It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, there’s often something extra special about the entire month of December. From Africa to Australia and all the way around to North America, different countries celebrate the holiday season in different ways.
Traditional Christmas markets, beautiful light displays, and thumping street festivals are just a few of the ways in which these festive cities show off their holiday spirit. And, if you’re planning on travelling somewhere special this season, the level of Christmas cheer just might play into which destination you choose to visit.
So, we tucked into some egg nog, put on our reindeer jammies and began to scour the planet in search of the most festive cities in the world. Quite a difficult job, we know, but someone’s gotta let you know where to head if you’re after the perfect mix of holiday lights, cosy markets, and tantalising treats you only eat but once a year.
As Buddy the Elf would say…Santa’s coming! Hop on the sleigh and get ready to fly around the world as we explore the 50 most festive cities.
Most Festive Cities In The World
Calabar was the first capital of Nigera, but now it’s home to Africa’s biggest street party. The Calabar Carnival takes place each December when hundreds of eclectic figures take to the streets to dance, sing, and celebrate the year. The celebration begins on November 30th year and lasts the entire month of December. Festive? You betcha.
Despite the tropical weather, Christmas markets are actually one of the most anticipated events of the Christmas season in Jamaica. And, the Kingston market is perhaps the most anticipated. It’s an intriguing mix between festival and market, which isn’t surprising given this island’s laid-back vibes and fame for fun-filled adventures.
Jerusalem sits less than ten kilometres away from Bethlehem, the town where the entire Christian tradition of Christmas began. Thousand of pilgrims visit the city to celebrate the holiday near the birthplace of Jesus, providing a truly unique experience for visitors after a more cultural Christmas trip. Don’t worry, though, you can get a dose of modern holiday cheer by checking out the lights at the YMCA Christmas Market.
You’ll find one of the best Christmas markets in the world in Taipei, a buzzing winter playground for people of all ages. This bustling city seems to have a special buzz about it at Christmastime, A huge urban square transforms with a gala light show that creates a fairy tale-like experience out of the country’s tallest Christmas trees, fun-packed rides and local vendors.
It might be near close to being on the polar opposite side of the world as Santa’s Workshop, but that doesn’t stop Cape Town from being one of the most festive cities in the world. Festive lights illuminate Adderley Street while a gigantic tree towers over the Victoria Wharf. Charming Christmas decorations and waterfront views? We’re in.
Not in the mood to brave the Canadian cold? Don’t worry, Winnipeg’s created a different kind of Christmas spectacular. Check out Canad Inns Winter Wonderland, a festive seasonal drive that’ll weave you in and out light displays made up of over a million lights. With over 26 themed areas to enjoy, it’s festive and fun for anybody in the family.
Brisk, cool air chills your hands as you warm them with a thick, creamy cup of Madrid’s famous chocolate. Enjoy a slice of roscón de reyes or stick with hot chocolate as you walk under the famous Plaza Mayor Christmas tree. You’ll also want to pencil in some time to also check out the stream of lights leading up to Puerta de Alcalá.
Don’t all rush to buy your plane tickets now, but the town of Frankenmuth, Michigan is home to the world’s largest Christmas store. Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland is a year-round spectacle, but that’s really only a small slice of the holiday pie here in Frankenmuth. The entire glows in glittery lights and spirit, complete with a Christmas restaurant and the idyllic Silent Night Memorial Chapel.
Looking for a warm weather destination for Christmas? Mexico City has an average temperature of 23° Celsius in December, making it not only a pretty festive city to visit, but also a delightfully warm one. Indulge in an incredibly festive and historical show put on by the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico or head out to explore the city’s lights.
While most travellers head to Chicago to visit the traditional German-style Christkindlmarket, there are other hidden gems in the Windy City that make it one of the most festive cities in the world. The Lincoln Park Zoo presents a one-of-a-kind, festive holiday experience for visitors to enjoy. Hundreds of luminous displays and fun seasonal activities make this the spot to be during Christmas in Chicago.
The Seoul Christmas Festival takes place every year along the Cheonggyecheon Stream from Cheonggye Plaza all the way to the Jangtonggyo Bridge. It’s complete with a Santa village and dream castle. However, simply strolling along the water’s edge with a cup of hot cocoa in hand is sure to spark some Yuletide cheer.
