Christmas is one of the best times of the year to be travelling. You can enjoy local Yuletide delicacies, go crazy shooting snowy landscapes, and watch the unique ways in which people celebrate this joyous festival. But if you are tired of the run-of-the-mill, commercialised celebrations, we suggest you head to these places instead:
* Zurich, Switzerland: Europe is known for its tradition of Christmas markets, which are street markets organised during the four weeks of Advent. Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city, plays host to Christmas markets in the Old Town, the Romantic Rapperswill market and the Einsiedeln markets. You can shop for knick-knacks and winterwear, enjoy local delicacies like raclette and Basel Läckerli gingerbread and grilled sausages, and sip on mulled wine. The Christmas market from the main train station is one of the largest indoor Christmas markets in Europe. Its hallmark is a massive Christmas tree adorned with more than 7,000 Swarovski crystal ornaments.
* Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: If you like nativity scenes, then Rio de Janeiro in Brazil is the place to be. After all, Brazil boasts of the largest display of full-sized nativity scenes in the world at the annual Crib Festival (Festival de Presépios) in Rio de Janeiro and also has a 278 ft tall floating Christmas tree which is the world’s largest. Oh, and the dazzling metal tree has 3 million lights. You can also check out some dramatic Christmas plays which even feature a woman who tries to steal the baby Jesus. You can also tuck into the traditional Christmas food — panettone, an Italian sweet bread loaf cooked with dried fruits.
* Taos, New Mexico, USA: For an offbeat Christmas, visit Taos in New Mexico which combines Spanish traditions with Mexican traditions. Carolers re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging by serenading a house and asking for shelter while followers come with lit candles. Bonfires line the roads to drive away darkness and warm revellers. You can also watch street performances of New Mexican music. Along the way, tuck into free bowls of posole (a soup from Mexico).
* Strasbourg, France: While Paris looks beautiful during Christmas, give a skip to the crowds and instead head to Strasbourg. The city’s Christmas market dates back to 1570 and is one of the oldest in Europe. It features stalls filled with hand-painted ornaments, wooden cuckoo clocks and local specialties such as choucroute (sauerkraut with sausages and salted meats) and Baeckeoffe (a French casserole dish made with potatoes, mutton, beef, and pork marinated overnight). Also visit La Petite France, a picturesque area which features Christmas shops and a gingerbread bakery.
* Lapland, Finland: The Finnish think that Lapland, the northernmost region in the country, is the true home of Santa Claus. It boasts of a Santa Claus Village with a post office, elves, and Santa. You can visit Rovaniemi to chase the Northern Lights, hop onto a snow mobile and zoom through snow or visit Koli National Park, known for its beautiful lakes and hills.