91 Ways to Have Your Best Christmas Ever—Anywhere in the World
We gathered the best things to see and do for the holidays in 16 of our favorite cities.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, replete with trees, trimmings, carols, and the unmistakable sounds of shoppers and merrymakers preparing for the holidays. No matter where you are or where you’ll be for Christmas—be it among the snow-capped mountains or in the sunny climes south of the Equator, where it happens to be summer—we’ve gathered our favorite ways to celebrate the season. So grab your stockings and a mug of something toasty, and prepare to make this year’s holiday the best one yet.
Related: Top Christmas Vacation Getaways
Read on for our list, or skip ahead to your city of interest: Amsterdam; Atlanta; Chicago; Hong Kong; London; Melbourne; New York City; Paris; Philadelphia; Portland, Oregon; Prague; San Francisco; Tokyo; Toronto; Vancouver; and Washington, D.C.
Amsterdam is positively low-key at Christmas, which makes it a relaxing place to be during this festive season. There’s no Santa here—kids get their presents from Sint Nicolaas on December 5, not Christmas Day. And for the Dutch, Christmas dinner takes place on the evening of December 24. Until recently, there were no Christmas markets and even Christmas trees were a rarity (both, however, have gained in popularity), and plenty of restaurants, cafés, and stores are open over the holiday period.
If you’re in town, take advantage of this mellow vibe, and enjoy these seasonal activities that best capture the feeling.
1. Ice Skating
The Dutch are passionate about ice-skating, and every winter, outdoor ice rinks appear in the stately locations of Leidseplein and Museumplein—complete with skate rentals, music, and refreshments. If you’re not great at skating, you can book a lesson. After whizzing around on the ice, warm up with a hot chocolate, a plate of poffertjes (mini pancakes), or a hearty pea soup.
While it's still light out, get in a little shopping, and hunt down a special souvenir to commemorate your trip.
2. Light Festival
It’s dark in the Netherlands in the winter months, but the Amsterdam Light Festival brightens up the city with a variety of multi-colored installations by Dutch and international artists. To enjoy them at their best, book a special canal cruise or walking tour.
3. Church Services
In the beautiful Begijnhof, the medieval Engelse Kerk (English church) has been leading English-language worship in Amsterdam since 1607. Check out their website for times of Christmas services.
Other Amsterdam churches with holidays evening masses are the Noorderkerk, Westerkerk, and the Oude Kerk. The Mozes & Aaronkerk (on Waterlooplein) has a multi-faith celebration with representatives from different religions (a priest, Buddhist monk, Islamic imam, and Jewish chazzan).
4. Christmas Circus
The beautiful Royal Carré Theatre stages the award-winning World Christmas Circus, uniting some of the world’s best circus acts in one child-friendly, spectacular seasonal show. The Christmas circus has been a tradition in this theatre for more than 25 years; book tickets here.
5. Hänsel und Gretel
What’s Christmas without a fairy tale? The Dutch National Opera performs a new production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel at Amsterdam’s National Opera and Ballet. This quirky contemporary version is staged on a giant trash pile, which is brought to life by children.
With temperatures averaging in the 50s and the smell of smoked turkey in the air, Atlanta is the perfect place for a southern Christmas celebration. Some of its biggest attractions are open and waiting with surprises, while many of its restaurants serve traditional holiday fare with a downhome twist.
6. Thank “SCUBA Claus” for the Gifts
After Santa’s biggest night, he likes to blow off some steam in the South before returning to the North Pole. You’ll find him downtown at the Georgia Aquarium, wearing a wetsuit and plunging into a 6.3 million–gallon tank, while hundreds watch from outside the glass. Ol’ Saint Nick isn’t bothered in the least by the whale sharks and manta rays swimming around him in the world’s largest aquatic habitat; instead, he chats amiably with onlookers through a special waterproof microphone.
7. Eat Some Southern-Smoked Turkey
At Atkins Park Restaurant and Bar in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood, the hugely popular Christmas dinner menu includes a platter of smoked turkey, and not just any smoked turkey. It's cooked "low and slow" on a Big Green Egg, an Atlanta-made kamado-style cooker with a huge cult following. Accompanied by caramelized apple and sage stuffing, and cider gravy, it's a Christmas meal with serious Southern cred.
8. Ride an Atlanta Landmark
One of Atlanta’s most photographed attractions, SkyView Atlanta soars 20 stories above famed Centennial Park in the heart of downtown. Hop on one of its 42 climate-controlled gondolas and take in the city’s best sights, including Stone Mountain 20 miles away. For a Southern splurge, opt for a VIP gondola with leather seats, a glass floor, and a longer flight time (30 minutes instead of roughly 12).
9. Forget Prime Rib; Feast on Shrimp and Grits Instead
At Southern Art, a Buckhead restaurant owned by Oprah’s former personal chef Art Smith, Christmas Day means jumbo Georgia shrimp served over creamy grits. Sop up extra sauce with cheddar cheese biscuits, and save room for the pecan tarts from the sprawling dessert buffet. (Bless your heart, didn’t you know? In the South, calories don’t count on Christmas.)
10. See Magnolias Illuminated by Twinkling Lights
Take advantage of Atlanta’s mild winter temps and check out Garden Lights, Holiday Nights at the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Midtown. Though the event launched just five years ago, it’s already an area classic, drawing some 200,000 visitors annually. Two million energy-efficient lights illuminate the sprawling grounds filled with Southern magnolias, Chihuly sculptures, and a wide variety of orchids.
Before you go, don't forget to pick up a special gift to mark the trip.
