Romantic Christmas Getaways
Regardless of what you celebrate, you can't argue that romance has seeped into the very fabric of the holiday season. Consider Mariah Carey’s instant classic “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” or all two hours and sixteen minutes of Love Actually. Washington Irving, of “Sleepy Hollow” fame, wrote in 1820 that young men endeavored to kiss their sweethearts once for every berry on a hung-up bough of mistletoe. Christmas, it seems, is competing with Valentine's Day for the most romantic holiday.
With all its trappings, who wouldn’t want to take a romantic Christmas getaway? Snug sleigh rides, crackling fires, warm drinks, gift giving, mistletoe, matching Christmas sweaters—the list is seemingly endless.
Whether you are humming along to “Mele Kalikimaka” or “Feliz Navidad,” there’s romance to be had all over the world; and right in your backyard. And it's not all pine trees and snowflakes, either (though that's certainly an option). From the dazzling Gilded Age decorations of Biltmore in Asheville’s Blue Ridge Mountains to the modern department store windows on New York’s Fifth Avenue, the jubilant crowds of St. Peter’s Square in Rome and the sunny beaches of South Africa, there’s a perfect getaway here for every couple. Cozy up—it is, after all, cold outside.
What to see: The German-speaking swath of Europe is famous for its Christmas markets, and Vienna—where the legacy of “December markets” stretches back all the way to 1294—is no exception. Explore the Belvedere Palace Christmas Village for a taste of Christmas baroque.
Where to stay: Located in the heart of Spittelberg, the Sans Souci Wien Hotel’s sixty-three rooms occupy a gracious 1874 building. New owners remodeled in 2010, and the result is a boutique hotel with an emphasis on design. Don’t miss the original artwork: paintings by Roy Lichtenstein, Allen Jones, and Steve Kaufman hang throughout.
What to eat: Viennese coffee house culture was officially recognized by UNESCO in 2011 as part of Austria's “Intangible Cultural Heritage.” Partake in that tradition, and maybe a slice of apple strudel too, at Café Hofburg inside the Imperial Palace.
Asheville, North Carolina
What to see: Built by George Vanderbilt in 1895 with his immense railroad inheritance, the Biltmore House is the ultimate Gilded Age palace. Reserve a spot on the Candlelight Christmas Evening tour for an extra-romantic look at the illuminated residence (and its gorgeous holiday decorations). Linger in the Winter Garden for live music throughout the evening.
Where to stay: Most convenient to visiting Biltmore is the Inn on Biltmore Estate, which runs shuttles to and from the house and the hotel. The Inn is also decorated to the nines, with cider and cookies and sometimes even carolers to be found in the lobby.
What to eat: If you like essence of hunting lodge, dine at the Red Stag Grill, located in nearby Biltmore Village.
Cape Town, South Africa
What to see: In South Africa, Christmas means summertime. Break out the bathing suit and slather on the sunscreen. Take a breather from the beach with a hike (or cable ride) up Table Mountain, and don’t forget to book a trip to the World Heritage Site, Robben Island.
Where to stay: A short drive outside the city is Tintswalo Atlantic, located at the beachside base of Table Mountain. It's a wild—and luxurious—alternative to downtown’s often crowded hotels.
What to eat: Located in Cape Town’s oldest township, Mzansi Restaurant welcomes visitors from across the world to sample foods from across the continent (there's live music, too).
Isle of Skye, Scotland
What to see: The largest of Scotland’s Hebrides Islands, and the only one accessible by bridge, the Isle of Skye looks like something out of a fantasy novel—so much so that it's been used as a setting for many film adaptations of them. Explore the island’s wild beauty with hikes up to the Old Man of Storr, or through the Faerie Glen. Afterward, grab a nip of the only single malt Scotch made in the Hebrides (and take the very informative tour) at the Talisker Distillery.
Where to stay: The 17th century hunting headquarters of Lord and Lady Macdonald (and still owned by the family), Kinloch Lodge now hosts guests in a lovingly appointed historic building in a region called “the Garden of Skye.” With its Michelin star restaurant (easily the best food on the island), make sure you get dinner and breakfast here, too.
What to eat: Pair your Talisker tour with a stop at the open-air Isle of Skye Oysters, plan lunch around a plate of langostines carried straight from the boat to Portree’s Sea Breezes, and pack a lunch with some baked goodies from the Skye Pie Café.
Kaikoura, New Zealand
What to see: In Maori, the name Kaikoura comes from the words for food and crayfish. But it’s not just the shellfish that attracts visitors to this dramatic slip of land between ocean and mountain—it’s a beautifu place perfect for seeing seals, whales, and dolphins.
Where to stay: Nestled amid the canopy of a Manuka grove, the high-design treehouses of Hapuku Lodge & Tree Houses peek through leaves out at the Kaikoura mountains and the bay below.
What to eat: With an emphasis on seasonal and locally available ingredients, the Green Dolphin Restaurant + Bar offers up delicious renditions of Kaikoura’s local crayfish catch.
What to see: Kauai, the “garden island,” offers both local charm and spectacular landscapes. Local parades, like Waimea’s annual “Lighted Christmas Parade” or Lihue’s “Lights on Rice Parade” (named after the parade route), offer up lots of small town Christmas cheer.
