Do you know when you want to travel, but just can’t decide where? We’re here to break down the top destinations for each month of the year so you can find the perfect experience for you. 

December may mean the year is coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean your travel plans have to. If you’re looking for the best place to visit in December, here are some of Lonely Planet’s top picks for where to go, whether you want stunning northern lights, epic beach adventures or cosy Christmas markets. 

The lights of aurora borealis shine over northern Sweden.
Arctic Sweden is the perfect place to see the magic of the northern lights © Dave Moorhouse / Getty Images

Arctic Sweden

Why now? Sleep on ice beneath the Northern Lights.

At the Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi, one degree of latitude north of the Arctic Circle, the sun never rises in the last three weeks of the year. In December, darkness is the dominant state – perfect for watching the Aurora Borealis. Jukkasjärvi is the home of the original Icehotel, where you can spend a night in a bed made of ice — this year's winter Icehotel 33 opens on December 16. The area is also a base for cross-country skiing, husky sledding, snowmobiling, sleigh rides, meeting reindeer and learning about traditional Sámi culture – magical for kids and grown-ups alike. Some 100km (62 miles) to the northwest, Abisko National Park is even further removed from the light, an otherworldly landscape offering arguably the world’s best aurora-watching. 

Trip plan: Kiruna, 16km (10 miles) west of Jukkasjärvi and 20min away by car, has an airport, served by flights from Stockholm and international cities. Trains from Kiruna to Abisko take 1hr.

Need to know: The northern lights are sparked when charged particles from the sun hit the earth’s atmosphere. Various websites offer reasonable forecasts based on solar activity.

Girl wearing a bright red jacket is walking the the beautiful woods during a vibrant winter morning.
Head to Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, to see the beauty of Mothern Nature © Getty Images/iStockphoto

Vancouver Island, Canada 

Why now? For really wild times.

As winter arrives, the restive region where Arctic and subtropical air collides shifts south, and low-pressure systems build in the Gulf of Alaska. This equals stupendous storms, which thwack the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island — one of our Best in Travel 2022 picks — stirring up gigantic swells, roaring winds and epic skies. It’s Mother Nature at her most marvelously unhinged and cinematic – and it’s worth braving a bit of weather for front-row seats. On the edge of Pacific Rim National Park, the little town of Ucluelet (meaning ‘people of the safe harbor’) is a great place to watch the action unfold. 

Trip plan: Ucluelet is a 4hr drive from Victoria and 2hr 30min from Nanaimo. Several accommodation providers in Ucluelet offer discounted storm-watching packages that include the use of raincoats and wellies.

Need to know: From October to March winter tyres are required when driving Hwy 4 to Ucluelet.

People walk down the street in front of colorful houses in Grand'Riviere, Martinique.
Head to Martinique for a perfect winter celebration © Bruno De Hogues / Getty Images

Martinique 

Why now? To sing carols with a Creole twist.

December doesn’t just mean Christmas in the French Caribbean. It means Chanté-Nwel. One of Martinique’s biggest annual festivities, held across the island from November to Christmas Day, it sees people gather to sing carols to Creole rhythms (a practice dating back to the days of slavery) and feast on local favourites including yams, pâtés, boudin créole (blood sausage), yule logs and potent shrubb – a Christmas cocktail crafted from dried orange peel, sugarcane syrup and white rum. Very festive. All that’s missing is the snow: with sunny skies and average highs of 28°C (82.4°F), this is perfect beach weather; chill out on the vast sweep of white sand at Les Salines or the black sand of Anse Noire. 

Trip plan: Book well in advance to visit Martinique at this time. While there, keep an eye out for Chanté-Nwel signs or ask around about local parties.

Need to know: Chanté-Nwel gatherings are usually potluck style, with every guest bringing a homemade dish or bottle of rum punch.

Kids run up the paths near an ancient temple in India.
The ancient Sun temple at Konark in Odissa, which was built in the 13th century © Sumit.Kumar.99 / Shutterstock

Chhattisgarh & Odisha, India 

Why now? For cultural encounters in milder weather.

