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12 stays of Christmas: Where to travel this holiday season

12 stays of Christmas: Where to travel this holiday season
Europe is full of gorgeous Christmas markets to visit over the festive period.   -  
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Christmas

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas, or perhaps a sun-soaked one?

Last year’s festivities were curtailed for many, but with global travel gradually opening up, there are all sorts of ways to make 2021 one to remember.

In Europe, we’re lucky to have plenty of historic and charming cities to experience a traditional Christmas in. The chocolate-box markets of Austria and Germany are eager to get tourists back this December.

And as dozens of countries drop off the UK’s red list, you could even spread your wings to the Seychelles or Costa Rica, go diving in the Maldives or explore Marrakech.

A travelling Christmas isn’t for everyone, so those who do want to venture abroad are sure to find quieter attractions.

Here are some of our bucket-list travel experience picks to get you inspired.

1. Marvel at the Fabergé eggs in St Petersburg, Russia

Yuliya Baturina
St Petersburg is a stunning place to spend Christmas. Yuliya Baturina

The exquisite Fabergé egg collection of the Imperial Russian Family at the Shuvalov Palace in St Petersburg is a sight to behold. And of course, marvelling at the luxurious eggs only takes up a small slot of your itinerary on this tour of Christmas markets and museums.

A beautiful high-speed Sapsan train can whizz you from St Petersburg to Moscow in under four hours, so you can admire the Kremlin, Red Square, and St Basil’s Cathedral too.

2. See the Northern Lights in Norway

Gregorio Borgia/AP
The aurora borealis captured over the Norwegian town of Harstad. Gregorio Borgia/AP

Watching the Northern Lights is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you want to put yourself in pole position, the remote Lyngen Alps of Norway come highly recommended.

November to April is the best time to see the aurora borealis, and if you’re looking for an extra special viewing platform then the luxurious Aurora Lodge has just opened up in the area.

Other activities curated by tour operator Black Tomato include skiing into the (frozen) sea and participating in whale tagging and conservation.

3. Cruise to the Christmas Markets in Europe

Scenic Cruises
The Scenic Jasper cruise tour starts from Amsterdam. Scenic Cruises

Strasbourg’s Christkindelsmärkt is one of the largest in Europe, and would make a great centrepiece for any holiday.

To arrive in style, you could book an all-inclusive luxury river cruise liner, with Christmas markets straight for eight days. A journey on the Rhine River then takes you from Zurich over to Amsterdam, showcasing the delights of Basel, Strasbourg, Baden-Baden, Mannheim, Koblenz, and Cologne along the way.

Think traditional gingerbread hearts, the warming aroma of glühwein and visualise (if you can) the largest Christmas tree imaginable at Cologne.

4. Snorkel with turtles in the Maldives

Kudadoo Maldives.
Overwater villas on the private Kudadoo resort of the Lhaviyani Atoll in the Maldives. Kudadoo Maldives.

UK sun-worshippers will be glad to note that the Maldives is off the red list. If you missed out on a summer break and want some vitamin D in December, this could be the Christmas getaway for you.

It’s not just about R&R at Kudadoo Maldives; you can get up close with some of the area’s incredible marine animals. Searching for dolphins, swimming with rays and snorkelling with turtles alongside the resort’s marine biologists can all be arranged.

5. Ski down the French Alps

Benoit Bruchez/Getty
Winter wonderland in Megève, France. Benoit Bruchez/Getty

The French Alps are a stunning place to spend Christmas, and where better than the heart of the Mont Blanc massif? Traditional winter sports village Megève has been popular with artists and ski lovers since 1916, and it looks particularly twinkly over the festive season.

The traffic-free, cobbled medieval centre features lots of lovely shops to wile away the hours when you’re not on the slopes. Novotel Megève Mont-Blanc is one good family-friendly option to stay.

6. Sail through the sky on a Turkish hot air balloon ride

Fox Communications
A sunrise breakfast in Cappadocia as hot air balloons pass overhead. Fox Communications

A hot air balloon ride is one way to leave 2021 on a high. Cappadocia in Turkey is well known for its multi-coloured hot-air-balloon rides, but many don’t realise that these occur all year round.

At a reduced price during the winter months, you can enjoy spellbinding views over the snowy mountains. The Argos in Cappadocia hotel - which is built from a 2000-year-old historical network of ancient ruins, caves and underground tunnels - organises rides at sunrise.

7. Stargaze at the Sagrada Família

Valery Egorov/Getty
The nativity facade of the Sagrada Família basilica in Barcelona. Valery Egorov/Getty

Barcelona is a beautiful destination at any time of year. But there’s a special reason why you might want to make the trip this December.

A work in progress for years, the Sagrada Família has announced that its 138-metre tall tower of the Virgin Mary will be completed by the end of the year. To mark the occasion, it will be topped with an illuminated 12-pointed star.

Find out more about Barcelona’s Christmas attractions, including a light display and magical forest, from the Catalan Tourist Board here.

8. Party away at the ‘Pestacles de Pere Noel’

La Clusaz/YouTube
Performers at the Pestacles de Pere Noel in La Clusaz. La Clusaz/YouTube

For something a little different, a week-long festival in a French village might be just the ticket.

Now in its 22nd year, the humorously named 'Pestacles de Pere Noel' is a Christmas Snow Festival in the Aravis village of La Clusaz, and sees magicians, puppeteers, storytellers, jugglers, singers, musicians, artists and dancers take to the streets, providing fun for all the family.

9. Listen to Silent Night where it first began

www.salzburgerLand.com
Oberndorf Chapel, where the Christmas Carol ‘Silent Night’ was first performed. www.salzburgerLand.com

The Austrian city of Salzburg is another glorious place for Advent. Easily accessible by train for Europeans, it is home to the country’s original and oldest Christkindlmarkt, dating back to 1491.

Just a 25-minute train ride away is the village of Oberndorf, where the Christmas carol ‘Silent Night’ was first performed. It’s a peaceful place to think about the meaning of Christmas.

Salzburg also has the proud claim of being the birthplace of Mozart, so there’s lots to explore musically during the festive period - find out more here.

10. Ride a Christmas-themed tram in the Czech Republic

PatrikSlezak/Getty Images
Aerial view of the The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Brno in Czech Republic. PatrikSlezak/Getty Images

Prague is famed for its Christmas markets, but the Czech Republic’s second city of Brno also offers a beautiful Yuletide.

A UNESCO Creative City of Music, there will be music all around as well as a variety of festive drinks at the city square’s winter bar.

Even the public transport gets into the Christmas spirit: tourists can take a picturesque ride through the streets of Brno on a Christmas-themed šalina (tram).

11. Swap the Christmas markets for the souks of Marrakech

Riad Elegancia
Riad Elegancia in Marrakech. Riad Elegancia

Marrakech is another amazing destination for those seeking some winter warmth. The newly refurbished Riad Elegancia offers a luxurious base from which to explore the “red city”.

A three-night package from the hotel will take you round the souks, ancient monuments and gardens of Marrakech, before unwinding with a refreshing cocktail in the rooftop pool.

12. Explore the town where the first Christmas tree stood

Roman Babakin/Getty
The main Christmas tree in the Dome square in Riga, Latvia. Roman Babakin/Getty

But if you really want to get into the spirit of Christmas, the Latvian city of Riga has a special origin story.

It is believed to be where the first decorated tree stood, after a band of local merchants decked it with artificial roses and danced in December of 1510.

With traditional Christmas markets galore, and husky-dog sledding on the outskirts, it's a great place to see in the New Year too.