If you feel like you deserve a gift or two after powering through your family’s list, we don’t blame you (us, too). So why not plan a trip as a reward? Tack on some R&R time to a family visit, perhaps, or burn through some of the excess PTO that you’ve involuntarily accrued.
For long-haul trips, consider the Southern Hemisphere for a jolt of vitamin D or make a pilgrimage to the place where the nativity scene was invented. Then again, why not visit South America’s foremost festival of lights? Here are the 10 best places to travel this December.
1. Naples, Italy
December is great for: marking the nativity with a nativity
Anyone who’s fondly pulled out a nativity scene from the basement every holiday season should make a pilgrimage to Naples for Christmas at least once. It’s here that the first such scene was said to have been displayed in the 15th century (it’s known as a presepe in Italian or o’presebbio in the local dialect). Today, you’ll see nativities throughout the city, though the best neighborhood to explore is Via San Gregorio Armeno in the historic center; 40 or so workshops operate here, mostly producing high-quality versions of these figurines. No wonder it’s nicknamed Christmas Alley.
Make sure, though, to come after December 8, the date when most of the scenes are set out on display (baby Jesus, of course, is only added on Christmas Eve). To add to the seasonal festivities, Naples even has a renowned Christmas market of its own, selling handicrafts and other nods to its artisanal traditions—ceramics, yes, but also fine small leather goods.
Where to stay: Atelier Inès
Book now: Atelier Inès
Book one of the seven suites at Atelier Inès, an art-crammed B&B-style crash pad operated by the son of local artist and sculptor Annibale Oste; take a few classes with him, too, on jewelry making at the on-site workshop.
How to get to Naples
Alitalia RIP, long live ITA. This new national carrier—snazzily outfitted in a new sky-blue livery—flies from Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, and New York to its HQ in Rome. From there, it’s a short hop down to Naples, either on a plane or one of Italy’s surprisingly fast and slick trains.
December is great for: conversation and conservation
The South Pole is a destination that’s heating up, in every sense. Though only accessible for three to four months per year, starting each November, it’s increasingly on travelers’ radars. After all, who wouldn’t want the chance to check off a seventh continent, and one with such spectacular scenery at that?
But the icy landscape here is under siege from climate change, with average midwinter temperatures climbing 10 degrees over the last 60 years. This has already impacted species like the Adélie penguins, sea ice–dependent birds whose populations have plummeted. Consider, then, a boat trip here that’s focused on conservation, a chance to both learn from onboard experts how to protect this landscape and fund those efforts. Book a voyage with Abercrombie & Kent, and you can also make a donation to help underwrite the work of researchers at the U.S. Palmer Station there; since 2007, the company and guests have contributed nearly $500,000 to research efforts.
Where to stay: Le Lyrial
Book now: Le Lyrial
Since no one’s opened a hotel here—well, not yet—the best option is one of the ultra-luxury expedition ships now piercing the ice floes, like Abercrombie & Kent’s 199-person Le Lyrial.
How to get to Antarctica
Most Antarctica itineraries depart from Argentina’s southernmost tip, Ushuaia, which is a 3.5-hour flight down from Buenos Aires; the capital city connects to JFK on Aerolineas and Argentinas among others.
3. Placencia, Belize
December is great for: athletics alfresco
Placencia is an idyllic village on Belize’s southern reaches, and though it’s less well-known than popular destinations like Caye Caulker, this quieter corner has a major advantage over better-known northern strips. The sands here aren’t bedeviled by sand flies in the same way, so you can lounge by the sea in peace.
Then again, you could also bring some sneakers this month to run around the sands and countryside here, as part of the End of the World Marathon on December 4. It starts in Placencia Village proper and then winds around the local area via villages and beaches—always with Caribbean sea views—before landing back where it started for the finishing line. As a bonus, all proceeds from the race support scholarships and education for Belizean youth.
Where to stay in Placencia
Book now: Sirenian Bay
Hole up at the all-inclusive complex Sirenian Bay and stake out a claim at sunset with a perfect perch at three60, its rooftop martini bar with extraordinary views across the waters.
How to get to Placencia
American Airlines flies to Belize City from several hubs, including Dallas, while Southwest has service from Houston and United from Newark. It’s a 25-minute puddle jumper over the jungle from there to Placencia’s airstrip.
