It’s that time of year again. Christmas is here. Halls are getting decked. Wine is being mulled. Presents are pilling up. And amidst all that, people are getting ready to travel. Some of us will be traveling home. Others will be taking advantage of the time off to chase the sun or finally strike out on that long-awaited globe-trotting adventure.
Point being, travel is in the air. So we thought we’d reach out to some of our favorite travelers to find out how and where they spend Christmas. The results are an interesting mix of classics (home, sweet, home), surprises (an Orlando timeshare!), and iconic destinations (Hawaii, Austria).
Let’s dive in!
HALEY PLOTKIN (readysetjetset) — ERFURT, GERMANY
The most exciting place to spend Christmas has got to be in Europe. With all of the Christmas markets, it’s like being in a fairytale! Germany has some of the best ones out there, and I was lucky enough to spend one holiday season exploring the Thuringia region’s amazing Christmas Markets in places like Erfurt and Weimar.
I’m from Texas, so we really don’t get cold, snowy Christmases where you drink mulled wine and sit around the fireplace. But they do in Germany! For example, in Erfurt, they have a mascot for their market, a little bean man called the Erfurter Puffbohne, and you can order your mulled wine in themed Erfurter Puffbohne mugs that you can take home with you.
How cute is that? Just the sort of thing I’m never going to find back home in Austin!
Even beyond the markets, seeing these storybook-like towns all dressed up for the holidays, with of all of the lights and decor strung up amongst cute old buildings, is really something special. Not to mention, super Instagrammable. If you ever get a chance to visit Germany during the Christmas market season, do it!
DAVID DURAN (mrdavidduran) — MAUI, HAWAII
I know this is going to come off as bougie but I’ve traveled a lot. I mean, it’s what I do for a living, so I know which places or destinations make me happy. And the islands of Hawaii are one of those places. More specifically Maui, and even more specifically, the community of Wailea, located in south Maui.
It’s this part of the island that is home to the majority of the luxurious resorts, as well as my favorite beaches. One of those drool-worthy resorts is the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort, which is where I’ve spent past winter holidays with my family.
My more general answer is anywhere in Hawaii, because the weather is incredible and allows you to be in shorts and flip flops, and the festive Hawaiian atmosphere makes for a perfect chill holiday. But my more specific answer is in a four-bedroom oceanfront villa at Andaz Maui because these villas will bring you all the holiday joy a family may need and more. There are over 4000-square feet, more bathrooms than bedrooms, and a gourmet kitchen with plenty of space for everyone to gather, not to mention epic views of the water just a few hundred feet away.
Sharing such a massive, modern, and lavish space with my family makes it harder for us to bicker and clash, helping to ensure we keep the happy aloha vibes flowing. Also, Maui. Mele Kalikimaka.
MEGAN STONE (isbeeracarb) — BALTIMORE, MD
My favorite place to spend the holidays is in my hometown Baltimore, Maryland. It’s a bit of a melting pot and has incredible food from every culture. I have a list of must-visit restaurants that I crave all year ’round.
Baltimore also has an excellent drinking scene. You can find everything from unique hand-crafted cocktails to solid local beer. Baltimore is a city with a lot of history, naturally giving most of the bars an interesting atmosphere. In my opinion, the best holiday attraction to explore is Miracle on 34th Street in Hampden. Every single house on the street is completely decked out from sidewalk to rooftop with lights and holiday decor: Hubcap Christmas trees, Hannukah menorahs, giant snow globes, a sea of flamingos, Santas, and Frosty the Snowmans. It began in 1947, and I’m pretty positive when you move onto the street you’re required by contract to keep the tradition alive.
Another great holiday treat is the massive Holiday Train Garden at Kenilworth Mall. It has several model trains weaving through towns packed with snowy scenes, your favorite cartoon characters, and even has interactive bits. Baltimore gives you a little piece of everything — fantastic food and drink, history, and holiday fun.
