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Travel advent calendar: 24 Christmas travel ideas
Pick a day, we'll give you a place -- counting down to the 25th can now be a globe-trotting experience
Too often the weeks leading up to Christmas are spent panicking about gifts, worrying about having too little food, worrying about having too much food and feeling guilty about opening 15 of your chocolate advent calendar windows on December 1.
We've found the solution.
Some great festivals, traditions and events take place around the world during December, so here's a travel advent calendar you can open in one shot without crying.
Start December with a bang as the countdown to Christmas begins in the lake region in the south of Finland in Lehmonkärjentie. Take in the snow-covered scenery through a range of snowmobile rides from short beginner trips to long safaris catered to expert snowmobilers.
Packages start at €95 (US$127) a person for a 20-kilometer, 1.5-hour beginner’s course at the Lehmonkärki holiday resort.
www.lehmonkarki.fl; (03) 7666 330
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Warm up in the cold winters of southwestern Hokkaido in the Noboribetsu Onsen area.
The water in the hot springs in the area contains a high level of sulfur, and at Jigoku Valley ("Hell Valley"), plumes of yellow volcanic gas seep to the surface, casting a ghostly tint to the area, giving the place its name.
The Dai-ichi Takimotokan boasts seven in-house hot springs on its premises. Rates for a four-person room in the Main Building start at around ¥20,000 (US$258).
www.takimotokan.co.jp; +81 143 84 2111
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Join in the race in aid of Cancer Research Aid Committee or just spectate as six-strong teams of Londoners dress up in zany outfits for the 31st Great Christmas Pudding Race in Covent Garden.
www.xmaspuddingrace.org.uk; +44 7818 077036
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Pick up snowshoeing in Sarajevo -- easier to learn than skiing as snowshoes distribute your weight over a larger surface area.
The 98-meter high Skakavac Waterfall, which freezes completely in winter, is difficult to get to on foot because of heavy snowfall, so it’s the perfect place to snowshoeing.
Snowshoe trips start at €22.50 (US$30) with Green Visions.
www.greenvisions.ba; +387 (0)33 717290
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Winter swimming, not to be confused with ice swimming, is a less extreme winter activity. Participants do not jump into a frozen river in nothing more than bathing suits, but often wear winter-suitable neoprene suits.
The Berlin Seals swim in Lake Oranke in Berlin every Sunday between September and April. The highlight of the Berlin Seals calendar is a winter swimming event in mid-January, but you can still dip into the cold Orankesee in December with the family-friendly group.
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Trains have been thundering along the historic four-day Toronto-Vancouver route, known as The Canadian, since 1955.
Experience the wintery Canadian landscape leisurely as the train makes its way through Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Jasper.
Today the route is operated by VIA Rail Canada, and departs from Toronto on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. One-way economy-class tickets start at CAD530 (US$510).
www.viarail.ca; +1 888 842 7245
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Christmas may have been co-opted by Hong Kong businesses hoping to rake in year-end sales, but the city’s efforts to make the holiday festive continue to be impressive.
This year, Hong Kong will again host WinterFest, with a giant outdoor Tiffany & Co. Christmas tree lighting up Central. Despite the lack of freezing temperatures, an ice-skating rink will also be open at the Centenary Garden in Tsim Sha Tsui, where you can skate under the Christmas lights.
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Be prepared for an adrenaline-pumping ride as you scale Barron Mountain in New Hampshire in a Pinzgauer, a modified six-wheel drive Swiss Army vehicle.
Alpine Adventures offers an alternative way to see the wintery sights of northeast America. Tickets for adults are US$36, and groups must contain at least four persons; and Alpine Adventures suggest advance reservations for the winter.
www.alpinezipline.com; +1 603 745 9911
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Christmas markets flourish in every city and town in Austria, though most visitors try to hit the markets in the largest cities Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck. The capital holds “Christkindlmarket” in many areas of the city.
The largest is at the Rathausplatz, in the square in front of city hallm where you can slurp mulled wine, munch mince pies and buy trinkets for your tree.
Other notable markets in Vienna include the market in front of Schroenbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the Hapsburg emperors, and the market at Spittelberg, considered the most authentic.
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If you’re already getting tired of all the snow and the below-zero weather forecasts, head to the southern hemisphere where summer is hitting its stride.
You can count down the days in December and celebrate Christmas Day on many beaches in Australia, but the balmy weather also makes Christmas a great time to explore all the holiday markets in Sydney.
It’s a nice change from huddling in layers of clothing in a packed European market, slipping and sliding on melted snow.
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Almost every big-name cosmopolitan theater and small-town community theater in the world puts on a Christmas event for December, and "The Nutcracker" might be the most beloved of all Christmas theater shows.
This year, the newly reopened Bolshoi Theatre is the best place to catch a production of "The Nutcracker." The Bolshoi Theater was opened in 1856 and reopened in October this year after a six-year renovation that cost more than US$700 million.
www.bolshoi.ru; +7 499 250 73 17
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The shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe is one of the world's most visited places of pilgrimage for Catholics, and millions flock to the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City every year.
The feast day falls on December 16 this year, and is the last big holiday in Mexico before the Christmas season begins.
Join the other devotees in the square of the Basilica, which bursts with pilgrims, artists and musicians all adding to the festivities.
