Whether you’re planning a short vacation for the Christmas holiday or dreaming about your next epic long-haul Christmas getaway, we can help you choose from the world’s most magical festive spots. You could be exploring snow-dusted streets in Oslo, taking in the most stunning Christmas light displays in Paris or tucking into mouthwatering festive street food in Vienna.
Whoever said Christmas was better at home?! Keep scrolling to check out our top ten best Christmas vacations for the holiday season… can you guess where number one is?
10. Brussels, Belgium
It might not be the first festive place that comes to mind but Brussels is a delight at Christmas. The city’s Winter Wonder event sees the stunning Grand-Place and other squares around the city come to life with cute, snow-dusted Christmas market chalets and pop-up restaurants. The massive Christmas tree and festive fairground will basically melt anyone’s heart, while the ice rink at Marché aux Poissons is postcard picture-perfect.
And if you were wondering what people in Belgium eat at Christmas, the answer is chocolatey Belgian WAFFLES, of course!
9. Oslo, Norway
Ever heard of ‘koeslig’? It means cosy, and the Norwegians basically invented it. Which means Christmas in Norway is all about those cute, warming vibes. Tuck into seasonal treats like warm gingerbread and ‘peperkaker’ cookies at the Christmas market in front of the Royal Palace, or listen to a traditional carol concert in one of Oslo’s beautiful music venues. Interesting fact: you know that awkward period between Christmas and New Year? The Norwegians call this ‘Romjulen’ and see it as the perfect time to hit the local saunas. It doesn’t get cosier than that…
8. Paris, France
Paris has to be one of the most romantic Christmas destinations in the world. Home to jaw-dropping window shopping at Galeries Lafayette, warming ‘vin chaud’ at the Parisian Christmas markets and an impressive vintage fairground at the Musee Des Arts Forains (this private collection of vintage rides date back to 1850!). If Christmas lights are your thing, nowhere beats Paris. The Champs Elysées always has a magical display, while Rue Faubourg-St-Honoré is frosted with crystal chandelier decorations.
Traditionally, the French have their Christmas meal or ‘le réveillon de Noël’ on Christmas Eve – so this is the perfect excuse to tuck into all the French delicacies. On Christmas Day, join local Parisians on a wintry walk along the stretching river Seine.
7. Rome, Italy
At Christmas time, Rome becomes a magical wonderland. Check out the grand Christmas tree in front of the iconic Colosseum, plus you’ll find ornate nativity scenes popping up all over the city (including the Nativity at the Basilica of Santa Maria with life-size figures!). The Rome Christmas markets are incredible – Piazza Navona’s market transforms into a magical Christmas bazaar selling handmade toys, roasted chestnuts and more.
On Christmas Day, it’s best to do as the Romans do – eat! The Italian Christmas feast includes roast lamb with garlic and rosemary, a joint of ham and plenty of hearty vegetables. Of course, there’ll also be pasta like ‘gnocci alla Romana’ (cheesy, baked gnocci dough). Head to Vatican City (the world’s smallest country!) on the big day and you can even receive a blessing from the Pope himself.
6. Reykjavik, Iceland
Christmas is a great time to visit Iceland. Although a lot of shops and restaurants are closed in Reykjavik on the big day, that’s all the more reason to cosy up by the fire. Plus, there’s still plenty of Christmassy things to do and see in Iceland. In fact, throughout December there are events like the quaint Christmas market village in Hafnarfjörður, ice skating in Ingólfstorg Square and the Christmas Forest light display at City Hall. The dead of winter is also a great time to see the Northern Lights, so it’s worth booking a tour while you’re there for that extra special ‘Aurora borealis’ Christmas present. Make sure not to miss the annual Christmas market in Heiðmörk, located just on the outskirts of Reykjavik. You will be pleased to discover that the Christmas trees that are sold there are largely sustainable, meaning that for every tree that is sold, there will be 50 new ones planted.
Oh, and Icelanders don’t believe in Santa Claus, by the way! Instead, they have the magical Yule Lads. They are 13 mischievous pranksters who live in the mountains and only come down during Christmas – you’ll find them lurking on the walls of buildings in the city centre or hanging out at the National Museum.