The Christmas market in Sydney is called the Ultimate Christmas Market, and they mean it. It’s the ultimate starting point from which holiday cheer spreads out and into the entire city. Make sure you stop by the Canopy of Light for a dazzling end to a truly festive visit.
Austin’s Zilker Park turns into a fantastical display of festivity each year, forming the world-famous Trail of Lights. A very beautiful spot for holiday proposals, Instagram photoshoots, and leisurely strolls, visiting this light-covered trail is a great way to kick off any holiday trip to one of Texas’s most visited cities.
Edinburgh’s Christmas festivities last for spectacular weeks. Just like the city itself, the market and other activities are vibrant and exciting, making it one of the most festive cities in the world for Christmas travel. Enjoy views of the capital from the top of the Big Wheel or marvel at the stunning light displays that make the city twinkle at night.
Asheville is by far one of the most festive US cities at Christmas time. If you’re able to make it here for the holidays, plan a visit to the famous Biltmore Estate. It’s known as one of the most haunted houses in America, but at Christmas they turn it into a magical, spectacular light-covered winter wonderland. After indulging in a little holiday cheer, head to the N.C. Arboretum. It’s dressed in half a million twinkling lights.
Searching for the best Christmas light displays in the world? Check out the city of New Plymouth in New Zealand. It’s perhaps one of the most impressive, imaginative light displays in the world. Let your imagination run wild as you explore installations such as a vibrant, regal peacock, trumpet flowers, and suspended water droplets.
Christmas in Kuala Lumpur is a little different than it is in the rest of the world, as the country’s official religion is Islam. However, it’s still one of the most festive cities in the world, offering up bright fairy lights and towering trees to enchant visitors from countries near and far. Head to the Pavilion KL for the most vibrant display of holiday cheer.
For any Christmas freak, the chance to visit the famous Rockefeller Center during Christmas is an ultimate bucket list item. The massive tree towers over the enchanting ice rink, framed by angelic figures blowing golden horns. Sounds like it’s straight out of a fairytale, right? If it weren’t for the hoards of tourists who also think it sounds amazing, New York would have surely topped the list of the world’s most festive cities.
Visiting London this Christmas? Don’t count on blankets of white snow, but do count on enjoying a festive city filled with millions of lights that are sprinkled all over various neighbourhoods. From the twinkling Oxford Street Christmas lights to the beautiful decorations illuminating Covent Garden, there’s actually so much to explore here that you’ll need to plan an entire Christmas trip to London just to fit it all in.
During Christmas, the entire town of St. Augustine lights up in a magical display of holiday cheer, making it easily one of the most festive cities in the world for Christmas travel. The city’s annual Nights of Lights holiday display adorns the historic American city and creates a super cosy atmosphere that’s perfect for a warm weather stroll with the ones you love.
Once the Lights of Christmas turn on, Stanwood, Washington turns into one of the most festive cities in the world. Twinkling lights frame this picturesque town just north of Seattle, bringing joy and excitement to visitors who travel from all over the world just to get a glance. And, as if that weren’t enough, lodging in the city is uniquely decked out in holiday themed decor. It’s a full-on winter wonderland.
A dazzling Christmas market sits in front of the historic Cologne Cathedral, surrounding a tremendous and idyllic Christmas tree. Christmas music, arts and crafts, toys, Christmas decorations and the scent of the goods from bakeries fills the air. But that’s not all you’ll find in this festive city. It’s home to numerous other enchanting markets to explore as a star-splashed sky and brisk December air set the holiday mood.
While the reason behind the impressive Kobe Luminarie is quite melancholy, the display manages to add a dose of festive holiday cheer to an otherwise sad date. This light festival has been held in Kobe every December since 1995 to commemorate the Great Hanshin earthquake of the same year. Today, it acts as lovely memory of community and the art of giving.
Classic Christmas charm meets contemporary displays of awe-inspiring lights and moving images in Como, Italy. Welcome to Città dei Balocchi. Lake Como comes alive at Christmas, but there’s something truly captivating about the projection mapping light display in the historic city centre. This year’s theme is We Love the Planet, which is just too socially-conscious and timely to miss out on experiencing.
Did you know that 34th Street actually exists? It’s a miracle you haven’t heard about it yet. Fans of Miracle on 34th Street will love getting the chance to explore 34th Street in Baltimore, a neighborhood that’s decked out a holiday light display that’s like nothing you’ve ever seen. And, if that’s not enough for you, check out downtown Baltimore for an even more awe-inspiring Christmas tree and ice skating rink.
