With Christmas fast approaching, we thought we’d encourage travel guru, James Willis to produce a slightly more festive edition of this week’s offering of Wanderlust. As usual, it’s an absolute cracker. Here’s James’s guide to the top 10 Christmas holiday destinations…
Essentially the home of Santa, Lapland sits in the Arctic Circle and dresses itself up for Christmas every year. There are reindeers, elves, toy workshops, Santa, Mrs Santa and so much more! Every book, movie or show you’ve ever seen about Christmas is brought to life every year in Lapland. So if you’re after an authentic “Santa” experience – northern Scandinavia is where you need to go!
The best city you could visit if you’re looking for a Christmas market. Vienna is filled with beautiful architecture, and the atmosphere is only amplified in the lead up to Christmas. The markets are open all day and don’t close until 5pm on the 24th December. Oh, and if you ever get bored of the Christmas side of Vienna (not likely) there’s also a wealth of museums and sights to keep you entertained.
Reykjavik is another city that is brilliant for Christmas markets. The city also offers a stretch of road called “Yule Town”, which is a must see for unique Christmas food and decorations. The markets aren’t open quite as long or often as some other cities in Europe – partly due to less daylight. However, Reykjavik (and Iceland as a whole), offers such a unique experience that it more than makes up for the lack of shopping opportunities.
4. New York City
There’s a reason that endless Christmas movies have been set in New York City. Despite it being too urban for some tourists, the Big Apple somehow gets an extra lease of life around Christmas. The city that never sleeps becomes the city that never, ever, EVER sleeps. The magic of New York grows during the festive season, with added ice skating in central park, some of the world’s biggest and best shops and an absolutely mammoth Christmas tree in Rockefeller plaza. What’s not to like?
5. Quebec City
If you want somewhere outside of Europe (but still want Christmas markets and a friendly atmosphere), then Quebec City is the place for you. The entire city becomes enchanting as it is redecorated into a realistic Christmas village – complete with decorations, lights and plenty of snow. Each year, in December, the city also hosts a light show which, alongside the snow and atmosphere, creates a genuine once in a lifetime experience.
Shopping at Christmas markets and sightseeing isn’t necessarily for everyone at Christmas. However, there are still holiday destinations offering completely different things. For a ‘Christmassy’ skiing experience, Megeve (France) is the place to go. While bigger resorts like Kitzbuhel have a more renowned name and bigger slopes, Megeve brings that special “small Christmas village” feel to the entire town and its visiting population. They also have a giant Christmas tree decorated with Swarovski crystals which, for obvious reasons, becomes a bit of an event.
While London is known for being particularly urban, over Christmas, it is possible to hunt down areas that give you a more rural, festive atmosphere. However, for those that appreciate the “big city coming together” feeling, London also has a number of very popular Christmas sights every year. Hyde Park turns into a big Winter Wonderland (although often lacking snow), while Covent Garden gets a new lease of life with Christmas shoppers. There is also ice skating at Somerset house, and countless other festive activities to keep visitors entertained.
Home of the Roman Catholic Church, Rome is the place to be if you want the complete Midnight Mass experience. I’m not quite convinced that Midnight Mass is supposed to be advertised as a tourist attraction – but don’t let that put off of going. Rome is, rather obviously, a very picturesque city, so adding Christmas to the mix just gives it that little bit more atmosphere. Of course, after all of your sightseeing and Christmas market shopping, you can then cap it off with that trip to midnight mass.
One of the most unique parts of celebrating Christmas in Belgium is getting a visit from two Santas. In Belgian culture, they celebrate Saint Nicholas in much the same way everyone else. However, they also celebrate a second Santa figure called Pere Noel, who, alongside his more famous companion, essentially serves only the French speaking population. If the whole ‘double Santa’ thing hasn’t won you over, then surely their Christmas chocolates will.
If you’ve ever seen Colin Farrell’s “In Bruges” I won’t need to explain this one. Bruges has an amazing and rather unique atmosphere. Not only is it jam-packed with Christmas markets and festivities, but it also retains an almost mystical feel – something that is completely unique to the city. It’s the kind of vibe that needs to be experienced to be properly understood.