Imagine booking a vacation in June in Sri Lanka and thinking you’ll get wall-to-wall sunshine (because why wouldn’t you – it’s Sri Lanka, right?), only to find that June-September is monsoon season. A rain poncho isn’t going to save you this time.
If you haven’t done your research, you could end up ruining your vacation by ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
No one wants that. That’s why I’ve spent days, nay, weeks (and years of travel) compiling the ultimate list of the best travel destinations for every month of the year. So whether you want sun in the winter, the perfect safari spot, or a peaceful holiday in peak summer, I’ve got you covered.
This is your vacation bible. Do with it what you will. Book the best holiday at the best time and feel confident you’ll get the most out of each destination.
Here’s what you’re in for:
- January – including destinations for the best skiing hotspots, the best winter getaway without the slopes, and the best places to escape the snow
- February – including the best places to catch some sun around the world, as well as the best Canary Island for you to visit
- March – expect tropical adventures, early summer sun, jungle explorations, and plenty of trekking
- April – including off-peak budget skiing, the best destination for theme park fanatics, and the best island-hopping route around
- May – the best destinations for road trips, diving, wildlife, and wine regions
- June – including the best place for cultural festival-goers, gorilla trekking, and intrepid explorations
- July – where to go for peak summer sun, where to get a peaceful getaway from the crowds, and an attraction-packed destination you need to see
- August – best for boat-based safaris, tourist-free holidays, and an alternative European vacation
- September – including everything from the perfect family vacation to a beer-fuelled weekend away
- October – the best destinations for a quiet city break, a cultural beach vacation, and some leaf-peeping thrown in
- November – think tree-top trekking and one far-flung adventure
- December – your definitive guide to the best European Christmas markets, where to go to avoid the holiday season, and the best New Year’s Eve parties around the world
Skiing in January? Groundbreaking, right? Sure, it might sound obvious to hit the slopes in peak winter. There are several reasons why you should book your getaway in January, rather than any other month. Hear me out:
Why January is the best time to ski:
- It’s cheaper and quieter to ski in early January when there is a lull after Christmas. This is the time ski resorts offer good deals and promotions to get their numbers up.
- You’re guaranteed regular snowfall for the best powdery slopes. In January ‘21, Canada’s Whistler saw nearly double the amount of snowfall than it did in December.
- You can get your hands on the newest ski gear. New ski gear is often released at the beginning of the year for each new season. If you’re hiring, you’re more likely to be the first to try the best quality equipment in January. Beats trying it out at the end of the season when every skier and boarder has already had their mitts on it.
- It’s the coldest time to visit. That doesn’t sound too inviting. But when ski resorts are at their coldest, they’ll use snow cannons to top up snow. So, if the weather conditions dip, you’re guaranteed the best powder.
Solden, Austria — Best if you’re going with a mix of skiers and non-skiers
49% beginner slopes | 31% intermediate | 20% advanced
Solden offers a great mix of red and blue runs for intermediate skiers. If, like me, you’re fairly new to the slopes, don’t worry. If you’d prefer not to launch yourself off a black run, there’s plenty to keep you occupied. If you’re more advanced, you’re not going to get bored anytime soon either.
For the non-skiers or those wanting a change of pace, Solden offers more than your average ski resort. Visit the Freizeit Arena water park. There’s a pool, slides, steam baths, an exotic cave with massage jets, and bubbly couches, no less.
Once you’ve dried off, check out the state-of-the-art Venetian gondola in the Tirol region. It can transport up to 4,500 people per hour. There’s also the newly-renovated Ice Q restaurant at the summit if you’re just in it for the food and drink. No judgment here. I’ve already bookmarked the flank steak sandwich.
I’d also recommend visiting the James Bond museum in Solden. After all, this is where they filmed the ski chase in the film Spectre.
Powder Mountain, Utah, USA — Best for a City Ski Break
25% beginner slopes | 40% intermediate | 35% advanced
Surprisingly, Powder Mountain is less than an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City. That makes it the perfect location for combining a city escape with a snowy getaway. There are 154 runs to keep you entertained and over 12.5 meters of snow each year. That works out at more than the mighty Whistler in Canada. Looking to mix up skiing and boarding? You can try your hand (or feet, rather) at snowshoeing and go cross-country.
When you’re ready to warm yourself up, the Homestead Crater in Midway, Utah. The crater offers the polar (sorry) opposite experience – with 32°C thermal spring water.
Niseko, Japan – Best for Beginners and Night Skiers
30% beginner slopes | 40% intermediate | 30% advanced
There are 4 connected resorts in Japan’s largest ski resort. It’s perfect for beginners due to the soft, pillowy snow with a comfy 15 meters of snowfall a year. I say this because I’m no stranger to taking a tumble on the slopes. A soft landing is always much appreciated.
If you didn’t know, Japan is also big on its night skiing. All Niseko’s main runs stay open until 8.30 pm so you can ski under the stars.
Best Winter Getaway (Without a Ski Slope in Sight)
If you’re craving a winter getaway but would rather leave the skis behind, Chicago is a great choice.
Visiting North America will never be the cheapest vacation, but your money will go much further in Chicago right after Christmas. This is when visitors and hotel occupancy rates are at an all-year low. So if you think there’ll be no entertainment or buzz, think again. You’ll be pleased to know that January is home to the Sketch Comedy Festival, which takes place across the city.
The Millennium Park ice rink is also open from November-March and is well worth a visit. In the run-up to Christmas, it’s so busy you’re more likely to be hobbling between holidaymakers than gliding across the ice. January offers you the holiday magic but without the unwelcome guests.
Best Places to Escape the Snow
Cruise the Mekong in Laos
I can personally vouch for Laos’ charm. Its French colonial past makes for an interesting mix of European architecture and Asian culture. It’s also got a sleepy quality that differs from neighboring countries. You won’t find yourself sharing Laos with many tourists.
The north averages a warm 24°C in January with next to no rainfall. It’s the perfect place to start your cruise down the Mekong River to the south. Here temperatures will climb to 30°C. While you’re at it, you might as well cruise into Cambodia. Finish your trip off with a few days in Koh Rong, the country’s answer to the Maldives.
Surf the Waves in Kauai, USA
I won’t claim to know much, if anything, about surfing (despite my three tragic surf lessons at the age of 13 on Bournemouth beach in the UK. You know, that well-known surf hotspot).
But I am reliably informed that January is the time to surf in Kauai, when the waves are at their peak in the north of the island. And even if you can’t “carve those waves” — am I getting this right? — it’s also a popular place for humpback whale-watching now too. Pods travel through Kauai’s waters as they migrate to the warmer waters of the South Pacific.
Soak Up Some Sun in Paddington, Sydney, Australia
If you want reliable peak summer sunshine in January, Australia is the answer. And not only will you find long, warm days. You can also treat yourself to the sights and sounds of the Sydney Festival.
This major arts festival takes place for 3 weeks across the city. There’s everything from free art installations to circus acts against the backdrop of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Festivals You Need to Know About in January:
- Wakakusa Yamayaki, Japan, 4th Saturday in January – Its name translates to “The Mountain Roast,” and it sees the grassy hillside of Mount Wakakusayama set on fire. You can see it burn through the city of Nara. Make sure you check the weather before you go, as bad weather can often delay the burning.
