The World’s 50 Best Places for Celebrating Christmas Gallery
December 7, 2016
Take a trip this holiday season to one of these festive spots around the world
The World’s 50 Best Places for Celebrating Christmas
Spend this holiday season in a gorgeous spot halfway across the world — or even just a few hours away, if you’re lucky enough. There are so many wonderful cities and regions in which to experience the holidays in full-swing — spots with jaw-dropping light displays, extravagant street decorations, bustling open markets, and all sorts of winter activities.
Catch the aurora borealis in Iceland or hang out by the beach with Santa Claus in Key West. You can also spend Christmas strolling down the cobblestone streets of Castleton in north-central England or attend a midnight mass in Goa. If you’re thinking about spending Christmas somewhere special this year, or if you’re already planning a holiday jaunt for next year, check out these 50 places around the world that are perfect for celebrating the Christmas season.
The streets of Barcelona — over 400 of them — are a sight for sore eyes during Christmas season, lit up in a frenzy of bright lights and featuring impressive sculptures and nativity scenes very characteristic of Catalan culture. Visit Fira de Santa Llúcia, Barcelona’s famous Christmas market, which dates back to 1786 and features over 280 stalls full of the most impressive nativity scenes you’ll ever see as well as Spanish crafts and trinkets. For some more holiday cheer, visit some of the city’s best bars that are off-the-beaten-path.
Enjoy a quintessentially English Christmas in Bath, the only city in the United Kingdom to be entirely designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over 170 stalls sell handmade English crafts and trinkets at the Bath Christmas Market, and Bath on Ice is a great opportunity to practice your ice skating skills. Holiday programs such as musicals, operas, concerts, and plays are scheduled throughout the season at Bath’s Theatre Royal.
Bondi Beach, Australia
Have a sunny Christmas full of Australian barbecue and bikini contests at this Australian beach near Sydney. Backpackers litter Bondi Beach on December 25, joined by all sorts of bands and DJs in the annual Sunburnt Christmas Festival, attended by about 4,000 people every year.
Christmas in New England is often a wonderful sight, particularly in Boston. The city goes all out for the holidays, decorating its trees in magical white lights and its snow-covered cobblestone streets with more than 2,800 gas lamps. A Christmas tree is erected in front of Faneuil Hall, where 350,000 LED lights flash along to music by the Hallelujah chorus every evening for the holiday light show. Enjoy a delicious holiday dinner at one of the city’s many restaurants to round out a cozy Christmas evening in Beantown.
Colorado’s most beautiful town, Breckenridge is particularly festive during the holiday season. In addition to great holiday shopping, Breckenridge offers visitors the chance to take a sleigh ride among the winter wonderland scenery or have a nice holiday dinner at one of the town’s many fantastic restaurants.
Bruges has everything you might want from a European Christmas: a wonderful ice rink, a stunning Christmas market full of crafts and local food and drink specials, and even medieval architecture perfectly complimented by the holiday lights. Enjoy a Belgian hot chocolate or some glühwein, the traditional holiday mulled wine, before heading over to the Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival. This year, it will be full of creations featuring characters from Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, and Marvel as the festival commemorates the 25th anniversary of Disneyland Paris.
Castleton’s display of lights along the streets of this beautiful Derbyshire village is quite the sight to see during the Christmas season. With caves to explore (one of them offering an underground boat ride) and holiday shops galore to browse, Castleton is a special place to visit this time of year.
During the Christmas season in Chicago you can enjoy the lights on the Magnificent Mile and at the Lincoln Park Zoo. The immense Christkindlmarket ("Christ Child Market"), a holiday village downtown featuring concerts, food and drink, and plenty of shopping, is a Chicago tradition. There are also pop-up markets in different neighborhoods selling sweets and gifts, and children love the Winter WonderFest held yearly at Navy Pier. If you’re traveling by car, take a 30-minute drive from the pier to stop by this quirky restaurant gem, Giant, whose size is anything but.