The neighboring states of Odisha (Orissa) and Chhattisgarh (a breakaway chunk of Madhya Pradesh) offer perhaps the most authentic insight into rural India. These regions are largely neglected by tourists, perhaps due to their lack of ‘big’ sights. But the appeal here is in getting away from the cities and meeting the people, such as the majority Gond (famed for their vibrant art), the tattooed Kutia Kondh, the Indigenous groups of the jungles around Jeypore, the bead-wearing Bonda or the cultural melee of a haat bazaar (weekly market), where many tribal groups gather to haggle over everything from butter and salt to clothes and jewelry. The Bastar region of Chhattisgarh is a good place to start – visit markets, hike between village homestays and witness tribal festivals: the Madai Festival, which moves around the communities of Bastar, Kanker and Dantewada, is celebrated from December to March (when temperatures are mild, too).

Trip plan: Raipur is the capital of Chhattisgarh; flights from Kolkata take 1hr 30min. Allow 10 days to tour from Raipur to Jagdalpur, including visits to tribal villages, the Maikal Hills, Chitrakote Falls and Kanger Valley National Park.

Need to know: Use local guides – they are essential for better understanding tribal cultures and visiting in a sensitive fashion. 

Kids looking at candy and pastry on Christmas market.
Traditional German Christmas markets are the perfect place to spend a snowy winter day © FamVeld / Getty Images

Black Forest, Germany 

Why now? For a touch of Teutonic magic.

The Black Forest is Germany’s most romantic, fairytale-laced region. And never more so than in December, when its rolling hills and dense-packed evergreens might be sprinkled with snow and when everywhere is sprinkled with Christmas. The lively university town of Freiburg — one of Lonely Planet's top 10 cities to visit in 2022 — is a fine festive choice.

Its medieval center of cobbled lanes and gabled houses is lovely to wander at any time, but now smells of glühwein and gingerbread; browse the Christmas market, where you can make your own candles and cookies, ride the Ferris wheel and feast on raclette and wurst. Further afield, take the train or bus to nearby Hinterzarten for the striking Ravennaschlucht market, where traditional stalls cluster in a gorge beneath the Devil’s Valley Railway viaduct. 

Trip plan: The closest major airports to Freiburg are Basel (1hr by bus), Frankfurt (2hr by train) and Zürich (2hr by train). 

Need to know: Free shuttle buses run from Freiburg and Hinterzarten to the Ravennaschlucht market. Alternatively, trains connect Freiburg and Hinterzarten (35min). The market is a scenic 3km (2-mile) hike from Hinterzarten.

People walk down the stairs on a rocky cliff to the ocean in California.
Head to San Deigo and explore the Torrey Pines State Reserve © Rocky89 / Getty Images

San Diego, California 

Why now? For city life, winter sun, Santa and cetaceans.

Winter is relative in southern California. In San Diego rain is more likely but days remain mild (average highs: 19°C/66°F). It’s certainly still warm enough to wander the city’s village-like neighborhoods – fancy La Jolla, surfy Encinitas, alternative Ocean Beach, foodie Little Italy, the lively, bar-packed Gaslamp Quarter – and to lose yourself in enormous Balboa Park, with its museums (Air & Space, Art, Natural History) and world-famous zoo. For further wildlife encounters, book a boat tour or head to the cliff-top trails of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in the hope of spotting dolphins and migrating gray whales, which pass along the coast here between December and March. 

Trip plan: San Diego International Airport is close to downtown. Use public transport to explore: the city’s bright-red trolley serves downtown locations, ferries run across the bay, buses connect neighborhoods. Or hop in a GoCar, GPS-guided storytelling three-wheelers.

Need to know: Christmas and New Year’s Eve can be busy – book in advance.

El Nido bay and Cadlao island, Palawan, Philippines.
December is a great time to visit this sparsely populated region of the Philippines © Pichugin Dmitry / Shutterstock

Palawan, Philippines

Why now? Dry skies for wet adventures.

