Best places to go for a holiday in December

COUNTRIES

NEW ZEALAND

Why you should go: New Zealand comes spectacularly endowed with exhilarating topography, natural wonders and adventures galore, and is similarly gifted in the lifestyle department with a keen appreciation for food, wine and a taste for fine accommodation that includes some of the spunkiest lodge-style accommodation on the planet. December is prime-time, warm enough for hiking, biking and sea kayaking, with long hours of daylight that let you play all day and return to a spa, a massage, a plate of grilled salmon and a warm and comfy bed.

Don't miss: The drive along the west coast of South Island comes straight from the world book of earthly wonders. Start at Christchurch with a ride aboard the TranzAlpine Express, pick up a hire car at Greymouth and drive south past some of the most accessible glaciers on the planet, New Zealand's tallest mountains, wild, lonely beaches with seal colonies, glacial lakes and spongy forests webbed with moss. Give yourself three days minimum and make a feast of it. See newzealand.com

See also: Why New Zealand might just be the best destination in the world

Podcast: Things that will surprise first-timers to New Zealand

MEXICO

Mexico. Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Cupolas of the old basilica and cityscape of Mexico City on the far
 SunSep23covercities - Capital cities - Ben Groundwater
Credit: Shutterstock

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City. Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: Mexico is hotter than a chilli pepper, and far beyond the stereotypes there's a lot to like here – beaches to warm the heart, a vigorous Latin culture, ruins galore and a treasury of natural wonders that includes tropical rainforests filled with jaguars, howler monkeys, tapirs and ocelots, the second highest waterfall on earth and Copper Canyon, which is deeper and – some say – grander than Arizona's Grand Canyon.

Don't miss: On the blunt thumb of the Yucatan Peninsula, the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve is almost 3000 square kilometres of forest, savanna, lagoons and coral reefs and home to hundreds of species of birds and animals. The name means "where the sky is born" in the Mayan language, and the way to explore this labyrinth is on an eco tour that also includes snorkelling and the area's Mayan ruins and admiring the crocodiles, flamingos, spoonbills, storks and herons that inhabit the reserve. See visitmexico.com

See also: Mexicos' tropical island paradise that's a well-guarded secret

LAOS

Mekong River and mountains view in Luang Prabang, Laos SatJul21laos - Buffalo dairy in Laos - Julie Miller Credit: Shutterstock

Mekong River and mountains view in Luang Prabang, Laos. Photo: Shutterstock

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Why you should go: Known as Asia's Sleeping Beauty, Laos is the very essence of the exotic Orient. December is the middle of the dry season, the temperature loses its tropical bite and those who come will find a version of south-east Asia that exists mostly as a sepia-tinged reminiscence – a country of hill tribes, elephants and jungles filled with undiscovered species waiting to be named, and totally insulated from the cultural levelling that comes with economic success.

Don't miss: Luang Prabang, the former royal capital, set on an isthmus bristling with temples at the junction of the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers in the country's north. Luang Prabang is also a market for the hill tribes of northern Laos, and hill tribe women trussed in silver and black embroidered suits are a feature of the city. The royal palace and the temples are standard, but the soothing essence of Luang Phabang is best absorbed by simply wandering about, especially in the evening, when garfish-thin boats pleat the Mekong against a backdrop of saw-toothed blue hills that fade to pearl as they retreat toward China. See tourismlaos.org

See also: New luxury resort in the lush forest of Southeast Asia

BARBADOS

Why you should go: The most easterly of the west Indies, Barbados is one of the most user-friendly of all bits of the Caribbean. Bridgetown, the capital, has a resolutely Anglo feel about it and the quarter million lucky souls who call Barbados home are tea quaffing types who like nothing better than a game of Sunday cricket. Set against its true-Brit heritage is an African taste for music, colour and life outdoors, where the steel band meets the starched tablecloth. The diving and snorkelling is sensational or better, golf courses rival Hawaii's and the windsurfing is pretty fabulous.

Don't miss: Oistins Fish Fry – tuna, mahi-mahi, swordfish and lobster grilled on the spot, right on the water's edge next to the village fish market at the southern end of this teardrop-shaped island. The fish fry happens every Friday and Saturday night, against a lively backbeat of ska and reggae music with a beach-party atmosphere that often features the local rastas. Natty without the dread. See visitbarbados.org

See also: Island-hopping through a Caribbean paradise

CUBA

HAVANA, CUBA, MAY 7, 2009. Astonishing dancers performing in Tropicana in Havana, Cuba, on May 7, 2009. SatAug12Havana - Havana - Nicholas Whitlam Credit: Shutterstock

Dancers performing at Tropicana in Havana, Cuba. Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: A visit to Cuba, one of the few unrepentant communist dinosaurs, still has an edgy feel to it but for the travel connoisseur there's nowhere else like it. Among its attractions are the world's finest cigars, grandiose yet unkempt architecture, locals who dance salsa all night, bars still haunted by Hemingway's ghost , traffic that includes Detroit chrome-mobiles from the 1950s, some of the finest coastline in the Caribbean and the naughty frisson that comes from defying Uncle Sam.

