The Best Travel Destinations This December

lapland santa village rovaniemi

Photo: Flickr/Tarja Mitrovic

Good excuses for a December break, from migrating butterflies in Mexico to Santa spotting in Lapland.

Edinburgh - for Hogmanay

No city parties quite like Edinburgh on New Year's Eve.

It's very much a public event and easy to feel part of it.

Events get going on December 30 with a torchlit procession and an opening party in Revolution Square starting at 5pm, and continue until January 2. Full details of timings and tickets are on www.edinburghshogmanay.org.

For other things to do in Edinburgh, and suggested places to stay, see our expert guide to the city.

Vienna - for New Year

Edinburgh does New Year in style, but not quite the style of Vienna with its spectacular balls, concerts, operas and operettas.

The most useful guide to the different events, including details of how to book tickets to one of the balls, is found at the tourist board website.

Germany - for the festive spirit

No country does Christmas markets quite like Germany, from the sausage and gluwein, to the toys and picturesque settings, and the majority have already opened their doors.

The best places to go are Nuremberg, one of Europe's most enchanting medieval cities, Munich, or -- for something more contemporary -- Berlin.

Berlin city break guide

Lapland - for Santa, husky sledding and the northern lights

When too much Santa is never enough, head to Finland's Arctic north.

The man in the red suit is the most famous resident in these parts, and they milk him for all he's worth.

Still, the deep snow and reindeer-dotted forests go a long way towards offsetting the touristy atmosphere, and you can combine a trip to Santa Village, in Rovaniemi, with husky sledding excursions and a chance to see the northern lights.

Thomson, Inghams, and Hays Travel offer tours.

Mexico - for the butterfly migration

Each autumn millions of Monarch butterflies flutter 3,000 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the forests of Mexico.

The sight of over-wintering Monarch clustered on Oyamel trees in Mexico draws tourists too.

The El Chincua Reserve is a popular option. Several operators, including Naturetrek, offer guided tours.

For something a little larger, head to Sri Lanka. December is a good month for spotting Blue Whales.

Australia - for Christmas on the beach

If you don't mind missing out on freezing temperatures and too much football on the telly, head to Australia for a festive season with a difference.

Christmas Down Under means barbecues instead of turkey, bikinis rather than mittens, and surfing instead of chirades.

New York - for the shopping

It is a great time to visit New York, a city that loves celebrating Christmas.

Be sure to visit the 70ft tree at the Rockefeller Centre with its five miles of lights, and drop in at the many garishly decorated department stores, where prices for clothing and electrical goods are usually cheaper than in Britain, making seasonal shopping that bit more bearable.

December is usually a good time of year to pick up a discounted flight, too.

New York city break guide

Chile - for the stargazing

The Geminid meteor shower occurs every December, and -- under the right conditions -- allow observers to spot up to two meteors a minute.

This year's peak will be around December 13.

For the best viewing, head away from the glare of the city. Kielder Forest, officially the darkest place in England, would suit.

Chile, home to some of the world's best observatories, would be even better.

Paris - for Dali

With its boulevards lit up by fairy lights, Paris becomes even more romantic in winter.

The Champs-Élysées isn't a bad place to do your Christmas shopping, either.

Another reason to visit the city is the new Dali exhibition that opened last month (November 21-March 25).

The artist is followed from Figueras to Barcelona, Paris and New York, tracing his blending of dream and reality, identities and genders, and his ambiguities from his fascination with dictators to the love of money that earned him the nickname Avida Dollars.

Britain - for the carol services

The best of the Christmas Eve services must be the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in King's College chapel, Cambridge.

But all British cathedrals will have a service on the afternoon of that day and as long as you can get organised enough to take the time out, it makes a great way to mark the occasion -- some of the most beautiful music in the canon sung in some of the most beautiful buildings on earth.

King's is problematic because you will need to start queuing first thing in the morning to have a chance of getting a seat for the 3pm service.

The queues at Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral, York Minster, Canterbury and Lincoln are not quite so daunting.

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