Is a change of scenery tops on your list for Santa this year? Make it happen with an escape to one of these unforgettable holiday destinations, rich with unique traditions and a special sense of place. Away from the familiar comforts of home and hearth, it’s easy for the entire family to see the magic of the season with fresh eyes — and the memories will be a gift in themselves.
Best Holiday Destinations for Families
Europe’s Christmas Markets
From dignified London to glittering Prague, Europe’s enchanting markets embody a storybook vision of holiday cheer — and almost all of them have a boundless supply of treats, toys and activities to delight kids. Some are truly destination-worthy (Vienna and Salzburg in Austria; Strasbourg in France; Nuremberg, Hamburg and Dresden in Germany), but don’t ignore under-the-radar gems in places like Bologna, Italy; Krakow, Poland; Madrid, Spain; and countless others. Ciao Bambino’s expert Family Travel Advisors can help you choose and plan for a destination that fits the vision you have in mind.
TIP: Want to market-hop? Adventures by Disney has partnered with AmaWaterways on kid-friendly river cruises down the Rhine and the Danube, which allows for a taste of the offerings in multiple countries without having to switch home bases.
New York City
New York is legendary for its fairytale atmosphere during the holidays, with enough traditions for a vacation’s worth of fun. Swoop around the Rockefeller Center ice rink and join the cheering crowds as its towering tree is lit; indulge the little ones’ Santa Claus fantasies at Macy’s Santaland; take in a performance of The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. Even so, carve out time for lesser-known New York holiday happenings that are popular with locals, especially in the outer boroughs. Browse the event listings at a site such as Time Out New York to see what’s on during your stay.
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You might not be able to make it to the North Pole, but you can get pretty close! Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland in the Arctic Circle, bills itself as the “Official Hometown of Santa Claus” — and while the big guy himself is in residence every day of the year, visiting at Christmastime is a treat kids will never forget. Interact with reindeer at a local farm, bake cookies with Mrs. Claus, learn the tricks of the trade in Elf School, go tubing and sledding at Snowman World and much more. Numerous tour companies offer packages to Rovaniemi, but quality can vary widely and the fine print can be tricky to interpret. Enlist our help to be sure you book one that suits your standards.
Few destinations celebrate the holidays with such distinctive flair as New Mexico does. On Christmas Eve, glowing farolitos (paper luminaries) line the streets, most famously Santa Fe’s Canyon Road. Admire homes along the Pecos River, bedecked in dazzling lights and visible from nighttime boat cruises; munch anise-flavored bizcochitos and savor steaming bowls of posole. Although Santa Fe, Albuquerque and points beyond offer a wonderland of festivals and other fun, this is also prime ski country. If you fancy a day on the slopes, Taos Ski Valley offers some of the best powder in North America.
Holiday visitors to this Canadian capital might be forgiven for thinking they’ve landed in Europe by mistake. The old town retains the flavor of its 16th- and 17th-century history, all the more charming under a canopy of twinkling lights and a blanket of fresh snow. The city even provides a map of the best holiday decorations to guide you as you wander the cobbled streets. Among the many festive events throughout town, none beats réveillon, an over-the-top Christmas Eve feast — while it’s traditionally a family affair, local hotels and restaurants put on their own versions for guests. And don’t miss a turn down the toboggan slide at Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, one of the city’s most magnificent hotels and a fine home base with kids.
‘Tis the season to gather with extended family, and what better way to create a special memory than a multigenerational holiday escape? Cruises are a dream for multigenerational groups in any season, but their something-for-everyone appeal really shines at holiday time. Most cruise lines pull out all the stops: faux snowfall, gala buffets, kids’ parties, Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations, shipboard parades, visits from Santa and more. Leave winter’s chill behind with an itinerary that winds through the Caribbean; explore the multifaceted island paradise that is Hawaii; or get a taste of Latin America. Click here for a list of our favorite family-friendly cruise lines for all ages.
San Miguel de Allende
This flamboyant city in central Mexico does the holidays in a big way, and the celebrations last for the better part of two months. Its Spanish Colonial thoroughfares sparkle with lights and tinsel; donkeys and other animals star in live nativity scenes; traditional music rings through the winter nights. The highlight is the posadas, a nine-day series of singing processions and feasts rooted in religious tradition (it’s meant to symbolize Joseph and the Virgin Mary’s search for shelter in Bethlehem). If possible, stay around for New Year’s Eve, a family-friendly extravaganza of fireworks, outdoor dances and other festivities.
Editor’s Note: Photo by Office de Tourisme de Strasbourg.