Traveling in December is a unique experience, with cities around the globe lighting up in festive splendor and cultural celebrations. In the US, many people look to embrace the chill of the Northern Hemisphere with snow-dusted streets, but escaping to the sunnier shores in the Southern Hemisphere is also a fun option. Our curated list of 21 awesome cities to visit this December will include both popular and off-the-beaten-path destinations. I have personally enjoyed my time in each of these cities, and I am sure you’ll find them perfect for your trip this holiday season.
1. Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo is a mesmerizing blend of tradition and modernity. In December, the city comes alive with vibrant light displays, notably in the districts of Shibuya and Shinjuku. The traditional “illumination” events are a sight to behold. Visit the Meiji Shrine for a serene experience and taste some seasonal Japanese delicacies like mochi and matcha tea. If you’re looking to experience a day on the ski slopes, Tokyo is only a three-hour drive or train to the legendary Nagano ski area.
2. Quebec City, Canada
Embrace the cold in Quebec City, a North American gem with European flair. Its cobbled streets, lined with historic buildings, are adorned with festive decorations and lights. The city’s Christmas market offers a delightful array of local crafts and gourmet treats. A ride in a horse-drawn carriage, surrounded by the city’s snowy landscape, is pure magic.
3. Marrakech, Morocco
December in Marrakech offers mild temperatures, making it the perfect escape from frigid climates. Wander through the bustling medinas filled with colorful stalls, spices, and textiles. The Jardin Majorelle, with its vibrant blue architecture, provides a tranquil oasis. Enjoy traditional Moroccan dishes like tagine, and don’t miss the chance to spend a night in the Sahara Desert under the stars.
4. Reykjavik, Iceland
For those seeking a truly unique winter experience, Reykjavik offers a chance to witness the Northern Lights. The city is an oasis of warmth and festivity in the cold Icelandic winter. Geothermal pools, like the famous Blue Lagoon, are perfect to relax in. Indulge in traditional Icelandic dishes and visit the Christmas markets for handcrafted gifts. But be warned, the days get quite short around the winter solstice.
5. New York City, USA
The Big Apple comes alive with the holiday spirit in December. Visitors can skate at the iconic Rockefeller Center, view the enormous Christmas tree, or enjoy the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. With holiday markets at Bryant Park and Columbus Circle, you’re sure to find the perfect gift. And, of course, no trip would be complete without witnessing the magical holiday window displays along Fifth Avenue.
6. Vienna, Austria
Some compare December in Vienna to stepping into a fairy tale. The city boasts some of Europe’s most enchanting Christmas markets, with the Rathausplatz market being the most renowned. The scent of mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, and freshly baked pastries fills the air. A stroll through the historic streets, illuminated with festive lights, is sure to warm your heart. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy a winter concert of classical music.
7. Sydney, Australia
Flip the script with a sunny December in Sydney. The holiday season in the Southern Hemisphere means beach parties and barbecues. Bondi Beach is a hotspot for those wanting to bask in the sun. The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge are iconic sights to behold, and the city’s festive celebrations culminate with a spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks show.
8. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague, the “City of a Hundred Spires,” is a winter wonderland in December. Its medieval charm is enhanced by twinkling lights, festive decorations, and the aroma of traditional Czech treats. The Old Town Square is home to a bustling Christmas market where you can savor trdelník, a local pastry. The Prague Castle, covered in a blanket of snow, offers an unforgettable view.
9. Munich, Germany
Munich hosts some of the world’s most famous Christmas markets. The Marienplatz market in the city center is a must-visit. Warm up with a mug of traditional Glühwein (mulled wine) and savor hearty German treats. The city’s historic architecture, dusted in snow, adds to the festive mood. For a slice of history and culture, visit the nearby Neuschwanstein Castle.
10. Bangkok, Thailand
Trade snow for sunshine with a December trip to Bangkok. The city is beautifully lit, especially along the Chao Phraya River. Grand temples, bustling markets, and delicious street food await visitors. For a modern twist on the holidays, many shopping malls like MBK and Siam Paragon have grand festive displays and events. Of course, Bangkok is a perfect jump-off spot to hit the islands in the south of Thailand for a few days of beautiful beaches.
11. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen embodies the concept of ‘hygge’ – a Danish term capturing a cozy, warm atmosphere. Stroll along the Nyhavn harbor with its colorful buildings and Christmas stalls. Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park in the heart of the city, transforms into a winter paradise with rides, games, and heartwarming lights. Danish pastries and hot chocolate are a must-try.
12. Paris, France
What is there to say about Paris in December, except that it’s a true romantic’s dream. The Eiffel Tower sparkles even brighter with its festive illuminations. Champs-Élysées is lined with lights and stalls selling all manner of festive treats. Lean into your inner tourist and enjoy a Seine river cruise to witness the city’s splendor from the water, and don’t forget to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral for a holiday concert!
13. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, split by the majestic Danube River, is radiant in December. The thermal baths, like Széchenyi and Gellért, are especially inviting during the cold winter months. Vörösmarty Square hosts the city’s main Christmas market, where you can enjoy Hungarian kulacs (spit cake) and mulled wine. The Buda Castle and the Parliament Building, lit up against the night sky, are sights not to be missed.
14. Cape Town, South Africa
Experience summer in December in Cape Town. Visit the iconic Table Mountain for an amazing hike with breathtaking views, or indulge in sunbathing at Camps Bay. The V&A Waterfront hosts festive events perfect for family outings. Cape Winelands, just a short drive away, offers some of the world’s best wines. I recommend the hop-on/off red and blue buses where you can easily access the city’s corners and wineries all in a single day.
15. Dublin, Ireland
The Irish capital is filled with warmth and charm during December. Streets are adorned with festive lights, and traditional pubs echo with the sound of live music. The Christmas markets, particularly the Dublin Flea Christmas Market, offer unique gifts and delicious foods. Join in the caroling at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a memorable experience.
16. Rome, Italy
December in Rome combines historic beauty with festive vibes. The Vatican City, with its enormous Christmas tree and life-sized nativity in St. Peter’s Square, is a sight to behold. Taste seasonal treats like panettone, and attend the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Rome’s ancient ruins, dusted with occasional snowfall, make for stunning photographs.
17. Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh in December is truly magical. The city’s historic charm is enhanced by twinkling lights and festive decorations. The Christmas market at Princes Street Gardens is a must-visit, offering gourmet food, drinks, and crafts. Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year’s celebration, is world-famous and offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For bold travelers, don’t miss a haunted ghost tour in the old city’s tunnels, best experienced at midnight for a spooky adventure.
18. Helsinki, Finland
Dive deep into winter wonderland vibes in Helsinki. The city, draped in snow, offers unique experiences like ice swimming and sauna. The Christmas market at Senate Square has a plethora of Finnish handicrafts and treats. For a magical day trip, consider visiting the Arctic Circle and Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi.
19. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
December in Rio means summer, samba, and celebrations. Copacabana Beach hosts one of the world’s most spectacular New Year’s Eve parties. Visit the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue and enjoy panoramic views of the city. Indulge in Brazilian delicacies and join the locals in their end-of-year festivities.
20. Bruges, Belgium
Bruges is like a postcard in December. The medieval town center, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is adorned with lights and decorations. Canals reflect the festive glow, creating an enchanting atmosphere. Warm up with Belgian hot chocolate and waffles, and don’t miss the chance to taste world-famous Belgian chocolates.
21. Mexico City, Mexico
December in Mexico City is a fusion of tradition and festivity. The city celebrates “Las Posadas,” a nine-day celebration leading up to Christmas, with processions, music, and food. Visit the Zócalo, the city’s main square, adorned with lights and decorations. Try seasonal dishes like tamales and buñuelos, and immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of the region. Do not leave without trying at least several street tacos, or you didn’t really visit CDMX.
Josh is the owner and lead writer at Daily Wisely. His career has taken him from finance to blogging, and now shares his insights with readers of Daily Wisely.
Josh's work and authoritative advice have appeared in major publications like Nasdaq, Forbes, The Sun, Yahoo! Finance, CBS News, Fortune, The Street, MSN Money, and Go Banking Rates. Josh has over 15 years of experience on Wall Street, and currently shares his financial expertise in investing, wealth management, markets, taxes, real estate, and personal finance on his other website, Top Dollar Investor.
Josh graduated from Cornell University with a degree from the Dyson School of Applied Economics & Management at the SC Johnson College of Business.