Vienna Christmas Market by Le Long Weekend, in front of a palace is a Christmas market, lighted up and people walking around
Christmas,  Travel

Best Places to Celebrate Christmas Around the World

The Christmas season is almost upon us! Celebrating with friends and family is the best thing to do. But what if you want to add a little traveling into your Christmas things? Here are the best things to do for Christmas around the world. From Christmas markets to festivals to unique experiences, it’s all presented to you: things to do around Christmas in the world. I’ve asked my fellow travel bloggers for their favorite Christmas travel experiences and events, and together we came up with this great list of Christmas from around the world.

Christmas Around the World

We will be kicking off the list with Europe, then go on to North America, Oceania, Africa and Asia and at last South America.

Europe

Deventer, the Netherlands

Constables putting up a show
Constables putting up a show

Contributed by Cosette from KarsTravels.

Deventer, a city in the Northeast of the Netherlands, is one of the oldest cities in the country. Each year on the weekend before Christmas, Deventer hosts the Dickens Festival. This festival is perfect to get into the Christmas spirit. On Saturday and Sunday the medieval part (Bergkwartier) of Deventer turns into a Christmas village. The Bergkwartier is perfect as the backdrop of a 19th century English town from the books of Dickens.

During the festival about 950 actors and residents play characters from one of Charles Dickens’ books. Bump into Scrooge, Oliver Twist, carol singers, chimney sweepers and so on. The actors stay in character all the way. The atmosphere is just perfect. Listen to the carol singers and choirs, watch the plays and sketches, try out the food.

The entrance to the festival is free. However you do have to wait in line, which can be up to an hour. But the dressed-up actors also roam the waiting line, engaging with the public and performing sketches, so you won’t be bored. Once through the ‘gate’ (the festival is outdoors, but fenced off) you walk a route through several streets.

In the same weekend there are also two Christmas markets in Deventer being hosted. On Sunday outside on the Brink (a square), which is at the exit of the Dickens Festival. The second one is inside the ‘Grote of Lebuinis’ Church, from Thursday till Sunday. On Sunday there are also free Christmas concerts in churches. Christmas lights align the streets in the city center.

Dress in warm, comfortable clothes so that you can wait a while in the cold. It can be cold and/or rainy. Wear sturdy shoes in which you can walk a few hours.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Contributed by Francesca from Travel Heal Love.

If you are passionate about Christmas Markets you definitely cannot miss the Belfast one. Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland and is a rising star. Moreover, the city is packed with lively pubs, an eclectic food scene, iconic buildings, boutique shopping, and a myriad of museums, you can delve into history, science, and literature.

Belfast’s Continental Christmas market has been hosted since 2004 at the City Hall. The Christmas Market will be back in the center of the city from November 20th to December 23rd.

There is no entrance fee to the market, but there is going to be a limited number of people allowed in the market at the same time. You may be asked to queue for a while and the temperature can be very cold in Belfast. So, make sure to wear your coat, scarf, gloves, and hat!

The Belfast Christmas market includes over 30 international traders selling unusual and local foods, craft producers, and gifts ideas. The food stands include French crêpes, Dutch pancakes, Belgian chocolates, burgers, and giant bratwurst from the iconic Schwenkegrill. In addition, two of the most famous pubs of Belfast have got their own beer tends and offer a warm place to enjoy a selection of a variety of continental beers. Other beverages you can enjoy are Glühwein, mulled cider, and hot chocolate.

If you are traveling with kids don’t forget to visit Santa’s Grotto and meet Santa and his elves. Or you could take a ride on the vintage carousel or a slide down the Helter Skelter.

This Christmas market is the perfect spot to soak up Belfast’s atmosphere and enjoy a safe and unique shopping experience in the heart of Northern Ireland.

Valkenburg, the Netherlands

Nativity scene inside the cave
Nativity scene inside the cave

Contributed by Cosette from KarsTravels.

Valkenburg is a small city all the way in the South of the Netherlands. It’s close to Maastricht and the border with Belgium. In this area marl has been removed from quarries for years. Resulting in a series of caves with corridors. In November and December in Valkenburg Christmas markets are held in these caves.

There are 4 different Christmas markets, inside the Fluweelengrot (Velvet cave), Gemeente grot, Mergelrijk and Wilhelmina grot. Each has its own unique feature. Gemeente grot is the oldest underground Christmas market in Europe, Fluweelengrot hosts the largest indoor Christmas event in the Netherlands, Mergelrijk has a 30 meter long Christmas story in miniature on display and in Wilhelmina grot is Winter Wonderland with a large illuminated Christmas tree and a cable lift.

Next to these Christmas markets there’s also a Christmas Fairytales Parade on Wednesday and Saturday evening. Fun is also to walk one of the Route d’Amuse walks, a self-guided walking route that stops at several restaurants where you receive a ‘amuse bouche’. The downtown area of Valkenburg is decorated with Christmas lights.

The Christmas markets start at the second weekend of November going on till the end of December or the first week of January. Winter Wonderland entrance is €8.00, Gemeente grot and Fluweelengrot are both €8.50, Mergelrijk is €12.50 and a Route d’Amuse will cost you €11.95.

The best time to visit is during weekdays. It will be busiest on Saturday and Sunday. The temperature at the caves is always 12°C (54°F), so you won’t get too cold and it’s always dry underground. A unique souvenir to buy are the nativity scenes or candles made out of marl.

Madeira Island, Portugal

Madeira by Say Yes To Madeira, a gnome village
Madeira by Say Yes To Madeira

Contributed by Edyta from Say Yes To Madeira.

