Christmas is here and we are most excited about it! The nip in the air, sugarplums, glittering lights and heart-warming carols – all characteristic of our favorite festive season. And while some of us are happy decorating our trees next to the fireplace, others seek the real deal – sleigh bells in the snow and glistening treetops. If you are among those looking for a sheer white Christmas, check out the following cities for that authentic experience.
1. Rovaniemi (Finland)
Nordic countries like Finland witness snow during late December. And considering Rovaniemi is his hometown, seems like Santa Claus is coming to this town after all. A nine-hour train journey from Helsinki to Rovaniemi and you reach Santa’s village in Rovaniemi. Here, you get to meet Santa in the Santa Claus office where thousands of visitors from all across the globe gather to meet Santa in person. You can then go reindeer spotting or move on to the Arctic Circle Husky Park for the best husky sledge ride in the snow! Next on the list is Christmas House where you can watch Christmas-centric historic films and walk through a special Christmas exhibit. But the cherry on the cake is Santa Park. Here you can see a network of underground caves, learn calligraphy writing, visit Mrs Claus’ bakery and take classes on how to be an elf. This trip lets you take home beautiful experiences like no other.
2. Tallinn (Estonia)
Tallinn begins to look like a fairytale village when its wooden market huts are covered in white snow. The Christmas market at the Town Hall Square in Tallinn boasts of Estonia’s most popular Christmas tree, surrounded by illuminated snow sculptures and huts selling handicraft and Estonian Christmas cuisine like black blood pudding, ginger breads and sour cabbage with drinks. There are slides and a mini-zoo for the young ones, where they can play with lambs, rabbits, goats, geese and ponies! The head dwarf entertains the kids with different games and competitions. A visit to Santa Claus’ house would be a real treat as they can enter and meet Santa to tell him their gift wish! There is a postbox on the terrace where you can leave a letter to Santa. You can also feed moss to the reindeers there and caress their cute little noses.
3. Oslo (Norway)
Like the Finns, Swedes and Danes, snow is an integral part of the Norwegians’ Christmas. And Oslo isn’t the world’s winter capital for nothing! Experience the cross-country ski trails or go ice-skating with your family. For things more Christmasy, check out the Christmas markets with hand-made gifts and souvenirs or visit the Christmas exhibition. If you are into music, you may also like the Silent Night-Holy Night concert or the Norwegian girls’ choir. Festivities here are based on Christmas traditions combined with certain elements of Jewish Hannukah and pagan characteristics. Make sure you try Pinnekjøtt (special Norwegian lamb ribs) and Julepølse (a spice infused pork sausage).
4. Salzburg (Austria)
The people of Salzburg hope for snow so they can head to the South of Salzburg province, the finest ski areas of Alps. The Advent or Christmas season gives people the perfect opportunity to go skiing, while the rest of the city turns into a white winter wonderland. The pretty lights and horse-drawn carriages are complimented by divine music concerts by their most famous pianist-resident Mozart! The markets of Salzburg receive heavy crowds for their special atmosphere, crafts and culinary delights, including caramelised almonds. The main market is located near the Hohensalzburg fortress, while the market at Mirabell Square is heaven for foodies seeking local delicacies like Halusky (dumplings with fried bacon). One must also check out the Alpine heritage act where young men dress up as demons to demonstrate a mix of Celtic and Christian traditions.
5. Reykjavík (Iceland)
Reykjavík is becoming an increasingly popular alternative Christmas destination and receives a record number of visitors during the festive season. This year, the city has been witnessing snow since end of September so you can make the most of it and head out to play. You can also head to the Christmas Village at Hafnarfjörðu or the Christmas market at Ingólfstorg or try some ice-skating at the Ingólfstorg Square. Another interesting activity is the special hunt for the Christmas Creatures of Reykjavík. The Winter Woods at City Hall is yet another venue for good music, hot chocolate and cookies.
6. Prague (Czech Republic)
Medieval alleys, gothic architecture and good chances of snowfall – Prague feels like it was made specially for Christmas. You see chestnuts roasting on an open fire in Christmas markets such as Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square. Both these markets are five minutes away from each other. While Wenceslas shot to fame due to its mention in a Christmas carol, the market at the Old Town Square has its own old-world charm. It has a stable where kids can stroke goats, sheep and donkeys. One of the wooden stables depicts a Bethlehem scene depicting baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary and the Three Kings. The Christmas tree here is specially shipped from Česká Lípa. Other markets in Prague include those at Republic Square, Havel’s Market, Kampa Island in Lesser Town, and near St. George’s Basilica at Prague Castle. You can shop for Christmas presents, local produce (try barbecued sausages Klobása and dessert Trdelník,) wine and Czech beers.
7. Vilnius (Lithuania)
Vilnius is among the most overlooked city, yet it has the most lavish markets for Christmas. The capital of Lithuania takes good advantage of the snow to head out for ice skating outside the Town Square Cathedral. The 550-feet TV Tower is transformed into a huge Christmas tree during this season. People flock to the markets of old Cathedral Square, Bernardinai Gardens and City Hall Square. You can see stalls selling traditional handcrafted goods along with Lithuanian cakes and pastries (including ragoulis and poppy-seed cake). And while the Cathedral Square market boasts a big 3D display showing a fairytale story called the ‘Christmas Dream,’ the Bernardinai Gardens market offers interesting games and carousels. If your children still want more, hop on to the Christmas Train that takes you in and around Vilnius. The train is driven by elves and the kids will surely love the ride! So will you.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!