Although many modern Christmas traditions as we know them began in Europe, festivities like Christmas markets, meeting Santa, stringing lights, building snowmen, decorating Christmas trees, caroling and more have spread around the world. Cities big and small across the globe celebrate the holiday season with their own unique spin on familiar traditions. From Asia to Africa and Brazil to New Mexico, Christmas traditions have taken hold and made these towns popular destinations for tourists looking for holiday happenings.
Even towns in the Southern Hemisphere where it's summer in December still have plenty of festive fun. So whether you're looking for a winter wonderland retreat that feels like the inside of a snow globe or a warm winter family vacation where you can still meet St. Nick, there's a charming Christmas-y choice for you. If you're looking for a bucket-list getaway that will also offer a high dose of Christmas cheer, here are 50 destinations around the world that all offer magical seasonal sights on top of amazing food and drinks, arts and culture and more.
With its abundance of reindeer, evergreen trees, and white, powdery snow, the northernmost region of Finland has become synonymous with Christmas and Santa Claus. The town of Rovaniemi is known as "the official hometown of Santa Claus" and visitors to the charming Santa Claus Village can meet St. Nick himself, go to Elf School, visit the post office and more. This winter wonderland also offers plenty of outdoor adventure and awe-inspiring sights, such as taking a reindeer-drawn sleigh ride or sleeping beneath the Northern Lights in an igloo.
Prague, Czech Republic
This underrated European capital has rich history and beautiful baroque and Gothic architecture that makes a perfect backdrop for Christmastime festivities. The city has multiple Christmas markets, including one in the shadow of Prague Castle and the cozy Manifesto Winter Market, which has heated igloos and outdoor fireplaces for roasting marshmallows. Catch a concert of Czech and European carols or meet a uniformed gaslamp-lighter on the Charles Bridge, the only gas-lit bridge in the world.
New York, New York
NYC is famous around the world for its holiday celebrations, such as the Rockettes' show, the iconic department store window displays and the massive tree at Rockefeller Center. There are Christmas markets across the city in places like Grand Central Station, Bryant Park, Columbus Circle and Union Square. Check out the lights in Dyker Heights and if you're a Christmas mega-fan, camp out for a spot along the parade route to see Santa Claus come to town in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Home to one of the oldest and largest Christmas markets in Germany, Frankfurt emanates Old World charm. You can take a guided tour of the market around Romerberg and St. Paul's Square before enjoying unique shopping and the sights, smells and sounds of the season, including a large live Christmas tree and a traditional carousel.
Bethlehem, West Bank
While massive Christmas trees and shopping are enough for some, for people wanting to reconnect with the religious meaning of the Christmas season, a pilgrimage to Jesus' Biblical birthplace can be magical. The city will be filled with lights and decorations, and Christians will gather in Manger Square to sing and celebrate on Christmas Eve. There will be processions, parades and more hosted by different denominations in multiple languages. The Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Jesus is believed to have been born, hosts a midnight mass on Christmas Eve. You can also attend services at Shepherd's Fields, where the Star of the Nativity is said to have been seen.
For a weekend in December, the historic city center of Deventer is transformed into the 19th-century world of Charles Dickens. More than 950 costumes performers dress as carolers, shopkeepers, thieves, gentleman and orphans, including the famous characters from Dickens' works such as "A Christmas Carol," "Oliver Twist" and "Great Expectations." The streets will be bustling with a Christmas market selling both traditional and more modern wares and holiday treats.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Most people think of Europe when they think of magical Christmas towns, but the South American party city of Rio de Janeiro also knows how to celebrate during the holidays. An almost 300-foot giant metal tree floating in the scenic lagoon is illuminated every night leading up to Christmas after a lighting ceremony that is a spectacle of lights and fireworks. Some of the city's world-class restaurants have special Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menus, while some of the city's bars and clubs have parties for reveling after the family dinner.