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Trakai is home to the medieval Island Castle that sits in the middle of Lake Galve. In the winter the lake freezes over, and ice-fishing is a popular pastime.
Just remember to do as the locals do and bring a flask of vodka to warm yourself up through the day.
Trakai is about 20 kilometers west of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Buses run between Vilnius and Trakai, making ice-fishing an ideal day trip.
The Trakai National Sports & Health Center provides equipment for winter activities like ice-fishing and horse-drawn sled rides.
Trakai National Sports & Health Center, Karaimu St. 73, Trakai; +370 5285 5501
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Lillehammerwas the site for bobsledding and luge events at the 1994 Winter Olympics.
The Lillehammer Olympic Bobsleigh and Luge track offers a range of winter activities including bobrafting, four-man bobsleighing and skeleton sledding.
Prices vary depending on the activity, but start at NOK 230 (US$39) a person for bobrafting.
www.olympiaparken.no; +47 61 05 42 00
Penguins are a fixture of the popular imagination of Christmas, even though they live in the southern hemisphere and don’t bunk in with Santa Claus in the north.
Approximately 60,000 pairs of Magellenic penguins, who form life-long partnerships, live on Isla Magdalena, and the numbers on this small island makes it an ideal location for penguin-watching.
Many tour operators conduct penguin-watching tours. Turismo Comapa operates a ferry tour that departs from the city of Punta Arenas.
Tours do not run every day, so it is best to check in with the tour operator before heading out. Adult tickets are CLP 25,000 (US$50).
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One of the best ways to soak in the Christmas spirit in New York City is to spend a few hours at Bryant Park.
With a free skating rink and more than 100 shops to peruse while sipping hot chocolate or hot spiced apple cider, it can turn a cold winter’s day into a cockle warmer.
Or turn it into a nighttime activity, skating with the hordes at night, with the sky lit up by a giant Christmas tree overlooking the rink.
theholidayshopsatbryantpark.com; +1 212 661-6640
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Otepaa, a small town 50 kilometers from Tartu, the second largest city in Estonia, is a haven for winter sports, but if that’s not your thing, try out an Estonian hot smoke sauna for a relaxing weekend.
You can get to Otepaa by buses from Tartu,Tallinn, and several other departure points.
Suitsusauna Talu (smoke sauna farm) is a small sauna retreat that accommodates up to 20 visitors. A bed per person for a night starts at €12.78 (US$17) and reservations should be made in advance.
Pyeongchang is due to host the 2018 Winter Olympics, so why wait to test your skis at an Olympic-approved venue?
Yongpyong Resort is one of the oldest ski resorts in Korea, and is home to 31 slopes, including six that are approved for international competitions.
Yongpyong Resort is also well-known as the site for several filming locations of the extremely popular Korean television series "Winter Sonata." The series has brought droves of visitors to Yongpyong Resort in Pyeongchang.
www.yongpyong.co.kr; +82 33 335 5757
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Numbers of Siberian tigers in the wild have slowly increased after efforts by the Russian government and the World Wildlife Fund.
The Siberian tiger remains elusive to visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the beautiful big cat. Eco-tours offer visitors a holistic experience, and possibly even a sighting or two of the Siberian tiger.
Try the “Realm of Amur Tiger” package offered by U.S.-based Travel all Russia, which adheres to ecotourism principles.
www.travelallrussia.com; +1 800 884 1721
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December 20 marks the start of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday that spans eight days, and what better way to countdown to Christmas by experiencing yet another wintertime holiday celebration?
The winds gusting through Jerusalem during winter make the traditional menorahs unfeasible, so they are lit up and put in a glass case as “aquarium menorahs.”
Spend an evening snacking on a sufganiyot, a Hanukkah jelly doughnut, and wander through the streets in the neighborhoods of Nachlaot and the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.
tour.jerusalem.muni.il/eng; Jerusalem Tourist Info Center: +972 62 903 8202
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The Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival only kicks off in early January, but the beautiful ice sculptures start going up in mid-December.
The China Harbin Ice and Snow World is one of the venues of the Ice and Snow Festival.
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The winter solstice falls on December 22, a day when druids and pagans celebrate the shortest day of the year at Stonehenge in Wiltshire.
Aside from believers, including the supposed present reincarnation of King Arthur Pendragon, non-believers have increasingly flocked to Stonehenge in recent years.
If you are thinking of joining the hundreds who will gather at Stonehenge, be prepared to deal with slippery roads up to the prehistoric site before sunrise.
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The long Christmas season in Puerto Rico begins at the end of November and lasts all the way till early January.
Parrandas, or carolers, go door-to-door singing carols, in what is a thoroughly lively affair.
If you haven’t had enough of Christmas carols yet, beginning nine days before Christmas Day, churches conduct misas de aguinaldo, or mass of carols, every day at dawn. Visit the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, the second-oldest church in the Western hemisphere.
www.catedralsanjuan.com; +1 787 722 0861
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In St. James Parish, right outside New Orleans, Christmas Eve is celebrated with the lighting up of bonfires and fireworks.
The bonfires are higher than three meters, and dot the banks of the Mississippi River. St. James Parish is about 97 kilometers, or roughly an hour’s drive, from New Orleans.
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