Some might say there’s ‘no place like home’ during the festive season, but with winter wonderlands and sun-drenched beaches just a short flight away, we’d have to disagree.
Celebrating Christmas abroad means seeing first-hand how different cultures recognise the holiday season, buying exotic Christmas presents and, yes, no shortage of visits with Father Christmas himself.
If you’re spending the most wonderful time of the year on holiday, here are a few free activities to add to your Christmas itinerary.
Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, Lapland
It doesn’t get more festive than the Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi – Lapland, after all, it’s the official hometown of the big jolly man himself. The village is a bona fide winter paradise, dusted – and sometimes heavily blanketed – with snow and speckled with Christmas lights.
There’s no end to the festive activities on offer here. You’ll be able to take pictures on the official line marking the Arctic Circle, visit museums detailing Finland’s Christmas history, catch up with Santa and send mail from his official post office.
Stroll down Christmas Alley in Naples, Italy
Naples’ Christmas Alley – otherwise known by its real name, Via San Gregorio Armeno – is the unofficial nativity capital of Europe.
Even outside of the Christmas season this narrow alleyway, whose stones were laid by the ancient Greeks, is a sight you don’t want to miss. But, during the holidays it reaches all new heights, sprinkled with festive lights, Christmas Alley is packed with shops selling nativity figurines and decorations.
But when we say nativity figurines we don’t just mean your classic bunch of Three Wise Men – they’re handcrafted and often hilarious, with figurines of Steve Jobs and Prince William and Kate gathered around the manger.
Christmas Village in Reykjavik, Iceland
Just along the outskirts of Reykjavik in an area called Hafnarfjörður sits Iceland’s very own Christmas Village. Complete with a towering Christmas tree, live entertainment and a visit from Father Christmas and his elves.
The square in which the village is gathered is also lined with little stalls selling festive Icelandic crafts, along with hot drinks to keep you warm. The village is only open on the weekends in December, but is easily reachable via public bus.
Three Kings Parade in Barcelona, Spain
The Three Kings Parade is not only one of Barcelona’s most popular festivals at Christmas time, but year-round. It takes place on the 5th January, when the Three Wise Men officially arrive in Barcelona via colourful boat in the city’s harbour after a long journey from the Far East.
From there, the procession continues through the city with a long parade of vibrant floats. The Wise Men will distribute presents and greet the children eagerly awaiting their arrival – little ones will have written letters to them prior to Christmas detailing their wish lists, but children that haven’t yet shouldn’t worry. There’s still time to personally hand their letters over to the festive trio on the night of the parade.
Market Night in Madeira, Portugal
Market Night on the Portuguese island of Madeira in the resort of Funchal takes place every year on 23rd December, just in time to purchase any last minute Christmas gifts. The roads surrounding the farmers’ market all become pedestrianised and the holiday cheer is cranked up a sufficient number of notches.
The tradition of Market Night extends back to days when the 23rd December was the last opportunity for Madeirans to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables before the Christmas holiday. Now, the market is packed with live music and entertainment and local culinary specialities. Plus the bars in surrounding neighbourhoods stay open all night so the good cheer extends through to morning.