Seoul, South Korea
South Korea is the only major country in East Asia that recognizes Christmas as a public holiday. This is because the country has a large Christian population. Seoul puts on a Christmas festival that includes a tree lighting, daily concerts and decorations themed around the themes "joy," "hope," "glory" and "blessings." The Lotte World theme park, Everland theme park and the Myeongdong shopping district have fantastic light displays. The 82-acre Garden of Morning Calm is dusted with more than 30,000 Christmas lights during its Lighting Festival.
The Baltic country of Estonia has similar Christmas traditions to its Scandinavian and German neighbors but with smaller crowds. The Estonian capital of Tallinn is the place to be during the holiday season thanks to its famous Christmas market, ice rink and decorated tree in Town Hall Square. The Gingerbread Mania exhibition has creative, intricate all-gingerbread creations from a hundred Estonian artists. The Estonian Open Air Museum depicts how Christmas was celebrated in centuries past in rural farm communities across the country.
The U.S. capital goes big when it comes to Christmas. Locals and tourists alike gather 'round for three weeks of nightly entertainment around the National Christmas Tree. There's also a National Menorah lighting event with hot latkes and donuts. Take a candlelight tour of the area's historic homes decorated for the holidays. Shop at the cheerful holiday market, or bask in the light of Georgetown GLOW, an outdoor light art installation. Smithsonian's National Zoo, Union Station, the Wharf and U.S. Botanic Garden also get into the holiday spirit with displays and events. Catch a holiday concert performed by the National Orchestra, the Washington Chorus or the U.S. Army Band.
Close to Washington, D.C., the historic colonial town of Alexandria, Virginia, is also famous for its unique holiday traditions. The city hosts a parade of water-skiing Christmas characters that's been a quirky area tradition for 30 years. The Scottish Christmas Walk Parade celebrates the town's heritage, while Holly's Tacky Christmas Lights at 1601 Collingwood Road draw visitors from miles around to see the elaborate home display. Visit Mount Vernon to watch fireworks choreographed to holiday music, to take a charming candlelight tour and to meet Aladdin the Christmas Camel.
R Kennedy for Visit Alexandria
Zagreb is a lovely, postcard-perfect city that's even more enchanting during the holiday season. Its Christmas market is consistently ranked among the best in Europe. The market is spread across the city, giving visitors room to shop, munch on baked strukle, and enjoy the live music and entertainment. If you need to warm up, Ban Josip Jelacic Square has a heated, covered conservatory from which you can admire the lights on the Christmas tree and fountain.
While it lacks the snowy charm of more wintery European Christmas destinations, Barcelona's lights and unique traditions make it worth visiting during the holiday season. The city's Fira de Santa Llúcia celebration lasts for three months in December. The St. Lucy's day festivities have evolved into a massive Christmas market, a parade, puppets, caroling, as well as one of the weirdest holiday traditions in the world: the beating of the caga tio log.
Quebec City, Canada
Perhaps the most beautiful Christmas getaway in Canada is to Quebec City, which exudes charm when Petit Champlain's cobblestone streets are dusted with snow and surrounded by twinkling lights. Shop at the German Christmas market and the Old Port Christmas market and then take a guided walking tour to learn about past Christmas traditions in early New France. Climb the Breakneck Stairs for a bird's-eye view of Old Quebec.
Taos, New Mexico
Taos is truly magical around the holidays. The city's unique architecture glistens with the glow of hundreds of farolitos, the small paper lanterns that are a New Mexico holiday tradition. Carolers and a Southwestern Santa help celebrate the illuminations from farolitos, luminarias and bonfires during the Lighting of Ledoux event. Another Taos neighborhood joins in on the fun with the Bonfires on Bent Street, which features Aztec fire dancers and iconic New Mexico foods like posole and green chile. Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration that is one of the most popular Christmas traditions in Northern New Mexico. It is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph's biblical journey that culminates at San Geronimo Church at Taos Pueblo on Christmas Eve.
