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.  

City Hall and Christmas tree by night in Hamburg, Germany.

Hamburg, Germany

Each year, the Germans greet Christmas with a collective smile and a raised mug of gluhwein. The Northeastern port city of Hamburg joins the festivities with gusto — installing an impressive thirty Christmas markets, including the world’s only erotic Christmas market 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.

View of NYE fireworks in Hong Kong from water.

Hong Kong, China

A 21st-century Christmas is perhaps best displayed in Hong Kong, where the city’s major shopping centers compete for the most impressive Christmas window display. Be sure to check out IFC, Times Square, and Festive Walk for Grade-A extravagance. Après window-shopping (or window-gawping), head down to Victoria Harbor to take in the top-to-bottom decorations on the waterfront skyscrapers. On the 31st, be sure to attend the New Year’s Parade, which lasts until 10 p.m. Afterwards, head to one of the city’s best vantage points to watch the fireworks. The Hong Kong Convention Center and the China Ferry Terminal are local favorites.

Bright fairy lights over dome in Tokyo public space.

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo lights up (even more than usual) at Christmas. Roppongi, the city’s vibrant nightlife district, is strung with sparkling lights. Find the best displays on Keyakizaka street and at the Roppongi Hills Complex. Similar to Hong Kong, Tokyo’s shopping complexes put out elaborate window displays during the holiday season. The department stores and boutiques in Ginza are also a must-see. On New Year’s Eve, crowds converge at Shibuya Crossing to watch the countdown before dispersing into one of the neighborhood’s many bars and clubs to continue the party until the wee hours of 2020.

Magical Christmas and holiday lights shine on London street

London, England

In London, Christmas tunes blare out of every Tesco’s and John Lewis department store, elaborate lights and displays glow across major shopping streets, and mulled wine stands spring up at every street corner. Winter Wonderland (which runs until January 6th) takes over Hyde Park, incorporating circus shows, a Ferris wheel, Christmas markets, and the largest outdoor ice skating rink in the UK. And, of course, London has no shortage of bars and clubs from which to ring in the New Year. Bonus: all transport in London is free on New Year’s Eve!

Petit Champlain in Quebec City on snowy holiday evening.

Quebec City, Canada

Dreaming of a white Christmas? Look no further than Quebec City. The historic town is one of the oldest in North America, and usually peeks out merrily from beneath two or three feet of snow by mid-December. Take the funicular to Old Quebec and stroll down beautifully decorated Petit-Champlain road, hop on a sled and barrel down the toboggan run at Chateau Frontenac (the world’s most photographed hotel!) or party your way down the Grande Allée district on New Year’s Eve — there are holiday activities galore in this mythical city.

Christmas lights illuminating the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Panjim Goa.

Goa, India

If a balmy Christmas is in your books, get over to Goa. Hindus and Christians come together during the holidays to decorate the city in tinsel and lights. Festivities converge on Goa’s beaches, where there are firework displays on both Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. If the dancing mood? Dozens of Christmas balls go on the week leading up to Christmas. On New Year’s Eve, Goa hosts the famous Hilltop trance party.

New Year's fireworks from north side of Sydney's harbour.

Sydney, Australia

Although the holiday season falls in mid-summer in Australia, Christmas, lo and behold, is still celebrated by our brothers and sisters down under. Sydney’s Christmas light displays and markets give Germany a run for its money. There’s something wonderfully surreal about Christmas displays set against a summery backdrop of palm trees and blue skies. Watch Sydney’s impressive New Year’s Eve firework display from one of the city’s best vantage points displayed on this online interactive map.

New York, USA

Queue The Pogues—New York really is a fairy-tale at Christmas. The Big Apple’s holiday landmarks are imprinted into our collective Christmas consciousness at this point: the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, ice skating in Central Park, Christmas lights at Time Square and so on. The famous Times Square ball drop and the thousands of parties to choose from across the city makes sticking around for New Year’s Eve an obvious decision.

Nieuwe Hoogstraat Amsterdam decorated for Christmas and New Years.

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.


Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio boasts the world’s largest Christmas tree (standing at 85 meters tall, and covered in three million lights)! Each year the tree at the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon lights up and serves as the centerpiece of a six-minute pyro display. Bring some snacks to watch the show: traditional Brazilian Christmas delicacies include Panettone—a sweet, soft bread filled with candied fruit and raisins—and Rabandas, a Portuguese take on French Toast, covered in sugar and cinnamon. If you’re sticking around for New Year’s, be sure to attend the world-famous fireworks on Copacabana Beach to greet 2019 with Brazilian flair—or should I say flare?   

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

Photo Credits (in order of appearance):

Featured photo: “Christmas Decorations, Victoria Harbour” by Eddie Wong via (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“Hamburg by Night” by Gerry Balding via (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“New Year’s Eve 2011 Countdown Fireworks, Hong Kong” by Dickson via (CC BY-NC 2.0)

“Christmas Decorations, Victoria Harbour” by Eddie Wong via (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) 

“Tokyo Illuminations” by Gideon Davidson via (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Christmas time in the Big Smoke – Magical!” by Kyle Taylor via (CC BY 2.0)

“Petit Champlain” by Viv Lynch via (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“Church illuminated in the Christmas Season” by Josephdesousa via (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“Happy New Year!” by Ross Fowler via (CC BY 2.0)

“354/365” by a.has via (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“Nieuwe Hoogstraat” by Kitty Terwolbeck via (CC BY 2.0)

“Lit” by Barbara Eckstein via (CC BY 2.0)

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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.