Christmas is a time of tradition. It’s a time spent decorating the house with bright lights and vibrant poinsettias, placing candles in the windows, watching snow fall gently outside, breathing in the piney aroma of the tree, and exchanging heartfelt gifts by the warm glow of a fireplace.
But what’s stopping you from shaking things up a little this holiday season? Cities and villages across the globe light up with the Christmas spirit each December, so why not get out and experience the magic of the holiday somewhere new and exciting? If you’re looking to get away this Christmas, here are some of our favorite winter wonderland destinations around the world, from bustling capital cities to cozy mountain towns!
Prague, the Czech Republic
As far as Christmas markets go, the lively outdoor marketplace in Prague’s Old Town Square is one of the best. But the festive spirit extends far beyond the market. With its medieval architecture and cobblestone streets, this fairytale city emits a quiet, romantic atmosphere ideal for any wintry escape. Though precipitation is rare in the winter, if you’re lucky, you might just see some snowflakes drifting across the Charles Bridge.
Another quaint capital city, Copenhagen offers a wintry getaway, complete with bright lights, fanciful decorations, and a heavy dose of seasonal spirit. Christmastime in Copenhagen is the perfect opportunity to experience the Danish concept of hygge, a hard-to-describe feeling characterized by coziness, intimacy, and warmth. As you stroll through Tivoli Gardens, nibble on local holiday treats, and explore the many Christmas markets, you’ll become personally acquainted with the meaning of the Danish term.
The Irish may not always be the most cheerful crowd but, when the time is right, they certainly know how to get festive. And, perhaps with the exception of St. Patrick’s day, there are fewer more festive times to visit Ireland than during the Christmas season. With its faded brick buildings and quaint cobbled streets, Dublin is a magical place to stroll through while bundled up against the chilly winter night in a thick coat and with a hot drink. After visiting one of the city’s markets, stop in at a pub on Grafton Street for some lively music and a quick tipple.
New York City
Featured prominently in beloved Christmas films such as “Elf” and “Miracle on 34th Street,” New York City is inseparable from the holiday season. It’s impossible to walk through the snow-covered city streets and not feel enlivened by the Christmas spirit. Ice-skate at Bryant Park, or in the shadow of the iconic tree at Rockefeller Center. Ogle at the glittering displays of department store windows on Fifth Avenue. Visit the humbling, candlelit St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Or, wander the city streets at nightfall and marvel at the decorations — festive tinsel and trees hide around every corner.
With roughly two million annual visitors and a sprawl that covers the Old Town’s central square and adjoining streets, Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt is perhaps the most famous Christmas market in the world. Taking place throughout Advent, the market is enchanted with seasonal spirit, offering everything from horse-drawn stagecoach rides and endless decoration kiosks to gingerbread tastings and plenty of vendors selling hot mulled wine.
While other American cities like New York and Boston offer plenty of lively holiday festivities, the nation’s capital takes a quieter, more understated approach. With its humbling buildings and white-marble monuments, it’s already a stoic city. But when illuminated with bright lights and decked out in flourishing wreaths and holly during the month of December, it takes on an even more magical vibe. As night falls on the capital, make your way to the Ellipse, the grassy area south of the White House from which the National Tree sprouts, which is surrounded by 56 small Christmas trees representing each of the country’s states and territories.
Though the historical dioramas of the Enchanted Village no longer call Boston home (you’ll have to journey 30 minutes south to Avon if you’d like to walk through those charming displays), the birthplace of the Revolution still stands as a brilliant holiday destination. From ice-skating on the Boston Common to walking through the illuminated Faneuil Hall, there’s no shortage of Christmas activities to be enjoyed. If you have the opportunity, grab tickets to see the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall. The lively orchestra, conducted by the extraordinary Keith Lockhart, is sure to fill you with musical joy of the holiday season.
From the moment the Oslo Christmas tree (named as such because the Norwegian capital donates it) is lit in early December, the Icelandic capital is transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with bustling markets and festive decorations. While other cities rely on extravagant light displays, Reykjavík offers a different type of yuletide illumination. During the frigid winter nights, the Northern Lights regularly make an appearance, draping a vibrant curtain of color over the holiday town.
Fans of Martin McDonagh’s 2008 film “In Bruges” will recall that the medieval city is somewhat of a “fairytale town” (with a few added expletives). At no time is that fairytale essence more evident than during the holiday season, when the quaint city streets are lined with merry decorations and jovial markets. Walking through the town, you’ll be draped in the intoxicating scent of chocolate as restaurants and vendors offer pralines and Belgian waffles to all who walk by. Make sure to take a break from the festivities to bask in the comforting glow of Burg Square and its majestic Belfry Tower.
Not looking to spend your holiday trapped in a big city? Escape to Aspen instead. The cozy ski village tucked away in the Colorado Rockies offers a small-town celebration that distills the charming essence of the holiday season. Thrill-seeking winter adventurers can strap on skis or snowshoes, or even grab a sled and plummet down the mountain slopes. Others can snuggle up in the warmth of a lodge with a whiskey flight or some apres-ski cocktails. At night, make sure to get out and enjoy the mountain air, either with a moonlight stroll or a horse-drawn sleigh ride.
Nestled lakeside at the foot of the Austrian mountains, Hallstatt seems to trap the holiday spirit year-round. Time stands still here — early morning mist covers Lake Hallstatt and the towering peaks appear to hold ancient mysteries. But during the winter, this idyllic village grows even more enchanting, offering a wonderland filled with scrumptious local delicacies, an illuminated Christmas tree, and even a life-sized nativity scene. For a true sensation of a Christmas escape, choose Hallstatt.
As we near the end of the year, you’re probably not itching to venture too far into the Arctic Circle. But Trømso, though cloaked in the darkness of Polar Night, offers a heavenly winter escape with quaint Nordic houses, vibrant holiday festivities, and regular Aurora Borealis sightings. To warm up, try the local delicacies, such as king crab and crowberry cordial.
Over 200 miles west of Tokyo, Shirakawa-Go is far from a buzzing metropolis. In fact, blanketed in thick winter snow, with a majestic mountain backdrop and tranquil atmosphere, this quiet farming village in Japan’s Gifu region offers a truly surreal destination to wake up in on Christmas morning. When coated in snow, the local farmhouses, with their steep, sloping roofs, give the town an idyllic charm that makes it a perfect destination for the holiday season.
Cover Photo by @dublincityshots