Courtesy of Taos/Danita Delimont
Nativity scenes are more common than European Christmas trees in Peru, but the bustling city of Lima puts its own Peruvian twist on Christmas traditions with decorated streets and city plazas and Christmas markets. A Christmas light show with fireworks takes place in historic San Martin Plaza, and on Christmas Eve, fireworks are shot over the Plaza Mayor. Another popular Peruvian holiday destination is the festive city of Cusco, which hosts a traditional Christmas market called Santuranticuy filled with artisanal items.
Known as the Capital of Christmas, Strasbourg is home to the oldest Christmas market in France and now has 11 different markets strung along throughout the city, each with different delicacies and decorations. Place Kleber is home to the 100-foot-tall Christmas tree trimmed with more than 4 miles of lights. France's National Forestry Office begins the search for the perfect tree in March. Besides strolling between markets, you can take a gourmet walking tour or go inside Cathédral Notre-Dame to see its nativity scene.
Park City, Utah
Park City puts a unique Western twist on traditional American Christmas celebrations, making it a great winter getaway even if you're not a skier. Santa Claus comes to town via a ski lift chair decorated as a sleigh and covered with Christmas lights. Santa will later hit the slopes at the annual Traditional Torchlight Parade, where St. Nick leads more than 100 ski and snowboard instructors down the mountain. Park City Mountain's 16-day winter festival, Snowfest, brings in lots of holiday entertainment, including live music, cowboy shows, avalanche dog meet and greets, an ugly sweater party and more.
Budapest is home to Europe's largest outdoor skating rink, which is set up during the holiday season in the shadow of Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park. Grab a chimney cake while strolling through the city's Christmas markets, and if you need a speedier mode of transit, hop on the festive Christmas streetcar. The Christmas Fair and Winter Festival in Vorosmarty Square has food and shopping as well as light shows, folk dancing and more. If you need a reprieve from winter's chill, Budapest is famous for its thermal baths.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Already a must-visit U.S. city on many people's bucket lists, New Orleans gets decked for the holidays and hosts fun and culturally unique events. City in the Oaks puts on one of the country's best light displays. During Miracle on Fulton Street, the boulevard turns into a winter wonderland with lights, gingerbread displays and hourly "snow" fall. Many of the city's celebrated restaurants host amazing traditional Reveillon feasts on Christmas Eve. That same night, you can see bonfires illuminate the levees on the opposite side of the Mississippi River.
Copenhagen has earned a reputation as a European Christmas wonderland straight out of a fairytale. Sip on glogg (Danish mulled wine) and shop for homemade gifts and treats at the city's many charming Christmas markets. Visit Frederiksborg and Kronberg castles just outside the city as well as the famed Tivoli Gardens, the second-oldest amusement park in the world, in the middle of the city, all of which are decorated for the holidays. Frederiksberg Runddel is also illuminated at night, making it a magical spot to go ice skating.
The historic, medieval city of Bruges makes for the perfect Christmas destination. Take a carriage ride along the city's cobblestone streets to take in the lovely lights. Belgium is famous for its chocolate, waffles and beer, and a chocolate tour is a great way to get in the Christmas spirit. See the Christmas tree at Burg Square and shop at Grote Markt next to the Belfort belfry, which you can climb for a bird's-eye view of the glittering city.
The beautiful little mountain town of Jackson has plenty of holiday charm to offer whether you're a skier or not. Its iconic elk antler arches get draped with thousands of LED lights ahead of the annual Town Square lighting. You can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride to see elk, moose, bison and pronghorn roaming through powdery plains of the surrounding Jackson Hole region on a winter wildlife tour of Grand Teton, Yellowstone or the National Elk Refuge. If you hang around until New Year's, you'll also get to see fireworks and a torchlight parade that lights up the mountainside.
Tourists know the best way to enjoy Christmastime in Rome is to plan this once-in-a-lifetime trip in advance. The city is a popular holiday destination because of its lovely lights and proximity to the Vatican. Most shops and restaurants as well as major sites and monuments are closed on Christmas Day and New Year's Day, with many also closed on December 26 for Saint Stephen's Day, but there's still plenty to see and do. Sign up to get free tickets to the Pope's Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican, and come back on Christmas Day to hear his "Urbi et Orbi" speech, which doesn't require tickets.
