Ever dreamt about experiencing the festive season in real Christmas towns similar to those idyllic Hallmark movies? Whether you’re looking to soak-in the European Christmas market atmosphere, revel in the distinct winter illuminations of Asian destinations, or savor the magic of spending Christmas in North America, there’s no shortage of options when it comes to postcard-perfect cities that will provide an unforgettable holiday experience.
From Leavenworth in the United States out west all the way to Tokyo, Japan in the east — and a whole host of gems in between — here are 12 beautiful destinations around the world that come alive during Christmas.
Bergen — also known as the fjord capital — is the second-largest city in Norway. Located on the country’s southwestern coast, it is a picturesque destination surrounded by mountains and fjords, including the longest and deepest fjord in the country: Sognefjord. As a major city, you’ll be spoilt for choice in terms of things to do here in December, but this is perfectly balanced out by the small city vibes, filled with charm and urban character that Bergen radiates.
Bergen is home to Pepperkakebyen, the world’s largest gingerbread town. Local residents, schools, companies, and volunteers have been coming together since 1991 to build a little city featuring houses, buildings, trains, and cars among other structures that are entirely made from gingerbread cookies. Tourists flock from far and wide between mid-November and New Year’s Eve every year to see this awe-inspiring creation in the old Sentralbadet Square in the city center. It’s a festive atmosphere like no other!
You can also visit the Bergen Christmas Market in the heart of the city at Torgallmenningen Square. Take a piece of Bergen with you when you leave, thanks to the excellent selection of local handmade souvenirs available, and be sure to indulge in some hearty Norwegian cuisine at any of the market’s many food stalls. If you prefer restaurant food, there are many establishments serving up scrumptious modern dishes using local ingredients in the most vibrant settings.
Leavenworth is a lively Christmas destination located in the state of Washington, on the west coast of the United States. This dreamy little town redesigned its architecture to align with the Bavarian culture it adopted in the 1960s. With plenty of snow and lots of twinkling lights set against a beautiful backdrop of the Cascade Mountains and the Wenatchee River flowing through it, this winter wonderland is a dream to visit during the festive holidays.
Get into the Christmas spirit by gliding through Leavenworth’s forests on a horse drawn sleigh ride while cozying up under a blanket and taking in the natural beauty around you with loved ones. There are many other exhilarating winter activities you can take part in too, including sledding, tubing, skiing, and snowboarding at either Stevens Pass or Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort or Stevens Pass — both less than an hour drive from Leavenworth.
Leavenworth also hosts a range of festivals in December. One of the most popular ones is the Christmas Lighting Festival, which features millions of Christmas lights illuminating the Bavarian village in an unforgettable visual display. You can join in on the Christmas carols, watch the kids slide down the town’s park sled hill, and indulge in some chestnuts that are roasted over an open fire — all while counting down to the whole village bursting to life with sparkling lights!
You’ll also find some of the best accommodation in Leavenworth. Whether you’re looking to spend your Christmas in a hotel, condo, lodge, cabin, or house, this bright little village is sure to deliver a magical festive holiday.
Tokyo is a city that needs little introduction. A perfect blend of traditional and modern, the Japanese capital is a great place to visit year-round, but the city takes it to another level during the holiday season. The 25th of December isn’t a public holiday in Japan, which means everything from monuments, stores, and restaurants remain open for you to experience a Christmas like no other in Tokyo.
Take the entire family to Tokyo Disney Resort for the annual Disney Christmas event that runs between early November and Christmas day. You’ll really feel the Christmas spirit thanks to the sparkly decorations, huge Christmas trees, festive food, and drinks, in addition to spectacular day and night parades!
The Maxell Aqua Park Shinagawa is another popular attraction during this time of year with its NAKED Star Aquarium event. Also running from early November to the 25th of December, the seasonal event is a stunning spectacle that incorporates sea creatures, snowflakes, red Christmas ribbon projections, and cutting-edge digital arts technology. You’ll be in awe of the romantic, festive content creations that add vibrant projection mapping technology to the aquarium exhibits in the delivery of truly captivating Christmas shows.
You can also take the fun to the ice at one of Tokyo’s many outdoor ice-skating rinks that open over the festive period. All the establishments have rental facilities and offer warm Christmas food and drinks, so you can make lifetime memories in the heart of the city surrounded by neon-lit skyscrapers, family, and friends.
Prague, Czech Republic
Dreaming of spending Christmas in Europe? It doesn’t get much better than Prague in the Czech Republic. This idyllic destination in Central Europe has so much to offer during the festive season, you’ll be wishing you had made it there sooner. Just keep in mind that Christmas day here — like in most Central European countries — is actually celebrated on the 24th of December when you make your plans.
