Best city breaks in December
Winter cityscapes and Christmas markets: here are the top cities to visit in December.
Average temperature: 3°C
Germany takes all the glory when it comes to Christmas markets, but head to Hungary’s grand capital, Budapest, for a December city break and you’ll find one of the best Christmas markets in Europe. Even better, it’s considerably cheaper than the German markets. The magical market at Vörösmarty Square sells all sorts of traditional handicrafts and plays host to a wide variety of food stalls, including mulled wine dens and stands flogging traditional cinnamon-flavoured chimney cake. There are also various folklore-themed performances, choir singing, children’s workshops and possibly an appearance by Santa, if you’re good. The market is open from early November to December, but the food stalls stay open until January 6th. Opening times are 10am to 10pm most days. Check out our guide for more of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
Where to stay
The beauty of Budapest is that it’s extremely affordable, particularly when it comes to hotels. Stay in four-star comfort from £70* a night at Carat Boutique Hotel, bang in the middle of attractions like St Stephen’s Basilica, Buda Castle and a short walk from the market at Vörösmarty Square. Upgrade to a fancy suite with a kitchen at Marriott Executive Apartments from £100, perfect if you want to come and go as you please.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Average temperature: 28°C
Rio is wonderfully hot in December, so why not hit Ipanema beach for some serious sunning? Aside from the beaches, Rio is probably most famous for its epic parties, and New Year’s Eve is when the whole city gets down to some serious revelling. During ‘Reveillon’ NYE celebrations, around two million people head down to four kilometre-long Copacabana beach to watch the huge midnight firework display and party like mad until the sun rises the next day. One note of caution: watch your wallet, as petty thievery is rife. Take a look here for some of the world’s most popular beaches including Ipanema, or check out our local’s guide to the best things to do in Rio.
Where to stay
If you’re on a budget, Rio has a number of decent crash pads such as the converted villa Bamboo Rio Hostel. Alternatively, get an inside look at Rio from a local’s perspective, with a homestay – some are more like family B&Bs, while others, like the friendly Sonia’s Homestay, are simply rooms for rent in someone’s home.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Average temperature: -3°C
Don’t mind the cold? St. Petersburg in Russia is where to head in December if you want breathtaking wintry scenery – it has a building called The Winter Palace after all! This monumental building (it has around 1,500 rooms) looks almost like a wedding cake thanks to its intricate white decoration, and it’s just one of many grandiose edifices littering the city, looking exceptionally beautiful in the snow. Despite being built in the eighteenth century, the Winter Palace is inextricably linked to the early twentieth century and the start of the Russian Revolution: the storming of the palace in 1917 was one of the revolution’s most famous events. Visiting the palace, now a museum, costs between 300 and 700 rubles (opening times 10.30am to 6pm most days; closed Mondays, open late on Wednesdays and Fridays). For more things to see and do in St Petersburg, from ice bars to fortresses, take a look at our guide or hit the photo.
Where to stay
Live it up in palatial-style luxury, at Rocco Forte Astoria Hotel, a 1912 landmark building decked out with period features and wood pannelling, or save a few rubles at Arkadia Hotel, also near the Winter Palace, from £75 a night.
New York, United States
Anne Slater-Brooks from Travel the Globe 4 Less gives us the low down on why this is the best place to go in December:
Where would you go in New York?
Whether you love shopping, theatre, architecture, beach or parks, this city has something for everyone but winter is particularly exciting as you can indulge in Christmas shopping galore, Broadway festivities and ice skating action around the city, whether it be by the Rockefeller Centre or in Central Park.
Why should anyone else bother going there?
The city that never sleeps has so much to offer for a weekend getaway. Just seven hours from the Uk, you can leave Thursday or Friday and time your return flight to overnight on Sunday so you can be back at your desk on Monday morning!
What makes it such a great place to go in December in particular?
You simply cannot beat a long weekend in New York in the run up to Christmas. Glittering window displays, the mammoth Christmas trees and the buzz of anticipation in the run up to the festive season make this a great destination for the month of December.
Where would you stay?
I love the Roosevelt by Grand Central. It’s where Maid in Manhattan was filmed and whilst it certainly isn’t the most glamorous of accommodation, it has spacious rooms, a Starbucks in the lobby, (a huge, impressive Christmas tree too if you come in December) and a prime location. It also has that old world charm which often doesn’t exist in more modern properties.
If you fancy a splurge, the Palace Hotel next to St Patrick’s is beautiful, luxurious and indulgent (expensive too!).
What would you do/which attractions would the visit?