- Harbin Ice Festival, Harbin, China – The world’s largest ice and snow festival (over 600,000 square meters) welcomes up to 20 million visitors per year. Expect ice sculptures, snow sculptures, and ice lanterns.
- Up Helly Aa, Lerwick, Scotland, last Tuesday in January – Up Helly Aa is a community event that celebrates the history of Scandinavian Vikings in the Shetland Islands. It also marks the end of the yule season. It features a torchlit procession of hundreds of”‘Vikings” ending in a galley burning. Live music sessions are held around Shetland during the fire festival season.
- Ouidah International Voodoo Festival / Fête du Vodoun, Ouidah, Benin, 10 January – The festival celebrates Benin’s history with the religion Vodoun. It’s one of the largest draws for tourists to Benin. It’s filled with dancing, singing, and drinking alcohol as a way to honor the religion.
Best Places to Catch Some Rays Around the World
Late February offers you the chance to see the chaos of Bangkok. Here you can see it in its natural state, and not teeming (as much) with the visitors that arrive in the peak season.
There’s the chance of a little more rainfall (5 days of the month) as a trade-off. But we’re talking 5-minute monsoon-style rain, which clears the air and keeps you cool. If you’ve never been to Bangkok before, trust me when I say you’ll be praying for those rain showers.
February offers you temperatures of 25-34°C, before it gets uncomfortably hot in April.
If you’re traveling to Thailand, keep an eye on the news and download a VPN. The country is experiencing considerable political turmoil currently, and internet access may get restricted.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
One of the cheapest islands in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is perfect if you want to chill and unwind after a hectic end of the year. Punta Cana is known for its all-inclusive resorts where you won’t need to lift a finger.
If you can muster up a little energy for a day out, make sure you visit the capital, Santo Domingo, for a slice of culture. The old core of the city, Zona Colonial, is a UNESCO site with buildings that date back to the 1500s. Temperatures average a toasty 28°C in February.
The Canary Islands
This Spanish archipelago sits off the north-western coast of Africa and offers guaranteed year-round sunshine.
If you want to avoid the crowds (and the risk of heatstroke), winter in the northern hemisphere is the best time to visit. For your troubles, you’ll be treated to an average temperature of 18°C in February but coupled with a warm sea breeze. It’ll feel a lot more tropical. Top tip: stay in the south of any of the 8 islands for the warmest, sunniest weather.
So, you know you’re guaranteed sunshine, but choosing the wrong island could mean the difference between a beach getaway and an activity-packed adventure. Here’s what you need to know to make the right decision:
- Tenerife: The Canaries’ largest, most developed island is the most geared up for tourists. If you want to fly and flop, not have to worry about finding somewhere to eat every night, and make the most of the attractions, Tenerife has you catered for. But look past the resorts, and you’ll find a rugged, dramatic landscape that’s actually a hiker’s haven. My advice would be to fly, hike, and then flop.
- Fuerteventura: It’s no secret that the Canary Islands are windy, but Fuerteventura is the windiest making it the best for windsurfing. Or how about kitesurfing, or any kind of wind-fuelled activity you can think of?
- Lanzarote: This island is best known for its unusual geology. While it’s as developed as Tenerife in parts, others look like the surface of Mars thanks to its ashy, volcanic sands. You can visit Timanfaya National Park to see the dormant volcanoes that gave Lanzarote its unique moonscape. They haven’t erupted since 1824, but they’re still too dangerous to see on foot. Instead, a coach tour can guide you around the 25 craters.
- Gran Canaria: Best for combining a beach getaway with historical sightseeing. Gran Canaria is often called a “miniature continent,” known for its contrasting landscape. With beaches, mountains, pine forests, volcanic earth, and surprising greenery all on one island. Both Tamadaba Natural Park and the Ingua Reserve showcase the island’s pine forest. In the latter, you may even see the Gran Canaria blue chaffinch, which can only be found on this island.
- La Gomera: As one of the smaller islands, La Gomera is often overlooked. For this reason, it’s quiet and relatively untouched, with a landscape of deep ravines and impressive rock formations. As a designated biosphere reserve, there is a focus on conservation and sustainability on the island. That means, if you want to avoid those tourists, this is the island for you.
- La Graciosa: It’s not the most well-known island, and that’s probably where La Graciosa gets its charm. It’s only a 30-minute ferry journey away from Lanzarote, and it’s been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. With only 700 residents, La Graciosa is one of the only places in Europe with no asphalted roads. Expect a very chilled, tranquil vacation here.
- La Palma: The greenest island of the Canaries, but La Palma also has black sand beaches. Make sure you visit the Enchanted Forest in the north and the volcanic craters in the south.
- La Hierro: Perhaps the least developed and the second smallest island, it’s become a haven for snorkelers, kayakers, hikers, and surfers.
Festivals You Need to Know About in February:
- Rio Carnival, Rio, Brazil, Friday before Ash Wednesday – Often called “The Greatest Show on Earth,” Rio Carnival is a 5-day event where the streets of Rio fill with samba dancing, parades, and pageants. Some records say that 2 million people take to the streets every day of the carnival, so you could say it’s a pretty big deal!
- Mardi Gras, New Orleans, Shrove Tuesday – Mardi Gras translates literally to “Fat Tuesday” and marks the final day of carnival season and the first day of Lent. Much like Rio Carnival, it’s a period of parades, festivities, and merriment.
- Carnevale Di Venezia, Venice, Italy – Known for its striking face masks (not the ones we’ve grown tired of recently, thankfully) and costumes, the Venice Carnival is celebrated for the eight days before Lent. Events take place across the city on the canals and in San Marco square.
- Sapporo Snow Festival, Hokkaido, Japan – Since 1950, school children have created snow sculptures in Odori Park. Now, it’s developed into a festival across 3 sites in the city, with hundreds of snow sculptures, plus concerts and events.
- Sky Lantern Festival, Pingxi, Taiwan – During the first full moon of the Chinese Lunar New Year, the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival sees thousands of lights float up into the sky above Shifen, a small hillside village in the north of Taiwan.
- Menton Lemon Festival (La Fête du Citron), Menton, France – For something a little fruitier, the Fête du Citron takes place across 2 weeks in February. It sees citrus-fruit structures (all homegrown, of course) decorate the town.
- World Sacred Spirit Festival, Jodhpur, India – This festival brings musical talent from across the world to the Mehrangarh Fort of Jodhpur. With a focus on music that “inspires and awakens the divine in us,” it’s the most spiritual festival around.
Best for Tropical Adventures
Western and Southern Sri Lanka
If you’re ready for an adventure, Sri Lanka has a bit of everything. You’ve got the city buzz of Colombo and the history of Galle in the south. Or thrill-seeking safaris in the southeast in Yala.
Visit in mid-late March before the height of the monsoon rains hit. It’s outside of the peak season, however, so you get the best of the country. You’ll get a consistent 27-29°C all year round, but March is the best time for blue whale watching on the coast. Trust me, I’ve seen them with my own eyes, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget (or stop talking about, apparently).
