There’s something special about spending Christmas day at home, cosy and warm by the fire, with your family. That being said, I’ve still had the opportunity to experience some magical Christmas bucket list destinations, either before or after the festive period and I highly recommend experiencing it for yourself!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase anything through a link, I may earn a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying sales. You can read my full disclaimer here.
1. New York City
From a very young age, New York City was on my Christmas bucket list. I’m pretty sure it had something to do with watching Home Alone 2 over and over again!
I had been to New York already, but I finally got to visit right after Christmas back in 2013 and it was just as magical as I imagined.
Things to do at Christmas in New York
The Christmas Tree at Rockafeller Centre is iconic, with locals and tourists enthralled by it every year. The tree lighting ceremony takes place in late November, with the tree staying up until 7 January. It’s somewhere you can just stop and take in for hours, whether it be the skaters at the ice-rink at Rockafeller Centre or the incredible Norway Spruce itself, sometimes measuring up to 100 feet!
The Winter Village at Bryant Park makes a great day out for the family, with an ice-skating rink where you can skate for free and over 60 stalls selling Christmas gifts and food and of course hot apple cider.
You can’t visit New York at Christmas without going to see the Rockettes at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. We pre-booked a tour of the theatre before the show and even got to meet some of the Rockettes!
Take the Christmas Movie Tour where you’ll visit some of the iconic places that set the scene for movies such as Home Alone 2, Elf and Miracle on 34th Street.
2. Dublin, Ireland
Dublin, where I lived for 12 years before moving to the UAE, is just a few hours from my home so it goes without saying that I have fond memories of the city at Christmas.
Things to do at Christmas in Dublin
Walk the streets of Dublin City Centre over the festive period and see the 15 metre Christmas tree on O’Connell Street, the many buskers of Grafton Street and the stunning festive lightshows dotted around 17 different locations, including Trinity College, City Hall and the GPO.
Don’t forget to have a pint of Guinness in Temple Bar while singing Faitytale of New York in true Irish fashion!
Christmas in Dublin isn’t complete without going to see one of the traditional Pantomimes at The Helix, Olympia or Gaiety Theatres. If you’re not familiar with Pantomimes, you’re in for a treat! The audience get involved, shouting every time a baddie creeps onto the stage, the dads are called up to the stage for the dad dance, and your little ones will have the time of their lives (little ones not essential).
One thing I’ve always wanted to do is walk Grafton Street on Christmas Eve, where, if you’re lucky, you could be treated to a busking session by some of Ireland’s greatest musicians, home for the holidays. Some of the usual suspects are Glen Hansard, Bono, The Edge, The Script, Hozier and Kodaline! In recent years, Glen Hansard, the founder of this Dublin Christmas Eve tradition, has called on people to donate to the Simon Community, a charity for the homeless, throughout the concert.
3. Prague, Czech Republic
There’s something magical about Christmas in Europe, with the possibility of waking up to a blanket of snow, strolling through Christmas markets and tasting local Christmas cuisine.
Things to do at Christmas in Prague
While there are many Christmas markets dotted around Prague, the most famous is the Old Town Square with its huts lit with lanterns. Pick up some last minute Christmas gifts or just some local souvenirs for yourself and enjoy local cuisine from food stalls.
Listen to festive music at Wenceslas Square where choirs often put on concerts and sing-along carols.
Climb up the top of Old City Hall Tower for stunning views of all the Christmas trees and markets throughout the city.
Walk the cobblestone streets of the city where you’ll hear Christmas music and see lit up trees, adding some festive atmosphere to your trip.
4. Dubai, UAE
You may not think that a Muslim country in the Middle East could be one of the most festive places to celebrate Christmas, but that is certainly not the case. With around 90% of the population of the UAE being expatriates, the country welcomes other cultures and enjoys getting into the holiday spirit just as much as the next.
I have been in the UAE for almost 5 years and have spent two Christmases here. My family even joined me two years ago in Dubai.
Things to do at Christmas in Dubai
See the malls decked out in festive decorations and enjoy the discounts of the winter sales.
If you’re interested in winter sports (what, in the middle of the desert??), you can go ice-skating at Dubai Mall or even take to the slopes in Ski Dubai in Mall of the Emirates.
Spend Christmas Eve in the desert dune bashing and experiencing a night full of culture at the desert camp. Ok, this may not be the most festive thing you can do, unless of course you make it festive! My family all wore Santa hats (even my 15 year old nephew played along for me).
For the day itself, enjoy a Christmas brunch at Mina A’Salam at The Madinat. While there is no pork served here (you can find it in other restaurants though), there are stalls and stalls of food from all around the world, including your traditional turkey meal. We had a table outside by the water, with a view of the Burj Al Arab and Santa made an appearance by boat, throwing sweets at us from time to time. There was a choir singing carols and then a band took over when everyone was merry enough for some dancing.
If nothing else, it was the most unique Christmas I’ve had (other than that time we had no electricity, heat or water for 4 days!).
5. Lapland, Finland
When he’s not working hard, this is where the man himself is taking it easy! It’s also home to all his reindeer. Lapland at Christmas is certainly a magical Christmas bucket list destination.
Visit Santa’s Village in Rovaniemi all year round and get to meet Santa himself! Some of the activities here at the village:
- Huskie sledding – these dogs are so excited to go out for a run that usually you can’t play with them until after the sledding! But don’t worry, they are all for petting and cuddling after they’ve had their morning exercise.
- Visit the reindeer farm – did you know that all of Santa’s reindeer are female? The male reindeer lose their antlers in winter and all of Santa’s reindeer have their antlers still attached in December, therefore there must all be female!
- See the Northern Lights
- Buy a souvenir in one of the gift shops
Explore the underground toy factory of SantaPark where the elves make the toys for all the children around the world.