in December. The winter and early spring months are the peak season in Joshua Tree National Park, one of the most popular national parks in California. Hiking trails are only safe to hike in the non-summer months due to the extreme heat of the Mojave desert.
Just 2 hours away, Joshua Tree is one of the best day trips from Los Angeles to reconnect with desert solitude. Bring a tent and camp under the explosion of stars in the national park for the best possible Joshua Tree experience.
I recommend budget travelers to check out the Sunfair dry lakebed, my favorite place to camp for free right outside the national park.
December may be the rainy season in tropical Hawaiian paradise but it’s also the perfect time to snag affordable Hawaii deals.
The beaches of Oahu are an excellent way to get into the holiday spirit this winter. Oahu does experience a bit of rain during this time but the crowds are thinned out and flights are cheaper, making it one of the best places to visit in December.
While you may not encounter an ice skating rink and tree lighting ceremonies on the tropical island around Christmas time, you will find plenty of fresh fruit, shaved ice, and surfboard rentals.
Oahu isn’t wet the entire month. It typically rains for short periods each day, then clears up considerably. When I went to Oahu in the winter, I usually spent the slow rainy mornings with a cup of coffee or a smoothie then headed out to explore the island in the afternoon when it cleared up.
This U.S. territory experiences its dry season in the winter, meaning sunny days at the beach are open for business at this time.
A territory of the United States, Puerto Rico is best visited in December, the peak tourist season with great weather and festive events. The year-round warm weather makes Puerto Rico an ideal vacation spot no matter the season but I prefer visiting in the winter, when the chances of rain are little to none.
December is the best time to visit Puerto Rico because not only is this the dry season, but the holiday season also kickstarts a series of festivals and parties throughout the country. Additionally, this is the ideal time to go surfing, one of the most fun things to do in Puerto Rico.
New York City, New York
The “Big Apple” may be cold in the winter, but it sure knows how to spread the perfect amount of holiday cheer.
A New York December is certainly a cold endeavor but there’s magic in the air during the holiday season in the big city. The holiday decorations and lights around the city and in Central Park transform the landscape from an enterprise estate to a cheerful celebration.
For the quintessential December experience in New York, go roller skating at the Rockefeller Plaza, check out the Dyker Heights Holiday Lights, and see the New York City Ballet perform The Nutcracker.
My sister and I rang in the 2015 New Year in the freezing New York night watching the Manhattan ball drop. Although we waited over 12 hours in the mundane Times Square center to see the action, it promptly got us into the holiday spirit.
📚 Related Reading: Best Things to Do in Central Park
Shred down world-famous slopes like a pro at the most popular ski resort town in Colorado.
What better time to hit up Colorado’s most intense ski resort than in the heart of winter? Skiers, snowboarders, and other winter sports enthusiasts can all be found in Vail come December to hit the slopes full-force.
Skiing in Vail is one of the top things to do in Colorado during the winter. The quaint mountain town also offers shops and spas to unwind in after spending the entire morning having some powdery fun.
Taos, New Mexico
An adobe-style Southwestern town with a Spanish influence and an Indigenous presence.
Taos is one of my favorite places to visit in December in New Mexico. The northern NM state may be a bit chilly at this time, but it’s scant on tourist crowds. I love visiting cool New Mexico hot springs by Taos in the winter because the otherwise crowded thermal pools are empty.
One of the coolest things to do in Taos is the Taos Pueblo. Check their online schedule beforehand, however, as the Pueblo tours vary per month.
San Clemente, California
The Southern Californian coast is always warm in the winter, including the sunny beaches of San Clemente.
There’s no better way to spend your Christmas holiday than by lounging on a sunny Southern California beach. San Clemente is one of my favorite California beaches that’s slightly off the beaten path.
When it’s cold and overcast at my house just an hour inland, I can count on sunnier weather down by the San Clemente beach. I recommend staying at the San Clemente State Beach campground, situated on a high cliff above the Pacific Ocean.
December is the perfect time to have a bonfire at your campsite by the beach, so I recommend reserving a site at Reservecalifornia.com.
Key West, Florida
Enjoy tropical paradise without leaving the U.S. at Key West.
Key West is an island city that’s a part of the Florida Keys, one of the best places to spend a winter in Florida. Key West offers a tropical island paradise in the U.S. similar to that of the islands of Central America.
Smathers Beach, Key West is one of the top Florida beaches and is perfect for snorkeling and suntanning. Lined with palm trees, you’ll also find plenty of shade on this popular Florida beach, perfect for beach napping.
