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Aren Bergstrom Getaway Guide Editor 5 months, 1 week ago

12 Destinations for the Holidays

  • Family in Venice for Christmas

The winter holidays are upon us. Hanukkah came at the end of November, Christmas is just over a week away, Kwanza comes just after, Epiphany lies in the first week of 2022, and the entire world is ready to ring in the new year come December 31.

The world is awash in celebration this time of year, so we thought, wouldn’t it be fun to spend the holidays in some beautiful part of the world? Which is why we’re having some fun with the holidays and listing 12 destinations where we wish we could spend the end of December. 

Think of this article as our answer to the 12 Days of Christmas. We offer some highlights about the chosen destinations, as well as list some facts about what they celebrate around this time of year. So read on to learn about our 12 Destinations for the Holidays.

What are our 12 destinations for the holidays?

1. The Islands of Tahiti

island beach sunset

Spending the holidays lying on a sandy beach and enjoying the warm sunshine and refreshing water sounds like a dream. No wonder so many people choose to spend the time around Christmas on Bora Bora, Moorea, or Tahiti. You can enjoy pristine accommodations including an overwater bungalow with direct access to the shimmering lagoons and plenty of room on white-sand beaches with good snorkelling off shore. The locals are super friendly to boot.

As well, it might be summer in The Islands of Tahiti come December 25, but the nation celebrates Christmas just like the rest of the western world. You’ll find Christmas trees, church services on the day of, and talk of Santa Claus, even if the autonomy celebration of Heiva i Tahiti on June 29 is arguably the biggest holiday in the nation.

2. Italy

Rome skyline

Snow might be rare in Rome or Venice in December, but Italy is one of the loveliest places to spend the holidays. The Renaissance architecture in the cities, rolling hillsides, and sweeping coastlines make for the perfect holiday backdrop. If you do happen to get a dusting of snow on St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican or outside your pensione in Venice, even better. You can take in some great holiday concerts in celebrated musical halls and churches around the country—Italy produced an abundance of great classical Christmas music, as the profusion of “Christmas in Venice” albums will have you know. And as always, the history and food are divine.

Italy celebrates Christmas with midnight mass on Christmas Eve, a big feast with family and friends on Christmas Day, and lots of yuletide celebrations throughout the season. It’s the biggest holiday other than Easter.

3. Thailand

Bangkok Grand Palace

Thailand is warm and bursting with history and culture at all times of year. This doesn’t change come the winter holidays. You can relax on the sandy beaches in the south, such as on Phuket or Koh Samui, enjoy world-class food and great shopping in Bangkok, or learn about the nation’s interesting history and see its gorgeous countryside in the north around Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai.

Christmas is not an official holiday in Thailand, but the Thai people love to celebrate, so you’ll find lots of festivities and decorations in public spaces, especially in the big cities and places where the tourism industry is key to the local economy. Songkran (Thai New Year) in April remains the biggest holiday, and as for winter, New Year’s Day is an official holiday and the central celebration this time of year.

4. Egypt

Pyramids and Sphinx

Egypt is a fascinating place to visit at any time of year, but the cooler temperature in December is especially welcome when exploring the pyramids in Giza or cruising along the Nile River from Luxor to Aswan. The beach resort of Sharm el Sheik in the Sinai Peninsula is also especially appealing during this time of year, when it’s cold in many parts of North America and Europe. While it’s a bit tricky for some travellers to make it to Egypt during this holiday season, it’s a country that should be high on your list for upcoming years.

While Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country, there are a signifant number of Coptic Christians in the nation, so Christmas is celebrated. December 25 is celebrated as a cultural holiday while the Coptic celebration involves a breakfast feast after Epiphany on January 7. Eid al-Fitr remains the biggest holiday in the nation, and due to the cyclical calendar for Islamic holidays, it sometimes occurs in December.

5. Fiji

Fiji sunset

Like The Islands of Tahiti, Fiji offers sandy beaches, beautiful resort accommodations, and friendly local culture during the winter months. It’s summer in Fiji, which means it’s warm and you can spend your days snorkelling through coral reefs, wakeboarding along the shoreline, and suntanning when you might normally have been shovelling snow at home. It’s an appealing island getaway for the winter months.

Fiji also celebrates Christmas along with the other major holidays of its various ethnic groups. For Christmas, you’ll find Christmas trees, a big lovo feast to celebrate Christmas Day, and an appearance by Santa on a speedboat instead of a sleigh!

6. Greece

Oia Santorini

Greece might be most popular in the summer when the islands attract people wanting to party and swim off the rocky beaches. In December, it’s too late in the season for island hopping and beachgoing, but the mild weather and laid back vibe remains appealing during the busy holiday season. Furthermore, you can still explore the many historical treasures across the nation and enjoy its great cuisine and cultural appeal.

As the nation is predominantly Orthodox, Greece celebrates Christmas on Epiphany on January 6. However, December 25 still has cultural celebrations and you’ll find decorations and festive cheer throughout the entire season. In Greece, Christmas is the biggest holiday after Easter.

