It’s often said that there’s no place like home for the holidays, but we’re making a case for ditching the family—at least the extended ones—and hopping the next flight out of town. From Christmas markets embellished with twinkle lights to store windows brimming with good cheer, these seven iconic winter locales offer traditional festivities and far-flung adventure, making them ideal destinations for creating new, not to mention romantic, holiday memories. Read on for the best places to get away this winter.
Quebec City, Canada
With its cobblestone streets and 17th-century architecture, Quebec City evokes all the romance of Europe without the trans-Atlantic travel times. The city turns up the charm during the holidays, when garlands grace the stone buildings in the Historic District (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), twinkle lights hang from every tree, and winter carnivals and festivals hit their stride. If the chilly temperatures give you goose bumps, hole up at Auberge Saint-Antoine, a converted 18th-century warehouse on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. Though tastefully appointed rooms offer plenty of creature comforts (flat-screen TVs, tufted headboards, freestanding tubs), slow-cooked specialties like wild-mushroom lasagna and roasted duck with squash gratin at the hotel's Chez Muffy really do the trick.
Sleigh riding takes on new meaning in the snowy environs of Lapland, where reindeer replace horses and starry skies are supplemented with the methane glow of the aurora borealis. Some 155 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Hotel Kakslauttanen’s log cabins and glass igloos allow you to take in all of the natural splendor from the warmth of your own room, some complete with a private sauna, fireplace, and kitchenette; snow igloos are available for those who really want to snuggle under the covers. Days are spent in heart-pounding endeavors of another sort: snowmobiling or dog-sledding through wild terrain, ice-fishing on a frozen local lake, or cross-country skiing nearly 125 miles of ungroomed trails.
Where better to celebrate the holidays than the birthplace of the first Christmas mass? In Rome, the streets are strung with lights, and market stalls selling toys, decorations, and seasonal foods sprout up in many of the major squares, including Piazza Navona. A life-size nativity scene dominates St. Peter’s Square, while Piazza del Popolo plays host to more than 100 of the timely crèches. Stroll along the Via dei Condotti to ogle the holiday windows and pop into a local bakery to sample the traditional panettone cake, then warm up at the legendary Hotel Hassler, where the six-course Christmas Eve dinner comes with an unparalleled view of the city.
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It’s not hard to see why winter is the best time to visit Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains. Like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, the region's small towns—with their evocative red barns and church steeples—dot the snow-covered landscape, forested slopes glisten in the afternoon sun, and heart-racing cold-weather activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing make cuddling up by the fire all the more enticing. For stargazing worthy of a Romantic poem, opt for the horse-drawn carriage ride and the Gianduja hot chocolate (there’s an entire menu dedicated to elevated cocoas) at Blantyre Inn, an ivy-draped 1901 Tudor inn that was inspired by a Scottish castle.
Everyone knows Germany’s Christmas markets are brimming with holiday cheer, but Vienna is an unexpected alternative whose traditional arts-and-crafts stalls date back to the 13th century. The possibilities are endless: Culture warriors can make like the locals and head to Belvedere Palace to fit in some holiday spirit between viewings of works by Klimt, Schiele, and Van Gogh at the Belvedere Gallery; athletic types can try their hand at ice curling at the Altes AKH market; and outdoor concerts are the draw at the Schönbrunner Weihnachtsmarkt. Need a break from all that gifting? The city is known for its café culture. Unwind with a fresh-baked strudel from the Imperial Palace’s Café Hofburg or a decadent hot chocolate at the 1786 Café Demel.
Figgy pudding and mulled cider are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to celebrating the romance of the season in London, where it seems every pub is decked out in garlands and ornaments. Beeline to festive Covent Garden to shop the traditional market stalls, then head over to Fortnum & Mason to view the decorated windows and pick up yuletide stocking stuffers worth writing home about. Most of the city’s top hotels get into the spirit with lavish holiday displays—afternoon tea at Claridge’s in Mayfair is a must, as is the traditional Sunday roast at Hawksmoor. And be sure to catch the carolers who perform daily under the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree.
For a yuletide getaway that’s straight out of the movies, there are few more festive places than New York. The city turns into a veritable holiday film set once December rolls around, with decorated shop windows, outdoor gift markets, and ice skating beneath the world’s most famous Christmas tree. Though crowds often peak during this time of year, there are still plenty of romantic spots for two. Sip mulled wine downtown at the Spotted Pig, whose halls are decked with evergreen wreaths, then retire to The Peninsula, where you can spend a cozy night in front of the fire decorating gingerbread cookies with your beloved.