The Sierra Nevada Mountains, California
An alpine alcove of high-altitude mountains, rejuvenated with a natural winter spirit during the first snow dusting.
As a frequent Sierra Nevada Mountain visitor, I cannot recommend this alpine winter wonderland enough. High-altitude lakes are frozen, treetops are covered with a blanket of snow, and snow hats grace the granite mountaintops.
There are far fewer tourists in the Sierra Nevadas at this time due to freezing temperatures. Some top alpine California hikes in this area include Big Pine Lakes, Mount Whitney, Mount Langley, and the Eagle Lake Trail in Lake Tahoe.
I highly recommend packing winter hiking gear if visiting this high-altitude mountain range in December. Some of my favorite gear to pack includes microspikes, trekking poles, crampons, an ice axe, Gore-tex gaiters, mountaineering socks, mountaineering boots, thermal underwear, and a Gore-tex outer shell.
Red Rocks, Nevada
Only minutes from Las Vegas, this red sandstone landscape is like stepping onto an entirely different planet.
Red Rocks, Nevada is another spectacular Southwest winter destination. Only 15 minutes away from the chaos of Downtown Las Vegas, Red Rocks sports warm daytime temperatures year-round and is the perfect winter hiking spot.
Places to Visit in December (International)
One of the oldest Christmas markets in the world can be found in this classic German town.
Nuremberg, Germany is one of the best places to visit in December for the classic Christmas markets. It’s one of the oldest and most famous markets in the world and is sure to get travelers in the holiday spirit.
Shop for handmade German handicrafts and warm baked goods at the market or explore the surrounding German storybook town. Nuremberg is one of the best places to backpack in Europe, even as a solo traveler! Visiting in December is sure to bring fewer crowds and bigger opportunities to meet warm locals.
Lake Louise, Canada
Canada’s most famous alpine lake is void of tourist crowds in the chilly winter months.
I’ve visited Lake Louise in both the summer and the winter and my experiences were drastically different in the two seasons. This Canadian alpine lake was bursting at the seams with tourists in the summer, so much so that it teetered on the brink of unpleasantness.
Lake Louise in December, however, was a totally different beast. Once I got used to the cold and layered up in as many warm clothes as I could, Lake Lousie was almost empty in the winter!
The photos I snagged at this time of Canada’s most famous lake were free of tourists and the light dusting of snow on the surrounding treetops and mountains made it even more magical. Lake Louise is definitely one of the best places to visit in Canada!
One of the best Scandinavian places to see the Northern Lights.
December is the peak time of year to see the famous Northern Lights in Scandinavia. Tromso, Norway has fewer tourists than other popular destinations for viewing the Aurora Borealis, not to mention cute countryside cottages.
Centuries-old houses set the stage in Tromso’s historic center. Layer up and take a day trip to the surrounding waterfalls of the area or climb a surrounding mountain peak.
Queenstown, New Zealand
Get your adrenaline fix in Queenstown, a nature haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
New Zealand’s South Island is the adventure capital of Oceania. Bungee jump off the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, fly tandem in a stunt plane, go jet boating, or ski in the Queenstown Alps.
New Zealand’s summer is from December to February, yielding the best, driest weather of the year. The outdoor excursions in Queensland are the most enjoyable at this time, making December an ideal time to visit the country.
Find the most affordable prices on the island in the wintertime.
Tropical paradise, juicy fruit, and a plethora of wildlife await in the tropical jungles of Bali, Indonesia. The dry season may be April-October but the time to avoid crowds and find the best prices is during the shoulder months.
You’ll find the most affordable island prices in Bali in December as well as fun festivals like the New Year’s Eve celebrations and the Tumpek Kandang – Animal Worship Festival.
A colonial Spanish city with grand, colorful architecture and Indigenous roots.
A warm, beachy destination, December is the perfect time to visit Cartagena, Colombia. The grand architecture of the colorful colonial city is captured perfectly on cameras, and the energy of the city is invigorating.
Cartagena is located on the Caribbean Coast at the north end of the country and its cobblestone streets are filled with live music and dancing cumbia feet. The beaches are prime in this city, so I recommend bringing your best bathing suits or booking yourself a Cartagena kayaking tour.
For a city escape, I recommend visiting Parque Tayrona. It’s a 5-hour bus ride from Cartagena, but the hiking and views are some of the most iconic in Colombia.
