Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones
Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - A White Christmas in Quebec City, Canada
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! If your ideal holiday involves frosted window panes, the crunch of snow under your boots, and flickering fireplaces warming your toes, then a White Christmas in Quebec City is calling your name.
As one of North America's most European cities, Quebec brings all the old-world charm and coziness you could dream of. Cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and cozy cafes set the scene for a magical winter wonderland experience. Going during Christmas takes the magic to another level.
From late November through December, Quebec City looks like a life-size snow globe. Twinkling lights dangle above snow-blanketed streets while carolers fill the cold, crisp air with song. The tantalizing scents of mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, and wood-fire ovens making hot chocolate and baked goods for chilly strollers waft through the streets.
Bundle up and take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through Old Quebec’s winding lanes. Listen to the clip-clop of hooves crunching through freshly fallen snow. Gaze up at towering Chateau Frontenac lit up in holiday splendor at night. Lace up your skates and glide your cares away at one of the city’s outdoor ice rinks.
Don’t miss the German Christmas market on Petit Champlain street. It's like being transported to a medieval village, with wooden chalets selling handmade crafts, ornaments, and treats. Sip on a hot mug of vin chaud (mulled wine) or chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) to warm your hands while browsing the stalls.
On Christmas Eve, witness one of Quebec City's most charming traditions: candlelight processions called “Messes de Minuit”. Starting at 11 pm, churchgoers walk slowly through the streets carrying candles on their way to midnight mass, singing classic French carols like "Il Est Ne, Le Divin Enfant". Even families who don’t attend the services will often join the processions for a taste of the festive spirit.
Christmas day starts with presents under the tree, then head out for a sleigh ride or ice skating before indulging in a hearty French-Canadian holiday feast. Classic dishes like tourtiere (spiced pork pie), ragoût de boulettes (meatball stew), and Grand-pères au sirop d’érable (baked apples with maple syrup) are sure to leave you stuffed and satisfied.
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- Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - A White Christmas in Quebec City, Canada
- Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - Hit the Slopes in Aspen, Colorado
- Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - Ring in the New Year in Times Square, New York
- Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - Mardi Gras Magic in New Orleans, Louisiana
- Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - Beach Bonfires in Cancun, Mexico
- Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - German Christmas Markets in Munich, Germany
- Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - Winter Wonderland in Lapland, Finland
- Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - Dazzling Lights in Tokyo, Japan
- Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - Family Fun at Walt Disney World, Florida
Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - Hit the Slopes in Aspen, Colorado
Slip on your skis, strap on your snowboard, and get ready to shred some serious pow in Aspen, Colorado. With over 3,200 acres of terrain across four renowned mountains, Aspen offers some of the best skiing and riding in the West.
Whether you’re an expert looking to tackle double-black-diamond chutes and cornices or a newbie sticking to the bunny slopes, Aspen has options aplenty. Each peak has a distinct personality and vibe. Aspen Mountain, or Ajax, delivers a mix of cruisers, bumps, steeps, and the famous Bell Mountain mogul run. Known as the “gentle giant,” Snowmass lives up to its nickname with the most skiable terrain of the four peaks yet more beginner and intermediate runs. With wide-open bowls and tree skiing, Aspen Highlands thrills experts. And family-friendly Buttermilk is perfect for learning, with a ski school and low-angle trails.
Off the slopes, Aspen exudes rustic mountain charm. Blocks of quaint Victorian buildings house locally-owned shops, entertainment, and restaurants. Cozy up by one of the many roaring fireplaces at hotels like Hotel Jerome or The Little Nell after a long day hitting the trails. Relax tired muscles at the swanky Aspen Club & Spa. Then enjoy farm-to-table fare at the Pine Creek Cookhouse, accessible only by snowcat, sleigh, or cross-country skis.
Aspen also boasts a world-class après-ski and nightlife scene. Belly up to the bar at funky drinkeries like Justice Snow's, famous for its bourbon list. Catch live music at Belly Up or the historic Wheeler Opera House. Or dance and people watch at nightclubs like Bootsy Bellows and Escobar.
