It’s the most wonderful time of the year — that glorious season when relaxed work schedules, school breaks, and winter weather collide. And for jet-setting travelers, this often means that it’s time to get away from the grind and see more of the world. Whether you want to embrace the snowy season or escape it, here’s everything you need to know to plan the perfect holiday getaway.
Santa’s Workshop: Europe
We would hate to shatter anyone’s illusions about Santa Claus, so we’ll just say this: the North Pole doesn’t have the infrastructure to welcome hordes of tourists. (Interpret that as you will.) Luckily, plenty of European countries are up for the challenge!
With its Christmas markets, holiday traditions, delicious food, and old-world charm, Germany is perhaps the most festive country in the world, come wintertime. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that all Christmas markets are exactly alike — in Germany, each one has its own unique atmosphere.
Take the Striezelmarkt in Dresden, for example. Dating back to 1434, it’s the oldest Christmas market in the country, and it’s the best place to buy stollen, a traditional German fruit bread. But there’s also Konstanz, which hosts a lakefront Christmas market with stalls on dry land and on a ship docked at the pier. And we haven’t even mentioned Cologne, where a massive Christmas tree towers over revelers sipping glühwein (mulled wine) and listening to live music. And in Erfurt, a colorful Ferris wheel overlooks a square packed with people, half-timbered buildings, cozy huts, and city specialties like blue-dyed fabric.
Of course, Germany’s central location makes the country a great launching pad to other European destinations as well. If you’d like to take an unforgettable day trip, we’d recommend visiting Vienna (Austria), Strasbourg (France), or Prague (Czech Republic) — three additional cities with exceptional Christmas markets.
Winter Wonderland: North America
If you spend all year dreaming of winter, you should probably spend your holidays in a place that embraces the cold. And whether you’d like to ski, snowboard, snowshoe, or just curl up with a book and admire the falling snow, we have the perfect recommendation.
Canada has earned its reputation as a winter wonderland. From coast to coast, the country remains frigid and snowy for much of the year, which makes for lots of picture-perfect scenery — but the snow-capped mountains aren’t just for show.
Just two hours north of Vancouver, Whistler hosted several of the 2010 Winter Olympic events, so this British Columbian ski town is home to some of the most famous slopes in the country. It’s an excellent destination for skiers and snowboarders, but those who prefer different winter adventures might want to consider heading to a few other Canadian locales. After all, in the chilly province of Québec, you could snowshoe, ice-fish, ski, snowmobile, or even stay in an ice hotel. And in Banff National Park, you have your pick of winter sports as well: snowshoeing, ice-skating, and cross-country and downhill skiing, to name a few. Of course, you can also relax in the national park’s natural hot springs, and at night, you can keep an eye out for the Northern Lights.
But Canada isn’t the only North American country that knows how to make the most of winter. The United States boasts many amazing ski towns, too — including world-famous Stowe (Vermont), Bethel (Maine), Ketchum (Idaho), South Lake Tahoe (California), Park City (Utah), and Aspen and Vail (Colorado).
Whichever wonderland you choose, you’ll have the strong impression that you’ve wandered into a snowglobe. So bundle up and enjoy the cold!
Island in the Sun: the Caribbean
Winter weather isn’t for everyone. If you’re desperate to get away from the cold for a while, the holidays are the perfect time to make your escape. And there’s no better place to jet off to than the Caribbean, where you’ll be greeted by white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, and ideal temperatures.
Not only is this region warm and sunny, but flights to the Caribbean are relatively inexpensive (keeping in mind that holiday airfare is pricey, no matter where you go). And by December, hurricane season has passed, so you won’t need to worry about natural disasters disrupting your vacation time or the local way of life.
With dozens of island paradises scattered throughout this warm tropical sea, travelers are spoiled for choice. From the Bahamas in the north to Aruba in the south, and from Puerto Rico in the east to the Cayman Islands in the west, you’ll quickly realize that there’s no such thing as a bad Caribbean vacation.
Mid-December is the beginning of the region’s peak travel season, so don’t be surprised if the islands are a little crowded. Luckily, sunshine and beach time make everyone a little more relaxed, so you and your fellow tourists should get along just fine.
Just don’t forget your sunscreen!
The Big City: Worldwide
If you’d like to welcome 2019 with a bang, then you should probably head to a major metropolis. After all, big cities really know how to party, and every inhabited continent will mark the occasion by hosting huge celebrations.
From New York City (with its annual party in Times Square) to Sydney (with its dazzling pyrotechnics behind the Harbour), these celebrations span across the globe. In London, special river cruises float up and down the Thames for fantastic fireworks views, while Seattle launches its rockets from the iconic Space Needle.
Of course, these displays often spook pets and lead to environmental concerns, so recently, some cities and events have opted to send drones into the air for light shows instead. From Coachella acts to Super Bowl halftime shows, from Fourth of July celebrations to the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics, drone shows are becoming more and more popular. This year, Singapore is planning a five-minute drone show on New Year’s Eve (although the city will also have a traditional fireworks display). And who knows? Many other cities might follow suit in the coming years.
No matter how you choose to ring in the New Year, we hope 2019 will be your best year yet!
Eager to get into the holiday spirit? Check out nine of our favorite traditions from around the world. Happy holidays!