If you want to join the Sinhala and Tamil Nadu (New Year) festival, be there for 14 April, but be prepared for a little more rain. I’d recommend you pack that rain poncho; it’s not the most Insta-friendly vacation look, but boy, oh boy, will it get a lot of action. Best £5 I ever spent.
Best for Jungle Explorations
March welcomes the start of the dry season of Borneo (particularly in Sabah in the north, the driest region in March). This dry weather makes it the easiest time to spot orangutans in the wild, in Borneo’s 140 million-year-old rainforest.
It’s also the best time for trekking without the crowds. That’s important if you plan on conquering Mount Kinabalu, the tallest mountain in Malaysia. Only 135 climbers per day are allowed on the mountain. So, if you’re up for the challenge, book your spot sooner rather than later.
If you miss out, or scaling mountains isn’t your idea of relaxing, why not try spotting whale sharks in the shallows? As March is at the very end of the rainy season, the Bornean countryside, wildlife, and waterfalls are rich and plentiful. Borneo will literally put on a show for its visitors in March.
Best for a (Different) Early Summer Getaway
Sure, Oman hasn’t always been an obvious holiday destination, but it’s no longer the well-kept secret it used to be as it opened up to tourism in the past decade. If you visit between the unbearable heat of the summer and the peak rush of visitors in the winter, hotels are at their quietest. To be honest, a well-protected, natural beauty like Oman is best seen in its downtime.
With its no-skyscraper policy, the capital Muscat has retained its traditional “old-town” charm. While you’re there, I’d recommend taking a trip to see the dolphins in the Musandam Peninsula. You can also snorkel in the coral reefs, and visit the Jebel Samhan Nature Reserve for a chance to see wild Arabian leopards.
However, Oman has blocked Skype in the country, along with certain websites deemed immoral. If you plan on doing video calls with your family, it’s a good idea to download a VPN before you arrive.
Best for Trekking, Trekking, and More Trekking
As I’m sure you realize by now, March seems to be the time to trek whatever side of the planet you’re on. Yet, I really would recommend trekking in North Colombia at the tail-end of the dry season. You want to pick a time before the rains come and most trails become too muddy, and rivers are too high to traverse.
Once you’ve hiked through the Cocora Valley, through the clouds, or found the Lost City of Teyuna, you can visit the Old Town Cartagena. Or how about relaxing with a mud bath at Totumo Volcano?
Festivals You Need To Know About in March
- Holi (also known as Fagu Festival) Mumbai, 28-29 March – A Hindu festival also known as the Festival of Colors, it’s probably the most vibrant event of the year. People spend their time dancing, partying, and throwing colored powder paint and colored water at each other.
- Las Fallas Festival, Valencia, 15-19 March – This annual celebration commemorates Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, and translates to “The Festival of Fire.”
- Port Fairy Folk Music Festival, PortFairy, Australia, 11-14 March 2022 – Held over the Victorian Labour Day weekend in March, the music festival sees over 100 live music, spoken word, and theatre acts come together from around the world.
- St Patrick’s Day, Ireland, 17 March – Obviously, you don’t need to be in Ireland to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland and all things Irish, but it helps. Expect all the Irish cliches you can think of, from traditional Irish music, to a whole lot of Guinness.
- Bali Spirit Festival, Ubud, Bali – This festival brings together yoga, dance, and music with over 300 workshops across the weekend. It covers everything from the whole spectrum of yoga disciplines to sound healing.
Best for Off-Peak Budget Skiing
Skiing in Bulgaria
If you come out of hibernation and think you’ve missed the ski season, you can just about sneak in a trip in Bulgaria. Choose between Bulgaria’s largest ski resort Bansko where you’ll find luxury for less, or Borovets, which is best known for its apres-ski and lively night scene. With wide, tree-lined ski runs, it’s also a must if you’re a beginner who wants to learn the ropes, sorry, slopes.
Known for being the best “budget ski destination in Europe,” Bulgaria lets you ski while saving yourself a few pennies too. For this reason, it gets super crowded around the holidays, so listen carefully. For the right mix of the best conditions and smaller crowds, visit at the end of the season towards the end of March and early April. Now you know, I don’t need to tell you twice. Run, don’t walk.
Best for the Theme Park Fanatics
The “happiest place in the world” sounds like a pretty decent place for a vacation. If you get the timing wrong, however, it won’t take long to wipe that smile off Mickey Mouse’s face.
As the home of wall-to-wall roller coasters and theme parks, Orlando’s peak times mean queues, queues, and more queues. But visit Orlando in the shoulder seasons, between Easter and US spring break and the height of summer (March-May or September-October), and you’ll breeze to the front of the line. You’ll still get highs of 29-30°C, but it’ll be less humid than peak summer.
If the Magic Kingdom isn’t your vibe, Orlando has far more to offer than its theme parks. A trip down to the Thornton Park District gives you everything from art galleries, restaurants, and boutiques to a Sunday farmers market and Lake Eola Park, surrounded by 14km of walkways. Finish your sightseeing off with an extortionately priced drink at One80 Grey Goose Lounge — all worth it for that view of the Orlando skyline.
Best for Island-Hopping
Thailand has more than 1,000 islands to choose from, and it’s the cheapest place to island hop (especially at this time of year), rivaling the likes of the Caribbean and the Maldives. You’ve probably heard of Koh Phi Phi and Koh Phangan or Koh Samui. Well, forget all about them. Do not visit these islands. You’ve been warned.
Visit my lesser-known recommendations instead. When you’ve got over 1,000 to choose from, there’s no need to end up in the same place as everyone else, unless you really want that…
Koh Yao Noi
A small, relatively undiscovered island off the coast of its sister island Koh Yao Yai. Hire a moped, drive all the way to the end of the island and find the most secluded, quiet, and Jurassic Park-like landscapes — I found and claimed a beach that no one had ever visited before (100% not true, but it felt utterly untouched until I left my footprints all over it).
There are few restaurants or hotels on the island, so enjoy peace and quiet in one of the local homestays.
An even smaller island, you can cycle all the way around Koh Jum with ease. It’s the quietest and sleepiest island around with very few inhabitants. I’d recommend staying in one of the thatched bungalows that line the beach — it’ll cost you next to nothing. If you really want to see what the fuss is about, you can visit Koh Phi Phi (the island made famous by DiCaprio’s The Beach) on a day trip from here. Believe it or not, it’ll just make you love Koh Jum more.
Be warned, the technological era hasn’t reached Koh Jum yet, and there isn’t an ATM anywhere on the island, so the cash you come with is all you’ll have.
Yes, this is one of the bigger islands, I’ll give you that, but you can still stay away from everyone else and keep it secluded if you stick to the right places. At this time of year, you’ll find it quieter and calmer.
Again, I’d hire a moped and travel around the island, stopping off at any one of the white sandy beaches. Those in the south are the quietest (Kantiang Bay, Bamboo Bay, and Waterfall Bay) as they’re the furthest from the main port onto the island. Jumping into the sea at this time of year is like taking a hot bath, so make sure you schedule plenty of beach time!
