Sure, Christmas in Singapore can be pretty great lately and is definitely not lacking in the festivities department with places like Gardens By The Bay and Orchard’s Christmas Street lit with Christmas-themed red, greens and whites, but what’s Christmas like overseas?
These are the 15 best cities to visit to soak up all the Christmas festivities if you aren’t celebrating Christmas in Singapore.
1. Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland
Rovaniemi had to be our first pick of cities to go to because this is literally the city where Santa Claus lives. According to myth, anyway.
What to do: With their Christmas market aptly named Santa Claus Village, bring along the kiddies to see the REAL deal Santa, walk along the romantic postcard-perfect frosty landscapes, brightly lit trees, elaborate ice sculptures and if you’re feeling energetic enough – go for a bout of ice skating and soak in the merry Christmas spirit.
There are lots of other winter activities to do to soak up the Christmas vibe. Think exciting reindeer and husky rides, snowmobile safaris – and not forgetting to mention – spectacular Northern Lights tours.
2. Cologne, Germany
Not the first place that comes to mind when you think Germany, Cologne’s own Christmas Market, the Am Dom Markt draws in large crowds – we’re talking millions of tourists every single year.
What to do: Situated at the foot of the city’s most prominent landmark, the Gothic Cathedral, a UNESCO site, is a definite place to visit. With a giant Christmas tree set down smack-dab in the middle of the old town square, wonder along the 160 half-timbered stands offering various Christmas gifts from custom-made jewellery to traditional woolens to woodcarvings to ceramics.
Eager for a bite? Get yourself some hot, piping mulled wine or beer in cute decorative Christmas glasses (which you can keep, by the way!), some bratwurst sausages, glazed apples, and other German delights while live bands play nostalgic Christmas tunes.
When: 26 November 2018 to 23 December 2018
3. London, England
We couldn’t possibly not mention London, home to Christmas carols that we’ve sung from young, and the setting of Charles Dickens’ classic: A Christmas Carol.
Brimming with stunning skating rinks, Victorian-themed events, themed rides and magical carol concerts, these festivities will sure melt the heart of any cold, bitter Grinch.
What to do: Visit one of London’s cosy pubs and champagne bars, skate along the open-air ice skating rinks in Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, or visit tempting food stalls from the Borough Market. And if you’re going with the little ones, head on over to Santa’s Grotto to meet the father of Christmas.
When: 22 November 2018 to 6 January 2019
4. Copenhagen, Denmark
The place of origin of the beloved eggnog, Copenhagen is where you can try it in its pure, unadulterated form.
What to do: Visit the Tivoli Gardens, one of the most famous Christmas markets in Copenhagen, the garden is decked out in beautifully-lit decorations and lights, looking straight out of a picture book or a fairy tale.
Wander along the magical Christmas market and sip on a hot cocoa, rummage through baskets of custom-made knit wear, and follow the scents of various local produce and decadent Christmas foods. Finally, watch their Christmas light-show made up of 16,000 lights to end your night on a high.
When: 17 November 2018 to 31 December 2018
5. Brussels, Belgium
The capital of Belgium, Brussels is also every sweet-tooth’s dream land, with their specialty being waffles and chocolates. And a little less well known – fries as well, for ye fried greasy lovers.
What to do: Be sure to visit Brussels’ Winter Wonders, one of the biggest Christmas Markets with over 200 stalls serving up festive foods like their fries, hot piping Belgian beers, glazed apples. And of course, tons of stores serving up their own chocolates, soft, fluffy waffles, and hot cocoa to warm the heart and soul.
Plus, they make perfect souvenirs. Missed out on Christmas celebrations with friends and family? Bring back some Belgium chocolates and they’ll be appeased right away!
Want to amp up the romance? Ride along the giant Ferris Wheel for unparalleled views of the ginger-bread house-like city of Brussels.
When: 30 November 2018 till 6 January 2019
6. Zurich, Switzerland
One of the best places to shop for Christmas gifts (or to pamper yourself!), Zurich is where you should shop for classic timepieces made in Switzerland.
What to do: Love your Swarovski? Visit the Zurich Main Station where a giant 50-ft tall Christmas tree decorated in 7,000 sparkling Swarovski crystals that will be sure to brighten anyone’s day. It is also one of the largest indoor Christmas Markets for those who want in on the Christmas festivities and fun, but shielded from the icy cold winds.
While you’re at it, enjoy their local delights like comforting, piping hot cheese fondue, potato rosti, bratwursts, and chug some beer for a little heat to arm yourself against the chilly air. Stumped for Christmas gift ideas? Swiss chocolates are great souvenirs to bring home!
