The holiday season is almost upon us. Soon, the TV screen will be swamped with festive ads, the radio will be jingling with holiday tunes and presents will be wrapped.
For some, the holidays mean gathering the family together and leaning into a storybook vision of Christkindlmarkts, Santa, caroling, roasted chestnuts and mulled wine. For others, it’s a chance to flee to sunnier climes, recalibrate and reflect before the ball drops again.
Time waits for no one, so if you want to travel during the peak season, it’s wise to sort out your plans now. Or, you can even plan ahead for your 2024 holiday adventure.
Whether you are looking for a cozy white Christmas combined with world-class skiing at a U.S. ski resort, a European city where timeless traditions fill medieval streetscapes, or just looking to use up your vacation days with a dose of exoticism, here are a few festive getaway ideas to get you started.
One of Europe’s most romantic capitals, Vienna is a city where music, art, food and architecture are all steeped in glories past. Opulent Hapsburg palaces, impressive museums and elegant parks line the banks of the Danube, and tradition underpins even the most vibrant and cutting-edge neighborhoods.
Vienna is also home to one of the best Christmas markets in Europe. At Rathausplatz City Hall Square, the city’s annual Christkindlmarkt takes place this year from Nov. 19 to Dec. 26. More than 100 stalls purvey everything from arts and crafts to traditional holiday fare, like roasted chestnuts and gluhwein (mulled wine); there will also be a Nativity path, Ferris wheel, carousel and reindeer train.
For 2023, the city’s famed Spittelberg Market — evocatively set within the neighborhood’s revitalized 19th-century alleyways — will focus on sustainability with eclectic, eco-friendly arts and crafts and organic culinary delights.
Where to stay: For the pinnacle of luxury in Vienna, splurge on a stay at the Rosewood Vienna, where old-world ambience, seasonal decorations and festive culinary experiences make it the perfect place to lean into the holiday spirit. Its Old Town location on historic Petersplatz square places it within walking distance of the city’s seasonal markets as well as major museums and attractions, including the Albertina and the Musikverein concert hall. Rates start from around 800 euros per night ($856).
Breckenridge is known for its holiday festivities, which take place not only along its charming Victorian-era streets but also on its world-class slopes. As one of the highest-elevation ski areas in Colorado, it’s also one of the best places to ski early in the season.
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The festive fun begins the first weekend in December when hundreds of Santas race each other down Main Street. This is followed by the lighting of 250,000 holiday lights. There’s also a dog parade, caroling, a kids’ Moose March race along Main Street and a holiday gift market at the Breckenridge Arts District, where local artisans showcase books, candles, ceramics, jewelry, paintings, prints and more.
Beyond the holiday cheer, Breck is a great place for December skiing this year, with enhancements such as a new, high-speed quad, which will increase uphill capacity to the famed Peak 8. The town is one of the closest big ski towns when driving from Denver, and you’ll find plenty of cozy restaurants, bars and stores to catch up on last-minute holiday shopping.
Related: Best ski resorts in Colorado for everyone from beginners to experts
Where to stay: The luxurious One Ski Hill Place offers upscale guest rooms and high-end amenities at the base of some of Breckenridge’s best terrain. Rates start from $620 per night during ski season. Marriott loyalists can look to the Residence Inn by Marriott Breckenridge, which has a prime location on Main Street in the historic district, and there’s a year-round outdoor pool and hot tub. Rooms start at $376 or 54,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.
If your celebrations aren’t complete without a postcard-perfect festive market — think glowing lights, a (potential) sprinkle of snow and overpriced cups of mulled wine — then Cologne is a prime getaway.
This German city sparkles to life in the last month of the year thanks to its myriad Christmas markets. Three major, themed markets (as well as plenty of other, smaller ones) run from Nov. 23 until Dec. 23 and elicit that warm, fuzzy, festive feeling. Perhaps the best known is Weihnachtsmarkt am Kolner Dom, named for the 774-year-old Gothic cathedral overlooking it.
Where to stay: For an affordable, fun place to rest your head, Moxy Cologne will bring its playful, social spirit to the season with The Now — Lounge & Bar which offers seasonal cocktails and bites. Up in the rooms, the brand’s signature minimalist ethos will, perhaps, provide a pleasant respite from all the tinsel and chintz. With prices starting at 90 euros or $97 (or 21,000 Marriott Bonvoy points), it’s no wonder Moxy scooped the TPG Award for Best Affordable Hotel Brand this year.
New York City
New York City during the holidays can be just as magical as you’ve seen in the movies — that is, if the points and miles collector in you can look past the (possible) uptick in hotel prices just this once.