Cologne is the place to go if you’re a Christmas market aficionado. The city has seven of them, attracting four million people each year. Enjoy the festive atmosphere along the banks of the Rhine River as you indulge in mulled wine, handmade chocolate, German waffles, and bratwurst to warm you up or try Kölsch, Cologne’s native beer, before taking a trip to the stunning Cologne Cathedral, which is said to hold relics of the Three Wise Men.
Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world, has plenty of leisure and entertainment year round, but during the holiday season its Christmas market is an ideal location to cope with the Scandinavian winter. Browse handmade Christmas gifts while enjoying hot drinks and sweet and savory snacks from approximately 60 stalls among festive, Nordic décor.
The spirit of Christmas is felt throughout Ireland's capital. You’ll be able to stroll through the Christmas market at the Christ Church Cathedral where you’ll find handmade gifts and hear Christmas carol concerts, shop the exuberantly decorated Grafton Street, or stop by the Powerscourt Town Centre to see the impressive Christmas tree inside. If you brought your hungry pup along with you, check out this Thai restaurant that you both can enjoy.
Christmas in Edinburgh is as magical as it gets. The city literally has Santa Land, a Christmas-themed park, in addition to a popular ice rink and Christmas markets. The holiday light show is a must-see, with fireworks outside Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Other shows and events are also present throughout Edinburgh, including a walk-through experience featuring amazing ice and snow sculptures.
In the northern city of Old Goa you’ll find grand, beautifully decorated churches during the Christmas season (about a quarter of this Indian region's population is Christian). If you can stay up late, the Christmas Eve midnight Mass, also called Missa de Galo or "Rooster's Mass," is a must-do. Since Goa is warm this time of year, you can comfortably stroll through Ingo’s Saturday Night Bazaar or join one of many bonfire parties by the beach.
Hong Kong, SAR
Every night during the holiday season in Hong Kong sees the Symphony of Lights show, with neon lights projected on over 40 skyscrapers of the city skyline. Hong Kong’s famous shopping is in full-swing during the holidays, and the city’s elaborate decorations are a sight to see.
Key West, Florida
The Florida Keys are known for their laid-back attitude, so you’ll see homes with Santa Claus lying in a hammock on the front lawn or in beach attire soaking up the sun. Key West's famous Lighted Boat Parade takes place early in the season —Dec. 10 this year — but anytime during the season you can take a town tour on the Holly Jolly Trolley, check out the annual Holiday Classic Car Show, attend the spectacular local production of The Nutcracker, or just follow Santa’s lead and catch some rays.
“Finland is where Santa lives,” according to the highly scientific findings of VisitFinland.com. Lapland is an official region of Finland and a district of Sweden, as well as a cultural region stretching across parts of those two countries as well as Norway and Russia. Finland's Lapland, in the country's northernmost part, is exactly the place people imagine when they think of a picturesque winter wonderland. Enjoy Finnish karjalanpiirakka pies, sleigh rides, and meeting Father Christmas on his home ground — and don't miss the Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi.
Located in the Cascade Mountains of central Washington state, Leavenworth is a magical Christmas destination. Every year, the Bavarian-style village holds the Christmas Lighting Festival which features lights, carolers, and even Santa Claus himself, singing songs and handing out fruit.
The capital of the United Kingdom transforms into a winter wonderland this time of year, full of Christmas villages, markets, concerts, and ice rinks. A literal Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park features roller coasters, a Christmas train ride, and a Christmas circus. Visit Trafalgar Square, home to the giant Christmas tree that is gifted every year by the city of Oslo, or take a stroll down the magically lit Kew Gardens, full of food stalls and Victorian rides.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Motor vehicles are banned on Mackinac Island, adding to the picturesque vibe of the town, which is as perfect for Christmas as it is for a weekend getaway any other time of the year. The Christmas bazaar, full of unique trinkets and handmade crafts, happens in the first week of December so you’d need to visit earlier than Christmas to take advantage of it, but on Christmas itself, the island really is something out of a snowglobe, full of horse-drawn carriages and holiday lights.