North Pole, Alaska
While large American cities know how to celebrate the holidays, nothing can top the Christmas cheer of North Pole, Alaska, home to its own year-round version of Santa's workshop. Kids can meet Kris Kringle and his reindeer there any day of the year, but the town really knows how to do Christmas itself by hosting special events like a world-class ice carving contest. There's also a 42-foot-tall Santa statue outside and festive signs and road names around town, including Snowman Lane, Saint Nicholas Drive, Holiday Road and Santa Claus Lane.
Much like New York's Times Square, Tokyo is famous for its screens, billboards, ads and neon lights. But around the holidays, the illuminations are cheery and romantic. The Caretta Shiodome becomes an ocean of LED lights, while Tokyo Midtown creates a "Starlight Garden" as part of its "Christmas Midtown" display. Twinkling trees line the walkways along portions of the Meguro River, the NHK headquarters in Shibuya, Omotesando, Yebisu Garden Place, Showa Memorial Park and more. Roppongi Hills and Hibiya Park also host Christmas markets.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan, Puerto Rico, is a great winter getaway for those looking for a festive but sunny Christmas. City Hall on the Plaza de Armas, Plaza de Colon and the Paseo de la Princesa will be draped in lights and decorations. There's a lighted boat parade in the San Juan Bay, and the Festival de Platos Tipicos celebrates the traditional holiday dishes of the season with live music. You can also attend a spirited midnight mass service at one of the oldest churches in the Western Hemisphere.
The second-largest city in the Great White North has wintery charm along with big-city Christmas attractions. The city's "Christmas in the Park" takes place at three parks across the city. With Christmas villages, sleigh rides, outdoor fireplaces and a torchlight charity Christmas walk, the events bring together the community and spread joy. There's also multiple Christmas parades and places to skate and enjoy Christmas lights. The Old Port puts on a musical fireworks show almost every Saturday in December.
Vienna has a long history of Christmas traditions. It held its first Christmas market in 1298 and today the city has dozens of holiday events and more than 300 balls to choose from. The Viennese Christmas Market outside City Hall has more than 150 vendors, reindeer rides and an ice rink with curling. The Upper Belvedere palace has lovely decorations and its own market. If you're in Vienna for the holidays, make sure to catch a performance by the Vienna Boys Choir.
You might be surprised to hear that Christmastime is the most popular time of year to visit Disney World in Orlando. Why? Because no one captures Christmas magic quite like Disney. As long as you're strategic and know what to expect, Disney at Christmas offers spectacular fireworks displays and live performances, lovely parades, special holiday treats and miles and miles of lights and decorations all around the parks. In fact, Disney World puts up more than 1,000 trees, 300,000 yards of ribbons and bows and 8.5 million lights.
The Valkenburg Christmas market differs from its many other counterparts in that it's the oldest and largest subterranean holiday market in Europe. Shoppers head underground into a series of passages and caves, one of which was the site of an 18th-century chapel. Another cave in the area is home to a display of hundreds of holiday miniatures. Aboveground, the city hosts a Christmas parade with floats and dancers as well as a culinary walking tour, while the adorable Fairytale Forest theme park gets a holiday makeover that will delight children.
Courtesy of Kerststad Valkenburg
Much like NYC across the pond, London is a major metropolis that has plenty to offer when it comes to Christmastime activities. Trafalgar Square has a more-than-60-foot Norwegian Christmas tree donated by the people of Norway each year in thanks for Britain's support during World War II. Carolers gather beneath it throughout December. Hyde Park hosts a Winterfest with a market, fair, ice skating and more, while Syon Park becomes an Enchanted Woodland that makes for a magical stroll. Enjoy a Christmas-themed full afternoon tea service or eat and drink in a pop-up winter igloo. Don't miss the lights of Oxford Street or Harrods' famous Christmas window display.
