Christmas is truly one of the most wonderful times of the year. It’s a season of giving, romance, joy, love, and wonder. The lights, decorations, and snow give us the sense that the Christmas spirit is constantly whirring around us.
We try to get the most out of the holiday season, so we book our calendars full of cookie baking, shopping, good food, parties, parties, and more parties. We become so busy that in a flash the holidays are over, and we realize we didn’t reserve any time to slow down and really enjoy it.
I love to go away for a long weekend just before Christmas so I can more thoroughly enjoy this special time of year. Booking a vacation during the holidays is a great way to force some relaxation into an otherwise hectic schedule, so I’ve asked travel bloggers to share their favorite Christmas destinations with me. I received some great responses from all over the world.
Whether you journey near or far from your home this holiday season, I hope you are able to escape the stress, find some time to slow down, and enjoy.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Renata Pereira
Rio de Janeiro is generally not seen as a Christmas destination, but for various reasons it tops my list of places to visit at this time of the year. The main explanation is obvious: the weather.
Experiencing Christmas during summer is something totally different. You go to the beach, enjoy the outdoors, go out at night to check Christmas lights without worrying about bringing jackets, etc.
In Rio, the main attraction is a giant floating tree in the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the main lagoon in town. People come from all over to take pictures, enjoy the atmosphere, and to indulge in local street food like tapioca, churros, and corn on the cob.
From certain angles you have a beautiful view of Christ the Redeemer behind the tree. You can also jump on boats or rent a pedal boat and go as close as possible. Kids love it! The city promotes this Christmas floating tree as the biggest in the world.
The only one who suffers is Santa… Yes, he also wears pants and long sleeves south of the Equator even during the day, when temperatures are generally over 90 F!
Brighton, United Kingdom – Spaghetti Traveler
An area loved during the summer for its water sports, street festivals and friendly atmosphere, Brighton isn’t an area you naturally think of visiting during the winter, when the winds speed up and there is a chill in the air. But this has to be one of the best places to visit in Europe on holiday during December.
The stunning Pavilion gardens open up an ice skating rink, complete with a bar to boot. Both the South Lanes and the North Laine are decorated in Christmas decorations the entire way down the street, while street performers seem to be on every corner. There are more pubs than days in the year in Brighton, while each one sets up mulled wine (or mulled cider if you prefer), as well as fitting in a giant tree.
While the area is nicknamed ‘London by the sea’, the shops are a stark contrast, with it quite easy to go in and buy everything you want without being stuck in mile long queues. But the thing I love the most, is on Christmas morning around 1,000 people run in to the freezing cold Brighton sea completely naked. Hats off to them!!
Italy – LooknWalk
For me Christmas has always meant spending time with family. When I was a child, it was about gifts, visiting relatives, caroling and Christmas lunch. As I grew up and moved on my own, and later when I got married, Christmas meant lunch with my family on Christmas Day and sometimes visiting friends before or after.
While I did travel for New Year’s, I’ve never been away for Christmas. As there’s a first time for everything, this year will be different. We chose Italy for a month long trip, which includes the winter holidays.
Why Italy? Firstly because of the climate. We are fortunate to have a mild climate where we live but it’s not as warm as southern Italy. So I fell in love the first we visited back in March 2012. Secondly, because of the food. I’ve discovered the Mediterranean diet back in 2006 when I changed my lifestyle to maintain a normal weight and never looked back since. Did you know that Italians eat seafood on Christmas Eve? And thirdly, to discover new Christmas Markets. They are popular in Europe and have been to some before but never to one in Italy.
Germany – Fun Tour Guru
I chose to visit Germany in December for these reasons – my family history – my Grandmother grew up 100 years ago near Dresden, Germany and after losing my parents a few years ago I needed an extra dose of family, traditions, and festivities.
I love living in the California, I often miss this special time of the season of the outdoor lights, aroma and scents in the cold night air, and festivities of the small communities when growing up in the Midwest USA. I chose this German Christmas Market tour departing Frankfurt with the final destination of Berlin where I stayed an extra week with cousins. I had the opportunity to see the popular larger markets in towns like Frankfurt, Rothenberg and Nuremburg. The special likeness about these is that each community has an individuality. For example, Nuremburg is where I eat an unhealthy dose of Lebukuken (gingerbread cookies). I found the smaller communities like Eisenach may have a different regional type of gluhwein recipe or German sausages. I walked through Wartburg Castle that was decorated with a medieval Christmas setting and saw local merchants selling handmade wares like wooden string puppets and outdoor wood fires to keep warm by.
My favorite is the Dresden Striezelmarkt which is one of the oldest German markets. Perhaps it might be that I inherited a 1930s black and white postcard from Dresden, Germany looking across the Elbe River at the church and government buildings. I was entranced with the history of Dresden – I enjoyed seeing the historical architecture of the Zwinger Palace, Semper Opera House and the Church of Our Lady even though much was destroyed in war. The markets were scattered around these buildings. I discovered many of the small business merchants did not know English and I used sign language to communicate. I saw a man wind up by hand an old wooden merry-go-round for children to ride on and tasted my first hot white chocolate. Don’t forget to check the schedule of Christmas pageant music in the newly renovated Church of our Lady. And a group dinner on a hilltop overlooking Dresden. My favorite activity was the tour of the regional Christmas cake bakery, a Dresdner Stollen bakery and talk with the bakers.
