With the festive season just around the corner, you might be dreaming of a last minute Christmas city break complete with mulled wine, traditional markets and lots of good cheer. So before it starts looking a lot like Christmas, check out our guide to the best cities to visit this December and pack your bags; we know you’ll love our favourite festive destinations too! From glittering winter wonderlands to enchanting festivals of light, these five cities have got everything you need for a magical Christmas getaway, and our locals have recommended their festive favourite things to do - you’ll be in the Christmas spirit in no time!
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The City of Lights becomes even more magical over the festive season, when the streets are draped in glittering lights, festive cheer is in the air and everyone enjoys indulging in gourmet seasonal treats. There’s decorations galore and you’re spoiled for choice for Christmas markets, so we think half the fun of the festive season is walking around the city and discovering little markets and festive delights around every corner. Explore the Christmas markets with a warm spiced wine or chocolat chaud in hand, try festive snacks and maybe buy gifts and special Christmas decorations to take home for your own tree. From the biggest, most traditional markets where Alpine style chalets are draped in fairy lights to smaller flea markets where you can find antiques and Christmas trinkets, market shopping in Paris is even more enjoyable at Christmas .
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A tradition loved by locals and tourists alike is to check out the magical window displays and the Christmas tree at the Galeries Lafayettes. The tree at this famous department store has a more than well deserved reputation as one of the most dazzling Christmas spectacles in Paris, where the central courtyard is adorned with thousands of fairy lights, and it always feels a lot like stepping into Santa’s grotto. That is if Santa had moved to Paris and become très chic. Another tradition not to miss out on is to stroll the enchanting cobbled streets of Le Marais, one of the most bohemian quarters of the city. Over the festive period each of the boutique shops will be beautifully decorated, and there’s plenty of pavement cafes and bistros to stop at along the way. So stock up on Christmas presents or just wrap up warm and enjoy a Christmas walk in this gem of a neighbourhood. This is also the perfect area to learn about Parisian Christmas traditions like the Thirteen Desserts of Christmas as you visit sweet shops and pâtisseries, tasting the traditional and gourmet seasonal treats like gingerbread and chocolate Yule logs.
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If you’re looking for a Christmas city break to relax, indulge in delicious festive treats and just savour some good food, good wine and good company, Bologna is our pick. There’s no question that this walled city is a great option for a December getaway; what’s not to love about gourmet food, Renaissance porticos, medieval squares and classic Christmas decorations - think twinkling lights, garlands of greenery and red ribbons - to get you in the festive spirit? Bologna is a great option if you feel like doing some Christmas shopping and getting your loved ones hand made gifts that you wouldn’t find at home, as thanks to it’s relatively small size, everywhere is pretty much in walking distance so you can cover everything from the Christmas markets to the boutiques housed under the classic porticos in one day.
When it comes to shopping for gourmet gifts, Mercato di Mezzo is foodie heaven: you can eat your way around the market all the while buying a few presents to take home with you - a success all round! A hub of Bolognese culinary culture, there’s fresh produce, meats and cheeses, Christmas treats like traditional pandoro, and a selection of restaurants and bars to choose from when when you need a break. Another great spot to sample festive culinary delights is the Santa Lucia Christmas market at Strada Maggiore - look out for the cannoli!
But it’s not all about food… we promise. Do as the locals do and check out the nativity scenes at Cattedrale di San Pietro (via dell'Indipendenza, 64) and Palazzo d'Accursio (Piazza Maggiore) to kick start that festive mood! Or spend an afternoon wandering the streets and admiring the decorations, picking up affordable, handmade gifts and crafts from the stalls that spring up on pavements during December, finishing the day at a Christmas concert. We’d recommend checking out what’s on at Teatro Comunale, Teatro Duse or Arena del Sole, which are all centrally located.
