Jingle bell time! Cities that do Christmas best

Last Updated:

Are you ready to be swaddled in the warm embrace of Christmas cheer? Since the calendars turned to November, we certainly have.

And we think it’s a noble task to share our excitement for the holiday. Across the globe, cities deck their streets with more than just boughs of holly, and basically, the Northern Hemisphere turns into a winter wonderland. Whether it's in the snow-dusted lanes of Quebec, along the illuminated boulevards of Paris, amidst the high-tech dazzle of Tokyo, or within the multicultural spectacle of Sydney, these cities have Christmas traditions that transcend the typical. So, what are you waiting for? Hop onto the Headout sleigh to ride through the places that sparkle a bit brighter during the holiday season and remind us all – life is truly a festival, waiting to be celebrated.

Vienna, Austria

Where & why: Vienna, the city where Christmas markets scent the air with gingerbread and sound like jingling bells. With traditions dating back to the 13th century, Christmas here is steeped in history and charm. Embrace the frosty air as you wander through the imperial city and its timeless Christmas tale.

Christmas must-do: Walk through the Rathausplatz Christmas market, a twinkling fairyland that has been lighting up faces for generations. It's where you should take many, many pictures for Instagram and memories.

Unique traditions: Sip on Weihnachtspunsch and let the choirs fill your soul with carols.

Headout recommends: Schönbrunn Palace: Mozart & Strauss Concert and Christmas Market

Rathausplatz Christmas Market

Nuremberg, Germany

Where & why: Nuremberg, where Christmas is more than a season – is a wonderful place to be this time of the year. Home to one of the oldest Christmas markets, Christkindlesmarkt has been around since the 16th century. Don't forget to eat Lebkuchen, the local gingerbread, and let every bite be a reminder of that you should get extra to enjoy later!

Christmas must-do: Let the aroma of roasted almonds lead you through a maze of festive stalls across the city. If you are counting calories, don't.

Unique traditions: Meet the Christkind, the city’s angelic Christmas ambassador.

Headout recommends: Skip over to the Neuschwanstein Castle closer to Munich when in Germany.

Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg

New York City, USA

Where & why: New York City, the dazzling urban snow globe where Christmas dreams are made. From the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, NYC’s Christmas is as iconic as the city itself.

Christmas must-do: Skate beneath the stars at Central Park, with the city skyline towering like a page from a storybook. Or experience the electric buzz of Times Square and let the spirit of the city infuse your Christmas with an indomitable energy.

Unique traditions: Go Christmas shopping and witness the magic of the window displays, where art and holiday spirit dance in a visual feast. It's just like in the movies, so anything you have seen on Netflix, you go right ahead and do!

Headout recommends: Get tickets to the iconic Rockettes, the Christmas Spectacular show

New York Christmas

Lapland, Finland

Where & why: Lapland, the heartland of Christmas lore, where reindeer roam and Northern Lights dance. In this arctic haven, Christmas isn't just celebrated; it's lived, with Santa Claus himself holding court.

Christmas must-do: Embark on a sleigh ride across the Tundra, under a drama of aurora borealis.

Unique traditions: Send a postcard from Santa’s official post office and savor the pure joy of the season.

Headout recommends: You have to visit Santa’s village and meet him at Rovaniemi , where he has lived for centuries!

Santa Claus Village in Lapland

Strasbourg, France

Where & why: Strasbourg, the 'Capital of Christmas' in the heart of Alsace. This city's Christmas market tradition dates back to 1570, capturing centuries of festive cheer.

Christmas must-do: Explore the Christkindelsmärik, where the fusion of French and German cultures creates a unique holiday experience.

Unique traditions: Taste the local Vin Chaud and marvel at the Great Christmas Tree, a beacon of the season's joy.

Christmas in Strasbourg, France

Tokyo, Japan

Where & why: Tokyo, where Christmas lights meet neon in a high-tech winter fantasy. While Christmas isn't a national holiday in Japan, Tokyo embraces it with a dazzling display of lights, known as "illumination".

Christmas must-do: Check out the Tokyo Midtown Christmas illumination, a spectacle that combines technology with tradition. Head to Tokyo Christmas Market in Hibiya Park or the one at Roppongi Hills. Interestingly, Christmas Eve is considered the most romantic day of the year and is Japan's version of Valentine’s Day.

