What’s the best time of the year? We bet you answered Christmas, right? Well, who wouldn’t?! While Christmas is the greatest time of the year to cuddle up to your loved ones at home, it is also the perfect time to travel and live a whole new Christmas experience.
However, choosing the best destinations to spend your Christmas is a challenging task. The options are endless! There is the classic Christmas in the glittering big cities, the exotic Christmas under palm trees, and those white Christmas in the mountains.
To help you enjoy the best time of the year to the max, here are our picks of the best Christmas destinations.
The Big Apple
Maybe it is all those Hollywood romantic movies with their unforgettable scenes, with the girl and the guy meeting in the streets covered with snow and Christmas music playing in the background. Or maybe it is the city’s well-known Christmas decoration. Anyhow, you can’t imagine a Christmas vacation without thinking of New York. You just can’t!
Despite the cold, New York is one of the most popular Christmas destinations. One of the best things about New York is, without a doubt, how the city celebrates the holidays in an outsized and spectacular way.
After the national holiday of Thanksgiving at the end of November, the Christmas season is officially open for business. Gigantic Christmas decorations —such as red baubles, fairy lights, or bright gift ribbons tied around houses— are spread throughout the city.
The traditional Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza takes the decorations to the next level. A whole 45,000 LED bulbs illuminate the 25-metre-high tree. There are also several Christmas markets in New York. Many of these start as early as the end of October, for example, in Bryant Park or Union Square.
After feasting your eyes on the tree and breathing in all the festive spirit, make sure to catch one of the Christmas musicals, The Nutcracker or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, that get played at the New York City Theatre.
Another fun activity is ice skating in Central Park, in front of Rockefeller Center or Bryant Park. The rinks are open all day, but we recommend going in the morning to avoid crowds. You can’t get more Christmas-y than that!
Winter Wonderland in Vienna
The extravagance of the Austrian capital Vienna is taken to the extreme in the Christmas season with Christmas lights, decorated Christmas trees, and numerous Christmas markets. You’ll have no choice but to indulge in the festive spirit.
There is so much to see, taste, and experience in Vienna. Where is the best place to start? At the Christmas markets, of course, as Vienna has so many of them. We highly recommend starting with the Schönbrunn Christmas Market in front of the Schönbrunn Palace.
The market gets held from 20 November to 26 December, giving you plenty of time to enjoy it. In the market, you will get to enjoy choral singing and performances with your mulled wine and Kaiserschmarrn. With numerous booths, you will find several great handmade crafts and other Christmas gift ideas.
In the evening, the palace is lit up from the outside, while a large fir tree, surrounded by small stalls and rides, sets the mood for the festive season. Many concerts are also held there on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
One of the must-visit places while spending the holidays in Vienna is the Original Wiener Schneekugelmanufaktur (Original Vienna Snowglobe Factory). There, you can take a tour of the 50-square metre space with its many workshops and admire the exhibited unique designs. Try to arrange a group tour by phone in advance; you will have so much fun!
The Austrian capital exudes typical Viennese charm throughout the rest of the year with its opulent house facades, old traditions, and relaxed cosiness. Nevertheless, the city brings a new atmosphere during the Christmas season with its decorated alleys and illuminated sights. Its oversized bells and Christmas balls turn the beautiful capital into a Christmas city.
“Buon Natale” in Rome
Situated in the centre of Italy, Rome is one of the best Christmas destinations! No matter where you are in Rome during Christmas, you won’t get past the delicious porchetta sandwiches. Other Christmas specialities can’t beat the large, deboned pig stuffed with rosemary and garlic and the rum-soaked sweet bread, panettone.
These delicacies can be found at Christmas markets, which officially open in Rome on 8 December. Vendors open their stalls in Piazza Navona and Piazza Re di Roma. At the same time, Christmas trees are set up in Rome’s important squares, such as Piazza Venezia.
A must-see is the life-like Nativity Scene set up at St Peter’s Square, with a different theme/design every year. Being so close to the Vatican, it would be a shame to miss the Christmas Eve Mass (also called the Midnight Mass) held in St Peter’s Basilica. Note, however, that tickets to the Mass need to be booked at least two months prior.
