There’s something magical about the winter holidays. This special season is filled with traditions, celebrations, and a sprinkling of fairytale charm. Discover winter around the world, at these 8 destinations.
1. Get ready for St. Nicholas in Germany
Come December, cities all around Germany are filled with wonderful wintry traditions. The evening of December 5 finds children hard at work polishing their shoes to leave outside the front door, hoping St. Nicholas will leave some candy, clementine oranges, or even money inside. Sip on Glühwein as you enjoy the festive spirit at Christmas markets, like the famous Striezelmarkt in Dresden. Winter’s a great time to explore Germany without the crowds. Discover the secrets of Munich on a walking tour, or whizz around Berlin on a scooter tour. For the ultimate winter wonderland experience, head to Neuschwanstein Castle. The castle’s fairytale turrets are even more beautiful under a dusting of snow.
2. Light up the night in India
The traditional festival of light, known as Diwali, happens in India every year in October or November, depending on the cycle of the moon. Lights and lamps are lit inside and outside homes, to symbolize the internal, spiritual light that chases away darkness. There’s no more illuminating time to explore historical cities such as Udaipur, Delhi, and Mumbai. And remember, no trip to India is complete without visiting the Taj Mahal, a monument, which was built in the 17th Century as a shrine to the wife of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. It’s still known as one of the most romantic sights in the world.
3. Sample sweet cakes in Spain
Spain comes alive in winter. If you’re visiting on January 6, you can take part in the festivities of Three Kings Day. On this day, you can eat Roscón de Reyes, a sweet bread shaped in a ring, covered in almonds and candied fruits. This is also when children get their gifts from the Three Kings as part of Spain’s Christmas celebrations. Experience some of the magic of Spain as you explore Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, before visiting the Sagrada Familia. This cathedral is a work in progress, designed by Antoni Gaudí, and its stained glass windows evoke a wonderful sense of calm. In the southern city of Seville, the Moorish Alcázar palace is a must-visit. In Madrid? Don’t miss the Royal Palace.
4. Learn about Toji in Japan
Winter solstice, known in Japan as Toji, is the shortest day of the year. But while Toji may be short it’s filled with traditions, including taking a hot bath with yuzu citrus fruits in it and enjoying dishes made from winter squash. Enjoy other interesting Japanese traditions such as a tea ceremony in Kyoto. Learn about the art of the samurai or make local food in a cooking class. For a wintertime sight like no other, visit the snow monkeys at Nagano Zenkoji Temple as they bathe in warm waters.
5. Avoid witches in Austria
At Christmas, kids around the world are reminded to be nice and not naughty. But in Austria, they take things a step further. Naughty kids, so the story goes, are punished by a legendary creature called Krampus. Every winter, people dress up as Krampuses, witches, and devils and parade in the streets for a spooky yet fun Christmas celebration. For a calmer winter holiday experience, take a walking tour of Salzburg, or enjoy an advent concert. A horse-drawn carriage tour through Vienna and a stroll through the Schönbrunn Palace Gardens is a magical way to see the city. Feeling chilly? Tour the famous coffee houses of the capital to warm up again.
6. Stranger things happen in Slovenia
The eastern European country of Slovenia is home to some fascinating, ancient winter-time traditions. At Carnival, men dressed in traditional outfits and bright floral hats walk with whips to chase away winter. Behind them are people dressed as the “kurenti” monster, costumed with bullhorns, sheepskins, masks and a belt adorned with cowbells. The festivities can be chilly. Luckily there’s warming schnapps to be enjoyed after the parade. After your Carnival experience, explore Ljubljana on a city tour, before tasting delicious food and locally made wines. Another highlight is beautiful Lake Bled in the Julian Alps.
7. Celebrate St. Lucia in Sweden
The festival of light in Sweden is named after Saint Lucy of Syracuse, who died in the 4th Century. A procession of children dressed in white and wearing lit wreaths is held on December 13. This is when the Christmas season starts, bringing light and hope to everyone. After the parade, Swedes enjoy ginger cookies and bread flavored with saffron. St Lucia is a truly magical Swedish experience. Once you’ve enjoyed the parade, stick around! Discover the best of Stockholm on a Christmas walking tour, or learn about the ancient Vikings. If you’re feeling brave, kayak around the archipelago, before tasting delicious traditional treats on a food walking tour.
8. Get out the ivy in Ireland
Ireland is rich in winter traditions. In fact, the tradition of decorating the house with red and green holly and ivy originates here. Winter solstice is a wonderful time to visit Ireland. And on the day itself, there’s only one place to be. In Newgrange, north of Dublin, there is a tomb that is over 5,000 years old. During the winter solstice, a small opening allows in light that illuminates the chamber. Viewing the tomb is a mysterious, almost magical experience. The Irish certainly know how to have a good time, and wintertime is no exception. Exploring Dublin on a walking tour will give you a feeling for this vibrant city. For more festive spirit(s), taste Irish whiskey in Dublin and in the city of Cork. Or warm up after a coastal hike with a delicious bowl of traditional chowder.