The holiday season is almost in full swing. We can’t think of a better time of year to get out of town to celebrate. Fortunately, there are loads of destinations that are perfect for the holiday season. Here are four of our favorites.
Goa, IndiaDecember is not quite peak travel season to visit this coastal Indian city, but the lower latitudes will ensure pleasantly warm weather. Once a Portuguese colony, the city has a considerable Catholic population as well, meaning Christmas festivities are in full swing. Loads of restaurants serving fresh caught seafood offer endless options for holiday feasting, and there is no shortage beachside bars where you can celebrate well into the early morning while watching fireworks.
You can also take part in another time-honored holiday tradition, shopping. The midnight market in nearby Arpora village offers plenty of gift-buying opportunities with a distinctive hippie vibe. The city boasts over 400 churches, and midnight mass at landmark like the Basilica of Bom Jesus, part of the Goa UNESCO World Heritage Site, ensures an unforgettable holiday memory. Be sure to stick around for New Year’s Eve and experience one of India’s hottest nightlife and club scenes, too.
Nagano, JapanOnce the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano might not have enough snow accumulation in December to ensure a proper ski trip, but there are still plenty of things to see and do. Jigokudani Monkey Park, for instance, is not to be missed. This is where you’ll find the only troop of monkeys in the world with a penchant for soaking in hot springs. At some point, you’ll likely want to soak in a hot spring yourself. Nearby Matsukawa Valley has countless onsens not frequented by monkeys. You can check into a traditional ryokan guesthouse to experience Japan in its full bucolic splendor as well.
Come December 31, be sure to ring in the New Year at Zenko-ji, Nagano’s most important temple. Thousands come to Zenko-ji to witness the tolling of the temple’s 350-year old bell 108 times to expel the 108 worldly sins of Buddhism and bring a fresh start for the New Year.
El Nido, PhilippinesThis town on the northern tip of the island of Palawan is known for its powdery white sand beaches, crystal blue waters, majestic limestone formations, and mild winter weather. All of these make El Nido an excellent December destination. It offers world-class diving, snorkeling and other aquatic pursuits like fishing and paddleboarding.
The area is also one of the most bio-diverse places in the world, boasting thousands of species of birds and mammals and plenty of lush, green forested terrain. The Philippines take their Christmas celebrations seriously, and it’s expressed in a unique mix of imported and local traditions. The anticipation can begin as early as September, when you’ll start to see decorations and hear the carols being sung.
Chiang Mai, ThailandDecember brings to Chiang Mai warm, dry days and pleasantly cool evenings. The city is packed with beautiful Buddhist temples, like Wat Phra Singh and Wat Phan Tao. Moreover, no visit to the city is complete without a visit to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a mountaintop temple complex with a 700-year history.
The surrounding areas offer endless opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. At the nearby Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, visitors can get up close with the world’s largest land mammals. Likewise, Doi Inthanon National Park, home of Thailand’s highest peak, offers opportunities for hiking and birdwatching. For the culturally curious, Chiang Mai is a great staging point for treks into the mountains to interface with the local hill tribes.