MATT PAYNE (mattpaynetravelphotography) — OKLAHOMA
My family and I are fortunate enough to live on a farm. Unfortunately, it is not the bucolic vision I had when I first moved there — where I wake up each morning and take in the sunrise and clean, open air. Like most travel writers/photographers, my life is typically a hectic swirl of airports, deadlines, and blue light.
Christmas morning on the farm is different. There’s a stillness that I tap into on Christmas morning. Deer play in the pasture and birds feast on sunflower seeds on the feeder outside our window. I recall Christmas Eve two years ago watching two great horned owls perched in an old dead tree as dusk, hooting an eerie, soothing carol while coyotes in the distance sang back up. These moments in nature happen daily at the farm. The holiday miracle is that when the world stops for 24 or so hours, I do too and in doing so, actually notice how beautiful it actually is.
SOHEILA HAKIMI (isthatsoh) — TORONTO, CANADA
Christmas is definitely not about the gifts for me, but more about the experiences and gathering of family and friends. Last year, I went to Hawaii with my boyfriend Adam and his family — 13 of us shared one house. Adam’s brother and four cousins are all within five years of each other and four of them brought their significant others, outnumbering the parents 2-1. It was pretty clear the “kids” ruled the house and we would trade off on who was on meal duty just as often as who would end up on the blowup mattress by the end of the night. It wasn’t so much that we were in Hawaii that made the trip incredible, but more that we were all together, celebrating and getting quality time in.
This year we’ll be spending Christmas in Toronto, Canada and I am just as excited for the quiet, cold nights, where you can see the snow softly falling around you and your hot breath evaporates into the cold air. As always we will gather and toast to another year of good fortune and happiness, and like every year, we will all be gunning for the piece of Zelnik Baba bakes (a crispy, savory, Balkan phyllo pastry pie) especially for Christmas dinner. There’s always one with a lucky coin inside, per our family’s tradition.
The winner gets a year of incredible luck — it’s a holiday custom yours truly has won two years in a row!
ERIN ROSE BELAIR (roseblacque) — SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
I wish I had a more interesting answer to this, but the truth is I decline holiday travel. I don’t want to go anywhere. I always stay home. It’s the one time of year where home is the only place for me. Home for me is Southern California which still is funny for the holidays because I grew up in Minnesota. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that it’s the holidays, so I think we all go out of our way in the ways we can. It becomes a California Christmas. Which means simple things like hot lattes and wandering the outdoor malls with decorations up and music playing. It means holiday parties and a Christmas tree overlooking the ocean.
My sisters and I watch movies for days and then we eat Mexican food on Christmas Eve. We watch my nephew open presents Christmas morning and then watch more movies. I used to make cookies every year and deliver them to my friends on Christmas Eve, but the list got too crazy after doing it for ten years so we hung up our hats. Maybe I’ll bring that back this year. It’s traditions like this that make me want to stay home. It’s strange, but it’s us.
I’ve got family here so if I tried to travel I’d never hear the end of it. I’m lucky though. I’m really really lucky.
KARL WATSON (karlwatsondocs) — DORSET, ENGLAND
Although I grew up in the north of England, for the past 15 years, my mum has lived right in the south in Dorset. Going there for Christmas is so refreshing, escaping the big smoke of London to be right on the doorstep of the beautiful British countryside.
In particular, Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. The stunning cliff line makes for incredible hiking, there are ruined castles and beautiful little villages all lit up for Christmas, with plenty of cozy cafes and pubs to choose from. Like Ralph Fiennes once said in In Bruges “…it’s like a f**kin’ fairytale!”
EMILY HART (emilyventures) — ILLINOIS
As a teacher, I am lucky to have a two week holiday break each year. As a traveler with a full-time job, as you can imagine, this is a great opportunity to explore. And while I generally take some time after Christmas to travel solo, I always spend Christmas in the same place where I grew up.
I’m from the middle of nowhere, Illinois. Where the cornfields go on for what seems like an eternity. Where everyone knows your name (and your moms and dads and grandpas and sisters and ex-boyfriends). The kind of town everyone seems to want to leave, but can’t wait to get back to around the holidays.
