There’s something magical about big cities during the holiday season. Lights strung across wide streets, store windows dressed up in colourful displays, and Christmas trees in all shapes and sizes create a festive atmosphere. Ice skating rinks pop up in parks, and in some cities like New York, Chicago, London, and Washington DC, the weather is seasonally cold, and snow flurries might add a final touch to the scene. By Patricia Doherty
Since not everyone appreciates cold weather (or needs it to get into the holiday mood), we’ve included some sunny destinations that are the best places to travel to in December. In South Florida, Miami and Fort Lauderdale ring in the holidays in their own style, with glittering boat parades, light-strewn palm trees, and outdoor shopping. In tropical Belize, St. Lucia, and Los Cabos, travellers can stay warm and cosy in December.
European-style Christmas markets in Arlington, New York, Chicago, London, Washington DC, and many other cities bring a bit of the Old Country with handmade ornaments, mulled wine, hot chocolate, and food specialities that fit the theme. Even if a trip to Europe has to wait until next year, shoppers can capture the feeling with a visit to a holiday market in their hometowns or one of the cities we suggest here.
London, United Kingdom
London is one of the best places to travel to in December as it is a festive time, with lights, decorations, markets, ice skating, and holiday entertainment. The holiday classic, The Nutcracker, will be presented by the English National Ballet, and a favourite for more than 20 years, The Snowman, will be shown at the Peacock Theater throughout December. In Trafalgar Square, visitors can see the Christmas tree, an annual gift from Norway, and hear carol singing. In Hyde Park, Winter Wonderland festivities begin November 19, and Kew Gardens lights up for the holidays on November 17. Hogwarts at Warner Bros. Studios celebrates Christmas in the Wizarding World. The Natural History Museum ice rink returns from late October through mid-January. With so many sections of the city and delightful places to stay, visitors have no shortage of options. In Chelsea, there’s the new Beaverbrook Town House as well as 11 Cadogan Gardens and The Cadogan, a Belmond Hotel. The Mayfair Townhouse and The Biltmore Mayfair, LXR Hotels & Resorts are elegant choices. Also, consider the Conrad London St. James and The Stafford for luxury in London’s West End. Bundle up and enjoy the holiday season in London, and if your schedule allows, stay around for New Year’s Eve, when fireworks light up the River Thames.
Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Florida
If your idea of a perfect December involves lounging on a poolside chair in warm, sunny weather, consider this always exciting South Florida destination. You can get into the holiday spirit with the Fort Lauderdale Winterfest Boat Parade (December 11) or seasonal classic The Nutcracker at the Miami City Ballet (December 10-30). Art Basel (December 2-4) is a good reason to arrive early in the month, then stay for a while and visit Bal Harbour Shops, a luxe outdoor shopping centre with five-star dining, for your holiday gift buying. The Conrad Fort Lauderdale, located on exclusive North Beach, features all-suite accommodations and beachfront views. Also in Fort Lauderdale, the Kimpton Goodland is steps from the beach. In Miami, there’s SLS Brickell and SLS South Beach. The Mandarin Oriental features a private infinity-edge pool, bayside dining, spa, and five-star luxury. The Setai offers three pools, a private white-sand beach, city and ocean views, and an Asian-inspired spa. The luxe oceanfront St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort is another five-star option. Nearby, the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne is set on the coast of the five-mile barrier island.
This lovely island which is located in the eastern Caribbean Sea with a diverse landscape that includes tropical rainforest, volcano, jungle, mountains, and beaches is another great place to travel to in December. Pigeon Island Park in the north offers hiking trails, snorkelling, kayaking, and a glimpse into St. Lucia’s history in the ruins of an old fort. Soufrière, the original French capital and Old Town, is home to one of the island’s top snorkelling beaches. December 13 is the feast day of the island’s patron, St. Lucia, and the National Festival of Lights and Renewal in her honour heralds the coming Christmas season. Accommodations are located mainly on the west and south coasts, from guest houses to exclusive resorts. Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort offers a range of guest rooms, beachfront bungalows, and villas. Set on St. Lucia’s northwest coast, the hillside Windjammer Landing is an all-inclusive resort featuring ocean views, five onsite restaurants, a spa, and a private beach. On the shores of Rodney Bay, The Landings Resort and Spa is a beachfront property offering one, two, and three-bedroom villas. Sandals Regency La Toc, an all-inclusive adults-only resort, features oceanfront suites and an executive-style golf course. As with all international travel, be sure to check the current guidelines.
