The Christmas holiday season is one that millions of people around the world look forward to every year. As we emerge into yet another phase of the "new normal" (the pandemic isn't over of course, but travel is making its comeback), lots of you might be asking yourselves, "Why not celebrate Christmas away from home this year?"
Pack your bags, because the holidays are the perfect time to think big and make those magical travel dreams come true. Having the chance to learn more about other cultures and traditions around the world is the icing on the cake!
Don't miss our roundup of 10 of the best cities around the world to celebrate Christmas.
10 Cities to Celebrate Christmas Around the World
1. New York (USA)
Who hasn't dreamt of Christmas in the Big Apple? To see the city lit up from top to bottom, the incredible shop windows, and of course the scenes we recreate from our favorite holiday movies is on the bucket list of nearly every traveler.
If you're thinking about heading to NYC for the holidays, of course you can't miss the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The tree lighting ceremony takes places the first Wednesday after Thanksgiving and is a unique experience you won't soon forget.
Rockefeller Center is also famous for its ice skating rink, where you can show off your skills (or lack thereof) for everyone to see.
If you're looking to check out some amazing Christmas lights, don't miss Dyker Heights in Brooklyn. Voted as the best-decorated spot in the U.S., the houses are truly decked out in the most extravagant of fashions; you'll think you've stepped right onto a TV or movie set.
Finally, round off your magical holiday moment with a horse-drawn carriage tour through Central Park, a night at The Nutcracker, and some window shopping at Macy's before sharing your wishlist with Santa Claus himself.
2. London (United Kingdom)
London is another city that just knows how to do Christmas. With its streets lit up with whimsical designs, stunning details, and enchanting aesthetics, even the most mundane stroll around town is enough to get you in the holiday spirit. Even London's parks and shopping centers get in on the action, with the glow extending across the entire city.
Christmas really kicks into gear, however, at the start of December when the tree in Trafalgar Square is lit up. For the occasion, you'll see people coming together to sing carols and participate in general holiday revelry and joy.
If you want to know where to kick off your adventures, head for Oxford Street, Regent Street, and Bond Street. Of course, you'll want to head straight to Harrods department store, where the over-the-top facade alone is worth the trip!
End things on a high note, like a true Londoner. Go ice skating at the rink right below the London Eye or visit the Winter Wonderland Christmas market in the heart of Hyde Park. By this time you've probably worked up an appetite, so save some room for a traditional Christmas pudding.
3. Medellín (Colombia)
Let's move south, to warmer climes, where you can live an equally authentic and special Christmas celebration in one of Colombia's most beautiful cities.
Medellín's Christmas spirit is present no matter where you turn, and you won't find anything like it anywhere else. Why? Because the city come to life with 27 million lights (!) and over 760 kilometers of cable that add a festive glow to every last corner. This is known as "el Alumbrado" or "the Lighting."
Things come together from the first week in December and stay that way until the second week of January, more or less. The impressive spectacle covers six different areas of Medellín and delights locals and tourists alike with designs and colors that get better year after year.
4. Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
Tropical Christmas, anyone? Looking for joyful celebration, beautiful beaches, and plenty of caipirinhas? Head straight to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, baby!
The holiday season is officially kicked off when the floating Lagoa Christmas tree is lit against the backdrop of music, lively shows, traditional dances, and fireworks.
Beyond the beach and the waves, visiting Brazil over the holidays means you'll get up close and personal with the country's Catholic traditions. What does this look like? Most people go to midnight mass on Christmas (Misa de Galo). Afterwards, there's a big fireworks show where everyone, young and old, comes together to keep celebrating. On Christmas Eve, families gather for a traditional dinner where they share merriment and gifts.
If you're less in the mood for family and want something more social, there are tons of bars and restaurants open all night for partiers to keep the celebrations going, no matter who you're with.
Don't forget about the gifts! Do some last-minute shopping at the Saara market, Rio's most popular, or if you're looking for something slightly more eccentric, the hippie market on Ipanema will surely have some handmade gems that will catch your eye.