I remember working at the town grocery store in high school and the days leading up to Christmas were the best. I knew all of the customers. Memorized the codes for sweet potatoes and onions. “Did you see that so and so’s back in town for the holiday?” customers would ask. “Yes, I saw them this morning,” I would reply.
There’s something special about a small town at Christmas. A town where everyone goes to the same restaurant for breakfast on Saturday morning. A town where everyone knows what street has the best Christmas lights. Where it might be below zero for the entire week, but it doesn’t matter. All we have to do is be together.
That’s the kind of town I’m from. That’s the place I love to spend Christmas.
MARK C. STEVENS (markcstevens_) — AUSTRALIA
Being from Maine, the holiday season is all about freezing your britches and having snow on the ground. Having spent the past two Decembers in Australia — where IT’S SUMMER — has changed my tune from a holiday jingle to a Jimmy Barnes classic. Traditions in ‘Straya include classic Christmas customs like jumping in the pool with your whole family, going to the beach, or having a barbecue.
Two years ago, I was in Melbourne visiting friends and the day was centered around pool lounging, drinking cold beers in the sun, and walking down to the Brighton beach boxes. Last year, I was in Northern New South Wales, unsuccessfully hunting bunnies with a bow and arrow on my girlfriend’s parent’s property and drinking cold Furphy’s while listening to her dad’s playlist of classic Australian country singers like the aforementioned Jimmy Barnes, John Williamson, and Slim Dusty.
Sure, there’s something romantic and nostalgic about cozying up around the woodstove, having hot cider or chocolate, and looking at the frost on the windows. However, the thing about nostalgia is, in order for it to exist, you’ve already experienced it. Southern Hemispheric holiday season is unusual for me and so I enjoy discovering the idiosyncrasies.
AMANDA BURRILL (amandauncharted) — NEW HAMPSHIRE
I’m from New England and always grew up with a white Christmas, so you can imagine my shock spending the holidays in southern California -– or in the sandbox during my military years. That never felt right, so these days the priorities are family and snow.
Ever since I took up mountaineering, I try to tack an adventure to the holiday. My schedule is quite flexible but the weeks surrounding Christmas tend to be when an adventure buddy can join me. Last year, right after a good old fashioned family Christmas, I went to New Hampshire’s White Mountains to attempt the Presidential Traverse, also known as “The Death March.” During a 20-hour window of good visibility, I spent over 16 hours covering 20 miles of the worst weather in America. It dipped as cold as -37F and winds gusted up to 69 mph. It was miserable and by that I mean I had the time of my life.
I used to be a model, so taking this photo along the route that most people don’t dare attempt was a hoot. This year, a couple of days after Christmas in Maine, I head out on a three-week expedition to Argentina’s Aconcagua. It’ll be my fourth of the Seven Summits of the world. Gimme that Christmas dinner, then gimme that snow.
MAX ST. ROMAIN (gastronautadf) — MONT TREMBLANT, CANADA
I grew up in a place where winter never looked or felt like they describe it in Christmas carols. So when Christmastime rolls around, I crave the whole snow globe fantasy: the winter wonderland, the jingle bells, the fireplace with chestnuts roasting. For that reason, today instead of recommending a destination I already know, I am going to tell you about the place I am elfishly obsessed to spend the holidays one day: Mont Tremblant.
This small town in the Laurentian region of Canada is so adorable it hurts. It’s as perfect as a Disney movie or a Christmas card. Its colorful little houses, tall pine trees, and snow-covered hills make me all gooey inside, like a s’more. And that’s what Christmastime is all about, isn’t it? Mont Tremblant is also packed with winter activities. It features a popular ski resort, snowshoeing, and hiking. There’s big wildlife about so you might run into a reindeer, literally! I’m also told that the food is quite good there, with many casual eateries, pizzerias, brew houses, and even fine dining.
So, dear Santa, if you’re listening, how about a little of that Christmas magic of yours to check Mont Tremblant off my wish list? It’s way closer to the North Pole!