You’ll have to fly all the way to Polkobin, Australia to immerse yourself in a magical world of light. In the heart of the Hunter Valley wine country you’ll find one of the world’s biggest and most interactive light displays. Wind your way through spectacular displays that include a giant light castle, light tunnels, and, of course, a cosy lover’s corner that’s ideal for festive couples in search of a perfect shot for the ‘gram.
Just 20 minutes away from Fairbanks you’ll find the festive city of North Pole, Alaska. Yes, we’re talking about the real North Pole. Or, as close as you’ll get without a sleigh and some reindeer. From magical ice art to a real Santa Claus house, it’s hard to beat the cheerful nature of this Christmas city. You can even send letters to Santa here, where they’ll be postmarked from the North Pole and stamped with a Santa seal.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Brussels during winter, you’ve got to get into the Christmas spirit at the city’s Winter Wonders markets. The Big Wheel at Place Sainte-Catherine should be your first stop. Then, enjoy an afternoon of wandering through the 250 wooden chalets spread across the city. Stay for nightfall when the lights come on and things turn really festive.
Gardens by the Bay is enchanting year-round, but around the holidays it turns into a Christmas wonderland where over 360,000 bulbs illuminate the fairground, including Asia’s tallest luminarie Christmas tree. Wander and weave your way through this festive city’s romantically lit ‘Mistletoe Alley’ before indulging in traditional Yuletide food.
Head to Birmingham, England at Christmastime and you’ll get the chance to check out the No. 2 best Christmas market in the world. It’s one of the biggest German Christmas markets outside of Germany, attracting visitors from all over the world each year. The sound of Christmas carols fills the air along with the smell of roasted chestnuts. You’re dying to visit this festive city now, aren’t you?
Last year, Valkenburg receive the European City of Christmas award making it easily one of the most festive cities in the world. This Dutch city proudly wears the title of one of Europe’s best Christmas towns, offering visitors enchanting, cheerful activities to engage in. Mysterious caves transform into magical mazes full of hundreds of stalls, thousands of lights and a Christmas charm that would make even Scrooge smile.
Pigeon Forge is home to one of the best holiday theme parks in the US and one of the most festive hotels in the country. So, it’s easy to see why it ranks as one of the most festive cities in the world. There, you can spend the holidays exploring Dollywood. Experience the wonder of Christmas as you explore Glacier Ridge, a wonderland filled with a sparkling 50-foot video motion Christmas tree.
Fancy a bit of festive fun this holiday season? San Jose is home to a parade that’ll light up your Christmas tree. Beautiful light displays, fireworks, floats, dancers and music draw thousands of visitors out onto the streets of San Jose each December for a marvellous display of holiday cheer and culture. To catch your breath after such an exhilarating evening, you can usually find the Nutcracker on stage at the city’s theatre.
Starting as early as November you’ll find Christmas trees popping up all over the city of St. Petersburg, Russia. Festive performances, open-air markets, and an enchanting city street decorated to mimic a winter wonderland all make this one of the most festive cities in the world. Make sure not to miss a delightful performance of dancing Russian Santa Clauses.
Hop off the plane during Christmastime in Vienna and you’ll wander into a festive wonderland where the streets are filled with the aromas of roasting chestnuts as visitors warm up with alcoholic punch and beer. Vienna is such a beautiful city and the twinkling lights only add to the divine charm that seems to seep out of the walls of each building during the holidays. Easily one of the most festive cities in the world.
Dazzling, marvellous…words just seem to fall short in trying to describe the magic that is the world-famous Winter Illumination that the city of Tokyo puts on each year. The event attracts over half a million visitors each year who are delighted by illumination displays and a dramatic light show with special themes and movie soundtracks. This year’s theme is Aladdin, so prepare for a passionate Arabian night in Tokyo.
If visiting Santa at his workshop in Finland doesn’t put you in the Christmas spirit then you might just be the reincarnation of the Grinch himself. Rovaniemi is the Hometown of Santa Claus, and the city’s most famous resident can be visited every day of the year in Santa Claus Village. In Rovaniemi, you can enjoy reindeer and husky rides and of course, meet Santa Claus and his elves.
The Christkindlmarkt in Leavenworth, Washington was recently ranked as the No. 1 best Christmas market in the world. So, it’s easy to say that Leavenworth is one of the absolute best US cities to visit for Christmas. This Bavarian-style village is in the Cascade Mountains. And, every winter the “Village of Lights” comes alive during the holidays for a unique winter experience.
