With the winter nights closing in, one thing we all enjoy is cosying up by a fire, sipping some hot chocolate or our favourite winter tipple, and getting into the holiday spirit. We know that the festive season has officially arrived when the Winter Wonderland opens in Hyde Park and the office talk is all about the best buys at the Christmas markets, and what to wear to the Christmas meal out. But for those of us who are lucky enough to travel around the holidays, here are 10 cities to visit around Christmas in no particular order.
1. Madrid, Spain
Although Madrid may not seem like the most likely Christmas destination, the city hosts some magical events around the holidays. There’s a world-renowned Christmas lottery (El Gordo) hosted at the Teatro Real opera house held on 22 December where lottery ticket holders (almost every family in Spain) secretly hopes to win the big prize. Pupils from the San Ildefonso school draw numbers and corresponding prizes and sing the results to the public. And with €2240 million in cash prizes, it’s definitely something to get excited about. Will you be buying a ticket?
If luck of the draw isn’t your thing, there’s the Three Kings Parade (5 January) where the parade (in non-Covid times) goes from Nuevos Ministerios to Cibeles Palance and the Wise Men visit houses, leaving presents for everyone. Even with the parade only being televised this year, the celebration is full of magic.
Around the city, you can visit giant nativity scenes, ice skating rinks, markets, and concerns. Christmas in Madrid is one you won’t forget.
Visit the official tourism website here: https://www.esmadrid.com/
2. Nuremberg, Germany
Germany is known for its Christmas markets. Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is scattered throughout Nuremberg’s Old Town and you’ll find surprises around every corner. You’ll see traditional red-and-white roofed booths located on the main market square with a view of the Rathausplatz. At Hans-Sachs-Platz, you can find the Children’s Christmas Market which is perfect for younger children.
Germany is magical for its traditional German market foods (Nürnberger bratwurst which are smaller, thinner sausages on a bread roll, gingerbread, spiced nuts, pork sandwiches, and potatoes with onion), its mulled wine, local and regional products, and beautiful wooden crafts.
In a city that’s over 900 years old, you’ll feel you’ve travelled back in time for this magical Christmas experience. Don’t forget to look out for the girl crowned the “Christ Angel” in her white and golden dress with golden curls at Christkind, the opening ceremony each year on Friday before the first Sunday in Advent.
Here’s the official Nuremberg Christmas Market website: https://www.christkindlesmarkt.de/en/
3. New York, New York, USA
Christmas in New York is like no other place. If it’s shopping you, love, you can see the spectacular window displays in places like Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf Goodman, and many others. No Christmas in New York is complete without a visit to the world-famous Rockefeller Center where you can see the giant Christmas tree, decked out and ice-skate on the rink, walk in the Channel Gardens, adorned with native New York plants, be dazzled by the Art Deco interior of Radio City Music Hall whilst watching the famous Rockettes, or shop and dine, all in one place. You can even go all the way to the top at the outdoor viewing deck.
If you want to see things the locals enjoy, you can visit the Bronx Zoo’s winter wonderland, skate at Bryant Park, amble around Central Park, stroll through the empty West Village, shop at the Brooklyn flea market, or enjoy some chocolate babka (for Hanukkah) at a Jewish bakery. There really are endless things to see and do around Christmas and if you want a light show you won’t forget, you can visit the Luminocity light festival on Randall’s Island. What would you see first if you visited New York at Christmas?
Here’s a link to the festivities at the famous Rockefeller Plaza: https://www.rockefellercenter.com/holidays/
4. Prague, Czech Republic
With over 600-years of architecture, medieval streets, and a backdrop of wooded hills, winding around the River Vitava, Prague has everything for a magical winter visit. Like neighbouring Germany, the Czech Republic enjoys Christmas markets (Vánocni trhy) dotted around the city from the end of November through to early January but some of the most picturesque stalls are in Old Town Square where you can enjoy a traditional Trdelník for dessert which is a spit-roasted cake made of dough and covered in cinnamon sugar (similar to chimney cakes in Budapest) and buy pottery, ceramics, handicrafts, wooden puppets, tree ornaments, and more. You can scale Old Town Tower to see the city from above and view the Christmas tree lighting around 4.30 pm each evening or see it via the Charles Bridge Tower where you can look at the swans on the river below. Be sure to take a stroll on the Charles Bridge with its old-fashioned still-gas-lit street lamps and feel as if you’re part of a time gone by. During Christmastime, a lamplighter manually lights the lamps in period costume.
Be sure to visit Prague Castle where you’ll find there are shorter lines in the winter (bonus), plus there are Christmas markets on Castle Hill in the winter, too. Between Twelfth Night (5 or 6 January) and Ash Wednesday, you can also see the parades and celebrations for Slavic Carnival (Masopust), where during the biggest parade of the season, papier-mache puppets (devils, farm animals, chariots, etc) take over the streets with dancing, music, and noise-making from Jiriho z Podebrad square in the Zizkov neighbourhood to the Town Hall.
Finally, no visit to Prague would be complete without at least one viewing of the Astronomical Clock (Prague Orloj) which is a medieval astronomical clock attached to the Old Town Hall, installed in 1410 (third-oldest in the world and the only one still in operation). Don’t worry, though, you can see the clock each time the clock strikes the hour where the procession of the Twelve Apostles sets in motion.
Find out about the Prague Christmas Markets here: https://www.pragueexperience.com/events/christmas-markets.asp
With only four cities on our list, it’s by no means exhaustive. Multiple cities around the world make wonderful holiday destinations from hygge in Copenhagen, Denmark to wooden ornaments and festive lights in Budapest, Hungary, to magical reindeer amongst the Aurora Borealis in Lapland, Finland, to more “British” destinations like Manchester, Edinburgh, and London or enjoying a warm Irish welcome in Dublin to Advent concerts in Salzburg, Austria, even to less obvious (and hotter) destinations like enjoying a swim on Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia and watching the boat parade in Puerto Rico. No matter what makes the holidays enchanting for you – whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Ōmisoka, or anything in between – there’s a destination to visit and a magical feeling to capture.