MELANIE SUTRATHADA (melaniesutra) — SAN DIEGO, CA
I love to spend the holidays back in my hometown of San Diego, California. I’ve lived on the East Coast for years now and escaping the cold to be with family and friends in the sunshine is nothing short of magical. It doesn’t get better than a holiday season filled with ocean waves, long bike rides along the boardwalk, and sunsets painted in the most beautiful shades of pink and orange.
Growing up, I always wished for a white Christmas filled with snow, but now I long for holidays spent with the warmth of the sun on my face. California is the biggest breath of fresh air during these colder months and is especially perfect for the holidays. Visiting Balboa Park or the San Diego Zoo to see the Christmas lights are a must!
CAMERON LEE (thecameronlee) — LONDON, ENGLAND
Hands down London. It’s the most festive place to be around the holiday season. The entire city is a celebration of Christmas during this time. All the major streets are lit up with incredible Christmas lights. The Christmas lights installation on Carnaby Street is one of the best they’ve done in years and everything is made using recycled and reusable materials. If you’re visiting London during this time, you must make a stop here to see the light installation.
There are also multiple ice-skating rinks in the city, including one by the iconic Natural History Museum, but my favorite one is at the Somerset House. It has a 40-foot tall Christmas tree dressed by Fortnum & Mason and the rink is large enough to skate without bumping into people constantly.
London’s Covent Garden also has an annual Christmas Switch On extravaganza event where they literally switch on over 115,000 lights in the piazza along with a 55 foot tall Christmas tree. This year they created the Wonder Wood, which is a little enchanting Christmas tree forest with trees dressed by popular local British brands for that perfect Instagram moment. The whole place is like a mini Christmas wonderland.
Speaking of wonderland, London is known for its Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, which is one of London’s biggest festivals where they transform Hyde Park into a winter wonderland filled with Christmas markets, rides, ice-skating, and all sorts of holiday-themed attractions. I really can’t think of a better place to be around the holidays.
ÉMILIE LECLERC (la_petite_biere) — ORLANDO, FL
I LOVE to spend Christmas in Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort in Orlando, Florida. My parents have a time-share there and they use it for all the family to gather and celebrate Christmas far from the Canadian snow. I love that place. The view I have from the condo is amazing, I have access to many outdoor pools, a huge lake, a gym, and activities.
When I went last year, I discovered so many great breweries in the Orlando/Tampa area. Before that, I never thought Florida was a state to keep an eye on when it comes to craft beer. But I was SO wrong. The community is small but it’s strong!
I had an amazing time at Half Barrel Beer Project. You can drink beer from many local breweries, and they also have access to endless beers cans from all around the country.
From all the breweries that I tried in that area, Calusa Brewing in Sarasota was my ultimate favorite. Their team, their space, and their brew is amazing! I also really liked: Angry Chair, Hidden Springs, and Cigar City to name only a few.
JUSTIN WALTER (atwjustin) — CHICAGO, IL
This is an easy answer: Sweet home Chicago! As much as I love traveling the world, and as cliche as it might sound, there’s no place I’d rather spend Christmas than my hometown. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago (Naperville to be exact) surrounded by a large extended family of loud and passionate Italians, so returning to Chicago for the holidays is all about traditions.
The start of my Christmas celebrations kicks off with our annual “Cousins’ Christmas” party. The night always involves an adventure in downtown Chicago. Over the years, we’ve enjoyed everything from drinking mulled wine at the Christkindlmarket to busting out (rather attempting) triple axels while ice skating at Millennium Park to getting lit walking around ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo. No matter what we do, it’s guaranteed to be followed by a competitive game night of Settlers of Catan, Mafia, Celebrity, and Taboo.
The traditions don’t stop there! Christmas Eve is always held at Aunt Nettie’s where our Italian moms spend the night serving up a classic seven fishes dinner along with homemade pizzas and pasta. When it comes time for gifts, the games continue as we rotate reading poems and guess who had each other in our Secret Santa gift exchange. To round out the traditions, my dad (still to this day) ends the night reading us “Twas’ the Night Before Christmas” before we put cookies and milk out for Santa and his reindeer.