Bonus: For something completely unique to Zurich, visit their lighting spectacle, Lichterschwimmen, on 21 December, which features hundreds of tiny lanterns that are sent floating down the River Limmat.
When: 22 November 2018 to 24 December 2018
7. Prague, Czech Republic
Considered to be one of Europe’s best winter wonderlands, the Christmas market in the Old Town and Wencesles Square is just a five-minute walk away from each other, so you’re most definitely spoilt for choice when it comes to Christmas-related festivities, lights and décor, beverages, and an eclectic choice of food.
What to do: Enjoy the remarkable architecture of the cathedrals around the area, as well as the historical landmarks like Franz Kafka, in addition to local handicrafts from ceramics, jewellery, embroidered lace, wooden toys, scented candles, and finally, local Czech delights like hams, sausages, bread, and a variety of sugary-sweet cakes and pastries.
Against the backdrop of cold, wintry weather and Christmas carols in the background, you’ll truly feel like you’ve entered a magical Christmas wonderland.
When: 1 December 2018 to 6 January 2019
8. Tallinn, Estonia
Probably considered by many Singaporeans to be a more exotic travel spot, Tallinn has actually been awarded the best-value destination for 2018 by Lonely Planet.
What to do: Estonia is known for its fabulous, well-preserved medieval town square dating back to the Gothic ages, so you should certainly tour historical land marks like their medieval aged town hall, dating all the way back in 1422. Gasp in awe at their impressive giant Christmas tree, and wander around the pastel-toned Christmas markets in the town plazas for handmade goodies to eat.
After you’re puckered out from all the shopping, visit their affordable boutique hotels and cocktails to celebrate the night away – without overtly emptying your bank account.
When: 16 November 2018 to 7 January 2019
9. Hokkaido, Japan
A chilly little place in the centre of Sapporo, Hokkaido turns into a dazzlingly lit wonderland come winter. And if you don’t mind the cold, it is probably one of the best cities to spend a romantic, wintry Christmas you’ve read about in books in summery Singapore.
What to do: Visit the pride of Hokkaido – their Sapporo White Illumination, a breathtaking showcase of brightly-lit Christmas lights and beautifully crafted ice sculptures against the white snow. Swing by the German Christmas Market in Sapporo, where it is your typical European Christmas Market with a Japanese twist.
P.S. Don’t forget to participate in Japan’s very own quirky modern custom of munching on some fried chicken from KFC on Christmas!
When: 22 November to 25 December 2018
10. Hong Kong
We love Hong Kong for the numerous shopping opportunities at night markets and delish dim-sum, but as one of the main city centres, we feel Hong Kong deserves a mention too.
What to do: For the children at heart – head on to Disneyland, because they have an especially special celebration this year because its also Mickey Mouse’s 90th anniversary. The park will be transformed into a stunning winter wonderland, and feature the world’s biggest Mouse Party and “We Love Mickey! Projection Show. Don’t forget to also go for the Mickey Mouse Happy Birthday Dinner Buffet, where more than 80 holiday-inspired foods are served, and look out for the A Magical Twilight Snowfall performance, featuring a parade by festive performers.
Love your light festivals in Singapore? Here in Hong Kong, they’ve taken it to a much grander scale, with light festivals like their Hong Kong Pulse 3D Light Show with high tech laser audio visual displays near the clock tower in Tsim Sha Tsui. Alternatively, head on over to the Victoria Harbour for the Christmas Symphony of Lights, a free holiday light show you can sit back and watch with your beau, or have in the background while you shop till you drop.
When: The celebrations at Disneyland will run from 15 November 2018 to 1 January 2019.
10. Seoul, Korea
Korea may not have its own Disneyland, but it sure doesn’t mean you can’t have any theme park-related fun!
What to do: Take a visit to Seoul’s biggest indoor theme park, Lotte World, where you’ll see extravagant Christmas-themed performances, characters parading down the intricately fairy tale-like plazas, giant merry-go-rounds and carousels, and numerous fun rides that will be sure to keep you entertained the entire day. Heck, there’s even an interactive Joseon Dynasty museum you can go to – perfect for the ‘gram.
Don’t forget to visit the nearby Lotte Mart to bring back some Korean snacks like Tteobokki crackers, Honey Butter Chips for your friends and family (or, if you just want to gauge on snacks during Christmas – we don’t judge!).
When: 11 November 2018 to 31 December 2018
11. New York, USA
What has been looked up to as the hub of modernity for years on end, it is no surprise that New York has pretty grand festivities during the Christmas season as well.