Don't miss: A salsa lesson. A brassy fusion of sol, merengue and New York jazz, salsa is fast, passionate, sexy and complicated. It expresses the joy of life. When you see someone dancing salsa well, you see something worth doing with your life. You don't need to shred the evening air with grace and sensuality, but dance you must. Dance salsa and you will carry Cuba with you wherever you go. See visitcuba.com

See also: The ultimate guide for first timers to a post-Fidel Cuba

CITIES

VENICE, ITALY

Why you should go: Venice in mid-winter? It's frosty, the lagoon is often wreathed in morning fog, which only heightens its mystique, prices are lower, you can dine in one of the popular restaurants before 9.30 without booking, you'll get a seat on the ferries and best of all, you can walk across a crowd-free St Mark's Square without dodging selfie sticks. In winter Venice returns to the people who live there, and that's a sweet relief.

Don't miss: The island of Burano, a pocket-sized delight, a former fishing village that maintains its links with the sea, where houses in a rich palette of gelato colours cast their wavering, mirror images across the canals at their feet. Thanks to its history as a fishing port Burano is renowned for its seafood. The vaporetto from St Mark's takes about an hour, go on a sunny day. See veneziaunica.it

See also: The 20 must-do highlights of Venice

HOBART, AUSTRALIA

Hobart, Mount Cook view

View over Hobart, Tasmania. Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: Compact, great value and infinitely likeable, Hobart is a showcase for Tasmania's exceptional produce – farmed venison, berry fruits, oysters, fabulous farmhouse cheeses and excellent boutique Tasmanian wines. There's also that sparkling setting – sea on one side and on the other a green mountain that can see snow even on Christmas Day. If you're there post-Christmas head down to Constitution Dock to party with the crews of the Sydney-Hobart yacht race.

Don't miss: Port Arthur, barely 90 minutes away on the Tasman Peninsula. Once our most notorious prison colony, Port Arthur's remains have a spooky, melancholy quality that survives to this day. You can even make one of the twilight Ghost Tours and still be back in Hobart in time for a late dinner. Against the horrors of the prison, the serrated coastline of the Tasman Peninsula has a haunting beauty of its own. See discovertasmania.com.au

See also: Twenty reasons to visit Hobart

GEORGE TOWN, MALAYSIA

SunOct29Malaysia - George Town, Penang, Malaysia ; copy by Brian Johnston credit: Shutterstock *** EDITORIAL USE ONLY *** Georgetown,Penang - July 17,2015 : People can seen buying and exploring in front of souvenir stall in the street art in Georgetown, Penang

George Town, Penang. Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: Capital of Penang Island, George Town is a sleepy World Heritage zone with a fragrant Little India and a time-warped Chinatown where the shopfronts have been transformed into boutique hotels and smart cafe/restaurants. Thanks to its multi-cultural heritage, George Town dishes up a feast of flavours, with laksa soups as one of the standouts. Throw in a liberal dose of spices courtesy of migrants from southern India and you have fusion food that takes the taste buds out for a zumba class.

Don't miss: A wider exploration of Penang. Just 25 kilometres from top to bottom, the island captures in miniature most of the facets of the Malaysian experience – beaches sprinkled with plush resorts, wilderness parks filled with chattering monkeys, a cultural collage of temples, wats, mosques and churches and even a miniature hill station, reached by a funicular railway. The wandering seafront road that lassos the island is lined with kampongs where the fishing nets strung between the coconut palms are not just there for effect. See mypenang.gov.my

See also: A three-minute guide to George Town, Penang

STRASBOURG, FRANCE

Why you should go: Strasbourg, the Alsatian capital marries the best traditions of France and Germany to put together a storybook Christmas. Set against the fairytale backdrop of the city's half-timbered houses, canals and churches, Strasbourg hosts France's oldest Christmas market, transforming the city into a visual and gastronomic wonderland. The sparkly, 30-metre Christmas tree in place Kleber, ice-skating rink in place Dauphine and nativity pageants, carols and concerts add colour and sound to the celebrations.

Don't miss: At the heart of the action are the giant Christkindelsmarik in place Broglie and Place de la Cathedrale, the medieval square in front of Strasbourg's spired Gothic cathedral. Local gastronomic specialties of the season include baeckeoffe stew, a slow-cooked meat casserole marinated in local white wine and juniper berries, spiced bread, traditional bredele cakes, mulled wine and Christmas cookies. If snow visits the city your heart will melt. See au.france.fr

See also: This stunning city will beguile you with its beauty

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK

Copenhagen, Denmark on the Nyhavn Canal.
 tra5-CRU-Scandinavia
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Copenhagen, Denmark on the Nyhavn Canal. Photo: Shutterstock

Why you should go: Copenhagen is the friskiest of all the Scandinavian capitals, and the city pulls out all stops for a twinkly Christmas, illuminating streets, cafes and shop windows with sparkly lights and forests of candles to ramp up the spirit of hyggelig, cosiness. In Nyhavn, where the pastel coloured houses are mirrored in the canal at their feet, the Christmas Market is known for its high quality, made-in-Denmark goods, on sale until December 22.

Don't miss: Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen's fabulous amusement park, which becomes a winter wonderland with a re-created Nordic village, performances in the Tivoli Concert Hall, fireworks and a Christmas market selling seasonal treats. Millions of tiny lights illuminate Tivoli's lakeside willow trees, the Glass Hall, Pagoda and Concert Hall while its lake becomes an ice-skating rink, adding a touch of Hans Christian Andersen to the gardens. See visitcopenhagen.com

See also: Best destinations to visit in November

See also: Best places to visit in October

See also: Best destinations to visit in September

See also: Best destinations to visit in August

See also: Best places to visit in July

See also: Best places to go for a holiday in June

See also: Best destinations to visit in May

See also: Best places to go in April

See also: Best places to go for a holiday in March

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