Madeira Island, the famous Portuguese Island of Eternal Spring, is a great place to spend Christmas for those do love the joyful Christmas spirit, but don’t enjoy snow and cold weather. On Madeira, you have a wonderful chance to enjoy both the beautiful Christmas lights, decorations, concerts and markets as well as pleasant weather conditions – all at the same time.

One of the things that make Madeira a special Christmas destination are its nativity scenes. In December, the entire island is full of creative nativity scenes in all styles and sizes. Traditional elements such as stables and Baby Jesus are frequently put together on displays with traditional Madeira folklore elements, such as regional clothes and triangle houses. You will be able to spot some really creative cribs, such as a crib built on top of an aquarium, or creative Christmas trees, such as one made of bananas – the symbol of Madeira. The biggest indoor crib of Madeira can be found in the Valley Of The Nuns – one of the prettiest areas of Madeira, known for its chestnuts, which by the way, are a popular Christmas snack roasted and sold on the Funchal’s prettiest avenue – Avenida do Mar. 

Madeira by Say Yes To Madeira, with illuminated trees on a street with people passing by
Madeira by Say Yes To Madeira

London, England

A Christmas choir singing at Trafalgar Square, in front of a large illuminated Christmas tree
A Christmas choir singing at Trafalgar Square

Contributed by Cosette from KarsTravels.

London around Christmas time is a bucket list experience. If you have seen the movie Love, Actually you’ll be all warmed up to celebrate the Christmas season in London. In real life it’s just as magical!

Christmas lights are everywhere, shops have grand Christmas displays. Illuminated Christmas trees in squares and Christmas choirs’ that pop up everywhere.

On Trafalgar Square near the large illuminated Christmas tree more than 40 carol groups each sing for an hour. This is all throughout the build-up to Christmas. The event is free, but gifts are appreciated for voluntary or charitable organizations. The illuminated tree is an annual gift from Norway.

Pop into one of the many pubs and have a drink among the cozy Christmas atmosphere. The pubs have been decorated for the countdown to Christmas. Since it’s cold outside (or even raining) a warm beverage is welcome.

Outside the Natural History Museum is an Ice Rink and a Christmas market. It’s the final year for the Ice Rink 2021. The rink is open daily from 11.00am-10pm from October 22nd till January 16th. £12.65 for adults, £8.80 for kids.

The Christmas market next to the Natural History Museum, as seen from a bit above, two stalls seen from the back, the stalls in a square and in the niddle a carroussel and Christmas tree
The Christmas market next to the Natural History Museum

Prague, Czechia

Prague Winter Christmas by Travel Geekery, a large Christmas tree on the left, a cathedral with two towers on the right an clowded sky above
Prague Winter Christmas by Travel Geekery

Contributed by Veronika from Travel Geekery.

Come to Prague if you like the Christmas atmosphere and don’t mind winter temperatures. Winter in Prague is the most fairytale-like.

Prague’s Christmas markets get more charming every year. The Old Town Square Christmas market is the most famous and most traditional one. It takes place from the last week of November until January 6. You can find anything your heart desires – mulled wine, hot mead, smoked ham, roasted chestnuts, and, of course, the infamous chimney cake called Trdlo. Trdlo is a bit of a fad since it’s not an old Bohemian specialty like the vendors claim, but it’s still delicious and should be had.

When it comes to Christmas vibes, it’s not just about the Old Town. Prague Castle features a small Christmas market too and, in my opinion, it’s the most enchanting one. Nothing can beat having Prague Castle as the backdrop to the cute stalls. When visiting, note that you need to go through security frames, so lines may form. Bring warm clothing!

Prague’s neighborhoods also don’t disappoint in the Christmas cheer, especially those around the city center. E.g. Vinohrady district has quite a few nice Christmas markets frequented predominantly by locals – e.g. at the Náměstí Míru Square in front of the majestic St. Ludmila’s Church and at the Square Jiřího z Poděbrad.

If luck is on your side, you’ll be able to experience what a snowy Prague looks like. And it’s absolutely beautiful. The more so on quiet evenings, when the snow is falling heavily and Praguers just stay inside their warm homes. It’s truly magical to walk the narrow streets of the Castle district or even the Old Town, with the snow lit up just by the warm glow of the streetlamps, cracking loudly under your feet. 

Prague Winter Evening by Travel Geekery, a city scape covered in snow in the evening, seen from a window higher up
Prague Winter Evening by Travel Geekery

Hamburg, Germany

Fairytales Parade at Hamburg with fake snow blowing, and dressed up people walking on the street in the parade
Fairytales Parade

Contributed by Cosette from KarsTravels.

Hamburg is a city in the North of Germany and Germany’s second largest city. Hamburg is a beautiful, green harbor city that hosts 15 Christmas markets. They’re from November 22nd or the 30th till December 23rd, some continuing after Christmas. Open from 11am till 9pm.

The weihnachtsmarkt at Bergedorf is the oldest in Hamburg. Sankt Pauli, during Christmas Santa Pauli, has a more ‘red light’ one and there’s a pink Winterpride Christmas market at St. George. A traditional one is in St. Petri, a classic one near the Harburg Rathaus and a nostalgic market at the Gerhard-Hauptmann-Platz. Fleetinsel has a maritime weihnachtsmarkt. Others are at the Apostelkirche, Jungfernstieg, Niendorf, Tibarg, Ottensen and Gänsemarkt. So there’s a Christmas market for everyone.