Sure, many stores and restaurants are closed on Christmas Day, but visitors and locals in the Windy City have plenty to celebrate come December 25. Check out these ideas for making the most of a mostly closed holiday.
11. Skate the City's Rinks
If you're ready for a day on the ice, you can pick from one of three options. The McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park ($12) is possibly the city's most famous. But for skating with a view, try the Sky Rink at the Peninsula Hotel, which is four stories above Michigan Avenue ($15). The curved Skating Ribbon, which winds through Maggie Daley Park, offers a unique and stunning view of the city's skyline ($12).
12. Browse the Holiday Windows
It's the 47th anniversary of the State Street holiday windows in Chicago this year. Check them out along the perimeter of Macy's, animated and in full sparkling holiday glory. This year, the theme is the fantastical "Santa's Journey to the Stars," about a boy named Alex who receives a magical and mystical telescope that enables him to experience the wonder of the holiday on other planets before landing back on Earth.
13. Sample the Christmas Brunch at Sixteen
Sixteen, the fine dining restaurant in the Trump Hotel, has a Christmas spectacular planned, complete with brunch, reindeer, hot chocolate and mulled wine, a string trio, and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus ($158 per person).
14. Smell the Flowers
Two flower shows are open to the public on Christmas. The Garfield Park Conservatory holiday flower show decks the halls with poinsettias and winter-themed décor. Over at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, a pink and white theme comes complete with poinsettias, a miniature model of Chicago made from natural materials, and model trains coursing through the building. Both events are free.
15. Go to the Movies
Six much-anticipated movies are hitting theaters Christmas day, and with everyone together doing family celebrations, you may not have to fight so hard for seats. The biggest blockbusters slated for the time are Concussion, Daddy's Home, The Hateful Eight, Joy, Point Break, and The Revenant. At ARCLight Chicago, Landmark's Century Centre Cinema, and ShowPlace ICON at Roosevelt Collection there's a bar and elevated snacks on offer, making the experience feel extra-celebratory.
Between the mild temperatures and overflowing ads for end-of-year sales, Hong Kong may not be your first destination of choice for getting into the festive spirit. However, experiencing the city's unique Yuletide celebrations can be a memorable and rewarding experience, provided you know where the locals go for fun. Follow our action plan for a picture-perfect Christmas in Hong Kong—even if the snowflakes aren't making an appearance this year.
16. Symphony of Lights
This 15-minute light show is a recommended stop in any season, but especially around Christmas, when the skyscrapers on both sides of Victoria Harbour are decked out in holiday-themed LED displays. Catch it from the Tsim Sha Tsui side, near the Avenue of Stars, to take in the iconic Central skyline on Hong Kong Island. Once the show finishes, walk to the nearby Hong Kong Cultural Centre and the Clock Tower for the seasonal Pulse 3D light show—a vivid outdoor projection experience that will delight the younger travelers among the group.
17. Visit A Christmas Market
Stanley Market is your go-to for trinkets that make great souvenirs, but it will gain an uncanny resemblance to a German village during the latter half of December: With support from the German Consulate in Hong Kong, the plaza area will transform into an outdoor holiday market featuring 80 vendors selling nutcrackers, bratwurst, and gifts under festive lights. The best part? Visitors above the age of 18 will receive a cup of complimentary mulled wine.
18. Stroll Around A Mall
Shopping arcades are the nerve center of Hong Kong's retail scene, which explains the breathtaking decorations that are on display at every mall come Christmas time. Whether it's the aerial Christmas trees at IFC Mall, the teddy bear wonderland at the LANDMARK, or Harbour City's Disney character takeover, these thoughtful spaces are well worth an afternoon stroll—and a few photo ops.
19. Have A Non-Traditional Holiday Feast
With such a diverse culinary offerings in town, having a carved turkey for Christmas dinner almost seems passé. The festive menu at the recently opened Issaya Siamese Club will tickle your senses through Thai dishes reimagined with French gastronomical standards: The Khao Soy Moo, a grilled Iberico pork dish on which diners pour rich khao soy curry sauce from a teapot, is a notable highlight. For lunch, fine dining hotspot VASCO offers a sophisticated four-course meal—featuring Chargrilled Rhug Estate venison, sans turkey—for $100. Just make sure to book a table ASAP.
20. Enjoy A British Afternoon Tea
Hong Kong's appreciation for everything British is deeply rooted in its colonial past, so naturally afternoon tea plays a big part in local's leisure activities. Working in tandem with Burberry, the Landmark Mandarin Oriental's MO Bar is offering the Simply British Afternoon Tea for a limited time. Guests will enjoy traditional three-tiered delicacies paired with a complimentary beauty consultation at the Burberry Beauty Box at Times Square.
Christmas doesn't always mean turkey 'round the table with relatives, and if this year, you're doing it differently, this is a great time to visit London. It's more picturesque than ever with trees in every square, lights on every street, and spectacular shop windows, and there are fewer crowds, too. Many city dwellers hightail it out of town for the holiday, so you practically get it to yourself. Here's how to make the most of it.
21. Stroll Hampstead Heath
Ask any North Londoner what to do on Christmas morning (they typically stay for the holidays), and they'll tell you they go for a brisk stroll across Hampstead Heath. The air is always crisp, there's often a coating of frost on the grass, and the views across the city are stunning. Join the rest of the neighborhood for a little light exercise before the rest of the day's indulgence, not forgetting to do the very British thing of wishing Merry Christmas to all passers-by.
22. Go for Afternoon Tea
For something quintessentially British, how about taking tea against the backdrop of Buckingham Palace? Indulge in the Snow Queen afternoon tea at Conrad London St. James, a festive treat inspired by the enchanting Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Sweets include the Magic Mirror salted butter shortbread, glitter-dusted meringues, and blackcurrant and cardamom cakes, all accompanied by G.H.Mumm Champagne (the official champagne supplier to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II).