Woodstock, Vermont, might just be the most charming town in American during the holiday season. Aside from looking like a quaint snowy postcard scene come to life, the city is famous for its annual Wassail Weekend. Events include a parade, concerts, craft fairs, a holiday house tour, horse-drawn sleigh rides, a community Yule log and a family-style Wassail Feast.
Courtesy of Woodstock Area Chamber of Commerce
While Paris is a romantic destination year-round, the historic city is especially magical at Christmastime. Department stores such as Printemps and Galeries Lafayette put up themed window displays, while the Avenue des Champs-Elysées is draped in lights. The Notre Dame Cathedral erects a tree in its plaza and hosts a moving midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Plenty of Christmas markets pop up around the city, including one near the Louvre and another near the Eiffel Tower.
Hong Kong is already famous for its illuminated skyscrapers, but they get a holiday makeover around Christmastime. More than 40 buildings also become the backdrop for the nightly winter edition of the Symphony of Lights multimedia show, a stunning light display set to a seasonal soundtrack by the Hong Kong Philharmonic. Another amazing display is the Pulse 3D laser light show around the plaza of the clock tower near the Star Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui. Shopping centers and hotels also decorate for the season and posh restaurants serve special holiday menus.
If you can't make it all the way to Europe for the holidays, the town of Leavenworth, Washington, is like a taste of the Old World in the United States with its dramatic backdrop of the Cascade Mountains, its Bavarian architecture and its European holiday celebrations. The city hosts two big holiday festivals each year: a Christkindlmarkt with crafts, entertainment and food, and the Christmas Lighting Festival, in which the village is covered in 500,000 Christmas lights. Leavenworth also offers concerts, tubing, sleigh and dogsled rides and more ways to enjoy this winter wonderland.
The iconic Red Square in Moscow makes for a gorgeous backdrop for the city's Christmas market, which stays open until Russian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas in early January. The market has an ice rink and a fair. Head to Manezh Square for the "Journey into Christmas" festival. See a 50-foot Christmas ornament covered in thousands of LED lights, a massive Christmas tree and a more-than-300-foot ice slide. You can also take a free hockey or ice skating lesson at the rink or navigate a maze shaped like a map of Russia.
Santiago's December weather is pretty perfect, with warm days and cool nights. Its weather and holiday charm make it a perfect warm winter getaway. Shopping areas like Costanera Center and Drugstore put up festive decorations and the streets of Providencia are lined with vendors and musicians playing Christmas tunes. A huge metal Christmas tree in the Plaza de Armas is covered with lights and different decorations each year, such as hundreds of rag dolls.
You'll feel like you're at the North Pole while visiting Tromso, Norway. This winter wonderland, located north of the Arctic Circle, only gets a few hours of light each day, which locals make the most off with seasonal celebrations and plenty of lights draped around town. Christmas fairs are great places to shop and enjoy treats like lefse pancakes and coffee brewed outdoors over an open fire. The town's giant Christmas tree is delivered by helicopter, then illuminated in a cheerful lighting ceremony. You can attend carol concerts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service at the landmark Arctic Cathedral.
Singapore is known as a food and shopping mecca, a reputation it fully embraces during the holiday season with many mall and shopping centers putting up dramatic decor. Orchard Road's "Christmas on A Great Street" display is made up of more than one million lights, while the island's iconic Gardens by the Bay are transformed into a Christmas market, carnival and winter playground complete with snow.
If you visit Edinburgh during the holiday season, you're sure to feel holly and jolly. The city celebrates for six weeks full of events. During 24 Doors of Advent, different historic homes and buildings open their doors each day for an open house. East Princes St. Gardens hosts a traditional Christmas market, and a Christmas nativity carol concert takes place in St. Andrew Square, which also has a 360-degree skating rink around Melville Monument. Local students' winter window designs are hung around the city, and you can see Christmas lights at Light Night, the Edinburgh Zoo, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and more.
