The holiday season is in full swing, though this December certainly doesn’t look like any other.
Whether you’re planning for this year or already dreaming about next, December has long been a popular time for travel, since many people have paid time off for the holidays and students can get a break from school. And there are some destinations that, no matter how unfamiliar the world may seem, are simply best seen with a dusting of snow or a flash of holiday tinsel.
For people who are seeking close-to-home getaways now or planning future trips for next winter, these are the six destinations we’re most excited about for December, including warm-weather getaways, places with iconic outdoor holiday attractions and mountain towns with snow sports perfect for physical distancing.
Just remember, it’s still incredibly important to focus on flexible travel plans, pay close attention to the guidance from local and national officials and medical experts and be mindful of testing and quarantine requirements if you’re leaving town. Take thoughtful steps to minimize your risk of coronavirus exposure and always prioritize your health — and the health of everyone around you — by wearing your mask, keeping your distance, washing your hands frequently and more.
Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out the most exciting and promising destinations for 2021 and learn how to minimize your risk of getting sick no matter where or when you travel.
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One of the few cities in the country still hosting its annual Christmas market, Philadelphia is a perfect destination for travelers in search of the holiday spirit. Head to LOVE Park to explore the Christmas Village, which features traditional timber booths, glittering lights and the aroma of German delicacies, including bratwurst, glühwein and lebkuchen (gingerbread).
The City of Brotherly Love has also welcomed a flurry of new hotel openings this year and last, and if you haven’t visited in a while you might be surprised by the number of new places to bed down. Some of our favorites include the Canopy by Hilton Philadelphia, which welcomed its first guests this summer; the new Hyatt Centric Center City; and the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at the Comcast Center and The Notary Hotel, an Autograph Collection property, both of which opened in the summer of 2019.
Of course, there are plenty of other reasons to love Philadelphia this winter — including how accessible it is for travelers who are seeking close-to-home adventures reachable by car or train.
TPG tip: Want to make sure your trip to Philadelphia includes plenty of time spent in the great outdoors? Head to the Poconos, a scenic mountain region just an hour and a half from the city with waterfalls and rivers that’s perfect for winter hiking and cross-country skiing.
Las Vegas, Nevada
The next time you travel to Sin City, you might be surprised at how much has changed. Gone are the opulent self-service buffets, and most clubs and parties remain closed. Shows are beginning to reopen, but you shouldn’t expect the same variety of performances.
But in many ways, your trip to Las Vegas may be better than expected. Gone are the impassable crowds, and with social distancing policies, travelers may find this new version of Las Vegas to be far more comfortable and less stressful. Travelers can also find incredible deals on hotel room rates, and free parking has made a popular comeback.
Gallery: Places You Can Escape To During Quarantine — If You’re Rich (GOBankingRates)
In late October, Las Vegas also welcomed Circa Resort and Casino. This splashy opening marked the first new-build hotel in downtown Las Vegas since the 1980s, the first adults-only resort in the city (guests must be 21 or older) and it’s also home to the world’s largest sportsbook.
Another reason to consider a trip to Las Vegas this December or next? You don’t have to worry about sweating it out in 100-degree weather.
TPG tip: Whether you’re traveling to Las Vegas this December or next, leverage elite status matches to get Caesars Rewards Diamond Tier benefits during your next trip (available until Dec. 31, 2020)
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Want to enjoy wide-open spaces and fresh mountain air this winter? Steamboat Springs, an authentic ski town in northern Colorado with plenty of old-school charm may be the best place in the country to get your turns this year.
With exceptionally dry snow, an Old West aesthetic and an average of 314 inches of powder every year, there’s a reason Steamboat Springs is a perennial favorite among skiers and snowboarders. But for travelers planning a last-minute December getaway, there are new reasons to keep this town at the top of your list.
Starting Dec. 19, Southwest Airlines will fly new seasonal routes from Dallas Love Field (DAL) and Denver (DEN) to Yampa Valley Regional Airport (HDN), the closest gateway to Steamboat Springs. JetBlue is adding nonstop service from New York-JFK. During ski season, United, American and Alaska also serve Yampa Valley Regional. And while other major ski areas are requiring reservations, Steamboat isn’t, which might make planning your ski vacation less stressful.