23. Toast with Champagne
One of London's top spots for champagne, Bob Bob Ricard, is open on Christmas Day, and that's reason enough to pop a bottle. The sophisticated Soho club is open 365 days of the year, and on this day, you've got a sound chance of getting a reservation. Get comfy in a booth and 'Press for Champagne' (the on-call buzzer on the wall). If you're in the mood for food, but overdid the turkey at Thanksgiving, Bob Bob Ricard is defiantly serving its regular menu (no Christmas specials here), including chicken and champagne pie, lobster macaroni cheese, and its signature beef wellington.
24. Eat a Non-Traditional Christmas Lunch
Chances are you've spent most every holiday of your life eating turkey, so why not do this year's a little differently? TĪNG, the oriental restaurant 35 floors up at Shangri-La, The Shard, will be serving a three-course Christmas Day lunch menu, with Eastern specials including slow-cooked iberico pork and Dover sole with miso. Those views and those flavors aren't cheap—it's $256 per person with wine pairings—but there's no doubt it will make for a special day
25. Pretend You're on the Slopes
Everyone else going skiing? Worry not. What London lacks in slopes and snowfall, it makes up for with ski resort vibes, so at least you can relate to your friends The Goring, an impeccably British hotel in Belgravia, has transformed its outdoor terrace into the St. Moritz Ski Bar, an alpine joint that oozes with old school glamour. Inspired by vintage photographs of his great-grandfather on the slopes, Jeremy Goring has recreated St. Moritz in the heart of the city, with cozy sheepskins, wooden sled tables, cashmere rugs, lanterns, a perfumed scent of pine, and even waiters in vintage ski jumpers. Chef Shay Cooper has put a Michelin-star spin on Swiss-inspired canapes such as tartiflette, potato rosti, and mustard and Emmental macaroons.
26. Bliss Out in the Spa
If you can get a couple of hours away on this day, plan for a little 'you' time at Mandara Spa, which is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the holiday this year. Reap the benefits of a little festive TLC with its Comforting Retreat, a one hour and 20 minute anti-fatigue package that includes an aromatherapy-reflexology foot treatment, and an invigorating full body massage. Complimentary mince pies and mulled wine will be served, too.
27. Go Truly British
If you want to go all out, go to The Lanesborough, where Christmas is a classic, luxurious affair. The hotel is sumptuously dressed in festive decorations throughout, and is warm and inviting, thanks to the roaring real fires. Christmas lunch is quite the spectacle; guests can choose between five or seven courses from a menu designed by sister hotel Le Bristol's award-winning Chef Patron Eric Frechon, and executed by The Lanesborough's Florian Favario, all to be enjoyed under a glass sky dome and accompanied by a live pianist.
Santa usually arrives dashing through the snow in a sleigh pulled by a slew of reindeer, right? Not in Melbourne, where the high temperatures play havoc with poor old Prancer and Dancer's constitutions (to say nothing of the snow). Should you find yourself in this sunny clime come the holidays, you can celebrate the season with its summery offerings—possibly a welcome change if you're already feeling snowbound come end of December. Here's how to have a perfect Christmas holiday in the city (while you're in town, don't forget to stock up on some shopping).
28. An Aquarium Outing
On the big day at SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium, the jolly fat man arrives wearing a scuba tank, making an appearance in the 580,000-gallon Oceanarium among the sharks, rays, and schools of fish. It's all part of the Christmas Day celebrations, where guests can arrive starting at 11 a.m. for a three-course lunch. In addition to Santa's appearance, Sharkie, the SEA LIFE mascot, will be entertaining the crowd; a marine specialist will be giving a presentation; and every child who attends gets a present.
When you're not enjoying the food, wander around getting to know the more than 10,000 residents at the aquarium, including penguins, sea horses, brightly hued tropical fish, and Pinjarra, who at 16 feet long, is one of the largest saltwater crocodiles in Australia. From $87; includes lunch, unlimited wine, beer, and cider for the adults, and soda and juice for the kids.
29. Presents at the Zoo
It isn't only the humans who get to tear the wrapping paper off gifts at the Melbourne Zoo. As you're strolling around the grounds, look out for the keepers handing out special treats to the animals in their care. While tickets for the holiday three-course lunch have all been sold, visitors can tuck into seasonal fare at the zoo's Lakeside Bistro. The regular menu will be available, but there also will be festive treats, including mince tarts, panettone and berries, and semifreddo Christmas pudding. The zoo is open all day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with all the exhibits open as normal. Entry from $23.
30. Hit the Beach
At any time of year, there are plenty of travelers milling in Melbourne, and the holiday season is no exception. While most of the city's big hotels offer spectacular Christmas day celebrations, sometimes it's good to simply relax by the sand. For festive fun in the great outdoors, head to St. Kilda Beach. On a glorious day, the stretch of sand will be packed with backpackers and locals escaping family duties, many of them wearing bikinis, board shorts, and Santa hats. Pack a picnic, go for a paddle, and check out the view. Just don't forget a hat and sunscreen.
New York City
It's the most wonderful time of year, and the reason for the spirit? Christmas in New York City is spectacular. So much so that Clement Moore Clarke's famous poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas was inspired by all the magic that the city offers during the season.
The sights, the sounds and the smells are unlike that of any other city, and as one of the biggest holiday destinations in the world, sometimes it can seem overwhelming to choose what to do. If you're in New York City this holiday, here's our picks of the best—including several that are free—for you to enjoy.
31. Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
Perhaps the most famous holiday attraction in New York City, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is a sight. Standing at 78 feet, the iconic Norway spruce offers spectacular viewing if you're strolling by.
32. 'Holiday Lights & Movie Sites' Bus Tour
Ever wondered where some of your favorite holiday movies were filmed in New York City? From peering in the holiday windows at Bloomingdale's in Miracle of 34th Street, to the exact location in front of the Rockefeller tree where Macaulay Culkin reunited with his mom in Home Alone 2, this tour gives you a fun, cinematic way to visit some of the cty's top attractions.
33. New York Hall of Science Gingerbread Lane
What's synonymous with the holiday season? Gingerbread, of course. To create Gingerbread Lane, the New York Hall of Science constructs the world's largest gingerbread village, made entirely of edible gingerbread, peppermints, and icing. With more than 1,050 houses spread over 500 square feet, you can walk through it (or sneak a quick bite) for hours on end. Gingerbread workshops and holiday giveaways take place at the exhibit every day from now through January 9, though the village itself is closed on Christmas Day.
34. Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Nothing says "Christmas" quite like the Radio City Rockettes. The show, which has become a fan favorite, made its annual return on November 13, and runs through the New Year, ending on January 3. The 90-minute show includes some of our favorite numbers, including the "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,' "Rag Dolls," and the world-famous kick line.
35. New York City Ballet
A night at George Balanchine's The Nutcracker is one you won't forget. The annual performance features some of the world's most elite dancers, and is complete with marching toy soldiers, a one-ton Christmas tree, and crystal white snowflakes. The show runs through January 3 and it's a guaranteed sell-out, so get tickets in advance.
36. Woolworth Building Lobby Tours
Once the tallest in the world, the Woolworth Building is one to be adored. Built by famed architect Cass Gilbert in 1913, its architecture boasts a similar style to that of Christian cathedrals, Medieval guild halls, and Italian Byzantine churches, and is set right in the middle of the city. Though usually closed to the public, guests can reserve a visit to the magnificent lobby, which features festive holiday décor and a Christmas tree underneath grand stairwell.
37. Holiday Nutcracker Tea at the Mandarin Oriental
After a day of shopping, sightseeing and family time, guests can head to the Mandarin Oriental for an afternoon of unwinding. Featuring an array of sandwiches, sweet treats, and of course tea, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the views of Central Park from the lobby lounge. You can also try the seasonal cocktail: the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Nutcracker Tea is available daily from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. through December 25.
38. New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show
The New York Botanical Garden's train show is an annual tradition for families, with more than 20 miniature model trains that ride past 150 iconic buildings in a city landscape that is a replica of the five boroughs. The show runs from through January 18; reserve tickets in advance.
39. Slice of Brooklyn's Christmas Lights Tour
Now in its 10th year, the Dyker Heights neighborhood become a state-of-the-art holiday exhibit, featuring 30-foot toy soldiers and nativity scenes. This illuminating scene will take your breath away. Tours run through the end of December, except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Book your tour in advance.
40. Coney Island Holiday Market
If you're looking to escape the chaos of Fifth Avenue, head to Brooklyn this holiday season for the Coney Island holiday market, every weekend from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., running through Christmas. There's festive décor, crafts, and collectibles, and kids can take their picture with Santa Claus.
41. Queens Historical Society's Historic Holiday House Tour
The Queens Historical Society's guided trolley tour stops at seven museums and historical sites in Queens. You'll visit the Kingsland Homestead, the Flushing Quaker Meeting House, Flushing Town Hall, the Voelker Orth Museum, Lewis H. Latimer House, Louis Armstrong House Museum, and the Bowne House (from $20).
42. The Louis Armstrong House Museum
Once the Queens home of famed jazz musician Louis Armstrong, the 40-minute guided tours here pay tribute to the life of Louis and his wife, Lucille. In addition to hosting its traditional holiday tours, the museum also plays Armstrong's voice recording of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" for visitors.
Few celebrations are as magical as a Paris Christmas. From the decorations and mulled wine to the overload of sweets and savories, it's easy to feel like a kid again. It's not all about buying a ridiculous amount of gifts, but rather spending quality time with loved ones, enjoying seasonal treats, and popping a few bottles of bubbly.
In Paris, the party starts on Christmas Eve, and December 25 is a day to relax and recover. Still, the city is alive with sights and sounds to experience during the season, and even the casual traveler will find plenty to tickle the senses during the Christmas celebrations.
43. What to Hear
There's a stark lack of Bing Crosby crooning in every shop, but the sounds of the season are still very much alive. Holiday concerts at the Sainte-Chapelle church, for example, are magical ways to hear a bit of holiday cheer.
On both December 24 and 26, an orchestra ensemble will play a bit of Corelli and Bach, while sprinkling in a few modern Christmas tunes. "Jingle Bells" and "Silent Night" will fill the gorgeous hall of this 13th-century chapel, surrounded by its world-famous stained glass windows. Tickets start at $20 and can be booked online.
44. Take in the Scents
Burning incense will trigger nostalgia in some former Catholic school students, but the scents of Paris's many churches are something to appreciate, even for the non-religious. The French go all out on their nativity scenes, and the decorations at Notre Dame, for example, are a must for any Christmas Day wander. The fresh pine tree outside the cathedral may not rival the one in Rockefeller Center, but it's still worth a visit during any Paris Christmas.
45. Foods to Savor
If there's one thing to do on Christmas Day, enjoy the food. Oysters, foie gras, chocolate, and Champagne fill every shop. Stock up the day before on fresh oysters and smoked salmon, or do as the Parisians and enjoy them on Christmas Eve. The restaurant Le Train Bleu, recently renovated, offers a Christmas Eve prix fixe at $128, without wine, featuring all the typical holiday dishes. On Christmas Day, there are fewer notable dining experiences to seek out, and restaurants that remain open might not have special holiday menus.
