There’s no doubt about it — Christmas is a holiday meant for creating precious memories with your loved ones. Many families elect to stay home for the holidays. Yet some prefer to leave the cooking and decorating to someone else and hit the road for a family Christmas vacation. However, there are many destinations around the world that put on an impressive Christmas display. It can be difficult to know where to start. Below, we’ve made it simple for you by covering fourteen of the best Christmas vacations for families around the world. And be sure to check out our book to make your next family vacation totally stress-free.
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Winter Paradise in Amsterdam, Netherlands
This city located in the Netherlands transforms into a winter wonderland during the Christmas season. During the week of Christmas, you can visit the Winter Paradise. Here, you’ll find everything from a festive food court and ice-skating rink to an impressive Christmas market with rides and games. The Amsterdam Light Festival is also a sight to behold, as the entire city basks in the light of fifty different holiday light displays. Take a canal tour, complete with blankets and warm drinks, to be sure you see them all.
Cape Town, South Africa
One of the best things about visiting Cape Town during Christmas is browsing through the Christmas markets. The weather during the holidays is pleasant, so you can cool down at one of the city’s picturesque beaches. Or for a real treat, take the family to Bugz Play Park. This indoor and outdoor play area features tree houses and water rides. Take a toboggan ride down a metal chute and even indulge in a kid-friendly Christmas movie at the Galileo Open Air Cinema.
Traditionally known as the Land of Fire and Ice, Iceland is perhaps one of the best Christmas vacations for families. The country is huge on Christmas spirit and wastes no time or energy on indulging in Yuletide cheer. In fact, this country loves Christmas so much that they celebrate for 26 days. Festivities begin on December 11th and wind down on January 6th. In traditional Icelandic folklore, there are also thirteen different Santa Clauses or Yule Lads. These characters are said to reward good children and play tricks on those who are naughty. While in Iceland with kids, there are many opportunities for playing in the snow and ice skating. Afterward, you can rewarm your bones with a dip in one of the country’s many thermal pools. December is also a wonderful time of the year to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
In the northern regions of Finland, Lapland is a fairly undeveloped area that serves as the homeland for the Sami people. This is an awesome spot to visit if you want to give your kids a chance to get back to nature and enjoy life’s simple pleasures. While the sun doesn’t rise in Lapland during this time of year, the colorful displays of Christmas lights keep the festive spirit alive and well. Plus, the darkness makes it an awesome time to marvel at the Northern Lights, which merrily dance across Lapland’s dark skies. And no visit here during the holidays would be complete without a visit to Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi. The lines of the Arctic Circle run through the village. And while here, kids can watch elves make toys, feed Santa’s reindeer, and even meet Santa.
This island located in the Mediterranean has a very prominent Catholic population. So it should come as no surprise that Christmas is a big deal here. You and your children will delight in multiple nativity scenes outside the many churches. And for added authenticity, the baby Jesus does not appear in these scenes until the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve. Another interesting tradition lies in the delivery of midnight mass, which is delivered by a child rather than a priest. For a true treat, be sure to take in the Children’s Pantomime at the Manoel Theatre. This festive event is complete with traditional carols and delicious foods, such as the chestnut pie or treacle ring.
North Carolina, United States
Located in the southeastern United States, one North Carolina town is known for its penchant for Christmas cheer. McAdenville, right by Charlotte, actually bears the nickname of Christmastown USA due to its impressive light display. Each year, over 250 evergreen trees sport more than a half a million lights for a sight that is truly magical. The homes are beautifully decorated, and the sound of Christmas music permeates the air at all hours of the day. It’s a great place to stroll or drive through, complete with plenty of opportunities for shopping and dining as well. There’s also an annual parade, as well as a 5k run for those who are feeling athletic.
New York City, United States
A visit to the Big Apple is impressive any time of the year. But the city truly takes on a magical air during the holiday season. The larger-than-life Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center is sure to leave your kids speechless. And for a more festive experience, ice skate and sip hot chocolate in the glow of the tree’s lights. Several department stores go all out with their Christmas-themed window displays, so a walk down the street offers plenty of visual stimulation. There are countless holiday markets to wander through as well. And if you’re up for a treat, watch the Rockettes perform at Radio City for a Christmas show you’ll never forget. If you want something more traditional, check out the holiday classic ballet The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center.
