We absolutely adore spending quality time with loved ones at home, cozied up around the fireplace, but we also get equally excited about seeing how different cities around the world celebrate Christmas. In our opinion, the best places to spend Christmas vary greatly and range from European classics boasting charming Christmas markets to Asian metropolises with jaw-dropping light displays—not to mention merry mainstays in the U.S. Are you looking for a traditional Christmas experience, whether that means meeting Santa Claus in Lapland or visiting an authentic German Christmas market? Well, you are in the right place. For those of you looking to escape the cold weather, there are even a few destinations in the southern hemisphere where you can enjoy temperatures in the 30s on December 25th. So whether your idea of a perfect holiday includes exploring new and festive terrain or simply relaxing poolside with a refreshing cocktail, there’s certainly a place for everyone to celebrate a memorable Christmas this year.
If you’re looking for a place to get into the Christmas spirit, Iceland is the perfect holiday destination for you. In Iceland, the festive season is full of lively Christmas markets, with wooden booths overflowing with food, drink, and gifts and glittering Christmas trees standing guard. You can expect a true winter wonderland made up of wild lava fields and craggy mountains topped with snow for an added touch of sparkle. Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, is even more beautiful in December when the city is decked out in sparkling Christmas lights. Even on the longest nights of the year, the city glows brightly. And on clear evenings, you can also see the Northern Lights in the darker areas of Reykjavik.
Germany celebrates Christmas with joy and happiness. The country’s famous Christmas markets offer plenty of mulled wine and shining lights. If you’re looking for some fun, head to Berlin, where you’ll find a huge fair. You can also get into the Christmas spirit by attending the Alexanderplatz show. There’s nothing quite like a traditional Christmas market to get you into the holiday spirit, and the Germans really know how to do it right. In fact, Cologne’s Christmas market is so popular that it draws in a whopping four million visitors each winter!
Celebrate the Christmas season by cruising along the Rhine, sipping on local wine as you take in the picturesque views of steep vineyards and historic castles. A Rhine river cruise is a peaceful way to spend your holiday, as most journeys make stops at charming cities in the Rhineland such as Cologne, Koblenz, and Bonn. You’ll find festive Christmas markets here, where Yuletide lovers mingle and enjoy the lively atmosphere created by the sound of skaters on the ice rink, shoppers, and Christmas carols.
Courchevel, France, was once known as a symbol of oligarch excess, but that phase is now over. Despite this, it remains a popular destination for the world’s superrich. Its broad, easy-skiing pistes, Michelin-starred restaurants, and five-star hotels make it the most luxurious ski resort around. Christmas Day to New Year’s Eve is the busiest and most social time of the year. Champagne bars and perfect teeth are everywhere, and in the background is a razor-sharp mountain ridge. If you want to stay in central Courchevel on a budget this New Year, book a self-catering apartment in the Forum.
Salzburg boasts the best Christmas lights in the world—it’s an event that you won’t want to miss. The holiday season here lasts an entire month, which is much longer than the 12 days of Christmas. Salzburg is a city rich in culture and tradition. With its baroque architecture and snow-capped peaks, the city creates a picturesque and unique atmosphere. Salzburg is also known as the birthplace of Mozart and as the setting for The Sound of Music. When exploring the city, be sure to take a walk around the Old Town, visit one of the many beer cellars, and pick up a pair of lederhosen! At the Strand Arcade, be dazzled by 3,500 twinkling lights. Or, at the Pitt Street Mall Canopy of Light, be mesmerized by 85,000 LEDs.
It’s time to board your flight for a seven-hour overnight journey to Muscat. Upon arrival, the first thing on your agenda should be to hit the beach—it’s only a fifteen-minute drive from the airport! The Chedi is a great choice for families with small children, offering a kids’ menu and a family pool. If you’ve got older kids, Six Senses Zighy Bay is hidden away behind the Al Hajar Mountains on the sandy south coast, five hour drive from Muscat. This chic resort is perfect for grown-up families who want to go hiking or snorkeling or just relax in the spa before getting dressed up for a swanky dinner. There’s more to Oman than just its beaches! You can take a traditional dhow boat trip from Marina Bandar al Rowhda and see some of the rare marine life up close. And if you’re looking for something more urban, Muscat is only a cab ride away.
