These Are the Best Places to Take the Family on Vacation in December: Santa Fe, Hershey, Amsterdam, and More

Festive Europe, sparkly New England, and blissful Florida beaches, all ready for December.
December holiday lights in Amsterdam, with lit up bridges and canals
(Photo: Envato/fokkebok)

Holiday celebrations and end-of-year festivities can entice even the most skeptical traveler to pack their suitcase in December. If you’re considering a December getaway, I’ve rounded-up destinations to get you in a merry mood. Consider a visit to a sparkly seaside village in Maine, ride a roller-coaster in Hersheypark, or thaw out in Florida’s Key West. A lantern-lit Christmas Eve stroll in Santa Fe and gazing at illuminated canals in Amsterdam are experiences you won’t soon forget.

Best Places to Visit in December

Here are five of my favorite places to celebrate the season in style with a December vacation for the whole family.

1. Hershey, Pennsylvania

View of Hersheypark at night in December, with Hersheypark Christmas Candylane NOEL Light Show holiday lights
Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania gets a holiday look in December (Photo: Hersheypark)

Candy lovers give Hershey a golden ticket. The Hershey chocolate manufacturing plants are here, explaining the tempting smell perfuming the air. Known as the Sweetest Place on Earth, a visit is a chocolate-filled adventure set amid bucolic scenery.

Channel your inner Willy Wonka at Hershey’s Chocolate World. Take a free ride and see how chocolate is made or get hands-on and create your own delicious bar and seal it in a self-designed wrapper.

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With rides from mild to wild, Hersheypark has 50 rides and coasters open throughout December, weather permitting. Christmas Candylane features Santa’s reindeer plus more than 5-million twinkling lights, including a dazzling NOEL light show with more than 250,000 dancing lights synchronized to Christmas music. Open daily in December.

Hershey Sweet Lights is a drive-through attraction with two miles of fields and wooded trails decorated with nearly 600 illuminated displays created from about 2 million LED lights. Guests can enjoy it all from the comfort of their car while listening to holiday music each night in December.

Where to Stay in Hershey in December

The Hotel Hershey is all wrapped up with old-world charm. Dining options feature decadent chocolate desserts while the spa has chocolate-infused treatments such as a whipped cocoa bath. 

2. Santa Fe, New Mexico

view of Luminarias in Old Town Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe’s tradition of lights makes December feel cozy and beautiful (Photo: New Mexico True)

Nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe’s winter landscape is dramatic. And while a visit to Santa Fe is always a good idea, holiday happenings make December particularly memorable. Arrive mid-month and enjoy Las Posadas, a candlelight re-enactment of biblical figures Joseph and Mary searching for an inn to spend the night, with only a lantern to guide them. Carols and hot cider at the Plaza are a festive finale.  

At this time of year, the Canyon Road Christmas Eve Farolito Walk is a beloved holiday tradition. As you stroll down Canyon Road, enjoy the soft glow of thousands of farolitos (little lanterns) enhanced with the scent of fragrant piñon log fires. Canyon Road is closed to traffic and galleries welcome revelers with treats and warm drinks.

Gourmets will enjoy New Mexico’s holiday culinary traditions. Buttery biscochitos are crisp cookies that will melt in your mouth. Tamales, masa wrapped in a corn husk, are available in sweet and savory varieties. 

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Santa Fe is home to hundreds of galleries and numerous art museums (it has a UNESCO designation for its craft and folk art), including the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.  For something visionary, Meow Wolf’s interactive, multimedia exhibits are rooted in individual perception. Meow Wolf is a Certified Autism Center, with a commitment to making art accessible to guests with sensory differences.

Where to Stay in Santa Fe in December

For a winter getaway, check out the only hotel directly on the historic district Plaza, La Fonda on the Plaza, which has original art and Southwestern-style furnishings.