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Discover the winter wonderland that is Brussels over the festive season, soaking up the magical atmosphere and getting into the festive spirit! The city is transformed into the Christmas fairytale of your dreams, complete with a 20m high tree, the Winter Wonderland Festival, ferris wheels, ice-rinks, markets and of course thousands of spectacular light displays. Brussels becomes even more beautiful a city in December, when the stunning UNESCO-listed monuments and buildings are lit up by fabulous lights. Simply strolling through the city and visiting historic spots and famous landmarks as they’re decorated for Christmas will put you in a festive mood!
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The Winter Wonderland Festival is exactly how it sounds - a celebration of all things winter and Christmas and a true wonderland, even if you don’t believe in Santa any more. As well as doing some Christmas shopping, indulging in sweet treats like Belgium waffles smothered in chocolate and warming up with a glass of mulled wine, there’s light parades every Saturday in the city centre, choirs at the Place Sainte-Catherine and even a ball on the 22nd December. But it’s not all dazzling lights and busy markets though - you can stop by smaller, more traditional Christmas markets just outside of the centre and sample artisan chocolate, buy unique handmade gifts for your loved ones or buy traditional decorations to take home for your own tree.
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What better time of year to see the iconic sights of New York than during the holiday season? As well as famous spots like the Rockefeller Centre and St Patrick’s Cathedral which are decorated in their glittering Christmas glory, you’ll soon see that most neighbourhoods have their own twists on traditions, and in some places decorations are taken very seriously indeed. You’ll find the most dazzling holiday decorations in Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights, where local residents put on the most spectacular (and extravagant) Christmas light displays in the city! Join in the New Yorker’s tradition of visiting the area, and stroll through the neighbourhood to see the festive scenes in front of each house - for those who live here, the lights displays have become something of a competition, and for the rest of us, the most magical place to get in the Christmas spirit. Another neighbourhood you can’t miss is Little Italy - grab a cappuccino and cannoli and walk down Mulberry, admiring the lights and streets that are specially decorated for Christmas and it’s definitely worth visit!
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It might seem a little clichéd, but you can’t miss out on ice-skating in NY over the holidays, there’s a good reason why locals from all over the city take part in this festive tradition each year! Although the iconic Rockefeller Centre or Central Park are where most people flock, the crowds can get a little crazy so our locals prefer Bryant Park. The rink is just as big, but the line is usually a lot shorter and the beautiful park gets a festive makeover with decorations and Christmas music playing. A top pick for where to eat afterwards, where you can keep the Christmas cheer going and eat, drink and be merry would have to be Rolf’s. This German restaurant is open all year round, but it becomes even more magical over the holidays when it’s lavishly decorated head to toe with beautiful decorations, you’ll feel like you’re in a Christmas wonderland!
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Lights, glitter, giant Nativity scenes and some more lights for good measure. Decking the city out for Christmas is taken seriously in CDMX by the locals, who celebrate in style with their loved ones from the 16th of December when the first posada takes place right through until February. As Mexico is a heavily Catholic country, nearly everyones takes part in these re-enactments of the birth of Jesus, where locals go from home to home looking for room at the inn (so to speak) and there’s not many cities which have such a vibrant festive spirit. Chilangos (Mexico City locals) are very into celebrating Christmas, so as well as indulging in festive dishes like bacalao (cod) and sipping some hot fruit punch, there are plenty of traditions for visitors to get involved in!
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Local neighbourhood Xochimilco turns into a classic Christmas wonderland thanks to the thousands of red poinsettias, or nochebuenas as they’re known here, which grow locally. Shopping for these beautiful crimson flowers is a Christmas tradition, but even if you can’t buy one to take home with you, wandering through this colourful neighbourhood which also happens to be the most historic in the city and a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site will certainly get you in the festive mood. Another festivity not to miss out on seeing is the dazzling lights in Zócalo, where every year for the last six decades the square is dressed to impress for the holidays, with thousands of glowing lightbulbs used to create beautifully festive mosaic designs. In case the lights and the lavishly decorated tree isn’t enough for you, you can also take to the ice with the locals on the ice-rink that’s a feature of the square at Christmas time. Whether you’re more Bambi on ice than professional, an evening on (or even off) the ice at Zócalo, getting in to the spirit with the locals and eating incredible street food will have you ready for Christmas in no time!