There are still plenty of things to eat, however, be it in small shops or at the markets. Candied chestnuts from Mazet de Montargis in the Marais are a seasonal sweet to sample, while many of the city's best chocolate makers will go all out with holiday creations. Alain Ducasse's boutiques are stocked with chocolate trees and snowflakes, as well as a tempting box of truffles for $33. Stock up on Christmas Eve, since most boutiques are closed on Christmas Day.
For adults, hot wine, or vin chaud, is the perfect drink to sip at any café that sells it. The Christmas market along the Champs Elysées will also be serving up the sweet spiced red wine on December 25 to warm up those in need of a stroll after the previous night's binge of foie gras and oysters. There will be no shortage of food there, either.
46. See and Do
There are a few unique ways to really feel a Paris Christmas. Scrape and slip along the ice skating rink at the Champs Elysées Christmas market. It's a great opportunity to don a kitschy Christmas sweater and a new pair of mittens. Or feel the world fall out from underneath by taking a trip on the Ferris wheel at Place de la Concorde, affording stunning views of the city from 230 feet high. At night, it may be a bit chilly up there, but the views over the Champs Elysées decked out in holiday lights can't be beat.
As the evening falls, Paris is at its holiday best. On Christmas Day, there are multiple sights to see, notably the various illuminations. The department store Galeries Lafayette has decked out its windows with an intergalactic theme, in celebration of the new Star Wars film. Be sure to duck inside to check out their tree under the stained glass cupola. Next door, Printemps features a more whimsical, enchanted theme with fairies and other characters that fill, for the first time, all of the store's windows.
Festive decorations light up most streets around town, but the main show is along the Champs Elysées. Spectacular displays illuminate the world's most beautiful avenue, with the Arc de Triomphe at one end, and the seasonal Ferris Wheel at the other.
'Tis the season to be jolly. It's also the season to enjoy all of the holiday cheer that surrounds the city of Philadelphia, from the holiday lights, storefronts lined with decorations, and seasonal celebrations that abound. Recently named the first World Heritage City in the United States, there are many historic sites that add to the festivities, and with many events happening throughout its streets, we've outlined a few that you can partake in with your family and loved ones.
47. Washington Crossing Reenactment
One fateful Christmas Day many moons ago, General George Washington dared to lead his troops across the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War. Every December 25 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., hundreds of fans and history lovers visit the river to watch the reenactment of this infamous Christmas Day crossing.
48. The Comcast Holiday Spectacular
Inspired by music from The Nutcracker, witness dancers from the Philadelphia Ballet perform a magical 15-minute show streamed on screens inside the lobby of the Comcast Centre. The show features sleigh floats gliding over the surrounding countryside, and actors from the historic Walnut Street Theatre. For an added bonus, the seasonal soundtrack is presented by a 64-piece orchestra. It runs daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. from now through January 3.
49. Elfreth's Alley
For those that want to take a deep dive into the city's history, head to the oldest continuously inhabited residential block in the nation, Elfreth's Alley. While you're there, be sure to enjoy the period-themed holiday decorations.
50. WinterFest on the Delaware River
Nothing says Christmas time like ice skating, a fire pit, and hot drinks. WinterFest is an annual hit, and the perfect way to spend the afternoon. This year's edition features a 360-viewing deck surrounding the rink, more food and drink vendors, and a winter beer garden.
51. The Liberty Bell
One of the top tourist destinations in the city (and even the country), a trip to the Liberty Bell for a scenic winter photo op is a must. Though you won't be able to go inside on Christmas, you can still get an amazing view of the Bell from Chestnut Street and from the Independence National Mall.
52. National Museum of American Jewish History
Though dedicated exclusively to exploring and interpreting the American Jewish experience, the National Museum of American Jewish History gets in the spirit with their annual, "Being [ ] at Christmas." A fun-for-the-whole-family event, they'll host games and activities all ages, including crafts and dancing, as well as music and other activities, celebrating the holidays for all faiths.
53. German-Style Christmas Village
If you're looking to do some last-minute shopping, head to the city's German-style Christmas Village. Now a city tradition, you can hunt for glass ornaments, music boxes, nutcrackers, and more, while enjoying the light sounds of Christmas music and the smell of pine trees. To keep you warm and your belly full, vendors also provide hot mulled wine, gingerbread, and bratwursts. The village runs through December 27th.
54. Caroling Hayrides
Who said hayrides are just for the fall? Running on December 5, 12, and 19, Linvilla Orchards offers the chance to enjoy an evening with your friends roasting marshmallows, singing Christmas carols, and sipping on warm apple cider.
55. A Longwood Gardens Christmas
It wouldn't be Christmas without holiday lights. And Longwood Gardens takes their display to the next level, featuring more than 500,000 twinkling lights, colorful fountains, and magnificently adorned trees. It's free to visit on Christmas, but reservations are required.
56. The Franklin Square Holiday Festival
Quite possibly one of the best light shows you'll ever see, Franklin Square brilliantly bursts into lights during its Holiday Festival & Electrical Spectacle Light Show. Running every 30 minutes between 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. from now through December 31st (weather permitting), you'll get to see Philadelphia's beauty displayed each night. In addition to the show, attendees can also enjoy some time on Santa's lap, holiday rides around a carousel, tasty treats at Ben's Bites & Brews, and even mini-golf with warming stations.
