It’s tempting to cuddle up by the fire and stay home for the holidays, but December is the prime traveling season. Time to get out your passport and celebrate the season by visiting these incredible festive destinations around the world.
Here are the top 5 places in the world to celebrate the holidays:
1) Rovaniemi, Finland
This is home to Santa Claus Village resort and amusement park. Create an unforgettable Christmas experience for you and your family, with snow-covered cottages, reindeer rides, and staff dressed as Santa’s elves who refuse to break character.
This is Finland’s Lapland region that hugs the Arctic Circle and is as close to resembling the North Pole as it gets in Europe. In fact, this region is the birthplace and home of Santa Claus. You may even be able to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights on an evening snowmobile trip.
2) Bethlehem, West Bank
Just a taxi ride away from the Old City of Jerusalem is the birthplace of Jesus Christ. What better way to celebrate Christmas than to make the pilgrimage to where it all began? With the holidays focused on gift-giving around the world, it’s nice to visit a place that reminds us why we really celebrate Christmas every year.
It may come as no surprise that there is a large Christian population here. So if you do visit during Christmas, expect huge crowds! The main action is at the Church of Nativity, where people go to mass. The site of Jesus’ birth is located in the basement. And yes, you will need to purchase tickets to this beforehand.
Pro tip: When traveling from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, even though it’s a short distance, bring your passport. There is a checkpoint and a wall between the two towns.
3) Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Contrary to popular belief, this party town south of the border is very family-orientated during the holiday season. Along with the endless mouth-watering South American food and drink come home-grown festivities galore. Trade in white snow for white sandy beaches, bring your sunscreen and prepare to be impressed.
Pro tip: During Christmas Eve and the big day, the beaches tend to be quieter, as Brazilians will be at home with their families.
Shop for Christmas gifts at Saara Market, which spans 11 city blocks at the city center. Then have a traditional Brazilian Christmas dinner with turkey or chester (a type of chicken) with salad, rice, farofa, and fruit. For dessert, Panettone (a soft sweet bread loaf) and rabanadas (French toast covered in cinnamon and sugar) are two desserts that no Brazilian Christmas would be complete without. If you are more of a traditionalist, there are plenty of cafes that offer the standard roast turkey dinner with all of the trimmings.
4) Edinburgh, Scotland
There are many spots in the U.K. that embrace the Christmas season, but Edinburgh seems to take it up a notch with their many varied holiday attractions. The European Christmas Market is held each year in the Princes Street Gardens in the heart of Old Town. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has the evening light trail, with illuminated trails set to music. Enjoy hot chocolate or mulled wine as you stroll along.
Visit Santa’s Grotto from the December 1st through Christmas Eve. This is a ticket-based attraction and requires a small entry fee for kids to visit with the big red guy. And of course, Christmas shopping is wonderful. Princes Street and George Street are the best places to go, which has the city’s oldest flagship department stores. After your shopping spree, hit Santa Land in East Princes Street Gardens and the Christmas Tree Maze. Meander your way in search of Santa’s little helpers. Then do the Big Wheel, a Ferris wheel with 36 enclosed, weather-proof pods.
5) Quebec City, Canada
One of North America’s oldest cities really knows how to do up the holidays. Its colonial-French architecture is the perfect backdrop for yuletide celebrations, with an unmistakable European feel. The old town’s cobbled streets will charm you, while the quaint shops and bistros are merrily decked out for the Christmas season. Experience the authentic European charm of a German Christmas Market in the heart of Old Quebec. Then stroll through Christmas Village for your Instagram-worthy picture.
There is a toboggan run at Chateau Frontenac that is open from mid-December through March and is one of the city’s oldest traditions. Feel alive as you zoom down the icy tracks up to 45 mph on a wooden sled, while overlooking the city. If you like guided tours, Quebec offers Christmas-themed tours where you learn the traditions of Christmas past.
There are many places you can go for Christmas. But these cities are the crème of the crop when it comes to knowing how to celebrate the season. There is something for everyone at all of these destinations – the perfect way to spend the winter holidays.