Frosty snow, jingling sleigh bells, and the scent of pine trees filling the air, are all harbingers of Christmas. Commercial Christmas ornaments, shoppers madly rushing to last-minute holiday sales, and canned Christmas music can never be satisfactory enough for travelers who seek the true spirit of Christmas. To get that honest-to-goodness holiday tingle in your bones that can only come from a real holiday atmosphere, you have to travel the world. These five cities will get you in the mood from the minute you arrive.
A visit to Edinburgh, Scotland, will make you think you've been magically transported backward in time to arrive in the medieval ages where royal soldiers marched in traditional formation regaling citizens with old Christmas songs on bagpipes. Those same images are alive and well in Edinburgh today, in addition to spectacular fireworks, Christmas concerts, cabaret dinners, and performances by choirs and chamber orchestras. You can spend the holiday touring the Lauriston Castle, which is open each year for family activities and crafts. There is a Christmas Fair each year at Meadowbank Stadium, where children can enjoy their holiday fantasies and dreams with all proceeds from the event going to charity. Edinburgh is also home to the unique post-Christmas Hogmanay celebrations, beginning with a torchlight processional on December 29th and continuous street festivals and celebrations until January 2.
Amsterdam's quaint coffee shops and enchanting countryside are just the beginning of the list of holiday enticements. The beautiful canals, narrow alleyways, and lovely boathouses fill the signature vistas of the 'city of angels'. Cosmopolitan areas such as the Museumplein and the Damrak are packed with Christmastime markets, and ice skating rinks are put up all around the city. The rinks at Leidseplein gives both young and old a great place to enjoy the icy cold together, and locals gather in pubs to enjoy mulled wine and traditional Christmas cookies. The Museum Amstelkring is a Catholic church that is tucked away in the attic of a canal house, and Christmas Eve masses are offered as an alternative to services in regular churches. Saint Nicholas is considered to be the Patron Saint of Holland, and he is thought of as the Santa Claus of the Dutch people.
Many people think of Norway when they think of snow, because it is one of the whitest and most snow-covered locales in the world. The city of Oslo brings travelers up close and personal to all that snowiness, with the frost-covered slopes of the renowned Holmenkollen, which overlooks the peaceful fjords. The local Oslo metro takes adventurers all the way to the top of Holmenkollen, where skiers and sledders alike enjoy sunny days breezing from the snow-capped peaks down the slopes. Oslo's little yellow and red wooden cottages nestled amid the pure white driven snow are the picture of a Norwegian fantasy landscape.
Perhaps the most appropriate travel destination for people seeking the holiday spirit is Lapland, Finland, the legendary birthplace of the jolly man himself, Santa Claus. Visitors can explore the Sarek National Park riding along with husky-pulled sleighs, riding along the King's trail through deep, lush forests, and past mountain slopes. The Finnish skies are sparkling with stars and the magic aurora, and a clear night beneath the stars offers the opportunity to spot a few reindeer, moose, or lynx in their natural habitat. Commercial tourism has not been developed in Lapland, so there are no tourist accommodations, rental cottages, or bunches of eager tourists walking around. A genuine Christmas travel adventure awaits, including activities such as snowmobiles, ice fishing, and even snow skiing with tame reindeer.
After enjoying the old-world holiday flavors of cities around the world, you can come home to the epitome of modern-day Christmas spirit in the Big Apple, New York City. Every year the city lights a huge Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, and the bright lights of Radio City Music Hall and the bustling frozen skating rinks make for an atmosphere packed with the spirit of Christmas. Many movies with a central Christmas theme have been set in New York, where the Brooklyn Bridge is always frosted by a wintry breeze and Times Square twinkles with holiday lights and Christmas carols. Cozy dinners in Greenwich Village and warm drinks in Soho always bring a magical holiday mood, as do the giant floats and entertaining characters in the annual Macy's parade.
The Christmas spirit can certainly be felt and enjoyed in all of these cities, but you don't have to go anywhere to get in the holiday spirit. The best place to find and nurture the true feeling of Christmas is within your heart, because you can carry that warmth and joy with you all yearlong.