Dreaming of a trip this Christmas? We’re here to help. From glittering cities to a few snowy escapes, here are 20 classic destinations for a festive break.
1. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen is Scandinavia’s most vibrant and affordable capital. Small and welcoming, it’s a place where people rather than cars set the pace, making its pre-Christmas activity a lot easier to navigate. The city’s Tivoli Gardens are transformed annually by half a million lights and thousands of Christmas trees and form a magnificent centrepiece to your festive meandering.
It might be a cliché but the craic really does flow in Dublin during December. The city’s streets are imbued with an irrepressible sense of festive cheer, and from the lights to the ice rinks and the carols at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Christmas is celebrated with gusto and glee.
For many, Salzburg is the quintessential Austria, offering the best of the country’s Baroque architecture, subalpine scenery and a musical heritage derived from the city’s most famous son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Its festive market is compact and intimate and a frequent dusting of snow adds to its appeal.
Nuremburg in Germany is renowned for its Christkindlesmarkt (Christmas market), which sees 180 stalls stand cheek by jowl on the Hauptmarkt, offering toys, trinkets and gingerbread treats. It looks especially enchanting after dark.
The city that never sleeps inevitably rules the roost when it comes to Christmas. From the Rockefeller Center’s gargantuan tree to the awe-inspiring shop displays, December in the Big Apple is simply magical.
The German capital offers no fewer than fifty Christmas markets every year, set amid its varied districts. If the candles and consumerism get a bit much there are plenty of museums and cultural events to experience too.
An ancient place packed with the relics of over two thousand years of inhabitation, Rome could ensnare you for a month and you’d still only scratch the surface. Yet it’s so much more than an open-air museum: its culture, food and people make up a modern, vibrant city. Faith and tradition play a key role in Christmas here, and there aren’t many more suitable places on the planet to attend Midnight Mass.
A fantasy come true for kids and adults alike that refuse to grow up, Father Christmas’s hometown is a must for anyone that still believes in the magic of Christmas. Of course the Santa Claus Village and Santa Park see most of the visitors, but nearby Rovaniemi also offers numerous delights.
The showcase capital of Scotland is an historic, cosmopolitan and cultured city. The setting is wonderfully striking – perched on a series of extinct volcanoes and rocky crags which rise from the generally flat landscape of the Lothians – and Christmas is done in style. Extend your stay for the world-famous Hogmanay a week later.
Canada’s second-largest city is geographically as close to the European coast as to Vancouver, and in look and feel it combines some of the finest aspects of the two continents. It’s a magical place at this time of year and a spin round (or tumble on to) the ice at the Patinoire du Bassin Bonsecours is a must.
East Asia’s most extraordinary city doesn’t let Christmas pass without a fanfare. Lights dangle from skyscrapers, shop fronts are bedecked in wrapping paper and Christmas music blasts from speakers everywhere.
12. Washington DC, USA
Although it can be bitterly cold during the winter months, Washington DC assumes a soul-warming aura in the pre-Christmas period. The Pathway of Peace leading up to the National Christmas Tree at the White House lights up daily from dusk until 11pm, and 56 trees – representing fifty states, five territories and the District of Columbia – are planted nearby.
Boston is as close to the Old World as the New World gets, and this is more evident than ever during the holidays. You’ll feel like you’ve travelled back in time as you navigate the gas lamp-lit streets of the historic city, working your way up to the huge tree in front of Faneuil Hall
This German city boasts eight different Christmas markets on both sides of the Rhine River. Offering all manner of gift ideas and plenty of glühwein stalls, it’s the perfect spot to pick up all those presents.
15. Prague, Czech Republic
With some 600 years of architecture virtually untouched by natural disaster or war, few other cities in Europe look as good as Prague. Straddling the winding River Vltava, with a steep wooded hill to one side, the city retains much of its medieval layout, and navigating the lanes in the run up to Christmas is a spellbinding experience.
In the Santa stakes, Iceland has one up on us; or rather, more accurately, twelve up. Their folklore talks of thirteen such characters, known as Yule Lads, who show up in town on the thirteen days leading up to Christmas. Head to the beautiful capital of Reykjavík and you may just spot one.
Dresden has as many Christmas markets as the next German city, but the main reason to visit happens on the Saturday before the second Sunday in Advent, when a huge stollen (traditional Christmas fruit cake) is paraded through the city streets and into the market before being cut up and distributed among the onlookers.
Christmas was made for Bruges, which is a picturesque medieval treat at any time of the year. The usual markets and ice rinks are present and correct across the Belgian city but the place has a charm all of its own.
19. New Orleans, USA
Unsurprisingly, New Orleans pulls out all the stops at Christmas. Riverboat caroling cruises and festive streetcars are among the key attractions in a city that goes hog wild for all things Chrimbo.
A white Christmas is guaranteed at Colorado’s famous mountain town and ski resort, and the place is jam-packed with alpine lodges and cosy spots to take refuge and share in some festive cheer.