December might be dark and chilly in much of north America and Europe, but it’s by no means a dull month to travel. There are world-class classical music events, Christmas markets aplenty and oodles of southern-hemisphere sunshine. Here's where to go in December. Remember, if you're thinking of planning a trip – get in touch. We can put you in touch with local experts in over 70 destinations to plan and book a fully personalised trip.
Where to go in December in Europe
Christmas market time in Munich
If you want to experience an old-fashioned European yuletide, the run-up to Christmas doesn’t get much more traditional than in Munich. The first Christkindlmarkt took place here in the fourteenth century; today there are at least a dozen individual markets centring on Marienplatz, where row-upon-row of wooden stalls appear at the start of the month. Christmas tree decorations, candles and lebkuchen abound, but the highlight of any shopping trip is a mug of glühwein, often fortified with a warming shot of brandy. Prost! For more good cheer, see our pick of the best Christmas destinations.
Munich christmas market © Rudy Balasko/Shutterstock
Enjoy Opera Season in Milan
Opera season kicks off in Milan on the 7th of December, St Ambrose's Day, when the city’s most glamorous pack into the opulent La Scala theatre. Opened in 1778, this opera house is where Verdi debuted his early compositions and the first night of the season remains a highlight on the city's social calendar. If you’re not lucky enough to bag one of the elusive tickets, there’s plenty of atmosphere to soak up at this time of year elsewhere. St Ambrose, or Sant’Ambrogio, is the city’s patron saint, and there are festive markets and special religious services in his honour around the public holiday on the 8th of December.
The Teatro alla Scala in Milan, Italy © Moreno Soppelsa/Shutterstock
Marvel at the Northern Lights in Sweden
The soft, flickering wisps of colour in the sky are caused by solar particles hitting the earth’s atmosphere: each hue is produced by a different element. The northern lights are best seen within the Arctic Circle, so think about taking a husky sled tour of Swedish Lapland. It’s best to give yourself a week or two for the best chance of seeing the display. Keep your fingers crossed (inside a good pair of mittens) for cloudless skies.
Northern lights (Aurora borealis) in Lapland, Sweden © Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock
Watch whirling dervishes in Turkey
Turkey sits on the interchange between Europe and Asia. The country has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons this year, but remains a rewarding country to explore. December means the intriguing Whirling Dervishes Festival in the conservative city of Konya. The festival is a week-long feat of hypnotic whirling rituals known as sema, which the Mevlevi people believe bring them closer to God. All of the festival events culminate with the anniversary of the death of their founder, 13th century poet Rumi (known as Mevlâna, the sainted one) on the 17th of December.
Whirling Dervishes in Konya, Turkey © Turkey Photo/Shutterstock
Where to go in December in the USA
Get an early ski season deal in Colorado
The four resorts that make up Colorado's Aspen Snowmass are all open by the second week of December. Better yet, there are usually some good early ski season deals available. Away from the slopes, Glenwood Springs, 30 miles north, provides the perfect respite after hitting the powder. The hot springs here are naturally heated year-round by the geothermal Yampah spring, which pumps out over three million gallons of water a day at a toasty 51°C (123°F). Thankfully the therapy pool is kept at a slightly less scalding 40°C (104°F); the sight of the steam rising against the snow-capped peaks beyond is a glorious vista.
The spectacular 'maroon bells' mountains in Aspen © Kan Khampanya/Shutterstock
Where to go in December for winter sun
Dive the Blue Hole in Belize
Hurricane season has just come to an end in December. As a result, this is the perfect time to visit Belize before sun-seekers descend in their droves. When you arrive, make a beeline for the country’s most popular islands, laidback Caye Caulker and upmarket Ambergris Caye. From here you can take trips to the reef-fringed blue hole. Measuring 300m in diameter and over 100m deep, this peacock-blue abyss offers superb diving. Those without the necessary experience can snorkel at the nearby Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where nurse sharks might tickle your toes as they pass beneath.
Blue Hole in the Caribbean Ocean off the coast of Belize © Tami Freed/Shutterstock
Spend Christmas on Bondi Beach
Spending Christmas day on Bondi has become a backpacker tradition. Every year an international crowd congregates on the beach each year to celebrate (or commiserate) missing out on turkey and drizzle back home. Expect fur-trimmed bikinis and snowman sandcastles in place of Christmas trees and cake. The beach is now alcohol-free, but beach bars along the sand will keep the drinks flowing.
People relaxing on the Bondi beach in Sydney, Australia © Aleksander Todorovic/Shutterstock
Sign up for posadas and piñatas in Mexico
December is a great time to visit the white-sand beaches of the Mayan Riviera on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Temperatures hover around a balmy 25°C (77°F), and it’s several months before the spring-breakers launch their annual assault on Cancun. From the 16th of December, you might also catch families taking part in posadas, processions re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Alongside posadas, piñatas – papier-mâché or clay creations stuffed with sweets – make plenty of appearances.
Mayan Riviera in Mexico © VICTOR TORRES/Shutterstock
Mingle with movie stars in Marrakesh
The chaos of Marrakesh’s souks is best experienced in a little less heat, and temperatures usually top out in the early twenties at this time of year. The first week of December also sees the city’s increasingly revered film festival come to town. Big screens pop up amid the snake charmers and henna artists in the Djemaa el Fna, and you might even catch the odd Hollywood star padding around the shady Majorelle Gardens or sipping cocktails in the Nouvelle Ville. Chillier days provide the perfect opportunity to take a cooking class or visit a hammam.
The bell tower - or giralda - of the Koutoubia mosque in Marrakesh © Nicram Sabod/Shutterstock
Ring in the New Year in Rio
The easiest way to be sure of some winter sun is to head south, where summer is in full swing. From the Amazon to Iguaçu Falls, Brazil’s attractions could easily occupy a whole month, but make sure you end up in Rio for New Year’s eve: the city does a street party like no other. Several million people pack onto Copacabana beach each year for the celebrations, traditionally wearing white to bring luck in the New Year. If crowds aren’t your thing, take in the offshore firework display from a beachfront hotel.
Cable car travelling up Sugarloaf mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil © katjan/Shutterstock