If you’re happy to travel down the coastline as far as Malaysia, you’ll find Koh Lipe, an island that’s more than worth the journey.
With waters clearer than the Maldives, it’s the place to snorkel (25% of the world’s tropical fish can be seen here) and the pace of life is slower than any of us will be used to. It’s developing quickly, so now is the time to go, when the temperatures are around 30°C and before the masses migrate in the summer.
Once again, we strongly recommend downloading a VPN before traveling to Thailand in case of any unexpected internet restrictions.
Festivals You Need to Know About in April:
- King’s Day, Amsterdam, 27 April – If you don’t own some orange clothing, buy some. The orange-filled celebrations of King’s Day mark (you guessed it) the King’s birthday, and range from street parties to music festivals.
- Songkran, Thailand, 13-15 April – A three-day water fight across the country. Need I say more?
- Sinhala and Tamil Nadu festival, Sri Lanka – The one-week festival which marks the end of Sri Lanka’s harvest season and the start of the new year.
- Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Indo, California – The bougiest festival you could find, Coachella is held in the Colorado Desert and has seen the likes of Bob Dylan and Beyonce headline.
- Semana Santa, Spain – A week-long celebration across Spain in the lead up to Easter, also known as Holy Week, which sees daily processions through the streets.
Best for Combining Winelands and Wildlife
Western Cape, South Africa
November to February are the peak months for tourists visiting South Africa, so avoid this time. Instead, enjoy a calmer, cooler visit in South Africa’s autumn, also known as the best time if you want a fruitful safari — think elephants, leopards, white and black rhino, hippos, lions, and buffalo. The wildlife is more abundant, and the winelands are in full season so, whether you want wine or wildebeest, you can’t go wrong.
The Cape Winelands Harvest Festivals also take place in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Paarl in May, so wine-hopping is strongly advised.
Best for Road-Tripping Adventures
Road Trip through the Canadian Rockies
I’ll be honest, this isn’t a trip I’ve done myself, but it is at the top of my bucket list, and my Canadian friends live to taunt me with photos of them canoeing on Lake Louise or hiking through Banff eating beaver tails (Google it).
May offers you the best conditions for hiking and exploring without the crowds in the summer months.
Hire a campervan from Vancouver and then drive up into the Rockies to visit Banff, Jasper, and Lake Louise. Whether you want to see them or avoid them, grizzly bears tend to emerge from hibernation in spring, and the shoulder seasons are the best time to see the most wildlife. Female elk often emerge in groups at this time too.
Now I’ve just told you my plan, I guess I’ll see you on the road!
Best for Exploring, Diving, Eating… Everything
Ubud, Seminyak & the Nusa Islands, Bali
Bali is a backpacker’s paradise, but because of that, a fair few people happen to know about it. If you don’t want to hike to the top of Mount Batur (which I do recommend) with thousands of strangers trying to get that sunrise snap, listen up. In May, you’ll get consistently dry, sunny weather. That makes it great for hiking and diving, but with — you guessed it — fewer crowds.
Start in Ubud and explore the rice paddies, the rainforest, Hindu temples, and bustling town. Then scoot down to Seminyak’s white sandy beaches.
If you’ve done these bigger hotspots already, I’d recommend catching a ferry out from Seminyak to Nusa Penida, one of Bali’s lesser-known islands.
You may have heard of the Gili Islands, another tourist must-see — well, the “Nusa” Islands are the locals’ version of the Gilis. They’re less explored but just as beautiful, and chances are, you won’t come across many other tourists.
Head to the northeast of Penida, and you’ll find Kelingking Beach, a secluded alcove where the cliffs have formed into the shape of a Tyrannosaurus Rex — yes, really.
Best for Untouched, Natural Beauty
I can’t narrow this down to just one Scandinavian country, so here’s your challenge to take in all three in one trip. Visiting in late May gets you fair weather and quieter attractions. Most importantly, due to its latitude, you can enjoy nearly 24 hours of sunlight in the summer months. So, there’s no excuse for not having enough time to do everything.
Here’s what I would do: start by exploring the Norwegian Fjords by electric ferry. Then visit the natural beauty of the Lofoten Islands. Next, try the Flam Railway, known as one of the world’s most scenic and beautiful railway journeys. Next, visit Sognefjord, known as the “King of the Fjords” as it’s the deepest and longest fjord. Make sure you soak up the history and culture in Copenhagen and visit the Ice Hotel in Sweden. And, finally check out the neoclassical architecture in Gothenburg.
Festivals You Need to Know About in May
- Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, Morocco, May/June – one of the most eclectic music gatherings in the world, normally in June but rescheduled to October 2021 because, well, Covid.
- National Cheese Festival, Trujillo, Spain, end of April-early May – located in the quiet western region of Spain, you’ll get to see, learn about, and hopefully taste, over 300 types of cheese.
- Boseong Green Tea Festival, Boseong, South Korea, every May – Held in Daehan Dawon within the famous green tea plantation. Try everything from tea-picking to tea-roasting.
- Stars of the White Nights, St Petersburg, Russia, end of May until mid-July – A mix of cultural events including ballet, opera, and classical music. The term ‘white nights’ refers to the midnight sun, in which the sun does not fully set for 2 months around the summer solstice.
- Inti Raymi, Cuzco, Peru, 24 June – This 9-day celebration worships the Incan god Inti Raymi and marks the beginning of a new year.
- Vesak, Colombo, Sri Lanka – Occurring on the day of the full moon in May, Colombo comes alive with stalls selling and displaying colorful lanterns to celebrate the life of Gautama Buddha.
Best for Cultural Festival-Goers
Montreal has it all. The cultural and historical sights (Mont Royal, Saint-Joseph Oratoire, Notre Dame), the riverside and port for waterside activities, endless art galleries and museums, and an incredible food scene.
If you haven’t tried traditional, authentic poutine, I’ll book you a plane ticket myself.
Festival season runs from June-September, and it covers everything. From the Jazz Festival and the MURAL festival to the urban art festival and Les FrancoFolies de Montreal, a French-language music festival with 180 free outdoor performances.
Visit in June before the peak summer season kicks in. Do that, and you’ll also catch the Montreal Grand Prix Formula One Race at the beginning of the month (13 June 2021). Imagine watching that with a bowl of poutine on the side *chef’s kiss*.
Best for Wildlife Spotting
Let’s start by saying that eastern Africa, in general, is a great area to visit in June. So, don’t rule out the likes of Tanzania and Uganda just because I haven’t got the word count to cover it all!
You’ll see drier and cooler conditions and less rainfall from June – perfect for seeking out wildlife across the region.
Eastern Africa is also home to the Great Wildebeest Migration, the world’s largest migration of wildlife, triggered by the start of the dry season (anytime from June to October). More than 2 million animals migrate from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, where the water dries up, to the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, where the Mara River is the only remaining water source. Now, how many people can say they’ve seen that on their annual holiday?
Seeing the Great Migration in Kenya means you can also migrate to the shores of the Indian Ocean once it’s over. Kenya may be best known for safaris, but its idyllic coastline shouldn’t be missed, and it’s teeming with resorts for you to settle at.
