11 Best Cities for the Holidays
'Tis the season, people, and these 11 cities know how to do the holidays right.
This alpine hideaway is a winter playground for the well-heeled set. There's old-timey caroling and cookie exchanges held each December 22 at the Aspen Chamber of Commerce; a family-friendly "12 Days of Aspen" count-down that celebrates everything from menorah lighting to cookie decorating and s'mores feasts; and the legendary New Year's Eve bash (adults only) at the town's most feted hotel, The Little Nell, where guests chug Dom Perignon until the elves come home.
Prague, Czech Republic
The Czech capital resembles a fairytale movie-set all year round, but during holiday season the wow factor reaches new heights. Wander the markets in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square ⎯ or check out the brand-new market at Prague Castle, where you can browse the small wooden huts selling traditional handicrafts like glassware, embroidered lace and wooden toys, along with puppets and dolls dressed in traditional costumes. Refuel with Czech snacks like klobása sausages or Trdelník, a deliciously sugary Slovak rolled pastry. For those who crave a high-brow outing, catch a performance at the Prague Opera, which stages classics like Hansel and Gretel at this time of year, before tucking into a Czech feast in the old-world dining room at U Modre Kachnicky.
New York City
No sleep 'til...New Year. That's the attitude in New York, where it's a non-stop party from late November through January, when the city explodes with events ⎯ from the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting to the Wollman ice skating rink in Central Park. Don't miss the holiday windows at high-end stores like Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman and Bloomingdales, which try to outdo one another with opulent productions. In Brooklyn, meanwhile, the Christmas extravaganza in Dyker Heights has become a major tourist attraction: residents deck their houses out in ever bigger, better and more blingy illumination every year.
Join in the yuletide fun in this outrageously picturesque city, which goes all out with a hundred-foot-tall Christmas tree in the Marienplatz decorated with 2500 lights, advent music played live from the balcony of the Neo-Gothic Town Hall, and cockle-warming treats like mulled wine and gingerbread. Head to the tented Tollwood Winterfestival for concerts by acts like the acrobatic troupe Cirque Éloize, or sign up for the legendary New Year's Eve party: tickets include an organic five-course-menu, live music and DJs, all in the heart of the city.
Sometimes we crave a balmy festive season. And there are few better cities than Sydney in which to celebrate. Book early for a balcony at any of the swanky hotels that line Circular Quay to get a killer view of the Sydney to Hobart, one of the world's greatest yacht races. Don your fanciest summer cocktail outfits for New Year's Eve on Sydney Harbour, where some of the world's best (and earliest) parties take place. Your 'gramming feed will thank us.
When it comes to Christmas, nothing beats going to the source: Santa's home in Lapland, Finland. Set in the Arctic Circle, this snowy adventure land has all sorts of Christmassy excursions like reindeer sleigh rides to search for Santa (who lives in a traditional wooden chalet); kick-sledding, a cross between a scooter and a toboggan; and igloos housing elaborate ice sculptures. Alternately, chill out under the glass igloo domes at Kakslauttanen, the highly photogenic hotel where guests can gaze at the Northern Lights from the comfort of their own beds.
There's plenty of holiday cheer in this Scottish gem (think outdoor markets, music performances and enough whiskey to keep you warm on the coldest of nights). Experience it all during Edinburgh's Christmas festival: drink in panoramic views of the capital from the top of the Big Wheel, take a spin on an old-fashioned carousel or get giddy on the Star Flyer, a ride in St Andrew's Square that spins 200 feet above the ground. Don't miss Hogmanay, Scotland's famous New Years festival, which includes three days of street parties, torchlight processions and live music, plus a spectacular fireworks display on the 31st.
Mexico City, Mexico
It doesn't get better than Mexico City at Christmas time. December 12th marks the Fiesta of the Virgin of Guadalupe, during which thousands of pilgrims converge on the Basilica de Guadalupe to pay tribute to the country's patron saint. In the Zócalo, Mexico's most famous square transforms into a giant ice skating rink and fills with locals until the wee hours. Stick around for the massive fireworks show on New Year's Eve. For a front row seat to the action, check in to the perfectly-located Hotel Downtown, with a chic rooftop bar overlooking the Centro Histórico.
The Austrian capital knows how to do the romantic, cozy vibe well, but during the holidays it gets even more gemütlichkeit. Linger around the outdoor Christkindlmarkt, and if you're lucky you'll catch a local celebrity reading a Christmas story under the large Christmas tree on Rathausplatz. Revel in the heavenly voices of the globally renowned Vienna Boys Choir who perform regularly at the Imperial Chapel, then treat yourself to coffee and a Sacher torte at one of the city's famous coffee houses like Café Sacher at the legendary Hotel Sacher.
Craving that European holiday feeling sans the Transatlantic crossing? Head to Québec's largest city for a French-Canadian Christmas and New Year par excellence. Start by gazing in the windows of La Maison Ogilvy, a department store whose "Enchanted Village" display is the stuff of legend. Pick up some handcrafted gifts at the Nutcracker Market at the Palais de Congres which helps disadvantaged children attend performances of The Nutcracker. Ring in the new year and see out the old with a gourmet feast at one of Montreal's top-notch restaurants. We love the 7-course NYE dinner at Verses in Hotel Nelligan.
In London, even the city's famous art spaces get into the spirit. Take the Tate Modern, which hosts its own Christmas market with handmade wooden toys, one-off jewelry pieces and a classic carousel. While you're browsing, nosh on crêpes, roasted nuts and festive glühwein. For something a little more edgy, head to Cockpit Arts, an incubator for emerging artists and craftspeople that opens its studios to the public during Christmas. Hyde Park, meanwhile, transforms into a fantasy-land with an ice rink, two circuses, an observation wheel and the Magical Ice Kingdom.