Celebrating the yuletide spirit is a global activity that transcends location, age and even religion. All kinds of people in all kinds of places celebrate Christmas in their own way around the world.
In Scandinavia, it’s all about snow, reindeer and cosy fireplace hearths. In Australia, Christmas means backyard barbecues, cricket in the park and trips to the beach.
It can be an exciting adventure to travel somewhere new during the holiday season, so ask yourself: if you could go anywhere in the world to celebrate Christmas, where would it be?
Here are some brilliant global destinations to consider if you’re in the mood for a Christmas that’s ‘a little bit different’:
1. Zurich, Switzerland
Switzerland is one of the most civilised countries on earth and Zurich has all the ingredients for a memorable ‘winter wonderland’ holiday – plenty of snow, cobblestone streets and a wealth of Christmas markets spread all over the city (there’s an excellent one inside the main train station).
A stroll past the famous Singing Christmas Tree at Werdmuhleplatz is a must – here you can listen to daily choir performances of Christmas carols between 23 November and 23 December.[i]
2. The Vatican, Italy
The Eternal City is a magical place in December, with elaborate nativity scenes on show in a number of locations including Piazza Navona, St. Peter’s Square and Santa Maria Church on the Capitoline Hill.
You won’t go hungry as you stroll among the Christmas lights: there are vendors on every street corner selling roasted chestnuts. Attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in St. Peter’s Basilica is an unforgettable experience.[ii]
3. Tokyo, Japan
What’s the best way to describe Christmas celebrations in Tokyo? The phrase ‘totally different’ certainly comes to mind. It’s a blinding spectacle of dazzling lights, excessive decorations, buzzing neon and a complete absence of religion (Christmas Day isn’t a holiday in Japan).
Christmas Eve is celebrated a bit like Valentine’s Day – it’s a night geared toward romantic couples. If you need to do some Christmas shopping, head for Ginza or Shibuya, where you’ll find more department stores than you can count.
4. New York City, USA
Thanks to countless movies, most of us have a pretty good idea of what New York City is like at Christmas-time. If you go, make sure you visit the world’s tallest Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, ice skate at Central Park’s Wollman Rink, shop at Union Square Holiday Market and check out Santaland at Macy’s, where the elves and toy trains live up to their reputations. Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular show is well worth a look if you can get tickets, too. Just try to avoid Times Square, unless you really love massive crowds.[iii]
5. Seefeld, Austria
Christmas in Austria is very traditional with handcrafted ornaments, elaborately woven wreaths, nativity displays, sleigh rides and classical music concerts.
Both Salzburg and Vienna offer a superb Christmas experience but if you want to avoid the big crowds, a smaller city can often be fun too.
Seefeld in Tirol is a beautiful village that’s just right for a Christmas celebration – sample ice skating and cross-country skiing, ride a sled down a snow-covered hill and check out the Christmas markets.[iv]
6. Bled, Slovenia
Stunning Lake Bled is one of the most picturesque places in Europe at any time of year but over Christmas it’s truly mesmerising, with lit-up castles towering above the shimmering lake and snow-capped hills creating a romantic backdrop.
At the Public Lido, marvel at the largest permanent nativity scene in Slovenia – the ‘Christmas Crib’. Try your luck at ice skating at the ‘rink with a view’ at the Hotel Park.
Check out the Festive Promenade which operates from the beginning of December to the first week in January, showcasing traditional food and drinks from the region and an impressive selection of yuletide gifts.[v]
7. Bethlehem, West Bank
Every year, thousands of locals and foreigners make the pilgrimage to Bethlehem to gather in Manger Square, where Midnight Mass is held at the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve.
When the commercialisation of Christmas starts to overwhelm you and you’re looking to reconnect with the traditional spirit of the holiday, a trip to Bethlehem will remind you of the real meaning of Christmas. There’s quite a lot to see and do around Bethlehem over the Christmas period.[vi]
8. Montreal, Canada
This Quebec city maintains a strong French flavour, so you get the best of both worlds: a traditional, European-style Christmas combined with the friendly, outgoing hospitality that Canadians are famous for.
Don’t miss the annual Santa Claus Parade, the Plaza St. Hubert Christmas Parade, the fireworks displays at the Old Port or the scrumptious holiday pastries and candied chestnuts. You’ll need plenty of cups of hot chocolate to wash it all down and keep the cold at bay, of course.[vii]
- Travelling abroad to experience Christmas in a unique setting is a great way to spend a holiday; we share 8 foreign destinations around the globe that are perfect for enjoying the yuletide spirit
- Bled, Slovenia is a magical place at Christmas-time, with imposing hillside castles, a shimmering lake and snow-capped mountains; don’t miss the Festive Promenade
- For a reminder of the real meaning of Christmas, a trip to Bethlehem can be incredibly rewarding
- Austrian cities such as Salzburg and Vienna offer a very traditional Christmas experience, but smaller villages like Seefeld can be quieter and less hectic, while still offering plenty of festive season activities