World's Most Christmassy Cities
December 8, 2014
The spirit of Christmas is alive and bright in these beautiful towns around the world
World's Most Christmassy Cities
The spirit of Christmas is alive and bright in these beautiful towns around the world.
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.
Quebec’s 400-year-old capital is a sight to behold in Christmas season. Old Quebec is one of the oldest neighborhoods in North America, and it looks absolutely incredible lit up for Christmas and covered in snow. For Americans who are looking for a European-style Christmas (there’s a world-class German Christmas Market near the Old Port) but may not be able to afford the trip across the pond, Quebec City is the obvious choice. It also features some great outdoor activities: if you head to the nearby Le Massif Charlevoix ski area on December 14 and you wear a Santa suit, you only have to pay $15 for a lift ticket.
Munich has dozens of Christmas markets and a giant, 100-foot-tall Christmas tree. Oh ,and it’s Munich, in the heart of Bavaria, so the food and drink are unparalleled. Beer and Glühwein (the original holiday mulled wine) abound. Every night from the end of November, there’s live music on the town hall balcony. The main market is in the Marienplatz, and once a season features the “Krampus Run,” when Santa’s terrifying demonic German counterpart runs around the market jumping out at the visitors. For people with gentler dispositions, Santa drops by the market in the Marienplatz every day as well.
Iceland might not seem like a natural choice in the winter — it is, after all, incredibly cold and dark during the season — but it offers a vast array of outdoor activities, from whale watching to Northern Lights expeditions. If the cold is getting you, you can head to the Blue Lagoon Hot Springs. Once you’re done there, you can visit the city’s Christmas market, maybe take part in a traditional “Putrid Skate Party” on December 23 (which involves, as you might have guessed, eating month-old fermented skate), and keep an eye out for the 13 Yule Lads, figures from Icelandic folklore who have become the local stand-in for Santa.
For a truly different holiday experience, try heading to the Indian state of Goa. The country as a whole is about 80 percent Hindu, but more than a quarter of the population of Goa is Christian — mostly Catholic — and that, combined with the Portuguese influence in the area (Goa was once a Portuguese colony), makes for a unique experience. Holiday festivities kick off with fireworks on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8. Later in the month, there are carolers. And all through the holidays, there are, as always, beautiful beaches. After Christmas, from December 27 to 29, there’s the popular Sunburn Music Festival. The state is fairly crowded during the holiday season, but if you’re not into crowds, India probably isn’t the place for you anyway.
MEXICO: San Miguel de Allende
If you’re going to celebrate Christmas, why not do it in one of the world’s most Catholic countries? San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico is a natural choice. It’s an artist and expat town with gorgeous colonial architecture, and it features a ton of live music, performances, and processions throughout the Christmas season. If you get there by December 12, you can celebrate an authentically Mexican event, the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which celebrates Mexico’s most important Catholic figure. Throughout the Christmas season, the city busts out ponche, a warm tropical-fruit punch usually spiked with rum or tequila, and local restaurants and street stands feature all the stellar Mexican food you’d expect.
NEW ZEALAND: Kaikoura
Who says Christmas is a definitively winter holiday? In New Zealand’s Kaikoura Peninsula (as in the rest of the Southern hemisphere), it’s not — it takes place at the beginning of summer. Visitors to Kaikoura during the holidays can participate in all of their favorite Christmas festivities and then go relax on the beach, participate in the Christmas Cheer Golf Tournament, or go hiking or kayaking in the beautiful sunshine. The area has some world-class hotels that are happy to host holiday guests.
London has figured Christmas out. The city’s winters are relatively mild, so it’s nice to get out and wander around, and virtually every neighborhood has a Christmas market. From the carnival feel of the market at Hyde Park to the wonderfully quaint one in Greenwich, there’s no shortage of options. Oh, and did we mention how much the Brits love Christmas? You can be sure there will be no shortage of carolers at tube (subway) stops, free concerts, and insane shopping displays. If Christmas music is your thing, drop by the Royal Albert Hall for caroling performances or the epic, 500-person choral rendition of Handel’s Messiah. You just can’t skip London if you love Christmas.
America’s (arguably) greatest ski town is a natural choice for a place to spend Christmas. The obvious thing to do in Aspen is to hit the slopes, but non-skiers will enjoy the town’s holiday feel as well. The Hotel Jerome hosts caroling throughout the season, and people in the streets stage public s’mores roasts. The town does a lot of public holiday music events, crafts for the little kids, and the World’s Snow Polo Championships — plus, they have pretty solid shopping. Stick around for the New Year and you can attend the Little Nell’s Bottomless Cristal [as in Champagne] Party.
New York City
The Big Apple may very well be America’s most iconic Christmas city, thanks in large part to the countless Christmas movies set in the city — think Home Alone 2 and Miracle on 34th Street just for starters — but it’s also because of how characteristically all-out New York goes with the holiday. Whether you’re taking a carriage ride through Central Park, visiting Santaland at Macy’s, or admiring the gigantic Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, if you’re in New York during Christmas, you’re probably having a great time. The arts scene in New York is second to none, a fact demonstrated by the sheer number and variety of Nutcracker performances: you can catch a baroque version with Nutcracker Rouge, a gay Latino version with Los Nutcrackers: A Christmas Carajo, and, of course, the classic Nutcracker performed by the American Ballet.