Dubbed "the Philippines’ last ecological frontier", pristine Palawan – the country’s westernmost province – is an Unesco Biosphere Reserve and a haven of biodiversity, above and below the water line. There are over 1700 islands here, fuffed by virgin forest, edged by limestone cliffs and fringed by coral reefs. The diving is varied and spectacular. At El Nido, in the north, there are 20-plus dive sites where exciting sightings range from nudibranch and seahorses to turtles and huge shoals of snapper. Around Coron Island there’s thrilling wreck diving, with numerous WWII remnants to explore. There’s also decent diving in easy reach of the capital, Puerto Princesa – sites include walls and pinnacles, a variety of corals, plenty of unusual macro species, colorful reef fish, crustaceans, schooling barracuda and jacks, rays and reef sharks. Puerto Princesa is also the gateway to the Subterranean River National Park, a navigable underground waterway through incredible karst formations.

Trip plan: There are flights from Manila to Puerto Princesa (1hr), El Nido (1hr 20min) and Busuanga Airport, for Coron (1hr). El Nido is a good base for combining diving with kayaking, jungle hiking, birdwatching and boat trips.

Need to know: Ferries connect El Nido and Coron (4hr).

An empty chairlift in front of a setting sun in winter.
Slovenia is perfect for winter sport-lovers ©Levente Fesus/500px

Slovenia

Why now? Crowd-lite, multi-sport, fairytale snow fun.

While snug-sized Slovenia can’t compete with Europe’s winter-sport big boys, the country is still splendid when the snow starts to fall. It’s also one of Lonely Planet’s top countries to visit in 2022, so it’s the perfect time to go before the year ends. There is good skiing, albeit on a smaller scale.

Resorts such as lively Kranjska Gora, reliable Krvavec and family-friendly Vogel aren’t huge but also aren’t as busy as other Alpine hubs. But where the country really excels is in multi-activity winter breaks, combining downhilling and snowboarding with cross- country skiing, snowshoeing, snow-hiking, ice-climbing or even igloo-building and night tobogganing. The landscapes are thrilling too, with most resorts located in and around handsome Triglav National Park. Photographers will love the high peaks, frozen waterfalls, snowy forests, beautiful Lake Bohinj and magical Lake Bled, with its lake isle and castle shimmering in the frost. 

Trip plan: Slovenia’s compact size means its mountains are easy to access. Krvavec is only 8km (5 miles) from Ljubljana Airport; the drive from the airport to Vogel takes around 1hr 15min, to Kranjska Gora takes around 50min.

Need to know: Postojna Cave hosts a Living Nativity (25-30 December), with 16 Biblical scenes staged along a 5km (3-mile) subterranean route, freckled with fairy lights. Postojna is 50km (31 miles) from Ljubljana, accessible by train and bus.

Lights shine from a bushcamp in Bostwana at night.
Spend a night in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve © Westend61 / Getty Images

Central Kalahari, Botswana

Why now? For cheaper prices and greater game.

In this immense wildlife reserve, covering 50,000 sq km (19,305 sq miles) and one of the largest in the world, rain does not stop play. Indeed, it positively encourages it. While December marks the start of the rainy season in Botswana, it’s the best time to visit the semi-arid Central Kalahari. In the northernmost areas, around Northern Deception Valley in particular, the fush of wildfowers and grasses attracts great gatherings of grazers, which in turn attract predators – large numbers of hyena, leopard and the reserve’s famed black-maned lions are all found here. This is also the best time for birding, as many species are wearing their breeding plumage and migrants are around. Roads may become trickier to navigate but the payoff is excellent wildlife viewing and, at times, soul-stirringly stormy skies. There are opportunities to engage with the San people too.

Trip plan: The Central Kalahari is 250km (155 miles) south of Maun. Most visitors accessing the park by road use Matswere Gate, 40km (25 miles) from Deception Valley. The easiest way to enter is by charter fight direct to a safari camp.

Need to know: The Central Kalahari lies in a no-risk malaria zone but malaria is present in other parts of Botswana, particularly the north. Malaria risk is highest during rainy season.

Want more expert recommendations for every month of the year? Check out the brand-new edition of Where to Go When

This article was first published September 2019 and updated September 2022

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