Where to Spend Christmas
If you’re as obsessed with everything Christmas, like me, you need to read this list of where to spend Christmas. Over the years I’ve visited a few different places during the holiday season and here are a few that really stood out. Although I have visited others around this time, they didn’t capture what I feel to be the Christmas essence.
So what was I looking for to include them on this list? The most important thing was the Christmas spirit. It’s something I feel when in a certain place, while not in others. That makes this list a bit more personal as it’s based on what I like, but I know you’ll enjoy it too.
Important to keep in mind. Seeing as we are still in a pandemic, many of these cities are requiring you to show proof of vaccination to enter the Christmas markets. Europe has the scannable QR codes of which you don’t usually need to show ID with it. If you’re coming from the US and only have the CDC card, you’ll usually have to show ID, so keep it on hand to not hold up the line. I kept mine in my passport on the page with my name and photo to easily move through the line.
Places To Visit:
This is the second largest city of Hungary located all the way east, near Romania. Honestly, it’s a city you’d probably never visit because there isn’t much to particularly see or do, unless you’re there as a student. I probably wouldn’t have visited myself, had it not been for someone close to me that is currently living there. I didn’t expect a small city to have many Christmas decorations, but I was wrong. There’s a tree in the city center with a skating rink right next to it and a Christmas market. You’ll also hear Christmas music playing while you sip on various flavors of mulled wine. Across the street you’ll find a large ornament with Debrecen written on it and another Christmas market behind it. There were lots of little stalls around the city selling mulled wine or little gifts.
Pro Tip: Being a small city, expect not to overpay for things such as the mulled wine. We paid 600 HUF (Hungarian Forint) which is about 1,60€ or $1.85 for each cup of a decent size.
When I visited Bratislava, it wasn’t technically during the holiday season yet, but they were already prepared for it to start. I visited during the middle of November. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the Christmas markets open, but they were already set up to start about a week after I left. Still being in a pandemic, the city decided to cancel the markets and they didn’t end up opening at all. While I walked around the city though, I saw many stores already have lots of ornaments in their display windows to sell and Christmas lights up. This city already gave me holiday vibes even though it hadn’t even started.
Pro Tip: Bratislava’s holiday celebrations tend to start the last week of November, so if you want to witness it, make sure to plan your trip accordingly. I knew I would miss it due to my schedule at the moment when I could visit.
This Austrian capital is gorgeous with or without Christmas decorations, but this time of the year really brings out a different side of Vienna. This has been my only visit, but I’m so glad I was able to experience everything holiday related that this city has to offer. If you’re planning a future visit during this time, expect LOTS of Christmas markets. They are literally all over the city and vary from small to large. My favorite market was the one at Rathauspark. It has many decorated trees, even a large one in front of the Rathaus building. Note: All markets have currently closed to COVID for the 2021 season.
Pro Tip: The Christmas markets mainly only take cash, from the gift vendors to the food stalls, so make sure you have enough on hand or hit the ATM before going. Most of the markets that I visited sold their Christmas punch or mulled wine in real Christmas decorated mugs. You pay the extra 4€ for it and then if you want to keep it, you can or you can return it and get back the 4€ you paid extra.
Although Budapest close to being a large city in Europe, but parts of its Christmas decorations gave me New York holiday vibes. There are two spots where they have a Christmas light show displayed onto a building. I only went to one of these, at Vorosmarty Square, which also has a Christmas market. When the light show isn’t playing expect to hear typical Christmas music playing while you eat a Kurtos Kalacs, a Chimney cake roll, filled with Nutella if you want! 😋
I really enjoyed walking around the city and seeing the lights practically everywhere. It really brought me that holiday spirit I had been looking for. I really enjoyed the Christmas market at St. Stephen’s Square with its tree in the middle, gift stalls and food. The city also had the words “Merry Christmas” in various languages displayed onto the basilica. Even though I didn’t get a chance to this time, I recommend going to the top of the basilica to see everything from above. Would be great to go a bit before sunset and stay to see the lights turn on.
Pro Tip: Being the capital of Hungary, expect to pay 3x more for a Chimney cake roll at the Christmas markets, so about 1500 HUF (4,10€ or $4.60). In other places, you can find the same ones at around 500 to 850 HUF (1,35€/$1.50 to 2,30€/$2.60). Sure, not a huge difference, especially when you have your travel budget, but it is when you look at how much Hungarians make. Just something to keep in mind while traveling.
New York City, United States
To me, New York City is the epitome of the holiday spirit and one of my favorites place of where to spend Christmas. Everywhere you go you’ll find lights and decorations. There’s probably too many places to name them all so I’ll share my absolute favorites with you here.
The Rockefeller tree with the light show displaying onto Saks Fifth Ave has to be one of my top spots. I know it’s super well known, so be prepared for lots of crowds everywhere. Saks 5th also has decorated windows with a different theme every year. Right next door is also St Patrick’s Cathedral which is nice to visit since you’ll be there and usually there aren’t many crowds. If you’re looking to go ice skating, buy your tickets online WAAAY in advance or prepare to stand in a line for hours.
The second spot you should hit up is Bryant Park’s Christmas Village. The whole park is covered in lights, it has its own tree and ice skating rink. There is also a market with a variety of food and gifts to buy. There’s a hot chocolate spot I’ve had my eye on for years, but it always had too long a line for me to want to wait in it in the cold. Once I have the name I’ll add it here.
The third spot you should hit up is far from Manhattan, but if you’re a lights fanatic it is 100% worth it. This one is in Brooklyn and it’s called Dyker Heights. Here you’ll find lots of streets lined with houses all covered in decorations, lights, and music. You’ll want to go around 80th st and 11th ave and all near the surrounding streets. If you’re moving around on the Subway, you’ll want to take the R line to 86th st in Brooklyn then take the B1 bus from 86 st/4 Ave to 86 st/11 Av or walk. You can also take the N train to Fort Hamilton Parkway. There is also a bus (X28) that leaves from Union Square that will leave you a few blocks away.
Pro Tip: If you want to visit any of these iconic NYC spots with smaller crowds, go early December. This means checking the websites and their social media pages to know when they start for the season. I’d advise going a couple days after they start. Why not the first day? Because lots of people will show up that first day, huge crowds and televised showing of the Rockefeller tree for example, and you don’t want that. Go during the week if you can and early on in December to *hopefully* get people free photos.
This list is by no means exhaustive of where to spend Christmas. I’ll be adding more to it once I go visit more places during this time. Which one would you like to visit that you haven’t already? Make sure to share this with anyone who also loves Christmas!