Top 15 Christmas Vacation Places
From Mexico to Malta and northern lights to sunny skies, these 15 destinations celebrate Christmas better than the rest:
Visiting presepju, or nativity scenes, is an integral part of Christmas in Malta. Every year, residents proudly open their shutters, and sometimes even their garage doors, to display their holy crib confections to the public.
Downtown Valletta is home to a lively Christmas spirit, with carolers singing outside the Baroque St. John's Co-Cathedral during Advent, and a dizzying display of Christmas lights on Republic Street.
A visit to the privately owned Malta Toy Museum, featuring dolls, soldiers, train sets, and clockwork tin trinkets dating as far back as the 1790s, is a heartwarming homage to childhood.
2. New York
Rockefeller Center lies at the core of the New York Christmas. Its famed ice rink has been around for 80 years; the decorated tree has been a holiday tradition since 1931
On the southwest corner of Central Park, Columbus Circle hosts more than 100 vendors selling clothes, gifts, snacks and drinks at the Holiday Market.
Fashion's biggest names join in the festivities, setting up impressive Christmas window displays. The most glamorous cases are at the Fifth Avenue flagships and department stores such as Saks and Bergdorf.
3. Bath, England
There are few cities in the world where you can celebrate the birth of Jesus and the birth of Jane Austen with the same amount of fanfare, but Bath, England, happens to be one of them.
The Jane Austen Centre -- and on-site Regency Tearoom -- is the best place to learn about the city's most famous resident. The Theatre Royal, which Austen mentions in "Northanger Abbey" and "Persuasion," has a varied program of holiday drama, musicals, opera and concerts.
The Bath Christmas Market has more than 170 wooden chalets selling distinctively British handmade crafts in a quaint Georgian setting. Straddled between the imposing Bath Abbey and the venerable Roman Baths, the market offers a festive way to discover the character of Bath, which is the only entire city in the UK to have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Thermae Bath Spa is the perfect reason to strip down and savor the steam emanating from the thermal mineral-rich waters of an open-air rooftop pool with spectacular views over the city.
4. Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona's Copa Nadal is a 200-meter swimming competition across the harbor on Christmas Day. Anyone who can manage to extend their Christmas holiday until Three King's Day (Monday, January 6, in 2020), can catch up with Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar in Barcelona.
On the evening of January 5, they arrive at the city's port on the Santa Eulalia -- their very own ship -- in bearded and velvet-robed splendor. Cannons are fired, fireworks are set off, and as the mayor hands them the keys to the city, the magic of the Magi officially commences.
They parade through the streets in a magnificent cavalcade of floats that includes camels, elephants, giraffes and dazzling costumes.
5. Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland
While legends dating as far back as the 1820s cite the North Pole as the official home of Santa Claus and his jolly missus, the Finns would have us believe otherwise. For them, Rovaniemi, Lapland, located just north of the Arctic Circle, is Christmas HQ.
Here, children make gingerbread cookies with Mrs. Claus, enroll in Elf School or take a calligraphy class and compose their Christmas wish lists with a traditional quill. There are even seasonal positions available as elf workers in Santa's post office.
You may also want to visit the Ranua Wildlife Park, home to baby polar bears, wolverines and moose. The Arktikum is a science center where the mystery of the northern lights is revealed.
Those in search of a truly frosty experience can stay in the Arctic Snow Hotel, made entirely of snow and ice, but equipped with saunas and hot tubs in which to thaw.
6. Nuremberg, Germany
The Nuremberg Christmas market (Nurnberger Christkindlesmarkt) is a German institution, pulling in more than 2 million visitors each year. Highlights include a giant carved wooden Ferris wheel, old-fashioned carousel and a steam train.
Nuremberg's Christmas Market Council is serious about making sure only traditional handmade toys and holiday goods are sold. No mass-produced plastic garlands here.
The market's 200 select vendors also put up fantastic displays as they compete for the Most Beautiful Stall Design award. The top three walk away with a gold, silver or bronze "Plum People" awards.
Adults can enjoy Nuremberg spicy gingerbread and mugs of mulled wine. For kids, there's the Toy Museum.
7. Honolulu, Hawaii
Santa Claus dons his beach wear for the Christmas celebrations in Hawaii. What the Aloha State lacks in snow it more than makes up for in festive vibes of peace and goodwill.
The celebrations center around Honolulu City Lights, a monthlong Christmas display with an opening parade, live music and a 15-meter Christmas tree.
