The holidays have come again, and while staying home with your loved ones can be nice, so is a luxurious, wonder-filled adventure. To get the most magic out of your seasonal escape, head for one of these five fantastical destinations where Christmas cheer is the order of the day.
New York City
There’s a reason the Big Apple often becomes the chosen background in holiday movies: it’s magical. There’s so much to do, from viewing the giant tree in Rockefeller Center to ice skating in Central Park’s iconic Wollman Rink and browsing one of the many seasonal outdoor markets, such as the one in Union Square or Columbus Circle.
For a more traditional shopping experience, visit Macy’s on 34th Street to take in its stunning holiday displays and wander down Fifth Avenue to check out the festive storefronts at Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and others on the strip.
Keep up the high-end holiday theme by resting your head at Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Baccarat Hotel and Residences, an ultra-chic uptown stay from the renowned French glassware company. Treat yourself to a little Christmas indulgence by booking the Midtown Manhattan retreat’s Holiday Shopping Soiree. Check into your suite at the crystal-coated property before being whisked to Saks’ Sophie Suite by Baccarat for a personal shopping experience, complete with gratis champagne and a $150 gift card to the luxury retailer for purchasing some sumptuous stocking stuffers.
Get into the spirit of the season with a Yuletide tradition seven years in the making at Four-Star The St. Regis Aspen Resort, where a tree-lighting party will take place on December 15. Gather in the courtyard to watch as the 30-foot tree comes alive with twinkling lights before digging into holiday cookies and mugs of mulled wine and hot cocoa. And, of course, Santa will be on hand for all your photo needs.
Even if you can’t make this spectacle, The St. Regis offers many other festive events, such as gingerbread cookie decorating (December 18), a carriage ride with Kris Kringle and Mrs. Claus (December 20 and 21), a make-your-own-ornament workshop (December 17) and more.
Of course, venturing beyond the luxury hotel is also highly recommended. The tony town glitters with delicate lights and, usually, a fresh blanket of snow. Ice skating rinks dot the city, world-class skiing abounds, the World Snow Polo Championship (December 17 through 22) is held and, of course, plenty of boutiques line the streets to accommodate your last-minute shopping.
Winter fun can also be had during 12 Days of Aspen (December 20 to 31), a downtown celebration featuring a calendar of (mostly) family-friendly activities each day, including teddy bear story hour, live performances (don’t miss Third Eye Blind on December 27) and Christmas-themed crafts like stocking- and cookie-decorating classes.
The British capital is anything but bleak come the holidays, when the city literally lights up: annual Christmas carnival Winter Wonderland illuminates Hyde Park and an 82-foot Norwegian spruce brightens up Trafalgar Square each December.
Other merry must-dos include wandering around Carnaby Street to see the exquisite light display, which this year includes Freddie Mercury’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” lyrics written in neon over the boutique-lined streets. In the West End, Regent Street also dazzles with lights and is the perfect spot for a cup of tea and some window shopping.
For some extra Christmas spirit, visit Mayfair’s Four-Star Brown’s Hotel, a Rocco Forte Hotel to take advantage of its Suite Nights With Boodles package. This elevated offering includes a bottle of Ruinart rosé champagne and housemade mince pies upon arrival, a private consultation with the luxe British jeweler plus a £500 (US$628) gift certificate and a massage at the hotel’s spa.
Another great holiday option is The Egerton House Hotel, which is just a five-minute walk from the lavishly decorated Harrods. This richly adorned Four-Star Knightsbridge address helps you make the most of the season with its Dreaming of a Harrods Christmas offer, a festive promotion that includes a two-night stay (with English breakfast each morning), a voucher to the iconic department store and winter-wonderland-themed afternoon tea for two.
If you want a surefire way to experience a white Christmas, head to a spectacular ski spot, such as Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Waldorf Astoria Park City. Don’t miss the resort’s giant gingerbread house in the lobby before heading outside to take advantage of the fresh powder with ski-in, ski-out access and playful Snowman Alley, a reserved spot for tiny travelers to create their own snowman.
Celebrate the season during Snowfest (December 16 to 31), a 16-day fete on Park City Mountain that includes live music, an avalanche dog meet-and-greet, jugglers, magicians and plenty of complimentary s’mores.
Be sure to stop by on December 16 for the annual Santa Comes Down Town Lift event and, on Christmas Eve, partake in a 55-year-old tradition — the dazzlingly festive Torchlight Parade up Park City Mountain.
The allure of Italy is strong all year long, but during the holidays, bright lights and bountiful feasts boost the country’s romantic appeal, especially in the Tuscan capital. Celebrate Christmas for two with a stay at Five-Star Portrait Firenze and a Yuletide brunch at its bistro, Caffè dell’Oro. Indulge in a spread of freshly baked focaccia, an array of winter salads, Italian cheese, hand-cut beef tartare, tortellini in a truffle broth and a host of delicate sweets all while taking in the view of Ponte Vecchio. Later, wander to Piazza del Duomo to see its stunning Christmas tree and classic Nativity scene.
While you’re here, take advantage of the seasonal markets around town — such as the German-themed Weihnachtsmarkt (open through December 20) in the Piazza Santa Croce — and check everyone off your list. For even more winter splendor, take a day trip to the medieval town of Chianciano Terme and experience Santa’s village (until December 26), a magical makeover that includes Christmas scenery, light projections, a little train and a ton of wonderment for both kids and the young at heart.