5. London, UK
Christmas in the Big Smoke can’t be beat. It’s literally one of the best Christmas towns in the world. For the best London Christmas markets, try Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park with wild rides and sweet treats; the Southbank’s Winter Festival with crafts and delicious German-inspired street food; or go green at London’s Zero Waste Christmas Market in East London.
London is also the city for quirky celebrations. You can experience hot tubs and beer pong at Winterland in Fulham. Stroll the colourful enchanted woodland at Syon Park or go to Liberty department store in Oxford Circus – it’s the spot for unique Christmas ornaments and decorations. The icing on top of the Christmas pudding? Take a day trip to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London and have yourself a very Harry Potter Christmas with Hogwarts in the Snow.
As you can see, there are many places to visit in London around Christmas, so make sure you stay somewhere close to a tube or train station, if you don’t want to miss all the good spots by traveling all day.
4. Charleston, South Carolina, USA
A surprise entry here! Spending Christmas in Charleston is like stepping back in time. Travel + Leisure Magazine hailed Charleston as one of the best Christmas vacation destinations in the U.S and we couldn’t agree more. The 19th-century antebellum mansions are decked with holiday garlands and the streets are filled with festive tunes.
There are plenty of Christmas events going on in Charleston, as well: From 15 November – 31 December, James Island County Park hosts the Holiday Festival of Lights with Christmas lights aplenty, a holiday train and Santa’s grotto. Don’t miss the Historic City Market and the amazing festive Southern food.
3. Lapland, Finland
Fly across the Arctic Circle to land at potentially the most magical place on Earth. A Lapland Christmas is to basically become a kid again! The Lapland Santa Claus Village is unmissable – after all it is the big guy’s official home – with a working post office and ice sculptures, just 8km north of Rovaniemi. Besides the amazing sightings, there’s also plenty of things to do in Lapland for Christmas, as well. You might see the Northern Lights dancing across the Arctic sky as they’re most likely seen January-April. And if not, there’s always a husky safari, reindeer meet-and-greet or the winter Ice Music Festival. Take your (ice) pick!
2. Vienna, Austria
Vienna just might be the most photogenic city at Christmas. The Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz is the biggest, and arguably the most beautiful, Christmas market. While the Museum Quarter hosts a kind of arty alternative to the traditional Christmas market.
If you’re wondering what to do in Vienna at Christmas time, here are our best tips: At night, head straight to the lake in front of the Upper Belvedere Palace to get a stunning reflection shot of the building, shimmering with a gorgeous Christmas light display. The Viennese also have the perfect festive food to combat the winter chill. Pick up a steaming mug of ‘Weihnachtspunsch’ (Christmas punch) and a hot ‘Käsekrainer’ or Bratwurst while exploring. It’s all about living like a Viennese local this Christmas!
1. Prague, Czech Republic
And the magical Christmas front runner is… Look Prague just gets Christmas okay? Some might say that Prague is eternally Christmassy with its cobbled streets, quaint town buildings and twinkling lights. Dreaming of a white Christmas? Prague might be just the place – the temperatures in December are often below freezing so snow is always possible! In fact, here’s what to pack if you’re heading for a winter trip.
The Christmas markets in Prague are phenomenal, with the main ones held at Wenceslas Square and the Old Town Square (just a 5-minute walk from each other). In the Old Town Square, you’ll also find the mighty Christmas tree – from the forests of the Liberec region in the Czech Republic, of course. The lights are switched on at 4.30pm every day and it’s an amazing sight against the stark, Gothic skyline, which makes Prague one of the best places to visit in December, as well. With so many attractions and events going on, there’s always something to do in Prague for Christmas.
December often attracts a crowd as more of us are catching on that Prague’s Christmas market is one of Europe’s best! So, plan in advance and try to stay somewhere near Old Town Square, so you can easily stroll to the Christmas market.
If that doesn’t put you in the festive mood we don’t know what will! From quirky Christmas traditions to festive American delights – these are officially the most magical places to spend the holidays, now go forth and book that trip!