7. The Maldives

Maldives resort

The Maldives is so appealing these days, after we’ve all spent the bulk of two years reducing our social interactions, spending too much time at home, and experiencing all the added stress and anxiety of current events. To relax on a private island with the beach and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean all to yourself is some well-deserved bliss. Thus, the Maldives would make for an ideal getaway over the holidays. It’s a place where you could reward yourself and finally relax after two hard years.

While the Maldives does not officially celebrate Christmas, many resorts hold celebrations for their guests. You’ll find holiday dinners, decorations, and maybe even an appearance by Santa for the kids. As you’d expect of a Muslim-majority nation, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are the most important holidays on the calendar.

8. Dubai

Expo 2020 Dubai

There is more reason than ever to head to Dubai this December. It’s currently hosting the Expo 2020 Dubai, the current edition of the World’s Fair, which only happens once every few years. You can explore pavilions from 190 countries, take part in daily activities, such as cooking demonstrations and live music events, and enjoy delicious food from all around the world. That’s not even to mention the startling architecture and technologies on display. Best of all, you can enjoy a free stopover in Dubai on select vacations to Africa and Asia. Even in years when Dubai isn’t hosting the Expo, it’s a great place to spend the holidays, with great shopping, family-friendly attractions, and good food options.

While the United Arab Emirates is officially Muslim, with Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha the main holidays, Dubai does celebrate Christmas with lights, trees, and celebrations for tourists. It’s traditional to go out to eat a big meal on Christmas Day, so the city is hopping come Christmas morning when people enjoy great feasts with the whole family.

9. Peru

Machu Picchu

Peru delights history buffs and travellers wanting to cross some big ticket items off their bucket list. It is home to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas, after all. You can even hike the Inca Trail and visit Machu Picchu over the holidays, which would make for a very memorable way to celebrate the holidays. It’s also home to arguably the best food city in South America, Lima, as well as one of the most popular gateways to the Amazon Rainforest, so there is no shortage of exciting ways to spend the holidays in Peru.

Peru also loves to celebrate Christmas. The nation is predominantly Catholic, so you’ll find Christmas celebrations through December. Christmas Eve is the main night of festivities in Peru—it’s called La Noche Buena (“the good night” in Spanish)—with meals with family and gift giving. It’s the biggest celebration of the year aside from Easter and some of the more regional cultural holidays, such as Fiesta de la Candelaria, which is Peru’s answer to Carnival and occurs on the last day before Lent begins.

10. Japan

Kyoto Golden Pavilion

There’s no bad time to visit Japan. It’s among the most beautiful and culturally satisfying destinations on the entire planet. But it’s especially beautiful during the holidays, when snow dusts cities in the north and the country takes a break from busy work life to celebrate the new year. Many businesses close the first week of the new year, so you’ll have to plan around this if you want to visit any specific attractions. Outside of the first three days of the new year, you can still see all of Japan’s famous attractions, from the temples of Kyoto to Mt. Fuji to the medieval castles that dot the countryside to the famous neon districts of Tokyo. Unfortunately, Japan is not currently open this holiday season, but that just means we should start planning ahead for future holidays.

Japan doesn’t officially celebrate Christmas, but it does take part in the festivities with trees in the major cities, Santa Claus, and cultural kitsch throughout the nation. Furthermore, the new year is the biggest holiday in Japan, so New Year’s Day (Ganjitsu) is a time to take off work and celebrate with friends and family.

11. Kenya

Masai Mara elephants

Have you ever thought about going on safari during the holidays? Spend your time off alongside giraffes, elephants, and lions on the East African savannah. Retire each evening to your safari lodge and enjoy some quiet time listening to the sounds of the bush and communing with the natural environment. Make new memories with friends around the boma or visit rural villages to learn the holiday traditions of the locals. If you spend the holidays on safari in Kenya, we guarantee you’ll never forget it.

Christmas is a big deal in Kenya. It’s a time to celebrate with family, attend midnight mass, and exchange gifts with loved ones. It’s also a time to give back, so families prioritize donations and charity work during this time. Celebrations also cap off with singing and dancing, so there’s a party vibe as well. While Jamhuri Day (Independence Day) on December 12 might be a bigger national occasion, it’s hard to top Christmas celebrations in Kenya.

12. Australia

Uluru

We’re not quite at the point yet where we can celebrate the holidays Downunder, but we know that day is coming soon. Australia is such a beautiful nation and we’ve been missing it dreadfully over the past two years. When we can finally return to visit, we’re going to take full advantage of its natural wonders and many, many highlights. Next year (fingers crossed), you could spend the holidays seeing kangaroos and koalas on Kangaroo Island off the southern coast, visiting the famous Opera House in Sydney, or cruising the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. Enjoy the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Melbourne; gaze upon Uluru/Ayers Rock; stroll the famous boardwalk of Perth—there are so many things to do in Australia and so many reasons to spend the holidays here. We can’t wait for the borders to reopen in the near future and to make many more memories exploring its vast expanses.

While Christmas comes during summer in Australia, the nation celebrates Christmas much like countries in North America and Europe. There are big celebrations with friends and family, gift exchanges, tree decorations, and Santa Claus. And it all caps off with New Year’s Eve, when Australia is one of the first countries in the world to ring in the new year. It’s a place made for the winter (or summer, depending on your perspective) holidays.

13 Dec 2021, 3:16 p.m.

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