Part of what makes skiing Aspen so special is enjoying nature alongside fellow outdoor enthusiasts from around the globe. On the slopes, don't be surprised if you find yourself riding the gondola up Aspen Mountain alongside celebrities like Mariah Carey or even meeting a member of the royal family like Prince Harry. Off the mountain, rub shoulders with jet-setters flocking in for the food,shopping, arts, and music festivals.
Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - Ring in the New Year in Times Square, New York
As the clock ticks ever closer to midnight on December 31st, over one million people cram into the few block radius of Times Square in Midtown Manhattan. They shiver against the winter chill, eagerly waiting for the iconic Waterford crystal ball to make its descent down the flagpole atop One Times Square. When it finally drops, confetti cannons erupt and couples kiss as Auld Lang Syne plays over the sea of euphoric faces. Ringing in the new year in Times Square is unlike any other New Year's Eve celebration in the world.
For over 100 years, Times Square has played host to New York City's massive New Year's bash. What started in 1904 as a rooftop gathering of 200 people oogling newfangled electric lights has transformed into the most iconic NYE event across the globe. These days, revelers from all over the world flock to the Crossroads of the World to feel the contagious excitement as the year changes over. Dazzling LED screens and Broadway theater signage provide a suitably flashy backdrop for the party.
Arriving early is key, as people start camping out in their spots as early as 6 am on New Year's Eve morning. Once you pick your place, staying put is essential. With no bathrooms or places to sit, steel bladder control and sensible footwear are musts. Earplugs help mitigate the constant barrage of stimuli. Layers upon layers of clothing provide protection against the elements. And snacks stuffed in your pockets fuel you through the long wait.
Live performances from stars like Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey, and Blondie on multiple stages scattered throughout the square pump up the crowds as midnight approaches. Energy and anticipation crescendo until that fateful countdown begins. Voices shout out the numbers in unison as balls of light fall down the pole. Cheers erupt, strangers embrace, and Purell flows. After waiting nearly 24 hours for this singular moment of release, the party continues well into the early morning hours.
Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - Mardi Gras Magic in New Orleans, Louisiana
Floats festooned with glittering beads, riotous colors, and flamboyant costumes. Raucous brass bands marching down streets soaked in spilt beer. The smell of powdered sugar wafting through the pleasantly warm February air. Mardi Gras in New Orleans assaults the senses in the best way, enveloping you in a whirlwind of revelry unlike anywhere else in the world.
Pre-pandemic, Mardi Gras brought over one million tourists to The Big Easy each year. Locals call it "the greatest free party on earth" - and with good reason. For two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, parades roll day and night, concerts and balls entertain partygoers, and everyone lets loose in the French Quarter. Streets overflow with the sound of music and over-the-top costumes flaunting every color of the rainbow.
Many visitors opt to nab a spot on the balcony of a French Quarter hotel or Airbnb. Perched above the chaos, you can snag beads, moonpies, and other "throws" launched from float riders below without getting caught in the push and pull of the crowds. Just be sure to stake your claim early, as prime real estate goes quickly.
For a truly local experience, follow the parades uptown through the neighborhoods. Here you can witness multi-generational families gathered to watch the processions go by just like they did as kids. Kids scramble to snatch up coveted stuffed animals and light-up toys tossed their way. And residents take parade-watching potluck parties to a whole new level, with elaborate spreads of jambalaya, gumbo, po' boys and king cake laid out on fold-up tables.
You haven't truly experienced Mardi Gras until you've danced alongside a second line parade. These smaller, more impromptu processions feature brass bands parading down the street trailed by a mass of revelers dancing behind. One attendee described the infectious joy of second lining as "a street party that picks you up and pulls you along whether you meant to be there or not." Just fall in step and let the live music move you.
Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - Beach Bonfires in Cancun, Mexico
As the sun sinks below the horizon, the sky ignites in brilliant hues of orange and pink. Locals and visitors alike flock down to the powdery white sand beaches of Cancun's Hotel Zone just as the first stars make their appearance. There's magic in the air as tiki torches flicker to life and bonfires roar, their flames rising high to meet the night. Your bare toes curl into the still sun-warmed sand as you find the perfect spot. Take a deep breath of salty sea air tinged with a hint of smoky richness. It's bonfire season in Cancun.