Soak up the Christmas atmosphere at Wenceslas Square or the Old Town Square with the jovial sounds of festive concerts and carol sing-alongs. When it’s time for something a little more lowkey, take a romantic walk under the stars along the Vltava River with the radiant amber glow of the city and Christmas lights in the background.
For picturesque views of the whole city, Castle Hill is a great spot to visit. Head over during the day to fully appreciate an unfiltered panorama of Prague. After you’ve absorbed the city’s topography and captured some postcard-worthy snaps, explore some of the Christmas markets located atop the hill. While you do, be sure to immerse yourself in the local delicacies. Try some Svařák — the Czech version of English mulled wine, but with a slightly heavier citrus flavor that balances the sugars, or you can also go for some Bohemian cinnamon punch.
When it comes to food, indulge in a beechwood-smoked klobása sausage from a timber stand or enjoy treats like trdelník, a spindle-shaped walnut pastry that’s specially made for people with a sweet tooth.
Quebec City, Canada
Quebec City is located along the Saint Lawrence River in the mostly French-speaking province of Quebec in Canada. The seemingly endless bright lights, festive decorations, and thick blankets of white snow create a picture-perfect atmosphere resembling the charm and allure of your favorite winter movies.
Get into the festive spirit by watching a Christmas concert at one of the city’s iconic churches. The Notre Dames des Victoires located in the lower historic district and the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in the upper section of Old Quebec host some of the best recitals you’ll find throughout December. Then pay Santa Clause a visit at the historic Chateau Frontenac, which was built in 1893. When you’re done, take a refreshing walk along the Dufferin Terrace, then whiz down the Toboggan slide at speeds reaching up to 70 kilometers per hour.
Among the host of things to try in Quebec City during the holidays is a night at Hotel de Glace — a.k.a. The Ice Hotel. Constructed entirely from ice and snow, the igloo style seasonal hotel is only open between early January and March. Nothing quite epitomizes Canada more than this fairy-tale like marvel in the wintertime.
Poznan is the 2nd largest commercial hub in Poland after the capital, Warsaw. The city has a rich history dating back to the 9th century, along with beautiful architecture and a vibrant atmosphere that makes it such a special place to visit over the holidays. Located along one of Europe’s main east-west rail lines — stretching from Paris, France all the way through to Moscow, Russia — Poznan has excellent links to other dream destinations in the region if you want to experience the different flavors Europe has to offer.
During your stop in Poznan though, you’ll revel in the range of activities at your disposal. Visit Mickiewicz Square to witness the majesty of the famed opera house, the Collegium Maius building, before taking a gripping tour around the iconic Imperial Castle, dating back to Poznan’s German period.
To really get into the festive spirit, Poznan’s Christmas market is sure to get the bells jingling. Countless market stalls line Old Market Square’s cobblestone streets. Wander around the wooden stalls where you’ll find everything from mementos, handmade toys, and apparel. Before you leave, make it a point to try the customary Polish winter delicacies for both food and drink to complete the Poznan Christmas experience.
Cologne is a 2,000 year-old city that sits along the Rhine River in western Germany. Spending time here in December is a magical feeling, thanks to the soft snowfall, bright Christmas lights, and overall festive atmosphere.
Get straight into the action at a real-life Willy Wonka factory: the Schokoladenmuseum, which translates to chocolate museum. It’s a dream come true for anyone with an affinity for chocolate. Learn everything there is to know about chocolate’s history, including the end-to-end production process. And since it’s chilly at this time of year, what better way to warm up than a nice cup of freshly made hot chocolate at the end.
You’ll find up to seven different Christmas markets in Cologne, which all boast a unique theme and vibe. Try some hot Glühwein (mulled wine) and the range of tasty local treats on offer while enjoying the festive background music and heavenly smells that fill air during your time there. Speaking of smells — it’d be remiss if you didn’t make a pit stop at the House of 4711. This museum and flagship store has been producing distinguished perfumes and colognes since the 18th century. Take a tour of the establishment to find out about the interesting history of the “House of Fragrance” and get yourself or a loved one a new scent for Christmas before you leave.
Located in northeastern France, Strasbourg is the Grand Est region’s capital city. Sitting right on the border of France and Germany, the city’s unique French and German influences are unmissable. Strasbourg has built a reputation as the literal “Capital of Christmas,” thanks in part to the glowing 30-meter Christmas tree — the tallest in Europe — displayed at Place Kléber every year. Snap some memorable pictures next to this humdinger and then proceed to the nearby ice skating rink for more of an adrenaline rush on the ice.
During your visit, make sure you climb to the top of Strasbourg’s cathedral to get a first-hand experience of the most spectacular city views. On the roof of Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, you get an unbroken panorama of the entire city. It’s an even more beautiful sight during December with the festive decorations and Christmas markets on full display below.
