If you’ve been dreaming of a white Christmas than 2016 is the year to make that a reality. Prepare to enter a world of magic and wonder during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter with FirstClass.com.au’s 5 best white Christmas destinations.
1. Lapland, Finland – The Home of Santa Claus
The magic of a white Christmas springs into life every year in the Lapland region of Finland like nowhere else on Earth. The snow covered northern area of Finland is consumed by Christmas every year and claims to be the true home of Santa Claus himself, and why shouldn’t they, you can meet him in his office inside the Arctic Circle all year round! Lapland is the top white Christmas destination for families, couples and singles alike. It’s position above the arctic circle means that the snow starts early and stays longer. On top of that, the Finns take advantage of the chilly climate to craft incredible structures out of ice which you can stay in while watching the Northern Lights dance across the sky.
The famous Ice Hotel is annually constructed entirely from the waters of the Torne River and is unlike anything on earth. Stay the night in a tranquil luxurious igloo that glows with blue light amongst under the green hue of the Aurora Borealis. Lapland is also the best place to see the Arctic wildlife with two wildlife parks that will amaze travellers of every age. The first, Ranua Wildlife Park boasts over 50 species of Arctic wildlife including Polar Bears and majestic Elk. The second, Salla Reindeer Park, is like a dream come true for those who love Christmas. Here you can climb on-board your very own Reindeer sled and travel on incredible Reindeer safaris through the snowy Arctic tundra. If you are lucky, you can even take a Northern Lights trip right out into the wilderness. The area is also home to Finland’s largest ski resort, so if you feel a bit more adventurous and active the region can still be good.
2. Vienna, Austria – Christmas Markets Galore
While Christmas Markets in Europe are often referred to as being German, the best ones by far are actually in Austria. Every year the main square of the capital Vienna becomes a dream village of thatched huts, illuminated by the warm glow of thousands of fairy lights, all of it bathed in the aroma of mulled wine and ginger bread. More than 150 sales booths fill Rathausplatz, each full to the brim with traditional Christmas gifts, decorations, sweets and warming drinks. The markets which run from mid-November are perfect for families with children and capture the magic of Christmas in a fun and beautiful way. While the Rathausplatz markets are definitely the biggest, many other markets are spread out right across the Austrian capital, including some notably brilliant ones at the Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien-Platz and at the famous Belvedere Palace.
It isn’t just markets that spring up in Vienna through Christmas, you’ll also find dozens of ice skating rinks coming to life during winter. The Austrians love ice-skating and that passion comes through in the construction of giant rinks, including the 6,000 square metre rink set up between the Vienna Concert Hall and the Inter-Continental Hotel. It is the city’s passion for winter that really secures there spot as one of the best Christmas destinations.
Outside of the capital the magic of Winter continues in the city of Salzburg and the Arlberg region. Close to some of the best slopes in the Austrian Alps these two cities are great for the active traveller who yearn for a little bit of adventure. Alrberg in particular gets into the Christmas spirit in a big way, with public concerts, open fireplaces and Christmas themed areas all throughout the town. If you get there earlier in December, you can also see the famous Krampalar devils in their traditional masks completing the annual Arberg-Pass Krampalar Run as part of the celebrations of St. Nicholas.
3. Prague – Romance in the Snow
The romantic gothic city of Prague is a European traveller favourite at any time of year. But at Christmas the historic Czech capital comes truly alive with a symphony of lights, smells and sounds. Christmas markets light up the city with the main ones in the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square attracting hundreds of people every day. Amongst the brightly decorated wooden huts that make up the markets you’ll find traditional glassware, jewellery, wooden toys, ceramics, scented candles, handmade tree ornaments and more. Aside from the main markets, there a dozens of smaller ones dotted around the city all watched over by giant Christmas trees.
Outside of the capital you can experience some truly unique experiences during the Christmas period. In particular you can take in historical Christmas with a trip to one of the medieval castles that dot the countryside. Some castles, including Sumava and Rabi, offer candlelight tours which let you witness how Christmas was celebrated in the middle ages.
4. Iceland – Magic and Mist
Iceland is the perfect place to celebrate the holiday season. Rich with culture and tradition, the yule time is an important time of year for the locals. Christmas falls just at the end of Iceland’s darkest time of year so the celebrations are doubly important for both the traditional sacrament and the return of the sun. The celebrations in Iceland are a bit different to the rest of the world and are steeped with local history that make for a vibrant and exciting holiday and one of the best white Christmas destinations. For families the traditions of the Yule Lads, Icelands 13 Santas, is the most fun. These lads are not related to Santa at all but are descended from trolls. They come to town once a year to get up to mischief, but also to give out gifts to all of the local children.
Christmas is Iceland’s longest holiday and stretches from December 24th to January 6th, so if your looking for a longer winter trip for Christmas it is the perfect place. You can combine a stay in the main city of Reykjavík with a trip into the rural areas or even the famous Golden Circle. While darkness does make some travel at this time of year difficult, you can still visit key places like Selfoss which sits in the shadow of 40 active volcanoes and boasts incredible hot springs. For TV fans it is also very close to where they filmed the sections of Game of Thrones that took place beyond the wall. Or you can visit the Blue Lagoon, a natural geothermal pool which in winter, when the landscape in Iceland is shrouded in 18-21 hours of daily darkness, becomes a steamy fantasyland of wellness that you won’t want to emerge from. Even in winter the waters of the lagoon are a comfortable 35-40 degrees and it’s silky silica mud has been promoted for decades as a healing product for your skin.
5. Munich, Germany – Fairy-tale Christmas
Munich is home to some of the most outstanding Christmas markets in Europe, with a tradition going back hundreds of years they know how to celebrate the holiday. In the centre of the city in Marienplatz you’ll find the main markets, overflowing with traditional stalls and vibrant food markets. Look a little bit further afield and you’ll be rewarded with unique, interesting and wonderful markets that vary from the other German style markets on the continent. Those of particular note include the massive Tollwood Winterfestival, a huge international market with over 200 stalls. Also the medieval market of Mittelaltermarkt, a medieval fare style market where all of the vendors are in costume!
Head out of Munich and you’ll be rewarded with incredible snow covered countryside galore. A little over and hour and a half from the city centre sits the famous fairy-tale castle of Neuschwanstein. This picturesque structure sits atop a rugged will near the village of Hohenschwangau, it is famous for being the quintessential fantasy castle, featuring in many famous movies as well as being the inspiration for the castle in Sleeping Beauty. During winter the castle and it’s grounds are often coated in thick snow creating a picture perfect setting that is truly breathtaking.