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The 20 best places to go for Christmas

From classic festive getaways to Scrooge-friendly destinations to escape, these are the world’s greatest places to spend Christmas

Ed CunninghamLiv Kelly
Contributor: Liv Kelly
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The most magical time of the year has a habit of transforming destinations around the world: cities get decked out in dazzling decorations, streets teem with local traditions and squares are taken over by pop-up festive markets.

That said, some destinations are great to visit at Christmas for precisely the opposite reason: because you might not even realise it’s Christmas at all. Who hasn’t sometimes wanted to hibernate in the sun until the madness is over? 

And so, when considering the best destinations to visit at Christmas, we haven’t just included places with quirky traditions or an unmissable festive atmosphere - there's plenty of Scrooge-appropriate destinations on here too. Dive into our festive travel list below and you’re guaranteed to find somewhere great to spend the season. 

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At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines. This article includes affiliate links. These links have no influence on our editorial content. For more information, see our affiliate guidelines.

The best places to go for Christmas

Best for: wannabe Santa elves 

There are few destinations as legendarily Christmassy as Rovaniemi, which, as the capital of Lapland, is also the official hometown of Santa Claus. But Rovaniemi isn’t all about Santa. Once you’re done exploring Santa Claus Village and getting reindeer rides about town, be sure to sweat out your worries with a festive sauna – a Finnish Christmas tradition.

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Best for: Christmas markets

Sure, each city centre twinkles with lights and exudes wafts of mulled wine throughout December, but few do it as well as Edinburgh. East Princes Street Gardens dazzles every year with a whole host of market stalls, festive food and fairground rides, plus plenty of whisky stands for a warming Christmassy bev. Sticking around for New Year's? The city's Hogmanay celebrations are a world-renowned way to launch 2024. 

Best for: an unconventional Christmas

New Orleans is packed full of alternative Christmas traditions, from its bonfires on the banks of the Mississippi and charmingly redecorated streetcars to its lively carol concerts and glam AF hotel lobby decorations. With daytime temperatures hitting about 17C, it’s also that bit warmer than much of the rest of the continental US at this time of year.

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Best for: traditional romantics 

Festive cheer sweeps through London sometime in early November and doesn’t let up. By the time the end of December comes around, Christmas vibes hit a fever pitch: the already-very-romantic UK capital finds itself lined by fir trees, twinkling with Christmas lights and sound-tracked by jangly festive tunes. Aye, it’s exactly as magical as it sounds.

Read more: The best Christmas lights in London

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7. Nuremburg, Germany

Best for: Weihnachtsmarkt fanatics

Germany’s Weihnachtsmarkts (traditional Christmas markets) are famous the world over – and Nuremburg’s is one of the country’s oldest, biggest and best. Notes of gingerbread and mulled wine waft through a mini city of wooden stalls teeming with candy canes, scrummy lebkuchen and handmade decorations.

Best for: Christmas dinner on the barbie

Looking for somewhere that goes full-throttle for Chrimbo but isn’t so, erm, wintry? Australia’s likely your best bet. Sydney has all the festive lights, trees and even ice skating of a typical Christmas-celebrating city, but with toasty average temperature highs of 25C. Don’t knock an Xmas dinner cooked on a beachside barbeque until you’ve tried it.

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Best for: chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate

Turkey, mince pies, and pannetone are all the festive foods that might spring to mind at first, but it wouldn't be Christmas without chocolate. And where's the best place to go for that? Well, it has to be Bruges - from the divinely rich hot chocolates on offer at the market to the traditional Yule log, this little city has bags of Christmassy confection to fill those stockings, or to gorg on under the twinkly lights. 

 

Best for: the culturally disconnected 

With no public holiday and everything open as usual, Japan doesn’t really celebrate Christmas – but that’s also its charm. The country is nicely disconnected from the rest of the world’s Xmas mania but still has tonnes of festive stuff to see and do, from Tokyo’s gorgeous winter illuminations to the annual Japanese tradition of getting KFC on Christmas day.

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11. Caracas, Venezuela

Best for: religious roller-skaters

Think you’ve got a neat ride when it comes to heading down to church (if that’s your jam, anyway) during the Christmas period? Check out the locals in Caracas. From December 16-24 before 8am, roads are closed in the Venezuelan capital so that churchgoers can roller-skate to mass. It’s also common for rollerbladers to dress up in Santa gear... does it get much cooler than that?

Best for: festive escapees 

Christmas isn’t celebrated by the vast majority of people in Marrakech, making it perfect for escaping conventional festive vibes. The Moroccan city also isn’t anywhere near as hot in December as it is in the summertime (hitting highs of 20C without dipping too low at night), so exploring its medina, souks, mosques and riads is even more pleasant.

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13. Greenland

Best for: adventurous eaters

The festive period in Greenland is best known for its food: specifically mattak (essentially a strip of whale skin) and kiviak (a kind of fermented seabird). Both are a delicacy to natives, but they’re likely a bit more, er, stomach-testing to the rest of us.

Best for: clubbers and beachside chillers

Sure, if you really want to, you can have a perfectly Christmassy time in Phuket. The island has plenty of carol concerts and festive dinners if you so want them. However, it’s an ideal place to get away from all the usual festivities, too. As a largely Buddhist country, Thailand doesn’t really celebrate Christmas – leaving you free to chill out at a beachside bar or go clubbing as if it’s any normal day of the year.

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Best for: aesthetes

With its awesome gothic churches and winding baroque streets, Prague is one of Europe’s most dazzlingly pretty cities at any time of the year. But at Christmastime? Well, the Czech capital somehow gets even prettier. The key attractions here are the markets, which take over the likes of Prague Castle and Wenceslas Square with local specialities such as medovina (honey wine), rybí polévka (traditional fish soup) and perníčky (spicy gingerbread).

Best for: total festive immersion

Whether you’re watching Krampuses (a sort of nightmarish Austrian anti-Santa) roam the streets, munching on toffee apples at one of the city’s many Christmas markets or simply soaking in the very, very pretty street decorations, we challenge you not to get totally swept up in Vienna’s all-encompassing Chrimbo vibes.

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Best for: sun bunnies

The beauty of the southern hemisphere in December is that the climate is precisely the opposite of the chilly north. With its long days of uninterrupted sunshine and temperatures in the high 30Cs, Cape Town offers a totally different Chrimbo vibe. Festive picnic atop Table Mountain or in the lush Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, anyone?

Best for: light display fanatics

With main thoroughfare Orchard Road hosting a celebration on Xmas Eve complete with countdown and fireworks, Christmas in Singapore has a unique New Year’s Eve feel about it. Most legendary, however, are the city’s light displays. From the Christmas Wonderland in the Gardens by the Bay to the light shows at Vivocity, Singapore sure knows how to put on a mesmerising electrical show.  

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19. Guatemala City, Guatemala

Best for: demon banishers

There’s something very purifying about burning stuff – and Guatemalans know that so well that they’ve made a tradition out of it. Every year on December 7, Guatemala celebrates the ‘Día del Diablo’ (or ‘Day of the Devil’), kicking off the Christmas period by burning an effigy of the devil. The act is intended to symbolise the cleansing of bad spirits.

20. Colmar, France

Best for: Christmas dreamers

Even in the height of summer, Colmar, a thirteenth-century town in the eastern French region of Alsace, looks rather a lot like it’s made out of gingerbread. Add a dusting of snow, some tasteful Christmas lights and a characterful festive market? You’ve got one of the world’s most picture-perfect Xmas destinations.

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