During the advent period there are parades on all 4 Saturdays of the advent, with historical coaches, reindeers and lebkuchemänner. Shops and streets are well decorated and illuminated, creating a cozy Christmas atmosphere.

Drink glühwein or hot chocolate with rum at one of the stalls. Or eat one of the German treats such as pretzels, chestnuts, curry wurst or Lebkuchen.

Reindeers and a sleigh at the entrance to a Weihnachtsmarkt, behind the sign a large building with tower, on the right an illuminated tree
Reindeers and a sleigh at the entrance to a Weihnachtsmarkt

Berlin, Germany

Berlin Christmas markets Charlottenburg Palace by Berlin Travel Tips, a large palace with in front a Christmas market at night, all lit up
Berlin Christmas markets Charlottenburg Palace by Berlin Travel Tips

Contributed by Ali from Berlin Travel Tips.

If you’ve never been to a German Christmas Market, you’re in for a treat. Berlin is especially fun at Christmastime because the city has so many different Christmas markets to choose from. Christmas markets in Berlin generally start mid to late November and run until Christmas Eve, though a few continue for a little while after Christmas Day.

One of the best Christmas markets in Berlin is the one at Gendarmenmarkt. This is a gorgeous square with three historical buildings that make for wonderful background at the Christmas market. It has a bit of an upscale feeling to it, but it’s also very cozy. Though most Christmas markets are free, this one has a 1 euro entry fee.

Another great market to check out is the Charlottenburg Palace Christmas market. Set in front of the city’s most famous palace, this is a fairly traditional Christmas market where you can enjoy a tasty mug of hot Glühwein while browsing through stalls selling all kinds of holiday gifts and decorations.

There are dozens of others spread around the city. The Rotes Rathaus market is centrally located and has an ice rink. The Lucia market at Kulturbraueri has a Nordic theme and is a favorite among locals. There’s also a vegan Christmas market, an eco-market with all organic and regional products, a market at the Spandau Citadel, and many more.

Winter in Berlin can be quite cold, so make sure you bring a good coat, hat, scarf, and gloves. Christmas markets are great to visit at any time, but if you want smaller crowds, it’s best to go during the day on a weekday.

Hallstatt, Austria

Hallstatt @Jürgen Reichenpfader, Hallstatt as seen on the lake with snowy mountains in the back drop
Hallstatt @Jürgen Reichenpfader

Contributed by Martine from PlacesofJuma.

The picturesque village Hallstatt is a great Christmas destination! In winter, this romantic place transforms into a real highlight that enchants with true Christmas magic. A fairytale setting awaits you on a trip, as the village is located on the black Hallstatt Lake, where the imposing snow-capped mountains in the background conjure up a true postcard backdrop.

Hallstatt is especially beautiful in Advent when the snow is already falling and this transforms the entire region into a true Winter Wonder Land. Snow hangs from the roofs of the colorful houses, and the historic marketplace with its Christmas market also shines in the most beautiful splendor. Strolling through the small market, you can smell the aroma of mulled wine and cinnamon, and taste regional delicacies. Christmas market is known for its idyllic atmosphere, traditional music and the life-size wooden nativity scene at the market square.

But also in the surroundings of Hallstatt is worth seeing during the Christmas season. Romantic is a snowshoe hike on the Dachstein-Krippenstein to the 5-Finger-Skywalk, from where you can enjoy a magnificent view of the snow-covered region. If you like skiing, you should also go to Gosau, because the area there is absolutely recommendable!

Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb Christmas St Mark Square by Nomadic FIRE, the decorated church with in front on the square two differently illuminated Christmas trees
Zagreb Christmas St Mark Square by Nomadic FIRE

Contributed by Marco from Nomadic FIRE.

When the skies go grey, and the chill hits the air, life in Croatia transforms into a winter wonderland of Yuletide delights and Christmas lights. Christmas markets are magical places for people around the world. They offer a unique opportunity to enjoy traditional foods, gifts, decorations, music, and culture. What most tourists don’t know is that Croatia’s Capital city of Zagreb has been the “Best Christmas Market In Europe.” Locally called Zagreb Advent, Zagreb explodes with Christmas cheer starting the last week in November and lasting until early January.

Zagreb’s main pedestrian area, Ban Jelacic square, is a hub, but unlike some European Christmas markets concentrated into a single square, Zagreb’s entire city gets into the vibe. Kids and kids-at-heart glide on the ice skating rink in Park Josipa Jurja Strossmayera, while the cafe-line Ivana Tkalcica street serves up warm coffees and hot chocolates. Even the Dolac farmer’s market gets in on the Christmas spirit with decorations and advent-themed foods. 

Speaking of food, head to the bottom of Zagreb’s funicular to find the biggest group of food stalls. Here you can try Croatian mulled wine and Fritule, traditional little Croatian doughnuts sprinkled with powdered sugar usually only available during Christmas. 

Malaga, Spain

Christmas in Malaga by My Little World of Travelling, a decorated street in Christmas style with gold and blue decoration
Christmas in Malaga by My Little World of Travelling

Contributed by Cristina from My Little World of Travelling.

Malaga, located in the south of Spain, is a beautiful city to visit during the festive season. 

One of the highlights of Malaga in Christmas is its impressive Christmas lights in Calle Larios, the city’s main street. Although the lights are set up in early November, they are not lit until the last Friday in November.

What makes these Christmas lights unique is the fact that there are lights shows with music, which are often scheduled at 6:30 pm, 8 pm and 9:30 pm. The atmosphere is lively and very Christmassy. 

