Best Places to Visit in December

Why not nix that chore-like visit to the family this December, and sample how some other cultures tackle the holidays? There are plenty of twinkly Christmas markets to choose from, sure, but if frosted trees and mulled wine leaves you cold, warm-weather getaways abound—from a party weekend in Sin City to beachfront retreats on tony St. Barths. Either way, we have you covered.

Snowmass, Colorado (© Alamy)

Snowmass, Colorado

Two years ago, word came that the messy, much-delayed Snowmass project near Aspen might finally progress beyond the Viceroy hotel there. The new owners who snapped up the stalled project have injected $600m into finally finishing it, with a grand opening slated for December 15. The Snowmass Base Village at the foot of the location’s impressive mountain is the culmination of fifty years of prep, after architect Fritz Benedict first sketched out the idea of a resort in 1967. It will include a public plaza with a crepe joint and pop-up bar, plus the 99-room Limelight Hotel, complete with indoor climbing wall and spa—and the Snowmass Mountain Club, a private members’ hub inside the hotel with lockers and handy parking. The best way to celebrate the opening is undoubtedly with some freshly-toasted ‘smores: every day, the village will roll out carts from 3.30 p.m. – 4.30 p.m. as an après-ski treat.

St. Barths (© Courtesy Le Toiny)

St. Barths

Tiny, tony St. Barths was one of many Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria last winter. A year later, it’s rebounded impressively: all 17 of its beaches are now open and many of the upscale hotels are back after major refits. Le Toiny has added eight new freestanding villa suites and a beachfront pool, while the two-year old Le Barthélemy has also added two oceanfront villas; though the iconic Eden Rock, which was slated to welcome visitors this season, has sadly had to postpone for another year, since it suffered such major damage. December, of course, is the island’s peak season, packed with celebrities on boats and in villas, prepping to celebrate New Year’s Eve at clubs like Nikki Beach (there’s a regatta every year on December 31 to help showcase those mega yachts). Come on the weekends before Christmas, however, and you can shop the 10th edition of the Magic of Christmas village on the quai in capital Gustavia: expect crafts, snacks and a visit from a sunburnt Santa.

Miami, Florida (© James Harris)

Miami, Florida

December brings the 17th edition of Art Basel Basel Miami Beach, a glittering, four-day confab that lures fashion and art crowds to the Magic City. The pop-up fair takes place on the beach, where Instagram-friendly museum Artechouse has also just debuted—the third outpost of the interactive gallery which focuses on blending tech and culture in a selfie-friendly form. Stay at the brand new Celino, the 156-room resort that pulls together several former standalone hotels on Ocean Drive into a sprawling property connected by a brand new building, featuring a glass bottomed pool and a rooftop bar. Don’t forget to spend time on the mainland, either. Local developer Craig Robins—one of the original masterminds of South Beach—turned his attentions to the Design District more than a decade ago, and he’s finally seeing results: head to millennial pink concept store Ten Over Six or have a drink and dinner at Swan & Bar Bevy, the new restaurant-lounge co-owned by local nightlife veteran Dave Grutman and Happy mastermind Pharrell Williams.

The European Christmas Cities (© Getty)

The European Christmas Cities

Vienna can lay claim to being more than just the capital of Austria—it’s arguably the capital of Christmas, thanks to its world-famous Christmas markets. Glug some glühwein and nibble some of the moreish cookies or vanillekipferl on offer, and don’t miss the festive concert season that accompanies the stalls. If you’ve already explored Austria’s markets, consider swapping out a trip to Budapest, where there’s another festive set-up in Vörösmarty Square: heartier and slightly less picture postcard-ready, expect warming goulash, traditional crafts like marzipan or music boxes, and puppet shows. Linger long enough and you can spend New Year’s Eve in Prague: another of the Imperial cities of Eastern Europe that looks like it was snatched from a fairytale landscape (climb up Petrin Hill for the best view of the fireworks).

Lapland, Finland (© Getty)

Lapland, Finland

Download the Aurora Alerts app before you take off for the Arctic Circle this winter: It offers real-time alerts when the elusive photon-powered phenomenon, the aurora borealis, manifests (the Vikings, with a rare spark of lyricism, assumed the glitter was caused by the armor of the warrior maidens, the Valkyries). One of the best places and times to go light-hunting is Lapland between November and March, especially if you can crash in one of the glass igloos at the Arctic SnowHotel, freshly built each season. Of course, there are other attractions to a midwinter getaway here: the chance to go ice fishing, snowshoeing, dog-sledding and even cruising in an ice-breaking ship on the Gulf of Bothnia. And you can always make a visit to Santa’s hometown—as long as you promise not to distract his army of elves from their Christmas prep.

Las Vegas, Nevada (© Getty)

Las Vegas, Nevada

What better way to party on New Year’s Eve than with 330,000 of your closest friends? That’s how many visitors who descended upon the Strip rang in 2018—and numbers for 2019 should be even higher. The evening’s entertainment options are endless, including everything from a $550-per-head blowout meal packed with caviar and truffles at Restaurant Guy Savoy to a $275 drinks party overlooking the Strip at the Eiffel Tower viewing deck inside the Paris. As for concerts, it’s battle of the divas: Gwen Stefani is Just a Girl at Planet Hollywood, while Sin City’s spirit animal Celine Dion is on the home stretch of her namesake concert at The Colosseum. They’re joined, for the first time, by Star is Born-powered Lady Gaga, who will be kicking off her residency at Park MGM. New Year’s Eve is one of the priciest times to visit Vegas, so if you fancy a bargain winter break, arrive in early December: The window between Thanksgiving and the holidays is one of the city’s slowest times of the year, with rates to reflect that.

Tokyo, Japan (© Getty)

Tokyo, Japan

Come to Tokyo for oshogatsu or New Year season, a week-long bash in late December that coincides with Christmas and has much the same resonance to local residents. Expect fireworks, light displays, and extended opening hours for most of the major temples and department stores, and this year’s festive season is likely to be more momentous than ever, as it’s the last overseen by the current Emperor, Akihito, who will step down on April 30, abdicating the throne in favor of his son. Oshogatsu season is also the only time, other than the Emperor’s Birthday, when certain parts of the Imperial Palace is open to visitors—stay at the nearby Palace Hotel in Maronouchi for views across the lush gardens. Tack on a couple extra days to see the Kobe Luminarie light show, a memorial to the 6,000 people killed in the 1995 earthquake there: it features hundreds of thousands of hand-painted bulbs that festoon the streets for two weeks each December.