This year has not only turned our travel plans upside down, but our lives as well. Since the COVID-19 pandemic*, the world at large and the world of travel have changed. One more reason to wave this year goodbye with memorable moments.
We’ve found five safe Christmas itineraries that promise a more relaxed celebration for you and your loved ones. Whether you’re an adventurer, wellness aficionado or a sun worshipper, these destinations are sure to make this Christmas season as cozy as the ones before.
An adventurous Christmas: Northern Lights in Abisko, Sweden
The Abisko National Park in Swedish Lapland offers spectacular scenery day or night. Situated north of the Arctic Circle, the Kiruna region is home to the native Sami people and is considered one of the best places in the world to marvel at the Northern Lights. When conditions are right (a cloudless sky, high solar activity, low light pollution), you can see the vibrant Aurora Borealis dancing across the night sky. Anyone who has experienced this once knows that it’s a memory you will cherish for the rest of your life. Just remember to have that hot coffee or chocolate on hand when you do so.
During the day you can savor the vastness of the national park on foot or via cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Dog sledding is a way of life here, so try your luck as a band of boisterous huskies leads you past moose or reindeer.
Kiruna also offers a number of attractions for the less adventurous, such as an old fire station, a wooden church (voted Sweden’s most beautiful building in 2001), an ice hotel at Jukkasjärvi that’s rebuilt every year and Kåppashålagrotto. Simply warm up in one of the saunas afterwards.
A balmy Christmas: Sintra, Portugal
Only a short train ride from bustling Lisbon lies charming Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This compact town is home to extravagant palaces, opulent villas, well-preserved castle ruins and vibrantly hued homes. Although the sights are only a short distance from each other, you can spend a whole week here and still not discover everything—the gardens, grottos and secret passages that make up much of the town promise fascinating insights.
Christmas 2020 is the perfect time to head to Sintra as the quiet streets wind through fairytale hills. Music plays everywhere and art merchants abound, offering a robust selection of gifts for loved ones back home. You’ll come to prefer a warm Christmas when you bask in the glow of sunny days and mild temps. The cheerful colors and dreamy scenery create an ideal world away from the hustle and bustle of city life. It’s the perfect recipe against the winter blues and the bleakness of 2020.
An enchanted Christmas: The Fairytale Road, Germany
Carefree moments have been hard to come by this year and it’s been rough going imagining things will ever be back to normal. Fairytales symbolize the childlike, unshakable belief that everything will be okay.
From Trendelburg Castle and its Rapunzel Tower to Dornröschenschloss Sababurg (the Sleeping Beauty Castle), the German Fairytale Road is the perfect Christmas trip for kids big and small.
The road, made famous by the Brothers Grimm and other storytellers from the region, stretches across 373 miles from Hanau near Frankfurt am Main to Buxtehude near Hamburg. If you’re super ambitious and have boisterous kids in tow, take the train to all 60 destinations (such as Kassel for the Grimmwelt museum or Frankenberg for Hansel and Gretel) but for a more sedate pace, stop off in a few hamlets—we particularly love Hamelin, which is home to the Pied Piper, or the region around Schwalmstadt, which is said to be the basis for Little Red Riding Hood.
A relaxing Christmas: Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic
Wellness is written in capital letters in Karlovy Vary in Czech Bohemia. The charming spot is one of 15 historic thermal towns recognized by UNESCO. Europe is full of spa towns big and small, offering rest and relaxation.
Hot springs have been popular curative spots since Roman times. Karlovy Vary was originally reserved for the aristocracy and nobility (Peter the Great once convalesced here) but now everyone can get in on the action.
Alzbetiny Lázne-Lázne V is one of top spots in town to recharge and most people spend at least a week here, drinking the healing waters while on-site doctors treat them for a variety of ailments. But if just relaxation is your aim, nearly every hotel in the town has a spa of some sort, offering hydrotherapy treatments and massages.
If you feel invigorated enough, hike along 81 miles of forested trails nearby. Karlovy Vary is also home to the Czech Republic’s only Christmas house with handmade Christmas decorations and a café with Christmas-themed desserts.
A winter wonderland Christmas: The mountains of South Tyrol, Italy
Remember Heidi? Johanna Spyri’s cheerful Swiss heroine was always seen with her friends in tow, frolicking across alpine terrain and breathing in the fresh mountain air.
To get that true Heidi feeling, head to South Tyrol, a region in Northern Italy that includes the majestic Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Expect sunbeams tickling your face as the snow crunches under your feet while cow bells ring in the distance.
Whether you go with family or friends, a choice of accommodations await, from rustic alpine huts to expansive farms with dogs and cats to luxurious chalets. Expect traditional wooden interiors, hand-carved accents and toasty fireplaces to warm you after a day on the hills. Evergreen and fir trees abound, putting you right in the Christmas spirit. Sledding, building snowmen or a good old-fashioned snowball fight are the perfect antidotes to the stress of the last year.
*Since the pandemic, travel regulations are in constant flux. Borders and businesses may close temporarily or permanently. Please travel safely and check out the Open Travel Index for up-to-date information on restrictions and regulations.