The city of Malmö is a great spot for a Scandinavian Christmas. Rather than cookies and milk, Malmö locals leave out herring and aquavit for Santa Claus. In addition to Christmas markets and holiday concerts, the snow-covered city offers the chance to glide down its open-air ice rinks or take a stroll through its sixteenth-century town square, where you can shop Modernist designs and handmade décor.
The Philippines has the longest holiday season in the world, starting in September, so festivities in Manila are in full swing by the time Christmas comes around. Large malls and markets provide for fantastic shopping with extensive discounts. On Christmas Day, church masses and outdoor concerts occur all over the city, and the festivities don’t end until around January 9.
McAdenville, North Carolina
Every December, the small North Carolina town of McAdenville changes its name to “Christmas Town USA.” Approximately 450,000 lights and 375 trees line the downtown streets. A colorfully lit jet of water shoots 75 feet up from the town’s fountain every 10 seconds, and the nearby lake is lined with 33 trees, completing the postcard-worthy scene. One of our eight American towns that do Christmas right, Christmas Town USA gets over 600,000 visitors every year, and each night, the first 1,000 receive free kettle corn and hot chocolate.
Enjoy a warm yet show-stopping Christmas in Colombia where El Alumbrado Navideńo de Medellín (or the “Christmas Lighting of Medellín”) is a sight to behold and a bucket list Yuletide experience. There’s a different theme every year, and this year it’s “Five Decades of Lighting,” in honor of the tradition’s 50th anniversary. With over 700 miles of LED light hose and 37 million LED lights, the city will also be celebrating with five tons of metallized paper and 50,000 hand-woven figures in line with the theme.
Shop at the Munich Christmas Market or the Chinese Tower Christmas Market, and definitely check out the Christmas Village of Munich Residenz, a re-creation of a rural Bavarian village in the former royal palace. Try to make it to Munich before Christmas, however, as many markets and attractions start closing as early as December 22, and most are closed from December 24 to 26.
New York, New York
There are endless reasons to visit New York City during Christmas season. With countless ice rinks, extravagant department store window decorations, seasonal shows, and lit-up trees lining the city streets, NYC transforms into a magical place during the holidays. If you’re in the Gramercy area, stop by this festively decorated restaurant with 100,000 lights and 15,000 ornaments.
North Pole, Alaska
What better place to celebrate Christmas than the North Pole? It’s Christmas all year here, but when the rest of the world is celebrating Yuletide too, the North Pole really comes alive. The Christmas in Ice Contest brings in ice sculptors from around the world, and Santa Claus’ house is a draw for both tourists and journalists every holiday season. You really do feel like you’re in Saint Nick’s home town, with streets like Santa Claus Lane, Mistletoe Lane, and Kris Kringle Drive. Stay the night at the Santaland RV Park, and don’t forget to take a photo with the 42-foot-tall statue of Santa!
Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt is a Christmas market featuring over 200 vendors filling up the Old Quarter’s Hauptmarkt Square with all kinds of Christmas treats and wares. Around two million people come to the market to enjoy mulled wine, Nuremberg sausages, children’s rides like the wooden Ferris wheel and carousel, and the Zwetschgenmännle (literally “little prune people”), which are small figures made out of prunes.
An elegant city year round, you can expect the light displays to measure up. Paris also has a handful of Christmas markets throughout the city that feature ice skating rinks and fun rides for children, such as kiddie roller coasters and a carousel. While there, make reservations to eat at some of the best restaurants Paris has to offer.
Prague, Czech Republic
When snow and holiday lights decorate the gothic architecture of Prague, the Christmas spirit of the city truly comes to life. Visit the Old Town Square, where you’ll come upon a nativity scene featuring a live stable full of donkeys, goats, and sheep. The famous Christmas markets here offer not only handmade gifts and ornaments, but also the chance to taste roasted ham, mulled wine, and trdelník, a warm and sugary pastry native to the region.
