They don’t call it the most wonderful time of the year for nothing. Christmas time is an especially magical season, which is why so many places around the world come alive for it.
New York City welcomes a new Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree each year and London strings its streets with angels, while Paris loves an oversized Christmas ornament. San Miguel de Allende hangs silver stars, Tokyo illuminates its cherry blossoms, and Vienna becomes home to multiple Christmas markets. Even the happiest place on earth (yes, Orlando’s Walt Disney World) becomes even happier this time of year.
Whether you’re planning a holiday season getaway or simply want to admire the festivity from afar, behold 20 of the most beautiful places in the world at Christmastime.
Ah, there’s so much to love about London at Christmastime! The stores are decked, the teas are Christmas-themed, and there are oversized trees everywhere you look. But nothing’s quite as iconic as the wide-winged angels strung across Regent Street.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Just a few of the things that should be on your NYC Christmas bucket list: A walk through Central Park (ideally with snow), 5th Avenue’s glorious window displays, and Macy’s Herald Square (because you deserve a Miracle on 34th Street). But the most important stop is Rockefeller Center, of course, complete with its famed tree and lively ice skating rink.
Paris lights up—quite literally—at Christmas. All of the most famous designer stores (Chanel, Dior, Louis, mais oui) decorate their facades, as do the hotels, including The Ritz, pictured here. (How cute is the beloved bellhop teddy bear in Christmas display form?)
Of course, Paris isn’t the only stop you should be making in France. There’s also Cologne, one of the many gorgeous European cities to host an equally beautiful Christmas market. This one is located in front of the Cologne Cathedral.
It doesn’t get closer to the North Pole than Finland’s Lapland (aesthetically speaking, at least). The official Santa Claus Village is a Christmas lover’s dream—complete with reindeer, who, yes, can pull you through the snow on a sleigh. (“Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer!”)
Vienna is a swoon-worthy city all year round, but it especially comes to life at Christmas. There are multiple Christmas villages set up all over the city, including the major one set up in front of its City Hall (pictured here). But our favorite has to be the smaller—and cozier—traditional market set up in Stephansplatz, around St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
QUEBEC CITY, QUEBEC
While we always recommend jet-setting, you don’t have to jump the pond for a taste of a European Christmas. You can go north to Quebec City: Montreal’s beautiful village, topped by the castle-like Chateau Frontenac, truly looks like something out of a French fairytale, especially come December. (Look at all those little trees!)
Strasbourg is known as the “Capitale de Noel”—or “Capital of Christmas”—and with good reason. As soon as the season hits, all the décor, including the tallest decorated Christmas tree in Europe, gives the North Pole a run for its money. Perhaps its most charming seasonal accoutrement though? All of the teddy bears you’ll find hanging around the windows. (Look closely here and you’ll spot ’em!)
All of Tokyo gets illuminated for the holiday season, but if you ask us, the prettiest sight is along the Meguro River. Its cherry blossom trees, dormant for winter, are wrapped with millions of LED lights—and the reflection on the river makes it look like the water’s glowing. Stunning.
No matter what time of the year you visit Singapore, its breathtaking nature park, Gardens by the Bay, is a must. And at Christmas, it officially turns into Christmas Wonderland, complete with light displays like this one. Swoon.
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA
All of South Korea’s capital gets bedazzled for the holiday season—but the must-see display would be the oversized LED ornaments you’ll find floating along Cheonggyecheon Stream as a part of the annual Seoul Christmas Festival.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUSIANA
A Creole Christmas! For a particularly majestic Christmas display, visit New Orleans’s St. Charles Avenue. The tree-lined thoroughfare—which is also the route of the St. Charles Streetcar Line (the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world)—is famous for its mansions, all of which get gussied up for Ol’ Saint Nick.
SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE, MEXICO
Behold just a few of the wonderful reasons to visit this Mexican city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, come December: The weather (your days should be in the 70s), the food (a truly international mix), the hot springs, and, during Christmastime, these silver stars. They’re strung by the hundreds and lit day and night.
One of Italy’s loveliest villages just so happens to be all white—all the better for Christmas decorations to pop! And strung through the ancient alleyways, they really do.
People come to Iceland’s capital to see the Northern Lights—and rightfully so—but during Christmastime, there are few more striking sights than the Hallgrimskirkja Church. Inspired by volcanoes, it stands at 240 feet tall—absolutely dwarfing the Christmas tree placed beside it each December.
It’s never a white Christmas in Sydney, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less festive. Just look at Martin Place’s super-sized Christmas tree, which gets a new theme each year. Plus, you’ve got David Jones (its window displays rival Macy’s), Christmas at Darling Harbour (which includes floating baubles and fireworks), and the Sydney Christmas Fair (where you can join a gingerbread house party).
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
The most mesmerizing sight to see in Brazil’s capital each December has to be its floating Christmas tree, which can be found in the middle of Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas. At 249 feet tall—and weighing in 250 tons—it holds the Guinness World Record for Largest Floating Christmas Tree in the World.
Few things are more captivating around the holidays than a light show, much like the one glimpsed here: It’s one of four fairy light tunnels part of Christmasland in New Taipei City.
If you’re looking for a European destination a bit more under the radar, this Lithuanian city is a perfect pick. There’s the usual quaint Christmas markets, plus boutiques tucked into igloos—but the undeniable showstopper of the season is the annual Vilnius Christmas Tree, located in Cathedral Square. Each year the tree changes. (This is 2019’s, one of our favorites.)
HONG KONG, CHINA
Last, but not least, we have Hong Kong—the city that perhaps, out of all of East Asia, celebrates Christmas most grandly. You have your choice of The Nutcracker (courtesy of the Hong Kong Ballet), Christmas concerts (via the Hong Kong Philharmonic), and lots of light art (on skyscrapers, the Central Harbourfront, and all throughout the town). If you’re looking for fun for the whole family, there’s a Disneyland here too. And this one has something the others don’t: the first “World of Frozen,” which opens on November 20th. (Just in time for a Christmas visit!)
Elle Decor by Rose Marie Walano Nove 6, 2023