Presenting our favorite places to celebrate the season—whether you want city glitter, state-of-the-art sledding, a taste of time travel, or Santa in swim trunks
Old Quebec, with its cobblestoned streets and 17th-century slate-roofed buildings, looks like a fairy-tale village, one with a French accent. No need for a car; this town is made for walking—and skating, skiing, and sledding.
WHERE TO STAY
Caped doormen usher you in to the turreted Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. The gilded lobby is lined with decorated trees, and on Christmas Eve, cookies and milk (for Santa) are sent to rooms with children.
At the Frontenac, listen to Quebec’s acclaimed boys’ choir in the ballroom. While your kids tuck in to their turkey, you can sample the venison carpaccio.
TO STUFF THOSE STOCKINGS
Stroll over to Benjo, a toy store with a teddy atelier and puppet theater.
TO STUFF THOSE FACES
For breakfast, Chez Temporel serves great bowls of café au lait and hot cocoa. The best bistro meal—steak frites, duck confit, and "sugar pie"—is at Le Café du Monde.
OH, WHAT FUN
Clip-clop by the Citadelle and Parliament in a horse-drawn carriage. There’s excellent cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on free trails at the 270-acre Plains of Abraham. Two city squares—Place d’Youville and Terrasse Dufferin—are given over to skating rinks. At the latter, you can also hurtle down a wooden toboggan run. The view as you plummet—the snowy rooftops, the frozen river—is as breathtaking as the ride.
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac 1 Rue des Carrières; 800/441-1414; fairmont.com; doubles from $270; Christmas dinner for four $336.
Benjo 543 Rue St.-Joseph E.; 418/640-0001.
Chez Tempore 25 Rue Couillard; 418/694-1813; breakfast for four $18.
Le Café du Monde 84 Rue Dalhousie; 418/692-4455; dinner for four $90.
Plains of Abraham 418/648-4212; www.ccbn-nbc.gc.ca.
Place d’Youville 418/641-6256.
Terrasse Dufferin 418/694-9487; toboggan rental, $18 per hour for four people.
THE BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
Two active volcanoes, a tropical rain forest, and beaches as far as the eye can see. This is the biggest, most ecologically diverse island in the chain, with every climate zone represented and waterfalls galore.
WHERE TO STAY
In a Maori-style bungalow or thatched hale at the Kona Village Resort, where you can ogle manta rays, join Santa for a canoe ride, and learn to toss a Hawaiian fishing net.
Olde-tyme–meets-tropical at Pahu i’a, the beachfront restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. Belly up to turkey with macadamia-nut stuffing, or poke with soy sauce and seaweed.
In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a two-hour drive from Kona Village, hike through fern forests to the steaming floor of Halemaumau Caldera, a crater near the summit of Kilauea volcano. Come nightfall, drive down Chain of Craters Road for spooky views of glowing orange lava. Minutes from the park, the Kilauea Lodge is a cozy post-and-beam hideaway.
Join the Christmas Eve crowd at the 1835 Mokuaikaua Church on Kailua Bay. The choir sings nightingale-sweet hymns in Hawaiian and dancers swing in the holiday with yule hulas.
Kona Village Resort Kailua-Kona; 800/367-5290; konavillage.com; rooms from $580.
Pahu i’a Four Seasons Resort Hualalai Ka’upulehu-Kona; 808/325-8000; dinner for four $186.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park 808/985-6000; nps.gov.
Kilauea Lodge Volcano Village; 808/967-7366; kilauealodge.com; cottages from $205.
Mokuaikaua Church Kailua-Kona; 808/ 329-0655; Christmas Eve service at 9 p.m.
Hear-ye! Hear-ye! This restoration of Virginia’s first capital—in which carriages replace cars, and costumed interpreters play silversmiths, wigmakers, and tavern keepers—makes especially merry at Christmas. Expect fife- and-drum parades, bonfires, and a wreath-decorating contest—the doors here sport peanuts, fruit, clay pipes, and playing cards.
WHERE TO STAY
To feel as if you’re living in the 18th century, not just visiting it, book one of the 26 colonial houses. You’ll be able to walk the crushed- oystershell paths before the hordes descend.
At the columned 1937 Williamsburg Inn, the big meal is a grand affair—Virginia-raised turkey, Sally Lunn bread pudding, and everyone in black velvet.
If your kids are itching to try on a muslin gown or shoulder a musket, sign them up for the costume-rental program. Outfitted like proper Colonials, they’re dispatched on errands, such as carrying news of the Boston Tea Party from the Post Office to the printer.
Though the historic district feels blessedly noncommercial, there are plenty of opportunities to buy tricornered hats, quill pens, and beginner’s quilting sets to take back with you to the 21st century. —Jane Margolies
Colonial Williamsburg 134 N. Henry St., Williamsburg, Va.; 757/229-1000; colonialwilliamsburg.com; general admission for adults $29, children $15; colonial houses from $199 a night, with a three-night minimum from Dec. 22–26; Christmas dinner at the Williamsburg Inn, $280 for a family of four; costume-rental program, $19.95 per child.
The city’s incomparable sparkle could put any Scrooge in touch with his inner Cratchit. Watch a pantomime at the Hackney Empire—a thousand rotten jokes and a happy ending guaranteed. Tour Charles Dickens’s holly-swagged house. And take care of your gift list at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s new state-of-the-art shop.
WHERE TO STAY
Father Christmas delivers sweets to the canopied bedsides of lucky guests at the Knightsbridge, a town-house hotel (with mulled wine and mince pies in the library for exhausted parents). Or deck your own halls when you rent from the Landmark Trust: how about a flat at Hampton Court Palace?