Your to-do list will be never-ending, but some of the classic must-dos include a stop by Fifth Avenue for some last-minute shopping, a glimpse of Rockefeller Center’s glittering tree, an icy spin on the Wollman Rink after a festive stroll through Central Park, a performance of “Christmas Spectacular Starring The Radio City Rockettes,” holiday markets and a visit to Brooklyn neighborhood Dyker Heights for a look at the local residents’ truly jaw-dropping festive decorations.
Where to stay: Soak up the festive nostalgia with a stay at the St. Regis New York, a glorious city icon since it was founded by John Jacob Astor in 1904. The property’s bygone era detailing is the perfect backdrop for spreading seasonal joy, and well-heeled guests will appreciate its opulent design and dedicated butler service. Rates start from $809 or 84,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.
Switzerland’s largest city, Zurich, turns into a wintry wonderland with multiple Christmas markets running until either Dec. 23 or 24; there are also lights decorating the streets of the city center, a singing Christmas tree (yep, really), Burkliplatz’s traditional candle dipping and the charming “Marlitram” fairy tale tram.
One of Zurich’s largest Christmas markets, Christkindlimarkt at Zurich Main Station, has a tree that scintillates with Swarovski crystals. The nostalgic Dorfli market in Old Town offers festive charm with fondue and artisanal goods.
Sybarites and wellness-seekers can enjoy Zurich’s thermal baths and saunas with views of Lake Zurich, while the “Herzebaracke” floating theater will host lakeside performances from Nov. 1, 2023, to March 10, 2024.
Where to stay: The luxury Park Hyatt Zurich is a great way to redeem World of Hyatt points; just 35,000 Hyatt points per night (room rates can easily soar above $1,000 per night). Sleek modern rooms, inviting public spaces and warm service, all within a 20-minute walk of Old Town, make this Hyatt flagship brand property a modern counterpart to Zurich’s vintage charms.
The largest Christmas market in Sweden is held in Gothenburg (which is sometimes dubbed the country’s “Christmas city”) at its famous, almost-100-year-old Liseberg amusement park. According to Visit Sweden, there are more than 1,000 Christmas trees on the site. Be sure to sample julbord — a buffet of traditional hot dishes, cold dishes and drinks (including mulled wine and seasonal beer).
Like most major European cities, Gothenburg has more than one market; one of the best markets is in the Kronhuset district (parts of which date back to the 1700s). There’s also a notable one that’s a 35-minute drive away at the unusual country manor Tjoloholm Castle. Add the usual joys of exploring the islands of the Gothenburg archipelago, eating at the large Feskekorka seafood market and seeing the Volvo museum. It proves to be an excellent choice for a festive vacation.
If your holiday season kicks off in the U.K., there are frequent direct flights from London via British Airways, Finnair and budget carrier Ryanair, which take a little less than two hours. You can find flights from many other European hubs as well.
Where to stay: A fixture for over 175 years, the family-owned Hotel Royal Gothenburg combines Old World ambience with modern amenities and a terrific location within walking distance of the city’s Christmas markets. Rates start at $82 per night.
For travelers who shudder at the thought of a subzero holiday season, Mexico is a great option. Resorts in Playa del Carmen and Cancun are sure to be packed (and at peak prices) because December through New Year’s is prime time to travel. Not to mention, the average temperature comes in at a blissful 75 degrees.
A culture-packed vacation awaits in the UNESCO-inscribed city of Oaxaca in the country’s southwest region. Las Posadas (reenactments of Mary and Joseph searching for an inn) take place this year from Dec. 16-24; these events are followed by midnight mass and a family meal.
A unique event on Dec. 23, called Noches de los Robanos (Night of the Radishes), brings locals and visitors alike to the city’s main square to admire expertly carved radishes, turned into elaborate creations resembling people, religious figures, animals and more.
You can fly directly to Oaxaca from a few U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas. If those aren’t convenient for you, opt for a connecting flight to Oaxaca or fly directly to Mexico City, then drive to Oaxaca.
Where to stay: Part of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts group, Hotel Quinta Real is housed in the Convento de Santa Catalina de Siena, originally built in 1576. Each of the 91 individually designed suites is beautifully appointed, overlooking fountain-filled courtyards and steeped in Old World charm. Rates start from $276 per night.
Related: These are the best times to visit Mexico
Deep in northern Finland, at the entrance to the Arctic Circle, sits the city of Rovaniemi. It’s the official home of Santa Claus, so the Christmas appeal is blindingly obvious.