4. Miami, Florida
December is great for: skipping the velvet rope
From December 1 to 3, the world’s arterati will descend once more for that OTT culture fest known as Art Basel. Unlike the original in Switzerland that’s squarely for po-faced pros, this fiesta was deliberately founded to offer an irresistibly frothy combo of work and play for art collectors.
Sure, there’s a chance to snap up masterpieces at the main show or satellite fairs like Untitled, NADA, or furniture fest DesignMiami, but that’s not the only draw; everyone’s here to score a VIP invite to a party or two (even if they won’t admit it). Last year’s high society highlights included the final Louis Vuitton show by late designer Virgil Abloh, a chic beach party thrown by Chanel, a Leonardo di Caprio–hosted fundraiser for COVID-19 relief efforts, and a concert from Santigold.
Where to stay: Loews Miami Beach Hotel
Book now: Loews Miami Beach Hotel
Ask any gallerists where the serious collectors stay and they’ll stage-whisper it—not at any of the funky boutique hotels, but instead at the ultra-reliable deliver-your-dry-cleaning-on-time spot right next to the Convention Center, Loews.
How to get to Miami
What, you mean you’re not scooting down on a friend’s private jet? If you must go on a commercial carrier, Miami’s connected to almost every major hub via an assortment of airlines.
5. St. Kitts, St. Kitts and Nevis
December is great for: a classic Caribbean carnival
Carnival season (better known as Sugar Mas) kicks off in this nation, which consists of two islands yoked together in an uneasy alliance. The celebrations are centered in St. Kitts, the larger of the two, and start in late November, running for six weeks through January 2; the peak fiesta is during Christmas and New Year week, with the biggest bash of all on New Year’s Day itself.
Carnival here is a classic combination of the three Ps: parades, pageants, and a whole lot of partying centered in and around the capital of Basseterre. It’s a notable achievement for St. Kitts, given celebrations like this were only officially sanctioned to become a national event in 1971. Expect the greatest hits of Caribbean carnival traditions, from a boozy dawn-beating J’Ouvert to the stilt-walking folklore-inspired figures known as Moko-Jumbies, teetering over crowds at eight feet tall and wearing billowing gowns.
Where to stay: Sunset Reef
Book now: Sunset Reef
The seven-room Sunset Reef, which opened this summer, sits cliff side on Palmetto Point with superb views out across the water—a great hideout from the hectic thrills of Basseterre.
How to get to St. Kitts
American Airlines runs year-round direct service to SKB, the country’s main airport. (Take a taxi then a quick ferry to scoot across to Nevis.) From December, though, you can also fly here from Charlotte, North Carolina, and JFK on American, EWR on United, and ATL on Delta nonstop.
6. Hobart, Tasmania
December is great for: sampling treats from Australia’s secret gourmet hub
Tasmania is Australia’s secret gourmet corner—the micro climates here make it ideal for farming almost anything (notoriously finicky wasabi, for example), while the ice-cold waters make its fish premium enough to score a place at Tokyo’s Tsukiji market. Come to the capital Hobart this month to sample all that and more, via Taste of Summer (formerly Taste of Tasmania), which takes place for a week starting December 27 at Salamanca Place here.
Gorge on briny Bruny Island oysters and creamy Silver Spoon ice cream, and sample a shot of the bread-based vodka from Endangered Distilling Company. Oenophiles will also enjoy the event, as Tassie (call it that, as the locals do) produces less than 1 percent of the total volume of Aussie wine but 10 percent or so of its premium vintages.
Where to stay: Vibe hotel
Book now: Vibe hotel
The 142-room, 15-story Vibe hotel is a soaring new build punching into the sky a few blocks from the waterfront with sleek floor-to-ceiling windows to maximize the views—perfect timing, as late December is when the boats surge into the harbor at the end of the Sydney–Hobart yacht race.
How to get to Hobart
Hop on Air New Zealand’s new nonstop service from New York to Auckland, which started in September, then head straight over from there to Hobart, a new way to bypass the congested hubs on Australia’s mainland.
December is great for: screw-the-budget self-care
Gift yourself a little indulgence this December, and head to this Fantasy Island–style nation that’s become synonymous with sybaritic self-care in recent decades. The weather’s glorious this month, especially toward the end as the dry season kicks off. Expect consistent mid-80s without the clammy humidity that’s problematic in the summertime.
