It’s looking a lot like Christmas! Silver bells…twinkly lights…pictures with Santa popping up in your friends’ Facebook feeds.
Happily, I’ll be spending the holiday at home with family. My tree is glittering. The garland is draped across the front porch and the gifts are getting wrapped – (but slowly, slowly).
Every now and then, as I tie a Tiffany-style bow – I dream about spending the holiday in a picture-perfect Christmas destination, a place filled with snowflakes and evergreens and classic red ribbons. The kind of Christmas card town that seems almost magical – a place known for a unique Christmas spirit. What are the places I dream of?
Here they are.
In my opinion, these are the Top 10 Christmas Destinations anywhere in the world!
1. Lapland, Finland
As Santa’s official homeland, Finnish Lapland is obviously pretty focused on the Christmas holiday. The town of Rovaniemi is officially designated as Santa’s hometown. A white line through the park delineates the boundaries of the actual Arctic Circle.)
And while, according to local lore, Santa lives a bit further out, he does keep his office downtown.
Here, you can find the world’s most authentic Santa Claus Village as well as the Santa Claus Main Post Office, where over 17 million letters to Santa have been processed and stamped with a special postmark since 1985.
Reindeer and dog-sled rides and snowmobile tours are availalble, as are snowmobile tours. There’s an igloo hotel and more.
And every year, on December 23, Santa officially departs from his office in Rovaniemi to make his rounds delivering toys to good girls and boys. He gets a special send-off from his fans as he heads out.
Of course, Finland is not just about Saint Nick. Christmas in this region also means gingerbread and glögi, a mulled red wine scented with cardamom and cinnamon and served with raisins and almonds.
There’s also the smell of wood burning fires, specifically those that heat up the traditional Finnish saunas. I’m adding a Lapland Christmas experience to my wish list, right now.
2. Charleston, South Carolina – USA
If you prefer your traditional Christmas in a slightly warmer climate, consider Charleston, South Carolina. The state’s iconic palm trees won’t diminish your Christmas experience in any way.
In Charleston, candle-lit tours of beautiful historic homes decorated for the holidays will help set the tone. The Garden Club of Charleston decks the halls of the Joseph Manigault house with historically-accurate garlands and live plants. Heyward-Washington House has its tables decorated with festive 18th-century place settings and the 1740 herb garden and kitchen show how the staff prepared for Christmas. There are pre-Victorian homes and Civil War era homes, each one decorated in a special holiday style.
You can also take a guided Charleston Strolls tour that visits landmarks in the classically-decorated historic district, ending with a photo opportunity in front of the Mills House Hotel’s grand Christmas Tree.
You can even enjoy Charleston’s famous Southern Hospitality with a behind-the-scenes Christmas tour by Charleston Tea Party Tours. You’ll enjoy visiting three private Southern homes with a knowledgable local guide. The tour begins with a full breakfast and ends with high tea. Remember to make reservations well in advance, for this one!
3. London, England
To celebrate a truly unforgettable Christmas, head to London. The lights, the shopping, the music, the tours – everything adds up to create a perfect holiday getaway.
Fans of the season’s iconic “A Christmas Carol” can tour author Charles Dickens’ home by candlelight, take guided walks through his neighborhood and even hear the famous tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past performed in Dickens’ home as darkness falls…
And of course, Harrod’s famous Winter Sale starts on Boxing Day (December 26), so if you don’t mind standing in line (or as the Brits say, queuing), you’ll be rewarded with stylish luxury goods at excellent bargain pricing. And you’ll have an experience to write home about.
4. Santa Fe, New Mexico
A Santa Fe Christmas is unlike any other. December brings together the area’s historic traditions from Spanish, Native American and Old American West heritage. The mountains are covered in snow, the sky is vivid blue, the luminarias are lit and the smell of burning piñon wood scents the air. At Christmastime, the city enters its most charming and romantic season.
Christmas Eve in the Santa Fe Plaza is filled with 1,000 glittering farolitos (flickering candles in paper bags) that light buildings, pathways and more, turn the town into a truly magical place. There are carols and cider and many people walk a few blocks to the Cross of the Martyrs where there are views of the entire city, more farolitos and bonfires.
The annual candle-lit procession of Las Posadas travels around the Plaza, recreating Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem. The procession concludes in the Palace Courtyard. Afterwards, there are carols in the Palace Courtyard, along with cookies and refreshments.
5. Nevada City, California
Nevada City is a quaint, Gold Rush town in the foothills of California’s Sierra, full of hilly streets and gas lamps. The town is known for its Victorian Christmas celebration and attracts thousands of visitors every year at this time. You’ll smell chestnuts roasting, see carolers dressed in Victorian attire wandering the streets and hear street vendors hawking their Christmas wares.
You’ll feel that you’ve steeped into a genuine Christmas card, complete with gas lamps and twinkling lights.
This annual, family tradition takes place on two Wednesday evenings and three Sunday afternoons in December and features carriage rides, live entertainment and of course, Father Christmas!