If you want to experience ancient Swahili culture while you’re in the country, and I recommend that you do, extend your trip to Lamu. This is Kenya’s untouched and unspoiled archipelago, where the locals live a simpler, quieter life. The only way to travel around the island is by dhow (a traditional sailing vessel) or donkey.
When you’re ready to dial it up a notch, visit Nairobi and enjoy a thriving creative city. From here, you’re just a 4-hour drive from Arusha in Tanzania so, if you want to discover more of eastern Africa, you’re in the right location to do so.
Best for Gorilla Trekking
Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo
We’re sticking with Africa on this one because these 3 destinations are the only places in the world where you’ll get to see mountain gorillas in the wild. The rains have subsided at this time of year, making it easier to hike and see the gorillas.
Uganda offers you a cheaper trek. It still costs a pretty penny to get a gorilla trekking permit wherever you go ($700 in Uganda). Still, most of your investment goes towards conserving the gorilla population. So, if you think about it, it’s excellent value and a worthwhile visit.
If you’re willing to invest a little more, I’d recommend gorilla trekking in Rwanda. Again, it’ll cost you, but the payoff is fewer tourists, which is exactly how I like to see my gorillas.
If this all sounds a bit out of reach budget-wise, there is another option. The Democratic Republic of Congo will offer you the cheapest of all gorilla trekking (just $400 for a permit). And it’ll potentially be the most fruitful as the gorillas are often found in the lowlands. However, there are some pretty strict regulations in place to keep the gorillas and their habitats safe. As a country, it’s faced some considerable instability, so bear that in mind — only embark on this adventure if you’re up for a challenge.
Keep in mind, however, that the governments of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are known for restricting internet access periodically. Download a VPN to make sure you don’t lose access while visiting.
Best for Intrepid Explorers
Yosemite National Park, California, USA
Hopping over to the west of the US isn’t a bad shout at this time of year.
June means you’ll get the best warm, dry weather, and the crowds don’t tend to arrive for another month, making it the best time to see Yosemite Falls, and other iconic waterfalls like Ribbon Falls and Sentinel.
At this time, the winter’s melted snow has reached the falls, and they get peak runoff in late spring, before they dry up in the summer. Cue dramatic waterfall shots and a whole lot of mist — you might be needing that poncho again…
Festivals You Need to Know About in June:
- Glastonbury, Worthy Farm, UK, last weekend of June (every 5th year is a fallow year when there’s no festival) – The iconic 5-day music festival has been running since 1970 and is set across 900 acres of countryside. It’s seen the likes of the Rolling Stones, Jay-Z, the Foo Fighters, and Bowie headline on the Pyramid Stage.
- Swedish Midsummer, across Sweden, Friday between 19-25 June – It’s one of the most important dates in the Swedish calendar. It sees locals celebrate wherever they can outside. Expect dancing around a Maypole, flower crowns, and a whole lot of pickled herring.
- Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Manchester, Tennessee, early June – A 4-day music festival which features a diverse lineup of more than 150 musicians across more than 10 stages and four “party barns.” Note: the festival usually takes place in early June, but for 2021 only, the festival has been moved to 2-5 September.
Best for a Sun-Drenched, Hot Holiday
Believe it or not, July is mid-winter for Mozambique, but you can still expect 26-30°C heat day in, day out, and there’s very little chance of rain. Yes, I’m wondering why I don’t live there too.
Visit at the end of July when the school holidays have ended in neighboring South Africa, and the country has returned to normal. You’ll be rewarded with the best conditions for snorkeling, angling, and humpback whale-watching.
Best for a Quiet, Peaceful Getaway
If you want to avoid the heat of most destinations in July, heading to the northeast of Canada isn’t a bad shout. Newfoundland reaches highs of 18°C and offers a rugged, relatively untouched destination for a summer holiday.
Visit the capital St John’s, to see the pop art houses. Then head to Torngat Mountains National Park, and make it to the top of Gros Morne Mountain for an indescribable view of Ten Mile Pond. When you’re dealing with ponds that reach ten miles long, you’re not going to meet many other people on your adventures, so don’t even begin to worry about that.
Best for an Attraction Packed Vacation
There’s not really a bad time to visit Singapore, but I would argue that July is the best time. It’s the shoulder season, so when it comes to visitor numbers, you’re likely to get a better deal. There are sporadic showers, but nothing to stop you from visiting. And, in a place as bustling as Singapore, there’s more than enough to keep you busy whatever the weather.
First on your list has to be the iconic Gardens by the Bay. Fun fact: it’s free to visit the Flower Dome or the Cloud Forest (two spectacular domed enclosures), and I’d definitely recommend the Cloud Forest. Inside, you’ll find a suspended walkway that looks out over a sea of vegetation. At intervals throughout the day, a fine mist is released across the forest to water all the plants — not a bad place to cool down either.
You’ll no doubt find all Singapore’s top sights with ease, from the Merlion and the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Still, I’d recommend spending an afternoon a little further out of the city at the Southern Ridges. It’s a series of treetop walkways that give you panoramic views of the city, with next to no company.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you’ll be pleased to know that the Singapore Food Festival is held from the end of June to the beginning of July. Look out for culinary masterclasses and a month-long celebration of local food favorites.
Festivals You Need to Know About in July:
- Independence Day, USA, 4th July – We all know what Independence Day is, but for those at the back, it commemorates the Declaration of Independence of the US. Wherever you are in the US, expect fireworks, carnivals, picnics, and a whole host of outdoor celebrations.
- Tomorrowland, Belgium, 2 weekends in July – The electronic dance festival takes place in Flanders in Belgium and stretches across 2 weekends. Tomorrowland usually takes place in July, but for 2021 only, it is being moved to the end of August.
- WOMAD, Wiltshire, UK, 22-25 July – The World of Music, Arts, and Dance foundation (WOMAD) runs the international arts festival bringing together artists from different parts of the world.
- Comic-Con International, San Diego, California, 23-25 July – It’s the comic book convention where visitors can share their appreciation of comic books. You can attend workshops, see screenings, and attend talks and Q&As with comic creators, fantasy authors, and more.
- Boryeong Mud Festival, Boryeong, South Korea, 23 July-1 August – Boryeong sits 200km south of Seoul, and the mud festival is exactly what you think it is. Think mud pits, fountains, pools, and mud paths to help you get muddier than you ever thought possible. Supposedly, Boryeong mud is high in the minerals germanium and bentonite, which are good for the skin.
- Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland, 2-17 July – For 2 weeks every summer, the shores of Lake Geneva are treated to a packed itinerary of concerts — many of which are free.
Best for an Alternative Swiss Retreat
August is the middle of the peak season for Switzerland (as it is almost everything in Europe), but there are so many places to hike and explore across the country. That means it’s still doable in terms of crowds and costs — and it’s at its most beautiful during the summer months. Opt for more alternative sites, and you can’t go wrong.
Swap the likes of the well-known and busy Zurich and Geneva for Lake Lucerne (Switzerland’s 4th largest lake), Lauterbrunnen Valley where you’ll find breathtaking vistas, Grindelwald, a walker’s paradise (and nothing to do with Gellert), and Weggis, which sits on the edge of Lake Lucerne.
