Christmas time is a magical time packed with tradition, celebrations, festivals, markets, shopping, parties, gifts, and lots and lots of food. Whether you celebrate it or not, it can be hard not to get ‘wrapped’ in all the festivities.
There are different Christmas traditions across the world, and if you’re a keen traveller you’re probably always looking out for new and exciting ways to experience Christmas, which is why we’ve put together a guide to experiencing the best of Christmas around the world.
From the best Christmas (and often New Year) tours/packages to the best Christmas markets and light shows to hunt down, here’s where to go to get the ultimate Christmas experience while traveling at the same time. We’ve also covered a few of the most interesting and unique Christmas traditions around the world, from people hiding their brooms in Norway to roller skating to church in Venezula.
Guide to experiencing the best of Christmas around the world
Christmas themed tours/holiday packages
Christmas in Paris
How about a romantic Christmas in Paris? Contiki has a four-day tour starting in London, then first heading to Dover, then Calais and then Paris to experience a magical Christmas in the city of love and wonder.
Europe is possibly the most fairy-tale like place during Christmas time. Almost everywhere you look will be Christmas lights, giant Christmas trees, Christmas markets, and parties. For the ultimate European Christmas experience, Contiki’s Winter Wanderer tour covers it all. You’ll cover 11 countries in 24 days including England, France, Spain, Monaco, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Netherlands, and Belgium. Your days will include Christmas markets, mulled wine, shopping, delicious food, and lots of festivities.
Exploring Christmas markets
Christmas isn’t Christmas without stuffing your face with delicious foods. From delicious cookies, cakes, and chocolates to the massive Christmas feasts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There are so many different Christmas traditions when it comes to food, and one of the ways to experience them is by visiting the many Christmas markets that pop up in the various cities, towns, and villages around the world. They are particularly popular across Europe, with some of the most well-known markets found here.
Pretty much all European cities and towns will hold a Christmas market at some point during December, with some of the most popular Christmas markets found in London, Edinburgh, all over Germany, Amsterdam, across France, and of course Italy.
If you find yourself in any of the below European cities then why not join a Christmas market tour to find out the best spots to visit along with learning a bit of history about the markets.
- Dresden: Christmas Markets at Advent
- Nuremberg: Old Town and Christmas Market 1.5-Hour Tour
- Vienna: Christmas Markets Tour
- Prague’s Merry Markets Christmas Tour with Local Guide
- Christmas Markets in Berlin Walking Tour
- Ljubljana Lights and Delights Walking Tour
A few exciting Christmas experiences
December calendars are often pretty jam-packed with events and parties, not to mention squeezing in the necessary family time.
If you’ve still got some space in your diary and looking to fill it with something ‘Christmassy’ then perhaps one of the below Christmas experiences will work?
Strauss and Mozart Christmas Concert in Vienna
When in Vienna, you absolutely must attend a Mozart-inspired theatre performance. If you’re in the city over Christmas, then the Christmas Eve Strauss and Mozart Christmas Concert is the perfect opportunity to experience a bit of Mozart.
Christmas cruise in Cologne
Enjoy a lovely cruise along the Rhine on the KD Riverboat. It’s a two-hour cruise packed with delicious Christmas themed treats on-board – waffles, ice-cream, cherries, and sweets. You can admire the beautiful Christmas lights from the comfort of the riverboat, with the live music on board creating a festive and lively atmosphere. If you’ve got little ones with you, then make sure to hop on board the afternoon cruises during Advent (Wednesday to Sunday) as Father Christmas will make an appearance bringing gifts for the little ones.
Spend Christmas day exploring UK towns and eating Christmas lunch
Those looking for something different to do on Christmas Day in the UK can join a tour of a few local towns and districts followed by a delicious traditional Christmas lunch. There are a few options available, including Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath; Rochester, Canterbury & Dover; and Canterbury, Dover, and Rochester.
Where to check out the Christmas lights
Cavalcade of Lights, Toronto
The annual Cavalcade of Lights marks the official start to the holiday season in Toronto. Dating back to 1967, each year the Nathan Phillips Square and Christmas tree are illuminated by more than 300,000 energy-efficient LED lights that shine from dusk until 11pm up until New Year. There’s also a spectacular fireworks show.
New York is covered in Christmas lights, from the shop windows to the central streets. The Christmas lights of Dyker Heights and the Bay Ridge district of Brooklyn are some of the post popular (you can join a walking tour to explore the lights in this area). Manhattan also lights up to create a magical experience. It’s also well worth attending the The Rockefeller Center Holiday Tree lighting ceremony.
Like New York, London is absolutely spectacular during Christmas time. The best places to experience the Christmas lights is Oxford Street, Carnaby, Covent Garden, Marylebone, Regent Street, Bond Street, Seven Dials, and Kingston. If you’re up to it, you can join a London Christmas lights bike tour – just be prepared for the cold!!
Germany does Christmas right, no matter where in Germany you are you’ll most definitely feel the Christmas spirit! The main cities of Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, and Cologne have fantastic displays of Christmas lights, which you can experience by just wandering around the city streets.
Other ways to experience the Christmas lights in Germany:
The National Geographic declared Medellin the fourth best place to spend Christmas. The city lights up with some of the most mesmerizing light shows, known as El Alumbrado. You will find the amazing display throughout the city, with the main areas moving around each year. The best way to experience the lights is by joining a walking tour as you’ll get to learn the history of the lights and the various other Christmas traditions in the city.
Other Christmas lights tours around the world:
Unique Christmas traditions around the world
If you’re fascinated with all things Christmas, then perhaps these unique Christmas traditions found around the world will interest you. If anything, they’re a good conversation opener at those awkward Christmas parties.
Scary Krampus in Austria
Austria has a slightly less joyful Christmas tradition…During the first week of December, young men dress up as St. Nicholas’ evil accomplice, Krampus, and roam the streets scaring children with clattering chains and bells. St. Nicholas on the other hand, rewards nice boys and girls.
Hiding brooms in Norway
Centuries ago in Norway, people believed that witches and evil spirits came out on Christmas Eve looking for brooms to ride on. So, it then became tradition to hide your brooms away on Christmas Eve, which to this day many people still do.
Roller skating in Venezuela
If you happen to find yourself in Caracus, Venezuela on Christmas Eve don’t be alarmed if there are suddenly hordes of local’s roller skating down the street. This is normal. It’s tradition to roller skate to church on Christmas Eve morning. The roads are closed by 8am to make way for the roller skaters. After mass, they all head home and eat tamales and tostados and drink coffee.
Eating KFC in Japan
Christmas isn’t celebrated in Japan, but after a successful marketing campaign from KFC, families across Japan flock to KFC for a Christmas Feast. The Kentucky for Christmas marketing campaign in 1974 has led to thousands of Japanese flocking to get the traditional Party Barrel for Christmas each December in Japan. KFC is so popular in December, that many place their orders weeks in advance or risk waiting for hours in a queue to get their Kentucky Fried Chicken fix.
Spiders on the Christmas tree in Ukraine
Rather than baubles and tinsel, Ukrainians decorate their Christmas trees with artificial spiders and spiderwebs. This is after the Legend of the Christmas Spider where a family awoke on Christmas morning to find their Christmas tree covered in cobwebs, which then turned into gold and silver as the morning light shone through the window onto the tree.
Travel tip shared by Bridget Langer for Travel Dudes.