New York, New York
Festive lights, holiday markets, ice skating rinks, exquisitely decorated store windows, and special events make New York a perfect city for getting into the holiday spirit and a must-visit place to travel to in December. Broadway shows have returned to the Big Apple and the Rockettes will be high-kicking in Radio City Music Hall. Whether you get out on the ice or enjoy skating as a spectator, you’ll love the rink at Rockefeller Plaza with the towering light-laden Christmas tree overhead. Not far away, there’s another ice rink and Christmas tree in Bryant Park, along with one of the city’s best holiday markets. Locals and visitors stroll along Fifth Avenue to admire the extravagant window displays in stores like Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. Hotel choices are plentiful from uptown to downtown and even a subway ride away in Brooklyn and Queens. The Conrad New York Midtown and the all-suite Conrad New York Downtown are luxurious options. In a charming residential neighbourhood, the Smyth Tribeca is a new 100-room hotel.
Los Cabos, Mexico
At the southern tip of Baja, Los Cabos in December boasts sunshine and the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez. The Christmas season is time for decorations, lights, and the celebration of Las Posadas from December 16-24, commemorating the journey of Mary and Joseph with candlelit processions. December also sees the arrival of an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 whales from the cold waters of the Bering Sea as they prepare for the journey north in spring. Whale sharks also arrive in winter, and swimming with the gentle creatures is a thrilling experience. Hotels, resorts, restaurants, golf courses, and spas are plentiful, giving visitors a range of options. Montage Los Cabos is set on the calm waters of Santa Maria Bay, and Chileno Bay Resort & Residences offers guest rooms and villas on a swimmable beach. Grand Solmar at Rancho San Lucas is ideal for an extended stay with ocean-view suites and full kitchens, four pools, and a saltwater lagoon. Esperanza offers a private beach and a Posada Rosa holiday festival. At Zadún, guests enjoy a serene atmosphere and views of the Sea of Cortez. The Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal features private plunge pools, and the Hilton Los Cabos offers superb dining and family activities. On the East Cape, Costa Palmas is home to the elegant Four Seasons Resort, marina, and challenging golf course.
December weather in the nation’s capital is usually dry, with temperatures in the 40s. With warm clothing and comfortable shoes for walking, it’s a great time to be in Washington, DC. Museums and cafes are plentiful if you need to warm up before venturing out to enjoy the neighbourhood markets and glittering lights. Outside the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Downtown Holiday Market offers seasonal music, artisan gifts, locally roasted coffee, and snacks. Self-guided holiday tours of the White House are memorable, but requests must be submitted to your member of Congress at least three weeks ahead of your visit. The National Christmas tree at the White House Ellipse and the US Capitol Christmas tree are always spectacular. The lighting of the world’s largest menorah on November 28 will kick off Hanukkah, and a new candle will be illuminated on each of the eight days of the Festival of Lights. At historic Ford’s Theater, “A Christmas Carol” will be presented from November 24-December 27. Washington hotels combine history and comfort, with many options available. Stay at the elegant Rosewood Washington DC, the Capital Hilton, or the historic Hamilton Hotel. In the Dupont Circle area, there’s The Ven at Embassy Row, the new Oakwood Suites & Studios, and Kimpton Banneker, featuring views of the White House and Washington Monument. The Riggs Washington DC is set in a historic former bank building. Visitors can also stay across the Potomac in Alexandria where the Holiday Boat Parade will take place on December 4.