Considering it snows about once a year in Portland, chances are you won't be waking up to a white Christmas. But that also means it's easy to get to fun activities unique to Oregon that you can’t enjoy everywhere else. Want to spend the perfect Christmas Day in town? Here’s how.
57. Dine Out—Anywhere
For a casual meal, head to the Doug Fir Lounge, which serves its regular menu all day, plus a Christmas special of ham from Pendleton, along with lots of good sides. Or forget the ham altogether, and opt for a ribeye at the Urban Farmer Steakhouse in the Nines Hotel, which serves grass-fed Oregon beef, in addition to other holiday specials (last year, people raved about the “PB&J Duck,” which was seared and served with fermented chestnut pesto, drunken cherry gastrique, sage crumble, and garnished with micro greens).
58. Walk in a Botanical Winter Wonderland
Stroll the 20 different themed gardens at the 80-acre Oregon Garden in Silverton, about 45 miles south of Portland. Though the Garden’s visitors center is closed on Christmas Day, you can still buy passes at the adjacent Oregon Garden Resort; after your walk, pop into the Resort's restaurant for a hot chocolate to warm up.
59. Toast with Craft Cocktails and Local Beers
Forget spiked eggnog, and try one of these bars (or make it a crawl) that are open on Christmas Day, ready to pour you a drink: Bar Bar on Mississippi, Radio Room on Alberta (where you can stay warm even outdoors by sitting on the heated patio), or the divey Tanker Bar on Hawthorne, which boasts old-school arcade games.
60. Head to Wine Country
At the Willamette Valley’s Allison Inn, less than an hour from downtown Portland, indulge in the specialty Christmas dinner at JORY, where most of the ingredients are either from the property's 1.5-acre chef's garden or are locally made. Knock back a glass of Austin Knoll wine, produced in the onsite vineyard, and listen to a live jazz performance by Marilyn Keller in the evening.
61. Race Sled Dogs
Drive three and a half hours from Portland to Bend, Oregon, and spend the day on snowy Mt. Bachelor, where Oregon Trail of Dreams offers sled-dog rides, guided by an Iditarod-veteran musher. Warm up afterward at your hotel around a fire pit, or in the heated soaking tub at the McMenamins Old St. Francis School.
—Sarah Z. Wexler
Prague's colorful baroque and Gothic architecture, cobble stone streets, and famed Astronomical Clock have long made it a popular destination for travelers. But at this time of the year, it's a veritable winter wonderland. We've rounded up the most magical experiences on offer right now, to ensure your Christmas in town is nothing short of enchanted.
62. Take a Walking Tour
Walking is one of the best ways to explore a city, and if you can get a guided tour, even better. Discover Walking Tours offers an array of tours that cater to different experiences, from the city's greatest hits, to a nighttime tour of the castle, and one focused solely on the Old Town. The Royal Walk Free Tour (note that tips are welcome) explores all the major attractions, including the Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, Old Town, and the Jewish Quarter, with a knowledge guide spinning tales and folklore as they lead you through the city's history. If you want something a bit more artsy, try Prague Alternative Tours, which explore underground subcultures, alternative lifestyles, street art, and graffiti—all of which are worthy of your Instagram.
63. Eat a Traditional Czech Meal
Deck the halls in a traditional Czech eatery such as U Fleku, a large pub, restaurant, and microbrewery all rolled into one. Housed in an ancient building dating from 1499, it's a huge tavern with eight historic halls, and is the only brewery in Central Europe that has been brewing continuously over the last 500 years. The menu features typical country cuisine like duck, pork, goulash, sausages, roast chicken, and dumplings. U Fleku is also a mecca for beer lovers near and far, with internationally renowned selections on offer. Supposedly, guests consume 2,000 glasses of its tasty dark larger every day.
64. Stroll the Christmas Markets
There are a few Christmas markets around town (as well as many worth seeing in Europe), but the best way to get the local experience is to go to the markets located at Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square (they're about a five-minute walk from each other). Pick up a few trinkets for friends and family, or treat yourself to your own souvenirs, like a wooden toy, glassware, or sweets. Gather around the Christmas tree—one of the largest in the country—and listen to carolers perform holiday tunes while nibbling on gastronomical specialties from the vendors, such as barbecued pork, blood sausages, Czech muffins, and a 'Trdelník,' a hot sugar-coated pastry.
65. Dinner and Mozart
End this perfect day at Café Mozart for some fine dining and live classical music. The Mozart Quartet will serenade the crowd with beautiful performances of pieces by Mozart, Verdi, Haydn, Puccini, Strauss, Charpentier, Donizetti, Offenback, and Leoncavallo while diners enjoy a five-course meal.
While chances are the East Coast might be bracing for a nor’easter during the holidays, Christmas in San Francisco often means a lengthy yuletide brunch followed by ice-skating in shorts. Should you find yourself in the City by the Bay wondering how best to enjoy the sunny winter weather, here are some of our favorite ideas.
66. Stately Brunch
Start the day with a grand brunch at the recently renovated Palace Hotel. Sit beneath the dome in the ballroom, one of San Francisco’s most opulent spaces, which does not hold back when it comes to dressing up for Christmas—from the life-size nutcracker dolls greeting patrons in the foyer, up to the monstrous Christmas tree, and down to the poinsettia-studded tables. Try the house take on pancakes and eggs: sturgeon caviar, buckwheat blinis with crème fraiche, and a bottle of bubbly.
67. Ice Skate in Union Square
Work off your Santa-size breakfast nearby at Union Square’s seasonal pop-up ice skating rink. Locals and families in town for the holiday strap on white skates and take to the ice, amid Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue holiday-themed window displays and truck-size wreaths. Or, just grab a coffee at the square’s cafe, sit back and watch the hilarious show of tender-footed Californian’s trying to ice skate.
