If you’re looking for a Christmas trip abroad, here are seven destinations, each with their own delightful twist on the Christmas spirit.
As a largely Christian country, Christmastime is a special occasion in Kenya. It’s not about presents, it’s just a celebratory time of year with a lot of carol singing and beautiful choirs; everyone is in their finery, the spirit is real. Instead of decorating a fluffy Douglas fir, people decorate African thorn trees with delicate jacaranda seeds painted gold and silver.
Machu Picchu and Cuzco, Peru
Sitting at 11,000 feet above sea level, Cuzco is a gem of Spanish colonial architecture: red tile roofs, cobblestone streets, the Baroque cathedral on the Plaza de Armas, and the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo, built on the foundations of the Coricancha temple, the Incas’ principal religious building. You can also enjoy the glass-roofed Vistadome train through the Peruvian Andes to the only hotel adjacent to Machu Picchu, the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge.
The Germans practically invented Christmas. Gingerbread houses, “The Nutcracker,” Handel’s “Messiah,” Advent calendars, the decorated Christmas tree, to name a few. When you’re in German, cruise along the Danube River embarking in Munich with stops at Christkindlesmarkts (Christmas craft markets) along the way. Christmas Eve kicks off with a guided visit to the Benedictine abbey of Melk followed by a tasting of Glühwein in Dürnstein. Travelers awake Christmas morning in Vienna for a day of strudel-making and a concert in the historic Kursalon. Gemütlichkeit (coziness) abounds.
So it’s not quite the North Pole, but Iceland is without a doubt a winter wonderland with sufficient Christmas credentials. Wild reindeer, dog sledding, charming old whaling hamlets, snow-covered mountains and a chance to spot the northern lights. The tiny country remains one of the most untouched and visually striking places in the world with vast fjords, glaciers, volcanoes, waterfalls, hot springs, lava fields, and black sand beaches.
The most spectacular New Year’s fireworks in the world are in Hong Kong. After a food-themed tour of the Sham Shui Po neighborhood, guided by a culinary specialist, guests are invited to New Year’s Eve at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook Victoria Harbour, offering the perfect vantage point to “ooh and aah” at the New Year light show.
If Christmas is about a connection to something ancient and eternal, Jordan is just the ticket. The country is full of remnants of the past: Biblical landmarks and Greco-Roman ruins. Petra, “the Rose City,” was carved out of red sandstone cliffs by the Nabataeans, most likely between the second century B.C. and the early second century A.D. Farther south lies the Wadi Rum, the epic desert is home to Bedouin culture. Christmas pilgrims can peer out over the Holy Land from Mount Nebo, or take a float in the Dead Sea.
Bethlehem is Jesus’s birthplace. Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox and Armenian Christians each have their own customs and traditions, meaning the festivities start December 24 and extend through January 18. The destination is also temperate, so while you don’t like a ‘white Christmas’ you’ll almost be guaranteed sunshine and sand.