Where to spend Christmas 2017 abroad

With the mornings getting colder and the nights drawing in, you can't deny that Christmas is just around the corner. If you were thinking of spending Christmas abroad you better get booking. Here are our top destinations for Christmas 2017...
The Christmas tree at Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Photo: Shutterstock
The Christmas tree at Galeries Lafayette in Paris. Photo: Shutterstock

1. New York

New York is the Christmas dream. Endless snow covers the parks, creating the white Christmas people dream of. The shops on Fifth Avenue are wrapped up like presents in twinkling lights. Everywhere you look there is a Christmas scene: ice skating in Central Park, a gigantic Christmas tree outside the Rockefeller Center, the show adverts on Broadway for the Nutcracker Ballet. All this is complimented by the smell of hot spiced drinks and cinnamon-infused baking filling the air. 

As well as ice skating, strolling through Central Park after a fresh snow fall and seeing the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, New York has some of the best shopping in the world. Shop for Christmas gifts in the luxury shops on Fifth, in the trendy boutiques in the Meatpacking District and in huge department stores like Macy’s and Bloomingdales. Head to the markets in the outer boroughs for some original, one-off pieces of art, jewellery or clothing. You can also pick up some organic, local fresh produce for your Christmas dinner. New York is the place if you want a classic, dreamy Christmas.  

2. Tenerife

For some easy-to-reach winter sun fly south to Tenerife. Although December is one of the islands cooler months the temperature sits at an almost constant 20°C  (68°F), except on Mount Teide where anyone who needs their snow fix can get it. Explore Mount Teide National Park on Insight Guides' Tenerife Explored trip. The island's position, close to the equator, allows extended daylight hours with sunset occurring around 6pm. This gives a few extra hours to soak up the much needed winter sunshine. Trees, lights and Santas don the streets and houses creating an odd scene in the warmer climate. 

Christmas is celebrated on the 24th December by having dinner with friends and family. The younger family members go out after dinner and continue the celebrations, partying like it's the height of summer. The 25th is for rest and relaxation following the celebrations. On the Twelfth Night the arrival of the Three Kings is celebrated; camels and choirs of children singing carols parade down the streets. Presents are handed out to mark the final day of the Christmas holiday. 

Festival De La Luz in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Festival De La Luz in San Jose, Costa Rica. Photo: wanderlasss/Flickr

3. Costa Rica

Tamales are the star of the Costa Rican Christmas. Tamales are made from potato, rice, vegetables, garlic, onion and meat, that are wrapped in a cornflour paste and boiled in banana leaves. The tamale is a Caribbean delicacy that is difficult to find at any other time of the year, so take full advantage. Another tasty Christmas treat is Ron Pope, the Costa Rican version of eggnog, made with rum instead of whiskey. 

Celebrations start in the capital, San Jose, with Festival de la Luz (Festival of Lights), a week-long street party to celebrate the festive season. Houses and public buildings are covered with lights and decorations forming the backdrop for the parade. To top off the great food and fun festivities, Christmas falls in Costa Rica’s dry season. Temperatures are around 27°C  (80°F), perfect for sunning yourself on the idyllic beaches and trekking through the lush rainforests. Do all this and more on Insight Guides' Tropical Costa Rica trip.       

4. Bali

For many Christmas can be a stressful time of year. Bali is one of the best places to unwind. The best of its many yoga retreats, spa treatments and massage therapies are all included on Insight Guides' Bali Yoga Retreat trip.  Although a Hindu island, Christmas has managed to creep into Bali culture. Bali now celebrates Christmas in the traditional Asian way, with firework displays, colouring the dark skies over the beaches believing they will drive away any bad luck. 

Although Christmas falls in Bali’s rainy season, temperatures are still up at around 27°C  (80°F). Showers are likely in the afternoon, which can create a bit of relief from the sun and humidity. On the plus side, the rainy season makes it a quiet time to visit.

5. Paris

What could be more Christmassy than a ride on a carousel? Lit up with twinkling lights and Christmas songs playing in the background as you mount the horse, all wrapped up, snug, in your millions of layers topped with coat, scarf, hat and gloves. A Manèges de Noël (carousel) is a Christmas feature in every neighbourhood of Paris. The biggest and best is at the Eiffel Tower. Christmas lights are also used to brighten every street, lacing the trees along the Avenue des Champs Elysées, and framing the luxury shops. 

Department stores create Christmas window displays well worth braving the cold for. Kindly the shops provide wooden ladders for children to reach the windows and get the best view. For the more sophisticated, there is an exhibition of avant-garde Christmas trees. Although not many are trees, they all have a tree element. Displays can be funny, seductive, political; all traits the French are famous for. The entrance fee for this exhibition goes towards helping local orphans. Explore Paris and more on Insight Guides' From Paris to Provence: Perfection Personified trip. 

Hot Air Ballooning in South Africa.

Hot Air Ballooning in South Africa. Photo: South Africa Tourism/Flickr

6. South Africa

Blankets of snow are replaced by wild flowers for Christmas in South Africa. If you want a traditional Christmas, just in a warmer climate, South Africa is the place for you. South Africa’s history with the UK brought the more traditional fare and ways of celebrating to the country. However, being in the southern hemisphere means Christmas lies in the middle of their summer, bringing warmer weather to the festivities. Houses are decorated with pine branches and trees; streets are lit with sparkling lights. Christmas dinner consists of turkey or a suckling pig, with yellow rice and raisins, vegetables and yams. 

Take advantage of the warm weather and explore the national parks on Insight Guides' South Africa's Big Three: Kruger, Zululand and Swaziland trip. Go on safari, take a hot air balloon ride or just hike through the wilderness, soaking up the heat and the summer scents.

7. Norway

Think dark cosy nights, blurry with flakes of snow falling on an already white canvas. Spruce and pine trees stand tall, branches drooping with the heavy weight of the fresh snow. The air is filled with the smell of burning logs and through every window is a family sipping on hot chocolates, eating Christmas cookies. Norway is magical at any time of year but during the short days of winter, especially around the festive season, the magic is amplified. For a white Christmas, traditional, with hearty food and warming scents, Norway is the best place to go. 

Enjoy a Norwegian dinner of roasted pork or mutton with red cabbage and potatoes followed by rice pudding, all the while warming your body by sipping on the spicy, hot gløgg. Traditional Christmas candy and hearty winter foods are in abundance here.

8. Australia

For a completely different Christmas experience in the sunshine, spend the holiday season in Australia. The traditional turkey roast is replaced by sausages on the BBQ, and the festive dining room is replaced by the scorching beach. Christmas falls in the middle of Australia's summer. Think 40-degree heat, golden sands, and blue water with white crashing surf. Beaches are packed with children at this time of year, who are off school for their summer break. The towns are lively with holiday makers and everyone is in high spirits thanks to the looming Christmas celebrations. Decorations in the shopping centres, lights along the streets and Christmas displays in the shop windows all look out of place in the hazy heat and blue skies. Australia is perfect if you want to top up the tan, beat the winter blues, enjoy the beach and the BBQ meat.

Insight Guides covers numerous destinations worldwide so if the latest holidays outlined above don't fit your requirements, there's plenty more to choose from: browse available itineraries online now or talk to a local expert to plan your perfect holiday from scratch