At 6 meters tall (almost 20 feet) Shaka Santa -- Mr. Claus dressed down in red shorts and open shirt -- takes pride of place downtown, seated next to his mu'umu'u-wearing wife, Tutu Mele.
8. Quebec City, Canada
A haven for environmentally friendly, outdoor enthusiasts, Quebec bustles with winter activity, offering holiday programs for all tastes. Old Quebec is turned into a picturesque Christmas village. Sausage and roast chestnut lovers can browse the wares at the German Christmas market.
The more religiously inclined can wander an exposition of nativity scenes from around the world. The nearby Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix offers family-friendly hiking, snowshoeing and skiing. And when Christmas is over, there's Quebec Winter Carnival from February 7 to 16, 2020.
9. Reykjavik, Iceland
When it comes to Christmas celebrations, Iceland has a few peculiarities. Among these, 13 "Yuletide Lads" (scruffy Santas) are said to bring gifts to nice children for the 13 nights leading to Christmas.
Rows of small, beautiful huts make up the Yule Town Christmas market on Ingolfstorg square in downtown Reykjavík. Here, visitors can pick up colorful Christmas gifts, decorations and treats. The shopping differs day to day as some craftsmen and designers set up stalls for only one day.
Beaming down onto a city covered in snow and Christmas lights, northern lights displays add to Reykjavik's festival feel.
10. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Pinatas, posadas and ponche sum up the festivities in this colorful Mexican city, where Christmas is both a solemn and celebratory affair. Leading up to December 24, visitors are likely to stumble upon Mary and Joseph strolling the streets, as locals make pilgrimages from home to home, singing to "ask for posada" or "beg for shelter" as they re-enact the journey to Bethlehem.
Pinatas and ponche (a mulled fruit drink) cap a long evening of peregrinations around this cobblestoned city, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its wealth of grand churches, well-preserved architecture and grand zocalos.
11. Salzburg and Oberndorf, Austria
Birthplace of Mozart and filming location for "The Sound of Music," Salzburg is chocolate-box perfect. Think snow-capped mountains, Baroque architecture and traditional Christmas markets.
It's even the home of "Silent Night." The popular hymn was performed for the first time in nearby Oberndorf on Christmas Eve 1918. The town also plays host to a more unusual Yuletide tradition. Across Austria and Bavaria, in December people dress up as terrifying Alpine beasts known as krampuses and rampage through the streets in search of naughty children in need of punishment.
12. Santa Claus, Indiana
Christmas is a year-round occasion in this town of fewer than 3,000 residents. Santa Claus, Indiana, gets thousands of letters a year from children trying to reach St. Nick himself. A group of volunteers called Santa's Elves was set up in the mid-1930s to reply to each letter.
The Land of Lights display is a 1.2-mile drive around the Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort.
Among various Christmas-themed events, Santa hosts buffet dinners at Santa's Lodge the first three weekends in December.
13. Strasbourg, France
Get both French and German flavors of Christmas in this border city that feels the influences of both cultures. Strasbourg's series of themed Christmas villages morph the city into a visual and gastronomic wonderland. Some 300 stalls are spread out more than 10 locations.
Alongside the traditional market, there's the OFF alternative Christmas fair, featuring live music and a street art trail.
14. Queenstown, New Zealand
The traditional Christmas colors of red, green and white take on an entirely new meaning in New Zealand, where red represents the "pohutukawa" (New Zealand's ruby-red flowering Christmas tree), white represents the pristine sandy beaches, and green? The kiwi, of course!
Sun-lovers who want to join Santa in his surf shorts should definitely head to Queenstown, where warm summer temperatures mean folks can jetboat, river surf or paraglide on Lake Wakatipu, or simply set up camp along the lakefront and enjoy a hearty Christmas meal of lamb, seafood and chicken on the barbie.
15. Valkenburg, The Netherlands
This small town is the Dutch center for Christmas festivities. Valkenburg's Velvet Cave is transformed into a Christmas Market and the residence of Santa, where visitors can see his room of presents and reindeer sleigh.
The cavern houses sculptures and an 18th-century chapel, as well as preserved mural drawings that date to Roman times. Gifts, luxuries, culinary treats and traditional crafts can be found at Valkenburg's Christmas market.
Best way to reach the Christmas town? A Christmas Express train that runs regularly between Simpelveld and Valkenburg.