Other popular attractions in the city include the Vatican Museums and the Colosseum, which are open on Christmas Eve. However, most museums, stores, and exhibitions in Rome are closed on Christmas Day.
Cocktail Instead of Mulled Wine in Rio De Janeiro
White Christmas? Not in Rio de Janeiro! In December, winter coats and wool sweaters are exchanged for skimpy swimwear and flip-flops in Rio De Janeiro. Since most of the pre-Christmas season is spent on the beach at a good 30 degrees, it’s no surprise to see a giant Christmas tree floating in the middle of the water.
In mid-December, with a colourful fireworks display, the floating tree in the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon is set aglow with three million lights. The actual Christmas in Brazil is celebrated only on 25 December. Big fireworks attract many residents and tourists to the beaches to celebrate extensively until morning.
Don’t miss the big open-air concert at Copacabana, where world-famous musicians set the mood yearly. Could this Christmas destination get any cooler?
A Sea of Christmas Lights in Madrid
In mid-December, the Spanish capital Madrid welcomes winter with a colourful sea of lights spread over Calle Alcalá, a long shopping street across the city. It would be best if you also didn’t miss the Christmas markets in Madrid. The most famous city market is located at the Plaza Mayor, and there, you can find the perfect Christmas gift ready for your loved ones.
The CentroCentro cultural centre also offers you the ultimate Christmas package: an ice skating rink, concerts, poetry readings and playlets, and festive activities for children, allowing you to have a great time out with varied programmes.
Another not-to-be-missed activity in Madrid is the “Navideña Feria Internacional de las Culturas,” translated as “International Christmas Fair of Cultures.” You will have the opportunity to learn more about Spanish culture and the typical traditions of other countries at this enriching fair.
However, for those who like to stroll exclusively, the Christmas bus Naviluz will take you to the Plaza de Colón, which passes through the most beautiful streets of Madrid.
Rovaniemi: Time to Meet Santa!
It’s time to visit Santa Claus, and in Rovaniemi, you can do that. . .for real! The capital of northern Finland’s Lapland region is a year-round attraction. In the “Santa Claus Village,” you will find souvenirs like noble Christmas baubles and angels.
Located about 8 kilometres north of Rovaniemi, “Santa Claus Post Office” is where letters from children worldwide to Santa Claus are processed and answered. Don’t miss it; it is magnificent! Check out more information on the Santa Clause Village website.
In Rovaniemi, you will see some majestic white landscapes that will take your breath away. . .believe us, it is better than those you see in movies! While there, take the time to explore Lapland and ride a reindeer sledge through snow-covered forests. The whole experience is one-of-a-kind!
Disneyland Paris, France
Whether you are a passionate Disney fan or have children, the theme park is a popular Christmas destination. The funny Disney characters from the stories and movies are part of most people’s childhood. This trip to Disneyland is the best choice to bring back all the sweet childhood memories, especially at this time of the year. If you want to bring out the kid in you, this is the place to do so!
Of course, when you’re at Disneyland, you can’t go home without a trip to Paris: the city of light for some and the city of love for others. Whatever appeals to you during this time of year, there’s no shortage of markets and the lively hustle and bustle here.
Strasbourg, the Capital of Christmas
In the north of France, Strasbourg is the best place to visit during the Christmas season. With the Christmas lights and spirit in the air, this city seems to come out of a fairy tale. One of the town’s major attractions is its Christmas market, which dates back to 1570 and can be visited throughout December. In 1988, UNESCO listed Strasbourg’s historic city centre, the Grande-Île, as a World Heritage Site. Almost 30 years later, the Neustadt was added to the list.
If you are looking for a traditional place full of history, this city is perfect for a vacation. You can drink mulled wine at the Christmas market outside Strasbourg Cathedral to recharge your energy and warmth and then walk along the Rhine River. Truly, there is no place like Strasbourg to celebrate the festive season.
Valletta, The Epitome of Christmas
Whether you like it or not, Malta will cast a spell on you. Here, Christmas is one of the most important holidays.
Malta has around 365 churches; they are especially decked out at Christmas and shine for Mass-goers on Christmas Eve. The most famous is St John’s Co-Cathedral in the capital Valletta, where the pompous altar is decorated with candles and flowers. When the choirs sing Christmas carols, we guarantee a contemplative festive mood for you.
