Best Christmas holiday destinations — Top 7 best Christmas towns in the world
As the holiday season approaches, Christmas markets from all over the world begin to open in celebration of what is considered the most significant event of the year, with millions and millions of lights and colors strewn across the sky. Whatever way you celebrate Christmas, with its hundreds of events throughout the globe, it truly is the one time of year when people who share the same traditions and beliefs are brought together. Let Focus Asia Travel take you across the world to see the best locations to visit for Christmas, and let us pray for a new and lovely season to come. Where are the best Christmas destinations in the world? Discover the best Christmas holiday destinations — Top 7 best Christmas towns in the world below.
Famous Christmas market in Europe
Since the 14th century, Christmas markets have been held in the Alsace area of northeast France. Today, most major cities in France have their own version of the Christmas market, which might run for weeks or even days before Christmas. The Christmas market in Strasbourg, the capital city of the Alsace region, is the largest of them all.
Strasbourg’s Christmas market is regarded as Europe’s oldest, and visiting here will immerse you in an illuminated fairy tale world. This is Europe’s largest and most famous Christmas market, attracting thousands of people each year from late November to late December.
The market, known as Christkindelsmärik, has expanded to more than 12 places in the city center, with over 300 vendors selling traditional French foods, crafts, and decorations. The majority of the items offered during the event are made by local farmers. Tomatoes in a variety of colors ranging from yellow to green to red with glossy forms, or bell peppers in a lovely golden tint, all appear to be too appealing.
Visitors must stop by the aroma stand, which sells soaps and natural perfumes with the delectable scent of flowers. The scent distinguishes the creamy cake-like soaps. The wooden Christmas cottages, which resemble the gingerbread houses in the fairy tale, are another highlight at the market. Each hut is lighted and decorated differently from the others, resulting in a sight that will take both young and elderly visitors’ breath away.
The most spectacular moment is when the sun goes down and this calm small city is illuminated with sparkling lights, rhythmic music, and a succession of people on the street.
+ Itinerary: Vietnam Airlines offers a non-stop direct flight from Vietnam to Paris at about 900-1200 USD for a return ticket. Qatar Airways offers transit in Doha at a more reasonable price of 700- 900 USD. From Paris, you can take the GTV train to Strasbourg for about 2 hours at a price of 100 Euro.
+ Note: You can rent a car at the airport from reputable companies such as Sixt, Hertz, and Car Europe. Your passport and Visa card are required to pay the deposit.
+ Specialties to try:
– Famous goat cheese that is usually baked with apple pie, or stuffed with eggplant to be roasted in olive oil.
– A variety of chestnuts desserts.
– Local white wine with a distinct flavor you cannot find elsewhere.
What’s special about Nordic Christmas
Although based mostly on Christian traditions, Norwegian Christmas also combines the customs of Northern Scandinavia and aspects of the Jewish’s Hanukkah.
Christmas markets start in late November in the city center of Oslo. During the first week of Advent, when the last leaf has fallen, tree branches are lit up with thousands of bright lights everywhere. On the streets, houses are decorated with either bells, corloful ornaments or Santa’s sleigh. On the main avenues such as the Karl Johans gate or Youngstorget, people start setting up small wooden huts to sell festive goods. Entertainment activities from concerts to choirs are organized everywhere on the streets, or at the bus and train stations.
Three ‘shades’ of Christmas!
Unlike other countries, a Norwegian Christmas is divided into three stages: the night before Christmas Eve, Christmas Eve and post Christmas period.
The night before Christmas Eve is December 23, called Lille Julaften in Norwegian, which translates to ‘Little Christmas Eve’. On this day, people decorate their Christmas tree and bake gingerbreads, before enjoying their dinner with risengrynsgrøt, a sweet porridge dish made of sugar, butter and cinnamon powder with one almond nut placed inside. Whoever gets this almond in their bowl is believed to have luck in the new year.
December 24 is Christmas Eve (Julaften), the most important day of the year for Norwegians. In the morning, religious people go to churchs for prayer. Those who stay at home will finish wrapping the last Christmas presents, and place them under the Christmas tree. In the afternoon, at 5 o’clock, church bells across the country will ring, and people start sitting down to enjoy their Christmas dinner with their families.
From December 25 to 30 is a rest period for people before the new year. It is the post Christmas period, Romjulen. Some companies allow their staff to take leave until the New Year, but most businesses in the city will have returned to normal.
Norwegian Christmas dinner
If banh chung, banh tet, pickled onions, and stewed pork are indispensable dishes on the Tet menu for Vietnamese families, salted lamb ribs, roast pork and kransekake are staple dishes that together make a perfect Norwegian Christmas dinner.
The pinnekjøtt salted lamb ribs is an old Scandinavian dish, originating from a traditional food preservation method of curing and smoking the meat. Therefore, pinnekjøtt is often very salty. What is special about the pinnekjøtt is that, instead of being steamed over a metal steamer, a layer of twigs from the birch tree are placed at the bottom of the saucepan.
