Here’s our pick of the world’s best spots for yuletide celebrations, with something for adventurers, retail-therapy seekers, culture lovers, avid skiers and festive merrymakers.
Prague, Czech Republic
If amazing photo opportunities and historic streetscapes are your bag, then the city of Prague is the festive destination for you. Don’t miss Old Town Square, a sprawling yet charming space that hosts markets at Christmas, along with the nearby Wenceslas (yes, really) Square. The beautiful Charles Bridge is another must-see. Grand Baroque architecture and other historic landmarks, combined with snow and the glow of Christmas, make for a magical experience.
If you’re after a totally different experience, Japan might just fit the bill. Christmas Eve is the main event and it’s actually celebrated as a romantic occasion for couples to spend time together – akin to Valentine’s Day. Tokyo lights up for the season; top spots to see the illuminated displays include Starlight Garden in Midtown, the Caretta show in Shiodome and the twinkling trees of Omotesando and Marunouchi. When you’ve done it all and just want to hit the powder, you can go skiing in Niseko.
SEE ALSO: Where to Ski in Japan
Aspen, United States
There are charming chalets, crackling fires and plenty of hot chocolate and mulled wine to go around. During the festive season, this ski-resort town gets into the spirit with visits from Santa and his reindeers, live jazz, parties, carolling, the customary Christmas Eve and Christmas Day feasts and performances at the historic Wheeler Opera House. Festivities culminate with a spectacular fireworks display over Aspen Mountain to bring in the New Year.
Celebrate Weihnachten (Christmas Eve) – one of Germany’s favourite holidays and the inspiration for many a Noël tradition – in the country’s oldest city: Cologne. The main attraction is the traditional Christmas markets held under a giant tree, which is appropriately decked out in thousands of lights. You’ll find handcrafted goods, regional specialties, music and entertainment for the whole family and, of course, mulled wine. The Gothic Cologne Cathedral provides an impressive backdrop and is open daily – climb the south tower for panoramic views.
SEE ALSO: Christmas All Year at Kathe Wohlfahrt
A yuletide trip to Tromsø should get the grinchiest of folks in a jolly mood. A dose of old-world charm, traditional red and yellow houses, dog sledding, roaring fires and hot spas will go a long way. Experience the gorgeous lights of polar nights (when the sun never rises) and keep an eye out for the amazing stained glass of The Arctic Cathedral. Take the Tromsø Cable Car and you’ll see the Christmas lights as you ascend Mount Storsteinen – cross your fingers for a glimpse of the enchanting aurora borealis.
Anyone wanting American festivities with a European vibe should make merry in Montreal. Bring in a white Noël with night skiing in nearby Bromont or take in the glitter of the Christmas lights downtown. There’s also outdoor skating and sledding, the annual Santa Claus parade (it has been going since 1925), Christmas concerts at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and shopping out of the elements at Underground City. If you’re feeling it, you can even chop down your own tree or join thousands of revellers in the candlelit Montreal Christmas Parade, known as the Marche de Noël aux flambeaux.
New York City, United States
There’s nothing like a white Christmas in New York. Start with a visit to the city’s most spectacular Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center then head to Central Park for skating at Wollman Rink and tobogganing on Pilgrim Hill. Next, shop like a local at the Union Square Holiday Market and don’t miss the dazzling window displays at Macy’s, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany & Co. and Barneys New York. Nab tickets to The Radio City Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular, first presented in 1933, or George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, which the New York City Ballet has performed annually since 1954.