Unique traditions: With no real religious context, Japan has its own quirky celebration that includes eating fried chicken — with KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), and strawberry shortcake!

Headout recommends: Admire the glitz of the city from Tokyo City and make time to go see Mt Fuji .

Christmas in Tokyo

Quebec City, Canada

Where & why: Quebec City, a snow-globe town that embodies the winter spirit of North America. With its European charm, Quebec brings a touch of the Old World to the New with its festive celebrations.

Christmas must-do: Eat, drink and be merry at the Christmas Markets decorated with decorations that whisper tales of yore.

Unique traditions: Embrace the chill and join the locals in tobogganing near the iconic Château Frontenac. Wrap up warm and meander through the Petit-Champlain district, where fairy lights meet heritage.

Quebec Christmas Market

Reykjavik, Iceland

Where & why: Reykjavik, the northernmost capital, where Christmas glows with ethereal light, quite literally, it’s all about ancient Norse traditions that blend seamlessly with modern festivities.

Christmas must-do: Join the festivities in the Christmas Village in Hafnarfjörður and the Yule Town Christmas market.

Unique traditions: Get to know the thirteen Yule Lads, Iceland's mischievous Santa figures.

Headout recommends: No trip to Reykjavik is complete without seeing the Northern Lights and the Golden Circle.

Reykjavik Christmas

Edinburgh, Scotland

Where & why:Edinburgh, where Scottish heritage and holiday merriment unite under the winter sky, expect very local traditions to dominate here. Plus, there is always good whiskey to count on.

Christmas must-do: The Edinburgh Christmas Market, a blend of artisan goods and festive treats under the watchful eye of Edinburgh Castle.

Unique traditions: Join the Torchlight Procession, a river of fire that winds through the city's ancient streets. Sample the local flavors of mulled Irn Bru and whiskey-infused warmers as you soak in the city's medieval charm.

Headout recommends: Wander through Edinburgh Castle, look for the fabled monster at Loch Ness, and peek inside the home of the King of England at Palace Of Holyroodhouse.

Grand Canyon National Park

Prague, Czech Republic

Where & why: Prague, the fairy-tale city that celebrates Christmas with an old-world elegance, where Christmas markets are a tradition and each street tells a new story, it's not a question of why, but why not!

Christmas must-do: The Old Town Square market, where the scent of hot Trdelník pastries will lead you from across the city. Soak in the cold air and the Gothic architecture which forms a stunning backdrop.

Unique traditions: Attend the delightful Czech Christmas Mass, a serene musical experience.

Headout recommends: Cruise down the Vltava river to get a glimpse of all the Christmas lights and also take a guided tour of the spectacular Prague Castle.

Grand Canyon National Park

Salzburg, Austria

Where & why: Salzburg, where baroque architecture meets the sound of music and Christmas joy. Home to "Silent Night", this city's Christmas carols are a tribute to its musical roots.

Christmas must-do:Visit the Salzburger Christkindlmarkt. You must know that Salzburg Christkindlmarkt is among the best Christmas markets in Europe, so don't miss out on the beautifully crafted ornaments and traditional Austrian gifts that the stalls offer.

Unique traditions:On December 6, right around Saint Nicholas' Day, Salzburg lights up with Krampus and Perchten parades. Locals (and you) will don hand-carved wooden masks, shaggy pelts, and heavy bells, embodying wild figures that are traditionally believed to ward off the dark spirits of winter.

Headout recommends: Oh, it goes without saying! The Sound of Music tour is an absolute must-do! Also don’t miss the Mirabell Palace. It’s gorgeous.

Salzburg Christmas Market

Sydney, Australia

Where & why: At Sydney too, Christmas shines bright under the Southern Cross. Embrace the shorts and ditch the sweaters in a place that turns traditional Christmas on its head!

Christmas must-do: Marvel at the Christmas light displays at the Sydney Opera House and join the sun-loving crowds at Bondi Beach for a different kind of white Christmas. Take a festive harbor cruise and sing carols under the stars at the Domain.

Unique traditions: Celebrate with a festive 'Chrissie BBQ' and beach cricket, Australian Yuletide at its finest.

Headout recommends: The harbour cruise is worth it, as is a trip to the Sydney Opera House. But you’d do that any time of the year, right?