The waters are calm, too, making snorkeling and scuba ideal, and you’ll likely spot shoals of manta rays that teem in the ocean here at this time of year. Don’t feel you have to focus on anything, though, other than raising a toast by the pool. This is the last chance to celebrate the Maldives Golden Jubilee, which commemorates 50 years since the first resort opened here for outside visitors.
Where to stay: Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
Book now: Conrad Maldives Rangali Island
The Conrad Maldives has an underwater suite, the Muraka, that costs $50,000 per night. If that’s beyond your budget, there’s an undersea restaurant, Ithaa, 16 feet below the surface. Perhaps avoid ordering fish while they can see you eating.
How to get to the Maldives
It’s a true long-haul to reach the Indian Ocean from the U.S., taking around 17 hours or so in the air. There are no direct flights, so the most comfortable way is undoubtedly via the Middle East on one of the luxe carriers like Emirates or Qatar; breaking the journey there is right when you’ll want to stretch your legs.
8. Medellín, Colombia
December is great for: absolutely delightful displays of Christmas cheer
It was in 1955 that the modern Medellín, Colombia’s second city deep in its southern reaches, first celebrated the Christmas season with a few lighting displays, a nod to the recent establishment of a local public utility company. That organization, EPM, now has complete creative and logistical responsibility for the show, which has become a major tourist draw.
Known as Alumbrados Navideños or just El Alumbrado, it features dazzling tableaux dotted around the city, centered on the Parque Norte as well as ranged along the river here. This year the budget has been bolstered by 35 percent, so expect an extra-large spectacle.
Where to stay: Landmark Hotel
Book now: Landmark Hotel
El Poblado is an appealing base, known for its buzzy nightlife—try the new 83-room Landmark Hotel there, close to the park with its own rooftop pool. There are smartly designed duplex rooms, with two queen beds, ideal for friends traveling together.
How to get to Medellín
Catch a Spirit flight from MCO, MIA, or FLL to Medellín this winter. Otherwise, national carrier Avianca connects the city with JFK.
9. Aspen, Colorado
December is great for: ski, après-ski, and ice-karting
Aspen may be synonymous with fur-trimmed hats and upscale après-ski, but don’t assume that it’s simply for scenesters eager to cosplay a keenness for hitting the slopes. Snowmass, the biggest local hub, has more than 3,300 areas of skiable terrain and 150 miles of trails; if you want to perfect your snowboarding skills, or try it for the first time, the school here is arguably the best in the country.
It’s particularly appealing when it’s transformed each December for Ullr Nights, a family-friendly program named after the Norse god of snow. At Elk Camp in the evening, you can tube and snow bike by moonlight, then cozy up fireside with a fistful of gooey s’mores. One other must-try in midwinter: the Mario Kart-meets-sledding mashup that’s ice-karting, where you can careen around the surface of the frozen lake in Roaring Fork Valley.
Where to stay: The Gant
Book now: The Gant
Make yourself at home—literally—at one of the 140 condo-style rooms at the Gant, with private balconies for warmer days and a wood-burning fireplace to snuggle beside when the weather is brisk.
How to get to Aspen
ASE is Aspen’s local airport, where United, Delta, and American offer the chance to land at its hair-raising runway. In winter, though, it’s prone to closures for that very reason, so consider also flying to Denver and connecting—if your second flight’s nixed, it’s a three-hour or so scenic drive.
10. Stellenbosch, South Africa
December is great for: a balmy outdoor Christmas
Christmas markets aren’t just a staple of Mittel Europe. Even as temps reliably hit the upper 70s with rain (a rarity in South Africa’s Cape), come for a dose of festive cheer at the Blaauwklippen Twilight Christmas Market. Expect everything from pony rides and stargazing to carol-singing (cashmere scarf and hat strictly optional) plus a raft of food stalls that combine African staples like spitbraai with European traditions, including mince pies. It runs for five days each December at the namesake winery in Stellenbosch.
Make sure to stop by the new wellness retreat Sterrekopje in nearby Franschhoek, a luxe rejuvenation spot. If you’re not staying overnight, try a treatment or two at its sumptuous spa, where every experience kicks off with a soothing scrub down in its custom-built hammam.
Where to stay: Ellerman House
Book now: Ellerman House
The 15-room Ellerman House is a classic Cape Edwardian estate perched right overlooking Bantry Bay amid its own gardens.
How to get to Stellenbosch
Long-haul flights have been funneled via JNB for some time, but CPT is finally regaining some services, including direct nonstops from Newark, D.C., and Atlanta on United and Delta.