The 12 Destinations of Christmas
If you like to travel during the holidays, here is a list of twelve destinations that go all out when it comes to celebrating this magical time of year!
We love the holidays here at Cirillo Travel Group - any excuse to get warm and cozy by the fire, enjoy a boozy beverage and watch the snowfall with a good book. It's that time of year when it's ok to slow down a bit, enjoy time with family, or maybe even get one last trip in before ringing in a new year! Below we've compiled a list of some of our favorite destinations that bring on the lights, the snow or "snow" in some cases, and amp up the warm and fuzzies. Perfect places to celebrate the holidays!
#1 Vienna, Austria
With 20 official Christmas markets plus plenty more across the city popping up each year, it's no surprise Vienna is at the start of our list. These enchanting markets open up for locals and visitors alike starting mid-November and running through the end of December. There is something for everyone! Sample some traditional holiday foods, hear live music throughout the city, and find the perfect gifts for your loved ones, or yourself! There are small, more intimate markets with 40 stalls or you can visit the iconic Dream Market (Rathausplatz Market), with 150+ stalls, an ice skating rink, a reindeer train, and much more! Make sure to keep your bellies full with some hot sausage or pretzels and your insides warm by sipping on some yummy hot cocoa or hot wine! Dedicate an entire week in Vienna alone or pass through on an amazing Christmas market river cruise!
#2 Reykjavik, Iceland
You are almost always guaranteed a white Christmas in Iceland! Brave the cold and go on a whale-watching tour for a view of Iceland's scenery from the water, Take a Golden Circle or South Coast tour and experience the majestic waterfalls half frozen in time or cozy up in a warm soak in many of the geothermal pools! Iceland has 13 Yule Lads, the equivalent of having 13 Santa Clauses that they celebrate over 13 days. Christmas is actually celebrated on December 24th because the start of a new day on the old Icelandic calendar, was at sunset. Shops stay open late on December 23 for last-minute shopping but from mid-November, the festive vibes begin! Even locals look forward to booking reservations at a jólahlaðborð or "Christmas Buffet" hosted all month long where you can try all the different Icelandic holiday favorites! This is also the perfect time of year to enjoy the dancing of the Northern Lights across the sky! Spend a week or just a long weekend since a flight from New York to Iceland is shorter than a flight to LA.
Gledileg jol! - "Merry Christmas"
#3 New Orleans, Louisiana U.S.A
Famous for Mardi Gras and world-renowned jazz festivals, New Orleans may not be on your radar for a holiday destination but it should be! The city comes alive, covered in lights. Stroll down Bourbon Street with all the wrought iron balconies strung with lights and evergreen garland or take a walk through the Celebration in the Oaks.
A yearly festival of lights in all shapes and sizes, including the New Orleans Saints football team logo shining brightly in the huge oak trees. The Waldorf Wonderland display features the hotel beautifully decorated with nearly 50 Christmas trees and over 60,000 lights. This destination is great for some grown-up holiday fun for a girl's trip or a Bachelor/bachelorette weekend for any winter weddings! No visit is complete without at least one stop at Café Du Monde - the iconic green and white awning known for café au laits, chicory coffee & beignets since 1862. NOLA has a variety of flavors to satisfy any craving. Be sure to sample some boiled crawfish, po’boys, raw or chargrilled oysters, and then sample live jazz music in cozy clubs while sipping on the world's oldest cocktail, the Sazerac. Cheers!
#4 Dresden, Germany
There are many world-famous Christmas markets across Germany, but Dresden hosts what history has claimed as the first! With over 200 stalls, the world’s tallest step pyramid, and a Ferris wheel that overlooks the market, you are sure to experience this destination with all of your senses. Dresden also has smaller markets across the city as well if you want a more intimate shopping experience. Located along the Elbe River, this city is a port of call for one of our favorite river cruise companies that design Christmas market-specific itineraries so you can visit a few in just one trip! Sail along and do your holiday shopping while the glühwein is flowing! Want to make your own this holiday season - find the recipe in our Holiday Cocktails post here!
#5 North Pole, Alaska
Only a 20 minute drive from Fairbanks, "the spirit of Christmas lives year-round" in North, Pole, Alaska. Visit the Santa Clause House where you can send a letter to friends and family back home from Santa with a genuine North Pole postmark. Especially exciting for those little ones who still believe in the magic of the holidays! A great Christmas in July destination to explore the beautiful Lake Chena region nearby or witness the annual salmon runs in person!
Or stick to the colder months
and chase the Northern Lights while you check presents off the nice list. Adventure enthusiasts have actives abound here like cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, dog-mushing and more! There is truly something for everyone and you don't even need a passport. Extend your stay an see all that Alaska has to offer!
