Top Cities in the world to visit during the holidays


It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The holiday season brings joy, togetherness, and celebration to cities across the globe. From impressive light displays to massive Christmas trees and markets, many of the world’s most iconic cities transform into festive wonderlands each winter.

Public spaces become centers of holiday activity, drawing both locals and visitors who want to experience the special spirit of the season. Let’s dive into how major cities leverage their public spaces to spread holiday cheer.

New York City Becomes a Holiday Mecca

New York City is known for going all out for the holidays. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, the Big Apple becomes even more vibrant and energetic. The city deploys incredible decorations and events to get everyone into the holiday spirit.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and Ice Skating Rink

No image sums up the magic of New York City during Christmas more than the enormous tree erected annually at Rockefeller Center. Topping out at over 90 feet tall with over 25,000 lights, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree captures the grand scale of the holidays in NYC.

Since 1931, the tree has been a major gathering place throughout December. Visitors ice skate on the famous rink below and admire the views of the massive evergreen glittering against the Midtown skyline.

The tree lighting ceremony kicks off the season and draws huge crowds eager to see the switch flipped on the twinkling lights. The event is even broadcast nationally on NBC.

Holiday Markets Across the City

New York City hosts several holiday markets where you can browse for unique gifts and enjoy festive snacks and beverages. At Bryant Park, over 170 vendors sell crafts, jewelry, clothing, décor, and more at the Holiday Shops.

Union Square Holiday Market brings over 150 vendors together in an outdoor market. Grab a hot chocolate and meander through the stalls of handmade goods and specialty foods.

Columbus Circle Holiday Market situated right by Central Park offers European-style holiday shopping with gifts, ornaments, and sweets. The market’s cabin-like wooden stalls give it a charming, rustic vibe.

Window Displays on 5th Ave and Department Stores

Strolling down 5th Avenue during December reveals impressive holiday window displays that draw droves of people each evening.

Iconic department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, and Macy’s unveil seasonal displays and animatronics to dazzle onlookers. The over-the-top designs aim to spread joy while also promoting the stores’ merchandise.

Inside, these stores become shopping meccas decked out in elaborate Christmas décor. Many also have massive holiday-themed tree displays as their grand centerpieces.

Other Can’t-Miss Holiday Activities

Other ways New York City leverages public spaces for holiday fun include:

  • Massive light displays like Dyker Heights in Brooklyn or the lights along Park Avenue
  • The New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show featuring model trains zipping through recreations of NYC landmarks
  • Winter Village at Bryant Park for ice skating, food, and shops
  • Chinese Lantern Festival in Staten Island with incredible illuminated displays
  • Holiday tours to see iconic NYC sights decked out for the season
  • Zoolights at the Bronx Zoo with animal lantern displays

New York City pulls out all the stops to become a true holiday hotspot every winter. From the massive Christmas tree to elaborate store displays and markets throughout the boroughs, the city utilizes its public spaces in magical ways during the most wonderful time of the year.

London Transforms for the Holidays

Across the pond, London excels at infusing its most famous public areas with seasonal joy. Britain embraces many charming Christmas traditions, and London comes alive with holiday markets, lights, and cheer from November through early January.

Outdoor Ice Skating at Iconic Sites

London sets up outdoor ice skating rinks at unique public spaces throughout the city during the winter.

Somerset House hosts skating beside its gorgeous Neoclassical courtyard and fountains along The Strand. The Hampton Court Palace allows you to glide across ice outside the former royal residence along the Thames.

You can even skate outside the UNESCO World Heritage site Tower of London on a rink set right next to Tower Bridge approach. Ice skating at landmarks like the Natural History Museum Ice Rink and Queen’s House in Greenwich make it even more memorable.

Dazzling Lights in Famous Squares

Oxford Street

Many famous public squares and streets in London feature beautiful holiday light displays.

Oxford Street consistently has some of the most elaborate lights, draping above the entire bustling shopping area. The iconic Trafalgar Square Christmas tree towers above the square filled with lights.

Carnaby Street in Soho impresses visitors with creative light installations as part of the annual Winter Lights Festival. Even posh Mayfair gets decked out in lights above Bond and Brook streets.

Covent Garden is a prime destination to enjoy the Christmas lights while perusing the shops and restaurants or listening to carolers in the covered marketplace.

You’ll find lights twinkling from Harrod’s and the London Eye to Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, making London glow throughout the season.

