Best Places to Visit in December
Planning a vacation in December can feel overwhelming alongside holiday shopping and year-end festivities. But you'll thank yourself later if you squeeze in time for a trip. U.S. News considered prices, accessibility and seasonal crowds to decide the best places to visit in December. Whether you're seeking a warm-weather hideaway or want to experience the holiday spirit in a snow-covered town, you'll find it in these destinations. Vote for your favorite spot below to help decide next year's list. (Note: Some of the below destinations may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Check with the CDC and the U.S. Department of State before traveling.)
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Alhough Phuket, Thailand, offers a consistently warm climate year-round, its cool, dry weather and calm water in December make this month a great time to visit. Plan on spending most of your time sunbathing, swimming, scuba diving and more at beaches like Nai Harn and Kata Noi. But remember, December falls within Phuket's peak tourist season, so you won't find many deals for flights and accommodations during this month. Avoid a holiday visit in late December for slightly better rates.
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While the Northern Hemisphere transitions to winter in December, Rio de Janeiro enters its peak summer season. This is one of the warmest (albeit one of the wettest) times of the year here, but you'll still enjoy mostly sunny conditions, leaving you plenty of opportunities to see famous sights like the Christ the Redeemer statue. If you're keen on experiencing Rio's lively party scene during your visit, be sure to time your trip around Reveillon. This popular New Year's Eve celebration on Copacabana Beach draws millions of people annually with its music, dancing and fireworks.
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This Hawaiian paradise is the perfect place to escape winter's onset. Weary travelers can thaw on colorful stretches of sand like Punalu'u Beach (which has beautiful black sand) and Papakolea Beach (a unique green sand option), while more adventurous types can go for a hike in Akaka Falls State Park or catch a glimpse of the more than 4,000-foot-tall Kilauea volcano at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. You'll likely contend with other snowbirds in December, but you'll find that hotel prices on the Big Island are still consistently lower than those on neighboring isles.
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Located at the base of the Canadian Rockies, Banff, Alberta, is known for its imposing landscape and superb skiing and snowboarding conditions. You can also snap Instagram-worthy photos of the town's beautiful scenery from the Banff Gondola and its 360-degree observation deck at the Sulphur Mountain summit. After a day full of activity, ease your muscles with a dip in the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Just remember that daylight can last as little as eight hours in December, so plan your itinerary accordingly.
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Torres del Paine National Park#5 in Best Places to Visit in December
Nestled in southern Chilean Patagonia, this national park offers travelers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Frequently touted as one of the most scenic hiking destinations in the world, the park is home to turquoise lakes and dense forests, plus massive Grey Glacier and the towering granite of Cuernos del Paine. Even though December is part of Patagonia's peak summer season, temperatures drop dramatically after nightfall, so visitors will want to pack layers.
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It's easy to fall in love with this Canadian destination, especially when it's covered in fresh snow. You'll be enchanted by Old Québec's sights and sounds as it transforms into a Christmas village. Or, you can shop for gifts (or for yourself) in Quartier Petit-Champlain. Plus, with its 17th- and 18th-century architecture, Quebec City allows you to soak up European culture without dropping the cash for a flight across the pond. Just be sure to bundle up. Temperatures can drop to below freezing in December.
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Winter sports enthusiasts will love visiting Park City, Utah, in December when many of the town's top resorts, including Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort, reopen for ski season. But even if you're not a skier or snowboarder, you'll find plenty of other things to do around town. Shop for last-minute gifts and watch Santa ride down the Town Lift in Historic Park City, catch a holiday performance at the Egyptian Theater or watch athletes train for the Winter Olympics at the Utah Olympic Park.
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Dubai's temperatures can reach into the triple digits for many months of the year, but the weather cools down significantly by December. Traveling to this United Arab Emirates destination during this month means you'll enjoy comfortable weather (think: temperatures in the 70s) and fewer rain showers. But be prepared to bump shoulders with other tourists as you soak up some sun on Jumeirah Public Beach, shop at the enormous Dubai Mall or stroll through the historic Bastakiya Quarter.
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Head to this 50-mile-long Wyoming valley for an unforgettable winter vacation. Here, you'll find several top-notch ski resorts, including Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Snow King Resort. Plus, you can look for wildlife at the National Elk Refuge or go snowshoeing through Grand Teton National Park when you need a break from the slopes. Keep in mind, temperatures in December stay below freezing during the day and can often drop into the single digits at night, so you'll want to pack accordingly.
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If you're willing to brave the cold, travel to Prague for a fun and festive winter vacation. The city turns into a winter wonderland in December, with snow-covered buildings and Christmas markets selling everything from locally made jewelry to toys to Christmas ornaments. Those with little ones in tow should try to arrive in early December when the annual St. Nicholas Eve event takes place. During this traditional celebration, you'll see the Czech Republic's version of St. Nick, along with his angel and devil guides, hand out candy and other treats as the walk around the city.
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Mount Rainier National Park's already dramatic landscape becomes even more beautiful when it is covered in snow in winter. Some roads and other parts of the Washington park close for the season, but there are still many opportunities to have fun outdoors in December. Depending on how deep the snow is, you can join a ranger-led snowshoe walk, go sledding in the Paradise snow play area, go snowmobiling around the Cougar Rock Campground or shred powder on Mount Rainier's backcountry slopes.
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Outdoor enthusiasts flock to the Adirondacks every winter to take advantage of its incredible skiing and snowboarding conditions. Whiteface Mountain is one of the area's most popular winter sports destinations thanks to it boasting the Eastern Seaboard's largest vertical drop at nearly 3,500 feet, plus 90 trails and 11 ski lifts. What's more, this part of New York state houses Lake Placid, where you'll find many Olympic attractions, including the Olympic Jumping Complex, the Olympic Sports Complex and the Olympic Center.
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December is one of the most popular months to visit the Bahamas – and for good reason. By the time this month rolls around, the threat of a hurricane has passed, making December a terrific time to spend some time outdoors. Start your trip lounging on one of the Bahamas' many beaches, or go snorkeling or diving in the crystal-clear water. Don't forget to save time for a boat tour to a private island, where you can enjoy activities like dolphin encounters and swimming with wild pigs.
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For a winter vacation that doesn't involve snow or sand, take a trip to Queenstown, New Zealand. Because Queenstown sits in the Southern Hemisphere, December falls within the town's summer season, meaning you'll enjoy warmer weather and better conditions for its world-famous adventure activities. Get a bird's-eye-view of the landscape during a skydiving or paragliding excursion, or take the ultimate leap of faith by bungee jumping from the Kawarau Bridge. If you're looking for a less daring way to see Queenstown, go for a hike along the Ben Lomond Track or ride the Skyline Gondola.
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The nation's first ski resort continues to be a top winter vacation spot for everyone from celebrities to first-timers. Visit this Idaho destination in December for top-notch skiing and snowboarding conditions at Sun Valley Resort, which features two mountains with more than 2,000 acres of terrain and 65 runs. Bald Mountain is often considered one of the finest ski mountains in the world, while Dollar Mountain is great for beginners. After a busy day of zipping down Sun Valley's slopes, enjoy a sleigh ride, a scavenger hunt or one of the resort's other holiday-themed activities.
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