Each place offers a snapshot of the Swiss countryside. But, although they equally deserve it, they haven’t got the celebrity status of the bigger cities.
Best for a Tourist-Free Summer Vacation
Guyana, South America
It might not be top of your bucket list, but it probably should be. If you want to avoid the summer crowds, Guyana offers you that off-the-beaten-track destination that you won’t have to share with the masses.
More than 80% of the country is English-speaking, if that is a concern. Plus, visiting in August means that the rainy season has ended, but the forest and waterfalls are at their best. It’s the perfect time to visit Kaieteur Falls, the world’s longest single-drop waterfall.
Best for a Boat-Based Safari
Okavango Delta, Botswana
It might be the height of the wet season at this time of year, but for once on this list, that makes it a good thing! Thanks to the rain, the Okavango Delta floods, making animals more active and bringing them to the water’s edge. You’re more likely to see hippos, elephants, leopards, and lions by boat than if you were on a traditional game drive.
Botswana is also cheaper than your typical safari hotspots in Africa. It’s well worth considering as you’ve got as much chance of seeing the Big 5 as you would in Kenya or South Africa.
If you’d rather stick to dry land, Chobe National Park to the northeast of the delta is known for its large elephant herds, so you can take your pick between game drives and boat cruises. Stay in the nearby small town Kasane, known as the gateway to Chobe. It sits close to the borders of Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, so if you want to extend your trip, you’re in the right place to explore southern Africa.
Festivals You Need to Know About in August:
- Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Edinburgh, 6-30 August – Across August and across the city, artists and performers come together to showcase comedy, theatre, spoken word, circus, music, and more. You name it, the Fringe has it.
- La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain, end of August – Also known as “the world’s biggest food fight,” this slightly unusual event sees thousands of people take to the streets in an enormous tomato fight. The town of Buñol is home to around 9,000 people, so it’s now a ticketed event to curb the numbers. Make sure you’ve got your ticket if you want to attend. Unfortunately, La Tomatina has been canceled for 2021, but it’ll be back on 31 August in 2022.
- Burning Man, Black Rock Desert, Nevada, last Sunday in August – Burning Man does not like to be called a festival, so we’ll skip over that. Burning Man is a community, apparently, or a “global movement” in the middle of the Black Rock Desert. For 2021, the event is happening virtually, but it’ll be back in 2022.
- Wilderness Festival, Charlbury, England, 5-8 August – A 4-day boutique festival centered around music, the arts, food, and wellbeing, all set in the Oxfordshire countryside.
Best for a Beer-Fuelled Festival
Oktoberfest, Munich, Vienna, Switzerland
Oktoberfest actually takes place in late September, so don’t go booking time off in October ready for the beer festival. Do your research first, because that would be one hell of a disappointment.
The 16-day festival in Munich sees more than 7 million visitors, so if that sounds a little cozy to you (it does to me), you might want to try a quieter alternative.
You’ll need to adjust your time off, but you could try Bavaria’s Gau Boden Volksfest in mid-August, Vienna’s Wiener Wiesn Fest (26 Sept-13 Oct), or Switzerland’s Zuri Wiesn (18 Sept-12 Oct). All of them give you the spirit of Oktoberfest with a little less craziness (but just a little, it is still a beer festival after all).
Best for a Whistlestop Historical Tour
China’s cool autumn is the best time to visit Beijing. Rainfall is low, and you can take in the historical sites without the stifling heat of the summer. And let’s be honest, there are plenty of them: the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall, of course. The busy season for the Great Wall is May-August, so September offers a quieter, less chaotic visit.
But don’t forget about the Great Firewall of China – the country’s notoriously strict and effective internet censorship and surveillance. You absolutely must download a VPN before you arrive, or you’ll lose access to most of the internet.
Best for “Dramatic-Landscapes-Meet-Bustling-Cityscapes”
September marks the end of winter and the start of spring in Argentina, so you’ve got the ideal conditions for visiting the Iguazu Falls. It’s the world’s largest waterfall system (not to be confused with Angel Falls in Venezuela, the tallest waterfall on land). The Iguazu Falls is a chain of cascades lying across Brazil and Argentina (nearly 3km long) and a sight not to be missed.
Once you’ve recovered from the astounding view of the Falls, pick yourself up and head to the Peninsula Valdes Nature Reserve. You’ll see where you can see whales and penguins and the Perito Moreno Glacier, too, if you can fit it in. It’s a rare sight, and one of the only glaciers in the world that is advancing. Be warned, though, getting to see this sight will cost you. Yet, at the rate the climate is changing, I’d say it’s worth the cost to see it while it’s still there and growing.
If seeking out glaciers and waterfalls isn’t your style, then the multicultural capital Buenos Aires might work. Visit San Telmo Market on a Sunday, and take in the architecture of the Teatro Colon and the Recoleta Cemetery (it’s cooler than it sounds). Or why not enjoy a glass of Argentinian wine in Plaza Serrano?
Best for Pleasing the Whole Family
San Diego, USA
Often overlooked for its shinier sister LA, San Diego has got a lot going on even in September, towards the end of the peak season.
There are family-friendly attractions like Balboa Park, which is far more than your average urban park. It’s got 17 museums (!) surrounded by gardens and forests, playgrounds, and stunning architecture. It’s also home to San Diego Zoo.
If you want to get out to the edges of the city, there are some surprising natural sights too. La Jolla Caves, Sunset Cliffs, and Children’s Pool are worth a visit, where you can often see sea lions on the shores.
Festivals You Need to Know About in September
- Regatta Storica, Venice, Italy, first Sunday of September – Across Venice’s waterways, the event includes a historical boat parade and a series of rowing races.
- Mid-autumn Festival, East Asia, 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar – Also called the Moon Festival, the mid-autumn festivities see families across the world celebrate the end of the autumn harvest. It’s a time for eating dinner together, treating themselves to mooncakes, and lighting lanterns.
- Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival, Galway, Ireland, last weekend of September – At the heart of the festival, you’ll find the World Oyster Opening Championship in which competitors from across the world compete to win the title. It’s all based on the speed, technique, and presentation of their oysters.
- La Merce, Barcelona, Spain – A 5-day festival held in honor of the Patron Saint of Barcelona, it signals the end of summer and welcomes in the autumn months.
Best for a Quiet, City Escape
October doesn’t sound like the right time for a European city break but trust me on this. It’s less busy, less humid, and yet still a comfortable temperature for sightseeing at 12-22°C – here’s hoping for the 22°C.
As a more general piece of advice, whatever time of year you plan to go to Rome (*cough* October *cough*), make sure you visit between Tuesday and Friday. Weekends are teeming with visitors. Plus, many people don’t realize that most museums close on Mondays. So, if you’re considering a long weekend, maybe reconsider.
Best for Late Summer Sun
This breathtaking country is still warm in October. It’s much quieter and relatively undiscovered compared to neighboring Croatia. And it’s cheaper too. So much cheaper.
There’s a great mix of Mediterranean lakes (I’d recommend the wild and beautiful Lake Skadar, which straddles the Albanian border). Plus, there are medieval towns in the form of Kotor and Budva, and stunning mountainous scenery.
