Mulled wine, sparkling lights, New Year’s Eve parties…the holiday season is upon us! Here are the best cities to visit during the holidays.  

Christmas decor in Hamburg with the Rathaus and market stalls, flags fluttering, and seagulls flying under a cloudy sky.

Hamburg, Germany

In Hamburg, Germany, the festive season is greeted with a smile, a heartwarming cheer, and the clinking of gluhwein mugs. Imagine a city transforming into a winter wonderland where the spirit of Christmas is not just felt but lived. In this northeastern port city, the holiday magic is multiplied by thirty—yes, thirty—enchanting Christmas markets spring to life! Each market, draped in twinkling lights and festive decorations, offers a unique slice of holiday joy.

But Hamburg also has a surprise up its sleeve – the world’s only erotic Christmas market nestled in the red light district of St-Pauli. The largest of these markets is the Weihnachtsmarkt, located on Rathausmarkt Square against the regal backdrop of historic City Hall. Hamburg is also home to some of the world’s best house and techno clubs, so it’s worth sticking around for New Year’s Eve.

Illuminated bridge and high-rises reflect on water at night in Kowloon, Hong Kong, showcasing urban vibrancy and festive lights.

Hong Kong, China

Christmas Day Hong Kong style is a spectacle of 21st-century festivity, showcased most vividly where the city’s premier shopping havens vie for the crown of the most dazzling Christmas window display. Make sure to visit IFC, Times Square, and Festive Walk, where opulence and festive flair are taken to extraordinary heights. After indulging in a visual feast of window displays (or, more accurately, window-gawking), a stroll along Victoria Harbor is a must, where the waterfront skyscrapers are adorned from head to toe in festive decor, reflecting off the water in a dance of lights.

As December winds down, don’t miss the New Year’s festivities on the 31st, a vibrant spectacle that lights up the city until 10 p.m., followed by spectacular fireworks viewed best from the Hong Kong Convention Center or the China Ferry Terminal.

Giant Christmas tree lit up before a modern skyscraper at night in Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan.

Tokyo, Japan

During December, Tokyo transforms into a glowing wonderland. Roppongi, the city’s nightlife heart, shimmers under a canopy of sparkling lights, especially along Keyakizaka Street and the Roppongi Hills Complex. Mirroring Hong Kong’s festive flair, Tokyo’s shopping arenas dazzle with intricate window displays. Ginza’s department stores and boutiques unveil a visual feast of holiday elegance and Japanese Christmas lights. 

As New Year’s Eve unfolds, the energy peaks at Shibuya Crossing with a captivating countdown that spills over into the surrounding bars and clubs, where the celebration vibrates through the night, welcoming another year in Tokyo’s mesmerizing rhythm.

Buckingham Palace adorned with festive lights, reflected on a wet path under a twilight sky

London, England

In London, England, the holiday season comes alive with a symphony of Christmas tunes flowing from every Tesco’s and John Lewis department store, while the streets, from Oxford Street to the regal vicinity of Buckingham Palace, glow with elaborate lights and festive displays. The aroma of mulled wine beckons from cozy stands at every corner, perfectly capturing the city’s holiday spirit. 

The heart of this seasonal transformation is the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, which is open until January 6th. This festive extravaganza includes circus shows, a towering Ferris wheel, and the UK’s largest outdoor ice skating rink. Still, the London Christmas markets truly steal the show, offering a treasure trove of holiday gifts, treats, and cheer. 

As the month unfolds, London’s vibrant bars and clubs become the perfect backdrop to ring in the New Year, with the bonus of free transport across the city on New Year’s Eve, making it easy to join in the citywide celebration.

A snow-covered street in Quebec City, Quebec, lined with Christmas decorations and lights, leading towards a fairytale-like chateau

Quebec City, Canada

If a white Christmas is what you’re after, Quebec City is a winter wonderland come to life. As one of North America’s oldest towns, it often finds itself cozily tucked under a blanket of two to three feet of snow by mid-December, offering a picturesque holiday scene. Board the funicular to Old Quebec, where Petit-Champlain road awaits with its enchanting decorations, creating a storybook setting for your stroll. 

For a rush of adrenaline, join the excitement at the toboggan run beside the Chateau Frontenac, which is not just a hotel but an icon renowned as the world’s most photographed. The Grande Allée district transforms into a vibrant celebration hub as New Year’s Eve approaches. From quaint, snow-laden streets to jubilant year-end parties, Quebec City is a treasure trove of festive delights, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in its magical holiday charm.

Sunny Goa beach with palm trees, lounge chairs, and a boat on the tranquil sea.