Québec City, Canada
This quaint city is stunning during the holiday season, with Christmas lights that brighten the night sky. Québec City is great for a quiet, beautiful Christmas celebration. Stop by the iconic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac for a cocktail and make it a point to have signature regional dishes like poutine while you’re there.
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Restaurants in Reykjavik offer Christmas menus with traditional Icelandic staples like kæstur hákarl (treated shark), and the decorated wooden houses in the Christmas Village are worth visiting if you travel with family or small children. Sip hot cocoa and do some light antique shopping, too. Be sure to check the aurora forecast to see if you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights while you’re there.
Take part in Latvian holiday traditions such as Latvian stitchcraft, log dragging, and seasonal cooking in Riga, the country’s capital. Children will love Christmas here, riding ponies and going on horse-drawn carriage rides in the snow or wooden versions on the city’s popular carousel. Try some Latvian honey or gingerbread at the local Christmas market while perusing wooden candlesticks, handmade socks and mittens, and more.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Vacationers usually seek out Rio de Janeiro as the ultimate spring break destination, but the Brazilian city is also worth visiting in the winter for its Christmas charm. Witness the world’s largest display of full-sized nativity scenes at Rio’s Festival de Presépios (“Festival of Cradles”) and take in the world’s largest floating Christmas tree on the Rodrigo Freitas Lagoon.
We can’t think of a more ideal spot for a Christmas vacation than Rome, home to Vatican City and the Catholic Church. St. Peter’s Square, home to an enormous nativity scene, is packed on Christmas Day as the Pope gives his yearly speech. Midnight mass on Christmas Eve at St. Peter’s Basilica is also an extremely popular attraction, but there’s also the alternative of midnight mass in the city of Rome itself at the Pantheon. Soak up the holiday lights of the Roman city center or visit one of the many Christmas markets.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
During the holiday season in San Miguel de Allende, you’ll come across locals re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, singing door to door to ask for posada, or “shelter.” Piñatas are also a big Christmas tradition as are rosca de reyes, a kind of sweet bread, and ponche, a Mexican mulled fruit drink. The city comes to life with colorful decorations, live music, dancing, and fireworks lighting up El Jardín, the town’s main square.
Santa Claus, Indiana
Yet another town where it’s Christmas 365 days out of the year, Santa Claus, Indiana, is known for receiving thousands of letters to Santa every year, which are then replied to by a group of volunteers known as Santa’s Elves. The holiday season itself here is worth the experience, with a mile-long drive through the Land of Lights display at the Lake Rudolph Campground and RV Resort sure to get you in the holiday spirit. The first three weekends of December see buffet dinners hosted by the jolly man himself at Santa’s Lodge, and themed attractions include the Santa Claus Museum, Santa’s Candy Castle, Frosty’s Fun Center, and Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari, among others.
Seoul, South Korea
A visit to Seoul will light up your Christmas — literally. The Everland Romantic Illumination, Herb Island Lighting Festival, and Cheongdo Provence Starlight Fairytale Town Lighting Festival are just the top Christmas lights attractions in the city, and the theme park Aiins World, full of miniature models of world landmarks, also has a World Nightview Fantasy Lighting Festival that is worth attending.
Singapore’s Orchard Road takes on Christmas in full force, with interactive displays and extravagant lighting every holiday season. Meet Santa and his helpers as you visit the stores of this famous shopping street, free of tax!
Eleven themed villages bring Christmas cheer to Strasbourg, such as the Village of Bredele, full of mulled Alsatian wine and traditional holiday Bredele biscuits, or the Village of Alsace Farmhouse, where you can try holiday-inspired flavors of local foie gras such as prune and apricot. A wonderful skating rink outside the grand Strasbourg Cathedral and a giant Christmas tree are also ready to welcome you to this city at the crossroads of the French and German cultures.