68. See the Reindeer Romp
Depart downtown’s Christmas cacophony and venture to the coast for a nature fix at the San Francisco Zoo. Each year, the zoo hosts a Reindeer Romp exhibit, featuring furry-horned Rudolphs. After a visit to the North Pole, check out animals from other corners of the globe, like lemurs, pandas, and lions in humane enclosures. Don’t overlook the zoo’s impressive garden.
69. Union Street Decorations
San Francisco doesn’t have a Christmas Day parade. Instead, it has Union Street—a stretch of grand pastel Victorians decorated with glowing strands of Christmas lights, wreaths, lawn candy canes poles, and windows dusted with fake snow. Start at Steiner and Union streets, then stroll down to Van Ness, gawking at the old time-y holiday feel along the way.
70. Kung Pao Kosher Comedy
If you’re not doing a traditional Christmas dinner, definitely book it to San Francisco’s quirkiest Christmas evening tradition: Kung Pao Kosher Comedy in Chinatown. A lineup of Jewish comedians entertain guests dining on pot stickers and kosher walnut prawns during the seven-course dim sum meal at the massive, 370-seat New Asia Restaurant in Chinatown. The evening concludes with everyone breaking upen fortune cookies containing Yiddish proverbs.
For Tokyo residents themselves, the Christmas holiday can be a bit of a letdown. There are no days off, no big family gatherings, no 12-course meals, and no bickering over board games or which TV programs to watch. Instead, it's business as usual, with shops and restaurants open, and little fanfare by way of season's greetings. But while Christmas is casually celebrated in Japan, there are still plenty of ways to capture a bit of the spirit. Here's what to do in Tokyo if you're in town.
71. Department Store Sales
Even though presents are rarely exchanged, department stores start rolling out winter sales in December, and there are loads of bargains to be had through December 25th. Prices drop by 10 percent to 30 percent, with bigger deals on offer during the New Year sales. This is a great chance to stock up on souvenirs and belated gifts for the folks back home.
72. Have a Date Night
Rather than a family event (which comes for the Japanese at the New Year), Christmas is seen as a romantic date night for couples. This means that the city's poshest restaurants are open and doing a brisk trade in candlelit, wine-soaked meals. Cranberry sauce and stuffing will be in short supply; if you're looking for a traditional meal, try Roti ($52 dinner buffet) or the Hobgoblin pub ($32 for three courses); reservations recommended.
Otherwise, try the Japanese take on Christmas dinner: a fried chicken bucket from KFC and a "Christmas cake" of strawberry shortcake with a Santa Claus decoration on top. Book early for the fried chicken: KFC is in such demand at this time that people reserve their takeout weeks in advance.
73. Take in the Lights
Something that Japan excels in at this time of year are its "illuminations," the native word for the elaborate holiday light displays that pop up all over the city. Omotesando and Marunouchi both make for an enchanted stroll, while Tokyo Midtown and Canyon D'Azur in Shiodome pull out all the stops with exciting shows.
The Roppongi Hills illumination also has a Christmas market with hot chocolate, mulled wine, German grilled sausages, and handmade ornaments (daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. for the month preceding Christmas); the same goes for Hibiya Park (daily from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the two weeks leading up to Christmas). It may not be the same as celebrating Santa, but it's equally enchanting.
If you find yourself in Toronto during the holiday season, fret not; there are a spate of options open to the public that you can enjoy should hotel or cabin fever hit. A Toronto Christmas can start with a good cup of steaming joe and move on to grabbing a pair of skates and hitting the ice—there's something for everyone during what crooner Andy Williams calls "the most wonderful time of the year."
74. Fuel the Day
A good cup of coffee is paramount to most Torontonians. Go ahead and make your wise cracks about this country's baffling love of Tim Horton's, but for the good stuff, check in with Manic Coffee on College Street at Bathurst for a perfectly pulled espresso (until 3 p.m.). Or grab a late breakfast at Bar Italia down the street, where a good frittata and eggs Florentine await.
75. Retail Therapy
If you're in the mood to pick up a few keepsakes or perhaps want to buy a little something for yourself, head north to Markham to get your fix of holiday retail therapy. You'll feel as though you've stepped into a downtown Hong Kong mall, when in fact you're at The Pacific Mall, North America's largest indoor Chinese mall. With its various high tech shops, Asian fashion stores, and food stalls (if it's open, check out Sun's Kitchen for the Northern Chinese, hand-pulled noodles), the vibe is Blade Runner meets Chinatown, with a little holly jolly thrown in.
76. The Great Outdoors
For a truly Canadian kind of holiday experience, lace up and hit the ice at one of the city's many skating rinks. Until 10 p.m., you can skate to your heart's content at the Colonel Sam Smith Skating Trail, the city's first outdoor trail, shaped in the form of a figure eight. Evergreen Brickworks also boasts an al fresco outdoor rink in the Don Valley, as does Nathan Phillips Square, right in front of City Hall (skate rentals on-site). Down by the waterfront, you can always count on the Natrel Rink at the Harbourfront Centre to provide some smooth ice and, on weekends, a live DJ to enhance the atmosphere.
77. Scenic Sightseeing
If you'd prefer to stick to snow boots over skates, take a walk through some of the city's historic neighborhoods. When it snows, they take on a peaceful, hushed tone, perfect weather for exploring. There's Roncesvalles or High Park in the west end, and in the center of the city, the Annex and Yorkville. The latter two are both close to the historic buildings adorning the University of Toronto campus. You might also want to traipse through The Beach on the east end, replete with a wide boardwalk, minus the palms.