In terms of Christmas light displays, Salerno reigns supreme. Festive cheer doesn’t even begin to describe the dazzling installation that Salerno constructs each year around the holidays. A large illuminated Christmas tree is framed by historic pastel-coloured buildings. Lights twinkle overhead, almost as if engulfing visitors under a sea of blue ocean waves. You simply can’t miss out on the chance to visit this festive city.
Zagreb’s Christmas market ranked No. 3 in the world. And, while the market is surely festive, the nearby SalajLand (just one hour away) awaits excited visitors with five million lights and wooden walkways on which to take the perfect Christmas photo. Explore the charming park as the sky sprinkles soft snowflakes onto the twinkling white ground. Christmas has never been so enchanting.
Adelaide is one of the friendliest cities in Australia, which might account for the reason why residents are so keen on creating a Christmas village of lights and displays every single year. The community takes it upon themselves to put on a show that lights up the entire Lobethal Valley in the Adelaide Hills. On the 23rd of December, Santa and residents take to the streets for a lively parade full of festive cheer.
The light show in Christchurch is so impressive that it’s hard to believe its humble beginnings as a family garden setup. Yes, this impressive light show is one of the best in the world and it’s all put on by one family. Hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights twist and turn to create an enchanting maze of holiday cheer. It’s festive and fun and honestly the couple behind this magical display is full-on #couplegoals.
While Bernville is a pretty great place to spend Christmas, we’re more specifically talking about Koziars Christmas Village here. Upon arriving, you’ll feel as if you’ve reached a fairytale world full of Christmas cheer, charming walkways, and twinkling lights. Visiting Koziars Christmas Village is like heading straight into Santa’s Workshop, which is complete with Santa’s Post Office Shop, a kissing bridge, and a toy shop.
If we were ranking the most festive regions of the world, Alsace would, without a doubt, take the number one spot. Even when not decked out in garland, lights, and twinkling wreaths, the city embodies a certain charm that evokes feelings of holiday cheer. Between Strasbourg and Colmar, the latter seems to be more fairytale-like in its representation of Christmas magic. But, they’re honestly both incredibly festive.
What makes Riverside, California one of the most festive cities in the world? The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa. Simply put, it’s an unforgettable holiday experience that you and your family will remember forever. It attracts over half a million visitors each year who flock to witness Santa, elves, 200 animated figures, the world’s largest mistletoe and so much more. It’s so enchanting we think you’ll even head back next year.
The captivating light display at the Ayala Triangle pushes Manila to the No. 22 spot on our list of the most festive cities in the world. Year-round, the lush garden provides locals with a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. During the holidays, it transforms into a whirlwind of magic and colour. Thousands of lights dangle from the trees and dazzle passerby looking to get into the Christmas spirit.
Snap a photo of Quebec City during the holidays and you’ve got the quintessential postcard picture of a quaint Christmas town. Old Quebec is brimming with culture and heritage, and the snow that so perfectly drapes the town in a wintery coat makes it look that much more charming. In December the city turns party of the town into a Charles Dickens-esque Christmas village filled with lights and market stalls.
It’s hard to argue the fact that Medellin is home to the absolute most impressive Christmas light display in the entire world. Thousands of tourists flock to this Colombian city each year to gawk at the 27 million light bulbs, 32,000 figures and 810 kilometers of luminous LED hose that lines the city’s riverbanks. Witnessing the spectacle is pure delight; it’s a mixture of light, colour and magic.
What’s not festive about a frosty city full of lights and charming walkways to explore around the holidays? Copenhagen is certainly full of Christmas cheer, but for the ultimate holiday experience, head to Tivoli Gardens. Follow in the footsteps of magic as you take a journey on an elf train and watch the sparkling fir trees light up the gardens. Grab a glass of gløgg (mulled wine) while you wander!
We recently ranked Silver Dollar City as one of the best US theme parks to visit during the holidays. So, it comes as no surprise that Branson is the most festive city in the world to visit during Christmas. If you’re headed to Silver Dollar City, you’ll witness 6.5 million lights twinkling throughout the entire park. However, the entire city truly gets into the holiday spirit, offering driving tours through light-filled neighbourhoods, live Christmas shows, and thousands of decorated trees.