While in Valletta this time of the year, make sure to attend one of the performances at Teatru Manoel. The performances usually take place the day before Christmas Eve.
Valletta is not a city of white Christmas; the temperatures here do not fall below ten degrees. However, the countless Christmas trees on every street corner in Valletta —even in the supermarkets— create just the right festive atmosphere.
Oh, Sweet Prague
Prague is one of the most beautiful Christmas cities ever. The city shines with a special glow during the Christmas season and turns into one big Christmas market full of colourful lights, ambrosial smells, and small stalls with delicious Christmas cookies on every corner.
There’s something special about Prague. Maybe it’s the colours, the medieval architecture, the unforgettable view from Charles Bridge, or perhaps its typical atmosphere, which becomes even more enchanting in the cold months when the statues are covered in snow. The Old Town is romantically lit to get the residents in the mood for the upcoming festivities.
If you’re looking for something romantic, serene strolls, unique craft stores, and generally unmissable Christmas markets, then Prague is the right place. You will be transported into a fairy tale in every corner, and the festive magic will accompany you from the very first minute to the last.
Throughout December, Oslo gets festively decorated, declaring itself one of the most incredible places to visit during the Christmas season. From mid-November, the Vinterland Christmas market opens on the main street in the centre (Karl Johans gate). Stroll along with the market stalls, warm up with a cup of “gløgg” (the Scandinavian version of mulled wine), ride the Ferris wheel, or strap on your skates and take a few laps on the ice.
However, the most impressive Christmas market for many people in Oslo is the outdoor Christmas Fair held at Norsk Folkemuseum in Bygdøy. Here, you can experience traditional Christmas in different eras during the first two weekends in December. Browse the market stalls, create your own Christmas decorations in workshops, and enjoy the festive entertainment.
Oslo is also a great place to shop for Christmas gifts. Places like Aker Brygge, Hegdehaugsveien, Karl Johan Street and its side streets, Oslo City shopping centre, and the Grünerløkka district would leave you speechless at the many Christmas items you could possibly get.
To get the real taste of a Norwegian Christmas, you better visit one of the many local restaurants. If there is still time, take the bus to the village of Drøbak on the Oslofjord. There, you will find not only a beautiful Christmas market but also a Christmas store that is open all year round.
Off The Beaten Track Christmas Destinations!
The best Christmas destinations can be something other than the well-known ones. There are lovely Christmas traditions and impressive decorations to be discovered everywhere. Here are some off-the-beaten-track Christmas destinations to consider.
An exotic destination that is not yet on the radar for a Christmas vacation is Medellín in Colombia. The city has become a particularly attractive destination in recent years. At Christmas, one of the most spectacular Christmas illuminations in the world is installed here. The sea of lights is so extensive that special bus tours are offered to marvel at the full illumination.
Another exciting destination to add to your list is Cuba. In socialist Cuba, Christmas was forbidden for a long time. However, that changed after the Pope’s visit in 1997, when 25 December was again declared an official holiday.
In reality, however, Cubans have continued holding on to their traditions. Today, when vacationing in Cuba during Christmas, you can marvel at a colourful mix of native customs and imported kitsch. However, the grand celebration is New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, as it coincides with the holiday of the Triumph of the Revolution there. It is not to be missed!
Okay, hear us out. Iceland is cold; there’s no denying that. However, if you’re planning a trip for the holiday season and don’t want to end up in familiar places like New York, you’ll be happy to hear that the average temperature in Iceland in winter is higher than in the Big Apple. It’s usually between 1ºC and 2ºC, but it can drop as low as -10ºC.
The advantage of travelling to Iceland at this time of year is that it gives you the opportunity to see the aurora borealis. Since it occurs between 10 pm and midnight, there is no better start to the new year than this beautiful gift of nature.
Queenstown, New Zealand
Do you love sports and nature in all its glory? Then the best place to go at Christmas is Queenstown in New Zealand. New Zealanders are the first to say goodbye to the old year on the beach with flip-flops and shorts. In addition, this city in the southwest is also called the Mecca of extreme sports. You can test your skills there if you are looking for an adrenaline rush this festive season.