Why not nix that chore-like check-off visit to the family this December, and instead sample how some other countries tackle the holidays at a twinkly Christmas market? If frosted trees and mulled wine leave you cold, what about a warm-weather hideaway, combining culture or volcanic calderas with a chance to lounge by the pool? Either way, we have you covered.
December brings the 15th edition of Art Basel Miami Beach, a glittering, four-day confab that lures both fashionistas and the arterati to the Magic City. Though the pop-up fair takes place on the beach, the city’s permanent culture hub sits on the mainland: the Design District. Local developer Craig Robins has spent more than a decade trying to kickstart this passion project, and he finally seems to be succeeding. The glut of luxe retail here continues—a Saint Laurent store joins the fray this month—but there are also, finally, neighborhood-building amenities, too. Take, for instance, OTL, a 7,000 square-foot-coffee shop-cum-exhibition space masterminded by the same team as NYC’s hipsterish café chain, The Smile. Local chef Michael Schwartz adds another outpost to his empire—this one, Ella, is a breakfast joint in the Palm Court. Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Miami’s unofficial royal family, will even open their next venture, Cuban supper club Estefan Kitchen, a few blocks away. And if the stress of spending and eating is too much, yoga instructor Dawn B. Feinberg just opened her new studio, Ahana Yoga in the Design District, too.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Fifty years ago, the first lumbering tram opened to shuttle adventurous skiers up to the peaks at the newly minted resort of Jackson Hole. This year, the season kicks off on December 17, opening day for its brand new Sweetwater gondola, which rises more than 1,200 vertical feet in just over seven minutes. Hotel Terra Jackson Hole just reopened, too, after a much needed, million-dollar refresh of its lobby and common areas. If you don’t fancy braving its astonishing vertical drops on skis, opt for hiking or cross-country skiing around the trails laid out by local non-profit the Friends of Pathways or book a dawn or dusk snow safari with local eco-guide, Kurt Johnson.
This overlooked archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic consists of nine historic islands tailor-made for adventure-seekers—think whale watching, hiking calderas, and swimming with dolphins. (The island of Terceira is home to the only volcano in the world where visitors can explore a chimney and secondary magma chamber, sitting side by side.) Even better, this volcanic landscape is largely unspoiled by mass tourism—indeed, it was only in June that Portuguese carrier TAP began offering flights via Lisbon from Miami, Newark, JFK, and Boston. December isn’t chilly here, despite the archipelago’s Atlantic location—the Gulf Stream keeps the year-round temperatures surprisingly balmy, with the mercury rarely dropping below 60 degrees or so. Logistics can be challenging, so book a trip with tour operator Azores Getaways, making sure to incorporate a visit to one of the local, geo-thermally heated hot springs—the new Furnas Boutique Hotel on São Miguel has its own thermal spa.
Vienna isn’t just the capital of Austria—it’s the capital of Christmas, thanks to its world-famous Christmas markets. Glug some glühwein and nibble some of the cookies or vanillekipferl as you browse the more than 100 stalls on Rathausplatz, the largest cluster of pop-up shops, or head to the satellite market on Maria-Theresien-Platz, where you can dawdle while the carolers and gospel choirs entertain fellow shoppers. The best souvenir snaps come with the backdrop of the Schönbrunn Palace (this cluster continues after Christmas and is repurposed as a New Year’s market). If you need detailed advice on how to make the most of those markets, don’t worry—Traveler has you covered.
Turks & Caicos Islands
December marks the opening of yet another five-star resort on this island cluster in the eastern Caribbean. The Shore Club is a $100 million oceanfront property with direct access to the 2.5-mile Long Bay Beach on the southern coast; it’s less well known than Grace Bay on the northern rim, and thus more romantically idyllic. Come for Christmas and you can extend the holidays with a bonus—Boxing Day, which this British territory still celebrates on December 26th, and marks with the Maskanoo, a street festival. Turks is also aiming to become an air hub for elsewhere in the region: The number of direct flights stateside is rising, and InterCaribbean is also upping its service to and from Providenciales to many other islands nearby.
Asheville, North Carolina
This Appalachian anchor is earning plaudits as an unexpected foodie haven, thanks to chefs like El Bulli-trained Katie Button, owner of two restaurants in the city, or Troy Ball’s craft distillery, which makes a hearty whisky from local corn. December is a delightful season to visit this mountainous outpost in western North Carolina, thanks to its quirky roster of seasonal treats: There’s a winter light show at the arboretum, and the Biltmore estate’s Christmas evenings are a timewarp-ish trip back to the era of its original owners, the Vanderbilts, complete with more than 60 decorated trees dotting the house. Alison Krauss and Michael McDonald are among the line-up announced for this year’s Warren Haynes Christmas Jam, which the Allman Brothers alum and Asheville native has organized since 1988.
The pristine, postcard-pretty island of Nantucket is renowned as a summer getaway for the East Coast’s élite, but its clapboard house-lined streets don’t remain empty for the entire winter. In fact, the Christmas Stroll over the first weekend of December is one of the liveliest, loveliest times to visit this New England hideaway, and dates back to the early 1970s. The Whaling Museum debuts its month-long Festival of Trees, showcasing more than 80 different trees decorated by a local artist, business, or non-profit association. Carolers will fill the pedestrianized main street, and the town crier will ring in the Stroll at noon on Saturday, before leading a parade down to the wharf, where he’ll welcome Santa and Mrs. Claus back to the island. Sip some mulled wine at 21 Broad, one of the island’s longtime high-end perches, or book a room at the brand new, 20-room boutique hotel Greydon House designed by Roman & Williams, the duo behind the steampunk vibe of New York’s Ace Hotel.
Think of this city, once part of the sprawling Austro-Hungarian empire, as a pocket-sized Vienna—complete with an enormous Christmas market that ribbons through the cobbled streets of the city center in more than two-dozen locations. The city’s dubbed the celebrations Advent Zagreb, masterplanning a series of sights and attractions, whether a specially built Ice Park in King Tomislav square or a live nativity scene inside the city’s stunning cathedral. There are more inventive options, too, notably the audio-visual installation-cum-concert taking place inside a tunnel in the city’s downtown.
Los Angeles, California
Miami might be the art world’s headline-grabbing destination this month, but the emerging culture scene in the City of Angels is no less impressive. Billionaire collector Eli Broad’s namesake museum is proving a major draw in its custom-built home downtown—the current show, Creature, is an eclectic grab-bag of figurative pieces from his enormous haul. Wolfgang Tilmans has debuted a roster of new work at Regen Projects while Hauser Wirth & Schimmel’s enormous campus-like branch in a former flour mill showcases work from Maria Lassnig. Even better, the latter gallery’s much-anticipated al fresco café, Manuela, is finally open, as is Curtis Stone’s newest must-try spot, butcher’s shop and restaurant Gwen—no wonder foodie bible Lucky Peach named Los Angeles the ‘Best Eating City in America.’ Even better? You can hunker down at one of the city’s hipper hotels, the Ace Hotel downtown, with 20 percent off rooms if you book by December 7.