ICE IS NICE
Go for a spin around one of the many ice rinks: Somerset House has the grandest; Kew Gardens, the most tranquil.
At the Goring hotel, there’s turkey, sausages, and brussels sprouts, plus exploding holiday crackers and paper hats. Afterwards, tradition demands a brisk walk followed by reverent contemplation of the queen’s speech on the telly.
MAKE IT LAST
A Christmas pudding (from Marks and Spencer, Harvey Nichols, or Fortnum and Mason) keeps until it’s time to celebrate next yea
Hackney Empire 291 Mare St.; 44-20/8510-4500; hackneyempire.co.uk.
Charles Dickens Museum 48 Doughty St.; 44-20/7405-2127; dickensmuseum.com.
Victoria and Albert Museum Shop Cromwell Rd.; 44-20/7942-2687; vandashop.com.
Knightsbridge Hotel 10 Beaufort Gardens; 44-20/7584-6300; knightsbridgehotel.co.uk; doubles $340.
Landmark Trust 44-1628/825-925; landmarktrust.org.uk; flats from $1,900 per week.
Somerset House Strand;44-20/7845-4600; somerset-house.org.uk.
Kew Gardens At Victoria Gate; 44-20/8332-5655; kew.org.
The Goring Grosvenor Gardens; 44-20/7396-9000; goringhotel.co.uk; dinner for four $560; doubles from $540.
Who says the holidays are celebrated in Siena the same as way as they are in Sydney?Here, a global sampling of who's making a list and checking it twiceplus, strange but true Christmas and New Year's traditions. Yule be astonished.
YO HO WHO?
Bilingual Belgium has two Santas: St. Nicholas visits children on December 4 to find out if they've been behaving, then returns on his feast day, December 6, with the goodies-or, if appropriate, twigs. Père Noël is the one responsible for Christmas Day surprises.
Julenisse, Norway's Santa, arrives via donkey-driven sleigh to deliver gifts on Christmas Eve, and plays tricks on any child who forgets to leave him a bowl of porridge.
In Nicaragua, the Three Wise Men themselves bring childrens' gifts on January 6th.
In Italy, tradition has it that a good witch known as La Befana turned away the Three Wise Men when they asked her for help finding the Baby Jesus. So overwhelming was her regret that ever since, she's attempted make amends by flying (yes, via broomstick) to every Italian child's house on January 5, dispensing presents to the good andwhat else?coal to the bad.
DID YOU KNOW?
The hymn "Silent Night" was reportedly first sung on Christmas Eve in 1818, when a priest in the Austrian hamlet of Oberndorf found his church's organ broken and saved the town sing-in by hastily writing a tune simple enough to be accompanied by guitar.
AN EXTRA NEW YEAR
On New Year's Eve in Bulgaria, children brandish a special stick and tap their elders on the back with it in exchange for money and candy.
The Spanish celebrate the New Year by eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight on December 31, for good luck in each of the upcoming months.
In Ecuador, effigies representing the past year's misfortunes are filled with newspaper and firecrackers. They're paraded through the streets on New Year's Eve, then burned to vanquish the bad luck.
Venezuelans don yellow underwear on January 1 to ensure sunny times ahead.
Plains of Abraham
The Plains of Abraham is one of Canada’s most scenic monuments, as well as hallowed ground for French and British soldiers who fought and died there during the 1759 Battle of Quebec. Overlooking the wide St. Lawrence River at the city’s top-most point, The Plains today serve the public as a national memorial, gardens, site for major city events, and as a recreation area with playing fields (tennis, lacrosse, and cross-country skiing, among others). Millions of tourists come here annually to enjoy the history, views, and 108 acres of mostly flat, grassy, wildflower-filled spaces.
Le Café du Monde
Located beside the Old Port cruise terminal, this waterfront eatery serves Parisian-style bistro fare amid panoramic views of the St. Lawrence River. Despite an unassuming exterior, the Art Deco-style dining room is bright and inviting, with wall-to-wall windows, black-and-white-tiled floors, a zinc bar, and round bistro tables. During the summer, outdoor terrace seating provides views of sailboats and cruise ships. The menu includes French classics such as steak frites with Béarnaise sauce, and brunch dishes like poached egg with lobster and hollandaise. Set in the center of the restaurant, the wine cellar contains almost 2,000 bottles from around the world.
Set along a quiet side street between the bustling Old Port and Rue St.-Jean districts, Chez Temporel has been a haven for affordable breakfasts, lunches, and café au lait bowls since the mid-70's. A simple wooden sign atop a centuries-old brick building signals the emerald green and windowed cafe front. Inside, small tables are frequently filled with local artists, writers, and lovers of buttery croissants. The menu includes various baked goods, cheesy croque-monsieur sandwiches and seasonal soups, as well as moderately priced wines and locally crafted microbrews.
Benjo is an innovative children’s toy store in the lively Saint-Roch neighborhood. Located directly across from L’Église Saint-Roch and with a green Art Deco-like metal arch, Benjo beckons kids and adults alike. Inside, there are dozens of different departments categorized by child development and toy type as well as a large book section. Toddlers and smaller children enjoy a train ride that chugs throughout the vast store. Different sections are designed for interactive play, such as the construction zone, science center, and jewelry-making station.
Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
Recently renovated 1893 landmark hotel set above the St. Lawrence River within the walls of Old Quebec. Aristocrat-worthy furnishings, such as carved headboards and antique tapestries, make up for the minuscule size of some rooms.