San Francisco, United States – Berkeley and Beyond
My favorite Christmas destination is San Francisco. And since I live just across the bay in Berkeley, San Francisco is a place I have had the pleasure of fully exploring during the holiday season. Leading up to the big day, I enjoy the crisp sounds of the cable cars decorated for the holidays and the lights of the big hotels decked out for the season–the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero is spectacular with its long strings of lights dangling into the lobby from far above and the Fairmont Hotel has an over-the-top gingerbread display. Windows in Union Square stores are decked for the season and fun to browse, and an ice skating rink sets up shop in the square itself. On Christmas Day, when most places are closed, Chinatown is a good spot to visit for restaurants, while Golden Gate Park is the place to go for recreation–the Japanese Tea Garden, the Victorian Conservatory of Flowers, and the Koret Children’s Quarter playground and adjacent carousel are all open. These are just a few of my favorite things. Many more spectacular seasonal discoveries await.
Edinburgh, Scotland – A World To Travel
A recent study I did on the best places around the world to spend NYE helped me navigate my mind around this subject and reinforced the idea I already formed in my mind back in 2013, the year I was lucky enough to attend Hogmanay.
Because Scottish, and particularly the people of Edinburgh do it better and really know how to throw a New Year’s Eve party like no other.
That said, I might or might not be a party girl drawn to festive crowds and music festivals. As a result of that plus my inherent Spanish blood – always putting life before work – I might have attended or not a large number of unique events like this around the world since my teenage years. That should be enough to testify the show this city puts up over the last days of the year is worth living at least once in a lifetime.
Picture the core of the city bustling with people partying, jumping from one stage to the other as 5 bands are usually playing at the same time all over the place, staring at fireworks as midnight approaches, having a blast even when the weather doesn’t help and you will start understanding how much fun it is. And then add popular dances, an ice rink, Christmas markets, a ferris wheel, a torchlight procession on the 30th, a proper music festival on the 31st, the nuts Loony Dook race that ends up swimming in the not so warm waters by the Forth bridge on the outskirts of the city as weel as an art explosion taking over 9 bizarre venues called Scot:Lands.
I doubt there is another place on earth rocking NYE as much as Edinburgh!
Bergen, Norway – Norske Reiseblogger
My favorite Christmas destination is Bergen, a small city located on the west coast of Norway. In Bergen you can find the world’s largest Gingerbread city and it is attracting visitors from all over the world!
This year it is the 26th time the Gingerbread city is created and it is put together with the help of school classes, companies, families and group of friends contributing with their masterpiece Gingerbread houses to be part of the miniature Gingerbread city. Last year there were over 2000 different buildings and Gingerbread constructions added to the exhibition, and this year it looks to be even larger. Imagine walking into a room filled with the delicious smell of 2000 Gingerbread houses all decorated with candy and frostings and put into different locations and areas to create streets and neighbourhoods. Everything is carefully put together to maximise the visitors experience and both creative lighting, music and sounds from the city is added. Still not convinced? Take a look at the gorgeous pictures from last years exhibition or come to Bergen to take in the beauty of the Gingerbread city by yourself. Christmas spirit guarantied!
Kenya – Altitude Treks
There’s something magical about a cold-weather Christmas; mulled wine, hearty roast dinners, roaring fires. My favorite place for Christmas is on Kenya’s north-coast, a small enclave called Kuruwitu. It’s deeply personal for me, as it’s where I spent many a Christmas as a child. My parents had a beach house, on a quiet clifftop overlooking the bright blue Indian Ocean. Christmas would be spent in shorts and a t-shirt, outside by the pool. A Christmas tree adorns a breezy atrium, Christmas cards depicting snowy scenes contrast with the sunshine. After a traditional lunch we would all flop into the sea or fall asleep under the palm trees.
Some of the shops have tacky Father Christmas decorations, with him all dressed up in his red outfit, reminiscent of more northerly climes. A tropical Christmas is what I’ve always known, and it’s the one I yearn for, in spite of the beauty of crisp white snow. I spent my last Christmas in Mombasa after I’d just climbed Kilimanjaro – warm weather soothing my exhausted muscles. Times change, but I’d always go back there – Christmas to me will always be tropical.
Vienna, Austria – Kiera Reilly
Vienna, Austria is a magical city during the Christmas season with seasonal sparkling lights hanging over most pedestrian walkways and live Christmas trees decorating the doorways of many buildings. The chill and cold air in December lends itself to bundling up in winter gear while strolling through the many Christkindl markets throughout the city. Each market has a different feel, with glühwein, hot chocolate and other warm beverages served in commemorative mugs, making a fun and festive souvenir. At each market location, there is something of interest to explore – be it St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the ornate City Hall at the Rauthausplatz , the Imperial Hofburg Palace or Schönbrunn Palace. It is a must to sample the infamous Sacher Torte at the Sacher Hotel and then compare it to the offerings at the ornately decorated Café Demel Take in a performance at the Vienna State Opera House and marvel at the musical artistry on display. Most sights are within walking distance and public transportation is easy to navigate by taking the subway or watching the sights pass by above ground in the tram that circles the Ringstrasse. Christmas music and cheer fills the air wherever you roam.