Close to the lights you can also visit the Christmas stalls where you can buy original presents – handmade clothes, unique jewelry, wooden toys among others.

In addition to the Christmas Lights, you also don’t want to miss the Three Kings Parade that takes place in Malaga city center on the 5th of January. This event is perfect for families that want their children to have a unique Christmas experience. In the parade, the Three Kings and their helpers throw tons of sweets from their cars.

Both events are free and you can expect big crowds. To have a better view of the lights and parade, go early to “take your place.”

Overall, visiting Malaga in winter is always a good experience – mild temperatures and sunny weather, less busy than summer (apart from the Christmas period), and a good range of outdoor winter activities.

Vienna, Austria

Vienna Christmas Market by Le Long Weekend, in front of a palace is a Christmas market, lighted up and people walking around
Vienna Christmas Market by Le Long Weekend

Contributed by Nadine from Le Long Weekend.

Visiting the Vienna Christmas markets is a bucket-list activity for many, and when you go, you’ll be left with little doubt as to why they’re so popular. With over 20 markets in the Austrian capital alone, it’s a Xmas destination like no other. The city streets are very walkable, and many of the markets are just a few blocks from each other, making market hopping an easy & enjoyable experience! Warm up with mugs of steaming punch as you wander the colorful stalls selling everything from handcrafted wooden toys, to gingerbread cookies and glass trinkets for your tree.

Don’t limit yourself to only the city center markets though, as some of the most impressive and grandiose displays can be found in the gardens of the palaces that dot the outskirts of the city. The Christmas markets start late November and run through until Christmas day (and a few continue to become New Year markets too). I’d recommend going early, at the end of November, or early December to experience the spectacle without the overwhelming crowds. Remember to dress warmly as the temperature drops dramatically when the sun goes down, wear comfortable shoes, and take cash – the markets are free to enter, but not all the vendors will accept cards – so have some Euros ready for all the wonderful treasures you’ll want to buy!

Lübeck, Germany

Lubeck Xmas Market by Raw Mal Roams., two Christmas mugs decorated for the Weihnachtsmarkt
Lubeck Xmas Market by Raw Mal Roams

Contributed by Mal from Raw Mal Roams.

If you’re looking for a fun and off-beaten track Christmas activity, visit Lubeck Christmas Market. Lübeck is a small town in northern Germany, situated a 1-hour drive from Hamburg. 

The main Christmas market is set in the heart of the medieval old town of Lubeck, surrounded by gothic churches and magnificent medieval architecture that is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage.  The best time to visit the market is after dark when the ferry lights adorn the old town and the Ferris wheel twinkles in the background. The best food to try at the market is marzipan which is the proud product of Lübeck. Other festive specialties include curry-flavored sausage, roasted chicken sandwiches, fried potatoes cakes, doughnuts and gluhwein. 

The best time to visit Lübeck for an intimate experience is midweek before Christmas. The Christmas market opens typically at the end of November and runs through to the end of December. Don’t forget to wrap up warm in multiple layers! The entrance is free of charge. 

Montreux, Switzerland

Montreux by Nerdy Footsteps, a large market hall illuminated and decorated in Christmas style
Montreux by Nerdy Footsteps

Contributed by Nisha from Nerdy Footsteps.

Montreux is one of the most beautiful Swiss towns and Christmas is the best time to visit it. The Christmas market in Montreuxis some of the best in Switzerland. The lakeside market glittering with thousands of lights makes Lake Geneva’s coastline even more stunning. It consists of a row of market and food stalls for more than a kilometer, along Lake Geneva’s coast, with a view of the Alps.

One such attraction is ‘light on ice’, an ice pathway that takes you through an illuminated forest of enchantments that ends at an ice bar. You can rent skates and skate through it. Even if you don’t want to skate, there are plenty of opportunities for photos.

Kids will love Santa Claus on his flying sleigh! Yes, along the lakeside promenade, Santa flies in his sleigh every day at 5, 6, and 7 pm (4 pm on Saturdays). There is also a workshop for kids to decorate their own Christmas chocolate at the workshop of Chocolats Läderach (Monday to Friday 2-8 pm, Weekends: 10 am to 8 pm, costs CHF10).

Since this is Switzerland, please dress warmly. Warm mittens, caps, and scarfs are recommended. If you forgot yours at home, you can definitely find something nice and cozy at one of the many stalls here.

And don’t forget to try the vin chaud, hot mulled wine with winter spices. It will definitely help with the cold weather. Amongst the Christmas festivities, you should definitely take a trip to the neighboring Lavaux vineyards, to know about the delicious Swiss wine that is still the best kept Swiss secret.

North America

San Francisco, California, USA

Contributed by Whitney from Designs for Travel.

There are so many fun things to do in San Francisco, especially at Christmas time!  San Francisco is one of the best cities in the world to visit and all of the Christmas decor makes it even more beautiful.  In the weeks leading up to Christmas, take a walk to take in all of the season’s splendor.

Start at the famous Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill and see the life-size gingerbread house. You can walk in and through the beautifully decorated house made house. Take a stroll down the street to Union Square. This is a park in the middle of a vast shopping area and is full of wonderful Christmas sights.  There is an ice skating rink set up outdoors from Thanksgiving through Christmas that is lots of fun.  The massive Christmas tree, all of the decorated surrounding department stores, the music… are all part of this wonderful experience.