Christmas in Sydney


Where & why: A melting pot of cultures, Singapore's Christmas is as diverse as its people, with a relatively recent but vibrant tradition of celebration.

Christmas must-do: Orchard Road is the place to be. Lit up end to end, with Christmas trees lining its sidewalks, and malls bustling with holidaymakers, locals (and discounts!), the shopping boulevard turns into a glittering canvas of festive spirit.

Unique traditions: Experience the Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay, where tropical blooms meet winter wonder. It is a holiday with a twist as you enjoy open-air night markets and tropical Christmas feasts.

Headout recommends: Like we said, Gardens by the Bay is a must-do! Treat yourself and the family to a Christmas special at Universal Studios too.

Gardens by the bay= Singapore during Christmas

Paris, France

Where & why: Over in the City of Lights and Love, boulevards and bistros brims with festive romance. You cannot go wrong with Christmas in Paris where elegance meets timeless tradition, from Notre-Dame to the Champs-Élysées.

Christmas must-do: Stroll through the Christmas markets at Les Halles or along the Seine, where the Eiffel Tower sparkles a little brighter with holiday cheer.

Unique traditions: Indulge in a 'réveillon', the traditional French Christmas Eve feast, known for its decadence and delight. Traditionally, the Christmas meal begins with oysters, foie gras, smoked salmon and the customary white pudding. The main course usually features the quintessential Christmas turkey. For dessert, the ceremonial Yule log takes precedence, while in Provence, the Thirteen Desserts are served in honor of Jesus and his twelve apostles.

Headout recommends: Obviously the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and Disneyland, but make sure you do a day trip to Versailles and Mont St Michel (here, apparently over 7 kilometers of lightbulbs are put up on the island and abbey walls!

Christmas in Paris

Rome, Italy

Where & why: In Rome, the Eternal City, Christmas traditions are as ancient as the city itself, intertwining with centuries of history and the heart of the Catholic faith.

Christmas must-do: Quite literally gawk at the grandeur of the Vatican Christmas tree and the life-size Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square. If you are religious, join Midnight Mass at St. Peter's Basilica. Then indulge in Italian Christmas sweets like 'panettone' and 'torrone', and don't miss the 'zampognari', traditional bagpipers that fill the air with festive music.

Unique traditions: Head to the 'Piazza Navona' Christmas Market, set in one of Rome's most iconic squares, surrounded by Bernini's fountains and Baroque palazzos.

Headout recommends: Of course, the Vatican but in true spirit of celebration, a pub crawl in Rome is a must!

Christmas in Rome

Stockholm, Sweden

Where & why: Stockholm, the Venice of the North, aglow with Scandinavian Christmas spirit is where the festive season is as cozy as it is luminous, thanks to the Swedish love of 'julmys' (Christmas coziness).

Christmas must-do: Explore the Christmas market in Gamla Stan, Stockholm's old town, where history meets holiday cheer. Make sure to Glide across the ice in Kungsträdgården or bask in the warm glow of a 'julgran', the Swedish Christmas tree. When gliding, wear thick trousers or you bottom will be in trouble from your falls!

Unique traditions:Enjoy a traditional 'julbord', a Christmas smorgasbord that's a feast for the senses. A traditional buffet-style meal, it is centered around bread, butter and cheese.

Christmas in Stockholm

Copenhagen, Denmark

Where & why:Copenhagen, the heart of 'hygge', Christmas is synonymous with coziness and communal joy. Christmas markets and Tivoli Gardens’ festive transformation are awaited all year.

Christmas must-do: Make sure to cruise the canals to see the reflection of Christmas lights on the water

Unique traditions: Indulge in Danish 'julefrokost', a Christmas lunch that's a convivial culinary tradition.

Headout recommends: Spice up your holiday with a murder mystery hunt around the Amalienborg Palace. It’s a great way to discover the city while playing detective.

Christmas Lights in Copenhagen, Denmark

Cape Town, South Africa

Where & why: Here Christmas comes with warmth, sun-kissed beaches and festive cheer that only Cape Town can offer. It is a vibrant mix of cultures, celebrated with beach barbecues and midnight masses.

Christmas must-do: Experience the festive lights on Adderley Street and the Cape Town Carols at Kirstenbosch.

Unique traditions: Partake in the Mother City's 'festive braai', a South African barbecue that's a Christmas staple.

Christmas in Cape Town