TPG tip: If you really want to make sure you’re avoiding other people, this might be the year to take to the backcountry. At the Bluebird Backcountry ski area, which officially opens this year and will be the first resort of its kind in North America, there are no lifts: Guests will ski uphill or “skin” to the top of their run. It’s just 30 minutes from Steamboat Springs, and there are warming huts, a lodge, gear rentals, ski patrol and 1,200 avalanche-evaluated in-bounds acres.
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
It’s easy to see why so many snowbirds head to South Carolina’s Lowcountry to wait out the winter. In December, this barrier island experiences mostly mild weather and has plenty of holiday spirit.
Take part in a Jingle Bell Run, enjoy the twinkling lights on the harbor at The Sea Pines Resort and get into the holiday spirit at South Beach Christmas Village (get a wave from Santa, listen to live music outside and enjoy a complimentary cup of cocoa around the fireside).
Hilton Head Island is drivable from many major metropolitan areas across the East Coast, including New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Travelers can also fly into Hilton Head Airport (HHH), though there are many more flights into Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, which is about 40 miles away.
TPG tip: Hilton Head Island may be best known for its timeshare resorts, boutique properties and luxury home rentals, but you can also use your points to offset the cost of your stay — especially if you have a stash of Marriott Bonvoy points. Book a room at the Marriott Hilton Head Resort & Spa (Category 5) or the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa (Category 6).
With relatively easy entry requirements, the Dominican Republic is a practical tropical getaway for travelers craving an international escape. To help stop the spread of coronavirus, all travelers will have their temperature checked on arrival, must abide by social distancing and wear face masks, according to the Ministry of Tourism. But the nation is no longer requiring negative COVID-19 tests, which continues to be one of the biggest barriers in the travel industry.
Consider booking a room at the Club Med Miches Playa Esmeralda — the first resort to open in this undeveloped region — which opened in January and is spread across 50 acres. Or head to Punta Cana to check out the new all-inclusive Serenade Punta Cana Beach, Spa & Casino Resort. And for travelers with Radisson Rewards points, there’s the just-opened Radisson Blu Resort & Residence, also in Punta Cana, which marks the brand’s first all-inclusive property in the world.
TPG tip: Leverage airline alliances to get the best deal on an award flight to the Dominican Republic. Consider using Turkish Miles & Smiles for a United flight, Flying Blue miles if you’re traveling with Delta or British Airways Avios, which might make the most sense if you’re flying American Airlines from the southeast.
A gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg isn’t just a summer retreat. In fact, this mountain town may be one of the best places to drop your bags for the holidays. Located in eastern Tennessee, visitors will discover a great year-round getaway with mild weather and a number of seasonal activities, such as skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and even snow tubing at Ober Gatlinburg (the state’s only ski resort) and the Smoky Mountain Christmas celebration at Dollywood.
With over 5 million lights, holiday performances (including classic carolers and Christmas-themed musical theater) and, for the first time ever, festive “Merry & Bright” fireworks displays set to holiday tunes, few places in the country will be conjuring the Christmas spirit quite like the Dollywood theme park. Smoky Mountains Christmas will run until Jan. 2, 2021.
Around the corner in Pigeon Forge, the annual Winterfest light festival gives visitors even more ways to experience the magic of the season. Just remember, it does snow in the Smoky Mountains, so do your research and make sure you’re careful to avoid any winter road closures.
TPG tip: Cozy up around the outdoor fire pit at the Fairfield Inn and Suites Gatlinburg Downtown by Marriott (from 30,000 points per night) or the Park Vista by Hilton Doubletree, which has great views of Gatlinburg and is perfect for families. Or, consider renting one of the area’s many cabins, which have the benefit of kitchens — perfect for avoiding public places — and other wintertime amenities such as hot tubs and fireplaces.
Featured photo of Hilton Head Island by Whitney Carlson/EyeEm/Getty Images
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
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