Christmas is just the most perfect time of the year. And to put the cherry on top, nearly all countries celebrate it in one way or another. Different countries – different cultures, which is why Christmas and the time around it is different for all of them. Finding the best Christmas destination seems like an easy thing to do, since you know what’s around you. But have you ever thought of celebrating Christmas in Taiwan? Or Cape Town? There’s so much we don’t know about, which is why I decided to make this list. To help you find your perfect Christmas destination.
Bruges is the best-preserved medieval city in all of Europe. It is especially wonderful during holiday time, which makes it part of this list of the best Christmas destinations. Its cobblestone streets with shimmering lights invite everyone to stroll around and drink a mug of Belgian hot chocolate. It’s just one of those fairytale towns you wish to visit when you read about them or see them on TV.
The city is absolutely perfect for walking around and just enjoying the view. A view of old buildings in perfect state, horse carriages, and the most essential sights, like the Mont des Arts, or the Grand Place. It doesn’t happen too often that you will feel more like you’re living in a Christmas tale. And on top of that, the atmosphere is extremely calming, since the most traffic noise comes from bicycle rings instead of cars.
What makes Bruges even more perfect is that it is often covered in snow, which makes being here one of the best white Christmas experiences ever. And if it gets too cold, you can warm up inside cozy candle-lit bars with some of the most popular beer on this planet.
Insider tip: The winter glow trail is a walk through the city with 10 light installations and projections, among others, at the church of our lady tower and the Gruuthuse.
Although Christmas is mostly a commercial thing here in Japan, it’s definitely worth a visit. The main focus is not about religion or celebrating the story of the birth of Jesus, it’s about spreading positivity and happiness. Since the reason is a different one, celebrations look different as well.
People wear costumes, do anime cosplay, loli fashion, and celebrate general Japanese culture. The atmosphere is way different, more busy, hectic even. However, it’s kind and inviting and a very unique way of celebrating Christmas in Japan.
If you still want to experience a little bit of more traditional Christmas holidays, there is a 10-foot-tall snow globe with falling snow, winter illuminations, and a massive baccarat crystal chandelier in Tokyo. They celebrate the holidays like this, sometimes even throughout January and February.
Quebec is one of the oldest cities in North America and its colonial French architecture gives it an unmistakably European feel. The quaint shops in midtown and the delicious cozy cafes are merrily decorated and invite you to go for an evening light stroll and window shopping.
Au 1884, is the Toboggan Run, which is one of the oldest traditions. Participants can ride their wooden sleds on icy tracks overlooking the city at up to 45 miles per hour.
Okay, another one of the best Christmas destinations in Canada. Vancouver is a beautiful city all year round and there’s just something about Canada that warms my heart. If you’re from the United States or Canada itself and you love the idea of European Christmas markets, Vancouver is the way to go. It is home to the Vancouver Christmas Market, which is modeled after the ones in Germany and neighboring countries.
And that’s not all there is. The city is decked in great holiday décor, which makes getting in the right Christmas spirit inevitable, even longed-for. Street posts are wrapped in lights, shops and businesses decorated with garland and there are countless Christmas trees all over the city.
Since we’re talking about Canada, it is obvious that there are mountains with snowy tops surrounding the city and absolutely maximize the holiday experience. And to put the cherry on top: Vancouver offers access to some of the world’s best skiing and snowboarding areas.
Austria and the Alps are just predestined to give you a great Christmas feel – no wonder Salzburg was the backdrop for “The Sound of Music” and that it’s one of the best Christmas destinations. The famed Christkindlmarkt has its roots dating back to the 15th century. It is a traditional European Christmas market with traditional wind music, mulled wine, countless cozy, creative and fun market stands. And on top, you can get Bauernkrapfen at nearly every corner. A Bauernkrapfen is made of yeast dough which is rounded and then baked in hot fat or lard. You can eat them with jam or sauerkraut.
Salzburg feels like Christmas all year round and the Goldgasse Christmas shops definitely help in that department. And taking a small detour to go snowboarding, skiing, or tobogganing never hurt anybody.
Cape Town, South Africa
Alright, Christmas in South Africa is obviously very different from Christmas celebrations in the northern hemisphere. It’s the middle of summer in Cape Town once Christmas rolls around. Where other countries convince with white snow, Cape Town does so with an endless supply of white beaches. While it sometimes becomes hard to do the things you really want to due to the cold weather, in Cape Town, there are no limits. You can do all the activities and explore new places while wearing your bathing suit. To name a few: surfing, paragliding, safaris, and nature hiking.
Instead of watching reindeer, you can spot nearly 2,000 to 3,000 penguins at boulder beach. And they’re anything but timid. You can get so close to them that taking a portrait photo is the easiest thing ever.
Who doesn’t love a glass of great wine to celebrate Christmas eve? Well, tbh, I don’t, since I don’t drink at all, but I guess most of you would love that. Cape Town is not only famous for its exceptional nature, but also for its high-quality restaurants with wines from world-class wineries. Visiting Cape Town is an absolute dream, and even more so during Christmas, which is why it is on this list of best Christmas destinations.
New York City, New York
Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street, When Harry met Sally. Those are the movies that make us long for Christmas time in New York City. There are hardly more romantic and magical places to spend your Christmas than in New York. Yes, the expectations of these movies are obviously a little over the top, it can be insanely cold, windy and crowded, yet countless people wish to be there around this time of the year.
