It’s that time of year again when flannel, winter lagers, and holiday overconsumption are back in-season. Unless you’re a lumberjack or a snowboarder ready to embrace the next three months of blizzards and Polar Vortices, however, you’re eagerly planning your first winter vacation. Although holiday travel is typically expensive, it can also be a great time to getaway. Based on the weather, travel prices, and goings-on, here are five of the best travel destinations to visit in December.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Even before the harshest winter weather sets in, most Americans are already daydreaming about escaping the cold. The Caribbean is an easy choice —it’s warm, it’s a short flight from the U.S., and it’s often cheap. This year, think outside the resort-shaped box (we’re looking at you, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic) next month with a getaway to the U.S. Virgin Islands. St. John is like the Key West of the Caribbean. It’s compact, lush (two-thirds of the island is a national park), chill, and the beaches are among the best in the world. It’s the antidote to many of the region’s larger, busier, more tourist-centric islands. For a more affordable alternative, check out neighboring St. Croix or St. Thomas. Both are easily accessible by ferry or a quick, island-hopping flight. Plus: Because the USVI is part of the U.S., travelers needn’t worry about passports, visas, customs declarations, and the like.
Quebec City, Canada
If you’re happy to fully embrace the bitter North American cold this December (“In for a penny, in for a pound,” right?), why not head even farther north? We’re not going to lie: Canadian winters aren’t unlike those in Siberia. They can be downright brutal. But, the absolute best time to visit Quebec City, in particular, is the dead of winter. The continent’s most Francophile-friendly city is gorgeous at any time of year. Come Christmas, however, it feels like a Charles Dickens novel come to life inside a snow globe. Cobblestone streets, freshly fallen snow, European-style Christmas markets, and plenty of words you probably don’t understand all create the illusion that you’ve traveled far across the pond. Also: The best, most authentic poutine in the known universe.
There’s a reason we’ve dedicated dozens of articles over the years to Japan. The country’s beauty is unmatched and unlike anywhere else in the world. December, in particular, is the ideal time to visit. Oshogatsu, the Japanese New Year, is the most important holiday on the country’s calendar with a full month of celebrations leading up to the event. Every city, town, and rural village throughout the country is packed with markets, festivals, lighting demonstrations, and beautiful ceremonies. As Japan’s cultural hub, Kyoto is the ideal place to celebrate it all.
Unless you’re trekking to the South Pole or working on the next Blue Planet project, there’s no practical way to explore Antarctica by land. The vast majority of tourism to the White Continent takes place via cruise ship. Each year, the window for boats to access the continent opens around December. Plan your trip around the holidays — think “spending Christmas morning on a remote Antarctic island surrounded by glaciers and penguins” — and you can save a boatload (pun intended) off traditional cruise prices. Because late December marks the start of the Antarctic summer, day-time temperatures are often surprisingly mild. In some cases, it’s warmer than in Chicago, New York, or D.C. Seriously.
Party Like It’s 2019
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
There are plenty of reasons to visit Brazil in (our) winter: It’s relatively inexpensive, flights are quick and easy, and the weather is better than most places in the United States (including Florida). If you’re keen to forget about the holidays and ring in the New Year unlike anywhere else on the planet, December is the ideal time to visit for one reason: Réveillon. Every New Year’s Eve, more than two million people gather at Copacabana Beach to celebrate the holiday in the largest, most well-attended, cachaça-fueled beach party on the planet.
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