Located in the Bavarian region of Germany, this is one of the most festive cities in the country. Nuremberg boasts an impressive Christmas market. Dating back to the late 1620s, the market features local crafts, traditional foods, lights, and storefront nativity scenes to capture children’s imaginations. Here, you and your kids can munch on freshly baked gingerbread and take in a holiday concert. And keep an eye out for the Christkind, a blond, curly-haired cherubic figure who is said to run around the city spreading Yuletide joy.
Quebec City, Canada
This Canadian city is well-known for its old-world, European charm, with its cobblestone streets and historic walled-in old town. Ranked by CNN Travel as one of the best Christmas destinations in the entire world, there is a German-themed Christmas market that offers everything from toys and hot drinks to chocolate and other tasty treats. There’s also a Christmas village depicting nativity scenes from around the world. You and your kids can take a ride on the funicular to the lowest area of the Old Town, where the quaint shops framed by twinkling lights become the embodiment of a winter wonderland. Children are particularly fascinated by the towering Chateau Frontenac, a castle-like hotel that dominates the skyline, and just outside, there’s a toboggan slide by the banks of the St. Lawrence River that’s sure to be a highlight for people of all ages.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This Brazilian city is well-known for its popularity among the sun-kissed, party crowd, particularly during Carnival. But did you know that Rio is one of the best Christmas vacations for families as well? While you’ll find more sunshine and sand than snowflakes, there are a number of Christmas markets that offer beautiful light displays coupled with festive music and delicious food. There are also a number of nativity scenes stationed outside the churches. Spending the day at the beach is a favored activity as is indulging in some of the treats that are only available around Christmastime, like Rabanadas, a cross between French toast and churros. Keep in mind that this is a major city, and certain areas can become less safe after nightfall, so be sure you know the area you are exploring if you intend to do it after hours.
This ancient Italian city is steeped in history. It is the birthplace of many of the religious ceremonies we now associate with the holidays, such as midnight Mass and constructing nativity scenes. Here you can find the Vatican, a city-state that serves as the home of the Pope and Roman Catholicism. This is home to Saint Peter’s Square, where you can take in the sights of the giant Christmas tree, along with watching the unveiling of the life-sized nativity scene on Christmas Eve. There’s also an impressive tree set up outside the Colosseum, along with markets where your kids can visit with Father Christmas and take in the holiday sights and sounds. The entire city has a festive air to it during Christmastime, complete with caroling vendors selling roasted chestnuts and storefront displays. There’s even an outdoor skating rink set up at Castel Sant’Angelo where you and your kids can make memories while sampling some of the best hot chocolate you will find anywhere.
This city located in northeastern France is home to Christkindelsmarik, one of the largest Christmas markets in all of Europe. With over 300 stalls and countless food vendors, it’s well worth exploring the beautifully decorated area. Kids will delight in the giant Christmas tree stationed outside Place Kleber. And a visit to the museum gives a glimpse into traditional holiday customs from the past and present. Traditional Christmas dinner in the region usually consists of roasted goose. There are several restaurants open on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, though it’s best to make a reservation.
One of Australia’s largest cities, Sydney offers plenty of opportunities for family-friendly holiday fun in a gorgeous yet modern setting. It’s home to perhaps one of the most elegant Christmas trees in the world, a three-story high behemoth draped in tens of thousands of Swarovski crystals. The town hall also puts on a delightful organ show each Christmas. For a real treat, take your kids to the Christmas Children’s Concert, which has live music, entertainment, carnival games, and visits with Santa. The light displays in the city are wonderful as well, particularly the fairytale style Canopy of Lights. And of course, the Sydney Opera House puts on one of the best fireworks displays in the world.
Located in Austria, Vienna is a city that truly embraces the Christmas spirit. On any given night leading up to the holiday, the streets can be found teeming with holiday cheer. There are impressive light displays and world-famous holiday markets, complete with homemade crafts and stands offering hot drinks and local favorites. Austrian tradition dictates that Christmas trees not be lit until Christmas Eve. After lighting the trees, food and drink are shared and presents are placed underneath for discovery in the morning. This is a great place for children who are fascinated by the magic of the holiday and Santa Claus.
Whether you choose to stay home or travel, Christmas is an incredible opportunity to spend time and build memories with loved ones. What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions? Do you prefer to stay home or travel during the holidays? Are you traveling this holiday season? Where are you going? Let us know in the comments below!