Roast pork ribbe is probably a very unique dish since the way it is made and its flavor are very similar to Vietnamese roast pork. However, ribbe is only common at Christmas compared to Vietnamese roast pork being eaten all year around.
After stuffing your stomach with lamb ribs, roast pork, sausages, mashed potatoes, pickled cabbage and a few glasses of keevitt, you can have all different kinds of desserts. Most popular desserts are chocolate mousse, fresh cream served with fruits, gingerbreads and butter biscuits. However, kransekake is our most anticipated dessert!
Indulge in Svařák at Prague’s Christmas Market
Christmas is the biggest and also most popular festival of the year in the Czech Republic, and what makes this holiday season so special is their Christmas market.
Since the end of November, Christmas markets have been held all over the Czech Republic. The biggest among them is the Christmas market in Prague, which has been a popular destination that is widely favored by visitors both domestic and foreign.
The markets are held in historical squares such as the Havelské Náměstí (Old Town), Náměstí Republiky, Náměstí Míru, and Tylovo Náměstí with the Old Town Square being the largest of them all, where the Christmas tree lighting ceremony takes place.
From traditional clothing, souvenirs to winter drinks and food, you name it, all can be found at the market. The quality of the goods sold on this special occasion are guaranteed, and are items that not to be found anywhere else.
Enjoying Christmas delicacies at the market is a unique experience that you must try. Most of the food are cooked right in front of the visitors, and so popular that many are willing to queue for it. You will be absolutely blown away by the chefs’ amazing skills.
The blacksmith stall is an interesting feature of the Prague Christmas market. From happy hammering sounds to products that are uniquely made, the stall owner after each creation of a product will receive a round of delightful applause from his audience.
Most people who visit Prague Christmas market often buy the most typical and traditional items for their home. For example, a bunch of mistletoe branches (which symbolizes good luck), pinecone wreath or Bethlehem wood statues. Visitors then often join the the rest of crowds, happily chatting their day away and enjoying a cup of hot drink.
During the Christmas season in Prague, wooden stalls are open from 10am to 10pm daily. Food stalls can be opened until midnight. Svařák is a type of mulled wine that is served hot in winter. The Czechs love to have their sausages grilled by fire and eaten with a slice of brown bread. Most others however, prefer to enjoy the little snacks like roasted chestnuts, French fries, pancakes and sweet breads. “Trdlo” or ” Trdelník ” is a delicious pastry dish that all visitors must try at Czech Christmas markets.
Places to celebrate Christmas in Melbourne
When it comes to Christmas, people often think of snow-covered cities in Europe, along with ancient churches, choirs and jubilant festive vibe. Australia on the other hand offers visitors one of the most unique Christmas experience, right among the kangaroos and amid summer!
No need to travel all the way to Europe, one can still enjoy the beauty of European style buildings in Melbourne at the two following locations.
7 Hillcrest Ave., Eltham VIC 3095
Located just 20 km from Melbourne CBD, Montsalvat is ‘the land of the art’ where art in many form is created, exhibited, taught and performed, from painting, glass and ceramics to textiles, jewelry craft, and instrument making. This 12-acre land was designed by architect Justus Jorgensen in 1934, heavily influenced by European architecture and the use of mudbricks which was an almost lost tradition in Eltham. Montsalvat is actually the name of the castle where the Holy Grail is protected, originiating from the English legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
Take in the scenery
Monstalvat is a place where one can find peace and pleasure among its lovingly tended gardens. Visitors can wander leisurely around beautiful gardens and through unique buildings, or easily sit back by the gate and enjoy a cup of creamy latte at the Boulevard.
Visit the Great Hall
A highlight at Montsalvat is to visit the Great Hal, a huge and castle-like structure that contains large chambers, lush foliage over a rectangular pool, and the courtyard that overlooks a garden built to resemble the gothic style from the Middle Age.
When there is no events, you can freely walk through the gallery, admire the artworks, take a picture with the mosaic window, or play some notes on the grand piano. Or, if you prefer, you can go around the back of the building to visit the lush garden, walk up the hill to visit the small church, or have some moments to yourself.
Montsalvat is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. From Flinders Street Station, take the train to Hurstbridge, get off at Eltham Station, then take bus no. 582 to get to a stop near Montsalvat. For more information, visit: www.montsalvat.com.au.
1 St Heliers St, Abbotsford VIC 3067
Tucked away, not far from the hustle and bustle of the inner city life is the beautiful historic Abbotsford Convent. This 100-year-old monastery is located on the bank of the peaceful Yarra River, just 4 km from Melbourne CBD. The tranquility found here is what makes it such a favorite place for visitors to visit.
From the entrance, if you walk past the ancient buildings and tree-lined paths, you will find a green pasture that overlooks the river, where locals often come for a picnic on the weekends.
Enjoy vegetarian food
Most of the buildings in the monastery still retain the elegance and orgininality of the stone structure. The Abdotsford Convent features Lentil As Anything, a vegetarian restaurant that offers a various selection of food at pay-as-you-feel service. Guests will take theirr own plate and cutlery, self-serve, then put money in a wooden box by the door. The amount of money given depends on how much one can afford or like the dish.
