Best places to visit in December

Joanne Owen

written by
Joanne Owen

updated 25.05.2023

Hands up who wants to visit Santa Claus’ village? How about being caressed by the Caribbean Sea in St Lucia? Or what about experiencing once-in-a-lifetime wildlife-watching in Costa Rica? Our run-down of the best places to visit in December gives you the low-down on these top December destinations.

This article is inspired by our Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for travelling the world.

1. Lapland: one of the best places to visit in December

Best for seeing Santa Claus and the Northern Lights

Lapland, Finland’s northernmost region, really is magical. While here, you'll find it hardly surprising that this picture-perfect landscape is the home of Father Christmas.

To meet the man himself, head to Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi. After telling him you’ve been very, very good and sharing your Christmas wish list, visit the nearby Arktikum Science Centre and Museum.

From wildlife and nature to the history and culture of the region’s indigenous Sami people, you'll leave with a deeper understanding of this remarkable part of the world. 

Going beyond Santa's Village, there is plenty to do in this winter wonderland. Try cross-country skiing, or sledding through snow-shrouded forests. Or try to witness the northern lights — December offers excellent chances of seeing them around Rovaniemi.  

    Make the most of your time in Lapland

  • Explore Lapland's largest frozen waterfalls at Korouoma Canyon — one of the best things to do in Finland.
  • Set on seeing the northern lights? Our Aurora Feast trip covers Finland, Norway and Sweden, and includes Santa Claus village, snowmobiling, and tracking the aurora borealis. 

    Where to stay

  • Best for five-star Santa treatment: Arctic TreeHouse Hotel. Sip champagne in nature near Santa's Village.
  • Best for families: Tilhi Chalet. A cosy apartment with gardens, games and sleds.
Northern lights with a igloo in Lapland, Finland © Smit/Shutterstock

Lapland, Finland — one of the best places to visit in December © Smit/Shutterstock

2. Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Best for tropical waterways and culture 

Voted one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam by our readers, the Mekong Delta presents some of Vietnam’s most iconic images. We’re talking emerald paddy fields, floating markets, lush canals, and more.

And, with the dry season running from December to May, it’s one of the best places to visit in December.  

The floating markets and fruit orchards around Can Tho showcase the region’s culture and landscapes in one fell swoop. Think bustling waterways and a maze of tangled mangroves. 

For another unforgettable experience, take a ferry to An Binh Island. With its own floating market, the landscape here represents the delta in miniature.  

The Khmer Pagodas around Tra Vinh are another must-visit. Over 100 beautiful Buddhist temples show the remarkable artistry of the Khmer people while serving as places of worship.

    Where to stay

  • Best for nature lovers: Mekong Lodge Resort. Pretty riverfront bungalows surrounded by lush gardens.
  • Best for foodies: Phuong Thao Homestay. Close to the An Binh ferry, with a pool and cooking classes

Read up on more places to stay in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam.

Mekong Delta, Vietnam © xuanhuongho/Shutterstock

Mekong Delta, Vietnam © xuanhuongho/Shutterstock

3. St Lucia, Lesser Antilles

Best for Caribbean escapes with adventure

World-class beaches, tropical rainforests, epic underwater wildlife, and the world’s only drive-in volcano. One thing’s for certain, St Lucia will leave you with lifelong memories. 

With a dramatic landscape dominated by the twin peaks of its iconic Piton mountains, St Lucia is a diamond-shaped gem of the Eastern Caribbean. 

While the island’s beaches, crystalline waters and boutique resorts make it a hot honeymoon destination, this lush island is also ripe for outdoor adventures. You could, for example, hike the volcanic Pitons.  

Love birdlife? Take a guided trek through Mount Edmund Forest Reserve. It’s a beautiful place to spot endemics like the St Lucia Parrot and St Lucia Oriole. 

Back on the coast, Anse Chastanet Marine Park is one of the best easy-access reefs in the Caribbean. Home to 150 species of marine life, with coral gardens and fringing reefs close to the shoreline, this is especially satisfying for beginner snorkelers. 

    Where to stay

  • Best for nature-loving foodies: Rabot Hotel/Hotel Chocolat. Luxury eco-cottages on a cocoa plantation.
  • Best for snorkelling in luxury: Anse Chastanet. Stylish rooms, plus top food, service and snorkelling

St Lucia is celebrated for its remarkable marine life © Shutterstock

4. Salzburg, Austria

Best for Christmas cheer and music

Being Mozart’s birthplace, and the setting for the Julie Andrews movie, Salzburg sings with the sound of music. Come winter, the city also chimes with Christmas magic. 