Few experiences capture the carefree, beach vacation state of mind like gathering around a bonfire on the beach in Cancun. Celebrated across many beachfront resorts and beaches where allowed by law, the tradition marks the transition from day to night. Groups of friends claim their sandy territory, setting up chairs or blankets around piles of driftwood collected from the shoreline. An ice chest filled with cold beers, margarita mixes, and bags of marshmallows for roasting completes the scene.
As natural light fades away, the crackling fires become the main attraction. Their glowing embers starkly contrast the black velvet night sky bright with stars. People huddle closer to chat and laugh, basking in the warmth and community a simple fire creates. Passing acquaintances stop to say hello, invited to pull up a seat and join in. Sandwiches and tacos get passed around to hungry newcomers. A guitar materializes from somewhere, and soon the group sings along to familiar melodies.
I've seen resort staff setting up elaborate fire pits surrounded by lounge chairs specifically meant for admiring the views of fire and sea. But the best beach bonfires happen organically, when a group of friends piles up some sticks and sparks their own flame. As resort bonfires tend to fizzle out early, I prefer gathering supplies from nearby shops for a DIY bonfire that can last long into the night.
A Cancun beach fire isn't complete without melting jumbo marshmallows for s'mores over the open flames. Roasted at just the right proximity for optimal gooeyness, they get sandwiched between graham crackers and chocolate bars for the quintessential campfire treat. And no one can resist holding a marshmallow just a little too close to the fire, letting the sugar blacken and caramelize for a slightly burnt taste.
Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - German Christmas Markets in Munich, Germany
Each year as the weather grows crisp and snow blankets Munich, the city transforms into a magical Christmas wonderland. Traditional wooden market stalls spring up across Marienplatz and Odeonsplatz, tantalizing passersby with the scents of sugared nuts, cinnamon-dusted Lebkuchen, roasting sausages, and mulled wine. The Munich Christmas Markets, or Christkindlmarkts, are some of the most famous and popular holiday markets in all of Europe for good reason.
Having visited the markets myself three December’s back, I was amazed by the festive charm and old-world ambiance. During the day, sunlight glinted off ornate glass-blown ornaments dangling from market stall rafters. At night, strings of glowing bulbs cast a warm glow on the scene. Locals and tourists alike bundled in wool coats, hats, and scarves shuffled between stands while clutching piping hot mugs of Glühwein to warm frozen fingers. The aroma of roast chestnuts and potato pancakes sizzling in oil made my mouth water.
At each stall, I found handcrafted wooden toys, delicate glass trinkets, nutcrackers, and handmade beeswax candles. But the real treasures were the edible treats. I'll never forget sinking my teeth into a soft, oven-fresh pretzel coated in salt crystals and dipped in obatzda, a smooth and creamy cheese spread tinged with paprika. Sweet Lebkuchen gingerbread cookies shaped like hearts dusted in white powdered sugar were the perfect accompaniment for another cup of rich, spiced wine.
Beyond browsing and snacking, a highlight of my time in Munich was listening to live performances from brass bands, choral groups, and other musicians. Taking in their festive tunes as snowflakes drifted down underscored the quintessential Christmas market experience. While crammed shoulder to shoulder with other market-goers, I felt a profound sense of holiday spirit and community.
Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - Winter Wonderland in Lapland, Finland
Blanketed in snow and fringed by forests, Lapland in northern Finland becomes a veritable winter wonderland once the temperatures drop. From husky sledding under the magical glow of the Northern Lights to stays in cozy log cabins warmed by crackling fireplaces, Lapland offers a snowy escape like no other.
Having long dreamed of witnessing the Aurora Borealis firsthand, I finally booked a trip to Lapland a few winters back. Stepping off the plane into several feet of powdery white snow, I was overjoyed. My excitement only grew as I arrived at my remote cabin resort, complete with wood-fired saunas and hot tubs perfect for gazing skyward in search of those elusive green dancing lights.
After fortifying with a dinner of hearty reindeer stew, I layered up in thermal underwear, snow pants, parkas, mittens and wool socks for optimal cold weather protection. Our guide drove us about half an hour outside of the village to an expansive frozen lake, the perfect viewing spot away from light pollution. As we spread out sleeping bags and thermoses of hot cocoa across the snow, the wait began.