Frankenmuth is a small town dedicated to Christmas all year long. Known as Michigan's "Little Bavaria," it's home to a replica of Austria's Silent Night Chapel, where the iconic Christmas song was first written and performed. But the town's biggest claim to fame is Bronner's Christmas Wonderland. It's the world's largest Christmas store and houses more than 50,000 items. Although the town celebrates Christmas all year, holiday season events include gingerbread house building and pretzel rolling workshops, a Christkindlmarkt and a German Christmas Songfest.
When you imagine a quaint European Christmas market, you're likely imaging a scene much like the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt. During the Advent month preceding Christmas, the market sets up shop in the main square in Old Town Nuremberg. Festivities are kicked off by an opening ceremony led by the Christkind. Take a stagecoach tour around the festively decorated city or climb the stairs to the top of the Church of Our Lady for an overhead view.
The temperatures may be frigid in Reykjavik during December, but the activities and decor around town will warm your heart. Heidmork Woods makes a lovely rustic backdrop for a charming Christmas market, and you can track down the city's Christmas Creatures inspired by Icelandic folklore, who are hiding around town. The Harpa concert hall hosts more than 35 Christmas concerts, and the Reykjavik Botanical Garden is decorated with Christmas lights. Of course, you can also marvel at Mother Nature's own amazing light display, as Reykjavik is one of the best places in the world to see the northern lights.
Birmingham, England, is famous for hosting the largest authentic German Christmas market outside of Germany or Austria. Along with the Frankfurt Christmas Market, the city also hosts a craft market. Combined, there are more than 180 stalls to peruse. Meet Birmingham's singing animatronic Christmas moose, Chris Moose, enjoy live music, ride the ornate carousel and more.
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town is much closer to the South Pole than the North Pole, but that doesn't mean that this exciting coastal city in South Africa doesn't know how to celebrate the holiday season. In fact, if you're not hitting the beach or heading out on a safari during your visit, you can shop for unique gifts at the city's multiple holiday markets, stroll down Adderley Street to see the Festival of Lights or find a spot on the lawn at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden's amphitheater for an evening of singing carols by candlelight.
Wroclaw boasts one of Poland's best and largest Christmas markets. It has daily performances as well as parades for Santa and for his elves, a procession of carolers and other festive events. The Market Square tree will be one of five giant decorated trees given homes in a city square, which will be illuminated along with some of the city's fountains.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Dubai is known for its luxury, and this UAE city approaches its seasonal decorations and festivities with the same eye for opulence. The Dubai Winter Festival has "snow" falling every hours to create the perfect ambiance for concerts, carolers, a giant tree lighting ceremony and a winter market. There's also workshops on gingerbread, cheesemaking and more. The St. Regis Dubai hosts a Winter Garden Market, while Atlantis, The Palm hosts a holiday editions of its gourmet Cirque de Cuisine dining experience, with snow, candy cane stilt walkers and a giant snow globe you can snap a selfie in while enjoying your multi-course meal.
Dublin's Christmas cheer comes in a variety of forms, meaning it's a perfect destination for families, friends and couples. The Guinness Storehouse is decorated with a million Christmas lights, the Funderland amusement park gets decked out for Christmas, and the Moving Crib is a hidden gem with hundreds of figurines depicting much more than a traditional manger scene. Attend Midnight Eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral or hear carols at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The 12 Days of Christmas Market at Dublin's Docklands is one of the city's many hubs for holiday shopping. Buskers will be singing holiday tunes in Temple Bar and the bold will be taking a frigid Christmas Day dip in the Forty Foot in Sandycove.
December is summertime down under, and Sydney offers sun, surf and Christmas cheer around the holidays. The Sydney Christmas festival includes multiple Christmas markets, movie screenings and concerts, such as the traditional Christmas at Sydney Town Hall concert. Carolers perform nightly around the Martin Place Christmas tree. St. Mary's Cathedral's facade becomes the backdrop for a light show, while Pitt Street Mall gets draped with a canopy of almost 100,000 lights, making for an enchanting winter getaway.