Walk across the street to the Saint Frances Hotel and check out the exquisite handmade gingerbread house.  It will undoubtedly be one of the best you have ever seen.

In the afternoon or evening, spend your time doing another popular Christmas activity in San Francisco, and see The Christmas Carol play at the Golden Gate Theater.  Make sure to get your tickets online as soon as possible.

Whistler, British Columbia, Canada

Whistler lights by Go Far Grow Close, a shopping street with illuminated trees
Whistler lights by Go Far Grow Close

Contributed by Nicole from Go Far Grow Close.

One of the most amazing places to visit in the month of December and through the Christmas holidays is Whistler, British Columbia. Whistler is a resort town located 120 km north of Vancouver. It is internationally renowned for its world class skiing and snowboarding on Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. They are each approximately 7300 feet high (2200 meters) with 8,171 acres (3307 hectares) of skiable terrain. 

Whistler Village is at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. It is a pedestrian walking zone lined with spectacular restaurants, cute shops and plazas with street entertainment. By December, it is surrounded by white snowy mountains almost everywhere you look. In the Village, seemingly every tree, lamp post, or other tall stationary object is wrapped in thousands and thousands of lights. When snow covers the ground and darkness falls, you feel like you are in a world that Dr. Seuss created. It is beautiful and magical.

You don’t have to ski or snowboard to experience this magic, or pay to enter. Exploring Whistler Village is free. If you want to play in the snow, and do not ski or snowboard, there are still lots of winter activities that Whistler offers. For free, you can watch the Fire And Ice Show on certain evenings where professional skiers and snowboarders flip and twist through burning rings of fire. In addition, there is tubing, ice skating, and tobogganing, as well as so much more. 

The best time to go is in early to mid-December before the Christmas holidays. The Village is less busy then. Make sure you dress for the weather – warm boots, jacket, mitts, and hat. 

View from Whistler mountain by Go Far Grow Close, in the front a forest covered in snow, behind it snow and forest covered mountains and a pink sky
View from Whistler mountain by Go Far Grow Close

Leavenworth, Washington, USA

Contributed by Debbie from WorldAdventurists.

If you are looking to jump into that Christmas spirit, the Leavenworth Christmas Lighting Festival in the German-inspired town of Leavenworth, WA, is the best way to get jolly. The longtime festival is hosted on the main downtown road, every weekend in December. If you cannot make it on the weekend for the countdown, that is okay too – the town will still be lit with half a million lights every evening. There is no entrance fee! 

Located along the towering Cascade mountains, wandering along the main street feels like stepping right into the North Pole. It is also common for there to be snow during the festival.  You will smile at seeing St. Nikolas, hearing carols sung by the Village Voices Choir, and watching kids’ faces light up as they sled down the hill beneath the Christmas lights. 

One of the most magical highlights is to visit the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm. Make sure to prebook tickets though, as it sells out fast. Also, take an afternoon sleigh ride where you will stay warm with a blanket, enjoy the crisp mountain air, the sound of sleighbells, and hopefully have snowflakes falling on your nose. Do not forget to indulge in some delicious German treats. Keep yourself warm with some Glühwein, bratwurst, and pretzels, and make a reservation for Andreas Keller.

Christmas in Leavenworth is a popular time; expect crowds. Hotels can book up a year in advance. If the main hotels are sold-out, Wenatchee is only a half-hour drive from Leavenworth.

It will be quite cold in December, so bundle up!

Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

Ice Magic Lake Louise by Ticket 4 Two Please, an ice sculture in the shape of a girl with really long hair on a bike
Ice Magic Lake Louise by Ticket 4 Two Please

Contributed by Ben from Ticket 4 Two Please.

When you have a world-renowned destination like Lake Louise, it is difficult to imagine how it can ever get better, but the yearly ice magic festival creates a sense of winter wonderland that is seldom seen anywhere else on the planet. 

Hosted in the middle of January each year, when the weather conditions are perfect, the icy sculptures remain in situ for months to come until the natural elements take their inevitable toll on the artwork. 

The festival brings together some of the world’s best ice carvers for a 12-day event that covers a number of sculpting disciplines, climaxing with a 36-hour ‘speed’ contest where the sculptors are tasked with creating a masterpiece when starting with a simple 300lb block of ice. 

Hosted in the grounds of the grandiose Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel, the festival boasts an ice bar serving magical winter-warmer drinks, and access to the famous frozen lake to perfect your ice-skating. 

With tickets starting from as little as CAD$10 for weekend access, or free-access during the weekdays, the ice magic festival certainly represents one of the best winter activities on offer in Lake Louise

For complete unrestricted access to the sculptures, it is best to visit the festival grounds later in the evening when the crowds have disappeared and the masterpieces are illuminated by moonlight – it really is one of the best experiences anybody could have around Christmas time.

New York City, New York, USA

NYC Holiday Star Decoration by Claire Pins, a really large and silve star in front, behind you see an illuminated Christmas tree and high rise buildings/towers behind it
NYC Holiday Star Decoration by Claire Pins

Contributed by Claire from Claire Pins.

Christmas time in New York City is something special to experience at least once in your life, with a large variety of holiday light displays, decorations, and seasonal activities available starting in mid-November and lasting until the end of December. 

Every year, a large Christmas tree is lit up at the famous Rockefeller Centre as a symbol of the holiday season, and it is free to view. Also located within the center is the Radio City Music Hall which presents the annual Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular Show, featuring festive live music and dancing along with dazzling sets and costumes. Tickets for the show start around $80 USD.