Located in Central America, Belize, another great place to travel to in December, is bordered on the north by Mexico, to the south and west by Guatemala, and to the east by the Caribbean Sea. The Belize islands of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, accessible by plane or boat, lie off the coast. Though small — it’s the second smallest country in Central America — Belize is diverse, with a variety of distinctive environments. In the north, the ecosystem consists of jungles, rainforests, and lagoons. The central part of the country is home to waterfalls, caves, and dense jungle. Archaeological sites, ruins, and ancient temples remain from the Mayan Empire dating between 250 AD and 900 AD. Diving and snorkelling are popular in Belize, where the world’s second-largest barrier reef, several coral atolls, and Great Blue Hole, a geological wonder, are found. The Holiday Boat Parade on December 5 takes place on Ambergris Caye, ending in Central Park with a prize for the best-decorated boat, a Christmas tree, a market, and a carolling competition. The Alila Belize, a beachfront Autograph Collection Hotel, is on Ambergris Caye featuring a spa, kids’ club, adventure concierge, and rooftop pool. Also on Ambergris Caye, adults-only all-inclusive Matachica Resort Belize is part of a private jet package with evoJets that includes round-trip flights, accommodations, and tours. For a secluded vacation, Cayo Espanto is a private island resort with luxe accommodations. If you’re planning a trip to Belize this winter, be sure to check current COVID guidelines.
Aspen Snowmass, Colorado
Skiers who have been patiently (or not!) waiting for snow will be glad to know that Aspen Mountain and Snowmass will open for the season on November 25, and Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk plan to open on December 11. There’s more to do than skiing, and for a different kind of thrill, you may want to experience the Breathtaker Alpine Coaster, or try snowbiking, tubing, dog sledding, or a snowshoe tour. About 15 miles apart, both Aspen and Snowmass offer restaurants, pubs, and a variety of places to stay, from resorts to condos and rental homes. In Aspen, Hotel Jerome includes a variety of accommodations at its historic property. The Gant‘s upscale condominiums are located in a five-acre enclave at the base of Aspen Mountain. In the same area, the St. Regis Aspen Resort features a heated outdoor pool with views of Aspen Mountain and Dante for award-winning cocktails. The Little Nell overlooks the Silver Queen Gondolas and offers fine dining at Element 47 and aprés-ski favourite, Ajax Tavern. The new Aspen Street Lodge is a luxury retreat with nine lodge rooms and a two-bedroom penthouse suite. For an upscale home rental, The Residence at Aspen Valley Ranch offers world-class amenities. In Snowmass Village, there’s Viewline Resort Snowmass, a ski-in/ski-out destination, Wildwood Snowmass, with a variety of guest rooms, and Viceroy Snowmass, for modern luxury and comfort.
In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, approximately halfway between the two cities, Arlington is a great destination in December. Temperatures are mild. The city gets into the holiday spirit, and Arlington is home to Texas Christkindl Market, inspired by German traditions. Six Flags celebrates with Holiday in the Park, featuring seasonal attractions, entertainment, light shows, and a Christmas tree. Texas Live!, a year-round dining and entertainment area, gets a makeover during the holidays with Luminova Holidays, nearly 3 million lights, an ice skating rink, and a massive Christmas tree. The town of Interlochen continues its tradition of extravagantly decorated homes, a family favourite for cruising during the holidays. Arlington is conveniently located about 10 minutes from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
Wintery weather, twinkling lights, ice skating rinks, and a Christmas market add to Chicago‘s appeal in December. The annual Magnificent Mile Lights Festival and ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo delight visitors with holiday events and dazzling illumination. German-style outdoor Christkindlmarket takes shoppers to Europe with traditional pretzels, bratwurst, hot spiced wine, and products from around the world. Millennium Park‘s ice skating rink opens in December with holiday spirit for skaters and spectators. Strollers on Chicago’s Riverwalk will enjoy seasonal light projections on Art on the Mart. Year-round favourite destinations — and a chance to come in from the cold — are the Art Institute of Chicago, Skydeck, and the Museum of Illusions. Stay at the Ritz-Carlton, Chicago with newly renovated guest rooms, fine dining at Torali, and the greenhouse-inspired Cafe. The iconic Palmer House has undergone a major renovation as it celebrates its 150 year anniversary. The Waldorf Astoria Chicago is another luxurious option, and the Sheraton Grand offers views of the lake, river, and city. Hilton Chicago‘s new room configuration, Family Reconnection, sleeps up to 16 people in four guest rooms with a Parlor Suite. Just outside the city, the Drake Oak Brook and Deer Path Inn are lovely destinations for a winter visit to Chicago.