78. Catch a Film
The TIFF Bell Light Box and other theaters across the city are open, which means that you'll have your pick of the seats and first-run films. Grab some popcorn and settle in.
79. Holiday Dining
When it's time to nosh, you've got a good selection at your disposal. Since most hotels will have at least one restaurant open to the public on Christmas Day, they're a sure bet. Head over to the Four Seasons' Cafe Boulud for French bistro fare with flair. The Thompson hotel's diner is open, serving up comfort food favorites like poutine and pastrami reubens, as is Mark McEwan's One Restaurant in tony Yorkville (Turkey dinner's on offer most Christmas days). If you're craving Japanese, College Street's Hapa Izakaya and Guu SakaBar are sure to fill the bill.
—Mary Luz Mejia
Christmas may be about gathering and celebrating family, but the festivities don't necessarily have to take place at home. A holiday vacation can strengthen the ties that bind, as well as open new horizons. You can spend a perfect Christmas Day in Vancouver by leaving the meals to the professionals and hitting the slopes for outdoor adventure.
80. Power Up
Treat the family to an upscale brunch at ARC restaurant, located at the Fairmont Waterfront hotel at Canada Place, with panoramic views of the water and mountains in Coal Harbour. The Happy Christmas Morning Buffet Brunch features a wide variety of offerings, including a cured and dried meat platter, omelets made with organic eggs, Fraser Valley roasted turkey, and British Columbia oysters.
81. Hit the Slopes
Vancouver is surrounded by mountains, and Grouse, fully operational on Christmas Day until 5 p.m., is only about 15 minutes from downtown. It's where NBC's "Today" show set up camp while broadcasting during the 2010 Winter Olympics. The top of Grouse is decorated to look like the North Pole as part of the "Peak of Christmas" holiday-long celebration. The ski season is already underway, and the mountain offers runs for all skill levels, from beginner to back-country. The most popular, and longest, run is "The Cut."
82. Snack and Sleigh Ride
Grouse's cafes and restaurants will be open on Christmas, which will be a welcome fallback after you work up an appetite on the slopes. You can take a break for coffee and a snack at the Grind Coffee Bar. After you've warmed up, it's well worth heading back out again for a holiday sleigh ride. These rides run every 20 minutes and follow a loop through alpine forest. If you'd like an even more festive touch, you can arrange to have hot cocoa during your trip.
83. Drinks and Dinner
For an après-ski aperitif, come back downtown and get comfortable at Market by Jean-Georges, a restaurant of celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten located at the Shangri-La Hotel. Order the Market Mochaccino, an original Christmas cocktail made with Jamaican black rum and chocolate mole bitters. With your appetite stimulated, savor a four-course Christmas dinner with the family, courtesy of Ken Nakano, Market's new executive chef, featuring heirloom tomato and burrata, seared Pacific scallops, roasted Rossdown Farms turkey, and the restaurant's candy cane cheesecake to finish.
84. Light Show
After dinner, take a stroll to view the city's impressive array of Christmas lights. You can see them at Stanley Park and Canada Place, but if you're looking for something more unique, check out the Trinity Street Christmas Light Festival, taking place on blocks 2400 through 2900. This annual residential light show has become so popular, visitors are encouraged to walk instead of drive to minimize road traffic. The bright displays of multi-colored lights and other Christmas decor, such as giant snowmen and candy canes, are inviting and entertaining for all.
Turn on DC's unofficial city carol—Maura Sullivan's corny Reagan-era "Christmas Eve in Washington"—and get ready to celebrate the holiday in the nation's capital. Here's our plan for doing it right.
85. Visit the National Christmas Tree
Winters around here are reliably mild, and this is the time to see the Mall at its most quiet. The National Christmas Tree has been lit in President's Park since 1923, and you can have this green space overlooking the White House all to yourself. Take a stroll and enjoy the scenery.
86. Skate at Washington Harbor
Christmas is the perfect time for a cup of hot cocoa and a pair of ice skates. Washington Harbor's rink, which sits next to the Potomac River in Georgetown, is one of the prettiest spots in the city, with columns and lights at your back, and water and trees to your front.
87. Experience an Early-American Christmas
While our first president's plantation of Mount Vernon is about 15 miles south of his namesake's city, it's worth the trip. (You definitely won't have to worry about traffic.) Washington's estate features a Christmas camel named Aladdin (in honor of another camel the president himself brought home one holiday), historical chocolate-making demonstrations, and tours of the mansion that explain how the First Couple and everyone on the plantation would have spent Christmas in their day.
88. Explore the National Cathedral
Originally conceived by Washington himself, the Gothic-style cathedral was only begun in 1907—and became the city's longest-running construction project. The finished product is magnificent, with all the grandeur of old world churches with some new touches thrown in (a Darth Vader gargoyle, a stained glass window celebrating the space program). Check out the Christmas Day Service of Lessons and Carols at 3 p.m., or the organ recital at 4:30 p.m.
89. Hear the All-Star Christmas Day Jazz Jam
90. View the Norwegian Model Train at Union Station
Since 1997, Norway has donated a Christmas tree and enormous model train display to the United States in gratitude for aid provided during and after World War II. The train, which takes up most of Union Station's West Hall, is marvelous: handmade versions of real Norwegian trains speed through a traditional Scandinavian landscape of snowy peaks, small towns, and icy fjords.
91. Eat at the Decanter at the St. Regis
The St. Regis, just two blocks from the White House, has played host to every U.S. President since Calvin Coolidge, who cut the ribbon on the building's opening day. Enjoy a dinner of steak, lobster, or lamb on the Decanter's $90 prix fixe Christmas Day dinner menu—a local institution.