From mid-November, Cathedral Square and Residence Square are transformed into the stage for the Salzburger Christkindlmarkt. Meanwhile, Winterfest presents modern circus artistry, with a fringe festival supplying warming local food and drink. 

While in the city, you’ll want to wander Salzburg’s UNESCO World Heritage Site Old Town, and romantic Mirabell Palace and gardens. Sound of Music fans – you’ll recognise the palace’s Pegasus Fountain as the place Maria and the von Trapp children sang “Do Re Mi”.

Other highlights include heading up to handsome Hohensalzburg Fortress, where five museums and an awe-inspiring panoramic view awaits.

Music lovers will also want to visit Hagenauer Haus, where Salzburg's most famous son was born in 1756. Tours of Mozart's former apartment reveal how he lived, with exhibits of original letters, memorabilia and portraits documenting his time in Salzburg. Seeing his violin and clavichord definitely hits the high note.

Salzburg cathedral in winter © Tourismus Salzburg/Breitegger Günter

Salzburg cathedral in winter © Tourismus Salzburg/Breitegger Günter

5. Cape Verde, West Africa

Best for laidback beach breaks and epic landscapes

From fiery scenery, to world-class beaches, the islands of Cape Verde dish up a heady feast for all the senses. 

Chances are, if you’re thinking of visiting Cape Verde in December, beaches are a top priority. Praia de Santa Maria on the island of Sal should have things covered — powder-soft sand to sink your toes in. Turquoise sea to cool off in. And not to mention a promenade of restaurants and bars to make merry in. 

Beyond the beach, the cobblestoned streets of Mindelo, capital of São Vicente, display Cape Verdean culture in dazzling technicolour. Boasting a backdrop of rugged mountains, with bright merchants’ houses stretching along Porto Grande harbour, it’s known for its nightlife and more.

Meanwhile, Santiago’s Cidade Velha (Old City) is a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a fort, churches and a ruined cathedral to explore. 

Looking for something more adventurous? Head to the Parque Natural do Fogo to see Pico do Fogo, Cape Verde’s only live volcano. While hiking is too risky, you can take a 4-wheel drive trip through eerie fields of molten rock that lead to the volcano’s perfect cone. 


Beach on Boa Vista, Cape Verde © Shutterstock

6. Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Best for wildlife, nature and a festival of light 

Lapped by both the Pacific and Caribbean Oceans, Costa Rica is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries. A welcoming nation of unspoiled rainforests, beautiful beaches, and off-the-scale wildlife-watching experiences.

Costa Rica has also been blazing the trail for responsible travel for decades, with long-established eco-lodges and community-minded tourism projects. 

One of the best places to experience Costa Rica’s wildlife wonders in a sustainable style is on the Osa Peninsula in the southern province of Puntarenas.  

Here the Parque Nacional Corcovado is among the country’s most biodiverse regions, and home to some of the world's most endangered and spectacular mammals. These include tapirs and jaguars.  

If that wasn't enough, Corcovado Reserve is also one of the most beautiful national parks in Costa Rica, and a great place to hike. 

Top tip: time your flight to arrive in San Jose in mid-December. That way, you can experience the city’s fabulous Festival de la Luz before heading down to the Osa Peninsula. Held on the second Saturday of December, this exuberant Festival of Lights welcomes the start of the Christmas season with parades, music and spectacular firework displays.

    Where to stay in Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica

  • Best for mountain magic: Santa Juana Lodge. Stunningly sited, with a bounty of birds, waterfalls and walks.
  • Best for eco beach life: La Leona Eco Lodge. Cute candle-lit beach cabins near Corcovado National Park.
Tree frog, Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Corcovado National Park, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

Want more end-of-year inspiration? Read up on the best winter sun destinations around the world, and the most beautiful winter destinations. You might also want to read our run-down of the best places to visit in November and January.

And remember, wherever you're thinking of heading, there's sure to be a Rough Guide to enrich every step of your journey from the moment you start planning. 

Not keen on planning? Browse our customisable tailor-made trips. 

We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Header image: Lapland, Finland © Shutterstock

Joanne Owen

written by
Joanne Owen

updated 25.05.2023

Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

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