#6 Helsinki, Finland
With short days, streets start to glow with the warm holiday lights starting at 3:00pm in Helsinki, Finland. The main shopping drag of Aleksanterinkatu or Aleksi, by locals is festively decorated and several holiday markets dot the city for some local gifts for those back home. The biggest being at Senate Square. A unique tradition in Helsinki on Christmas Eve, is to have a hot soak in a sauna and an ice-cold dip in the Baltic Sea. We experience the snow grotto anti-sauna on our Viking Alaskan cruise so can see how this hot-cold combo can be invigorating and rejuvenating. There also many traditional tastes of the holidays so be sure to try out a local Christmas buffet to sample some of the staples, casseroles, baked ham, and try every Finnish pastry you can get your hands on!
#7 Tallinn, Estonia
Given the nickname, "the Medieval Pearl of Europe," due to its preservation of medieval structures, Tallinn, Estonia was names a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The picturesque original cobblestone streets look like they have jumped off an artist's canvas. Especially when covered in a blanket of fresh snow.
The building, churches and warehouse date back to the 11th century which will enamor any history buff. Tallin was also the first place to ever erect a large Christmas tree for the public and has kept up this tradition since 1441. Its also home to another one of Europe's finest Christmas markets looking like a real-life postcard. If you have the flexibility to take 10 or more days off before the holiday, you could bundle a few of the cities on our list into one grand European holiday adventure!
#8 New York City, NY U.S.A
One of our personal favorites, but we're biased since NYC has been our home for almost 10 years. December is one of the most magical times of the year in the city. The areas you avoid as a local are now the places that draw you in. Rockefeller Center lights up a tree rivaling some of the neighboring skyscrapers. Go ice-skating or just stroll around viewing all the designer window display. Be sure to catch the light show set to music the Saks 5th Avenue building curates beautifully and is different each year. Stumble through the heavy velvet curtains most bars and restaurants hang at the doorway to keep out the chill but romantically reveal cozy lights and decorations. If you want to get dressed up and hit the town, might we suggest curating a self-guided bougie boozy hotel bar crawl with stops like The Plaza, the Peninsula Hotel, the Walldorf Astoria or the St. Regis. Maybe treat yourself to a stay at one of these icons! Like in Europe, NYC has it's own holiday markets that fill Bryant Park and Union Square with holiday inspired sheds filled with unique finds. Message us if you want a few more best kept NYC secrets for your next visit!
#9 Walt Disney World, USA
While the snow might be artificial the magic is real at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida. The other parks around the world like Disneyland Paris or Tokyo go full out as well but the Florida parks have more experiences to offer for the holiday season. Main Street is transformed literally overnight to a "winter" wonderland full of your favorite characters and attractions. There are also other parks in the area to visit incase Harry Potter is your preference fantasy world. Line wait times may be a bit long during the holidays but seeing the park and Cinderella's castle covers in icicle lights is a beautiful sight to see in December. There are Disney specific travel agents that can help you plan every detail of you trip down to your dining reservations. Let us refer you to a agent who can take all the stress out of your visit to the happiest place on earth!
#10 Dublin, Ireland
While not as religious as it once was, Dublin still comes alive in December to celebrate the coming holidays. Graton Street, a shopping mecca, installs street light displays that illuminate the neighborhood or hop over to Temple Bar to holiday spirit in liquid form. The most iconic bar in the area goes all out as you can see from the photo here. Join locals in the 12 Pubs of Christmas challenge if you think your liver can take it! Looking for some lower ABV activities, is no better place for our talent singers then to join in the caroling at St. Patrick's Cathedral or visit one of the Christmas markets around town. No trip to Ireland is complete without a sample of Guinness or a few! Grab a hot chocolate at Butlers, a historic Dublin based chocolate company, and take a stroll. Listen to melodic street musicians, take in the sights and smells of Christmas in Ireland. This is personally one of our favorite destinations at Cirillo Travel Group and we would love to help you plan a trip any time of year to this magical destination.
#11 Montréal, Canada
Holding a special place in our hearts here at Cirillo Travel Group, Montréal, Canada is a special place indeed to spend Christmas or visit during the holiday season. Read why Montréal is special to us HERE. Being further North then most of the contiguous United States, your likely to have snow on the ground which always helps get in the Christmas mood. There are free concerts held across the city as a treat for locals and tourists alike. Visit Mont-Royal festively decorated hosting its own Christmas market, trees for sale and free shows around the park or feel free to join in caroling. There are large art installation all over the city to build up the the big New Year's Eve Party in Old Port. Come from Christmas - stay through New Years with our neighbors to the North.
#12 Home SWEET Home
It might seem odd for "Home" to be our twelfth destination. It might seem cliché to say that "Home" is not a place but a feeling. I believe in my heart this to be true. There are going to be places you travel to, never having stepped foot there before, that instantly feel comfortable, that feel safe, that draw you in. Nothing in life is permanent, not even a tattoo these days, so you never know when the next city you visit may grow to be your next "home." Here at Cirillo Travel Group we encourage our clients to experience cities like a local, like you live there, like it's your home. Often this produces the most organic and genuine memories!
If any of the destinations on our list caught your eye or drew you in, then let us help you get there! It's never too early to start planning a trip, Schedule a Discovery Call with us today or drop us an email at email@example.com.
Where is your favorite holiday destination? Tell us in the comments below!