10 best places to spend Christmas 2011

10 best places to spend Christmas 2011

Where to find the best Santas, gingerbread, Christmas markets and even an underwater nativity scene

Of course Christmas is the time to travel.

You don't think the three wise men had some sunscreen and travel snacks packed in their robes?

Hitting the road in December can add an international shine to your festive cheer.

Other than your living room, these are the best places to do Christmas.

10. San Juan, Puerto Rico 

Three months of celebration -- perfect for the guy who leaves his Christmas lights on all year round.


Why: Can't get enough of Christmas? In San Juan, Christmas is a marathon. 

Celebrations run from November through mid-January with the city enjoying carols, feasting on roast pork and watching holiday fireworks. 

On Christmas Eve, many Puerto Ricans attend Misa de Gallo (midnight mass) to catch a re-enactment of the nativity.

On New Year’s Eve, locals might make you eat 12 grapes for luck at the giant government-hosted party.

The climax of the season is El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day, when children can get free gifts at the San Juan governor's house. Three Kings Day is on January 6, 2012.  

When: November to mid-January.


9. London

If you can't make it to the Olympics, settle for Christmas in London -- there's less madness and more turkey.


Why: Meet Santa Claus

Numerous Santa grottos are open around the city.

Parents can choose from a theatrical experience, to the more conventional Santa's lap, to a time-traveling journey to see Santa with Doctor Who. 

When: Until December 24


8. New York City

Jabbing through crowds at Rockefeller Center is a great way to prepare for the traditional Barney's post-season sale.


Why: No Christmas list would be complete without a mention of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, which is illuminated by eight kilometers of lights.

Skating around the Rock's outdoor rink gets you the quintessential “I’m in New York during Christmas!” Facebook photo.

A walking tour from Bloomingdale's through Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks and Macy's gets you the "I was in New York during Christmas!" receipts for your tax accountant.  

When: The Ice Skating Rink at Rockefeller Center is open through April 2012.

More on CNNGo: 24 Christmas travel ideas 


7. Tokyo

When Tokyo twinkles, even Godzilla is charmed.


Why: After the spring disaster in Fukushima, Japan is decking itself out with some large-scale Christmas cheer.

With thousands of solar-powered and LED fairy lights, entire streets -- notably Keyakizaka in Roppongi Hills -- will be lit up as part of the traditional Japanese Christmas light shows. 

When: Some light displays stay up through January, others even through February. www.japan-guide.com


6. Mouans-Sartoux, France 

Don't bother, no one in France will find your "Child's Play" references funny.


Why: Dating to 1802, the Foire aux Santons, or Christmas figurine fair, in Mouans-Sartoux is one of the oldest fairs of its kind. It focuses on very specific items: figurines from nativity scenes. 

Not only can visitors pick their favorites among Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, shepherds and angels, they can enjoy street performances and other activities that take place around the Christmas fair. 

With more than 20 santonniers displaying thousands of santons, Christmas tree ornaments and books, this is the place to be when it comes to a nativity figurine fest.   

When: Until December 24

5. Sydney, Australia 

The only thing that's roasting is the guy in the Santa suit.


Why: If you think snow is overrated, how about singing carols on a beach while chugging cold beer?

Christmas occurs during the middle of summer in Australia, with average temperatures in Sydney hitting 25 Celsius throughout December.

Bondi Beach will host the Sunburnt Christmas on Christmas Day, with local and international artists, contests, pageants and Aussie barbecues lined up for the celebration.

Numerous Christmas-related community events will also take place around the city. 

The city will be lit up in the colors of Christmas -- the Martin Place Christmas tree, Shannon Reserve and many streets and parks around Sydney will shine.

When: Christmas lights will be illuminated through the whole of January.


4. Verona, Italy 

Recreations of the nativity scene look right anywhere in this old city.


Why: The hometown of Romeo and Juliet transforms into a holiday culture fest with Christmas fairs around the brightly lit Lake Garda and fireworks at the castle of Arco.

Holiday markets, exhibitions, concerts and theater performances are lined up through December and January.

The castle of Malcesine will be turned into Santa's castle, with clowns, jugglers and wizards entertaining visitors.

Lake Garda is the location of the must-see Nativity of the Lake display (December 1, 2011 to January 6, 2012) with the Holy Family and other characters lit underwater at night.

When: Many events are scheduled through December 24, while the "Nativity of the Lake" continues through January 6. 


3. Reykjavik, Iceland 

No better place for a white Christmas than the land of ice.


Why: For a tots treat, try Iceland, where local folklore has not one but 13 Santas bearing goodie bags at Christmas parties.

The 13 Santas (or Jólasveinar, meaning Yule Lads), each with Brothers Grimm-like characteristics such as "the spoon licker" and "the door slammer," come into town one day at a time starting December 12 until Christmas Eve.

Not far from Reykjavik, the Christmas Village at Hafnarfjördur is known in Icelandic lore as the home of elves. The Village is open every weekend from November 24 until Christmas day. Hafnarfjördur also offers walking tours to supposed elf homesites and boasts a large variety of shops. 

There are bonfires and fireworks all over Iceland on both New Year’s Eve and the Twelfth Night, which falls on January 6, 2012.

When: Late November to January 6, 2012


2. Vienna, Austria 

It'll be chilly, but take it easy on the mulled wine.


Why: The romantic city of Vienna turns into a fest of Christmas markets from mid-November until Christmas. With tradition dating to the Middle Ages, the market piles Christmas cliché upon Christmas cliché, but it’s impossible not to be charmed.

Expect to overdose on Lebkuchen (gingerbread), gebrannte mandeln (toasted almonds), waffeln (waffles), maroni (sweet chestnuts), bratwurst (fried sausages) and glühwein (mulled wine).

When: Until Christmas Day

More on CNNGo: World's best Christmas markets


1. Nuremberg, Germany 

For the month of December, it's socially acceptable to wear your sunglasses at night.


Why: The dazzling Nuremberg Christmas market (Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt) is a German institution, luring two million visitors yearly with a giant carved wooden Ferris wheel and more than 180 wooden stalls selling all the handmade nativity ornaments revelers can stuff in a sack.

Adults will enjoy stuffing their faces with sticky buns and fritters; kids will love spending the day at the Toy Museum; and grandpa could spend weeks at the German Railway Museum.

Each year the market is opened by the Nuremberg Christ Child, a young woman between 16 and 19 elected from a pool of contestants online.

When: Until December 24

Former CNNGo staff writer Tiffany Lam produced and scripted current affairs documentaries and was a reporter for a local English newspaper before making the brave, brave decision to write about things she’s actually interested in.

Read more about Tiffany Lam

Rachel Sang-hee Han is a freelance writer for CNN Travel. 

Read more about Rachel Sang-hee Han
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