My top picks would be The Empire State Building for iconic views (remember Sleepless in Seattle anyone?) and Art Deco architecture, the Statue of Liberty, helicopter trips around Manhattan and the Intrepid Museum in the harbour. Of course, a shopping spree at Macy’s is an absolute must. It is Christmas after all!
Any recommendations for bars, restaurants or cafes?
I highly recommend the comedy club off Times Square for a barrel of laughs for just $5 each. As for restaurants, you will be spoiled for choice with every conceivable taste catered for. I was fortunate enough to visit one Christmas on a work convention and we ate at some amazing restaurants including Gallaghers steak restaurant, Robert DeNiro’s Tribeca Grill and the Sea Grill adjacent to the Rockefeller ice skating restaurant.
Best beaches holidays in December
We bring you the hottest beaches to visit in the depths of winter.
Average temperature: 19°C
The volcanic Canary Islands are known for their black sands, but not all of the island’s beaches have such a dusky hue. Teresitas Beach in Tenerife is composed of golden sand imported from the Sahara desert – the golden grains make a stark contrast with the black and brown mountains behind it. After you’ve finished building your winter tan, take a stroll through the pleasant fishing village of San Andrés and grab a bite in one of the many seafood restaurants – La Posada del Pez (Carretera Taganana 2) does delicious scallops and calamari. Take a look at our guide to see the 11 best beaches that the Canary Islands have to offer.
Where to stay
You can find good standard hotels around the resorts in Tenerife from £50 a night, such as Hotel Escuela Santa Cruz. For a taste of the quiet life, rent an apartment in a country casa like Casa Rural Aborigen Bimbache near San Andrés.
Average temperature: 31°C
Thailand’s largest island attracts visitors in their droves – around five million tourists head to Phuket every year. Holiday here in December you’ll be able to enjoy the stunningly beautiful beaches free of monsoon rain and basking in gloriously hot temperatures. Though it’s popularity has meant large-scale development, there are still pockets of paradise to be found on the island; seventeen kilometre-long Hat Mai Khao Beach is relatively unspoilt, being located in a national park. On the flipside, party animals should head to Surin Beach, home to swanky club venues like Zazada and Catch, perfect if you’re planning a New Year’s Eve to remember. For more things to do in Thailand, from fitness camps to Hindu shrines, take a look at our ultimate tips for Thai trips.
Where to stay
Stay in Karon or Kata for decent hotels and a fun atmosphere without the rowdiness of Patong Beach. Head for peaceful Kamala if you want to get away completely – Boutique Guesthouse By Clearhouse offers simple but comfortable B&B-style accommodation a short walk from the beach (rooms from £30).
Best events in December
This way to the world’s finest festivals and events kicking off in December.
L’Escalade, Geneva, Switzerland
Average temperature: 4°C
Chocolate lovers, rejoice! During L’Escalade in Geneva, large chocolate cauldrons filled with marzipan sweets are smashed and then devoured by joyful celebrants. Why, you ask? Back in 1602 the Duke of Savoy, who intended to invade the city, sent soldiers to secretly scale the walls and open the city gates from the inside. But legend has it that a watchful housewife spotted one of the soldiers and poured hot soup on him from a cauldron, then raised the alarm. The festival is usually held on the weekend closest to the 11th December, the date all the drama took place. To discover a few more local traditions, from fondue to fireworks, take a look at our guide to Geneva.
Where to stay
The Eastern-inspired Jade Manotel occupies a good location close to the shores of Lake Geneva and 15 minutes from the train station. Squeeze more out of your holiday budget by opting for 2-star Hotel Central, with fresh croissants delivered to your door in the morning (rooms from £90*).
Fête des Lumières, Lyon, France
Average temperature: 6°C
In early December, Lyon in France is awash with light thanks to the annual Fête des Lumières. The festival dates back to 1852, when the city was preparing to celebrate the installation of a statue of the Virgin Mary in a chapel on Fourvière Hill. A violent storm broke out and the river threatened to overflow, so the festivities were cancelled. As the storm began to fade away local residents spontaneously lit candles and lamps in their homes and so the festival of light was born. Streets, parks and buildings are lit up with beautiful light displays and this year there are over 70 installations throughout the city. Take a look at our guide for more of the best things Lyon has to offer, from bouchons to beaujolais.
Where to stay
Go chic at the Mama Shelter Lyon design hotel. Expect individual, quirky furnishings and lots of colour. At the cheaper end of the scale, but no less funky, is Alter’Hostel, a modern backpacker hostel on the riverside, with dorm beds from €19.50.
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*Published September 2017. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.
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