Old Québec might just be the most Christmas-y place in Canada, if not all of North America. If you can handle the cold, you'll be rewarded with holiday markets set up throughout the historic district, festive seasonal concerts and just about every snowy sport and activity you can imagine, including ice skating at Place D’Youville in the heart of Old Québec.
If your idea of a perfect holiday getaway involves something a little warmer, consider Death Valley National Park, the hottest, driest and lowest place in the USA. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the least crowded time of year, when daytime temperatures reach the mid 60s and low-angled light makes the scenery particularly beautiful, especially for photography.
Photo courtesy of hotshotsworldwide
Shop 'til You Drop in the Twin Cities
For many Americans, December means shopping, and there's no better place to indulge in some pre-holiday retail therapy than at the Mall of America in the Twin Cities. With 520 stores (tax-free for all clothes and shoes), finding those last items on your holiday shopping list will be a breeze. There's even more seasonal shopping at the Winter Wonderland: A Nordic Christmas market, and you can check out an adaptation of A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie Theater.
This December, the first ever SEC Championship Game will take place at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta (December 6), but even if you haven't caught college football fever, there's plenty of action off the gridiron as well. Holiday happenings include Garden Lights at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (nominated for Best Public Lights Display), Holiday in Lights at Centennial Olympic Park and the lighting of Macy's Great Tree at Lenox Square. If that's not enough, cooler temperatures drive hotel prices down, making this southern city an affordable option.
During the holiday season, Copenhagen, Denmark transforms into one of Europe's best Christmas cities. Don't miss the Tivoli Gardens' Christmas Market, complete with twinkling lights, live entertainment, Nordic Christmas drinks, Santa's reindeer, visits with Father Christmas, a 50 stall market and – new in 2014 – a snowy Alp Village.
If you prefer your holidays old school (and warm!), then don your best 19th century threads and get yourself to the Strand on Galveston Island for the annual Dickens on the Strand festivities (December 5-7). Temperatures hover in the 60s throughout the month – perfect for beach strolling – and the always popular Moody Gardens will be hosting two holiday events this year, the Festival of Lights and Ice Land: Ice Sculptures with SpongeBob SquarePants.
In 2014 Global Winter Wonderland, one of the nation's biggest holiday festivals, will be setting up shop in Sacramento. Throughout the month of December, visitors can take pictures with Santa, wander past iconic monuments in the Global Village, watch live entertainment and sample international cuisine. If you'd rather get away from the holiday happenings, there's always the excellent Crocker Art Museum or the American River Bike Trail to enjoy.
You haven't seen a New Year's Eve party until you've rung in a New Year on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Summer in South America means stellar beach weather, even if you visit this beautiful city by the sea earlier in the month. If you run out of things to do in Rio (which you won't), you'll find some of Brazil's top beaches nearby.
Photo courtesy of Photorevelation
Enjoy a High Desert Winter in Santa Fe
You can see pretty holiday lights anywhere in the country, but Santa Fe is one of the best places to see a uniquely Southwestern Christmas decoration, farolitos. On Christmas Eve, the sidewalks and buildings of Old Santa Fe are lined with the candle-lit paper bags, and if your travels bring you to the New Mexico capital earlier in the month, you'll find excellent galleries and unique holiday shopping in and around Santa Fe Plaza.
American history comes alive in Boston any time of year, but December is a particularly special month thanks to the Boston Tea Party anniversary re-enactment (December 16). If you can brave the chilly temperatures, you'll have many Freedom Trail attractions to yourself, plus you can enjoy all the holiday decorations in Copley Square, Boston Commons and Commonwealth Avenue.