Experience farm life
Right next to the monastery is the Collingwood Children’s Farm, a farm where children and their family can spend time learning about nature and farm animals like chickens, horses, cows, and pigs.
Visitors also can take a stroll along the bank of the Yarra River, and breathe in fresh air. On the fourth Saturdays of every month, the monastery holds a local fair to sell seasonal fruits, meat, eggs, cheese, smoked fish and other local produce.
Abbotsford Convent was recently recognized as a National Heritage in August. To get to this ancient monastery, take the South Morang or Hurstbridge train, get off at Victoria Park Station and walk about 10 minutes, or catch the bus no. 200/207 from Central Melbourne.
Spending holiday in winter lands
It is hard to imagine Christmas without snow. For visitors who would like spend their Christmas holiday over somewhere cold, there are plenty of places for one to enjoy winter, take a walk among snow-covered villages or go skiing, to name just a few.
Take a walk in the snowy village of Shirakawa-go
Situated in a valley surrounded by mountains, Shirakawa-go is famous for its ancient farmhouses and heavy snow that falls in the region in winter. This village is a unique destination for visitors who visit the north of Tokai, Gifu Prefecture, Japan.
Shirakawa-go is one of few villages that still preserve the Gassho-zukuri architectural style, and is recognized a UNESCO world heritage site. The roof on these old farmhouses are made by hay and is quite steep to keep rain and snow off in winter.
The village has a charming scenery and a lifestyle that is kept for centuries. Come to Shirakawa-go, you can visit the Old Toyama House Ethnic Museum, Myozenji Local Museum, or take a walk on the Deaibasi Bridge. Visitors can also wander around, visit souvenir shops and enjoy local cuisine, which includes special gingerbread during Christmas.
Shirakawa-go holds an annual light-up event from mid-January to February on Saturdays and Sundays from 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm in which the snow-covered Gassho-zukuri farmhouses are lit up with hundreds of light, making a spectacular view. There are a number of Minshuku (guest house) available, however, it is recommended that visitors book in advance.
You should note the following:
+ Choose a good pair of shoes for walking.
+ Do not enter the house without permission from the owner.
+ Houses are made of highly flammable material, so do not smoke outside designated areas.
+ Visitors have to keep their own trash since there is no trash bin in the village.
Renowned for its winter resorts and a popular destination for winter sports activities, PyeongChang is a name that has become much sought after since it is said to host the 2018 Winter Olympics from February 9 to 25.
The roads and infrastructure used for the event such as the PyeongChang Olympic Model Sports Show, football stadium, and golf course have been completed. Therefore, coming to PyeongChang starting December, visitors will be able to enjoy a wide range of activities. The most modern ski resort in PyeongChang is Alspensia with 6 slopes for beginners and advanced skiers with the capacity to hold 3,000 skiers at once. The Ski Jumping Stadium on the other hand, will allow skiers to reach a speed up to 40km/h, and the Phoenix Park Ski Resort is ranked among the top seven most amazing ski resorts in South Korea.
Visitors who do not know how to ski can still participate in skiing and snowboarding actitivites since most ski resorts offer a variety of lessons and different types of slopes.
In addition to exciting snow games, visitors can visit the Daegwallyeong sheep farm, the Odaesan National Park and the 1,000-year-old Woljeong sacred temple. Join the annual fishing festival that takes place from December 22 to February 20 in PyeongChang.
+ Accommodation: Alpensia Resort, Intercontinental Alpensia Peyongchang Resort
+ Cuisine: Try local specialties such as sanchae jeongsik (mixed vegetables), memil makguksu (cold vermicelli made from buckwheat), hwangtae-gui (grilled sea fish), Daegwallyeong hanu (South Korean beef) and salmon salad.
Instead of making expensive trips to European countries to enjoy the snow, visitors can visit China, especially the capital Beijing for a full winter experience.
Beijing is a popular tourist destination for international travelers all year round, but it would be a miss not to visit this beautiful city in winter.
Visitors should visit the Summer Palace to admire the beauty of Longevity Hill, Forbidden City, and Kunming Lake under thick layers of ice, and obviously the not-to-be-missed Great Wall of China which are all breathtakingly beautiful in winter.
Christmas and the wreath
Every Christmas a wreath is hung on the front door of almost every house. Not only a Christmas decoration, the wreath represents fullness and unity, and are usually made from evergreens which symbolize strength as evergreens last even throughout the harshest winter.
Winter begins when the wind starts to blow and the cold pierce through layers of clothing. Snow starts to fall and slowly covers cedar trees. The once green forest turns all white over night. The song “Silent night” is played on almost every corner, marking the beginning of the Christmas season.
It is a tradition to decorate the Christmas tree and one’s home before Christmas. The wreaths can be made in various styles, ranging in full color and hung on the door. The wreath always brings a festive vibe, and a closer-to-home feeling to those who live away from home.
The endless wreath also symbolizes the eternity love of God with the green leaves representing hope for the day God returns. All the other colors present on the wreath are festive colors of Christmas, and of joy and excitement for a new season to come.