We pick the cities with the most festive spirit and where to stay if you're there for the season

Now that travel is back in full swing, going away for Christmas is back on the cards again, it's time to discover which cities around the world transform into magical metropolises brimming with festive cheer. From European classics with storybook Christmas markets to gleaming bustling urban centres dazzling with lights, here are our seven favourite cities to immerse yourself in the holiday spirits. 

See also: The Most Beautiful Places in Asia To Experience a Snowy White Christmas

We also include our recommendations of the best hotels to stay in each city for a very merry Christmas. 

1. London, UK

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Above Regent Street, London (Photo: Jamie Davies/Unsplash)

Christmas in London has a timeless appeal, whether it's the decorated Georgian townhouses or the classic angels beaming over Regent’s Street. 

The city buzzes with festive cheer (and shopping) at this time of the year, and there's plenty to see and do. Christmas markets and activities are plentiful, whether browsing amongst the neo-classical Market Building in Convent Garden or going on fairground rides at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.

Top on the Christmas feel-good list is ice-skating around the frozen 18th-century courtyard of Somerset House, a sprawling neoclassical building of the Strand with a terrace overlooking the Thames.  

Where to Stay

From its signature Christmas tree designed by a different fashion luminary each year to its discreet service, there's no better hotel than Claridge's Hotel to ring in Christmas. 

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2. Bruges, Belgium

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Christmas Decorated and illuminated Old Markt square in the center of Bruges, Belgium
Above Christmas decorated Bruges Old Markt square (Photo: iStock)

Feel like you're in a fairy tale as you wander around the cobblestone streets of Europe’s best-preserved medieval city, which oozes charm especially during the holidays.

Stroll around Bruges' storybook architecture of step gables, ornate brickwork, and fascinating weather vanes decorated especially for the festive season and nose around the Grote Markt. At the same time, visitors skate arm in arm under the shadow of the Bruges Belfry.

Don't miss following the Winter Glow light trail. This classic trail has stops at 10 installations through the historic part of the city centre, including lights at the Church of Our Lady Tower and a projection at Gruuthuse.

Where to Stay

Located canal side and a short stroll from the Belfry of Bruges, Hotel Van Cleef is a small luxury boutique hotel in a neoclassical mansion. It's also family-owned to abet the feel of being in a home away from home for Christmas.

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3. Edinburgh, UK

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Christmas attractions and rides in Princes Street Gardens, and along Princes Street in Edinburgh's City Centre.
Above Christmas attractions and rides in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh (Photo: iStock)

Is there anything more romantic than spending Christmas in Edinburgh? As the end of the year draws near, its hilly streets, medieval Old Town and elegant Georgian New Town are decorated in anticipation of Christmas and Hogmanay.

'Tis the merriest season here, whether you're sipping on whisky and hot toddies, skiing at Pentland Hills Regional Park, ice skating at St Andrew Square or immersing yourself in the city's Christmas market, which took the top spot on the list of the most-loved festive markets in Europe this year.

Best of all, the festivities continue as Christmas is followed by the Hogmanay Festival, a three-day bacchanal ushering in the New Year with outdoor concerts, fireworks, and dancing Scots.

Where to Stay

The Balmoral, with its views of the Old Town and Edinburgh Castle, is an excellent choice. This was also where JK Rowling finished the final book in the Harry Potter series, The Deathly Hallows.

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4. Vienna, Austria

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The Christkindlmarkt in the Rathausplatz is the most important Christmas Market among the numerous of the city. On the small colorful market stalls you can find ideas for Christmas presents, or traditional Austrian food and sweets with mulled wine ("Glühwein") and Christmas punch. In the background stands the imposing Vienna City Hall, a beautiful example of Gothic Revival architecture. Vienna, Austria. Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Above Christmas market with Vienna's City Hall in the background Photo: iStock

An elegant city which sparkles with holiday spirit during the Christmas season, Vienna is a magical wonderland of lights and annual snow.  

Known for its Christmas markets or Krippenmarkt, Vienna offers an array of choices, with the largest and best-known being the Wiener Chriskindlemarkt und Weihnachtstraum in front of the Neo-Gothic Rathaus (town hall). Also, soak in the atmosphere among the holiday tree at Rathausplatz and nearby Nativity Trail and Tree of Hearts.

When you're in Vienna, try to catch a performance of the famous Vienna Boys Choir, which traditionally performs in its hometown during the holidays.

Where to Stay

Cosy up in Hotel Sacher, the only family-run top-class luxury hotel in Vienna. Located in the historical centre, it's still a symbol of 19th-century European high society boasting a legacy of impeccable service.

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5. Quebec City, Canada

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Elevated view of the Quebec City skyline at night on a snowy Winter night, looking towards the old city and the Chateau Frontenac
Above Elevated view of the Quebec City skyline at night (Photo: iStock)

One of the oldest cities in North America, Quebec City's colonial French architecture exudes a decidedly European feel. This charm is amplified during the festive season when lights, decorations, and snow create an enchanting setting.

Traipse through the Old Town's cobbled streets, where quaint shops and delicious bistros will be decked out for the holidays, and spend some time at the German Christmas market, a delightful village of wooden huts packed with seasonal wares. 

One of the city’s oldest traditions is the Au 1884 toboggan run by Château Frontenac, where you can zoom down icy tracks overlooking the town, reaching speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. 

Where to Stay

Known as the most photographed hotel in the world, The Fairmont Le Château Frontenac is located at the heart of this Unesco world heritage site. They take Christmas seriously here, with festive programmes starting in November.

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6. Cologne, Germany

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Panorama view of cologne cathedral christmas market with world heritage site cologne cathedral at night.
Above Panorama view of Cologne Cathedral Photo: iStock

Nowhere in the world are Christmas markets more festive than in Germany, with Cologne drawing four million visitors each winter.

Rightly known as the king of Christmas markets, Cologne has an astounding 15 different ones all over the city, but if this is your first time, the must-visit is the Cathedral Christmas market.

Once you've finished visiting all the markets, enjoy the merry sights from the KölnTriangle observation deck. This tower, directly opposite the cathedral on the Rhine, offers a bird's eye view of the gothic monument.

Where to Stay

Get into the mood at the Excelsior Hotel Ernst, opposite the Cologne Cathedral, which has been open since 1863. With a reputation for being the city's most luxurious hotel, the best shopping is also within walking distance.

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7. New York City, USA

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Scenes from Midtown Manhattan durong the Holiday season.
Above Scenes from Midtown Manhattan Photo: iStock

The myth of a New York Christmas is strong, thanks to the many movies, TV shows, and songs that have romanticised the Big Apple and all that it offers.

But the real thing is even more magical, whether it's ice skating at Rockefeller Center, shopping on Fifth Avenue or enjoying the lights in Washington Square Park.

Special performances are plentiful, but if you only had to pick one, get a ticket to the Christmas Spectacular to watch the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
Where to Stay

Have a classic NYC holiday experience at The Plaza like Kevin McCallister in Home Alone 2.

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