Goa, India

For those dreaming of a warm, festive Christmas, Goa is the destination to be. Here, a unique blend of Hindu and Christian traditions unite, adorning the city with sparkling tinsel and twinkling lights, creating a festive tapestry that captivates visitors. The celebrations are at their most vibrant on Goa’s sandy beaches, renowned for spectacular firework displays illuminating the sky on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. 

Feeling the rhythm of the season? Immerse yourself in the festive spirit at one of the many Christmas balls held during the week leading up to Christmas. And as the year concludes, Goa becomes the epicenter of celebration with the legendary Hilltop trance party on New Year’s Eve, a must-experience event for party-goers and music lovers alike.

Vibrant fireworks burst above Sydney Opera House, celebrating New Year's Eve against the night sky.

Sydney, Australia

In Sydney, Australia, the festive spirit thrives even as the holiday season basks in mid-summer warmth. Christmas in Sydney, Australia, is a vibrant celebration where the city’s dazzling light displays and bustling markets rival the famed festivities of Germany. There’s a unique charm in experiencing Christmas against a backdrop of lush palm trees and clear blue skies, a surreal twist on traditional winter celebrations. 

As New Year’s Eve approaches, Sydney’s skyline becomes the stage for an awe-inspiring firework display. To find the best spots to witness this spectacle, check out an online interactive map showcasing the city’s prime vantage points and immerse yourself in the unforgettable atmosphere of a summertime Christmas in Sydney.

Skaters on Rockefeller Center's ice rink in NYC, with the golden Prometheus statue foregrounding the bustling scene.

New York, USA

Cue The Pogues, for New York, transforms into a mesmerizing fairy-tale during Christmas. The Big Apple’s holiday icons are etched into the global festive psyche: the towering Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, Central Park’s enchanting ice skating rinks, and the dazzling Christmas lights at Times Square. 

Each landmark is a chapter in New York’s winter story. As the year draws to a close, the iconic Times Square ball drop becomes the centerpiece of the celebration, surrounded by many vibrant parties across the city, choosing to stay in New York for New Year’s Eve, a glittering finale to the festive season.

Couple shares a moment on an Amsterdam canal bridge with festive lights and a historic building backdrop at dusk.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam, with its gingerbread houses and cobbled streets, is made for Christmas. Lights of unique colors and styles (my personal favorites are Nieuwe Spiegelstraat and Haarlemerstraat) adorn streets around the city center.

The Amsterdam Light Festival also takes place over Christmas and New Year’s, bringing together an array of intricate light displays from both Dutch and international artists. The city doesn’t dim on New Year’s Eve, either, hosting a staggering amount of New Year’s parties like the popular Awakenings Bash at Gashouder and Ratatouille’s mini winter festival. On New Year’s Day, thousands of brave, hungover souls gather at Zandvoort aan Zee (30 minutes west of Amsterdam) to run into the icy North Sea for the annual New Year Swim, offering a chilly but invigorating start to the year.

Woman in a glittering dress overlooking the illuminated Rio de Janeiro coastline and Sugarloaf Mountain at twilight.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Only overshadowed in popularity by Rio’s Carnaval among tourists and Brazilians alike, the Árvore do Rio (Tree of Rio) proudly claims the Guinness World Record as the world’s largest floating Christmas tree. This tree is an awe-inspiring sight that towers 85 meters and is adorned with over three million twinkling lights! Each year, this colossal tree at Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon becomes the radiant heart of a spectacular six-minute fireworks display, lighting up the sky in a symphony of colors. 

While enjoying the show, indulge in traditional Brazilian Christmas treats: savor the rich, fruity flavors of Panettone, a sweet bread bursting with candied fruit and raisins, and delight in Rabanadas, a Portuguese-inspired twist on French Toast, generously dusted with sugar and cinnamon. 

And if you’re there to welcome the New Year, join the legendary celebration on Copacabana Beach. The world-renowned fireworks display there is not just an event; it’s an explosion of Brazilian culture and joy.

Learn the best cities around the globe to celebrate the Christmas and New Year's Eve.

Photo Credits:

Featured Image – StudioRoman Canva
Hamburg, Germany – Katatonia82 Canva
Hong Kong, China – Urf Canva
Tokyo, Japan – Winhorse Canva
London, Buckingham Palace – Midjourney AI
Quebec City, Quebec – Midjourney AI
Goa, India – Nakonechnyy Canva
Sydney, Australia – Scopio Canva
New York, USA – Kasto Canva
Amsterdam, Netherlands – Fooke Baarssen Canva
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Midjourney

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Molly Gelpke

Molly is a writer and traveller currently based in Montreal, but who will probably be somewhere new by next month. Find her—with a coffee in one hand and a book in the other—at your local, free-WiFi-supplying café.