Stop by the Winter Village at Bryant Park which hosts a free ice skating rink and an open air holiday market with food and shopping kiosks. This is a great place to find a unique gift and it is open annually from early November to March. 

Be sure to walk by the big department and specialty stores in Manhattan to see the Christmas window displays at Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and others. The themes change every year and it really does look the same as you see in Christmas movies with all the beautiful decorations.

To see more beautiful light displays, try the Brooklyn Botanic Garden or New York Botanical Garden, Central Park, the Bronx Zoo or visit the Dyker Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Many festive activities like seeing the department stores displays and large decorative Christmas trees around the city are free, which is great for travelers planning to visit New York City on a budget. Keep in mind that the city gets cold in the winter so be sure to dress warmly for a magical and memorable visit to the Big Apple.

NYC Department Store Christmas Display by Claire Pins, a window display with puppets a really large one and two really small and one in the middle.
NYC Department Store Christmas Display by Claire Pins

Chicago, Illinois, USA

Chicago Christmas Train by Our Offbeat Life, a illuminated and decorated train wagon with people in it
Chicago Christmas Train by Our Offbeat Life

Contributed by Brodi from Our Offbeat Life.

The Chicago Christmas Train is a unique local tradition to the Windy City. Since 1992, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has converted a public transit train into a festive, Christmas-themed locomotive. Everything from the seat cushions and advertisements inside to the wrapped cars outside is transformed. Even the loudspeaker that announces the stops plays Christmas music. 

As passengers board the train, CTA employees dressed up as elves pass out miniature candy canes to each rider. There is even a special flat car where Santa rides with his reindeer. At the end of the route, Santa deboards the train and kids who rode it can take photos with him. All of this is included in the price of riding the train! Since it’s part of the standard CTA schedule, anyone can get on at any stop. Plus, the cost is the same as a regular CTA train fare: only $2.50 per person! Children under 7 ride free with a fare-paying rider.

Asheville, North Carolina, USA

Christmas at Biltmore, photo courtesy Explore Asheville, the lit up Biltmore Estate as seen from the front in the back, with on the square in front illuminated Christmas trees
Christmas at Biltmore, photo courtesy Explore Asheville

Contributed by Bret from Blue Ridge Mountains Travel Guide.

The bustling Blue Ridge Mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina was essentially built on the back of the Biltmore Estate. 

Originally constructed for George Washington Vanderbilt II in 1895, the 250-room, 135,280 square foot mansion still remains the largest privately-owned house in the United States. The Vanderbilts’ pastoral 125,000-acre retreat quickly became a beloved mountain getaway among famous friends such as famed inventors Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, and US Presidents William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson.

Touring the Biltmore is arguably among the most popular things to do in Asheville NC today. And there’s no better time of year to visit the sprawling estate than at Christmas, when the entire house, gardens, Biltmore Village, and Antler Hill Village are all decorated in the festive colors of the holiday season. 

Christmas at the Biltmore lasts for most of November and December (2021 dates run from November 5 to January 8), typically starting with a tree-raising event. There are daytime tours of Biltmore House’s myriad Christmas trees, ribbons, garlands, and thousands of twinkling lights, as well as romantic evening tours offered by flickering candlelight. Tours include passes to stroll through the Gardens, visit the estate winery, and explore the array of shopping and restaurant options in the Historic Biltmore Village and more modern Antler Hill Village areas. 

It’s an undeniably posh affair, and tickets don’t come cheap: Basic audio tours run from $106-$126, while expert guided small group tours run from $339-$359. But there is truly no other place like it, and the estate spares no expense in creating a lavish holiday experience visitors will never forget.

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Contributed by Nicole from Traveling British Columbia.

Experience the Magic of Christmas with the 12 Days of Christmas light displays at the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC, Canada! One of the festive things to do at Victoria. Every December, these massive 55-acre gardens are adorned with over 300,000 Christmas lights, creating an incredible display of Christmas cheer. Grab a hot chocolate at their coffee shop and stroll through the colorful gardens. The pathways through the gardens will take you through the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’, from a partridge in a pear tree all the way to 12 drummers drumming!

After you’ve finished enjoying the beautiful light displays, you can warm up by the bonfire or grab a delicious dinner at their onsite restaurants. Usually, the event also has ice skating with rentals, caroling, the snowflake exchange (children get free hot chocolate in exchange for a homemade paper snowflake) and an annual Light Up. However, these events have been canceled due to COVID.

You can visit the beautiful Butchart Gardens to see their sparkling winter displays at 3:30pm-10:00pm from November 26, 2021, to January 6, 2022 (closed Christmas Day). Tickets have to be purchased in advance and cost about $33 for an adult or $3 for children ages 5-12. It’s better to book a time slot after it gets dark, so that you can see the gardens in all their glory! And, while it never gets too cold in Victoria, it’s best to wear warm clothes and a rain coat!

Solvang, California, USA

Solvang by Explorer Chick, a shopping street with shops on the right and a terrace on the left, people walking on the pavement
Solvang by Explorer Chick

Contributed by Bernadette from Explorer Chick.

Believe it or not, there is a “Danish Capital of America” located in sunny California. Solvang is famous for its Danish-style architecture and in December it looks like you are in Europe during the holidays. Except that the weather is way warmer, there is no snow, and people will probably be walking around in shorts and flip-flops!

