Christmas has always been a time for home and family. But it’s also a holiday, and these days that makes going away for Christmas a real option for a lot of people. You’ve got some free time, winter is at its darkest, things are a bit hectic at home: why not just get away for a few days and have a whole new Christmas experience?
For some, going away for Christmas means getting out of the cold weather. But others don’t mind a little snow if they’re in a place where they can enjoy the “white Christmas” experience. So some of the world’s great cities can be great Christmas destinations, just as much as the hot weather spots.
Travel can be difficult in the holiday season, true. And packing your presents and Christmas preparations can be a challenge. But once you get where you’re going, that’s soon forgotten as you relax with a beer on the beach, or a meal at a cozy restaurant. You’re making a new Christmas tradition, and someone else is doing the dishes.
Here are 10 great places to consider if you’re thinking of going away for Christmas this year.
The most iconic Christmas city in the world is the Big Apple. We’ve seen it in hundreds of movies and TV shows, and it’s just as impressive in real life. Admiring the window displays at Barneys and Sachs Fifth Avenue, skating in Rockefeller Centre under the giant Christmas tree, going to the Radio City Christmas show – the city is full of great Yuletide experiences. Grand Central Station even puts on a laser light show. New York City isn’t cheap, but it’s the real thing. One caution: New York gets crowded at Christmas, so try to visit the hot spots at off hours or you could be caught in a crush.
Mexico is prone to religious ceremonies at any time of year, and at Christmas it pulls out the stops. There are concerts, processions, uniquely Mexican decorations, and special Christmas treats — like the sweet bread rosca de reyes, and ponche, Mexico’s hot toddy. Where to go? Cancun and Playa del Carmen work for those in the East, Puerto Vallarta for Westerners. And San Miguel de Allende, in Central Mexico, does Christmas up right. You may be eating enchiladas for Christmas dinner, but who doesn’t like Mexican food?
Just watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle over the Seine is special at any time of year. But at Christmas, Paris lights up in earnest, with 130 streets and squares putting up Christmas illuminations. Department stores join in, with extravagant decorations, while carousels in the major public squares add to the festive spirit — at Christmas, children ride free. And of course, the food: if you can’t find a good Christmas dinner in Paris, you’re just not trying.
Like the rest of the German-speaking world, Vienna celebrates Christmas with a special flair. Brightly lit Christmas markets (Christkindlmarkts, in German) glow from public squares all over the old town, with ornaments, handicrafts and Christmas baking on display The Viennese come out in droves to sip a glass of mulled wine and chat with friends under the twinkling street decorations. There are Christmas concerts in venerable old churches, light shows, and lots of goodies – apfel strudel, anyone?
The streets of Quebec City’s old town are charming in summer, with their Old-World, European character. But lit up at Christmas, they can be magical. Quebec is as Christian a city as you’ll find, so you can expect Christmas decorations everywhere. As well, this is a city known for fine food, so you’ll have no trouble finding something great for Christmas dinner. One thing: bundle up, it’ll be cold.
Lake Louise, Alberta
What about spending Christmas in the great outdoors? Lake Louise offers some of the world’s most spectacular scenery. You can go skiing, dog sledding, hiking or gliding across the snow in a horse-drawn sleigh. Or you can just spend the holidays admiring the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Local hotels like the iconic Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise put on the full Christmas treatment. If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, this is it.
A lot of northerners spend their winters in Florida, but what kind of Christmas do they get? In a word, different: Disney World does a mega-Christmas, hanging 8.5 million lights and trimming 1,300 trees. Miami has Santa’s Enchanted Forest for the kids, with a Santa’s workshop and a 90-foot Christmas tree. And down in Key West, the palm trees are trimmed for Christmas, and the waterfront features four blocks of festooned boats. Florida even has a village called Christmas.
The Big Easy isn’t famous just for Mardi Gras. It also puts on a good show at Christmas time, with the French Quarter lit up and carollers singing in Jackson Square. The big attraction is the Celebration in the Oaks, as City Park is lit with hundreds of thousands of lights. But there are cathedral concerts, bonfires on the levees, and of course, lots of music. Local bartenders invent special drinks. And for food, don’t miss the special four-course Reveillon dinners, a tradition dating back to the 1800s.
Like Ireland, Scotland enjoys Christmas to the hilt, and its capital, Edinburgh, does it up right. There’s a holiday light show, including fireworks from Edinburgh Castle, and bagpipes play Amazing Grace around the Sir Walter Scott monument. There’s also the Street of Light celebration, as West George Street is covered in a canopy of light, synchronized to music from local choirs and bands. You can probably find some turkey for dinner, and there’ll be a dram of Scotch to whet your appetite.
Taos, New Mexico
If you’re looking for truly different Christmas, try this mountain town, which celebrates Christian, Jewish, Native American, Hispanic, and Winter Solstice traditions each December. The season kicks off with the lighting of Ledoux Street, which is decorated with glowing luminarias (paper lanterns). Add bonfires, reenactments of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter (called posadas), and a dramatic Christmas Eve celebration by the local Pueblo Indians. And after all that, you can still go skiing.
And one more …
Christmas cruises have become a popular getaway: why not spend the big day visiting a Caribbean island, and let someone else cook Christmas dinner? The cruise lines get in the spirit, with decorations, Christmas trees and carollers – they even have menorahs for those celebrating Hanukkah. And there’s turkey, goose and mince pies for the big meal. Cruise prices are higher at this time of year, and kids are out of school, so there are a lot of families. That means it may be a little noisy – but then, what’s Christmas without a few kids to get excited about it?
That’s a good selection of places to go if you’re going away for Christmas this year — or just thinking about it. Christmas is celebrated all over the world, so it’s possible to find some celebrations and holiday cheer in just about any country. A lot of veteran travellers have stories of celebrating with a camel ride in the desert, somewhere far, far away.
Going away for Christmas can cause a few sad moments when the day comes and you’re not with your family. One solution: bring them along. If that’s not possible, just make sure you’ve got good wi-fi — there’s always Skype.