Mexico City, Mexico
The entirety of Mexico’s capital city celebrates the holidays with decor and plenty of fiestas to go around.
Mexico City is a hub for Christmas celebrations around the holiday season. The whole Avenida Paseo de la Reforma (the main road in the city) is lined with seasonal poinsettia plants, an indigenous Mexican plant that now symbolizes the holiday season.
In addition, the Zocalo, or downtown plaza, is decorated with huge holiday decor and hosts occasional Christmas parades known as posadas. You may also catch live reenactments of the Nativity Scene at the Cathedral or the Basilica of Guadalupe.
There are plenty of fun things to do in Mexico City and the festive nature of Mexico really comes alive here in December.
A lesser-traveled Asian beach town right on the Indian coast.
The best time to visit Goa India is, you guessed it, December! The clear sunny beaches beckon at this time. Most other tropical island vacationers are hanging out on the beaches of Thailand or the nearby Seychelles, so you’ll have island paradise all to yourself (and some locals).
Besides hanging out on Palolem Beach, the Dudhsagar Falls Nature Preserve is out-of-this-world gorgeous. I highly recommend making your trip at least a 2-week adventure so you can branch out and explore other beautiful Indian destinations like New Delhi and Jaipur.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Visit one of the oldest dwellings in Cambodia full of ancient temples and powerful palaces amid dense jungle.
Visit the astonishing temple complex of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This jungle paradise was once home to centuries-old civilizations and today houses thousands of archaeology-loving tourists.
Angkor Wat is one of the great cultural wonders of the world, a sight with a magnitude so grand that it’s best understood in person. I also highly recommend checking out the Angkor National Museum, where most of the ancient artifacts are held today.
Ecuador’s capital city is close to the highest Andes Mountains in the country, perfect to scale with a professional in the winter.
I’ve been to Ecuador three times now, always in November or December. The capital city Quito holds great bunches of both colonial and Indigenous history but the surrounding mountains are my favorite attraction in Quito.
20,000-foot mountains in the Andes Mountain Range of Ecuador peek through the ever-present overcast in Quito, beckoning hopeful climbers to attempt a summit effort. I attempted Cotopaxi twice but was turned around due to extreme weather.
If you do choose to climb high mountains like Cotopaxi and Chimborazo, I highly recommend going with a local Ecuadorian guide. They know all the ins and outs of the mountain, are reasonably priced, and the money you pay a local guide directly benefits the local Ecuadorian economy.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A Southern Mexican resort town with smooth tequila and expansive views of the Pacific Ocean.
Warmer weather awaits in Puerto Vallarta. I’ve been to “PV” countless times in December, which was the perfect time to go snorkeling, whale watching, and downtown cruising without breaking too much of a sweat.
I personally like to go horseback riding through the jungle in Puerto Vallarta, but lounging on the beach is another perfect pastime.
Limon, Costa Rica
Fill your days with music and your nights with dancing on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast.
Most Western travelers flock to the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica in places like Tamarindo. Travel off the beaten path to the district of Limon on the Caribbean side for a less crowded experience.
I hung out in Puerto Viejo for about three weeks volunteering in a hostel, napping on the beach, surfing, and visiting sloth sanctuaries. The thick Costa Rican jungle collides with the beach, creating one of the most picturesque landscapes in Limon.
Live reggae fills the streets and baked goods, rice, and beans are infused with local coconut. Limon is one of the most fun Costa Rica districts in my opinion.
A jungle town rich with cenotes that was once home to ancient Maya civilizations.
Tulum has risen in popularity tenfold in recent years. It may be over-infused with nomads and foreign expats, but visiting Tulum has earned every ounce of its popularity.
Ancient Maya ruins, beautiful Tulum beaches, and enchanting cenotes, or limestone watering holes, can be found throughout the area. Tulum is also near Playa del Carmen and Cancun, other top places in Mexico.
FAQs About Where to Travel in December
What are the best places to visit in December in the USA?
What are the best international destinations to visit in December?
What is the most romantic place to visit in December?
Some of the most romantic places to visit in December include the European Christmas Markets. One of the oldest Christmas markets in the world is in Nuremberg, Germany, and is a very romantic place to experience the holiday festivities.
📅 Month-by-Month Travel Inspiration:
Thanks for reading my ultimate guide to places to visit in December! Let me know in the comments which was your favorite. Up next, check out my epic list of budget-friendly family vacation ideas.
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