December: time to put away your passport and reach for the mince pies? Not necessarily. There’s still time to squeeze another adventure out of 2016 – all while enjoying the spirit of the season.
End the year on a travel high with these tips from our destination experts.
Say hello to the locals in Ningaloo, Western Australia
A two-hour flight or two-day drive north of Perth in Western Australia, Ningaloo reef is flush with marine life from whale sharks to manta rays, and tropical fish of every hue. It is also home to three different types of turtle that are so prolific the locals consider spotting one like seeing a pigeon in Trafalgar Square.
In the lead up to December green, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles mate along Ningaloo reef before dragging themselves ashore to lay their eggs. You can view the egg-laying and hatching – and if you’re keen to learn, see and do more, you can participate in environmental programs like Ningaloo Turtle Program (ningalooturtles.org.au) to monitor activity and help maintain their breeding colonies.
Tasmin Waby – Destination Editor for Australia. Follow her tweets @travellingtaz.
Get festive in Edinburgh
Edinburgh boasts long days and arty festivities in summer. But it’s also a city of snug pubs, atmospheric wynds (alleys) and dark tales: this is the place that raised the creators of Sherlock Holmes and Jekyll and Hyde. That makes December a fine time to visit Scotland’s capital, when you’ll also find sights like Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Yacht Britannia far quieter than they are in high season.
There are celebrations through the month – an open-air ice rink in Princes Street Gardens means you can pirouette (or wobble) under the shadow of the castle, and nearby Christmas markets and a fairground entertain all visitors. But things really get going in the run-up to New Year. The Hogmanay street party turns Princes Street into a vast, pulsing throng of booze and bonhomie on 31 December – the main event is limited to 100,000 people so book in advance. Other events include gigs, ceilidhs, fireworks and the Loony Dook, in which hundreds of brave (and hungover) souls throw themselves into the Firth of Forth on 1 January.
James Smart – Destination Editor for Britain, Ireland & Iceland. Follow his tweets @smartbadger.
Celebrate Mexico’s most important religious festival
If you like your religious festivals big and loud then Mexico City is the place to be in mid-December. The feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the country’s patron, is celebrated on the 12th of the month when millions – and we mean millions – of people gather at the Basílica de Guadalupe in the north of the city.
The basilica is said to be built on the spot where the Virgin Mary appeared to a local man, just a few years after the Spanish conquest of 1521. The man, Juan Diego, finally convinced authorities that his claims were true when he showed them his cloak on which the Virgin had emblazoned her image. Three churches have subsequently been built on the site: the latest, from the 1970s, can hold 40,000 faithful. Several days of festivities lead up to the main event so expect lots of food, drink and music across the capital.
Clifton Wilkinson – Destination Editor for Mexico. Follow his tweets @Cliff_Wilkinson.
Walk in Croatia’s winter wonderland
Croatia’s capital Zagreb comes into its own in winter, offering a hamper of seasonal treats, from Christmas markets to ski slopes. The city will be brimming over with festive spirit between 26 November 2016 and 8 January 2017, when the Advent in Zagreb (adventzagreb.hr/en) programme will be in full swing. Several central squares are filled with illuminated market stalls – the perfect place to sup mulled wine, nibble on gingerbread hearts and shop for glittering Christmas decorations and gifts.
There’s also a live-action nativity scene outside the cathedral and a host of free concerts in the city’s squares, shopping arcades and balconies.
To burn off calories after all the festive feasting, head to Sljeme Ski Resort (sljeme.hr), just a 20-minute drive away from the city, where there are slopes suitable for skiers of all levels, and sledging for the kids.
Anna Tyler – Destination Editor for Southern Europe. Follow her tweets @go_AnnaT.
Join the party in Dubai
Travellers are spoilt for choice during Dubai's cooler season, with sport events, concerts, parties and celebrations keeping everyone busy. The month kicks off with some patriotic celebrations on 2 December, as the UAE celebrates its 45th National Day. Expect fireworks, parades and plenty of enthusiastic flag-waving during the public holiday.
Throughout the rest of the month, it’s one glamorous event after another. Rub shoulders with Dubai’s high society while watching the horses at the Meydan Races – a real glimpse into the lifestyles of the UAE’s fabulously wealthy; see a movie at the Dubai International Film Festival; get into the sporting spirit for the three-day Rugby Sevens tournament; and to wrap up the month, splash some cash at the Dubai Shopping Festival.
After all that excitement, anyone in serious need of a holiday can flop down on the beach for a few days. After all, ‘cooler’ season in Dubai still means warm weather and glorious sunshine.
Helen Elfer – Destination Editor for the Middle East & North Africa. Follow her tweets @helen_elfer.
Celebrate the Australian summer in Lorne, Victoria
Since 1993, festival lovers have been flocking to the small seaside town of Lorne for the annual Falls Music and Arts Festival (fallsfestival.com), which kicks off at the end of December and carries on into the new year. Throw in a trip along the Great Ocean Road, berry picking at local farms and Christmas on the beach for a quintessential Australian summer break.
Lorne comes alive in December, with endless sunshine, a thriving arts scene and ample opportunity for fish and chips by the ocean. A short drive past Apollo Bay will have you surrounded by wild koalas asleep in the trees. Alternatively, head inland to the berry farms for fresh raspberries, strawberries and blackberries. As Christmas draws near, take to the beach with Santa hats and swimming costumes, in true Aussie style. Falls Festival follows shortly after, so prepare to party well into the new year!