It’s no secret that Christmas can be one of the most stressful times of the year. There are turkeys to bake and presents to wrap. And although New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places to spend a sunny Christmas, there are some spellbinding places around the world to get away from the hustle and bustle and into the true spirit of the festive season.
So if you are looking to escape the cheek-pinches of Aunt Mary this Christmas and jet off somewhere spectacular with the family, check out these top five spots for a magical Christmas.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
No Top Places to Spend a Magical Family Christmas list would be complete without a nod to New York.
Why would you want to sit at home watching Home Alone on TV for the hundredth time when you could experience the magic for yourself? Featured in countless Christmas movies since the beginning of time, New York City offers the most quintessential Christmas experience in the world. Many travellers will tell you, you ain’t seen Christmas until you’ve experienced one in New York, and they would be right.
As the big day draws closer, the city transforms into a luminescent winter wonderland complete with sidewalk Santas and flurries of snow that really do see Jack Frost nipping at your nose. From ice skating in Central Park, seeing the world-famous Christmas window displays of stores like Bloomingdales and Saks on Fifth Avenue or taking in a show at the Rockefeller Center, New York City offers one of the most memorable and magical Christmas family holidays you could ever experience.
The month of December in New York is jampacked with activities for the whole family to enjoy. You will be spoilt for choice as to which Christmas-themed adventure you want to try out next.
SANTA CLAUS, INDIANA
If you love Christmas you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere more in-tune with its festive spirit than the town of Santa Claus, Indiana.
This small midwestern township loves Christmas so much they celebrate it 24/7, 365 days a year. Each year the town receives thousands of letters from children with their Christmas wish-lists and each reply is dutifully handwritten by one of Santa’s volunteer elves, something that has been going on in the town since the mid-1930s.
The lake-side town is overflowing with festive cheer and during your stay you can visit the Santa Claus Museum, that explores the unique past of the historic town. Santa’s Candy Castle – home to a menagerie of confection and candy from the past and present – is another highlight. You can also drop Santa a line at the place where it all began – the Santa Claus Post Office. And of course the town also has its own Santa Claus Christmas Store, perfect for buying treasured Christmas keepsakes.
With winter well and truly in full-swing during Christmas, Santa Claus is also the perfect place to experience a “White Christmas.” As the nights draw in early the town puts on a spectacular music and light show as Santa’s Great Big LED Tree of Lights come to life in Kringle Place every night. There is also 1.9 kilometre drive known as the Land of Lights display.
The Christmas calender is jam-packed with events such as Christmas craft markets, chestnut roasting and even a dinner with Santa himself.
While Santa Claus, Indiana might be the Denny’s version of Christmas (big, bold and usually satisfying) Lapland is the place where the Big Day meets opulent luxury.
Despite the fact that legends – dating back to the 1820s – state that the North Pole is the REAL home of Santa and the ever faithful Ms Claus, the rosy-cheeked Finns have convinced the world that Lapland’s Rovaniemi, located just north of the Arctic Circle, is the true Head Quarters of all things Christmas.
When winter arrives in Lapland, the sun makes way for long, dark winter days and nights and with that the landscapes transform into a snow-filled wonderland of epic proportions. Lapland is at its darkest come Christmas, offering just a few hours of daylight, but it is also one of the most magical times to witness the resplendent Northern Lights dazzle in the night sky.
The Santa Claus Village is the base for all things Christmas in Lapland, here you can meet Santa, make traditional gingerbread cookies, enrol in Elf Taina’s ice skating school and get up close and personal with the world-famous reindeer. One of the most magical days in the Village is the 23rd of December, when Santa Claus departs on his journey to deliver presents to children all across the world – this glorious showcase includes dancing elves and Santa speeding off in his reindeer-pulled sleigh.
With plenty of amenities families can stay in the Santa Claus Village as part of a package, or take a day trip from your hotel in Rovaniemi’s city centre.
Those who’ve been checking out the top travel lists for 2016 may have noticed one place in particular that keeps appearing – Iceland. Those wanting to get the jump on the hipsters who are sure to flood the snowy outcrops of this beautiful country next year could do no better than spend Christmas in the city’s capital Reykjavik, named by CNN as one of the best places to spend Christmas.
Known for its incredible and untouched landscapes and warm and welcoming locals, Iceland is sure to provide an unforgettable holiday experience.
Leading up to Christmas is when the streets and towns of Reykjavik come to life. There are plenty of Christmas themed concerts, events and colourful markets to get you in the festive spirit. During the holiday period, Rekjavik’s Laugardalur Valley transforms into a Christmas wonderland – overflowing with lights and decorations.
In Laugardalur Valley you can pay a visit to the animals at the Reykjavik Family Park and Zoo or try your hand at ice-skating at the Skautaholl skating-rink, that sees you testing your skills around a gloriously decorated Christmas tree. Feel like getting away from the cold? You can enjoy a soothing dip in the Laugardalslaug thermal-pool, a perfect ending to a fun-filled day of Christmas-themed activities.
When it comes to Christmas Day itself, Iceland does it quite different. Instead of one Santa, the Icelandic have 13, known as “Yuletide Lads” or “scruffy Santas.” In keeping with tradition, the “Yuletide Lads” are said to come down to earth one-by-one for 13 days leading up to Christmas. When in Iceland, Look out for the shoes sitting on window ledges. Children put these out each night hoping for a gift from one of the Yuletide Lads, if they’ve been naughty, all they will be gifted is an old potato.
Another notable highlight of being in Reykjavik over Christmas is the sight of the Northern Lights, which add an otherworldly experience to the holidays.
If you are keen to spend a family holiday away from home this year, but your chill-factor doesn’t included hats, scarves and snow, then you should look no further than Paraty, Brazil’s hidden gem just half a day’s drive away from Rio’s colourful and people-lined streets. This enchanting Portuguese colonial city was once hailed as a “virtual museum in a tropical paradise” due to its stunning mix of natural wonders. In Paraty you will find white sand beaches and azure waters framed by historic architecture that saw the small town awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.
Paraty is known for its abundance of trendy bars, cafes and boutique shopping, its enchanting and unique architecture and history, its easily accessible rainforest, home to an abundance of wildlife, its pristine beaches and untouched islands that make up the marine park beside city, which can only be reached via boat.
But don’t let the relaxed nature of this city fool you – with a name like Paraty – they do know how to celebrate in style. Christmas is a time for joy and an invitation to let your hair down, The streets are adorned with flowers and lights and a warm and friendly atmosphere that will leave you wondering why you would ever want to spend Christmas at home again.