Come December, Heidelberg, Germany, turns into a winter wonderland any Scrooge would don a Santa hat to experience. The best part? Weihnachtsmarkt, a mile-long string of outdoor markets that twinkle in the evening chill. As snowflakes drift down, you can shop for handmade ornaments while drinking hot spiced wine and eating freshly fried potato pancakes.
This year, why settle for lukewarm eggnog and guests you didn’t really want to see anyway? Sure, crowds and unpredictable weather mean that holiday travel can be stressful, but this time of year is also a great opportunity to get away and explore a new spot. So we asked Travel + Leisure writers for their top holiday travel picks, like Heidelberg, which is one of Aimee Lee Ball’s favorite places.
Another option: Charleston, SC, home of America’s most attractive people, according to our America’s Favorite Cities survey. Yes, the Christmas cheesiness culminates in a “charmingly motley holiday parade,” as writers Matt and Ted Lee put it, but it’s also prime time for local bivalve harvesting. Ask for a waterside table at Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar, and you can dine on fresh seafood while eyeing decorated boats cruising around the harbor.
Further afield, Reykjavík, Iceland, is an adventurer’s dream with an otherworldly landscape. “Daylight is a four-hour affair,” says writer Jennifer Coogan, “and the liquid-green aurora borealis illuminates the nighttime sky.” As far as annual holiday traditions go, theirs may take the cake: rather than Santa Claus, here you’ll find statues of 12 rosy-cheeked Yule Lads.
Ringing in the New Year is a whole other story. You can celebrate on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, where everybody dons revealing all-white outfits and underwear that reflects their wish for the coming year (red is for—you guessed it—romance). “Up to two million people join you on the beach,” says writer Peter J. Frank. “Learn a few samba moves—the music goes well past midnight.”
Grandma may be disappointed if you spend the holidays away, but hey, isn’t that what postcards—and presents—are for?