3. Key West, Florida

aerial view of the Florida Keys and Key West
Key West is the southernmost city in the continental United States (Photo: Rob O’Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau)

If you think Florida is all early bird specials and theme parks, quirky Key West may surprise you. It’s geographically closer to Havana than Miami, which helps explain its Caribbean flair. Literary greats from Hemingway to Judy Blume have called it home. If white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and gingerbread houses painted in candy colors haven’t hooked you, wait until you take a bite of Key lime pie. 

This free-thinking town has an inclusive vibe. Despite balmy temperatures, its holiday season spirit shines during December with Key West Holiday Fest. The Harbor Walk area glimmers with lights adorning palm trees and the holiday tree is decorated with lobster traps. Santa arriving by sailboat and a subtropical performance of the Nutcracker offer lighthearted fun. If what you want is a warm destination in December, Key West may be your ideal destination.

Where to Stay in Key West in December

Opal Key Resort & Marina has a great a waterfront location in the heart of town, and spacious rooms and suites. 

4. Freeport, Maine

Freeport Maine in December's Parade of Lights with floats and lights
Freeport, Maine has plenty of festive fun in December (Photo: Visit Freeport)

On the shores of Casco Bay, pedestrian-friendly Freeport is home to preppy retailer L.L. Bean and dozens of outlets. This town really knows how to dress-up for the holidays, making a December visit jolly even if you don’t give a hoot about shopping. 

Northern Lights kicks off at L.L. Bean in mid-November and runs through New Year’s Day. Enjoy ice-skating, step inside a giant snow globe, and sip complimentary hot cocoa. Fabulous decorations add celebratory flair. 

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Freeport’s Sparkle Celebration, held in early December, is a 10-day festival which kicks-off with a Parade of Lights featuring a talking Christmas Tree that likes to sing carols and tell jokes, a Stealth Elf who gives away gift cards to visitors, and Santa arriving on a yacht. Food trucks, toasty fire pits, live performances, and crafts plump-up the fun factor. 

Freeport is among the country’s best places to travel in December for another reason too: It’s a prime spot for active winter adventures.  Want to learn to snowshoe or cross-country ski? Book a group class complete with instruction and equipment for a bargain price at L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery Programs

Where to Stay in Freeport in December

The Hilton Garden Inn Freeport Downtown is walking distance from the festivities, with a hot tub and heated indoor pool. 

5. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Amsterdam, Netherlands bridges and canals at twilight.
Though it’s a longer flight for North America based travelers, Amsterdam is a fantastic family destination in December (Photo: Envato/SeanPavone)

Amsterdam brims with holiday merriment this month, making it one of the best places to visit in December in all of Europe. The city’s picturesque canals are transformed into a canvas for twinkling light installations during Amsterdam Light Festival; a canal cruise on a heated boat is a comfortable perch to absorb the illuminated winter cityscape.

Museumplein is where you’ll find Ice Village Amsterdam. Take a spin around the seasonal skating rink and browse the quaint Christmas Market before you pop into the world-class museums that surround it. Impressionist art fans shouldn’t miss the Van Gogh Museum while admirers of modern art and design will enjoy the collection at the Stedelijk Museum.

Nippy temperatures make it a convivial time to get acquainted with the Dutch concept gezellig, which translates into cozy. Sipping hot chocolate and eating pancakes dusted with powdered sugar as you defrost at one of the city’s cute cafés is a good starting point.

For families with children, the Nemo Science Museum is an interactive paradise where visitors may experiment while wearing miniature lab coats and safety goggles.  A visit to the Anne Frank House, the actual building where teenage Anne wrote her famous diary while hiding from the Nazis, is deeply moving. 

Where to Stay in Amsterdam in December

Overlooking the Amstel Canal, the Tivoli Doelen Amsterdam blends old-world elegance with modern amenities. 

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Allison Tibaldi
Allison Tibaldi has written for publications including CNN, Business Insider, FamilyVacationist, HGTV, USA TODAY, and Travel Weekly. As a former early childhood educator, she is interested in the way kids experience the world, and thinks that travel is the best education for young minds. Tibaldi is based in New York City.