The Christmas season offers an ideal opportunity to venture into new places and forge lasting holiday memories. It is a festive time filled with joy, kindness, and an extra effort to make everyone feel cherished. Globally, cities and towns adorn their loveliest spots with lights, presenting each destination at its finest.
Additionally, Christmastime is optimal for indulging in serious shopping, and the tradition of open-air Christmas markets extends beyond Europe. From Germany to Buenos Aires, artisans, craftsmen, and vendors of unique and special items showcase their goods to cater to Christmas shoppers seeking gifts for family, friends, and even themselves.
Whether you seek a serene holiday retreat or a bustling Christmas experience, our list of the best places to go for Christmas has something for everyone.
1. New York City, USA
Experiencing Christmas in New York City is truly unparalleled. While the city’s lights shine brightly throughout the year, the holiday season adds an extra layer of enchantment. With renowned displays such as the massive tree at Rockefeller Center, the equally dazzling tree at Washington Square Park, the LED-lit facade of Saks Fifth Avenue, and the captivating window exhibits at Macy’s Herald Square, you won’t have to search far for festive activities and entertainment. Enjoy sipping hot chocolate as you peruse last-minute gifts at German-style Christmas markets and partake in the timeless tradition of watching the Radio City Rockettes perform their annual Christmas Spectacular during your holiday getaway in NYC.
Read More: Top Tourist Attractions in New York City
Accommodation: Where to Stay in New York City: Best Areas & Hotels
2. Bruges, Belgium
Ranked among the finest in Europe, the Bruges Christmas Market is a magical affair that transforms the Markt, the central square of the city. The square becomes a festive haven with stands and wooden chalets offering a wide array of goods, from handmade Christmas ornaments to waffles and warm woolly socks. The charming storefronts surrounding the square are delightfully adorned with holiday decorations, and you can indulge in Belgian hot chocolate from local confectioneries, known for being some of the best you’ll ever taste. The festive spirit extends to a smaller market in the nearby Simon Stevinplein Square. Enhance your experience by booking a suite with a view of the picturesque canal at the luxurious and historically significant Hotel Van Cleef.
3. Quebec City, Canada
Quebec City exudes a distinctly European charm, reminiscent of Europe itself. The predominantly French-speaking Québécois embrace the season with German-style markets, ice skating at Place D’Youville, and shopping in Old Quebec, which transforms into a picturesque setting. For an authentic Canadian experience, enjoy a ride on Au 1884 (also known as the Dufferin Terrace Toboggan Slide), one of Quebec City’s oldest attractions. The slide winds past Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, a castle-like hotel where you can pause for a warming soup or coffee to escape the cold.
4. Beaver Creek, Colorado
For a holiday getaway on the ski slopes, consider Beaver Creek, Colorado, located approximately 12 miles from the vibrant town of Vail. This charming ski village hosts a range of festive activities for families, including an annual Christmas tree lighting, as well as rotating events like holiday movie nights and cookie-baking competitions.
For a comfortable retreat, The Osprey provides luxurious accommodations and a heated outdoor pool, all just steps away from the chairlift. Alternatively, you can reserve one of the 60 rooms at The Pines Lodge, both of which offer convenient ski-in, and ski-out access.
Read More: Top Tourist Attractions in USA
5. Medellin, Colombia
Medellin, Colombia, takes the crown as the top Christmas destination in the country, renowned for its Festival of Christmas Lights. Throughout the entire month of December, the parks and shopping districts burst with vibrant light displays and festive activities, including Christmas tree lighting ceremonies and caroling.
Amidst the celebrations, you will discover ample shopping opportunities and a plethora of arepas and buñuelos (sweet fried pastries) to keep you fueled until the nightly shows.
The main attraction is the nightly light-and-water displays, staged at various points along the Medellin River. Elaborate fountains adorned with colorful lights dance to the rhythm of music. Following the first water show and official lighting in early December, the city sky comes alive with fireworks in joyful celebration.
