With a couple of days to go before Christmas and New Year’s rolls in, it’s wise to list down a few kick-ass Christmas destinations this year. These destinations will surely stay on your mind long after the season is over because no one quite does Christmas like they do.
Bethlehem, Israel: Christmas in Bethelehem is no small event. After all, this is where Jesus Christ was born over 2000 years ago, and He is the reason for this season. Christmas lights illuminate Bethlehem’s Old City; Christmas plays abound and there’s a Christmas bazaar on Star Street featuring crafts and games, food and drinks centered around the holiday. There are as well spiritual events in keeping with tradition of the Holy Land. You will bump into multiple services and processions led by different Christian denominations; including Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, Armenian and more. Most of these processions pass through Manger Square, and the plaza outside the Basilica of the Nativity, which stands on the traditional site of Jesus’ birth. For an extra experience, it’s worthwhile to participate in a hike of the Nativity trail, believed to be the same trek made by Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Singapore, Singapore City: The Little Red Dot as Singapore is fondly referred to, takes everything to a notch, and surprising thing is, it doesn’t even have to be Christmas for the city-state to go all christmassy. The super trees light up in evening hours, the different colors thrumming to a hum, to the beat of music sounds wafting in the air. Shopperholics will go ga-ga on Orchard Road at the splendid array of fancy designer stores. If you have children, they can have a fun day at the Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird park or even cool off at Sentosa Beach. Just walking around Singapore during Christmas will leave you starry eyed with all the larger-than-life decorations. But don’t be in a rush to leave, the fireworks display at Marina Bay Sands will ensure you have a pleasant start to the New Year.
Maasai Mara, Kenya: Maasai Mara in Kenya is a kick-ass destination for Christmas and any other holiday. Where else in the world can you see the Big-Five in their natural habitat? You are sure to enjoy the safari of your lifetime if you get to the Mara, and it doesn’t even have to be ‘bank-breaking’ costly, your trip can be tailored according to your pocket, and you can throw in a hot-air balloon ride for good measure. Choose to stay in the country a little bit longer and venture around. You can soak up the sun at the Coast of Kenya; scuba-dive at Watamu or get to Mt Kilimanjaro just across the border and scale the mountain. Try to join a local family for the nyama-choma fest (roast goat meat) that is really common this time of the year.
Calabar, Nigeria: While Calabar is famous in Nigeria for the culinary skills of its’ women, there is undoubtedly no city in the country that can celebrate Christmas quite like Calabar. The Calabar Carnival is arguably the biggest cultural festival in West Africa attracting hordes of travelers, celebrities, dignitaries and members of the public to celebrate Christmas in this month-long festival. Lip-smacking local delicacies are not to be missed and there are fun activities for the children at Tinapa resort.
Tromsø, Norway: In 2009, the Travel and Leisure Magazine voted Tromsø as one of the best places in the world to spend Christmas. With close proximity to the Arctic and the promise of a Northern Lights sighting, what else would one ask for during Christmas? It doesn’t end there however, a variety of Christmas concerts are held in churches and concert halls country-wide. The Norwegians normally prep for Christmas in early December by baking a minimum of seven different kinds of cookies..yum!
Cologne, Germany: Whichever season you visit, Cologne has a vivaciousness that quickly draws you in. The aspect that makes Cologne so charming during Christmas is that it has eight Christmas markets running from the 25th November to the 23rd of December, each packed with all manner of food, gifts and holiday spreads. The famous one is the Christmas Market at the cathedral. The market at Neumarkt is likewise special. You will truly feel it’s Christmas as you bump into nativity scenes scattered around the city centre. If you wait for New Year’s, expect a spectacular view of fireworks lighting up the beautiful cityscape.
Reykjavik, Iceland: If you watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, you saw how stunning and scenic Iceland can be. It’s a location that goes out all-festive during Christmas with most folks decorating their houses with lights. Christmas is celebrated on the 24th and you will learn about the 13 eccentric yule lads as part of Icelandic tradition. A visit to the Blue Lagoon is recommended, as well as a whale-watching tour. Don’t miss the Christmas market on Ingólfstorg square right in the heart of Reykjavik city centre.
Lapland, Finland: The natural presence of reindeer, everything covered in a carpet of snow in the Arctic, makes Lapland in Finland the kind of place that makes you feel like Christmas has been breathed off cards and into life. The city of Rovaniemi is where Santa has his office; there’s a Santa-Claus village and Santa Park, featuring ice sculptures and a quaint shop. The strange thing about it is that it is open through the year making it possible to get there when it’s not even Christmas. Mr Claus can even be reached by mail: Santa Claus’s Main Post Office, 96930 Napapiiri, Finland.
La Paz, Bolivia: In Bolivia’s capital, Christmas is a time marked by camaraderie, joy, peace and love. Children walk the streets to play Christmas carols, sing and dance for Baby Jesus while concerts take place in the plazas and churches in front of packed audiences. Many families of believers go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. When they return home, they exchange gifts and drink a toast at midnight; then they all sit down for the traditional Christmas dish, la picana.
Prague, Czech Republic: In Prague, the unconventional is conventional; you are in Bohemia after all. When it snows and lily white flakes leave a cover over the ancient fairy-tale like buildings, the beauty of Prague is amplified, leaving you feeling like you’ve stepped into the world of winter-wonderland. The Christmas markets in Prague are particularly magical, set up in Prague’s Old Quarter; the main markets being in the Old town square and Wenceslas square. A nativity scene plays out right in the centre of the market. Prague being a leader in classical music; you will be spoilt for choice with which one to visit, whether the opera, ballet or classical concert performing the likes of Mozart, Bach, Viveldi or Verdi. Prague also holds a number of smaller concerts in many of it’s gothic churches.
Which destination do you feel should be on this list?