WORLD’S 10 BEST CHRISTMAS DESTINATIONS
Christmas is a joyful time of the year what with the stunning decorations and exhilarating celebrations the world over. There are those who would travel far and wide to take in the sights and sounds of the season, and also treat themselves to the delectable treats during this time of the year. Here, Top 10 of Malaysia shares its list of the world’s 10 best Christmas destinations to go for when planning for one’s holidays this coming year end.
The Strasbourg Christmas Market or Christkindelsmärik, that dates back to 1570, is the oldest Christmas market in France and is located in front of the Strasbourg Cathedral. The over 2 million visitors to this place during Christmas time get to enjoy the offerings put up in some 300 chalets spread around 11 locations. Then there is the wonderful Christmas tree at Place Kléber and a skating rink on Place du Château. A must-visit place is the La Petite France which is an area of picturesque buildings with Christmas shops and a gingerbread bakery and where food such as sausages, choucroute (pickled cabbages) and the famous three-meat baeckeoffe stew are offered. Another place of interest is Place Broglie where hundreds of stalls sell ornaments, toys, food and mulled wine. It is no wonder that this city considers itself the capital of Christmas.
Nuremberg is a city in northern Bavaria and it’s distinguished by its medieval architecture. The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is famous for its gingerbread with chocolate or strawberry coatings, mulled wine and grilled sausages. The Christkind, a lady with blond curly hair wearing a golden crown with golden white gown “opens” the market traditionally before the first Advent. The Market of the Sister Cities also sells gifts such as Scottish kilts, French marmalade and Czech wooden angels. The Rauschgoldengel (gold foil angel) are also sold together with wooden and glass handcrafted Christmas decorations. Handmade Nuremberg prune men which are made from dried figs, prunes and walnuts are sold in various shapes and are suitable gifts to take home as souvenirs. Another nostalgic sight would be the Children’s Christmas Market where there are merry-go-rounds, a Christmas bakery and a Santa Claus house.
New York, USA
New York is hectic during Christmas with many people skating at the Wollman Ice Skating Rink and the top of the Empire State Building is filled with red and green lights for the celebration while the Rockettes perform their show-stopping leg kick precision chorus line for the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Other performances include the “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” at Radio City Music Hall. The Rockefeller Christmas tree is also lit and it’s a grand spectacular sight to behold. Holiday-cheer window displays are amazing while giant ornaments are displayed at different locations in New York. Handcrafted gifts could also be bought at the Union Square Holiday Market. The Tchalkovsky’s Christmas ballet by George Balanchine is a version of the New York City ballet and is a must-see during the Christmas season.
Bethlehem, West Bank
Bethlehem is a Palestinian town south of Jerusalem and Christmas is a focal celebration. Among the hotspots at Bethlehem would be the Church of Nativity which is built over the manger where Jesus was born. Midnight mass will be held in St Catherine’s chapel which is under the same roof as the church. The Milk Grotto is another chapel where Mary nursed baby Jesus and a spot of milk that had dribbled to the ground was said to turn the entire grotto white. The Shepherds Field indicates where angels appeared to the shepherds to announce Jesus’ birth. Most of the Christmas processions will pass through Manger Square, the plaza that lies outside the church. On Christmas Eve, bagpipe bands will be seen playing in parades. On the other hand, street vendors sell lupine beans, Christmas cookies and corn while the streets are merry with the presence of a giant Christmas tree.
The Vatican City, Italy
At the Vatican City, the Pope will deliver a Christmas Eve message during the midnight mass while a huge Christmas tree, decorated with tons of lights is seen at St Peter’s square with nativity scenes in front of the basilica. The most popular nativity scenes are in the center of the Vatican Square, Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo and Santa Maria d’Araceli church. Monuments and bridges are brightly lighted up and the scent of roasted chestnuts will fill the air. What’s more interesting is the fairy tale-like ice skating at Galleria Porta or the ice rink beside Castel Sant’Angelo. For delicious meals, the Piccolo Arancio offers traditional Roman dishes and some famous Italian Christmas treats are Panettone, which is a sweet bread flavoured with raisins or candied fruit and Pandoro, which is plain sponge cake with powdered sugar.
