Where in the world is best to visit in December/January?
October 25, 2014 5:28 AM   Subscribe

Can you suggest places where there's no extended shutdown over New Year, and places that appear to best advantage in December/January?

My partner and I have the good fortune to have some time off over December/January, and we would like to go on a trip, departing after Christmas for probably about 3 weeks.

Our last big trip was to Japan, at about the same time of year, and although we had a fantastic time, there were a few frustrations and disappointments with things being closed for many days around New Year. This was a failure of research on my part - I just didn't realise New Year was such a big thing. So I'd be happy to learn in which countries businesses and attractions are less likely to be closed for an extended period at the end of December and beginning of January. More broadly though, this time of year is the middle of the Southern summer and the middle of the Northern winter, both of which can be pretty challenging. But I'm wondering if there are there places where December/January is the best time to see them?

In case that is too broad, possibly relevant details - we particularly like history and architecture, good local food/beer/wine, and natural beauty. We are not that into shopping, nightclubs or things designed primarily for tourists (Madam Tussauds etc.). We are Australian, and we drive on the left side of the road - we would probably not go somewhere that required driving if it meant driving on the right side of the road, though we are pretty OK with public transport. We're not afraid of weather - we've been to New York, Niagara Falls and Toronto during a snowy winter, and we've coped with the heat of Dubai in summer and the humidity of Singapore. Our budget is moderate but I wouldn't rule out any destination on those grounds without further research of my own.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions you can give!
posted by Cheese Monster to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Have you been to San Francisco? Great public transport, lots to see and do, and the weather, while not balmy, won't be too cold or too hot. You will need a coat, but not woolen underwear.

There are tons of hotels, but if you want a budget friendly place in a very walkable neighborhood that's comfortable and quiet, I recommend The Nob Hill Motor Inn. Call the hotel directly, don't book through a site like Expedia. Insist that the room be at the actual Nob Hill. Apparently, they've been doing some goofy stuff, overbooking, then sending folks down the street to some flea-bag joint. Here's the Trip Advisor review.

There are tons of things to do in San Francisco, and it's easy to get around by bus or train to other parts of the bay area.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:47 AM on October 25, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks Ruthless Bunny - in fact, we have been to San Francisco, and we loved it!
posted by Cheese Monster at 6:00 AM on October 25, 2014

Antarctica, if you can swing it. December/January is the only time to go. It's wonderful and unforgettable. If you leave from Ushuaia, you can also fit in some time in BA and/or hiking in Tierra del Fuego.
posted by carmicha at 6:24 AM on October 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I spent New Year's of 1999 in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and it was awesome. There was a massive, gorgeous lantern balloon festival at Angkor Wat. And we ate fried grasshoppers! I don't remember anything being closed or curtailed for the holidays but OTOH back then, honestly there wasn't all that much to close. I don't know what it's like now.

On a completely different note, I have spent a couple of Christmas/New Year's holidays in New Orleans, and it was super. Very festive, and most things are open normal-enough hours. The food is stupendous at any price point, and the city really rewards bumbling around just looking at stuff. It's easy to avoid the worst tourist excesses. There are swamp tours and plantation tours: I know you say you don't like typical tourist nonsense and neither do I, but I found both to be interesting and worthwhile.

Good luck! Fun problem!
posted by Susan PG at 6:25 AM on October 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hong Kong/China.
posted by modernnomad at 6:30 AM on October 25, 2014

Chiang Mai, Thailand
posted by Homer42 at 7:07 AM on October 25, 2014

Get it India!
posted by taff at 7:52 AM on October 25, 2014

Buenos Aires, Argentina. And if you can swing it, take a few days at Iguacu Falls.
posted by lakemarie at 9:53 AM on October 25, 2014

I'm from the US, now living in Australia (Sydney). I can confirm that one of the main differences is that in major US cities everything is open All The Time... Including holidays. I've lived here for years and am still frustrated with many businesses' opening hours - including how much is closed during holiday periods. Any major US city would work fine for this trip. It's a shame you don't like shopping (though I don't either) - not only is everything open, but everything's on sale too.

On a side note: driving on the other side really isn't that bad. Driving in snow is way scarier if you're not used to it... Definitely avoid that!

Boston or Chicago?
posted by jrobin276 at 9:54 AM on October 25, 2014

No one gets time off in the US so everything is open all the time even during holidays/evenings (except maybe Christmas Day) so that might be a good country to look at visiting.
posted by wwax at 10:21 AM on October 25, 2014

Best answer: Here's what I'd do: Spend some time in Chicago in late December. It's a city that you can navigate easily by public transportation--no need to drive. It'll be chilly, but everything will be open.

Then, on the 31st, take Amtrak's City of New Orleans train south. You can get a Superliner bedroom (kind of a suite-let) for ~$675 US. You'll celebrate the new year on the train, and from what I understand, lots of the trains host a celebration for passengers at midnight.

Then spend the rest of your time in New Orleans once you arrive in the afternoon on January 1. New Orleans is spread out, but you can get by with the streetcar and taxis pretty well.

You could also reverse this and start in New Orleans but end up in Chicago--it depends on what you want to see.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:21 AM on October 25, 2014

Response by poster: I love these suggestions! Antarctica is definitely on my bucket list, though my partner really likes to do a variety of things when travelling and so I don't think it would be the best thing for the present purpose. Celebrating New Year on a train sounds just like a thing we would do, so that is going on the list! I will also look into Cambodia and Thailand a bit more.