Read More: Top Tourist Attractions in Colombia
6. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague, one of the world’s most beautiful cities year-round, transforms into a warm holiday spectacle with the revival of old Christmas traditions. While the city is renowned for its exceptional Christmas markets (Vánocni trhy), the festive spirit permeates every corner through various community events.
Prague’s Christmas markets, known for their size and extended season, typically open during the last full week of November (before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday) and continue until the first full week of January. The largest market, situated in the Old Town (Staré Město) square, features a towering tree illuminated each evening. With hundreds of stalls offering handcrafted items like carved trinkets, toys, glass ornaments, clothing, and decorative items, the market also hosts numerous food vendors. It is the go-to place for fresh Czech favorites such as spiced gingerbread (pernicky) and trdelnik, a sweet and nutty grilled pastry. Despite Prague’s winter chill, visitors can stay warm with a variety of hot beverages while enjoying the carolers and performers scattered throughout the market.
For those seeking smaller crowds and more budget-friendly accommodations, the ideal time to visit is the first week of January when the markets are still open, but the majority of tourists have departed. In addition to the main market in the Old Town, smaller yet equally delightful markets can be found in Wenceslas Square, as well as the Stables Yard and St. George’s Square, both located at Prague Castle.
7. Vienna, Austria
Vienna hosts some of Europe’s finest Christmas markets, renowned for their size, diversity, quality, and charming locations in front of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Travelers exploring Vienna during the Christmas season will not only return with exquisite, handcrafted gifts but also with captivating photos and heartwarming memories.
Rathauspark hosts the premier family Christmas market, occupying the square in front of the Rathaus (City Hall). The Gothic building’s façade is adorned with shimmering lights, and a majestic 30-meter evergreen overlooks the lively festivities below. Alongside numerous vendors offering handmade gifts, food, and warm beverages, the market features a skating rink and a carousel. Special areas are designated for young visitors to try their hand at crafting traditional gifts.
The vicinity around Karlskirche is renowned for its living nativity scene and local crafts vendors, while Maria-Theresien-Platz transforms into a quaint village with individual “cabins” for each vendor. The market at the base of Belvedere Palace may be small, but its beauty is truly unforgettable.
Live music is a common feature at all the markets, ranging from small groups of carolers to larger choruses and performances. Vienna’s numerous splendid churches also host regular choral performances throughout the festive season.
Read More: Top Tourist Attractions in Austria
8. Salzburg, Austria
Immerse yourself in the festive atmosphere of Salzburg with its Christmas markets, comforting glühwein (mulled wine), medieval castles, and an entire museum dedicated to Christmas. As you likely already know, this city is not only the birthplace of Mozart but also the enchanting backdrop for “The Sound of Music,” a film that seems to captivate audiences throughout the holiday season. Glide gracefully around a statue of the iconic composer at Mozartplatz, and savor breathtaking views of the snow-covered Alps from the south-facing terrace of Hohensalzburg Fortress. For the epitome of luxury accommodation, look no further than Hotel Goldener Hirsch in the heart of Old Town.
9. Buenos Aires
In the Southern Hemisphere, where Christmas falls during the summer, Buenos Aires embraces the festive season with outdoor asado feasts and fireworks. With temperatures in December ranging from the upper 70s to the low 80s Fahrenheit, Papá Noel might opt for a tank top. The sunny weather is perfect for sipping cocktails and having picnics on Plaza Intendente Alvear. While in the Argentine capital for the holidays, don’t miss sampling pan dulce (“sweet bread”), admiring the decorations that typically take over the Galerías Pacífico shopping center, or, like a local, escaping the city to a nearby beach.
Read More: Top Tourist Attractions in Argentina
10. Rome, Italy
Rome, a stunning city year-round, becomes even more captivating when adorned with lights and Christmas joy. While not as grand as the one at Rockefeller Center, the Christmas tree at the Colosseum is among Rome’s most spectacular decorations, casting a festive glow on other ancient sites.
