10 Best Places to Visit in December to Fill You with Holiday Cheer

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beautiful scenery for ski trips 2021 - 2022
Aspen is one of the best places to visit during the holiday season. Photo credit: Aspen Snowmass/Hal Williams.

There’s something special about traveling in December. Just about anywhere you go, you’ll find festive atmospheres and lots of holiday spirit. Christmas decorations deck the halls, and you’re sure to spot Christmas trees and light displays everywhere you go.

Depending on when you travel in December, your experience may vary greatly. You’ll find fewer crowds early in the month, while late December brings holiday crowds and big celebrations. Likewise, you are more likely to score a deal on hotel and airfare if you hit the road before school lets out for winter break.

So where should you go on a winter vacation this time of year? Whether you are dreaming of a white Christmas in a festive big city or a tropical beach getaway to soak up some sun, here are the best places to travel to in December.

Radio City Music Hall NYC with large Christmas tree and taxi in foreground
It’s a not to be missed classic – the Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes at Radio City. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

1. New York, New York

With its towering Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center and extravagant window displays along Fifth Avenue, New York City is an iconic place to visit during the holiday season. No city in the world celebrates the holidays quite like New York City. December is a magical time to explore. Stroll along the avenues and see beautifully-themed window displays, and lots of lights and Christmas decorations. And let’s not forget its world-famous New Year’s Eve celebrations!

There are several ice skating rinks around the city, including one in Bryant Park and the world-famous rink at Rockefeller Center. Whether you strap on some skates or just enjoy watching others, you’ll definitely want to stop by to see the tree.

Other great things happening in December include the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall featuring the Rockettes. You can also warm up at any of the city’s world class museums, department stores and theaters.

Fun Things to Do in New York City in December

  • Check out department store window displays
  • See the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center
  • Go ice skating
  • Catch the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall
  • See a Broadway play
  • Visit one of NYC’s many museums
Ice skating in Chicago's Millennium Park is a Chicago holiday tradition for many families.
A holiday tradition in Chicago is to ice skate in Millennium Park. Photo courtesy of city of Chicago/DCASE

2. Chicago, Illinois

Another fantastic city in the USA to visit and catch the holiday spirit in Chicago. The winter months can be very cold in the Windy City, but the nippy December weather just adds to the mood! You may even see some snow.

December in Chicago features holiday lights, special events, ice skating rinks and a Christmas market. Do your holiday shopping during the annual Magnificent Mile Lights Festival in Chicago, or the German-style Christkindlmarket with traditional Europe-inspired pretzels, bratwurst, hot spiced wine and products from around the world.

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo is a must-see holiday event, featuring a Ferris wheel, an expansive light tunnel and a light show on the “Winter Wonderlawn.” Tickets are only $5 and all sales support the zoo’s animal care, programs and global conservation efforts.

Fun Things to Do in Chicago in December

  • Check out the German-style Christkindlmarket
  • Go to ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo
  • Check out department store window displays
  • Stroll and shop during the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
  • Visit the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Go ice skating in Millennium Park
Waterfall in Hawaii, a great place to visit in December
Waterfall on private land accessed on a Hawaii forest and trail waterfall tour. Photo credit: Liana Moore

3. The Big Island, Hawaii

The Island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island, is a beautiful destination for escaping the cold of winter. December is actually the perfect time of year to visit Hawaii; many people enjoy escaping to paradise during the holiday season.

The Big Island enjoys warm weather and wonderful sunny days in December. Temperatures are in the 70s and 80s during the day. The water temperature is also nice this time of year, making it ideal for swimming, snorkeling and the many other water sports popular in the Hawaiian Islands.

The Big Island is the third most visited Hawaiian island and offers accommodation choices for all budgets. It tends to be cheaper and less crowded than Maui or Oahu.

What makes this destination special is that it has two very different sides perfect for exploring on day trips: Kona (west side) and Hilo (east side), so you can have a multitude of experiences ranging from hiking along tropical waterfalls to lounging on the beach. Kona is definitely where you want to stay if you’re looking to soak up some sunshine and enjoy everything its beaches have to offer.