Petit France is another quaint and colorful gem you need to explore during your stay. With waterways running throughout the area, Petit France has a very tranquil and serene ambiance about it.
If politics has any appeal to you, you can visit the European parliament, which is also based in Strasbourg. Just check whether it will be open before your visit to ensure you can gain entry to the parliament buildings and take a tour of the establishment.
The Austrian capital of Vienna has a rich cultural history dating back to Roman settlements in the 11th century. Legends like Mozart, Beethoven, and Sigmund Freud have all called Vienna home during their flourishing careers, which speaks to the city’s natural appeal. In December, however, Vienna transforms into a Christmas wonderland that has an even greater pull for visitors.
Go on a nighttime tour around Ringstrasse, a circular boulevard that encircles Vienna’s city center. You can either walk, take a tram, or use the “hop on, hop off” sightseeing buses on your exploration of the ring-shaped road, where you’ll come across everything from parks, theatres, museums, opera houses, churches, skyscrapers, luxury stores, five-star hotels, and so much more.
Vienna is known for its sausages and widely available sausage stands year-round, but this goes to another level during the winter holidays. Stop by one of the stalls and treat yourself to one of these mouthwatering delights in between your tourist activities. If you enjoy a drink too, try some Weihnachtspunsch — a local Christmas punch. It comes in a variety of flavors, including non-alcoholic options, and is an excellent way to keep warm on a chilly December night.
Often dubbed the European Union’s capital city due to its standing as the EU’s administrative center, Brussels is also a dream destination for the Christmas holidays. There’s so much you can get up to in Belgium’s capital when you visit in the winter.
If you’re making the trip at the end of November, don’t miss the Winter Wonders inauguration parade, kicking off the festive season with an opening night spectacle to behold. Located at the Grand-Place in Brussels’ city center, the Winter Wonders extravaganza lasts until early January. It includes a Christmas market with over 200 chalets, an ice skating rink, fairground attractions like a Ferris wheel and merry-go-rounds, as well as sound and light shows, among many other attractions.
Should you find yourself in the middle of a cold and wet day in Brussels, head over to the Royal Gallery Of Saint-Hubert for some indoor leisure. Explore the designer stores, boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and entertainment venues located within the 19th-century shopping arcade. You’ll also be in awe of the architectural masterpiece that is this complex, with its high glass ceiling spanning the entire length of the building.
Other must-dos in Brussels include a visit to the Atomium, the Royal Museum Of Arts, and the Royal Palace Of Brussels.
Looking to spend an unforgettable city break somewhere in Europe for Christmas? Basel in Switzerland will undoubtedly deliver. Tucked away in the northwest close to the borders with France and Germany along the Rhine River, this medieval old town is a captivating destination that elevates to new heights during the festive period.
Basel goes all-out every year over Christmas. The streets are lit up with festive lights, hundreds of Christmas trees, and colorful decorations to mark this celebratory time of year. If you love shopping, the famous Freie Strasse is a must. With all the upscale designer and fashion boutiques you could hope for located on the city’s main shopping street along with that special festive feeling filling the air, shopaholics are guaranteed a magical experience here in December.
That being said, nothing speaks to Basel more than the city’s rich arts and cultural scene. You’ll find over 40 museums to explore, including a natural history museum and the world’s largest collection of stuffed teddy bears in the world. Some of the best theaters in the country are located in Basel too. You can enjoy opera ballet, dramas, and vibrant stage production at The Musical Theatre Basel and The Theatre Basel alone.
Dublin is one of the best places you can visit around Christmas time. It’s the capital city of the Republic of Ireland. Dublin has so much to offer — you’ll be surprised at the amount of things to do for a fairly small city.
Since nothing says “Irish” more than Guinness, make sure you get yourself to the Guinness Storehouse at some point during your Christmas visit. You’ll get a memorable interactive tour around the Guinness brewery, which has a “history museum” feel to it. Then, top it all off with a fresh pint of Guinness at the end for good measure.
St Patrick’s Cathedral is another popular attraction you need to see when visiting Dublin during the festive period. Even for the non-religious tourist, this marvel’s construction, aesthetic, atmosphere and the history surrounding it, is something you’ll fully appreciate when you experience it in the flesh.
One unmissable event to attend before you leave is the annual three-day “Procession Of Light” or “Parade Of Lights” celebration to welcome the new year. The city’s largest monuments are illuminated with 3D projections and animations of all kinds. It’s a beautiful spectacle and it’s completely free to watch too! Casually stroll around the streets of Dublin to experience the magic on a wintery festive night while bringing in the new year.
Enjoy Christmas Across The Globe
All of these cities have a unique festive appeal that will make you appreciate the way people all over the world commemorate this time of year. Immerse yourself in the local celebrations, which are sure to be a winter wonderland experience you’ll never forget! Plan your Christmas getaway with VacationRenter today.