Travel is such a personal and individualistic experience that I have no right to tell you about the best places ‘you should’ travel in December and January. When places are hyped up, disappointment ensues. If you hang your entire experience on what a person has said before, it ruins the emotions of what you will experience.
You won’t get to experience that place we would never leave from, or more like those places that would never leave from within us. They’re bound to stay like we stay in the memories of those places.
The magic is in finding the little stuff, and moving away from overtourism which kills your spirit and experience of magical encounters and rendezvous evenings. However, travelling in January or December could mean big crowds and exorbitant prices but before the hotel rates spike and your Airbnb loft is taken, take your time to survey these best destinations for Winter sun to see which place fits your personality.
1. The Ever Sunny South of Spain
Think churros, sunny side-walks, strolling the wonderful city’s cafe in moderate temperature and gushing over the wondrous Sierra Nevada mountains. Seville and Granada are my top two recommended spots for the best places to visit in Spain if you want to enter a city that is beautifully lit, and to make way for endless strolls.
Winter is practically non-existent in these towns. The temperature is a fine 20C and it can drop to a gentle 16C between December and January. In Seville, you’ll find everything in this little square, with locals gathered at outdoor tables and tangy oranges hanging above the hotels and cafes – a sign that there’s no stopping of abundance sunshine.
Once done, hop over in a bus to Granada for a 3 hour ride as you traverse under the Southern sunny sky in Spain. In Granada, visit the city’s belenes, nativity scene. The word belén translates to “Bethlehem!" Traipse the town and marvel at the intricate attention to detail in these little scenes of Bethlehem. Last year, more than 2 million tiny LED lights twinkled in the streets all over town!
2. Bruges, Belgium Christmas Markets
If you believe in fairytales and locking in the Christmas spirit with chocolates and cheers, Bruges holds the place for the best places to travel in December and January. Evenings in Bruges has a slight nip in the air, where you can conveniently walk alongside the canals, and saunter with your loved ones. There's nothing that says winter quite like the scent of mulled win wafting through the crisp, clean air and seeing everyone walk along with a waffle in their hand.
A sit-down in Lizzie’s Wafels to savour in their homemade waffles and marmalade, and chocolate dippings is not quite complete without a visit. Choose between two Christmas markets – Markt, on the main square which is the main Christmas market or Simon Stevinplein Square where it hosts another market lined with magical tree lights.
The calories are hard to ignore but what if you could lose them and enjoy a gentle bicycle ride to the border of Netherlands, Sluis for 8 euros. The rural roads offer a varied sight of Netherlands countryside in just 15km. Take in the views as you ride alongside the canal to the little village Damme with a stunning windmill. Damme has a dreamy, and antiquated almost medieval-like aged bookstore and every Sunday there is a book market in the village. It is quite possibly the best thing, slowing down to listen to the chatter and see what lies on the other side of Bruges.
3. Skiing in the Caucasus Mountains, Georgia
The mountains, they can do wonders to your soul and a lot of damage to your wallet, if you pick premiere ski destinations in France and Austria. But what if you can spend couple of days in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, a city so stunning hidden with stories and old bathhouses as you marvel at the old historical buildings during the Soviet era before you head for a low-budget ski strip in Gudauri, Georgia.
From people to food and sheer adrenaline, you can get a taste of the Caucasus mountains towering up to 3,200m. There’s sledging, paragliding and even a stop on the way to Kazbegi, just 11km from the Russian border. Probably, a good idea to also ensure your packing list for Winter is in check.
If you’re also new to skiing and snowboarding, Georgia might be the place for you to take up lessons. Skiing season starts from December 10 onwards. For fraction of the prices compared to the Alps, and a lot of powder, and good food, the stunning mountain ranges of Georgia is a nice change of pace for on-the-fence adventure seekers and the best place to travel in December or even January.
4. Feasting in Armenia
Armenia, a country on the cusp of Europe and Asia has tons of borrowed elements from neighbouring countries like Iran, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Outside the capital of Yerevan lies small towns marked by the remnants of the Soviet era. Some of the oldest relics in the world are found in this tiny country, and it is the first country to adopt Christianity as a state religion.
During my visit to Armenia in Winter, I visited the Culture and Food village in Byurakan, near Aaragat Mountains. The village is on the slope of the mountain in Argatsotn Province. I was invited to experience how Armenians make their noodles, their fresh kebabs, pilaf and baklava pastries, with side dishes of music and dance. Food was a constant topic of discussions for Armenians and it was hard to agree on what is authentically Armenian.
Armenians who settled in larger numbers in countries like Syria, Lebanon, and Iran often contributed to and incorporated the dishes of their new nations. The rugged landscapes makes it the perfect climate to grow wheat, rice, lentils, figs, pistachios, and apricots, resulting in rich delicacies, flavours, and variations.
5. Back-Country Adventures in Laos
Just a few hours away from China, and not too far from Vietnam, Laos has the perfect backdrop for a slower pace of life. No longer a lost paradise, the city of Luang Prabang is the starting point for trying different adventures. The scenic landscapes, laidback life, interesting hilltribes and minimal traffic compared to Laos neighbours like Vietnam and Thailand makes it one of the best places to travel in December and January.
You’ll find well-behaved tourists who are interested in learning about the Laotian way of lives and are curious to dig deep into what happened to the two million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580k bombing missions. There’s even a dedicated UXO Laos Museum to learn more about the secret war.
If you want to push your body and mind further, try taking a 5 day cycling trip from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng. You will love it when children wave "Saibadee (Hello's)” coupled with claps and cheers when riding through rough terrains.
6. Tropical Stays in Malaysia
As a Malaysian myself, it would be wrong to exclude Malaysia from the list. Living in the tropics is unpredictable, you could be sweating buckets from the harsh humidity in one moment and running for shelter from the afternoon thunderstorms in the next.
But the occasional downpour, does not take away the effortless and carefree vibes of slipping in your flip-fops to run to your next Kopitiam shop for the best ‘Teh Tarik’ and ‘Roti Canai’.
Get a taste of cheap local food and head for cosy stays in Airbnb’s Sebelas in Bangsar, and after you’re done with your food fix in the local area, venture out to the lake gardens and spend the next few days visiting the quaint country-side in Janda Baik, in the jungles of Bentong, or even Hulu Langat, Batu 18. There’s some sweet long stretches of asphalt worthy of a great road trip, and stopping by at Bahulu Clasiq for local delights like Nasi Lemak with some strong condensed milk tea.
7. Princely Getaways in Rajasthan, India
Most first-time India goers would cover the golden triangle and venture into the spiritual places of India, but few stop to take in the intricacies of a particular region, one that has opulence marked in everything.
Entering Jaipur, the gateway to Rajasthan, you are hit with colours. It’s a sensory experience to see women in bright fuchsia and yellow saris, historic forts and camels pulling cart. What truly mesmerised my senses were the enormous food thalis and the stunning royal architecture of Jaipur. The air is cool, it is not too hot, and perhaps the best time to relish in a royal spicy platter and imagine what it was like to be a royal in the princely Jaipur state, and the residence of its Rajput rulers.
Do you have places that you’ve traveled before in December and January and feel like they belong to this list? Let me know in the comments below.