As a traveler, it’s hard for me going back to the same place more than once. Returning to Chicago annually for the holidays is a tradition I cherish and a trip I love.
WRITER’S PICK: ZACHARY JOHNSTON (ztp_johnston) — HOOD CANAL, WA
The Hood Canal area — and the eastern Olympic Peninsula — is my ancestral home on my dad’s side. It has a draw for me unlike any other spot on the planet. My dad’s people have been living there for millennia and the foods, atmosphere, and old forests still have a pull on me, especially this time of year.
My go-to spot to call home is always Alderbrook Resort & Spa. It’s an old-school timbered lodge right on the Canal. There’s an old record player spinning old-time Christmas tunes and stacks of board games next to a ripping fireplace with free hot cocoa all Christmas long. The bar whips up a mighty Manhattan and there’s always a long list of great, local seafood at the ready.
Speaking of seafood, the Hood Canal is a bit of an oyster, clam, shrimp, and salmon lover’s paradise. Spots like the Skokomish Indian Reservation have some of the best smoked salmon in the state. And not far up the 101, you’ll find Hama Hama Oysters harvesting the best oysters north of California.
Then there’s the camping, hiking, boating, the high-country Alpine areas of the Olympics, the rainforests, the little taverns selling broasted chicken and jo-jos, pubs slinging Rainier beers and oyster shooters for a couple of bucks, farmer’s markets … the list goes on and it’s all accessible over Christmas as the weather tends to stay fairly mild — think the mid-40s and misty mornings with a little frost.
There’s just not a place that speaks more to who I am as a person than the Hood Canal area between Union and Port Townsend, Washington. It’s wild. It’s home. And it’s best enjoyed around Christmas.
EDITOR’S PICK: STEVE BRAMUCCI (stevebram) — TIROL, AUSTRIA
The natural pick here is my family home in Portland, Oregon. That’s where I’ve spent all but two Christmases in my entire life, so I’d better like it. And it is quite lovely — the weather is brisk enough to make you crave heavy food but not so cold that your pipes freeze and burst on Christmas morn. There’s fantastic food, lights on houses (Portland stuck it out with the big, clunky light strands and I love them), and a freaking Whiskey Library. Indoor and covered skate parks will keep you entertained, tons of free-range-organic-artisan-shade-grown-living-wage chocolate will give you ample cocoa opportunities, and literally every other man has a beer belly and a beard — so finding a good Santa is easy. (Oh, and Christmas donuts!)
That said, nothing beats the Christmas lead-up I spent in Austrian Tirol. The Kriskindl Markts have been raved about by literally every travel writer who has ever visited them, and yet… they’re underhyped. Seriously. Walking around and shopping from small vendors while sipping mulled wine is the Christmas Spirit distilled. There’s an old-world feel and the villages are small — you can actually smell the mulling spice and the pine needles, instead of having those sensory elements filtered through a layer of smog.
Oh, and do you know about Krampus, the giant, horrible monster that abducts kids on Christmas? Because he’s from this region and to honor him, men roam the streets in giant, furry suits, and heavy wooden masks terrorizing people. Kids hate it. It’s sincerely traumatizing. And yet the tradition endures.
When it snows (which is often), everyone hikes up the long, windy alpine hills, eats heaping helpings of stew with fresh loaves of bread, glugs more gluhwein or beer, and sleds down again at a breakneck pace. And there’s always something like that. Every day in the leadup to the holiday itself. There are men in jaunty alpine hats singing one night and restaurants serving communal dishes of food in pans so heavy that they threaten to strain the oak tables another and cozy crackling fires in every bar and restaurant. Then there’s my favorite hotel on earth: the ultra-luxurious, ultra-sensual Aqua Dome, Tirol — where steam rises day and night from the many thermally-fed pools and locals and tourists alike bask nude in the many saunas, steam rooms, and spas.
Okay, we maybe went off the rails there with all the nude spa stuff. But I promise you: It’s the dreamiest region on earth for Christmas and if Santa were to skip a year and spend it cozy but the fire, this is where to look for him.