Christmas is one of the most universally loved holidays in the western world. But after years of re-enacting the same traditions in your own town year after year with the same people, it would be understandable if you wanted to try something (and someplace) new for the holiday season. The good news is that many cities all over the world observe Christmas, and each does it in its own unique way. Some countries celebrate with Santa Claus, others with the “13 Yule Lads,” still others with scarier creatures like the infamous Krampus. Every country has its quirks, and there really isn’t any better time to see local culture on display than during this major holiday. It’s also the perfect time of year to see locals with their guards down and really immerse yourself in the country you’re visiting.
Many of the best places to celebrate Christmas are in Europe, where many of our own holiday traditions had their origins. There, small towns are at their traditional best, Christmas markets are plentiful, and there’s a lot of mulled wine, hot toddies, and beer; in many place, snow is also a probability. But the Americas also have their fair share of great places to celebrate the holidays, and even countries as far away as New Zealand and India have put together some pretty stellar Christmas celebrations.
Even if you already have plans for this year’s Christmas, start thinking about next year by checking out this list we’ve put together of some of the best places to celebrate the holidays — or just fantasize about spending holiday at Rockefeller Center, in Hyde Park, or in a hot spring spa in the North Atlantic.
One of the more morbid holiday movies is the excellent In Bruges, starring Colin Farrell. It hardly sells the life of a gangster, but it definitely sells Bruges at Christmas. The town’s beautiful center square has an awesome Christmas market purveying trinkets and delicious food, and there’s a skating rink for those who are so inclined. But the real treat is the city itself: in less jolly seasons, Bruges’ medieval architecture can be almost creepy, but during the bright and cheery holidays, the city is downright festive. You can catch a Christmas service at the Saint Salvator Cathedral, or take a boat tour along the city’s famous canals.
CZECH REPUBLIC: Prague
One of the world’s most beautiful cities is, unsurprisingly, one of the best places to celebrate Christmas. Virtually every city and town in Europe has a classic Christmas market; it would actually make a great December tour to try and hit as many of the major Christmas markets as possible. But Prague’s in Old Town Square is one of the best. And that’s not the only one: there’s another market in Wenceslas Square, named after the king in the Christmas carol. If you’re getting cold, grab a cup of svařené víno (mulled wine) or grog, and buy a hot sausage to go with it. If the cold doesn’t bother you that much, you can always pop into the nearest bar for a pilsner.