© CuboImages srl / Alamy

From New Mexico to New Zealand, a world of Christmas celebrations awaits.

Venice

15 of 29

Why Go: Christmastime may be damp and foggy, but with the hordes long gone, service is relaxed and friendly, and at night, you may have the moonlit Piazza San Marco all to yourself.

Where to Stay: The opulent Hotel Cipriani is available during the holidays, and the staff is sure to fuss over you. For a more intimate experience, consider Ca' Pisani, a boutique hotel with a vaguely futuristic look.

Holiday Dinner: Italians have their big feast on the 24th. At Do Forni, indulge in one of its signature dishes, such as risotto with shrimp and seasonal vegetables or baked branzino with potatoes, tomatoes, and oregano. De Pisis at the Hotel Bauer riffs on traditional fare: turbot fillet with glazed chestnuts, fondant pumpkin and smoked ham from Tyrol.

—Peter J. Frank

Best Places to Spend Christmas

Venice

Why Go: Christmastime may be damp and foggy, but with the hordes long gone, service is relaxed and friendly, and at night, you may have the moonlit Piazza San Marco all to yourself.

Where to Stay: The opulent Hotel Cipriani is available during the holidays, and the staff is sure to fuss over you. For a more intimate experience, consider Ca' Pisani, a boutique hotel with a vaguely futuristic look.

Holiday Dinner: Italians have their big feast on the 24th. At Do Forni, indulge in one of its signature dishes, such as risotto with shrimp and seasonal vegetables or baked branzino with potatoes, tomatoes, and oregano. De Pisis at the Hotel Bauer riffs on traditional fare: turbot fillet with glazed chestnuts, fondant pumpkin and smoked ham from Tyrol.

—Peter J. Frank

© CuboImages srl / Alamy

Best Places to Spend Christmas

A girl on a donkey leads a candle-carrying procession past San Miguel de Allende’s shops festooned with piñatas and poinsettias. When they stop before a Spanish-colonial building and break into song, you realize you’re witnessing the reenactment of Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter that takes place in the days leading up to Christmas.

Whether your winter holiday trip enhances your yuletide nostalgia with traditions, sparkly lights, and nippy air or makes a radical break from it—by, say, taking you to warmer climes or a quiet, far-flung hideaway—breaking the habit of staying home will always reward you with a Christmas you’ll never forget. With that goal in mind, we’ve rounded up diverse, exceptional places to get you in the spirit of taking off.

Quebec City is one of our favorite historic destinations for the holidays. The narrow cobblestoned streets and stone architecture of the walled city, founded in 1608 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain, make it as romantic and European as it gets on this side of the pond. Add to that a proclivity for snowfall and an abundance of top-notch bars and restaurants, and you may wish the New Year could be postponed.

But the appeal of warming up over the holidays is undeniable, too. For the die-hard contrarian, Kaikoura, New Zealand, ought to do the trick. It’s the height of summer there at Christmas, a holiday most often celebrated outdoors with backyard barbecues. But it’s also a great time to be hiking the rainforest of the Kaikoura mountain range or on the waters of Kaikoura Bay, one of the most biodiverse marine environments on the planet. It’s the summer home of sperm whales, fur seals, dusky dolphins, and pilot whales, and all it takes to commune with them is a boat and a bit of perseverance.

South America has weathered the global recession better than most regions, and it’s not hard to see why. Brazil in particular is peppered with off-the-beaten-track gems that offer a true escape, like the coastal Portuguese colonial town of Paraty, about 140 miles south of Rio. Its friendly locals, cerulean waters, exceptional beaches, and exotic-bird-filled jungles may make you forget what holiday it is altogether. Like we said: unforgettable.

—Lee Magill

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