Whether you’d love to see Christmas lights from the cobblestone streets of a 14th-century village, or enjoy a husky-drawn sled ride, here are a few of the world’s best holiday destinations for everyone.
1. Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine
If you want to make this Christmas a more spiritual one than ever, consider joining thousands of tourists who visit the birthplace of Christ every year. In Bethlehem you can attend a spectacular Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity or even visit the grotto where legend has it that Jesus was born. Beginning on Star-street, visitors are invited to admire the beauty of the city while walking the same path it’s believed that Mary and Joseph first did as they entered Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. You can also make the nativity come alive by visiting Shepard’s Fields, where the angel Gabriel is said to have alerted local shepherds to the birth of Jesus. Aside from viewing the holy sites up close, there are plenty of Christmas tree lightings, candle parades, and public events that will make for an unforgettable holiday season.
Sadly, but to no great surprise, Bethlehem isn’t in the safest part of the world. Traveling here can be dangerous, and at times inadvisable, so stay on top of government advisories.
2. Tallinn, Estonia
When it comes to the world’s coziest place to spend Christmas, few options come close to the old-world charm of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. The medieval town itself is the perfect place to stroll cobblestone streets beneath the soft glow of nighttime lanterns. It was here in 1441 that the world’s first Christmas tree was erected, an event which is still celebrated each year when one of its descendants is decked out in the middle of Town Hall Square. Beneath the tree’s glow, you’ll find the city’s legendary Christmas market, featuring dozens of huts set up by local vendors. There you’ll find plenty of freshly baked goods, snow sculptures, an ice rink, and even a chance to meet Santa and his reindeer. The town also hosts a Christmas Jazz festival which features multi-week concerts by artists from around the world in venues around town. Last but not least, be sure to check out Gingerbread Mania, where hundreds of artists show off their creations, all of which are made from gingerbread cookies.
3. Strasbourg, France
Rest assured that they don’t call Strasbourg Capital de Noël (The Capital of Christmas) for nothing. This French gem doesn’t mess around when it comes to Christmas, as it lights up a great tree each year in that must be a minimum of 30 meters tall. Among the city’s twinkling 14th century architecture, cobblestone streets, and canals, you’ll find up to ten different Christmas markets, including “Christkindelsmärik,” the oldest Christmas market in France which was founded in 1570. Listen to the church bells ring in the distance as you shop for Christmas gifts, sip a cup of warm wine, or enjoy the delicacy of freshly baked goods.
4. Vienna, Austria
While Vienna offers many different International Christmas choirs amid the sparkle of the holiday season, there may be nothing quite so bucket-list worthy as catching a live performance of the Vienna Boys Choir during Christmas Mass at the Hofburgkapelle (Hofburg Chapel). The city itself is a sight to behold as it covers its imperial architecture with magical lighting and lines the streets with outdoor Christkindlmarkts. There you’ll find one-of-a-kind artisan wares ranging from candles to handcrafted holiday gifts. Among the most famous is the Viennese Christmas Market where you can browse the booths of over 150 vendors.
5. Vatican City/Rome, Italy
It likely comes as no surprise that the city at the center of Catholicism offers one of the most spectacular Christmas seasons on Earth. December in the Vatican (and central Rome) is a truly magical month as the city is decked out with nativity scenes and Christmas trees, including the massive trees erected in St. Peter’s Square, Piazza Venezia, and next to the Coliseum. Along the streets, vendors sell roasted chestnuts as people from around the world stroll beneath the city’s vibrant lights and Christmas decorations. Of course, the season’s biggest draw is midnight mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, which you’ll want to buy tickets for several months in advance if you plan to attend. Alternatively, you can also attend an incredible midnight mass inside the nearly 2,000-year-old walls of the Pantheon.
6. Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland
If you want to give your inner child the treat of a lifetime, then consider spending a Christmas in Rovaniemi, which the locals argue is a much more likely base camp for Santa than the North Pole. The perfect place to spend a guaranteed white Christmas, the snowy forests of Rovaniemi offer plenty of opportunities for winter fun, including a husky-drawn sled ride or a skimobile trip to see the Northern Lights. You’ll have the chance to learn how to bake cookies from elves as you visit their woodland Christmas village or meet Santa live and in person when you visit his office. You’ll also have plenty of opportunities to meet a reindeer, as Lapland is home to around 200,000, many of which live on farms where you can visit and even feed them. If you don’t mind the cold, you might consider staying in the city’s famous Arctic Hotel which is made completely of ice! Don’t worry; they also offer hot tubs and saunas when you need a break from the cold.
Wherever you decide to spend your next holiday season, we hope it’s one filled with joy and memories that will last a lifetime.