Of course, as you might expect, December in Rovaniemi is very snowy, icy and cold. Temperatures hover between 12 and 19 degrees, so thermals, thick coats and warm gloves are a must. Without them, you’d struggle to enjoy the other activities in Rovaniemi and Finnish Lapland around holiday time. Such activities include meeting reindeer and huskies, snowmobiling, ice fishing and going to a traditional-themed Christmas market. Also, while it may not be possible in the very center of the city, those staying outside the city have a solid chance of seeing the northern lights.
As you may also expect, a trip to Finnish Lapland probably won’t come cheap. However, you can make it worth your while with a stay in a cozy cabin, woodland lodge or an unusual glass igloo.
Where to stay: Santa Claus Village just north of the city, as well as a similarly themed park, is particularly ideal for families with young children. Stay in a classic red cottage nestled in the forest or a modern suite, complete with a separate living area, a mini kitchen and even a sauna. Seasonal winter packages start from 371 euros ($396).
If you rolled your eyes hard at the thought of New York City during the holidays just a few paragraphs ago, consider visiting its smaller but very festive neighbor. Boston provides plenty of activities and will feel slightly less like you’re trodding along a very well-beaten path.
Expect major holiday lights across the city, including more than 50,000 blue and white bulbs illuminating all 260 feet of Columbus Park’s trellis, plus several trees dotted around, including at the Boston Common. Ice rinks, Christmas markets and even a range of restaurants open on Dec. 25 may also entice you. Perhaps the most festive offering takes place at the Citizens Bank Opera House, where you can watch a classic performance of “The Nutcracker” by the Boston Ballet.
Related: Best hotels in Boston, including the Four Seasons and the Fairmont
Where to stay: On a tree-lined street in Back Bay, The Eliot Hotel oozes historic charm with luxe, marble-clad accommodations and the kind of intimate, old-school service guaranteed to give you a warm, fuzzy holiday glow. Rates start from $310 per night.
The Dominican Republic’s dry season kicks off in December with plenty of sunshine and heat (averaging 86 degrees), making it a popular time to go. Stay in a resort hotel in Punta Cana, La Romana or Puerto Plata if you want to lounge by the pool or the beach for your vacation. If you want more activity, head to the historic capital of Santo Domingo to see its UNESCO-listed Colonial City or venture farther afield to explore rich rainforests.
Wondering what a Caribbean holiday season might look like? As you explore, you may spot charamicos — essentially the Dominican version of a Christmas tree, made with wood and branches and sometimes painted in bright colors. Here, locals may also adhere to the tradition of La Misa del Gallo (midnight mass) and a family feast on Christmas Eve — though how you celebrate and share your own holiday traditions is up to you.
You can fly directly to the Dominican Republic from many U.S. cities. Many choose to fly into Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ), but there are other airports sprinkled around the island as well.
Where to stay: The chic, amenity-rich Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana fronts a gorgeous beach and is one of TPG’s favorite all-inclusive resorts. Rates start from $550 per night; World of Hyatt members should expect to pay between 35,000 and 45,000 points per night, based on double occupancy. On the wildly beautiful Samana Peninsula, the ultraluxurious Amanera is the Dominican Republic’s premier address. With just 25 stunning Balinese-style casas and casitas designed in harmony with nature, this is the place to tune out the holiday frenzy. Rates start from $1,700 per night.
Canary Islands, Spain
Consider a trip to one of the Canary Islands, around seven hours from the U.S. East Coast.
Part of Spain, the archipelago actually lies off the coast of northern Africa, affording pleasant December temperatures averaging between 68 and 79 degrees. The warmer islands are typically Lanzarote, Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura, though you won’t freeze on Tenerife and La Palma. Whichever island you choose, you’ll struggle to find yourself bored. Fly-and-flop vacations are certainly possible — with a wide range of hotels to pick from and golden beaches to roam. However, there are also plenty of adventurous activities, such as visiting volcanos, traversing national parks and trying water sports.
In Gran Canaria, you can visit Las Canteras Beach to see an incredible 16-foot Nativity sculpture crafted from sand by local artists. On Jan. 5, all of the Canary Islands welcome the Three Kings parade — celebrating the return of the three wise men — before an islandwide holiday on Jan. 6.
Where to stay: On Tenerife, travelers with Marriott points might opt for the Ritz-Carlton Abama (rates start at 40,000 points or $342 per night) and the Sheraton La Caleta (rates start at 30,000 points or $349 per night). Both hotels offer beautiful sea views and boast amenities such as saltwater pools and fitness centers.