Fun Things to Do on Hawaii’s Big Island in December

  • Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
  • Explore the region’s famous Kona coffee farms, historic landmarks, farmers markets and wonderful beach towns.
  • Circle the island on a road trip through paradise
  • Take a whale watching tour, as pods of humpback whales travel past on their way to find solace in the warm waters of the South Pacific in December
  • Drink Kona coffee
  • Go to the beach
  • Visit the Captain Cook Memorial and Kealakekua Bay
person in front of Lamanai Archaeological Reserve in Belize, a great place to visit in December
Visit Lamanai Archaeological Reserve during your winter getaway to Belize. Photo credit: Gwen Kleist

4. Belize

Belize is a bucket list destination for many! Located in Central America, Belize is a small country bordered by Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean Sea to the east. December is a beautiful time of year to visit.

Popular activities in Belize include hiking, birding, ecotours and visiting archeological sites. Diving and snorkeling are also very popular in Belize; the world’s second largest barrier reef is located off the coast.

The inland region of Belize is home to waterfalls, jungles and archaeological ruins and temples, many of which date back to Mayan times between 250 A.D. and 900 A.D. There are many tours you can take to explore these sites. We visited the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve on our recent trip to Belize, and it was amazing! Lamanai is a Mesoamerican archaeological site, and was once a major city of the Mayan civilization.

Fun Things to Do in Belize in December

  • Go to the beach
  • Visit the Mayan archeological sites of Corozal, Altun Ha or Lamanai
  • Snorkel or dive off Ambergris Caye
  • Take a cave tubing or cave kayaking tour
  • Take a Jungle Canopy Zipline & Waterfall Rappelling tour
Macy's facade decorated for the holidays in San Francisco, a great destination in December
Macy’s decorated for the holidays in San Francisco’s Union Square. Photo credit: Gwen Kleist.

5. San Francisco, California

There’s something magical about Christmas in San Francisco. The city is adorned with beautiful Christmas lights, and everything is alive with festive energy!

Like most of the west coast, the weather is cool but not freezing; still warm enough to enjoy outdoor activities but not at all hot. Average temperatures in San Francisco this time of the year remain in the 60s.

Some of the popular things to do in the City by the Bay during the holiday season include ice skating, checking out gingerbread houses around the city and shopping. You can even take a Holiday Lights Tour aboard a 1970s VW hippie bus with San Francisco Love Tours.

Union Square is truly the heart of San Francisco during the holidays. Its centerpiece is the ice rink and a gorgeous towering Christmas tree with 40,000 twinkling lights and ornaments. Pose the family here for a holiday family photo!

Head to San Francisco for iconic experiences like riding a cable car, seeing Victorian houses decorated for the holidays and biking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Alcatraz Island—the infamous prison once housed Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly and the Birdman of Alcatraz—is a must-do excursion when visiting San Francisco. Today, it is run by the National Park Service and you can tour the old prison and the island’s grounds.

Read More: Click here for 15 Ways to Celebrate Christmas in San Francisco

Fun Things to Do in San Francisco in December

spot santa claus at the end of mickey's once upon a christmastime parade
Santa Claus glides down Main Street, U.S.A., in his sleigh in past years as part of the holiday celebrations at Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort. (Kent Phillips, photographer)

6. Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida is literally known for being magical, but there is no more magical time of year to visit than during the holiday season!

Although the parks can get crowded, the month of December at Walt Disney World is a joy. Many rides receive special overlays, such as Space Mountain – Holiday Run, the Jingle Cruise and, of course, It’s a Small World Holiday. There are beautiful Christmas trees towering over every park and on-property resort. Hanukah, Kwanza and other holidays are celebrated, as well.

In addition to the fantastic holiday decorations, food and ride overlays, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – a separate-ticket event with food, hot chocolate, parades, special character greetings and more – happens on select nights at the Magic Kingdom.

Read More: Check out these awesome ways to save money at Walt Disney World

Fun Things to Do at Walt Disney World in December

  • Visit the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom theme parks
  • Hop around to different Disney resorts to see the Christmas decorations
  • Attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
  • Shop, dine and enjoy holiday festivities at Disney Springs
  • Watch the parades, fireworks and nighttime spectaculars inside the parks
  • Walk around Disney’s Boardwalk
Skiing in Park City, Utah.
Skiing in Park City, Utah. Photo credit: Utah.com

7. Park City, Utah

Park City is a beautiful year-round destination, but during the wintertime it becomes one of the most popular skiing and snowboarding travel destinations in the United States. December is a great time to visit!