Suddenly, a collective gasp went up from the group as an eerie green glow materialized above the tree line. Undulating across the night sky, the Northern Lights were somehow even more magical than I imagined. Photographs can't capture the feeling of seeing the Aurora Borealis flowing through the darkness in person. I'll never forget the primal awe I felt watching the celestial dance in comfortable silence, snuggled deep inside my cocoon of blankets.
Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - Dazzling Lights in Tokyo, Japan
As darkness descends on the concrete jungle of Tokyo, the city transforms into a neon wonderland. Dazzling lights and colors illuminate buildings, signs, and screens, overwhelming the senses. From iconic areas like Shibuya Crossing to more offbeat light displays, Tokyo dazzles after dark.
Having long been fascinated by Tokyo’s reputation for sensory overload, I chose to visit in December when seasonal illuminations add even more sparkle. Stepping out of Shinjuku Station onto the crowded streets that first evening, I was awestruck. I found myself surrounded by towering video billboards and multi-story LED screens plastered across buildings. Shinjuku is home to Studio Alta, one of Tokyo’s largest and most iconic video screens at over 2,300 square feet. Its bright, ever-shifting imagery bathed the sidewalks in a kaleidoscope of color.
Venturing into the lanes of Shibuya, I joined the crowds crossing the famous Scramble Crossing. As we paused in the middle, I glanced up to see neon logos and animated signs glowing from all directions. With thousands of pedestrians moving through the intersection at once, the humanity almost distracted from the dazzling lights. But only almost.
From futuristic districts overflowing with screens and signs to charming local shops and houses outlined in holiday lights, Tokyo electrifies after dark. Neighborhoods like Kichijoji beckon you down alleyways dotted with cozy izakaya restaurants and bars, each doorway and window framed in twinkling white lights. Away from the major shopping thoroughfares, Tokyo’s residential enclaves use softer, warmer lighting that makes you want to linger and explore.
You can even find dazzling light art installations at museums and cultural attractions like teamLab Borderless or the Mori Art Museum. Surrounded by interactive lighting effects and cutting-edge technology-based displays, these places let you become part of the neon landscape.
Gather Round: 10 Festive Destinations to Celebrate the Holidays with Loved Ones - Family Fun at Walt Disney World, Florida
Located in sunny Orlando, Walt Disney World Resort spans over 30,000 acres and includes four separate theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. With over 50 rides and attractions at each park, families could easily spend weeks immersed in the magical world conjured up by Walt himself over 50 years ago.
Having first visited Disney World as a starry-eyed six year old dazzled by Cinderella's Castle, I jumped at the chance to return as an adult and relive that childhood wonder with my own kids. Arriving back at the Magic Kingdom, memories of clinging to my parents' hands flooded back as we watched fireworks burst over the landmark castle. The enchantment and fantasy Disney crafts for all ages truly has no equal.
A highlight for us was experiencing the classic dark rides like It’s a Small World and Peter Pan’s Flight. Though not thrilling rollercoasters, these gentle boat rides showcase the incredible detail and storytelling Disney is famous for. Gliding through scenes populated by animatronic characters, we felt transported into the worlds of our favorite animated films. The rides may seem dated to some, but retain a nostalgic magic.
Of course, Disney also offers high-tech immersive rides utilizing animatronics, 4D effects, and trackless ride systems for more modern excitement. Avatar Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom mimics flying on the back of a banshee over the world of Pandora thanks to state-of-the-art 3D simulation technology. And classics like Space Mountain and Splash Mountain get hearts racing with surprising dips and turns in the dark.
While rides provide big thrills, just walking around the parks soaking in the ambiance delights kids of all ages. Life-size characters like Mickey, Snow White, and Woody pose for photos and interact with children in ways sure to spark smiles. Parades wind through the parks several times a day, featuring dancers, stilt-walkers, and colorful floats. And nightly fireworks synchronized to classic Disney songs serve up extra pixie dust.
Exhausted parents will appreciate Disney’s rider switch program, which allows adults to take turns waiting in line and riding attractions without having to wait all over again. The Baby Care Centers also provide private areas to breastfeed, change diapers, and purchase essentials like food and children’s Tylenol. Plus, accommodations like Disney’s Art of Animation Resort make staying on property extra magical for kids, with family suites decorated in themes from Cars, Finding Nemo, The Little Mermaid, and more.