Visit Montenegro before everyone else realizes what they’ve been missing. Seriously, you’re running out of time.
Best for Temples and Time Out
October is the best time to visit Cambodia, after the rainy season when paddy fields are rich in color, and the temperature is cooler and drier.
Once you’ve had your fill of temples and culture in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, head out to the beach destination of Koh Rong. It provides ideal conditions for diving, snorkeling, and kayaking… and zip lining through the trees.
Best for Leaf Peeping in Fall
New England, USA
This is the place to be if you’re a leaf peeper. And yes, I did have to Google what on earth that meant. They’re the people who travel to certain areas to find and photograph fall leaves. Who knew? And there’s no place better than New England (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, etc.) to see the leaves turn red.
There’s a whole industry around fall foliage walking tours, and it attracts hundreds of thousands of people every year. Acadia National Park in Maine provides the best place for foliage with a coastal backdrop. Or head to the White Mountains in New Hampshire if you like your leaves with a rockier outlook.
Festivals You Need to Know About in October
- Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico, US – This is my favorite festival I’ve found so far. Over 9 days in October, the Albuquerque skyline is filled with vibrant balloons in all shapes and sizes. There are nighttime “balloon glows,” competitions, a “Balloon Discovery Center,” and, of course, the opportunity to take to the skies.
- Feria del Mole, Mexico, month-long – This fair offers you the chance to sample the best moles in Mexico (that means “sauce” to you and me). During this time, hundreds of restaurants change their menus to offer dishes with different types of moles. You’ll also find events, games, and concerts throughout the month.
- The Village Halloween Parade, New York, 31 October – An annual holiday parade that takes place in Greenwich Village on, you guessed it, Halloween.
Best for a Chilled City Break
Lisbon & Porto, Portugal
Porto and Lisbon offer a chilled city break later in the year, with average temperatures between 9 and 17°C. Portugal is still warmer than most locations in Europe at this time, and it’s the ideal place to munch on some delicious comfort food.
Both cities are best discovered on foot, so November gives you the best conditions to explore at your own pace. If you’re in Lisbon, my top tip is to visit the PARK bar. It’s hidden within a parking garage. If you take the lift to the rooftop, you’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous view of Lisbon, especially at sunset.
If you’re in Porto, I’d recommend grabbing a coffee along Cais da Ribeira in the riverside quarter. Simply sit back, relaxing, and people-watching.
Best for a Trip Down Memory Lane
November is the start of the dry season in Cuba, so you’ll get some more agreeable temperatures and less rain. Despite a complicated political history, Cuba is slowly bringing itself up to date. However, it’s still filled with colonial architecture, vintage cars, and colorful charm that I hope it never loses.
While you’re there, make sure you walk around Old Havana to see the city at its best. Wander along the Callejon de Hamel, a narrow alleyway where local artists display their work for all to see.
Before you arrive, download a VPN to get around Cuba’s notorious internet restrictions.
Best for a Tree Top Trek
November brings warm, dry days and the best conditions, whether you want to explore cloud forests and national parks or laze on the beach.
It offers low season prices and fewer crowds, so you won’t have to queue for the infamous zip lines that skirt the Costa Rican forests.
Away from the treetops, and you’ll no doubt see Volcan Arenal, a picture-perfect volcano lined with trails you can explore. At the base, you’ll find many hot springs, some of which are free, like La Fortuna. Because it’s free, it gets busy, so visit in the morning for a warm, uninterrupted bath in the river.
Best for a Far-Flung Adventure
November marks spring in New Zealand, so temperatures are cool, and the weather is perfect for exploring outdoors.
If you’re making it to New Zealand, from wherever you are, I’ve got to assume you’re going to be spending a fair bit of time there… unless you’ve hopped (flown 6 hours) over from Aus. Try and cram all of this into your itinerary if you can:
- Try some adrenaline-fueled activities in Queenstown. Whether you fancy rafting, hiking, bungee jumping, or jet boating, Queenstown seems to cater to everyone
- Visit the winelands in Waiheke Island, only a 40-minute drive from Auckland
- Climb the Auckland Harbour Bridge to get a different view of the city
- Experience the Maori culture in Rotorua while also visiting the bubbling mud pools of the Pohutu Geyser
- Head to the West Coast region to see rainforests side by side with glaciers
Festivals You Need to Know About in November
- Dia De Los Muertos, Mexico City, 1-2 November – The theme of this celebration may be death, but this is more of a celebration of life and to show love for lost family members than anything more sinister. It is celebrated across Latin America with displays of colorful skulls and skeletons.
- Diwali, India, early November (dependent on the lunar calendar) – The most important date in the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain calendar, Diwali literally translates to “rows of lighted lamps.” It celebrates new beginnings with a 5-day festival of lights.
- Iceland Airwaves, Reykjavik, Iceland – This annual music festival, which has the title of the most northerly music festival in the world, takes place across four days. It launched in 1999 as a one-off event in an airplane hangar, but has now grown to be Iceland’s longest-running festival.
- Winter Festival of Lights, Canada, from 14 November – A stunning, free, outdoor festival with 3 million lights lining the Niagara Parkway, Dufferin Islands, and across Niagara Falls.
- Chiang Mai Yee Peng Lantern Festival, Thailand, the full moon of the 12th month of the Thai lunar calendar (usually November) – Thousands of lanterns can be seen floating into the sky to mark the end of the monsoon season.
Best Places to Escape Christmas
For those that don’t celebrate the holiday and want to skip the festivities, there is a way out! I can’t promise you’ll be free from Santa hats and the odd piece of tinsel, but there is such a thing as a Christmas-free Christmas holiday.
Christmas isn’t widely celebrated in India due to the small number of Christian inhabitants (just 2.3% of the population), so you can expect a quieter, more tropical affair. Instead, Diwali is the biggest date in the Hindu calendar, and so November tends to be busier.
The Cochin Carnival is held in the last 2 weeks of December, ending on 1 January, so stick around if you want to see the carnival procession on New Year’s Day.
Temperatures drop to a more bearable 23-30°C in December so, if you fancy spending Christmas Day on the beach, this is the ideal spot to relax.
If you want to treat yourself while you’re away, 26 December is the start of Dubai’s shopping festival. You can grab a holiday bargain for up to 90% off before you pop home.
Now, this is my kind of Christmas turkey, and it’s a surprisingly good time to visit the capital Istanbul. In the off-season winter months, you’ll find fewer tourists, and museums and shops stay open over Christmas.
You can go about your sightseeing as usual if you’re not celebrating the season. Places like the Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaar see fewer visitors as most people stay local for the holidays.
Best European Christmas Markets
Before it has even started, Basel has been voted “Best Christmas Market” for 2021 by European Best Destinations. They must know something special is going on. The market sits within the city’s Old Town, with over 160 traders and sellers placed in rustic wooden chalets. It’s accompanied by many pre-Christmas events happening around the city. That includes Basel’s puppet theatre, Gospel Night in the cathedral, and exhibitions at Toy Worlds Museum and Museum of Cultures.
Winner of the Best Christmas Market in 2019, this market sits in Town Hall Square. It features a Father Christmas who arrives on a sleigh pulled by reindeer — can you get more magical than that?