During the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, many of the major skiing and snowboarding events were held in Park City. Park City is also famous for its cross-country skiing trails. Park City offers a wide variety of options from groomed trails, complete with classic tracks, or more rustic touring trails, many overlooking the majestic Rocky Mountains.

Even if snow sports are not your thing, there is much to do in Park City. Shop for gifts, visit a museum, go to the spa, watch Santa ride down the Town Lift in Historic Park City or catch a holiday performance at the Egyptian Theater.

Fun Things to Do in Park City in December

  • Enjoy winter activities such as skiing, snowshoeing or snowboarding
  • Sip hot chocolate by the fire at a cozy ski resort by the slopes
  • Enjoy Park City’s shops and cafes
  • Go snow tubing or dog sledding
  • Visit an ice skating rink
  • Ride snowmobiles
  • Visit the Park City Museum
Holiday decorations at the Cheekwood Estate & Gardens in Nashville
Cheekwood botanical gardens, lit up for Holiday Lights. Photo credit: Judy Antell

8. Nashville, Tennessee

If live music is your thing, Nashville is a must-see destination in the USA. Aside from being the capital of country music, there are many great things happening in December.

One of the most popular things to do check out the Christmas decorations at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. Nashville also hosts a wonderful annual Christmas Parade, and if you are there for New Year’s Eve don’t miss Music City’s New Year’s Eve extravaganza at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park.

There are many other fun things to do in Nashville and the weather is cool enough in December to experience everything the city has to offer, including amazing food and many venues to enjoy live music and nightlife.

Read More: 16 Fun Things to Do in Nashville with Kids

Fun Things to Do in Nashville in December

Sydney Opera House in Australia, a great place to visit in December
The Sydney Opera House is Australia’s most iconic landmark. Photo credit: Sydney Opera House

9. Sydney, Australia

When it’s winter in North America, Sydney, Australia is experiencing summer. December is a great month of the year to visit if you want a warm weather getaway—it is summer down under and the weather is perfect, with temperatures typically in the high 70s

A designated UNESCO World Heritage site, the Sydney Opera House is a wonder of architectural marvel. You can see a performance there, or catch the New Year’s Eve celebration with fireworks and a light show.

Since the weather is great, be sure to visit some of Australia’s warm sand beaches to take advantage of the summer weather and sunshine!

Fun Things to Do in Sydney in December

Take advantage of the snow in Aspen-Snowmass, Colorado, making the SheBuysTravel best places to travel in 2017 list.
Aspen is a wonderful destination to visit in December for outdoor activities in the snow! Photo credit: Jeremy Swanson, Aspen Skiing Company.

10. Aspen, Colorado

December is the start of ski season, and Colorado is the best place to go to experience a thrilling winter getaway! Aspen is one of many wonderful ski destinations in Colorado where you can experience beautiful mountain vistas and luxury ski resorts.

The reason Aspen is one of the best places to visit in December is its annual 12 Days of Aspen celebration. During this family-friendly special event, you’ll find everything from ornament-making workshops to cookie-making classes. There are also film screenings, magic shows, ice skating and fireworks.

Aspen is a winter wonderland if you love snow sports. It offers gear rentals, trails and tours to enjoy all kinds of outdoor activities, including snowboarding, skiing, snowshoes and even dog sledding.

Fun Things to Do in Aspen in December

  • Go skiing or snowboarding
  • Go snowshoeing on Aspen’s hiking trails
  • Shop and dine in downtown Aspen
  • Enjoy the 12 Days of Aspen Celebration
  • Go on a dog sledding tour
  • Take a sleigh ride
  • Visit one of Aspen’s ice rinks
Gwen Kleist is an award-winning travel writer and author based in Southern California. She is the mother of one very active son who shares her love of travel and adventure. She is the owner and publisher of CaliforniaFamilyTravel.com, a family travel blog dedicated to sharing the best destinations and experiences in California and beyond! Her articles have also appeared in San Diego Family Magazine, Sunset Magazine, Cat Fancy, Huntington Beach Magazine, and she was a contributing author to Explorer Publishing’s guidebook, Los Angeles: The Complete Resident’s Guide.
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