Christmas is a magical time of year, and choosing the correct destination for your holiday travel can make the season even more special. In this article, we’ll explore some of the best places to visit around Christmas time, along with detailed explanations of why each destination is worth considering, travel tips, and recommendations for a memorable holiday experience.
1. New York City, USA: The Big Apple’s Festive Extravaganza
Why New York City? New York City is one of the world’s most iconic Christmas destinations, offering many festive attractions and traditions.
What to Do:
- Witness the dazzling Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting, an iconic event that kicks off the holiday season.
- Ice skating at the Rockefeller Center rink is a classic holiday activity with the towering tree as a backdrop.
- Stroll along Fifth Avenue to admire elaborate holiday window displays at department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s.
- Attend the Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the world-famous Rockettes for a spectacular holiday performance.
- Book accommodations well in advance, as NYC hotels fill up quickly during the holiday season.
- Use public transportation, as traffic can be congested.
- Make sure to bundle up because December can bring chilly weather.
2. Vienna, Austria: A Fairytale Christmas in the Heart of Europe
Why Vienna? Vienna offers a magical Christmas experience with its historic charm, classical music, and enchanting Christmas markets.
What to Do:
- Explore Vienna’s numerous Christmas markets (Christkindlmarkt) that pop up throughout the city.
- Visit the Rathausplatz Christmas Market in front of City Hall, known for its stunning lights and ice skating rink.
- Attend classical music concerts featuring the works of Mozart and Strauss in this musical city.
- Try traditional Austrian dishes like Wiener Schnitzel and Sacher Torte.
- Consider purchasing a Vienna Card for discounts on attractions and public transport.
- Dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes for exploring the markets on foot.
3. Prague, Czech Republic: A Fairytale Christmas in Bohemia
Why Prague? Prague transforms into a winter wonderland during Christmas, offering stunning architecture and a charming ambiance.
What to Do:
- Visit Prague’s Old Town Square, which turns into a magical scene with a Christmas market and towering Christmas tree.
- Explore historic sites like the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle, which become even more enchanting with a dusting of snow.
- Savor traditional Czech dishes like trdelník (sweet pastry) and sip on mulled wine at the markets.
- Be prepared for chilly weather and pack accordingly.
- Learn a few basic Czech phrases to enhance your experience.
4. Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland: The Official Hometown of Santa Claus
Why Rovaniemi? For an authentic Christmas experience, Rovaniemi, the official hometown of Santa Claus, offers unique adventures in the Arctic Circle.
What to Do:
- Meet Santa Claus himself and cross the Arctic Circle at Santa Claus Village.
- Enjoy husky sledding, reindeer rides, and snowmobile safaris in the snow-covered landscape.
- If you’re lucky, witness the mesmerizing Northern Lights dancing across the Arctic skies.
- Dress warmly in layers, as temperatures can drop significantly.
- Plan activities in advance, especially if you have specific Arctic adventures in mind.
- Be aware of the limited daylight hours in Lapland during December.
5. Quebec City, Canada: Old World Charm in North America
Why Quebec City? Quebec City, with its Old World charm, European flair, and stunning winter scenery, provides a unique Christmas experience in North America.
What to Do:
- Explore Old Quebec City, which resembles a storybook setting during Christmas.
- Visit the Quebec City German Christmas Market (Marché de Noël Allemand) for a taste of Europe in North America.
- Experience the impressive lighting displays and ice sculptures at the Quebec Winter Carnival.
- Bundle up in warm clothing, as Quebec City can be quite cold in December.
- Try traditional Québécois dishes like tourtière (meat pie) and sugar pie.
- Learn a few French phrases to enhance your experience in this predominantly French-speaking city.
6. Kyoto, Japan: A Unique Blend of Tradition and Modernity
Why Kyoto? Kyoto offers a fascinating blend of traditional Japanese culture and modern Christmas celebrations, making it a unique destination during the holidays.
What to Do:
- Experience the serene atmosphere of illuminated temples and shrines, which create a magical ambiance.
- Visit the Kyoto Christmas Market for a taste of European-style holiday traditions.
- Try KFC, a popular Christmas meal in Japan, or enjoy a traditional Kaiseki dinner.
- Learn about Japanese customs and etiquette to respect local traditions.
- Plan your visit well in advance, as popular temples can get crowded.
- Embrace the cultural experience of a Japanese-style Christmas celebration.
7. Sydney, Australia: Christmas Down Under with a Beachy Twist
Why Sydney? Sydney offers a unique Christmas experience in the southern hemisphere, where you can celebrate the holiday in summer style.
