The most wonderful time of the year is, frankly, a little different now thanks the coronavirus. After months of hunkering down, it's no wonder many are itching to get away safely. Still, with a little planning, it is possible to go on a memorable winter trip this holiday season.
Iceland is a perfect holiday destination for travelers in search of Christmas spirit. The festive season pulsates with lively Christmas markets, where wooden booths brimming with food, drink and gifts glitter as imposing Christmas trees stand guard. Winter’s snow gives Iceland’s wild lava fields and craggy mountains added sparkle, and there is no better time to take a warm dip in the Blue Lagoon’s geothermal waters than when temperatures hit sub-zero. Take a self-drive into the mountains and catch the Northern Lights glimmering in the dark sky.
The inhabitants of Caribbean islands such as the Dominican Republic, Barbados and St Lucia like to indulge in the Christmas spirit. Barbados, the go-to Caribbean favorite, is at its most relaxed between mid-September and mid-December, when hotel prices drop by up to a third and the air-kissing, winter-sun-seeking regulars have not yet jetted in. There is a risk of rain, but it never lasts long and the temperature’s still a balmy 85F. Explore the wild east. The island’s Atlantic side is an exhilarating whirl of dramatic shores, particularly around the little town of Bathsheba, rolling surf, flapping coconut palms and topsy-turvy hills that seem a world away from the congested beach resorts lining the west and south coasts.
It’s not just gingerbread-scented markets and riotous Hogmanay parties that make wintry Edinburgh so appealing. Even under grey skies, you’ve got warm, world-class museums and restaurants and the icy North Sea winds are your excuse to duck into a snug watering hole for a soul-warming Scotch. For bargains, go in early December when the Christmas markets are open, but the city is still relatively peaceful. Take a spin on the panoramic big wheel above Princes Street, bar crawl under the fairy lights of George Street and pop into the Scottish National Gallery to contemplate winter scenes.
Here is one of Europe’s great rivers, a sleek and perfect scene for a Christmas cruise taking in such illustrious cities as Budapest, Bratislava, and Regensburg. Passing through the heart of central Europe revelers can celebrate the festive season at bustling Christmas markets garlanded with Christmas lights and spirit. A mulled wine here, a juicy, grilled sausage there, so much Christmas to enjoy
Could there be a better place to go in search of Christmas cheer than the country known as The Land of Smiles? In Bangkok you’ll find everything from tuk-tuks draped in Christmas lights to cocktail nights at the Skywalk Observatory. Things are a little bit more toned down in Phuket. This is the place to swap your Christmas socks for flip flops and spend the season with your toes dipped in syllabub-soft sands. As a largely Buddhist country, Thailand doesn’t officially celebrate Christmas, however, its resorts still put up bright festive decorations to make visitors feel at home.
Hong Kong does Christmas with endless enthusiasm and in December the city is brimming with baubles and markets. Plus, a festivity-filled Disneyland is just half an hour from the center. The free nightly Victoria Harbor light show is always dazzling, but skyscrapers go all out at this time of year with seasonal 3D projections and festive tunes. Watch it from the top deck of the Star Ferry setting off from Kowloon towards central Hong Kong around 8pm. Seaside Stanley Market is a balmy alternative to rainy Euro versions – it becomes comically Germanic in December with fairy-lit stalls selling bratwurst, mulled wine and stocking fillers.
Breath frozen like a wraith on the air, the steady pad of footsteps on snowy pavements and multi-colored Christmas lights — Russia, especially Moscow and St Petersburg, offers plenty of Christmas spirit. In St Petersburg, grab a chilled vodka at a Christmas market, while in Moscow the snow-dusted candy-colored onion domes of icon-laden cathedrals seem good enough to eat. As Russians celebrate the festive season on January 6, you will find yourself getting a double helping of Christmas spirit.
Don’t go too early, Lapland without the white stuff is “snow fun”. And winters up here are starting later these days, so go from the second or third weekend in December for a guaranteed snowscape. Ample time is crucial: do not book one of those 24-hour roundtrips, your kids will be so tired and cranky you’ll wonder why you bothered. Four nights is better, and even then, you’ll wish you had more. Darkness reigns: daylight falls between 10am and 2pm, when an eerie green and pink glow illuminates the sky.
Revel in the unabashed schmaltz this is the fantasy festive break. Dressed to the nines in baroque finery and surrounded by snowcapped peaks, Salzburg the staunchly traditional, chocolate-box city of Mozart and The Sound of Music will cocoon you in comfort. Walk round the Old Town streets, dive into vaulted beer cellars and shop for lederhosen. Make your first wander an atmospheric browse along the narrow Getreidegasse, Salzburg’s glitzy shopping alley, where five-story Renaissance houses provide a bulwark against winter weather. Explore its dimly lit arched passages and within a few paces, you might stumble upon Balkan Grill Walter, a kiosk selling Balkan beef sausages since 1950.
Christmas holidays are celebrated with gusto in Germany as its famous Christmas markets overflow with copious helpings of mulled wine and shining Christmas lights. Berlin is hip, but also an ideal holiday destination for the festive season as the massive funfair and other vibrant examples of the Christmas spirit at Alexanderplatz show. Festive history buffs might want to go further afield and spend Christmas at the luxurious ancient castle of Colditz, which was far from Christmassy during the war years. There is a high chance of snow: temperatures can slip well into minus figures in December.