Get in the spirit with some of the world’s most festive celebrations.
Sure, Perry Como was onto something when he crooned, “there’s no place like home for the holidays,” but there’s something romantic about spending Christmas in a foreign land. We’ve rounded up six locales bursting with such dazzling displays and good cheer that Mom will be forced to understand if you miss a trip to Grandma’s just this once.
Destination: Tromsø, Norway
Main attraction: The aurora borealis, or northern lights, puts other shining holiday displays to shame. But you have to go far north—like this tiny town inside the Arctic Circle where the sun barely shines this time of year—to see the natural phenomenon. Get the best views with the help of Arctic Guide Service, which offers six- to seven-hour tours.
While you’re there: Enjoy the Arctic nights on the Star Walk Night Snowshoeing Tour. Or grab a cup of cocoa and take a guided snowmobile to the top of Takelvdalen Valley , where you can get up close and personal with a herd of reindeer (not Donder or Blitzen—they’re busy this time of year).
Destination: Brussels, Belgium
Main attraction: Love Christmas markets? This elegant European capital is home to one of the continent’s largest: Winter Wonders includes more than 230 chalets that extend a mile and a half from the Grand-Place (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to Place St. Catherine; shop, nibble on local fish, sausages, cheeses, breads, chocolates and french fries, and don’t miss the 360-degree Christmas light show.
While you’re there: Visit the giant Ice Monster; look closely inside to see who stole Christmas. Take in city views from the 180-foot high Ferris wheel or ice-skate nearby surrounded by charming historic buildings. Finally, treat yourself to a Belgian waffle at Aux Armes De Bruxelles or sample savory beef stew washed down with Gueuze (Belgium’s strong, sweet beer). Proost!
AN IGLOO FOR TWO
Destination: Lapland, Finland
Main attractions: Always wanted to spend the night in an igloo? Then check out the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, where you’ll find both glass and snow igloos (but dress warmly—the temps inside can be subzero). If you’re not into the cold, the resort’s log chalets, complete with fireplaces and saunas, sleep up to 10 people. The next morning, go on a husky or reindeer safari or take a horseback or sleigh ride through the wintry woods.
While you’re there: Enjoy a silent night to yourself at the Lainio SnowVillage, an arctic world built out of ice and snow where you can explore the ice hotel, ice bar and restaurant, view ice sculptures and let the kids play on ice slides. At Santa Park, go to Elf School, taste goodies from Mrs. Claus’s Gingerbread Kitchen and visit the Ice Princess Ice Gallery. Finish off with a trip to “the only sauna gondola in the world,” where you can enjoy two hours of snow-capped surroundings with, yes, an electric sauna in your gondola.
A ROYAL CHRISTMAS
Destination: Copenhagen, Denmark
Main attraction: The city’s famous Tivoli Gardens offers games, rides, Christmas delicacies, three light shows and a fireworks festival, as well as music from a 100-person choir.
While you’re there: Be a queen (or king) for a day: More than half a century old, the Royal Copenhagen Christmas Tables exhibition, held in the china company’s flagship store at Strøget, offers six tables featuring different holiday stories created by artists and celebrities. Or explore the cobbled streets of Nyhavn, filled with 15thcentury houses, and stop for some traditional Danish goodies along the way, including gløgg, a Danish hot drink similar to mulled wine. Lækker!
PRANCING THROUGH PRAGUE
Destination: Prague, the Czech Republic
Main attractions: The two-hour-plus Prague Christmas Markets Walking Tour will teach you about Czech history as you visit three Christmas markets while strolling through Wenceslas Square, Republic Square, the Jewish Quarter and finally Old Town Square.
While you’re there: Don’t miss out on one of Prague’s famous holiday concerts throughout December, from a Christmas concert at Prague Castle on December 11 to a romantic Christmas concert at Palace Clam-Gallas on December 15 to “The Nutcracker” ballet on December 18 at Hybernia Theater.
HOLIDAYS ON ICE
Main attraction: At the annual Dutch Ice Sculpture Festival, held December 10 to February 5, enjoy more than 42 sculptures up to almost 20 feet tall, all inspired by music from Mozart to Michael Jackson.
While you’re there: The Amsterdam Light Festival features more than 35 artists from around the world showcasing their light sculptures in two locations: Water Colors, which you can see by canal boat, and Illuminade, a walking route. The award-winning World Christmas Circus, which appears at the Royal Carré Theatre starting December 22, includes a horse carousel featuring 28 steeds, Golden Clowns from the Great Chinese State Circus Beijing and a Russian swing act. Or enjoy Christmas Eve services at the Engelse Kerk (English church) in Amsterdam’s old inner court of Begijnhof.