Whether your winter holiday trip enhances your yuletide nostalgia with traditions, sparkly lights, and nippy air or makes a radical break from it—by, say, taking you to warmer climes or a quiet, far-flung hideaway. With that goal in mind, we’ve rounded up diverse, exceptional places to get you in the spirit of taking off. Full list here.
Why Go: The snowy city island of Trømso offers unparalleled views of the northern lights (look for them between 6 p.m. and midnight) and a chance to say you’ve been to the North Pole—well, the Arctic Circle, anyway—for Christmas. Plus, there’s dogsledding, great food, and a mountaintop cable car. Here, “day” is just a couple hours of twilight blue.
Where to Stay: Most hotels shut down for the holiday, but not the Clarion Hotel Bryggen, right on the harbor. The views of Trømso Sound are best admired from the roof’s steamy Jacuzzi.
Holiday Dinner: Stay put at the Clarion for a traditional Norwegian Christmas dinner at its restaurant, Astro. The chef has been known to serve Nordic dishes like basil-glazed filet of catfish and whole roasted filet of pork, and recommends a side of French salt-baked Rosewald potatoes.
Why Go: Stroll historic Nerudova street in Mala Strana to view the city’s Gothic and Baroque architecture, or catch an opera or ballet at the State Opera or National Theater. Visit the holiday markets in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square.
Where to Stay: The 109-room Hotel Josef is outfitted with Baleri armchairs, Philippe Starck bathroom fixtures, and fluffy duvets.
Don’t Miss: Standout local brews; grab a pint of pilsner at cozy U Pinkasů.
Why Go: The wilderness Urho Kekkonen National Park, a 90-minute flight from Helsinki, is an actual winter wonderland: traverse the frosty landscape via a reindeer-pulled sled, or go cross-country skiing on the Saariselkä trails.
Where to Stay: Some of the igloos at Hotel Kakslauttanen are made of thermal glass—so you stay warm watching the northern lights.
Don’t Miss: A four-hour cruise on the Sampo, which served for 26 years as an icebreaker.
Why Go: In this compact Alpine city, a display of 12,000 crystal lights marks the season on November 21. Grab a heissi schoggi (hot chocolate) and explore the galleries on Rämistrasse, check out the Conelli Christmas Circus, or listen to a holiday concert in the Romanesque-style Grossmünster church.
Where to Stay: Set on the Sihl River, the Hotel Restaurant Helvetia has 16 rooms with Art Nouveau touches.
Don’t Miss: On the eve of December 19, children set candles afloat on the Limmat River near City Hall.
Why Go: In this otherworldly landscape, daylight is a four-hour affair and the liquid-green aurora borealis illuminates the nighttime sky. Statues of the 12 Yule Lads (the Icelandic version of Santa Claus) peer out from every corner shop and window.
Where to Stay: For covetable views of the Hallgrímskirkja cathedral and reasonable room rates, check in to the Hótel Leifur Eiríksson.
Holiday Dinner: The seafood restaurant Vid Tjörnina lures locals and visitors alike with its classic Icelandic cuisine. How about hot smoked puffin followed by shots of Brennivín (a.k.a. schnapps, or “firewater”)?
Why Go: New England’s old-world ambience and coziness make Boston a natural choice for the holidays. Enjoy Beacon Hill’s cobblestoned streets dusted with snow, and celebrate the ghosts of Christmases past with the Christmas Revels at Harvard's Sanders Theatre.
Where to Stay: A gas fireplace warms every bedroom at the XV Beacon Hotel, which mixes classic details like an antique cage elevator with bold abstract paintings. Just a few minutes away from Boston Common and Faneuil Hall.
Holiday Dinner: No. 9 Park serves over-the-top, shockingly good cuisine. The menu showcases French- and Italian-influenced dishes such as signature prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras and Vin Santo sauce. A selection of rich desserts and artisan cheeses rounds out the offerings.
Why Go: In this Scottish gem known for its widespread arts and theater culture, a holiday light show includes fireworks illuminating the sky from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” around the Sir Walter Scott Monument serve even better than carolers.
Where to Stay: Fireplaces are continuously rekindled at the baronial Balmoral. The Caledonian Hilton Edinburgh is Scotland’s answer to the Plaza and equally as opulent.
Holiday Dinner: Sorceresses were burned at the stake beside the gates of Edinburgh Castle in the 16th century, but nothing is scorched at the Witchery by the Castle, which stands on the site. The restaurant serves Loch Duart salmon and Gartmorn Farm duck—all cooked to perfection.
Why Go: In this old-meets-new Swedish town, you can shop for Modernist designs while strolling through its 16th-century town square. Locals leave a hearty dinner of aquavit and herring by the fireplace for Santa instead of milk and cookies.
Where to Stay: High-class and centrally located on Baltzarsgatan, the Grand Hotel Garden Malmö serves traditional Swedish Christmas dishes as part of an all-you-can-eat buffet on December 25th.
Holiday Dinner: If you are not a buffet buff, book to eat at Petri Pumpa’s festive spread in the stately Elite Hotel Savoy. The fish-and-meat-centered feast includes a dozen varieties of herring and salmon; ham with red, brown, and green cabbage; and köttbullar (Swedish meatballs).
Why Go: A Provençal winter is always fairy tale–like: the villages gone silent at summer’s end come back to life; music from medieval churches fills the cobblestoned streets; women crowd around market stalls to sniff out the freshest foie gras.
Where to Stay: The region’s grand hotels—Couvent des Minimes Hôtel & Spa; the Terre Blanche Resort—pull out all the stops for the season. But for a quintessential country escape, why not rent an old-but-renovated farmhouse with a cozy heart?
Holiday Dinner: Christmas Eve dinner at the Château d’Estoublon's Bistrot Mogador is a traditional gros souper or “Great Supper.”
Why Go: Instead of carols, listen to the haunting sounds of the gamelan gong for a change while you admire the Christmas Eve sunset at the island temple of Tanah Lot.
Where to Stay: Incense wafts through the soaring lobby, and wreaths of rice plants, herbs, and flowers hang on the doors of the 22 suites and villas at the small, affordable but remarkably stylish Hotel Tugu Bali.
Holiday Dinner: The Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan jazzes up the traditional meal: choose from an array of gourmet dishes, such as Ayung "Cocotte," Grilled Yellow Fin Tuna, Oven Roasted Lamb Shank, and much more