A visit to Rome during Christmas should include exploring Vatican City, aglow with lights and music to celebrate the birth of Jesus. If you’re there on Christmas Eve, attend mass at St. Peter’s Basilica or wait until the next day to witness the Pope delivering blessings from the pulpit. Keep an eye out for elaborate life-size nativity scenes in and around Rome’s churches and cathedrals.
While in town, don’t miss the Christmas markets and indulge in some of the region’s delicious holiday treats, such as panettone, torrone, and pandoro.
Read More: Top Tourist Attractions in Italy
11. Solvang, California
Situated approximately 34 miles from Santa Barbara, Solvang earns its nickname “Little Denmark” due to its distinctive Danish village ambiance. With a windmill and authentic Danish bakeries, Solvang transports you to Europe rather than keeping you stateside, a feeling magnified in December when the entire town transforms into a Christmas wonderland.
The Julefest Christmas Celebration, spanning from late November to January 1st, is brimming with activities, particularly enjoyable for families. Kids can engage in the hunt for the hidden nisse, a mischievous character from Scandinavian folklore resembling a gnome. They can also relish visits to Santa’s Village, where real snow awaits, along with the chance to meet Santa and interact with some of his farm animals.
Solvang Park and Copenhagen Drive serve as the focal points for most festivities, including the Julefest Parade that inaugurates the season. Other events encompass a nativity pageant, a holiday food tour, candlelight tours, and a special Christmas farmers market every Saturday in December.
Read More: Top Tourist Attractions in California
London during Christmastime exudes a particularly enchanting aura. With sparkling lights, festive holiday markets serving cider, themed pop-up bars, and ice-skating rinks spanning from Hyde Park to the Queen’s House in Greenwich, the city pulsates with life during the holiday season. For an authentically festive experience, consider staying at The Lanesborough. This luxurious hotel is adorned with beautiful holiday decorations, offers in-suite shopping from Harvey Nichols, and provides the option to have your room fully decorated through the hotel’s Christmas in Residence program.
Read More: Top Tourist Attractions in England
13. Bavaria, Germany
Experience the magic of the Christmas holidays in this scenic southern German region. Commence your journey in Munich, where you can enjoy mulled wine while wandering through an authentic German Christkindlmarkt. Venture beyond the city to discover the Christmas charm in small towns like medieval Rothenburg or indulge in skiing adventures in the Alps. Wherever your travels take you, be cautious of the eerie Krampus, a menacing Christmas creature from local folklore.
Read More: Top Tourist Attractions in Germany
14. Washington, D.C
Witness the National Christmas Tree, glide across the ice at Washington Harbor, and join in a choral concert at the National Cathedral this December. Washington, D.C., offers a variety of festive events throughout the season, and many are complimentary, allowing you to allocate extra funds for Christmas shopping. Seek refuge from the cold weather in one of the esteemed Smithsonian museums, bundle up to enjoy the lights at the National Zoo, or take a stroll along the National Mall with a cup of hot cocoa in hand. When it comes to lodging, The Ritz-Carlton Georgetown is an unbeatable choice.
Read More: Top Tourist Attractions in Washington, D.C
Q: Can I travel on a budget during Christmas?
A: Absolutely! Look for budget-friendly accommodations, transportation, and explore local, cost-effective experiences to make the most of your Christmas journey without breaking the bank.
Q: How do I balance holiday traditions with travel?
A: Incorporate your own customs into your travel experience. Whether it’s decorating a small tree or enjoying a festive meal, find ways to bring a touch of home to your holiday adventures.
Q: What are the benefits of celebrating Christmas in an unconventional destination?
A: Unconventional destinations offer a unique blend of adventure and cultural immersion, providing a fresh perspective on holiday celebrations and creating memorable experiences.
Q: How can I find local Christmas events and festivities at my travel destination?
A: Researching online, connecting with locals on social media, and exploring travel forums are excellent ways to discover and participate in local Christmas events and traditions.
Q: Does Christmas travel suitable for solo adventurers?
A: Absolutely! Christmas travel solo can be a rewarding experience, allowing you to create your traditions, meet new people, and fully immerse yourself in the holiday spirit.