We're all for snow days and cuddling up with loved ones by the fire, but the month of December is also a prime time for traveling—mainly to see how the rest of the world celebrates Christmas. These cities are worth a visit any time of year, sure, but they seem to be exceptionally magical during the holiday season. Whether they're European classics with storybook Christmas markets, Asian cities where you can see twinkling lights from a rooftop pool, or ski paradises right here in the U.S., some celebrations are worth the price of a plane ticket. And let's face it: You haven't really seen Christmas lights until you've seen 26 million lights all at once (we're looking at you, Colombia). From Cologne, Germany, to Cape Town, here are the best places to spend Christmas this year.
This gallery was originally published in December 2015. It has been updated with new information.
Why we go: Europe’s best-preserved medieval city oozes charm year-round, but is especially charming during the holidays. It's hard to imagine a place more magical as you wander the cobblestone streets, admire the shimmering lights, and warm up with mugs of Belgian hot chocolate in cafés.
The one thing to get you in the spirit: Ice skating with someone special at the picture-perfect ice rink, located near the downtown Christmas market.
Stay here: Grand Hotel Casselbergh (steps away from the Markt) has inviting touches like wooden beams in rooms, in-house library, and lobby bar with fireplace.
Why we go: The city turns the voltage up each year with its winter illuminations, with different districts competing with each other to create some truly sensational displays. This year's illuminations include over 100,000 twinkly blue and silver lights at Tokyo Midtown and a massive Baccarat crystal chandelier at Yebisu Garden Place. And don't worry if you can't get there before December 25—the winter illuminations have become so popular that most remain up until February.
The one thing to get you in the spirit:The Blue Cavern (Ao no Dokutsu) illumination in Shibuya (pictured), is inspired by the blue grottos found in the Mediterranean.
Quebec City, Canada
Why we go: Quebec City is one of the oldest cities 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.
The one thing to get you in the spirit: The toboggan run at Château Frontenac (open from mid-December to March) 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 miles per hour.
Stay here: You can't go wrong with Auberge Saint-Antoine, with its lobby fireplace and heated bathroom floors.
Why we go: Salzburg's famed Christkindlmarkt in the center of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old City isn't just mulled wine and market stands. There are daily sing-alongs (Tuesdays from 6-8 p.m.) and traditional wind music performed above the square on Thursday and Saturday nights. We're not mad about the bauernkrapfen (fried pastries), either.
The one thing to get you in the spirit: Catch a performance of Mozart's greatest hits (the composer was born in Salzburg), performed by the Salzburg Advent Ensemble at Hohensalzburg Fortress—every night through December 23 at 8 p.m.
Stay here: Hotel Goldener Hirsch—fresh off a multi-million dollar renovation—is just steps away from Christkindlmarkt (although we'd be fine staying in these rooms all day).
Why we go: If your idea of Christmas merriment includes an authentic Irish pub crawl (we get it), then book a December flight to Dublin. There's no better way to warm up on a cold Christmas night than joining the locals for some black pudding and a few pints—trust us, this city has enough cozy bars to last you through New Year's. But the city isn't just about drinking, of course. Holiday offerings include Christmas markets, extended store hours on Grafton Street, and tree lighting ceremonies galore.
The one thing to get you in the spirit: Irish Baroque Orchestra's annual production of Handel’s Messiah is held at the incomparable St. Patrick’s Cathedral (December 6, 7:30 p.m.).
Stay here: The Westbury becomes even more luxurious during the holidays, with prime views overlooking the lights of Grafton Street and pear and mulled wine tarts during afternoon tea.
Written by CAITLIN MORTON
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