Top Ten Destinations for Christmas Vacation

Whatever your fancy for a Christmas getaway, we offer ten equally diverse destinations to celebrate the holiday season in style.
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Christmas Market in front of Old Town Hall in Leipzig, Germany
Christmas Market in front of Old Town Hall in Leipzig, Germany  (Joachim Messerschmidt/German National Tourism Office)

Whether you crave a traditional white Christmas or a white-sand Christmas—a chance to shop, sup, and sip; snorkel, sled, or ski; or soak up a distinct culture very different from your own—many destinations offer an unforgettable Christmas holiday you'll savor for years to come. Here is our list of ten equally extraordinary places to celebrate Christmas, whatever your style may be.

10. New Orleans, Louisiana
Caroling by candlelight in front of St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square; free jazz, gospel, and classical concerts inside the cathedral; free cooking demonstrations by top chefs; four- and five-course Reveillon menus at many restaurants—a Creole custom once served Christmas Eve after midnight Mass to break a day-long fast—and "teddy bear teas": the Mardi Gras joie de vivre can be found here every day in December. Stroll the French Quarter, where the lacy iron balconies of pastel 19th-century homes are draped in greenery and lights. Shop Magazine Street, a 60-block stretch of shops and restaurants in quaint gingerbread cottages. Or admire the Southern-style mansions of the Garden District by streetcar. Rejoice that many hotels start at $99. In plantation country nearby, watch nightly bonfires along the Mississippi River help light the way for Papa Noel, to the tune of toe-tapping Cajun music.

9. Germany
Sniff the heady aroma of gluhwein (hot mulled wine), spicy gingerbread, roasted nuts, and grilled bratwurst in the frosty air, and browse the garland-strewn stalls selling handicrafts, tree ornaments, wooden toys, and scarves, surrounded by thousands of lights. You're at one of 2,500-plus Christmas markets held throughout Germany in December. Most end Christmas Eve, the majority are held in the town's main square, and regional variations prevail. In the north, Bremen has a medieval-themed torchlit riverside market, plus another one in the main square, while Lubeck has a market depicting Grimm's fairy tale scenes and a market featuring artisans from nearby Scandinavia and the Baltic in the magnificently-frescoed Hospital of the Holy Ghost. Picturesque Bavarian towns like Rothenburg, Dinkelsbuhl, and Bad Tolz that look storybook-like enough year-round become positively magical in Christmas season. Indoor and outdoor concerts and festively-decorated evergreens abound: Germany, after all, is where the tree-trimming tradition began.

8. San Antonio, Texas
The always-festive River Walk—festooned with more than 122,000 colored lights and 6,000 luminarias (candle-filled paper bags) at Christmastime—glitters with art installations like oversized fiberglass fish suspended over the river. A river barge is a scenic way to experience the River Walk, which seems to add more shops, restaurant, and other attractions each year. Shop for colorful folk art and crafts in La Villita, the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, and outstanding museums like the McNay, San Antonio Museum of Art, and the Museo Alameda, a Smithsonian-affiliate Hispanic museum.

7. Quebec City, Canada
The walled old town of mansard roofs and stone buildings; the Quartier Petit Champlain, where a cobblestone street is lined by specialty shops and evergreens adorned with lights; the castle-like clifftop Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac hotel that looms over all; and francais heard everywhere: It's France minus the jet lag. A snowy white Christmas is guaranteed. Nearby is dog-sledding, Nordic spas, and an Ice Hotel, perfect for cuddling with your honey.

6. Puebla, Mexico
This beautiful Colonial city of vivid primary colors is just two hours by bus from busy Mexico City. It's home to many Mexican delights, such as mole—the spicy chocolate sauce flavored with chili peppers, cinnamon, and fruit; chiles en nogada, a wondrous concoction of a chili stuffed with meat in a nut cream sauce that's Mexico's national dish; and talavera, hand-painted ceramic pottery and tiles. Take a cooking class at Meson Sacristia de la Compania, a hotel that's hot-pink-and-purple interior is filled with antiques for sale, and is one of five boutique hotels in 16th- through 18th-century mansions called Tesoros de Puebla in the UNESCO-designated historic center. Watch Las Posadas, night processions re-enacting the search of Mary and Joseph for shelter downtown and in neighborhoods in Puebla.

Published: 7 Dec 2009 | Last Updated: 14 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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