What to Do:
- Attend outdoor concerts, beach picnics, and fireworks displays to celebrate Christmas in the warm weather.
- Take advantage of the iconic Carols in the Domain event featuring top Australian musicians.
- Pack lightweight clothing, swimwear, and sunscreen for a summer Christmas.
- Book accommodations well in advance, as this is a popular time for visitors.
- Explore Sydney’s stunning beaches, including Bondi and Manly.
8. Cologne, Germany: Christmas Markets Galore
Why Cologne? Germany is renowned for its Christmas markets, and Cologne’s markets are among the most picturesque, offering a traditional European Christmas experience.
What to Do:
- Explore Cologne’s various Christmas markets, each with its own unique charm.
- The Cologne Cathedral creates a breathtaking backdrop for the Christmas Market held at the Cathedral.
- Savor German holiday treats like Glühwein (mulled wine) and Lebkuchen (gingerbread).
- Dress warmly, as the weather in Germany can be quite cold in December.
- Try traditional German dishes like bratwurst and sauerkraut.
- Consider purchasing a KölnCard for discounts on transportation and attractions.
9. Barcelona, Spain: Catalan Christmas Traditions
Why Barcelona? Barcelona adds a unique Catalan touch to its Christmas celebrations, combining Spanish and regional traditions.
What to Do:
- Explore the Fira de Santa Llúcia Christmas Market near the Cathedral, offering traditional Catalan crafts and nativity scenes.
- Enjoy the quirky tradition of Caga Tió, a Christmas log that “poops” out presents for children.
- Experience the festive ambiance of the city’s streets, adorned with lights and decorations.
- Try Catalan dishes like crema catalana and calcots during your visit.
- Barcelona tends to be milder in terms of weather, but it’s a good idea to check the forecast.
- Visit Gaudí’s architectural marvels in Barcelona, like Sagrada Familia and Park Güell.
10. Edinburgh, Scotland: A Scottish Christmas Celebration
Why Edinburgh? Edinburgh offers a unique blend of Scottish traditions and festive celebrations, making it a memorable destination during Christmas.
What to Do:
- Visit the Edinburgh Christmas Market in the heart of the city, featuring sparkling lights and thrilling rides.
- Join the torchlight procession on December 30th as a prelude to the famous Hogmanay New Year’s celebrations.
- Explore the historic and picturesque streets of the Old Town.
- Dress warmly, as Edinburgh can be chilly in December.
- Book tickets for Hogmanay events well in advance, as they tend to sell out.
- Try Scottish delicacies like haggis and shortbread during your stay.
Choose Your Christmas Adventure
The world is full of incredible places to visit during Christmas, each offering unique charm and holiday traditions. From the festive extravagance of New York City to the enchanting markets of Vienna, the cozy atmosphere of Rovaniemi in Lapland, and the cultural richness of Kyoto in Japan, there’s a destination to suit every traveler’s preferences.
Journeying during the Christmas season can offer an exceptionally gratifying experience, enabling you to submerge yourself in diverse cultures, observe distinct traditions, and craft cherished memories with dear ones.
However, it’s essential to plan your trip carefully, taking into account factors like weather, accommodations, and local customs.
Here are some general travel tips for a successful Christmas vacation:
- Plan Ahead: Christmas is a popular travel time, so book your accommodations, flights, and activities well in advance to secure the best options.
- Pack Appropriately: Verify the weather forecast at your destination and pack your clothing accordingly. Don’t forget necessities like comfortable walking shoes and travel adapters.
- Embrace Local Traditions: Take the time to learn about and participate in local Christmas traditions. This can significantly enhance your travel experience and help you connect with the local culture.
- Stay Flexible: While having a plan is important, be open to spontaneity and unexpected experiences. Some of the best travel memories are made when you go with the flow.
- Be Mindful of Local Customs: Respect local customs and etiquette, especially when visiting places with religious or cultural significance during the holiday season.
- Budget Wisely: Set a budget for your trip and stick to it. Consider the cost of dining out, activities, and shopping for souvenirs.
- Travel Insurance: Think about buying travel insurance to safeguard yourself in the event of unexpected situations or trip cancellations.
- Enjoy the Journey: Traveling during the Christmas season can be hectic, but remember to savor the journey and the moments you share with loved ones.
Whether you’re seeking a traditional European Christmas, beachy escape, or adventure in a far-flung destination, a perfect Christmas travel experience is waiting for you. So, pack your bags, embrace the spirit of the season, and embark on a magical Christmas adventure to one of these wonderful places. Merry Christmas and happy travels!