The Most Festive Places to Spend Christmas
Christmas is my favorite time of year. We always spent it with family until my father was stationed in Germany. One evening there was a knock on the door and I opened it to find the most beautiful gingerbread house on our doorstep. Our German neighbors told us about the tradition of giving gifts on Kris Kringle Day. I remember my delight as we explored the huge Christmas market in Nuremberg and ate bratwurst and bought an Advent calendar with chocolate surprises for each day. Spending Christmas in a different place made the holiday more magical.
If you are looking for a new place to spend a festive Christmas, here are some ideas.
1. Nuremberg, Germany - I have to put this first since it holds such special memories for me. The Nuremberg Christmas market draws over two million visitors each year with its 200 select vendors putting up incredible displays while competing for the Most Beautiful Staff Design award. You won’t find any fake, mass-produced plastic decorations and other items – here, the market council is very serious about making sure that only traditional handmade toys and holiday goods are sold. As you wander through, you’ll enjoy the tempting aromas of mulled wine along with gingerbread, sausage, and sweet roasted almonds, all in an unforgettable holiday atmosphere in the Old Town, decorated in all its Christmas glory. Kids and the kids-at-heart will love the Toy Museum as well as the magnificent two-tiered carousel based on old originals – complete with reindeer and Father Christmas sleighs.
2. Tokyo, Japan - Tokyo may not be a city that you associate with Christmas, but if you are looking for a high tech Christmas lighting extravaganza, Tokyo is the place for you. The city turns the voltage up each year with its winter illuminations, with different districts competing to create some truly sensational displays. like the almost 10-foot-tall snow globes with falling snow at Tokyo Midtown and a massive Baccarat crystal chandelier at Yebisu Garden Place. The bright lights are so popular, they stay up well past Christmas day—often through January or February.
3. New York City, NY - One of my other Christmas memories is going to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes perform their Christmas show. From skating at Rockefeller Center to window shopping on Fifth Avenue.
4. Salzburg, Austria - This UNESCO World Heritage Old City that served as the backdrop for The Sound of Music also fills its famed Christkindlmarkt with song. With roots dating back to the 15th century, sing-alongs and traditional wind music are as much a part of the festivities as the mulled wine and market stands. Try the bauernkrapfen (fried pastries) that are an Austrian Christmas tradition.
5. Inari, Finland - While most tourists flock to the Lapland city of Rovaniemi come Christmas, head even further north (like, within reach of the Arctic Ocean north) to the village of Inari. Located in the heart of the scenic Ivalo region—reachable via a 1.5-hour flight from Helsinki—Inari is a pure winter wonderland dotted with hotels and restaurants that keep things nice and cozy. It's hard to imagine a more authentic winter holiday than one spent riding dog sleds, feeding reindeer and making a Christmas wish to see the Northern Lights.
6. Taipei, Taiwan - Christmas isn't a public holiday in Taipei, but it's easily one of the best places to spend Christmas, as the city celebrates with incredible lights displays and festive attractions and events. During the weeks between mid-November and the New Year, pretty much the entire Banqiao District transforms into Christmasland—which is exactly what it sounds like. We're talking massive Christmas trees, rides, concerts, and markets selling local goods.
7. Dubai - Despite its Muslim heritage, Dubai does Christmas the same way Dubai does nearly everything—in true, over-the-top fashion. Don’t miss the tree lightings happening around town, including the ones at Towers Rotana, Fairmont The Palm, and The Irish Village and then enjoy the fun watching the Santa Run. And since no visit to Dubai is complete without several shopping sprees, set aside time to stock up on goodies at one of the city's Christmas markets.
8. London - Christmas in London has timeless appeal—chalk it up to the decorated Georgian townhouses, lively pubs, and a dash of Dickensian charm. Enjoy afternoon tea, Christmas shopping and a traditionl Yule log.
9. Prague - Prague's holiday markets easily make the city one of the world's best places to spend Christmas: They run for a full month, with locals and travelers passing through for mulled wine, sticky pastries, and roasted ham. The main markets take place in the Old Town and Wenceslas squares, just 10 minutes apart by foot—and are set to the backdrop of some of the prettiest Gothic architecture you'll ever see.
10. Strasbourg, France - Strasbourg is home to the oldest of France’s Christmas markets, dating back over 450 years. There are 12 markets to explore, which is sure to keep you busy. Pro tip: Though the markets will be full of delicious goodies, many choose to indulge in the king of Alsatian delicacies, foie gras, which is also a French Christmas tradition.
11. Sydney, Australia - Even though it is the height of summer, the Aussies know how to celebrate Christmas. You haven't seen Christmas lights until you've seen Sydney's Christmas lights. Plus, the holiday season lasts an entire month here (take that, 12 days of Christmas) with the Syney Christmas festival that features the city's largest Christmas Tree at Martin Place.
12. Asheville, NC - Holiday spirit is serious business in the Blue Ridge Mountains town of Asheville. After all, the Biltmore estate opened its doors on Christmas Eve in 1895 and the annual decorations include 100 Christmas trees, 25,000 ornaments, 10,000 holiday lights, and 1,200 poinsettias. You can take a daytime tour or a candlelight tour (or both). Nearby, the Omni Grove Park Inn hosts its National Gingerbread House Competition. Don't miss Santa on the Chimney—yes, the big guy ditches his reindeer and goes rappelling in Chimney Rock State Park.
13. Williamsburg, Virginia - Colonial holiday traditions like caroling by torchlight, fife and drum performances, and interpretive programs (care to celebrate with the Madisons and Jeffersons?!) set the stage for Christmas in charming Williamsburg. The activities culminate in a Grand Illumniation, a celebratory fireworks and historic gun-salute display, best viewed from the town green. For the less historic minded, nearby Busch Gardens opens for the holiday with Christmas Town, a stroll through European holiday traditions.
14. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania - For nearly three decades, the little town of Bethlehem in Pennsylvania has channeled its name and transformed into “Christmas City” for the holidays. A European-styled Christkindlmarkt sets up at the SteelStacks, with more than 50 booths featuring artisan crafts, as well as live music and special events with Santa Claus himself.
15. San Antonio, TX - I would not have thought to put San Antonio on this list until I visited it during the Christmas season. The whole Riverwalk is decorated with lthousands of ights. An evening boat ride on the San Antonio River is truly magical.
16. North Pole, AK - When your town is named North Pole, you have to run with it. This town may not be the real thing, but it boasts year-round Christmas spirit. The mayor goes by the name of Santa, and there are candy cane striped street lamps. Santa Claus House is a Christmas store with walls covered in children’s letters to Santa and a huge Santa statue outside. Did I forget to mention the live reindeer? Children of all ages will love it here.
Honorable Mention: Honolulu Hawaii - Christmas in Hawaii means bonfires on the beach, luaus complete with the singing of carols in Hawaiian and a huge Christmas parade. Santa arrives on an outrigger canoe and the Christmas ship brings hundreds of Christmas trees for the islanders to decorate.