What to do: A must-visit place if you’re in New York during Christmas would be Bryant Park, where the massive park transforms into a wintry, modern Christmas market.
Filled to the brim with over 100 pop-up glass-roofed jewel-box like kiosks, be entranced by their locally made clothes, accessories, gifts, snacks, as well as food made with local produce and a giant ice skating rink in front of a giant Christmas Tree, this is as Chrismas-sy as Christmas can get.
When: 27 October 2018 to 2 January 2019
Not the most typical place for a vacation, Christmas is an undeniably a huge, integral part of Malta.
What to do: Visit the Bathlehem f’Ghajnsielem, a life-sized nativity spread over 20,0000 square metres of formerly abandoned fields, animated by over 150 actors. It will take visitors back in time to 2,000 years ago, where you’ll see a set complete with oil lamps, turn mills, grazing animals, crafts areas teaching traditional skills and folklore, a tavern, and of course, a grotto housing baby Jesus.
Other places to amp up the Christmas spirit would be in downtown Valletta, where carollers will be singing outside the Baroque St. John’s Co-Cathedral, alongside a dizzying display of Christmas lights on Republic Street, as well as the Malta Toy Museum, which features an array of handmade toys from the 18th century, think soldiers, train sets, dolls, and tin trinkets.
When: Check their schedule here.
12. Reykjavic, Iceland
With rows of beautiful, colourful huts that will have you feeling like you’ve stepped into a storybook, sunlight in Reykjavik is short – we’re talking 2 – 3 hours of sunlight here – so you’ll never have to worry about waiting around to wait for the Christmas lights to come on.
What to do: For history-buffs or just vintage-lovers – head on over to the Árbær Open Air Museum, a centuries-old Christmas Market if you’ve always wondered how the Icelandic folk used to celebrate Christmas.
Try your hand at knitting, craft some Christmas decorations, and grab a bite of their traditional foods like their smoked lamb, a food eaten during Christmas dinners.
P.S. Iceland also has a rather peculiar tradition of having 13 Santa Clauses, so don’t be surprised if you see several Santa Clauses running around the area.
When: The open air museum is only open the first three Sundays of Advent.
13. Zagreb, Croatia
Voted three times in a row as the best Christmas Market in Europe, Croatia isn’t just that one place where Game Thrones filmed anymore – but a worthy place to be visited in its own right.
What to do: An enormous market that is spread all across the city rather than crammed into one block, walk along the fairy tale-like lit trees and streets, where you’ll be able to find near everything under the sun like handicrafts, local delights, and even handmade glass accessories.
The ice skating rink is also humongous, and stretches the entire area of King Tomislav Square, so you’ll never have to squeeze and bump into strangers.
Don’t forget to try a Croatian Christmas special – sweet Medenjaci cookies, a blend of honey, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg that’ll put any sweet-tooth in sweet paradise.
When: 2 December 2018 to 6 January 2019
14. Nuremberg, Germany
One of the most famous Christmas markets around the world, Nuremberg offers grand, Gothic architecture, and traditional looking structures – think: a giant carved wooden Ferris Wheel, and old-fahsioned carousel, a steam train, and just handmade everything. From toys to holiday gifts – you name it.
What to do: Enjoy Nuremberg’s spicy gingerbread and mugs of mulled wine while soaking in the centuries-old Gothic aged town square, where vendors will be selling handmade wooden toys, accessories, and many more unique things you won’t be able to find elsewhere.
Brought along the kiddies? Head on over to the toy museum, well known for manufacturing toys for over 600 years. You’ll see the most intricate looking doll-houses you wish you had as a kid, and cute plushies that you’ll want to take home STAT, regardless of age. There’re even wooden-carved cuckoo clocks, if you’re looking for a time piece to decorate your house!
Train fanatic? Head on over to the Germany Railway Museum, sure to be a hit with people who love all things vintage.
When: 25 November 2018 to 24 December 2018
15. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
While colourful pinatas, posadas, and ponche may line the streets in festive joy, Christmas in this Mexican city is both a solemn and celebratory affair.
During the 9 days leading up to Christmas Eve, you’ll stumble upon locals dressing up as Mary and Joseph strolling along the streets, making pilgrimages from home to home, singing to “ask for posada” or “beg for shelter” as they re-enact the journey to Bethlehem – a pretty unique immersive experience, if you ask us!
What to do: Be sure to take a stroll along the San Miguel de Allende cobblestoned town square, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site for its wealth of grand churches, well-preserved architecture all around.
You should also drop by the Christmas markets for a cup of locally made ponche!
When: 16 December 2018 to 24 December 2018