By Briana Seftel
Holiday lights illuminating the night sky, the smell of cookies baking...it must be December! Instead of staying home and watching Love Actually for the umpteenth time, why not plan a vacation instead? Trust us, when it's time to return to work in January after the holidays, you'll feel much more invigorated after a fulfilling trip (and you'll get to humble brag to your colleagues. Score!). From beaches in South America to European Christmas markets, here are eight great places to visit in December.
If you're dreaming of visiting a Christmas market or two, Germany is the place to be. Scattered all over the country, German Christmas markets are full of gingerbread ("lebkuchen"), mulled wine ("glühwein"), beautifully decorated stalls, music and festive lights. The city of Dresden is home to Germany's oldest Christmas market dating back to the 15th century, while Nuremberg is famous for its "Christkind," a holy cherub who parades around the city. Cologne, Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt also host Instagrammable markets. Add in a day or two in the Bavarian Alps and you might just have the perfect December vacation.
Thinking of where to ring in the new year? Few cities can match Scotland's historic capital. Known as Hogmanay, New Years in Edinburgh is legendary, with parades through the streets, fireworks and arguably the biggest and loudest singing of “Auld Lang Syne.” Festivities start on December 30th with a parade down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Park, followed by the Torchlight Procession fireworks. On December 31st, live bands and DJs fill the streets with music as the city center becomes one of the world's largest outdoor parties. When the clock strikes midnight, fireworks are set off from Edinburgh Castle, turning the already stunning skyline into something truly spectacular.
Miami isn't just a summer destination. In December, the Magic City hosts one of the biggest art festivals in the world known as Art Basel. While similar events are held in Basel, Switzerland and Hong Kong, Miami is considered the place to be (and has the celebrity following to prove it). A week-long celebration of multi-media art and music, Art Basel attracts people from all over the world looking for the next big talent. Hop from one gallery to the next, see the colorful murals in Wynwood and mingle with the art elite at Miami Beach's swankiest hotels. With temperatures hovering around a pleasant 70-80F, you can see incredible art and hit the beach!
Lapland is as close to a winter wonderland as we can think of. Located in Finland's northernmost region, Lapland is one of the best places in the world to spot the Northern Lights, a natural phenomenon occurring in the winter months. The dancing green, blue and purple lights of the Aurora against the inky, star-studded sky is truly a sight you will never forget. Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, is considered the hometown of Santa Claus, while the number of reindeer roughly equals that of people! How's that for a holiday?
Prague, Czech Republic
December is a magical time to visit Prague. The Czech capital is simply dazzling with a light dusting of snow, not to mention major sites like Charles Bridge and Prague Castle have far fewer crowds than in summer. Prague's Christmas markets are also some of Europe's best, with live nativity scenes, traditional folk crafts, festive Christmas trees and scrumptious cookies. Since you'll want to be outside most of the time, make sure you pack a warm winter coat, gloves and boots as temperatures can regularly dip below freezing.
Whether your vacation takes you to major cities, coffee country, lush rainforest or beaches, Colombia is a fantastic place to visit in December. In Medellin, the city comes alive with the annual Alumbrados EPM, a month-long celebration with that puts your neighborhood block to shame with a whopping 31 million Christmas lights! Meanwhile, on Colombia's Caribbean coast, warm temperatures equal beach weather and cities like Cartagena aren't too hot and humid, unlike the summer. Plan for much cooler weather in Bogota, where a bowl of comforting ajiaco soup will surely warm you to the bone!
What could be better place to celebrate Hanukkah than Israel? Also known as the Festival of Light, Hanukkah in Israel is marked by the lighting of menorahs, spinning the dreidel and eating traditional foods like sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts) and latkes. A can't-miss event is the Hanukkah Torch Relay, which marks the beginning of the holiday in Israel. Revelers pack the streets from the city of Modi’in to the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem’s Old City, passing a burning torch from hand to hand. The passing of the torch ends at the Western Wall, where it lights the giant menorah (hanukkiyah).
Punta del Este, Uruguay
While December is high season in Punta del Este, you'll never feel the weight of the crowds on Uruguay's coast. Known as the "Hamptons of South America," Punta del Este shimmers with glitz and glamour and attracts high-rollers from Brazil, Argentina and elsewhere in Uruguay. There's still plenty to enjoy here even if you're not shelling out the big bucks. Work on your tan at one of the many fine (and free) beaches, browse eclectic art installations like the The Hand (La Mano) and visit smaller towns like Piriápolis and Cabo Polonio.