Vienna’s most well-known Christmas market is the traditional “Vienna Magic of Advent” which turns the City Hall Square into a shining fairytale land. One can enjoy the Christmas gifts, tree decorations, sweets, warm drinks while the trees surrounding the city hall park are nicely decorated. Another hotspot is the cultural Christmas market in front of Schönbrunn Palace. There are also traditional handicrafts, hand-made Christmas decorations, concerts and Christmas workshops. Visitors can get to take in the fragrant aroma of frying sausages, toffee apples, fragrance of scented candles as it fills the air. The traditional Christmas meal in Vienna is carp fried with breadcrumbs. Other Christmas delicacies are Lebkuhen which is similar to gingerbread, Stollen which is a cross between bread and fruit cake, Weihnachtskekse which is a Christmas biscuit and Spekulatius which is a spiced biscuit, Maronistand (Roast Chestnuts) and Christmas punch.
During the Christmas period, Copenhagen’s biggest tourist attraction, the Tivoli Gardens, is well decorated for the season with more than half a million glittering lights that transform it into a magical wintry wonderland. Canal-side Christmas markets, mugs of hot glögg (traditional warm drink), sugared almonds roasting in the street and all things magical envelops the city in an atmosphere of cosiness. In the evening, there’s a Christmas illumination show when the lake springs to life with lights, lasers, fire and music. Besides being mesmerised by the park’s numerous brightly decorated gardens such as the Boulevardhaven (the hanging gardens), the Columbine Gardens and the Japanese Gardens, visitors can go for the thrilling rides on one of the world’s oldest running wooden roller coasters built in 1914 and the ferris wheel, or even pop into the Glass Hall Theater for some great shows and perfomances.
Prague, Czech Republic
The largest and most popular enchanting Christmas markets in Prague are on the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. The Old Town Square Christmas market is the prettiest and busiest one in the city with the unique atmosphere of the medieval central Prague making it very popular. Stalls are nestled around the Jan Hus statue and surrounded by centuries old Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. There are the wood-carved toys, glass-work ware, blacksmith´s ware or confectionery and all things Christmas that may be bought there. Visitors may look forward to tasting traditional Czech food as barbecued pork, blood sausages, Czech muffins, conkers, beer, mull, mead and other typical Old Czech cuisine. For the more adventurous, there are walking tours that explores all the major attractions, including the Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, Old Town and the Jewish Quarter.
Rovaniemi is the Official Hometown of Santa Claus, the city’s most famous resident, who stays at the Santa Claus Village right on the Arctic Circle. Here, there are gifts bazaar, concerts and performances by Santa’s elves. Among the sporting activities are skiing, tobogganing and snowshoeing and a visit to Lapland’s Arctic Wildlife Park and joining the husky and reindeer sleigh rides is a lifetime fun adventure. It is also a resort on its own and houses shops, restaurants and cafes in addition to snowmobile tours, souvenirs, an igloo hotel and holiday village accommodations. Another unique destination is the Santa Claus Main Post Office operated by Posti, Finland’s national postal service and every letter gets a unique Artic Circle Postmark. Besides, there are also interesting reindeer tours and farm visits and the must-see Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights, which could be viewed around the city through a dark, clear sky and one good place is the Arctic Garden.
At Tromso, the Christmas atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the ‘polar night’ where the sun does not rise at all from November to January. It is the best time to view the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights and visitors could go to the far north of Tromsoya Island to do that. During the Christmas period Tromso transforms into a fairy-tale-like wonderland what with all those lights and festive mood. Christmas markets offer traditional sweets, handicrafts and special warm black crowberry cordial. There are plenty of music venues, including the cathedrals, where carols liven up the evenings. Christmas specialty dishes include fresh ingredients from the ocean such as Lofoten cod or skrei (spawning cod), roe and cod liver. In addition, crumbly, multi-layered sweet lefse, boknafesk (semi-dried cod), lamb roll and brawn (headcheese) are also interesting food offerings at Tromso, one of the most enchanting places in the Arctic Circle.