1. Skate and stroll through the Big Apple
Home Christmas at its most iconic, New York is the perfect place for anyone looking for a classic holiday feeling. First stop: the Rockefeller Center ice rink. Lace up your skates and get ready to glide (and maybe topple over once or twice). Ice skating is the perfect activity for friends and family. It’s also a meet-cute waiting to happen, so it wouldn’t hurt to be ready for anything.
After you’ve perfected your triple axel, head to the famous Radio City Music Hall. There, you’ll catch the Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular, a show that’s been broadcast across the United States since the 1930s. Top your classic holiday experience off with a stroll through snowy Central Park. Or, opt for some last-minute shopping at FAO Schwarz, the toy store of all toy stores. And if you’re in NYC for til the end of the year, stick around for New Year’s Eve so you can enjoy the Times Square Ball Drop in person.
2. Sip mulled wine at Chicago‘s Christkindlmarkt
If you’re in the Windy City over the holidays, you’re in luck. Besides having the excuse to chow down on the city’s delicious deep dish for any and all meals, there’s no shortage of festive activities. Take the Chicago Christkindlmarkt, for example. This German-style outdoor market got started in the late 90s as part of an effort to join transatlantic cultures, and it really took off. Over 20 years later, the winter market is still going strong. It’s a great place to enjoy diverse holiday entertainment, not to mention glühwein (mulled wine). Once you’ve recharged your batteries, head to Macy’s. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the famous season window display — and pick up some last-minute presents.
3. Explore London’s sights (and lights)
Shorter days are actually a perk when there’s so much festive lighting to be seen after dark in London’s city center. Themed displays and glowing productions can be enjoyed on a nighttime stroll, open-top bus ride, or a bike ride. The pinnacle of these can be found at the Southbank Centre Winter Festival, which starts on November 8 and continues into the new year.
Aside from the usual holiday programs like musicals and puppet theaters, this year will also see international guests Martha and Rufus Wainwright drop in for some seasonal singing. After you’ve explored the Winter Festival, consider joining a local Londoner on a tour through the city’s top Christmas markets. This magical 2-hour walking tour will take you from Covent Garden to the South Bank. The icing on top of the cake? You’ll learn all about Ebenezer Scrooge and sit down for a mince pie and a pint at one of Charles Dickens’ favorite pubs.
4. Have fun with the whole family in Paris
Although the average temperatures during the holiday season tend to peak at 46°F, the huge number of things to do in Paris will keep you moving and warm. For the best Instagram opportunities, you can’t miss the Champs Elysées. This scenic stretch features incredible lighting displays every year and this year is no different — design wizards Blachère have created an exciting masterpiece in red that will be unveiled on November 20.
For a family-friendly dose of winter magic, this holiday lights and Christmas market tour will take you and yours through Paris’ Christmas illuminations and end at the Tuileries Christmas market. If you’re traveling with a competitive bunch of youngsters, a festive scavenger hunt might just be the ticket for holiday fun.
5. Roam around Rome and eat sweet treats
With a Christmas tree that’s nearly 70 feet high in St. Peter’s Square and amazing seasonal sweets, Rome is the ideal spot to spend the holidays. Grab a slice of panettone (a sweet loaf of bread) from one of the local markets and enjoy the lighting show guilt-free — the displays use energy-saving bulbs only.
Travelers who want to explore beyond the square can join a walking tour through the city. You’ll start at the Pincio and make your way past the Via del Corso, Via dei Condotti, Spanish Steps, and more before ending at the Vatican. If you’re still in town on December 25, the faithful can join a guided tour and gather for the papal blessing, “Urbi et Orbi.”
6. Have a holly jolly time in Hamburg
Whether you’re in the mood to visit one of the many traditional Christmas markets dotted throughout the city, keen to enjoy new year’s fireworks by the harbor, or even check out the view from the water, Hamburg is the place for you. Between gobbling down seasonal treats like lebkuchen (gingerbread), you’ll also need to make time for the city’s greatest hits. This means taking a tour of the Elbphilharmonie, visiting Minatur Wunderland, and taking a historical tour through the old town.
For a classic Christmas feeling, head to city hall to visit the Hamburger Weihnachtsmarkt by the city hall or the Weisser Zauber Christmas market on the Jungfernstieg. Both markets are full glühwein (mulled red wine) and wurst (sausage). After you’ve had your fill of market strolling, pop into the Alsterhaus for an appropriately upscale shopping experience.