Where to stay: A truly grand resort, the Grabnd Hyatt Kauai sprawls across 50 acres of flower-ornamented and palm-shaded oceanfront. Starting in late November, the hotel also hosts a Holiday Craft Fair featuring local artisans.
What to eat: The brainchild of Kauai-native Matthew Oliver, Maka Sushi serves up inventive bowls alongside its sushi rolls inside a Koala grocery store. Try the Gorilla Ahi Bowl, a cousin to poke, which features tuna, ono (a whitefish), salmon, cucumber, avocado, and sweet Maui onion in an unforgettable sauce.
What to see: Mix old standbys with sights just off the beaten track. For museums, try the smaller, but thoroughly charming Grant Museum of Zoology (to scratch your Victorian skeleton itch), the Sir John Soane’s Museum (to peruse an architect’s motley home and personal collection), and the Courtauld Gallery (to browse first class art with considerably less crowds).
Where to stay: The Dorchester, which sits on the edge of Hyde Park in fashionable Mayfair, has been an icon since its opening in 1931. It’s hosted writers like Somerset Maugham, actors Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and monarchs such as Queen Elizabeth II. Come Christmastime, guests can marvel at the intricate replica gingerbread house in the promenade.
What to eat: The delicious Duck & Waffle, located on the 40th floor of the 110 Bishopsgate skyscraper, is open a miraculous 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The ride up, on an exterior glass elevator, is just as enjoyable as the meal.
New Orleans, Louisiana
What to see: The historically minded nonprofit Save Our Cemeteries has the best tours in town. Spend an evening wandering down Frenchmen Street, putting your ears up to each venue’s open door: you’ll find the groove that best suits you.
Where to stay: Order a Sazerac (and spend the night) at the Grand Dame at the Hotel Montelone. Expect antique furniture, gilded mirrors, and plenty of Beaux Arts charm.
What to eat: What not to eat? You already know about Café du Monde and Commander’s Palace. We also love the oyster-oriented happy hour at Lüke and the playful (if not cheap) “Champagne and Fries” at New American gem Sylvain.
New York City, New York
What to see: The schlep is worth it: head uptown to the Cloisters for a truly transportive (and pretty magical) Christmas experience. In the evening, strap on your skates at Bryant Park’s free rink and stroll the booths for quirky Christmas presents.
Where to stay: Arguably the coolest hotel in New York, The Standard is also ideally situated for a wintery stroll alone the High Line, an afternoon at the Whitney, or a pick-and-choose meal at Chelsea Market.
What to eat: Whether you opt for the more informal tavern or the white tablecloths in the dining room, Gramercy Tavern still delivers on both food as well as atmosphere. And to keep warm on a frosty night, stop by Serendipity 3 for one of their signature hot chocolates.
Quebec City, Canada
What to see: Quebec’s capital city famously evokes its European counterparts, and perhaps never more so than at Christmastime. Explore the light-strung (and likely snow-filled), cobblestone streets of Old Quebec: Rue du Petit-Champlain and Place-Royale are great places to begin.
Where to stay: The most photographed hotel in the world, and Quebec City’s most iconic building, the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac recently underwent a multimillion dollar renovation. What hasn't changed? The perfect views of the St. Lawrence River.
What to eat: The reservation-only, nine-table bistro iX pour promises an intimate take on French cuisine.
What to see: Giant Christmas trees dominate outside the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, and Piazza Venezia, and nativity scenes fill up Rome’s many churches during the holidays. St. Peter’s Square boasts a particularly spectacular nativity. Explore Santa Maria del Popolo's quirky “100 Presepi” exhibit, which displays crèches from across the world.
Where to stay: The streamlined Portrait Rome offers modern but luxurious digs in sight of the Spanish Steps. The Villa Spalletti Trivelli welcomes guests into a historic (and still family-owned) home on Quirinal Hill.
What to eat: No visit to Rome is complete without a stroll through Trastevere, and Dar Poeta’s sourdough pizzas are a great excuse to get you there. For a taste of Roman local life, head to the low-key I Buoni Amici (Via Aleardo Aleardi, 4).
What to see: Dunton is part mineral hot springs, part restored 19th-century ghost town, and part luxury resort all in one. Make use of the spectacular landscape by signing up for the all-inclusive cross-country skiing, ice climbing, ice skating, snowshoeing, and more.
Where to stay: Surrounded by mountains and meadows, Dunton Hot Springs Resort is especially stunning when it snows. This former 1885 mining camp, made up of 13 beautifully remodeled cabins, surrounds a central saloon where meals are served and a pool table awaits. Best of all? There’s no cell phone service, making things extra intimate.
What to eat: Executive Chef Karlos Baca puts together elaborate take-away picnics as well as luxurious dinners.
What to see: This well-preserved colonial city in southern Mexico is the perfect backdrop for two special Christmas traditions: the open-air festivities of Villa Iluminada, in the nearby town of Atlixco (just 20 minutes away), and the nine-days of posadas, or processions, reenacting Mary and Joseph’s search for an inn in Bethlehem. Peek inside the Templo de Santo Domingo to see the golden opulence of the Capilla del Rosario, also known as Rosary Chapel.
Where to stay: The centrally located Menson Sacristia de la Soledad houses an antique store, a restaurant and guests within the boldly colored, historic facade.
What to eat: Specializing in an upscale take on cemitas (a kind of sandwich), Moyuelo also has a great list of mezcal-based cocktails.