Most locals of Taipei don’t actually celebrate Christmas, yet the city’s holiday festivities are impressive all the same. At Christmasland you’ll find a Christmas-themed fair, complete with a winter playground, market, and festive carolers. The city streets and buildings are completely decked with lights and Christmas décor, and Christmas parties are held at bars and restaurants throughout this Taiwanese destination.
The first recorded Christmas tree was erected in Tallinn in the year 1441, and the tradition continues to this day with the capital’s tree being lit every year in Town Hall Square. Around the tree you’ll find vendors in small huts selling you specialty handcrafts, as well as traditional Estonian food and drink. Snow sculptures and a mini-zoo also populate the town square, completing the perfect Christmas picture. The Christmas Village at the Estonian Open Air Museum and the city’s international Christmas market are also worth a visit.\
Taos, New Mexico
For a warm yet festive Christmas experience in the U.S., visit Taos, which brings Southwestern flavor to the holidays. The town’s Native American and Hispanic cultural influences are apparent in its observances, and in the days leading up to Christmas you’ll see traditions like the candlelight procession of Las Posadas at Ranchos de Taos Plaza or farolitos (small lanterns) lining the historic Ledoux Street. Attend a performance of Los Pastores, a Spanish morality play often put on this time of year, and traditional tribal dances performed at bonfires.
Tokyo is home to some of the best illuminations during the holidays. The Starlight Garden in Tokyo Midtown is a big attraction with a gorgeous display of lights, along with thousands of blue illuminated LED lights at Shibuya Ao no Dokutsu (“Blue Cavern”). While visiting Tokyo, stop in at the entirely female-staffed sushi restaurant of Nadeshiko Sushi that’s defying the gender-biased sushi industry.
Valkenburg aan de Geul, Netherlands
Valkenburg styles itself "Christmas Town," and celebrates the holiday annually from mid-November through early January. Its unique Christmas market is set up in a cave-like former marlstone quarry. The city also hosts a colorful Christmas parade twice a week until December 28. If you get the chance, try some delicious Dutch staples such as bitterballen meatballs.
On the island of Malta, Christmas at the capital is a grand affair in which locals take great part. Windows and garage doors are left open to show off elaborate nativity scenes. The grandest of them all — the life-sized Bethlehem f’Gainsielem — lies on 20,000 square meters of abandoned fields, where 150 actors reenact the birth of baby Jesus with real grazing animals, turn mills, oil lamps, and more. The city itself is full of holiday lights, festive carolers, and Christmas shows such as the annual Christmas pantomime at the Manoel Theater.
During the holidays in Vienna, you’ll find concerts of classical music and popular carols happening at St. Stephen’s Cathedral until December 21. The winter market in the city’s Museumsquartier is less for souvenir shopping and more for a night out bar-hopping in ice pavilions (to ironically escape the cold), with artistic visuals projected onto the museum facades.
Celebrate Christmas in the nation’s capital, where Georgetown, its oldest neighborhood, lights up every December. Stores, restaurants, and art galleries are covered in festive decorations, and the annual Holiday Window Competition sees local shops going up against each other to bring you the most creative displays. Visit the National Christmas Tree near the White House and its accompanying Pathway of Peace for the perfect D.C. photo-op.
The idyllic New England town of Woodstock makes for a postcard-perfect Christmas getaway. Its famous Wassail Weekend occurs in the beginning of December, full of nineteenth-century Nordic traditions, with period costumes and sleigh rides, plus holiday window displays and the Christmastime Wassail Feast, complete with medieval pageantry. Take a horse-drawn carriage tour to see just how well this American town does Christmas.
Enjoy a heissi schoggi, or hot chocolate, while perusing Zurich’s many beautiful Christmas markets or while taking one of its guided Christmas-themed city strolls. Marvel at the Singing Christmas Tree at the market at Werdmühleplatz or check out the Conelli Christmas Circus before heading over to an Advent concert for free merrymaking. If you’re looking to stay a bit closer to home, however, you can also check out the best Christmas train rides in America for your holiday plans.