6. Prague, Czech Republic
Christmas Markets abound across Europe, but Prague’s Christmas Market a bit more intimate and intense. And where else can you sing “Good King Wenceslas” in a square bearing his name?
The Christmas markets consist of brightly decorated wooden huts selling glassware, jewelery, embroidered lace, wooden toys, metalware, ceramics, scented candles, Christmas tree ornaments, hats, gloves, scarves, puppets and dolls dressed in traditional costumes.
But its not just about shopping. Visitors can observe traditional foods being made, and sample all manner of local produce and Christmas specialties, including meat roasting on spits, barbecued klobâsa sausages and a hot sugar coated pastry called trdelnik. To accompany the food, have a famous Czech beer – Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Budvar – or hot mulled wine (svařené víno or svařák).
School choirs often perform on a stage in the Old Town Square, traveling from all over the Czech Republic to sing, dressed in traditional costumes. The trip to Prague is a highlight of their school year.
Prague also boasts an impressive ice-skating rink at Ovochny (the Fruit Market) for up to 70 skaters at a time, where you can skate for free if you have your own skates, or pay a small fee for renting a pair when you arrive.
7. Park City, Utah
Christmas in Park City is filled with great skiing and snowboarding, first class shopping and plenty of holiday cheer. The season officially kicks off when Santa Claus and his reindeer make their grand entrance by riding down the Town Lift to Main Street, where he’s met with lots of families enjoying hot cocoa and Christmas carols.
And here’s something fun! The first 50 skiers wearing full Santa suits to Canyons Resort on Dec. 20 and ski for free! Every year, Santas take over the mountain every year in search of fresh powder! Mrs. Claus, reindeer and elf costumes are also welcome.
The Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade at Park City Mountain is also a festive event. Enjoy holiday music, free cookies and hot beverages on the plaza at sunset before watching the instructors from the ski and snowboard school parade down the PayDay trail in a string of torchlight. And you don’t have to wait until the parade to see Santa. Look for him on the slopes with gifts in tow all day on Christmas Eve.
A few years ago, Mr. H and I managed to be in Park City for the first snowfall of the year and I can tell you it was magical even then.
8. Chicago, Illinois
As a child I often visited Chicago around the holidays. My two older sisters lived there and they loved taking me to see the famous Christmas window displays at the Marshall Fields department store. I remember animated mice in elaborate costumes in one window, as well as every character from the Nutcracker Ballet and elegant mannequin ladies in evening wear, complete with furs and white gloves. Today, the store is owned by Macy’s and the animated displays at Christmas time continue.
In addition, Navy Pier’s annual indoor winter carnival features everything from a toboggan tunnel, winter mini golf and a 15-foot “snow tubing” hill. There’s an ice-skating rink and carnival rides. And, since it’s indoors, the temperature is just right.
Chicago’s Museum of Science & Industry decorates more than 50 trees each year, each representing a unique culture, with trees from Armenia, Italy, Japan, Norway, Slovakia, Wales and more.
There are Christmas lights everywhere in Chicaog – some of the best light tours include the Miracle Mile, the Lincoln Park Zoo and neighborhoods from Westchester to Roscoe Park where residents go all out with their light shows.
9. Jena, Germany
In time-honored tradition, the Christmas market in Jena, Germany is officially opened when the first cut is made into the giant, four-metre-long stollen cake. There are many decorated stalls in the center of town offering arts, crafts and jewelery from Germany and around the world. And the town itself looks like a perfectly-illustrated Christmas card.
Every evening at 5:00 the Christmas trumpet fanfare sounds from the tower of the town hall. A programme of stage entertainment also adds to the Christmas fun.
Every year, tourists from all over the world flock to the Christmas markets. Sometimes, in Jena, you might hear more English, Spanish, and Japanese spoken than the traditional German dialects.
10. New York, New York
Remember the skating rink at Rockefeller Center in “Serendipity”? So romantic. Or the tear-jerking scene in “An Affair to Remember” when Cary Grant waits in vain for his love atop the Empire State building? New York is classic winter romance.
The city is festooned with sparkling lights and full of music, shows, shopping and great food – all wrapped up for you to enjoy.
New York City at Christmas Time – Photo by 何塞埃利亚斯 via Flickr
Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular is not to be missed – everyone should see this glitzy, over-the-top performance featuring the world-famous Rockettes at least once! Plus there’s the New York City Ballet’s performance of Ballenchine’s Nutcracker. And not-to-be missed music from Handel’s Messiah to Peter and the Wolf to the Metropolitan Opera’s holiday sing-along – as well as headline shows every year from folks like Mariah Carey, Cindi Lauper and John Legend.
There’s even a Santa Suit 5k if running is your thing!
Bryant Park and Union Square offer holiday market pop-up shops. Plus head over to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn to see one neighborhood that goes all out with Christmas lights!
And Christmas can be a great time to rent an apartment in Manhattan. Many of the locals head out of town for the holidays, so you will actually have parking!