As I sit typing this, I realize that Christmas has managed to sneak up on us once again. In fact, as of this moment, the holiday is only two weeks away. Most people who celebrate Christmas have their traditions. For me, it’s a day of running frantically from house to house, visiting my parents and my husband’s as well. As crazy as it gets, I wouldn’t want to spend it any other way.
Well, I wouldn’t want to spend it most other ways. Upon researching travel for the past few years of my life I’ve realized that some places in the world have the coolest celebrations. From holiday themed events to streets laden with decorations, it would be a great experience to break the norm some year and experience how Christmas is celebrated outside of Tennessee. I decided to share this list of Christmas cities to visit, to hopefully inspire you to change up your Christmas tradition sometime for an unforgettable experience.
1. The Vatican City
The midnight mass, which actually takes place at 9:15 p.m. on Christmas Eve, is a mass led by the current pope in St. Peter’s Basilica. If you aren’t able to make it to the actual service, you can enjoy amazing decorations in St. Peter’s Square. Everybody has seen a nativity scene and a Christmas tree, but not as many people have seen it with a classic Romanesque background in the beautiful country of Italy. For Catholics, I can’t imagine a better place to celebrate Christmas than in the actual holy city.
While you're there, you should definitely visit The Vatican Museums, which is the home of the Sistene Chapel. You can actually save money on the museums using the Rome and Vatican Pass, so I recommend checking it out. If you're exploring the rest of Italy while you're there, check out this guidebook that was very helpful to me on my trip.
2. Bethlehem, Israel
Bethlehem is named in the Bible as the city that Jesus Christ was born. From early December to early January, the city comes to life with bright Christmas lights shining above festive holiday markets. The site of Jesus’s birth, the Basilica of the Nativity, is a common place to see Christmas processions from a range of denominations. If you decide to visit, please note that since Bethlehem is a part of the Palestinian Authority, you can’t leave your passport in the hotel. You’ll have to show it before entering the individual city.
3. New York City
I’m sure you knew that this city would make the list, but that’s because it deserves it. Visitors from all over the world visit Rockefeller Center to ice skate under the world’s tallest Christmas tree, see a performance of “The Nutcracker,” and view Macy’s impressive window displays. The first time I visited New York was in December, which might have added to the reason I fell in love with it. Walking through Central Park in the snow, seeing the large light show on Saks Fifth Avenue, and visiting a Christmas market will make you feel like you’re in a scene from a movie.
If you're looking for a discount while you're in the city (who isn't?) then you should take advantage of the New York City pass. In fact, you can save more than $200 on New York's most popular attractions this way, so don't let your time here go to waste.
4. Santa Claus Village, Finland
Declared the official home of Santa Claus in 1985, this lively village is a great place to catch a glimpse of Aurora Borealis (The Northern Lights). More than just a December event, this village is open every day of the year. When letters are sent to Santa Claus each year, the Santa Claus Main Post Office in this town is the recipient, and the village itself sits right on the Arctic Circle, which is marked clearly for the geography fans. For kids and adult believers alike, this place will spark (or reignite) the magic of Christmas.
5. Bruges, Belgium
Christmas markets are a big deal in Bruges, with a variety of stalls offering treats, knickknacks, and presents to take back home. The two main markets include Markt Square and Simon Stevinplein Square. These markets offer shopping areas and ice skating rinks. This country is known for its hot chocolate, so not indulging in some while you’re walking through the picturesque city would be a crime. For those who want to include religion in this trip, this city is home to the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which is apparently home to a cloth that Joseph used to wipe Jesus’s blood after crucifixion.
6. Nuremberg, Germany
This city is world-famous for its gingerbread, a must try while strolling through the Christmas market (also called the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt). The market serves grilled sausages, which I hear are a delicacy not to be missed, and mulled wine, a warm beverage that contains wine, fruit, sugar, and spices. The stalls are decorated in Santa Claus-esque colors- red and white, and offer decorations, nutcrackers, and many other Christmas must-haves.
7. Bondi Beach, Australia
Australia in December isn’t cold- in fact, it’s warm enough to swim. But, they still find a way to celebrate, touting Santa hats and bathing suits for one of the biggest celebrations of the year. A Christmas tree in the sand and a traditional Australian Christmas BBQ are just a couple of the things you can expect to see on Bondi Beach. This typically makes for a pretty wild party scene, so be prepared for that if you decide to venture out this Christmas.
8. Tokyo, Japan
If one thing is for sure, Japan knows their way around lights. From Toyko Midtown to Roppongi Hills, there is no shortage of amazing and festive displays. Interestingly enough, fried chicken is the most popular food in Japan on Christmas, with several flocking to the nearest KFC thanks to a campaign the fast food chain ran in 1974 encouraging it. Though Christmas is not a religious holiday in Japan, many celebrate it with the mission of spreading happiness to others, which sounds like a worthy cause in itself.
Tokyo is a very cultural and unique city, and you'll want to make sure you get the most of your time there. I highly recommend The Lonely Planet's books, because these are what I use to plan my trips and research top attractions. You can see the Tokyo book here.
There are a ton of places you could visit during Christmas, so this is not a comprehensive list by any means. In fact, there are 195 countries in the world that do it differently than the other. If you’ve visited an amazing Christmas town that you want to share, please leave a comment. I love to learn about these places and hopefully, visit all 195 of them.
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