Want to find the wintriest, most festive places to visit in December, or a heavy dose of culture and warmth in an unlikely far-flung spot? Either way, we have you covered. From a Finnish winter wonderland and cities with extra Christmas sparkle (hallo, Berlin), to a vibrant contemporary art biennale in tropical Kerala and sunny Miami, these are the best reasons and places to travel in December this year. And for something entirely different, stargazers can get their life-affirming astronomy fix with a meteor shower and a total eclipse in Patagonia, South America. Doesn't that sound amazing?
Best places to travel in December
Brave the harsh Berlin winter and reap the rewards: the run-up to Christmas is when the city is at its most charming. Get a round of glühwein in while exploring a Christmas market (at Bröhan Museum market products are handmade by locals, while Spandau’s market is all old-Europe vibes). Alexanderplatz’s funfair will be in full swing, while Berlin’s Botanical Garden becomes an illuminated wonderland with twinkling fairy lights and glowing sculptures every December, with an ice rink to slip and slide around too. Warm up after a spin by the fire pit with more hot booze. Prost!
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It’s easy to see why tourism in India’s serene southwestern state is flourishing, with palm-fringed beaches, tranquil tea plantations, tiger-spotting opportunities, and it’s also one of India’s more eco enclaves. In forward-looking Kochi, heritage meets hip, in between colonial ruins and cutting-edge galleries. And December 12 marks the beginning of the three-month Kochi-Muziris Biennale, India’s biggest contemporary art event, as galleries, disused buildings, public spaces and heritage sites across the city are filled with sculpture, film, painting, installations and performance art.
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This picturesque Nordic nation was named the best country to visit for wildlife in 2019's Global Wildlife Travel Index. And it makes sense: Finland is big on conservation, with 39 national parks and nearly three-quarters of its land covered in forest. All kinds of cold-weather dwelling creatures live here, from arctic foxes to lynxes, wolverines and snow hares—but go in December to see Rudolph and his chums in the snowy, winter paradise that is Finnish Lapland. Where, of course, you’ll also find Santa—this is the home of Christmas, after all.
For an arty party in the city it has to be Art Basel in Miami. In December the Swiss-born contemporary art fair arrives in Miami to exhibit and sell the work of established international artists. But you don’t have to be in the industry, or uber-rich, to get in on the action: plenty of fringe events happen outside of the main convention centre at Miami Beach that same week. Check out the public sculpture, and the many pop-ups, gallery events and installations that have led this to be dubbed ‘Art Week’ by locals. Welcome to Miami!
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Because of its vast dark skies, Northern Patagonia is an epic stargazing spot at any time of year, but with a meteor shower and a total eclipse coming up, this December’s the time to go. The sky with be illuminated with cosmic debris for the Geminids meteor shower (it’s a big’un) on 13 and 14 December, while on 14 December, around midday, Northern Patagonia will be plunged into darkness with a total solar eclipse. Fly into Buenos Aires, Argentina a few days before for steak, street art and sexy tango vibes, before basing yourself in San Martin de los Andes for the main event—it’s on the banks of a glacial lake and right at the edge of forested Lanín National Park, at the foot of the Andes.
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As the names of artists now getting residencies in Las Vegas get bigger and more relevant (like Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars), so does Sin City’s credibility as an entertainment destination. So do catch a show while you’re there, but, since temperatures are pleasantly cool at this time of year, now is also the perfect time for exploring off-strip. Want geological beauty? Head to rouge-tinted Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Street art? Go downtown. Mafia stuff? Don’t miss the Mob Museum, with an in-house distillery.
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For memorable travel moments, Cambodia’s Angkor Wat at sunrise has to be up there. So, how about Cambodia’s Angkor Wat at sunrise, amped up and ready to run a half-marathon? Every December thousands of runners peg it through the grounds of the 900-year-old Hindu temple, a Unesco site, in support of Cambodian charities. It’s totally what Indiana Jones and Lara Croft would want (both Temple of Doom and Tomb Raider were filmed in the complex). Afterward, head out to one of Cambodia’s quieter tropical beaches for well-deserved lounging: Koh Rong Samloem’s Lazy Beach should fit the bill.
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With the rainy season and the summer crowds out of the way, December is a good time to hit up Mexico City. Go for the street tacos, tamales and tlacoyos, plus the Templo Mayor Aztec ruins, and the Frida Kahlo Museum. Then get stuck in to hip neighbourhood Juarez (one of Time Out’s 50 coolest neighbourhoods), where there are more new design, restaurant and bar openings than you can shake a margarita at (if you can find Hanky Panky Cocktail Bar speakeasy, it’ll be worth the hunt). And if you happen to be in the city for New Year’s Eve, make for the nearby Angel of Independence on Reforma Avenue for the street party and fireworks at midnight.
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December is when Austria really sparkles. Soak up the festive vibes (and the glühwein) at the spiritual HQ of Christmas markets, Vienna. The most iconic is held in front of the illuminated, baroque Schönbrunn Palace, with crafts, gingerbread and an enormous tree, while Art Advent on Karlsplatz has live music and an all-organic policy on the food. And while Vienna may be very good, Salzburg’s a bit subversive, too: at its folkloric Krampus parades in early December, goat-demon characters run riot through the streets. Less scarily, it’s also home to the uniquely Christmassy Salzburg Advent Singing, featuring traditionally dressed Alpine folk choirs, and of course more festive markets—the Christkindlmarkt is one of the world’s oldest.
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In case you hadn’t heard, nature-immersion and eco tourism is big, and Costa Rica might just be the most eco of them all. It’s well on its way to hitting its target of being the world’s first carbon neutral country for 2021, and a quarter of the country is made up of unspoilt conservation land. Expect fascinating nature, from vividly hued birds and tree frogs to blissed-out sloths. Eco-lodge-hop your way from the cloud forest at San Gerardo de Dota to the whale’s tail-shaped Marino Ballena National Park, to surf spot Santa Teresa.
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