Want to close out the year with a bang? Take to the road during the holiday season, when plenty of cities do it up for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. You’ll ring in a new year with lifelong memories of some of the unique ways these far-flung locations celebrate.
You may think Santa lives at North Pole, but the Finns say Rovaniemi in Lapland is Santa and Mrs. Claus’s official hometown. Tucked inside the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi is Christmassy year-round, but it gets serious at the end of November. Visitors can attend an elf school, visit a reindeer farm, ride with husky dogs, or participate in other winter sports. And then on December 23 (the day before Christmas Eve), you can watch Santa and his reindeer take off to deliver presents around the world. Unique lodging options include glass igloos. December prices for a family of four start around €799 per night.
Christmas markets have popped up all over Europe, but the one in Nuremberg, Germany, dates back to at least the mid-16th century. Nuremberg's Christkindlesmarkt runs from late November to December 24. The season is jammed with concerts, walking tours, Christmas-themed museum exhibits, and, of course, shopping. The Nuremberg Christmas Market Council handpicks 200 juried vendors who sell traditional Christmas products, food, and arts and crafts wares.
Would you rather have a warm-weather holiday trip? Santa Fest in Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia, runs from late November to Christmas Eve. A Christmas-themed Ferris wheel, movies, mazes, and fireworks are just some of the events taking place. Don’t forget to party with the locals on Bondi Beach. On Christmas Day, Australia’s most famous beach hosts the annual “Sunburnt Christmas Festival.” Forget fruitcake; indulge in Aussie barbeque instead and listen to top music acts.
New Year’s Eve
If you’re in Sydney, stay for New Year’s. It’s one of the first major cities to celebrate the new year, and Sydney Harbour is the place to be. Fireworks set against the city’s famous opera house and bridge make for dramatic views. Many of the city’s best hotels open their roof decks for the show. Or take a cruise to watch fireworks at midnight for around $1,095 (AUD) per person.
Réveillon in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, is second only to the city’s Carnival festival for a great party, and it is set on Rio’s famous Copacabana Beach. Partygoers wear white to honor the goddess of the sea, Iemanjá, and bring her gifts such as white flowers to receive her blessing. There are bonfires and fireworks, and samba schools and DJs perform live all night and the next day.
Cape Town, South Africa, has stepped up its game on the New Year’s front. The best part is that it’s summer there. Watch the sunset in a cable car ride up to Table Mountain, and then head down to New Year’s Eve headquarters on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Follow the clock tower for the midnight countdown and watch fireworks over the harbor. And when January 1 comes around, you can spend the day on the beach or watch Carnival-themed parades.