Our World Prepare your winter wonderland plan

Photo of Grace Millimaci

If the excitement of the festive season quickly turned into exhaustion after preparing a summer Yuletide feast for the extended family, here’s an idea: go away. Chill out this Christmas in a winter wonderland.

Now is the perfect time to start saving and creating a bucket list of places to visit. Big cities like New York create a festive buzz, while countries such as Switzerland offer a mix of traditions, history and nature.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

In the four weeks leading up to Christmas, Austria welcomes many markets that add a sense of fun to the holiday, such as ice-skating at the Viennese Dream Christmas Market. Hallstatt is a tiny Austrian village where you can stand 350m high on the World Heritage Skywalk to enjoy views of the lake and mountains (hallstatt.net). Vienna’s snow globe museum and store (viennasnowglobe.at) has been a family-run operation since 1900 when Erwin Perzy invented the first snow globe with “snow” made from ground rice. 

In Austria’s picture-perfect city Innsbruck, visit the six Christmas markets and indulge in a Tyrolean specialty such as kiachl — a freshly baked doughnut served with sweet or savoury toppings. Check out handcrafted tree ornaments and regional traditions like Krampus parades based on demon-like creatures of alpine folklore while listening to live music from brass bands. The festive spirit continues into the evening with medieval streets filled with twinkling lights (innsbruck.info). Find out more at austria.info

The Magical Christmas Markets of Austria and Germany tour from Collette kicks off with five nights in Innsbruck. The six-night trip is priced from $2299 (double occupancy) or $2699 for solo travellers. Or head out on the seven-night Classic Christmas Markets tour through Innsbruck, Munich, Strasbourg, Nuremberg and Wurzburg. It starts in the Bavarian alpine village of Oberammergau, where you can shop for wood crafts like cuckoo clocks. The tour ends with a visit to Nuremberg Christmas Market, one of Germany’s oldest markets dating back centuries. Tour prices start from $2499 for double occupancy and $2749 for singles. gocollette.com

The Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg (in the German State of Bavaria) entices millions of visitors with a mix of food scents including lebkuchen (gingerbread), gluhwein (mulled wine), roasted nuts and bratwurst. There’s a market especially for children where they can bake biscuits or ride on a carousel. One way to sample the food options is to take a small-group guided culinary tour. Christkindlesmarkt is known as the Little Town of Wood and Cloth because more than 180 wooden stands with red-and-white cloth roofs fill the market square. Find out more about the market at christkindlesmarkt.de/en and choose a food tour at wie-schmeckt-meine-stadt.de/en.

Germany’s medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a festive fairytale come to life, with more than 500 years of history. The town was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s version of Pinocchio. Rothenburg’s Reiterlesmarkt will be held this year from November 29 to December 23. The town, in Bavaria’s north-west, dates back to 1142 (rothenburg.de). Its 250sqm Christmas museum is a permanent exhibition that includes the history of tree decorations and customs and a family ticket costs €7 ($11) during peak season (weihnachtsmuseum.de/en/).

Berlin is packed with Christmas markets. Guided tours — whether by bus or on foot — are one of the easiest ways to see lots of sites in the German city. Search for a market at berlin.de/en/christmas-markets or book a tour at berlin.de/en/tourism/guides/christmas-tours.

Rovaniemi’s Santa Claus Village in the Arctic Circle is known as the official hometown of the big man in red. Rovaniemi is in Finland’s northern-most region of Lapland (visitrovaniemi.fi). You can get a reindeer driving licence for €5 (santaclausreindeer.fi); dine in a restaurant made of ice and then sleep at Glass Resort at Snowman World (snowmanworld.fi/en); or admire the northern lights and midnight sun from your bed at Arctic TreeHouse Hotel (arctictreehousehotel.com). Santapark — the Home Cavern of Santa Claus — is an indoor Christmas theme park with an elf school and workshop, an ice gallery and Mrs Gingerbread’s bakery (santaparkarcticworld.com).

Hans Christian Andersen was inspired to write The Nightingale after visiting Denmark’s Tivoli Gardens when they opened in 1843. Walt Disney was fascinated by the atmosphere, something he was keen to have when he opened his own theme parks. And at Christmas time, Tivoli — the theme park in the heart of Copenhagen — becomes a wonderland filled with snow-covered stalls and smelling like Danish biscuits and doughnuts (tivoligardens.com). The garden is decorated with about 70,000 baubles and more than 1000 light-covered trees. visitdenmark.com

Ever wanted to sleep in an igloo? Sweden’s Icehotel features permanent and hand-chiselled seasonal accommodation (the latter starts melting away at the end of winter). It’s perfect for travellers who appreciate snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures (icehotel.com). Stay warm at Sweden’s markets in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo with a glass of glogg (mulled wine) and sample delicacies such as sweets — especially gingerbread — smoked sausage and reindeer meat. Most Swedish restaurants start serving the traditional Christmas buffet known as the julbord from late November. Items include pickled herring, meatballs, ham and gravlax. For more details check out visitstockholm.com or sweden.se.

APT has dozens of cruise and coach tour options that make the most of the European festive spirit. You can even learn how to make mulled wine and biscuits while cruising around. Prices start from $4395 per person for the nine-day Festive Christmas Markets trip between Budapest and Berlin. Or stare in wonder at Canada’s snow-capped mountains. The Twelve Days Of Christmas coach and rail journey from Vancouver to Calgary costs from $7995 per person.

You don’t need to go to Europe to enjoy a white Christmas. More than 400,000 mail items addressed to Santa Claus, North Pole, Alaska, arrive each year at the North Pole Post Office, which is located on South Santa Claus Lane. See the aurora borealis northern lights in Alaska, where average winter temperatures range from about -7C to -1C. travelalaska.com

Weekend crowds may mean that queues at Canada’s Toronto Christmas Market’s (tochristmasmarket.com) entrance range from a five-minute to 60-minute wait. Admission is free during the week, but you’ll have to pay $CA6 (about $6) from Friday evenings. au-keepexploring.canada.travel

Here’s something a little different for Elvis fans heading to the United States. Graceland’s interior and exterior are decked out for the holidays, with an annual Memphis Christmas Lights ceremony that includes hundreds of blue lights along the driveway. Check out graceland.com/christmas-at-graceland or memphistravel.com.

If you’re a little afraid of the icy temperatures, consider a train journey that allows you to stay warm while exploring mountainous regions in Europe and North America. Glacier Express is known as the world’s slowest express train. Its eight-hour journey across the Swiss Alps travels over nearly 300 bridges and passes through 91 tunnels from Zermatt to St Moritz. glacierexpress.ch/en

The Canadian, the last trans-Continental train to be built for Canadian Pacific Railway, offers passengers plenty of natural wonders as it travels from Vancouver to Toronto. Great Rail Journeys (greatrail.com/au) has lots of options, including a Christmas in the Snowy Rockies tour.

(Top image: Christmas in Tivoli. Picture: Lasse Salling, Tivoli)

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