Travel Picks: Top 10 Christmas destinations

Fri Dec 7, 2012 10:32am EST

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 7 (Reuters) - The Christmas season might
be famous for carols and colored lights where you're from, but
it's also the perfect time to experience new destinations and
check out their holiday customs as well. From the jazz music and
Nativity parades of New Orleans, to the Santa hats and sandy
beaches of Australia, there's no better opportunity than
Christmas to try seeing the holiday season in a brand new light.
Online travel adviser Hotwire.com (www.hotwire.com) has compiled
a list of its Top 10 most festive destinations for this year's
holiday season. Reuters has not endorsed this list:
1.  San Juan, Puerto Rico
    There are only twelve days of Christmas, right? Not in
Puerto Rico. This U.S. commonwealth begins its celebrations the
day after Thanksgiving and keeps the Yuletide spirit flowing
until the feast of the three kings on January 6. During the
six-week-long festivity, visitors can enjoy the Christmas
decorations seen at homes, businesses and throughout the
streets. While you're there, you should also witness one of
Puerto Rico's famous holiday traditions - group caroling called
parrandas. Visitors to this Caribbean locale can also experience
unique holiday culinary customs like lechón asado - roast pig on
a spit - a coconut pudding called Tembleque, or the sweet sap
from a Chilean palm tree, coquito.
2.  New York, New York
    If there's anything more iconic than the New York City
skyline, it's the New York City Christmas tradition. Every year,
The Big Apple plays host to some of the most famous holiday
traditions in the world, including the nationally televised
lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and The Radio
City Christmas Spectacular. But The Empire State has tons more
up its sleeve when it comes to Christmas traditions. Travelers
can go ice skating in Central Park, discover unique
international gifts at The Pond at Bryant Park, experience the
incredible toy selection of FAO Schwartz and enjoy the spectacle
of Macy's annual Santaland display.  
3.  Bondi Beach, Australia
    In Australia, summer starts on December 1st, so while the
Northern Hemisphere is experiencing a white Christmas, our
friends down under are busy surfing and sunbathing. Bondi Beach,
just four miles outside of Sydney, is a famous beachgoer
hotspot, so the unsuspecting traveler could very easily mistake
Christmas Day for spring break. Every year on December 25th, the
beach turns into one big Christmas party, with festive trees in
the sand, surfers wearing Santa hats and suits, live music and
more. It might seem unusual to spend a Christmas on the beach,
but there's also no denying the appeal of a good beach party. At
Bondi Beach, you can have both.
4.  Santa Claus, Indiana
    With a city like Santa Claus, Indiana, the name really does
say it all. This small Midwestern destination fancies itself
"America's Christmas Hometown," and offers three weekends of
Santa Claus celebrations throughout the month of December that
are perfect for Christmas lovers of all ages. Travelers can
journey into Santa's Candy Castle and enjoy 25 different gourmet
chocolates, chat with online elves and check to see if their
name is on the naughty or nice list. Santa's visitors can also
enjoy other holiday attractions such as the amazing lights down
Mistletoe Drive, a wooden rollercoaster, a Santa Claus museum
and even a Christmas-themed miniature golf course. 
5.  Nuremberg, Germany
    In Nuremberg, Christmas is synonymous with
Christkindlesmarkt, which means only one thing-holiday shopping.
Germany's own Christmas mega-market is one of the most
sought-after holiday destinations in the world, drawing two
million visitors every year and occupying Nuremberg's central
square area for the entirety of the Advent season. With its rich
history dating back to the Middle Ages, a visit to the
Christkindlesmarkt is like stepping back in time. Even the most
jaded traveler may spring to life as the smell of fresh
gingerbread and fruitcake fills the air. And with such a deep
past, it's as easy to lose yourself in Nuremberg's Christmas
tradition as it is to get lost in the stalls of the
Christkindlesmarkt.
6.  New Orleans
    Those searching for a way to celebrate the holidays in a
unique southern fashion need look no further than New Orleans,
where the poinsettia gets as much love as the fleur de lis. In
this French Creole town, Christmas events start in November, and
they ring in the holiday spirit in ways you've never seen
before. Take the Celebration in the Oaks, for example: a pop-up
Christmas theme park that brings bright lights and carnival
rides to New Orleans City Park, drawing hundreds of thousands of
visitors each year. 
Folks from colder areas will feel right at home on Fulton
Street, where travelers will find spinning multicolored
Christmas trees and might even find themselves caught in the
(fake) snow, which comes drifting down four times every hour.   
7.  Tokyo, Japan
    If you're looking to spend your Christmas somewhere really
different, there's no better place to visit than Tokyo. Since
Christians account for only one percent of the population,
Christmas is not a national holiday, and employees don't get the
day off. Despite that, Christmas is celebrated as a commercial
holiday in Japan, and every year, the trees in Tokyo are lit up
for the season and the Japanese, like their Western neighbors,
still have shopping to take care of. 
Christmas Eve in Tokyo looks very different from Christmas Eve
in North America and Europe, and bears a striking resemblance to
Valentine's Day. Instead of spending Christmas with family
members, the Japanese go on romantic dinner dates with their
significant others, celebrating the holiday over a chicken
dinner and some Christmas cake.
8.  Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    Amsterdam has not one, but two bearded gift-bearers that
visit during the month of December: Sinterklaas and Santa Claus.
Sinterklaas has been the richer holiday icon in Amsterdam, and
gives the children most of their gifts on December 5th, marking
the feast of St. Nicolas. Santa Claus, whose story is actually
based on Sinterklaas', comes on December 25th and brings the
children a couple of minor presents. Santa Claus also brings the
beginning of the Dutch Christmas - a two-day celebration
complete with food, warmth and family - which starts on December
25th and ends on December 26th. 
For potential visitors, the draw of Amsterdam's
double-celebration is hard to compete with. Two feasts, two
Santas and two days of gleeful Christmas parties. And when it
comes to giving and receiving gifts, how much more Christmas
could a traveler really ask for?
9.  Aspen, Colorado
    Whoever coined the term "Winter Wonderland" was probably
imagining something very much like Aspen, Colorado at
Christmastime. Peacefully nestled amid a trio of snowy
mountains, Aspen is the perfect spot for travelers who like to
celebrate their holidays in earmuffs and beanies. This snowy
city hosts the 12 Days of Aspen, a holiday celebration from
December 20th through New Year's Eve, which includes a variety
of activities that are sure to put you in the Christmas
spirit-from shopping and restaurant deals to concerts and
ice-staking. And with its four world-class ski resorts, acres of
white-powdered aspen trees and upscale shopping options, Aspen
is a prime destination for travelers looking to release their
inner snow lover.
10. Lapland, Finland
    Lapland in Finland is the ideal destination for the
nostalgic traveler in all of us. After all, who doesn't remember
writing letters as a kid and addressing them to the North Pole?
Now you can visit Santa at home.
With the Arctic circle cutting right through its heart, Lapland
is the closest you're likely to get to the North Pole you
imagined as a kid, and that makes it one of Finland's busiest
tourist destinations. Visitors of Lapland will want to get
tickets to at least one of the area's Christmas theme parks:
Santa Claus Village and Santa Park. These parks live out their
themes to the fullest, complete with staff members in elf
costumes and reindeer sled rides. But the real draw to these
parks is Father Christmas himself, who will even meet privately
with families who have made a reservation.

 (Editing by Paul Casciato)
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.