But the holiday spirit can still be felt with the village all dressed up and lit up. There is something magical with the twinkling lights and various events the town holds in the main square. Christmas is claimed to be celebrated Danish-style with Julefest, a month-long celebration that starts late November until January 1st. Of course, there is a tree lighting ceremony, community parade, and Santa’s village. A unique activity is the Nisse Adventure, where “nisse” aka gnomes are hidden throughout the downtown and revelers get special prizes to find the nisse. And there is also a candlelight tour that introduces people to Danish traditions while they walk around the village. The events are free to join and meant to bring some holiday cheer. 

One thing to try is the abelskiver (pancake puffs), the fried cylinders of dough are perfect to eat while walking around. Numerous restaurants and shops sell the puffs covered in powdered sugar with a side of raspberry jam. Somehow the little rounds make the holiday spirit even stronger and are a must-try!

Solvang by Explorer Chick
Solvang by Explorer Chick

Oceania

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Contributed by Linda from Muy Linda Travels.

Carols in the Domain is one of the largest Christmas celebrations in Australia. Each year thousands of people flock to the Domain gardens in Sydney with their family and friends to sing Christmas Carols and enjoy the fun, festive atmosphere. It’s a tradition that began in 1983 and has become a favorite Christmas event in Sydney. 

Carols in the Domain features Australian artists, performers and TV personalities. There’s also an orchestra and choir on the main stage and the audience becomes part of the performance when they join in to sing traditional Christmas Carols. The event is held outdoors to make the most of the warm summer weather and includes a fireworks display.  

The gates open in the early afternoon and there’s general seating on the grass so bring a picnic rug and get there early to claim your spot. Bring some snacks and relax for an evening of fun and Christmas cheer. You can pay extra for a seat in the shaded area and there are food trucks if you want to buy a meal. There’s pre-show entertainment with the main show beginning at dusk at 7:45pm.  

Carols in the Domain is set to go ahead on the 18th December 2021 with limited numbers due to Covid-19 restrictions. You’ll need to register your interest in advance. To get there catch a train to Martin Place or St. James Station or leave your car in the domain car park for a fee. If you can’t make it into the city, Carols in the Domain is televised so you can watch it on TV and sing along from home.  

Africa

Benin, Nigeria

Royal Marble Hotel by Waternify, you see a pool from up high, a terrace on the right, at the back a wall with windows and doors
Royal Marble Hotel by Waternify

Contributed by Balogun from Waternify.

It was a few days to Christmas, and I decided to do something unusual – travel to Nigeria. If you ever decide to visit Nigeria during the holiday season, keep the following in mind: Do not travel alone. Stay close to a trusted person. Never keep money inside a purse but somewhere on the body in a secret location. Dress simple and avoid flashy and/or excess jewelry. Have a sweater packed.

The hotel I traveled to was Royal Marble Hotel, situated in Benin City, Nigeria. The hotel is a luxurious one and is located at the heart of Benin. The suite was pretty large, larger than expected. I spent $28 per night. Upon arrival, we were greeted with Christmas hats and candies. A warm Christmas theme song played in the background of the reception.

The separate living area was a nice place to entertain guests. We took a tour of the whole place, and it was great! The pool was pretty big, clean, and fun to swim in. I tried their grilled chicken, and it had more pepper than I anticipated, haha. I was crying happy tears as I ate it. The dining/kitchen area was fully equipped with a microwave, fridge, and dining table. The maid service kept it well stocked with varieties of water, juice, and snacks.

When I got to my room, I was wowed. It was very large and had a nice view of it. There was WiFi and satellite service. Plus, there’s an onside casino, hair salon, and plenty of dining options. I made some cool friends there and enjoyed my seven-day stay. Overall, the hotel was clean, safe, warm, has friendly staff, and plentiful food.

If I were in Benin again, I’d consider staying at this hotel.

Asia

Wadi Rum/Aqaba, Jordan

A picture to show what we did on Christmas morning. Cosette and Paul on camels with a Christmas hat on their head. The desert behind them.
Us on camels with our Christmas hats

Contributed by Cosette from KarsTravels.

Christmas in Jordan is perfect, from celebrating Christmas’ Eve in the desert to spending Boxing day at the beach. It’s all possible in Jordan.

Christmas’ Eve starts with a jeep tour through the desert of Wadi Rum. Admire and enjoy the sights to see, such as a natural arch and petroglyphs. Before arriving at your camp, have freshly brewed tea at sunset. A sunset at the desert is mesmerizing. The tea will be welcome, since it’s freezing cold. At your camp have a fabulous homecooked dinner covered in blankets. To conclude Christmas’ Eve enjoy some stargazing.

On Christmas morning mount camels and make a ride through the desert. So close to the promised land, this gives your Christmas morning something special. After the ride drive to Aqaba.

In Aqaba you can warm up again. This city is beautifully situated on the Red Sea. Spend Christmas Day with lunch on a terrace, some strolling through Aqaba, visit the souk and take a boat tour with a glass bottom boat.

Spend Boxing Day swimming in the pool, snorkeling in the Red Sea (corals) and playing on the beach at a resort.

Pack a swimming suit, snorkeling gear for the beach, warm clothes and layers for the desert. And a Christmas hat to make fun photos.

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo Christmas market by Reflections Enroute, a Christmas stall, with 3 people in it, two women and a man selling stuff
Tokyo Christmas market by Reflections Enroute

Contributed by Corinne from Reflections Enroute.

Japan doesn’t celebrate Christmas like most western countries, however they still do a wonderful job of celebrating the spirit of the holidays. What do they do? One thing you can find all over the city is electric light displays, called Winter Illuminations. Malls, gardens, and streets are adorned with lots of lights, and in about six or seven locations the lights put on shows every 15 minutes or so. Big name companies want to attract you to their malls, so they provide light shows put to music and often with costumed actors. These are all free and fun. 

