Even the greatest of Grinches has to admit: These 16 cities, with their sparkle and cheer, can make the heart grow three sizes larger. Here, the best places to spend Christmas, from Cologne to San Juan.
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If you thought Prague was beautiful before, just wait until you see it during the month of December: The city's Gothic architecture provides the perfect backdrop for savoring sugary pastries and roasted ham, warming up on mulled wine, and indulging in some major holiday shopping. Prague's main Christmas markets take place in the Old Town and Wenceslas squares, which are conveniently just five minutes apart. Aside from the aforementioned food and beverages, the markets are filled with traditional Czech goods and ornaments, and marked by a frenzy of holiday carols and lights.
Soak up the culture: The more artistically-inclined travelers should set aside some time to see the Kühn Children's Choir or a performance of The Nutcracker at the National Theater.
Europe’s best-preserved medieval city trickles pure charm into its canals year round, but especially during the holidays. As you wander Bruges’ cobbled streets, decked in shimmering lights, with a Belgian hot chocolate to keep you warm, it is hard to imagine a place more magical.
Snap next year’s holiday card now: Clumsily ice skating with your significant other is a wintertime favorite, and the little ice rink at the center of Bruges’s downtown Christmas market may be the world’s cutest to engage (and take pictures of) this pastime.
Nothing embodies old world yuletide charm like the Christmas market, and nobody takes Christmas markets more seriously than the Germans, with Cologne’s drawing four million visitors each winter.
Take a bird's-eye view: Enjoy serene sight of the lights and the people of the Cologne Cathedral Christmas market from the observation deck of Koelntriangle, the tower directly opposite the Cathedral on the Rhine.
Even though you’ll be in shorts and sandals, the cool blue lights adorning the plazas in old San Juan, and the boats in the harbor won’t let you forget it’s Christmas time. At night, listen for the sounds of parrandas, or asaltos, which literally translates to assaults: Yes, Puerto Rico’s take on Christmas caroling is a good natured tradition where groups gather their guitars and tambourines to surprise their friends with an impromptu party, often in the middle of the night.
Drink this: Coquito. Think of it as coconut-milk eggnog, and yes, it's just as delicious as it sounds.
Who says Christmas has to be about ugly sweaters and sipping hot drinks around the fireplace? Why not switch up traditions by enjoying an icy caipirinha on one of Rio’s stunning beaches? Also, don’t miss out on the Festival de Presepios, which features the world’s largest display of full sized nativity scenes.
Explore on two wheels: Rent a bike along the pathways circling the Rodrigo Freitas Lagoon and enjoy views of the world’s largest floating Christmas tree from every angle as you cruise.
Quebec City is one of the oldest in North America, and its colonial French architecture gives it an unmistakably European feel. The cobbled streets of the Old Town are packed with quaint shops and delicious bistros all merrily decorated for the holidays.
Get a holiday rush: The toboggan run at Chateau Frontenac is one of the city’s oldest traditions—and quite the thrill. Zoom down icy tracks overlooking the city on a wooden sled reaching speeds of up to 45 mph.
Year-round, the lights of Hong Kong’s skyline are stunning, but the Symphony of Lights show held nightly during the holidays will leave you breathless. This extravagantly choreographed neon show is displayed on more than 40 of the city’s iconic skyscrapers along Victoria Harbor.
Go cruising: Hands down the best way to experience the Symphony of Lights is from the harbor, and there are plenty of tour companies that offer dinner cruises.
Hugging the Arctic Circle, Finland’s Lapland region is the birthplace and home of Santa Claus. In the city of Rovaniemi, Santa Claus Village amusement park and resort creates an unforgettable Christmas experience for children with snow-covered cottages, reindeer rides, and a friendly staff dressed as elves who refuse to break character.
Take a nature break: If you need a respite from the jingle of bells and ho-ho-hos, book an evening snowmobile trip and speed through the night with the aurora borealis glowing overhead.
Dating back almost 450 years, Strasbourg is home to the oldest of France’s Christmas markets. There are 11 in total to check out, but the one beneath the stunning Strasbourg Cathedral, the tallest surviving structure built entirely in the Middle Ages, can’t be missed.
Eat this: Though the markets will be full of delicious goodies, don’t miss an opportunity to indulge in the king of Alsatian delicacies, foie gras, which is also a French Christmas tradition.
Iceland is a winter wonderland most of the year, but Reykjavík looks even better in December, when strings of glinting Christmas bulbs illuminate the city during its very long nights. On the clearest evenings, the Northern Lights can even be seen from the city’s darker streets.
Do some troll spotting: Keep your eyes open for The 13 Yule Lads, a group of holiday trolls you’ll see about town who are—in local folklore—Iceland’s equivalent to Santa Claus (and have actually been around a lot longer than St. Nick!).
Denmark, according to the World Happiness Report, is one of the world’s happiest countries, making it a great place to spend the holidays. In Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens, antique amusement park rides decorated with lights are surrounded by yet another adorable, alpine-village style Christmas market selling gifts and snacks, making this a wonderful experience for the whole family.
Do Christmas Dinner like a local: Book a table at Restaurant Vita for some delicious andesteg, a traditional Danish holiday dish of a crispy, succulent roast duck served with potatoes and cabbage.
Ice skating beneath the giant tree at Rockefeller Center, horse and carriage rides through Central Park, lurking around 34th street hoping to witness a miracle: There’s no shortage of ways to make your New York City Christmas magical.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: The Radio City Christmas Spectacular has been charming folks for more than 80 years, and is the perfect New York tradition that the whole family can enjoy.
The streets around town will be festively alight, but the city home to the seat of Catholicism is an excellent option for folks seeking a more sacrosanct Christmas experience.
Skip the crowds: Attending Christmas Eve midnight mass at St. Peter’s Basilica is a bucket-list experience for any Catholic, but these popular tickets go fast. Instead of fighting for one, enjoy midnight mass at the Pantheon and hear hymns echoing off the walls of this 1,900-year-old architectural marvel.
For a lot of families, Christmas is meant to be a time to peacefully reconnect. However, if you’re looking for something a little more lively, book a trip down to the Big Easy and jazz it up these holidays.
Stay here: The exceptional Hotel Maison de Ville, voted the Best Hotel in New Orleans in Conde Nast Traveler's 2016 Readers' Choice Awards).
During the holidays, more than 400 of Barcelona’s streets are illuminated with vibrant lights, whimsical sculptures, and uniquely Catalan nativity scenes featuring scatalogical mascots.
Go shopping: Alongside more familiar Christmas decorations, such as glass ornaments, being sold at Fira de Santa Lucia Christmas Market, are rows of figurines called the caganer. These unmissable little statues depict a person squatting to relieve themselves, and are a Catalan symbol of fertility and good luck.