HOLIDAY SEASON! All those pretty snowscapes, all those heavenly tropical white-sand beaches – how fortuitous that Christmas comes when some of the world’s best winter-sun destinations are at their peak. So which is the best Caribbean island in December? Where are the best places to spend New Year’s Eve? Where to ski at Christmas? Where can you escape the holiday crowds? One thing’s for sure: don’t even think of returning to the office in boring old January without a tan and the look of someone who just had the most fun Christmas holidays ever.
St Barth’s, Caribbean
Simply everyone is in St Barth’s in December. Partly because the island is the original discreet-A-lister’s sunny paradise of choice with the world’s most perfect beaches, restaurants, hotels and villas, and partly because everyone else is. The super-rich, the super-famous, the beautiful and the blessed. Fail to book your December holiday here and you’ve only got yourself to blame for off-the-charts FOMO as you sit looking out at the rain and scrolling through shots of simply everyone else laughing through perfect teeth on the world’s most perfect beaches.
Guatemala is a colorful and quite exceptional little country. Bordering Mexico, with a unique mix of colonial Spanish and indigenous Mayan culture, astonishingly beautiful coasts on both Pacific and Caribbean sides, splendid volcanic landscapes and pretty colonial towns. December is a great month to see it all, from the beach to temple, when the days are sunniest and driest, and it is warm but not too hot (average temperatures around 23ºC in the day, 13ºC at night). Christmas in Guatemala is a whole different shebang, with alternative traditions and such tireless parading and partying in the streets that by Christmas Day itself, all anyone wants to do is sleep.
Goa is love-it crazy in December. Every palm tree strung with tinsel and fairy lights, every beach bar rocking with the most beautiful happy-go-lucky just-found-themselves travelers dancing like loons, night and day. The weather is just perfect, and the parties reach fever pitch. Christmas is cause for great celebration throughout India – no more so than in Goa, garlanded and lit up with fireworks, Christmas trees, and Santa hats incongruous in the heat and dust. This all rolls into New Year’s Eve celebrations, with parties and raves on the beaches and bars (Goa is India’s most liberal state). It gets busy, so book ahead. Avoid staying too long in Anjuna, unless you’re a hardcore raver – dance til the sun comes up, then head to a quieter spot (we love Arambol, Mandrem, Palolem, all utterly dreamy) for a different kind of sunrise.
Cambodia and Laos
South-East Asia is wonderful in December, the climate just right – which does mean that yes, everyone else wants to visit then, too. But why come when it is wet and unbearably hot? Come in December, and embrace the holiday season, when places to eat and drink are buzzing, when Laos’s beautiful colonial towns (we adore Luang Prabang) have a happy bustle to them when Siem Reap is at its liveliest. Cambodia and Laos are big and largely empty countries, where it is always possible to find some space for yourself, even at Angkor Wat (go for sunrise, wherever possible). Yes, it might take a bit more planning and be booking ahead, but there if you want to be spontaneous there is always a room in a charming teak house to be found, where birds sing in the banana trees beside the verandah.
Surely nowhere prettier in the snow than Prague. Those perfectly preserved ancient streets, like a fairytale (with a real castle!); those cinnamon-scented Christmas markets where mulled wine makes us buy weird presents and too many Christmas decorations. Pretty, yes, but Prague is also cold as hell in December, which only serves to make its richly-patterned restaurants all the cozier and justify its just-as-rich and fortifying cuisine. Sit in its Art Nouveau gilded interiors, or its underground bars, and warm yourself with roast game and booze.
The South American beach break with a difference. Most of Uruguay’s neverending white-sand beaches are practically empty even in high season. That high season lasts just a few weeks, in December, and if you like things lively (Ibiza, Mykonos, Trancoso style), that’s when you want to come. You can still find a beach pretty much to yourself, around hippy little José Ignacio, La Barra, and Punta del Este. But December is when the wooden-shack restaurants and beach bars and artsy little hotels open their shutters for the Buenos Aires party crowd who hop across the River Plate for Christmas and New Year fun.
There is no bad time to visit Berlin. We love Berlin in summer, mooching around its kooky-krazy hangouts of creative weirdness – but what a place to party in December! More kookiness in its clubs and bars and the underground haunts of its cool-as-you-like neighborhoods; and Berlin is one of the best places to spend New Year’s Eve in the world when they throw a city-wide street party with gigs and celebrations all along the Party Mile.
Zermatt, Swiss Alps
The sort of snowy-mountain scene that dream Christmases are made of. Horse-drawn sleighs, twinkling trees, glühwein stalls, a pretty village aglow in a lovely little valley beneath the Matterhorn. And, importantly, snow-sure slopes – 200 astoundingly pretty kilometers of them – from the start of December – all of which makes it Switzerland’s top ski resort. Here are Zermatt’s best hotels, restaurants, and bars.
For a winter sun tinselfest, nobody does it bigger and brighter and sparklier than Dubai. From November to January the weather cools to a more bearable 19-25ºC and the sun shines practically all the time; and in December there’s the Rugby Sevens and a film festival, pre-Christmas designer sales and record-breaking Christmas trees groaning under the weight of lights and Swarovski crystals, for those who like that kind of thing. Everyone says they don’t, then they go to Dubai and find that they kind of does.
The Arctic Circle
What better time to visit the North Pole than December, for Christmas? When a sleigh ride through Lapland, pulled by reindeer or huskies, is surely most unforgettable when the glittering frozen Narnia landscapes of the Arctic Circle are most magical. And when the light show in the skies, the Northern Lights, playing all the colors of the spectrum over Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, is at its brightest and best.