Holiday Markets Large and Small

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

Christmas markets are a longstanding British and European tradition. Londoners and visitors bundle up with warm drinks to browse the wooden stalls selling gifts, crafts, decorations, food, and more.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is one of the most elaborate markets with over 200 chalets, carnival rides, an ice rink, and shows. Southbank Centre Christmas Market on the Thames South Bank spotlights local makers. Leicester Square Christmas Market brings Yuletide charm right to the West End.

Smaller, quainter markets pop up in neighborhoods like Islington, Marylebone, and Kingston. Grab a mulled wine and hunt for unique handmade decor or gifts.

Regent Street and Oxford Street Shopping

Oxford Street

Shopping is a major component of the London holiday experience. Department stores like Liberty, Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, and Selfridges enchant visitors with their extravagant window displays and Christmas themes.

Regent Street lights up for the season and hosts a holiday shopping night with extended hours and entertainment. Oxford Street also dazzles with lights as shoppers flock to its 300+ stores.

Bond Street offers international luxury boutiques galore, all decked out for Christmas. London takes holiday shopping and turns it into an event with its iconic stores and streets.

With enticing markets, light displays, and even outdoor skating, London excels at spreading Christmas cheer across its public spaces big and small. The Christmas spirit springs to life here each winter.

Christmas Markets Make Munich Merry

Marienplatz Christkindlmarkt

Over the holidays, Munich shifts into overdrive with Christmas markets that attract two million+ visitors annually. The city utilizes public squares and pedestrian zones to host traditional markets that exude seasonal joy.

Marienplatz Christkindlmarkt

The central Marienplatz square hosts one of the city’s most famous and largest Christmas markets. With over 150 decorated wooden stalls, festive workshops, and enchanting lights, it’s a magical place to shop for crafts and ornaments.

Children love visiting the Christkind stall where the Christkind angel greets kids and families. You’ll find delicious candied nuts, pastries, sausages, and German delights to fuel your shopping.

Munich Residenz Courtyard Markets

The former royal palace Residenzmuseum has multiple delightful holiday markets. Get a dose of history while buying gifts and relishing treats in the Residenz courtyard surrounded by opulent architecture. Don’t miss the Kripperlmarkt nativity scene market in the adjacent square.

Tollwood Winter Festival

This incredible festival at Olympiapark combines an artsy Christmas market with carnival rides, circus performers, concerts, food, and more winter entertainment. It draws almost a million visitors who come for both traditional and unconventional holiday fun.

English Garden Markets

Munich also sets up smaller Christmas markets throughout the parks like the lively Kunst Mabler Whish Christmas Market in the English Garden. Soak up the nature and lights with some mulled wine and wurst.

Dazzling Lights Brighten Berlin

Winterwelt at Potsdamer Platz

Though less famous for Christmas markets than Munich, Berlin creates holiday magic with its Winterwelt light displays and events.

Illuminated Landmarks Dazzle Around the City

Among the landmarks that sparkle and shine in Berlin during Christmas time are:

  • Brandenburg Gate– The iconic landmark lights up in holiday splendor with colors and images.
  • Charlottenburg Palace– The baroque palace gets draped in thousands of twinkling lights.
  • Berlin Cathedral– Intricate lighting effects illuminate the historic church.
  • Victory Column– Glittering lights swirl up the column in Tiergarten park.
  • Potsdamer Platz– The modern square dazzles with elaborate holiday lighting installations.

Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market

Historic Gendarmenmarkt square houses one of Berlin’s most popular Christmas markets with delightful wooden booths under the towers of the German and French cathedrals.

Winterwelt at Potsdamer Platz

This illuminated winter wonderland at Potsdamer Platz hosts holiday performances, workshops, food, and family-friendly activities.

New Year’s Eve at Brandenburg Gate

Over a million people flock to the illuminated Brandenburg Gate for a massive New Year’s Eve party featuring fireworks and live acts. After the excitement, walking home under the festive city lights is magical.

Though more understated than some cities, Berlin’s luminous landmarks and holiday lights create a festive atmosphere across town.

Moscow’s Festive Holiday Transformations

Tverskaya Street

As snow blankets Moscow each winter, Russia’s capital shifts into the holiday season with bright lights, bustling markets, and festive displays.

GUM Shopping Extravaganza and Skating Rink

The famous GUM department store on Red Square draws shoppers to its displays and international luxury brands. Outside, an ice-skating rink lets you glide across the ice under the Kremlin’s crimson walls.

Radiant Light Displays Across Town

Moscowlights up with color and cheer for the holidays.