One of my favorite parts of Tokyo, in winter, is Rappongi Hills (one of the top tourist sights to see in Tokyo). They not only have their own illuminations thoughtfully decorating their gardens, but they have their very own Christmas market. In the market, you can tray all the winter treats you would expect like hot chocolate and gluhwein. There are about 20 stalls selling everything from handmade goods to Christmas decorations. The best thing is the entire market is in the mall, so you won’t get cold.

Shirakawa-go, Japan

Shirakawa-go Live A Relaxed Life, you look down up a snow covered village in a valley
Shirakawa-go Live A Relaxed Life

Contributed by Bernadette from Live A Relaxed Life.

One of the few places in Asia where one can experience a snowy December is at Shirakawa-go, a historical Japanese village in the Gifu Prefecture. Aside from the snow, what makes this village unique is its architecture known as gassho-style houses. It is the reason why the remote village located in the mountains of Hakusan National Park is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The 300-year-old homes are meant to resemble hands in prayer and are more than just beautiful, they have a practical purpose as well – snow falls off the steep roofs in the winter and the position of the homes minimizes wind resistance which keeps it cool during summer months. 

The homes were also where the locals worked – the attics are where they bred silkworms. Visitors can go to the Tajima House Museum of Silk Culture to see the traditional way of making silk in the village. It is one of the free things to do in Shirakawa-go. 

There are onsens in the area with hot springs to relax visitors. The natural hot springs are believed to have beautifying effects and some are even open-air so that is a real treat to enjoy during the cold winter months. There is a minimal charge ($10 or less) to enjoy the onsen for the day and some onsen are also part of a resort and included in the stay.

South America

Medellin, Colombia

Los Alumbrados in Parque Norte by Layer Culture, a light show where you pass underneath
Los Alumbrados in Parque Norte by Layer Culture

Contributed by Daniel from Layer Culture.

Christmas celebrations can vary drastically depending on where you are around the world. In Medellin, Colombia many people prepare to visit the Alumbrados Navideños which is a light show that is set up to be displayed during the whole month of December. So if you were already thinking of planning a trip to Colombia you’ll find that Christmas is the best time to visit Medellin.

The main event is located in a place called Parque Norte where the primary light display is open to all and the entry is free. Statistics show that more than 4 million people visit Medellin especially to see this light show which is accompanied by a host of street vendors selling traditional Colombian food as well as other magical Christmas treats. There is also a fireworks display that dazzles over the Aburrá valley which makes the whole experience one to add to the Christmas calendar when looking for a spectacular way to celebrate the festive season.

Bogota, Colombia

Buñuelo by Venaugh, the cookie or treat held up by hand above a white tiled floor
Buñuelo by Venaugh

Contributed by Venaugh from Venaugh.

Colombia is filled with lights and decorations for Christmas. There are many things to do in Bogotá, the capital of the country, like trying the traditional natilla and buñuelos. Around Christmas time, you can find many pop-up shops with these delicacies. Natilla is a thick custard that resembles flan. It is made with eggs, panela (sugar), cinnamon, flour, and garnished with powdered cinnamon.

Buñuelos are a ball of fried dough which doesn’t sound as appetizing as it really is. It’s made from tapioca starch or cassava flour, corn starch, queso costeño, feta cheese, eggs, baking powder and a couple other items. The ingredients are mixed together, then formed into balls, after which it is fried. Though it is fried, it does not taste oily at all as is the case with some other items. Walking along the street, it is likely to find quite a few little stalls that sell these just around Christmas time. It is so common that you can buy from a couple places on your route and choose your favorite.  

That concludes this list of places to celebrate Christmas around the World

There are so many magic places and things to do revolving around Christmas. At any of these places and events you’ll be in the Christmas spirit in no time! Next up we’ll be bringing more Christmas joy by seeing were best to celebrate Christmas in Europe.

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12 Comments

  • Hels

    Love the idea of a market in a cave. And how Christmassy must a mass Dickens festival be? Would love to do a Christmas tour of the world in person now I’ve done it virtually!

  • A Capone Connection

    Such a great post! I’ve been taking my children on trips as their Christmas gift for years now, but we always stay in the US. I’ve been talking about starting to do it outside of the US (but I’m waiting on them to all have passports). I’d love to do Christmas in Germany for our first European trip together. Thanks so much for all the helpful information. Saving this for later!
    ~ Andrea | https://www.acaponeconnection.com

  • Krista

    I love seeing how different places celebrate Christmas so this was such a fun post to read! I’ve been to Málaga at Christmastime but none of the other places mentioned.

  • Kayy

    These are great suggestions to see how others celebrate Christmas. Living in NY , I always wondered how tourists celebrated in their countries. NY is a great place to visit as well during Christmas. I love watching the Rockettes and looking at the Christmas tree at Rockefeller. I would love to visit London , Switzerland, or Germany.

  • Alaina Thomas

    I love the thought behind this article – Christmas around the world! For those who celebrate Christmas or the winter holidays in general, these places are a must. I actually traveled to England, Ireland, and Scotland right before Christmas a couple of years ago, and it was wonderful. They had decorations everywhere as well as some Christmas markets (with delicious treats).

  • Rhonda Albom

    I love Christmas markets but don’t get to many of them in the southern hemisphere. While the northern half has snow, I get to have a barbecue at the beach in shorts.

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