5. Québec (Canada)
OK, maybe you're a traditionalist. Beaches are nice, but you want Christmas in the cold! Wait, you actually want a white Christmas – bring on the snow. If you want to add an extra dose of international culture (without straying too far from home), Quebec is your ideal destination.
Fall in love with the rich Quebecois traditions around the holidays, be it participating in a midnight mass, sharing an abundant Christmas Eve dinner with family and friends, watching the variety of parades and other activities around the city, and more.
One of the most popular tradition has to do with the Belsnicklers, where various people (masked!) run through the city's different neighborhoods, ringing bells, singing carols, and raising a general ruckus as a means to get the neighbors to give them sweets and treats.
Round off your visit by seeing The Nutcracker ballet. Sure, its origins may lie in Russia, but no Canadian can call it a successful Christmas season without going to see a performance at least once.
6. Sydney (Australia)
Looking for a totally different kind of Christmas? Sydney has everything you need, from a holiday picnic on the beach to seeing Santa Claus on a surfboard.
Get your bathing suit ready, because Christmas in Sydney is hot and sunny – it's strange to remember that about the holiday season in the Southern Hemisphere!
One of Australia's most iconic Christmas traditions is to host a traditional roast turkey dinner; for dessert the famous "pudding" hides a special coin, and the person that finds it gets one year of good luck.
Once you've opened your gifts, plan to spend December 25 and 26 on the beach! Everyone who's anyone can be found on Bondi, where beachgoers are clad in swim trunks and Santa hats, and build "snowmen" in the sand.
7. Salzburg (Austria)
Looking for the roots of "Silent Night"? Look no further than Salzburg, Austria, home to one of the most captivating and enchanting of Christmas seasons.
Before December even kicks off, Salzburg already looks like it's straight out of a fairytale, thanks to its Christmas markets, carols echoing through the streets, holiday lights, and picturesque decorations. The fact that the city is almost always blanketed in snow this time of year doesn't hurt, either.
The best things do while in town include sipping on mulled wine at one of the markets, snacking on traditional sweets and sausages, and watching the iconic Krampus parade, which is based in centuries-old Alpine folklore.
8. Madrid (Spain)
Another European dream destination for Christmastime is Madrid. For starters, its famous tree in La Puerta del Sol is a can't-miss for anyone who plans to ring in the holiday season in the Spanish capital.
Between the traditional music and the illuminated city streets, it's hard to choose a favorite moment or activity to check out. If what you're looking for is a party, though, don't hesitate to head to Plaza Mayor, where the revelers dressed up in costumes and wigs turn the festivities into a veritable Carnival.
But that's not all! This year, the Gigantic Light Ball returns to the city's iconic Metropolis Building. With over 43,000 LED lights, it's a sight you won't want to miss out on.
9. Montreux (Switzerland)
In the mood for a truly storybook Christmas experience? Montreux, in Switzerland, has everything you've ever dreamed of – and more. You might know this postcard-perfect town, situated on the shores of Lake Geneva, for its world-famous Jazz Festival each summer, but there's no doubt it's an ideal winter wonderland as well.
Visit Santa Claus's house (really!), a place where the young – and young at heart – can connect with the magic of Christmas. After dropping off your letter for the North Pole, visit the village of the elves, where children can make their own candles and snowmen.
Of course, you can't miss the city's classic Christmas market, where you'll be able to stock up on as many gifts and traditional souvenirs that you can get your hands on.
10. Bangkok (Thailand)
Thailand is certainly not a traditional Christmas destination, for many reasons. First, Thailand isn't a Catholic country so the religious element is not a factor at all. As a result, the holiday season in Bangkok is more centered around a big shopping festival where local merchants, malls, and even nightclubs are open to everyone looking to enjoy an offbeat celebration (with Christmas carols playing in the background).
Not to worry, though. If you're planning on staying through New Year's, you can witness a fireworks display of epic proportions at the Icon Siam shopping center, located right along the Phraya River.