Around every corner of certain cities are elaborately decked halls and boughs of holly, to remind everyone that t’is indeed the season to be jolly. Christmas cheer comes in different forms — from grand events to intimate family gatherings. For some, the lights are the best parts, and for others, it’s the food. It’s also in the eggnog and memories, sometimes. But that's not the list we’re supposed to be making. Instead, here are 15 of the best cities to spend Christmas in:
1. Copenhagen, Denmark
This is at the top of my list because Denmark sounds like just the place for me to become a true libertine. There's a special Danish term for the mood of peak satisfaction: Hygge. So, in Copenhagen, everything inspires you to get really cosy instead of simply dressing up to keep the cold away. The lights, the food and the people all emanate warmth and comfort, so if you're looking for a (mostly) lazy Christmas like I usually am, this is just the place for you. And you don't need to worry about what happens when you need to get out a little bit. There are a couple of ice rinks, Christmas markets and other forms of activities, but it seems a simple walk down the well-lit streets or even a cup of coffee at a cafe is enough to keep you in the hygge Christmas spirit.
2. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Not to be mistaken with Bethlehem, Palestine, but this has also come to be known as Christmas City, USA. This is because of some settlers that arrived on Christmas Eve of 1741. However, the history of it isn't the only extraordinary part. The Christmas City Village thrives off of the Christmas shopping tradition, but you also find Christmas cheer in unlikely places, like the Moravian bookshop, Lehigh and Keystone Valley Model Railroad Museum and the Lehigh Valley Zoo. Other typical Christmas activities happen in different parts of the Pennsylvanian city, like alcohol from Fegley’s Brew Works and strolls through extraordinarily lit streets.
3. New York, USA
Broadway shows, shopping sprees and ice skating are all part of the magic of December in New York. The holidays here can also be quite hands-on with events like SantaCon, but this is expected of the typically busy city. It's a popular idea that the lights and music are great, but the real Christmas magic lies in the hearts of the people around. New York City is an incredible manifestation of this, given its incredible crowd. A December visit to the Big Apple is a great way to make sure you’re surrounded by magic all the time.
4. London, England
For aesthetically pleasing photos that Christmas lights make glorious, London is your destination. The experience is immersive, and every moment spent here is sensational. No matter how you like to experience Christmas, the home of Big Ben has something in store for you. London in December had an assortment of offers, including great food and a few tugs at your emotional strings.
5. Reykjavík, Iceland
Did you know that Iceland has 13 Santa Clauses? That’s how into Christmas they are. Jól, the Icelandic word for Christmas, has been a traditional celebration for years, even before Christianity got to Iceland. Here, it's mostly a — literally — white Christmas and a feast for the eyes. If you stick around long enough, you can enjoy Reykjavik's incredible firework displays for many hours of New Year’s Eve. And If you're lucky, the northern lights show up when you're around.
6. Cologne, Germany
This is a top Christmas destination because of its many Christmas markets. Cologne Christmas markets are some of the oldest and most popular in Germany (and arguably in Europe). The smaller local markets call to me because I’ll spend all my money on food before I consider buying ornaments, despite how beautiful they are. Anyway, splurging isn't the only tradition you can enjoy in this city. The lights and decorations can turn a simple walk into a sightseeing adventure.
7. Rome, Italy
Rome is known to have been a dangerous place for Christians and those who engaged in any Christian-related practices. However, since Christianity became the official religion of Italy’s capital, Roman churches (and the whole capital, really) have celebrated the holiday in grand style. Although Christmas is sweater weather here too, the skies stay a beautiful blue. I think it's great that the destination stays bright because there are so many Christmas displays, and regular displays are given the Christmas spirit through amazing decorations and, of course, all the visitors.
8. Edinburgh, Scotland
An Edinburgh Christmas involves wonderful winter activities, including festivals and fairs; George Street is particularly famous for its incredible ice rink. For six weeks — starting late November and ending in the first week of January — there is Christmas cheer around every corner of Scotland's mountainous capital, and with everything so close together, you can smell the cheer in the air, even from the comfort of your room in one of the magical hotels.
9. Taos, New Mexico
Every year, the lighting of the Town of Taos Christmas Tree kicks off the holiday season. The season is such a big deal in the New Mexican district that it earned a title: Yuletide in Taos. Farolitos are small paper lanterns, and they are a big part of the Christmas culture in New Mexico. They beautify the snow-covered streets, and you can enjoy the Christmas spirit by simply looking out your window or taking a walk down the lit streets.
10. Bruges, Belgium
Bruges is a charming destination, no matter what time of year it is, but it gets especially magical during Christmas. The historic city becomes a timeless beauty once the Christmas lights are up and on. Bruges Christmas Market and Winter Glow, an event that runs for weeks, is one of the most anticipated parts of Christmas in this Belgian city. You can even get some incredible photos with backdrops that look like places you only see on postcards.
11. Salzburg, Austria
A Salzburg Christmas is a blessing to the ears with music from the Sound of Music movie and even Mozart floating around the air in various parts of the city. But catchy melodies aren't the only things in store for you. With all the incredible historic architecture, you don't want to be inside during Christmas in the Austrian city. The fairy lights and snow complement the remarkable structures, such that even I am inspired to go to church.
12. Prague, Czech Republic
Unlike most other cities that suspend the big activities on the 25th and 26th of December (and 1st of January), many of Prague’s activities are held every day throughout the holiday. All of the typical European Christmas activities (ice skating, lights, food, etc) happen all over the city, but I think the cobblestone streets and incredibly lit scenes are enough to ensure a long photography session is a big part of your Christmas in the capital of Czech Republic. In addition, the city is famous for its beer, so things can get extra...spicy here, especially during the holidays when more people are willing to indulge.
13. Montreal, Canada
In Montreal, the giant blankets of snow are a prerequisite to the holiday cheer, so you know you're in for quite a white Christmas. The lights over these snow blankets put warmth in the atmosphere, as opposed to the typical cold of snow. (This doesn't mean you should go out without all the insulation you can create, though.) On certain days, the Canadian city gets even brighter with exploding lights in the sky because of amazing fireworks displays.
14. Cape Town, South Africa
Christmas in Cape Town is filled with excitement. Events that many would write off as mundane take tremendous turns, although these twists are typical of Africa. Once you accept that Christmas isn't defined by snow or eggnog, you open your mind to the Christmas magic of sightseeing, festivities and Santa Claus (popularly called Father Christmas here). Because of the warm weather, you can even enjoy activities that the cold usually keeps you from like snorkelling or picnicking — which are big parts of South African recreation all year round.
15. Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo (and the Japanese aesthetic in general) is known to have a surreal touch to it, but it somehow gets more magical with the Christmas illuminations. Even Christmas trees will make you marvel, and it’ll be exciting to find some that are close to the beauties you only see in anime like Spirited Away. Perhaps it's just the holiday cheer, but there are claims that afternoon tea — which usually tastes wonderful all year round — gets a little sweeter during the holidays. Christmas dinner and pastries are also part of the holiday tradition in Tokyo, so there's quite a lot in store for your eyes and tastebuds.