Nearly every town has their own holiday charm, but some places really know how to DO Christmas. I’m talking over the top celebrations, beautiful natural scenery, eye-catching displays, and the true spirit of Christmas. Christmas is just around the corner and if you’re looking to do it up big this year, I’ve got just what you need. These are the world’s best places to celebrate Christmas.
Lapland is the home of Santa Claus Village aka Christmas HQ. Located just north of the Arctic Circle, the city offers tons of festive ways to celebrate. You can enroll in Elf School, make gingerbread cookies with Mrs. Claus, or take a calligraphy class so you can write your Christmas list with a traditional quill. I mean, what more could you want?
If you really want to live like a Claus you can stay in the Arctic Snow Hotel. The hotel is actually made entirely from snow and ice! There are also saunas and hot tubs so you don’t freeze your tush off.
To top it all off, you can visit the reindeer and baby polar bears at the Ranua Zoo or spend the night gazing at the Northern Lights.
Zurich is the most picture-perfect place to spend Christmas. The mountains, snow and cobbled streets feel like something out of a fairytale. Plus, the centerpiece of town is a Christmas tree literally covered in Swarovski crystals, which looks like something out of Frozen.
The city comes to life with magical Christkindlimarkts (Christmas markets) every year. The Christmas market at Zurich Main Station is Europe’s largest covered market. Inside you’ll find a huge choice of gifts with all the mulled wine and fondue you can eat.
If you love Christmas music, you’ll be in for a treat. Check out the singing Christmas tree that comes alive on Werdmuhleplatz. On a stage covered in lights, a choir of local children will serenade you with Christmas carols.
Families can also enjoy ice skating rings, a Christmas circus or a public dipped candle-making event.
New York, New York
If you want to spend Christmas in the city, there’s no better place to do it than New York. The lights of the skyline twinkle brightly all night long like the whole city is ablaze with holiday fever. It’s also been the star in many Christmas flicks from “Miracle on 34th Street” to “Elf.”
While you’re in the city check out Rockefeller Center for the famously gigantic Christmas tree and the ice rink. They are sure to get you in the spirit. And if you’ve got the coin you can head to Radio City for the annual Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes. And if you’re on a budget, spend the evening on a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park. There’s nothing more classic.
Columbus Circle hosts a Holiday Market with tons of vendors selling everything you need for everyone on your list. Department stores like Macy’s set up impressive Christmas window displays. So even if you can’t drop big money you can still window shop ’till you drop.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Okay, this one may sound a bit surprising at first but San Juan is where it’s at. For real. Before, during and after Christmas the city is celebrating with food, family and nonstop parties.
The festivities start off with a glass of coquito, a rum and coconut drink similar to eggnog. In Old San Juan they’re serving up seasonal Puerto Rican specialties like pasteles, a meat and spice-filled pastry, and pernil, a slow-roasted marinated pork shoulder served around the holidays.
The best part is the celebrating continues through January with the observance of Three Kings Day. Plus, you get to do all of this while catching a tan on the beach!
Bethlehem, West Bank
If you want to get in touch with the original meaning of Christmas, you should make a pilgrimage to Jesus’ birthplace. Thousands of people from around the world gather together in the biblical town to observe the holiday.
You can hear traditional Christmas songs played in Arabic and take a tour of the nearby sites like Shepherd’s Field where the shepherds are said to have seen the Star of Nativity.
In Bethlehem, the Church of Nativity and Milk Grotto are essential stops on your pilgrimage. Finally, you’ll want to visit Manger Square on Christmas Eve to watch the celebrations of scouts and the Patriarch. The night ends with a Midnight Mass at St. Catherine’s Church.
I'm Natasha Ho, a trained chef and avid traveler. I've studied culinary traditions from cuisines around the world, and I help food lovers learn how to cook a wide variety of meals that are consistently delicious so they can have more fun, ease and joy in their kitchen.