You can go ice-skating at Wollman rink in Central Park with the famous skyline in front of you (after standing in line for quite some time and spending your left kidney on tickets).
Next, you can visit the giant Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center or see the green and red lit up top of the Empire State Building. Is there a better time to recreate the famous scene from Sleepless in Seattle? Yes, I know, they met on Valentine’s Day, but Christmas is just as romantic.
Moreover, you can go window shopping down 5th Avenue (well, you can also buy some stuff, I’m just talking about window-shopping for broke students like me), catch a Rockettes’ show at Radio City or watch The New York City Ballet perform The Nutcracker.
Christmas time in Ireland starts on the 8th of December, which marks the day of the immaculate conception. It’s all about an authentic Irish pub crawl experience, at least for some locals. There are countless cozy bars to last you all throughout New Year’s if you want to. However, it’s not all about drinking.
There are many Christmas markets, and everything is decorated with glimmering golden lights to create an immaculate, cozy atmosphere. Ed Sheeran once said: “I met her on Grafton Street right outside of the bar”. It’s not my number 1 favorite song of his, but it does the job for this article. Grafton Street is decked out in decorations and festivities, which is why coming here is a must!
Christmas is not a public holiday in Taipei, but that doesn’t mean that it does not belong on this list of best Christmas destinations. The whole city celebrates with an extravaganza of light displays, attractions, and events.
During the weeks from mid-November until New Year’s, the entire Banqiao District is transformed into Christmasland. It is exactly what it sounds like. We’re talking concerts, markets, food stands, Christmas trees. There is even a magic forest and a Boshou light park in the Fuzhong Business District.
London, United Kingdom
London is undoubtedly one of my favorite places on earth. The Georgian townhouses, lively pubs and the Dickensian charm. It is a beautiful city all together. But during Christmas time, everything is just next level. The whole city is decorated with wonderful lights, art, beautiful music is turned on or played by street musicians, and everything feels like a movie. Just think of the movie “Love Actually” and you’ll get what I’m saying.
There’s so much to see and so much to do. You can go ice-skating around the 18th century courtyard of Somerset House, walk around traditional markets, sing carols along at Trafalgar Square’s Christmas tree, or just soak in the atmosphere while looking at the decorations at Harrods.
Hyde Park is a winter wonderland and if you’re into Harry Potter (which I hope you are), Warner Bros. Studio will most likely be Hogwarts under snow. If you’re more traditional, you can join the carols at the Royal Albert Hall or go sing at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Whatever you do, make sure to book activities well in advance. And if nothing of the above tickles your fancy, strolling around Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street while window or gift shopping is a wonderful alternative as well.
Strasbourg is home to the oldest French Christmas market and dates back nearly 450 years. It is said to be the Capital of Christmas in Europe. It is in the Alsace region, located right between Germany and France. And there’s not only one, there are 12 in total. They sit beneath the stunning Strasbourg Cathedral, which is the tallest surviving structure from the Middle Ages.
The special thing about Strasbourg is that they focus way more on Alsace Christmas traditions and not the modern western world ones – there is more rustic decoration.
One thing you must try is their hot red wine (Vin Chaud). It will warm your taste buds and body to be fit to explore the market to the fullest.
A train from Strasbourg to Paris only takes two hours, so hey, why not go there as well? Yolo, right? (Yah, I know, I just said that. And I’m proud.)
Since Sydney is also located in the southern hemisphere, Christmas is also in the midst of summer. However, this fact doesn’t make it less Christmas-y. Sydney Christmas is celebrated for an entire month and houses the largest Christmas tree at Martin Place. The strand arcade is decorated with 3,500 glimmering lights, and over 85,000 LEDs decorate the Pit Street Mall.
Most people in Australia celebrate Christmas at the beach with friends and family and a nice barbie. There are several beaches open to be driven onto to create the ultimate Christmas set up. It wouldn’t be an Aussie Christmas if towels, sunscreen, and a beach cricket set weren’t involved. A little family competition is always fun.
Snow. Guaranteed snow. Need I say more? Okayokay, maybe a few more things. Chamonix is one of the best Christmas destinations for anyone and everyone. There are small Christmas markets with handmade goods for the (Attention: stereotypes incoming) mothers, locally made alcohol for the dads, and churros with chocolate dip for everyone. They have patisseries along the high street and decorate their windows with treats, glacéd fruits and much more. Children can build snowmen, go sledging, or drink hot chocolate. And with ‘children’ I mean everyone, because there’s no age limit to fun.
To make it even more perfect, the skiing and snowboarding area is also one of the best in the world. And Christmas in the mountains is just an absolute dream.
German Christmas markets are just top-notch and a must on the list of the best Christmas destinations. Not trying to brag, since I am from Germany, but once you visit one of ours, there’s no going back. The Christmas market in Dresden is the oldest one in Germany and is called The Striezelmarkt. It has been running for over 500 years in the same spot. Fortunately, unlike others, it has not yet been overrun by cheap, commercial sellers, but still sticks to its roots. You can purchase impressing handcrafted ornaments from the Ore Mountains here.
The drink of choice is Glühwein (mulled wine). It is a warm red or white wine with Christmas spice. The Striezelmarkt is the biggest one in Dresden, but there are four more only a few minutes away. In one of them, the Medieval market, food is cooked over open fires, blacksmiths work hot metal, and people wear medieval costumes. You can even try your hand at archery or grab a friend and “relax” in a wooden barrel tub.
Feature image credit: Jamie Davies / Unsplash