Tverskaya Street, the bustling main avenue, has colorful lights arching over its entire length and showy shop window displays.

VDNKh Park‘s main promenade illuminates in rainbow hues with over 1,500 light installations.

Kremlin Embankment also sparkles with holiday lights beside the frozen Moskva River.

Sokolniki Park New Year’s Decor and Parties

This urban park hosts a creative decorative installation for the New Year with illuminated sculptures and entertainment venues. Locals flock here for concerts, activities, food and partying to welcome the year.

While Moscow celebrates more low-key than some European capitals, its festive public spaces and illumination projects spread seasonal cheer.

Tokyo Dazzles with Illuminations

Roppongi Hills Christmas Market and Lights

Though not a Christian culture, Japan still gets into the holiday spirit come late December. Tokyo deploys colorfully illuminated displays and markets across town to delight residents and visitors.

Shibuya Crossing Lasers and Lights Show

The iconic scramble crossing transforms each winter into a LED light show synchronized to music. Lasers shoot from buildings in an impressive display of holiday technology.

Shinjuku Winter Illuminations

The West Exit of Shinjuku Station dazzles with LED arches and tunnels that visitors can walk through on their way to shop and dine in this vibrant district.

Roppongi Hills Christmas Market and Lights

This shopping center hosts a German-style Christmas market along with brilliant lights that make it glow. The main street becomes a pedestrian walkway filled with stalls and illuminations.

Marunouchi Nakadori Avenue Lights and Decor

This Tokyo business district lines its boulevard with millions of twinkling LED lights formed into arched tunnels and displays. Icicle lights drip from trees for a winter wonderland effect.

Odaiba Rainbow Bridge Illuminations

The harbor suspension bridge puts on a colorful light show each night where the structure appears to sparkle and shift colors.

Though not centered around Christmas itself, Tokyo still pulls out thrilling light displays, markets, and decorations during December to spread seasonal cheer.

Disney Does the Holidays in Orlando and Beyond

Magic Kingdom Disney land

Disney theme parks transform into Christmas extravaganzas with parades, shows, décor and specialty treats. Both Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland in Anaheim add holiday magic across their parks.

Fireworks, Shows and Parades Dazzle Visitors

Disney holiday fireworks and projection shows illuminate the skies and castle icons. Festive parades roll through the parks with dancers, floats, and characters dressed for the season.

Sing-along stage shows get visitors in the Christmas spirit through beloved music and stories. Disneys do holidays big, and these seasonal productions and pyrotechnics thrill attendees.

Character Meet-and-Greets in Holiday Attire

From Mickey to Princesses, characters at Disney Parks dress up for the holidays and provide memorable photo ops and interactions. Kids can meet Santa Goofy, the Toy Soldiers, and other characters decked out for the season.

Theme Park Lands Transformed with Décor

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Cinderella’s Castle and Disney hotels shine with holiday adornments. But the immersive lands really stand out.

Disneyland’s New Orleans Square hosts a Vieux Noel to resemble an authentic French Quarter Christmas. Epcot spotlights holiday stories and traditions from around the World Showcase. Magic Kingdom decks the Victorian Main Street in early 20th century Yuletide flair with a massive tree and Dickens carolers.

Unique Foods Abound for the Holidays

Special holiday treats at Disney Parks range from Mickey gingerbread cookies to peppermint ice cream and eggnog. Festive drinks include hot cocoa with Santa Mickey marshmallow straws and frozen hot chocolate. Seasonal snacks like turkey legs, stuffing funnel cakes, and candy canes appear, helping make the season bright and tasty.

Between animated shows, ornate decorations, parades and specialty eats, Disney’s holiday overlays provide memorable merriment.

Iconic Cities Sparkle for the Season

These examples demonstrate how cities worldwide leverage their public spaces to spread holiday cheer through decorations, events, and immersive experiences. Lights, markets, parades, shows, and displays help make iconic sites even more magical come December.

Whether visiting New York, London, Tokyo or Munich, you’re bound to feel the holiday spirit in full force thanks to each city’s festive atmosphere. These destinations attract both locals and out-of-town guests eager to enjoy all the seasonal sights and activities.

Cities know how to tap into traditions, nostalgia, and wonder to delight people during the holidays. From outdoor skating rinks to elaborate light tunnels and markets, public spaces transform into winter wonderlands perfect for making the season memorable. If you travel internationally during December, be sure to take in the festivities these cities work so hard to promote.

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