Just to clarify, I have no objection to doing a day tour or similar if it's the best/most efficient way to see some local feature - I just tend to avoid things that could be anywhere in the world and it wouldn't make a difference (like Madame Tussauds).

Does anyone have experience with Europe over New Year?
posted by Cheese Monster at 2:49 PM on October 25, 2014

I was in London over a New Year and ate in the hotel's restaurant. The food was good, but one of their staff harassed me while I was in the business center a few nights later.
posted by brujita at 4:07 PM on October 25, 2014

Europe over New Years is a big fat nope. Everything is closed, it's cold so you can't just hike around outside all day, and public transport is on holiday frequency. Unless you can get yourself invited to spend the time with friends in their home, in which case it's great!
posted by Liesl at 5:47 PM on October 25, 2014

What about Hawaii? Major attractions besides National Parks would be closed on New Years but that's the only day they close.
posted by mmascolino at 8:47 PM on October 25, 2014

Seconding Angkor Wat. And Vietnam.
posted by Sarah Lund's Jumper at 4:22 AM on October 26, 2014

I spent a Christmas in Prague several years ago and it was like a fairytale. Beautiful historic buildings everywhere and a Christmas market lighting up the town square every day. Mulled wine and roast pork on street corners, etc. Everything is very walkable there and I don't remember anything major being closed. I remember being pretty bloody cold, but that was partly to do with me not bringing enough sensible clothing.
posted by RubyScarlet at 9:43 PM on October 26, 2014

Best answer: I don't get why Europe should be bad?
For several Christmas holidays, we have been in Rome. It's only completely shut down on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years day, and even then, it was absolutely possible to find very fine restaurants and things to do during the day. I guess because it is a city built for hosting millions of pilgrims. The other days, enough things are open to have a great time there. The weather has been fine for long walks from museum to church to ruin every time we have been there. Food and drink are the best. I found this blog while looking for the opening hours of my favorite restaurants.
Last time we were there, we rented an apartment rather than a hotel room. This turned out to be a great idea. It was much more comfortable to spend time indoors reading there than at a hotel, when we were tired after those long walks.
Maybe you could combine with other Italian cities, 3 weeks is a lovely long holiday? I'm heading for Venice next week, it seems it is a mild autumn there this year, no floodings yet. Probably this would the best time of the year for Florence, because the tourist masses are slightly less huge, the museums are only closed on New Years day. And Sicily has excellent weather at this time of the year - temperate and beautiful.
I've heard from friends Spain is also great at this time of the year. I went to Granada and Malaga once in February, which was delightful. People in Spain take their holidays really, really seriously, so there will be big public events at New Years and Epiphany, and maybe you will have to eat at a hotel on New Years day. But there will be lot's to see and experience, and museums, shops and restaurants/bars will be open except those two days.
Northern Europe (above the Alps/Pyrenees) is probably a bit depressing during the winter - it's dark, cold and wet and people act accordingly. But there is skiing!
posted by mumimor at 7:21 AM on October 27, 2014

The Northeastern US. It'll be cold, but no colder than Toronto. This is partly me being a homer, but I arrived at this conclusion largely by process of elimination:

I'd be happy to learn in which countries businesses and attractions are less likely to be closed for an extended period at the end of December and beginning of January.

Though there are likely other countries that fit this bill, the US is the obvious answer to this question. Businesses here just don't close for extended periods of time, ever. Stuff will be closed on New Year's Day itself - although you'll still be able to find things to do in the big cities - and maybe in the afternoon on New Year's Eve, and that's about it.

for probably about 3 weeks.

So you need to find somewhere that has a good number of things to keep you occupied. I love NOLA, but I really don't think there's enough there for three weeks - it's pretty small. You've been to San Fran. Chicago is great, but three weeks might be a bit of a stretch.

we would probably not go somewhere that required driving if it meant driving on the right side of the road, though we are pretty OK with public transport.

OK, so that basically rules out NOLA + Southern road trip, or San Fran + California road trip (which would probably be my suggestion otherwise). You could combine places that are far away, like the Chicago/NOLA idea, or - if you don't want spend all that time in transit - spend all the time in one region. And while there are nice, transit-accessible places near Chicago, the Midwestern hinterlands are just not as interesting or scenic as the Northeastern hinterlands (at least in my opinion; I don't mean that as a swipe against the Midwest).

So that leaves the Northeast. NYC, DC, Boston and Philly are all well worth visiting, and well connected by train and bus. If you want to get out of the cities, and the weather is OK, there are trains and buses from NYC to the Hudson Valley and the Catskills, which are beautiful areas with quaint towns and scenic hills/mountains (though you'll be a bit limited without a car). You could also go skiing, if that's your thing. It's very easy to find good local food, beer, and wine, the cities are architecturally interesting, and its probably the most historically rich US region. Stuff will be open, and you can get around without a car. If you're OK with winter, it easily checks all your boxes!
posted by breakin' the law at 9:36 AM on October 28, 2014

Response by poster: Follow up: we went to Vietnam (Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City - this holiday brought to you by the letter H!) with a stopover in Singapore. We spent New Years Eve on Halong Bay. Despite a couple of dramas (partner got sick, some flights got cancelled, we got ripped off in HCMC) it was a great trip. Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful responses.
posted by Cheese Monster at 12:47 PM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

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