Well, actually, the Christmas Tree is the main attraction. It’s been displayed in front of the town hall every year since 1441 and is thought to be the first-ever Christmas tree put on display in Europe.
This is a “Bethlehem-themed” Christmas market in the center of Poznan’s Old Town, so if you’re looking for something more traditional, step this way. Enjoy plenty of freshly-prepared food, from dumplings to grilled sausages.
Plus, see the International Ice Sculpture Festival with sculptors’ work from around the world.
Held in Grote Markt, all the chalets sit around an ice rink in front of the Belfry of Bruges. Take the 366 steps to the bells at the top of the tower, and you’ll be given a view of the market lit up with Christmas lights. It’s also the best place to stock up on fine, festive Belgian chocolate for loved ones. Hint, hint.
One of the Safest Destinations in Europe, the Tbilisi market is held in First Republic Square. It hosts theatre shows, a puppet theatre, an open-air movie show, plenty of wooden chalets as you’d expect by now, and music performances too.
Unusually for a Christmas market, it starts on Christmas Day, so if you’re not into the whole Christmas preamble, this is the one for you.
Find 150 chalets spread out across Bath’s Georgian streets with handcrafted wares, local artisans, and food stalls galore. Entertainers are also dotted around with local school children singing Christmas songs.
If you’d rather be singing than listening, Bath Abbey is open for “Shoppers’ Carols.” It’s a 20-minute service where weary shoppers can take a break and try their hand (voice) at some carol singing.
Now, this is a big one. With over 200 stalls, the Dresden Christmas market attracts 3 million visitors a year. Along with all the traditional German festivities, museums host special exhibitions, and you’ll find boats lit up along the river Elbe.
Or, for a smaller, more intimate affair in Germany, head to Trier, where there are 95 stalls set within the Main Market in front of Trier Cathedral.
Best NYE Parties
Holidaying at New Year will be pricey, and it’s going to be busier than your average vacation. However, if you’re willing to commit and embrace the chaos, then the payoff will be worth it in these destinations:
Iceland is one of those amazingly expensive countries to visit (because almost everything they produce and consume is imported). So why not go all out and travel at New Year to make it feel worth the krona?
It’s customary to find your nearest bonfire (there are around 90 in the whole of Iceland) and let off some fireworks mid-evening. Then before midnight, everyone flocks to the streets and joins together in another mega firework display.
Everyone buys fireworks from their local Icelandic Search and Rescue Teams. They rely heavily on money raised from the sale of fireworks and Christmas trees.
At the stroke of midnight, everyone sets off yet another mini firework display. The Hallgrimskirkja, that impressive-looking church, is an excellent viewing and gathering point to soak up the action. And, in case you can stick around, firework displays tend to continue until 6 January.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
For a warmer welcome to the new year, head to Rio and join one of the biggest new year celebrations in the world. It all takes place across the 2.5 miles long Copacabana Beach. Get there early (like really early) to grab a good spot. It’s going to get B.U.S.Y., but you’ll be surrounded by samba dancers, musical acts, and plenty of fireworks — so it’ll be worth the wait.
A bitingly cold New Year celebration in the historic Red Square is worth visiting if you can bear the low temperatures. It’s the perfect setting for the annual firework display, but remember, you don’t have to be in Red Square to get the best view. I’d recommend viewing it from the Kremlin or St Basil’s Cathedral too.
There’s no better place to watch the new year draw in than looking out across Hong Kong’s dramatic skyline. The main event takes place at Victoria Harbour. Here you’ll find fireworks, pyrotechnics, light and laser shows, and parties on local boats.
This is the busiest spot to be, so take my advice and find a rooftop bar nearby to watch it all from. Of course, being the biggest night of the year, you’ll need to book well in advance.
If you time it right, you might be able to bag yourself a spot at Wooloomooloo Steakhouse, which can be found on the 31st floor of the Hennessy Building. It offers you a clear view of Victoria Harbour, and considering the competition, it’s one of the more affordable options. I’m talking about hundreds of Hong Kong dollars (around $50ish USD), not thousands…
One important note about Hong Kong is the current crackdown by the mainland Chinese government. This includes monitoring and censoring the internet in Hong Kong. We strongly recommend downloading a VPN before you go to Hong Kong to avoid any disruption or issues.
New York, USA
It’s a cliche, but it’s the first place that springs to mind, so I can’t round things off without mentioning it.
If you can squeeze yourself into Times Square when the ball drops, you’re in for a treat. Or better yet, bag yourself a spot at one of the bars and hotels that surround the square for a bird’s eye view of the action. You’ll pay a premium to be in or anywhere near Times Square on New Year’s Eve. So, if that doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, head to Brooklyn instead. The fireworks are free, and there’s live music taking place at Prospect Park.
Festivals You Need to Know About in December
- Krampusnacht, Worldwide, 5 December – A slightly sinister celebration that’s more akin to Halloween. The night is based around Krampus, a half-demon, half-goat who is said to punish bad children. Now, people dress up as Krampus and hold parades and parties to mark the beginning of the Christmas season.
- Mevlana Festival, Konya, Turkey – This 9-day festival commemorates the life and teachings of the 13th-century poet, Mevlana. A highlight for many is the Whirling Dervishes Ceremony, in which you’ll see a form of physical meditation.
- International Festival of the Sahara, Douz, Tunisia – Originally a camel festival back in 1910, Douz now hosts 4 days of Bedouin music and dance and processions. And, yes, there are still many, many camels involved.
- Cochin Carnival, Kochi, India, last two weeks of December, ending 1 January – The carnival marks the end of the year and sees many activities take place around Fort Kochi, from elephant processions to fancy dress parades.
The Bottom Line
Whatever month you’ve got your time off booked, and whatever your budget, you can find a vacation to suit your needs. Winter isn’t just for skiing, and summer doesn’t have to be about fighting for a spot to lay your beach towel. When you’ve got nearly 200 countries to play with, you can easily find the best travel destination, whenever you want to go.
That said, there are a few things you can do to guarantee you get the trip you want for the best price, so bear these in mind:
- Set flight price alerts for destinations you want to visit. You’ll get a notification when the prices of flights drop or change based on the previous year, so you can avoid paying more than you need to. That way, you’ve got more pocket money to spend when you get there.
- Travel in the shoulder seasons (but close to the peak seasons) to save money. Generally speaking, spring and autumn are the most affordable times to travel and will see the fewest people joining you. Remember to check that everything you want to do and see is still open. Some key attractions close in off-peak times.
- If you’re not into festivals and want to avoid the crowds and extra expense, make sure you do your research and avoid those weeks and national holidays. I’ve given you all of my best advice above, but don’t stop there. Do your own investigation into where you want to go. Festivals can change dates. National holidays can affect opening times too, so check these out before you travel.
- Don’t always head to the hotspots. Find the lesser-known destinations. Just because the other travel guides will tell you that the Gili islands are the most popular destination in Bali, or that Koh Phi Phi is the most famous Thai island doesn’t mean it’s the best. If you look a little deeper, you’ll be rewarded with untouched, unspoiled, better destinations.