Edinburgh is a beautiful and appealing city any time of year, but it’s especially wonderful in the winter. The cold weather is the perfect excuse to duck into one of the city’s many warm and cozy pubs for a soul-warming Scotch, and the grey skies only make the bright lights of the city’s world-class museums and restaurants all the more inviting. So if you’re looking for a winter getaway that’s sure to please, look no further than Edinburgh! The city is still relatively peaceful, so take advantage of it! Take a spin on the big panoramic wheel above Princes Street to get an eagle’s eye view of the city. Or, if you’re feeling festive, go for a bar crawl under the fairy lights of George Street. And if you need a break from all the excitement, pop into the Scottish National Gallery to appreciate some winter scenes.
For an authentic and unforgettable winter experience complete with snowmobiling, skiing, and rides with Santa’s reindeer, head north to the small resorts of Levi, Yllas, or Saariselka. Levi is only a 20-minute drive from the airport, making transfers with weary tots super speedy. Here, Santa’s village is located in the secluded wilderness—a huddle of twinkly log cabins hidden among snow-laden pines. Lapland is stunning when blanketed in snow, so plan your trip for the second or third weekend in December to increase your chances of seeing a picturesque landscape. And make sure you give yourselves ample time; rushing around on a 24-hour round-trip will only end with cranky, exhausted children and frustrated parents. Four nights is better, but you’ll still wish you had more time to explore everything Lapland has to offer.
Tenerife is the perfect destination for those looking to add some winter sun to their Christmas. With its stunning, unspoiled beauty, including picturesque coves, gracious colonial architecture, and ravishing ravines, Tenerife has something for everyone. Tourism has made its mark on the island, but this only adds to its charm, with the choked resorts taking up only a fraction of what Tenerife has to offer.
Cities in the Danube
Cruising along the Danube during Christmas time is one of the best ways to celebrate the holidays. You’ll get to see some of Europe’s most beautiful cities, including Budapest, Bratislava, and Regensburg, all while enjoying the festive atmosphere of the season. Christmas markets are a highlight of any Danube cruise, where you can sample traditional food and drink, shop for unique gifts, and soak up the holiday atmosphere.
You can join a luxurious Christmas cruise down India’s most sacred river. The winter sun and Christmas spirit will create a perfect atmosphere as you float past ancient temples, small boats, and devoted worshippers. You’ll also get to experience the bustle of the bazaars and the solemn fortresses of Jaipur and Varanasi.
Morocco experiences both cold and hot weather depending on the season. From mid-November to April, the Atlas Mountains have snow, and it can be quite cold at night. However, there are also bright blue skies and warm sunshine during this time. If you’re looking for a bargain, now is the time to go to Marrakesh. Remember to pack layers and stay somewhere with heating, though. July and August are cheaper months to visit.
The Mauritian festive season officially kicks off when the flame trees start to bloom, typically between late November and early December. As soon as these crimson trees start blossoming, hotel lobby decorations and Christmas-themed shop window displays start popping up all over the island. And since food is such an integral part of Mauritian culture, most hotels in beach resorts like Grand Baie and Flicen-Flac offer gourmet Christmas dinners and festive brunches so that visitors can enjoy a feast with a few cocktails to wash it all down. Whether you want a traditional Mauritian meal or something more international, there’s bound to be something to tempt your taste buds.
Looking to celebrate Christmas in style? Then Dubai is the place to be! The city goes all out for the holidays, with spectacular tree lightings at Towers Rotana, Fairmont The Palm, and The Irish Village. And don’t miss the Santa Run, where you can watch jolly old St. Nick dash it! Of course, no visit to Dubai would be complete without some shopping, so be sure to check out one of the city’s Christmas markets for all your holiday goodies.