No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed
No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Take in Natural Wonders
Taking in natural wonders is one of the best ways to beat the holiday blues when attractions are closed. There's something magical about experiencing nature during the festive season that lifts the spirits. The natural world keeps on turning, no matter what time of year it is.
One excellent option is visiting national parks. The majestic landscapes of places like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon take on a whole new character when frosted with snow or wrapped in chill winter air. Crisp blue skies create ideal conditions for photography. And smaller crowds mean more solitude amidst the grandeur. Just be sure to dress appropriately and take necessary precautions.
Another possibility is exploring state parks or local nature preserves. These smaller gems often fly under the radar but can be just as spectacular. A brisk hike through woods lined with icicles is instantly rejuvenating. Keep an eye out for wildlife like deer, foxes, and birds that are more active in winter. And be ready to make snow angels or build a snowman if the conditions allow!
Don't overlook the chance to visit botanical gardens during the holidays either. Many put on dazzling light displays after dark or decorate their greenhouses for the season. The Smithsonian Gardens feature over 500,000 lights, while New York Botanical Garden has a miniature model train that winds through replicas of NYC landmarks. Even without special exhibits, simply walking through the warm, earthy air amidst all the green is soothing.
The coastline also warrants consideration. There's nothing quite like standing at the edge of the sea on a chilly, clear day. Look for high vantage points along craggy cliffs or head to the beach for a peaceful stroll as waves crash. Trying winter sports like surfing or kayaking amps up the adventure.
What else is in this post?
- No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Take in Natural Wonders
- No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Experience Local Traditions
- No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Get Some Exercise Outdoors
- No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Find Festive Events
- No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Visit Friends and Family
- No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Pamper Yourself
- No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Explore a New Neighborhood
- No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Savor Seasonal Food and Drink
No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Experience Local Traditions
Experiencing local traditions during the holidays can be an incredibly rewarding way to connect with the culture of your destination. There’s no better time to gain insight into what makes a place and its people unique. From time-honored rituals to festive events, winter is steeped in customs that showcase heritage and identity. Don’t pass up the chance to get a true taste of somewhere new.
One of my favorite parts of Christmas travel is attending local holiday markets. Cities across Europe like Vienna, Prague, and Nuremberg host sprawling Weihnachtsmarkts where you can browse handmade crafts and ornaments, warm up with mulled wine, and devour potato pancakes and other traditional eats. The festive lights, smells, and chatter create an unbeatable ambiance. Berlin’s markets along the Champs-Élysées and at Gendarmenmarkt square are particularly lively.
Religious ceremonies also provide perspective into a region’s spiritual roots. Witnessing an orthodox Christmas in Russia with rituals like the six-week fast before the holiday or lining up to kiss the cross during mass is eye-opening. Services at ancient cathedrals like Saint Basil's or the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius are sublime. Don’t be shy about respectfully observing even if you’re not a practitioner.
Of course, food is central to many celebrations. In the Philippines, families serve heaping spreads at Noche Buena feasts on Christmas Eve. Classic must-try dishes include queso de bola cheese, bibingka rice cakes, and roasted pig. Cooking classes or food tours are a tasty way to pick up new culinary skills. Or simply accept every holiday invite you get to dine like a local!
No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Get Some Exercise Outdoors
Getting outside for some fresh air and physical activity is a foolproof way to lift your mood when you’re traveling over the holidays. And the bounty of winter provides prime conditions for active adventures that will get your blood pumping. Don’t spend all your time cooped up indoors - bundle up and make the most of the season.
One obvious option is to hit the slopes at a ski resort. Shredding down mountains blanketed in fresh powder is a total thrill. The mountain air feels crisp and invigorating. Resorts like Vail, Whistler Blackcomb, and St. Moritz offer everything from gentle bunny hills to double black diamond runs. Take a lesson if you’re new to skiing or snowboarding so you can pick up proper technique. And be sure to take advantage of food, drinks, spas, and other amenities at the base lodges after you’re done carving tracks.
Nordic skiing is another scenic way to explore the winter landscape. Gliding along trails through frosted woods and open fields has a peaceful, almost meditative quality. It works your whole body without being too strenuous. National parks like Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain have miles of cross country ski paths that wind by frozen lakes and rivers. Or visit charming mountain towns like Leavenworth, Washington that maintain dedicated Nordic trail systems.
Don’t neglect the classic winter pastime of ice skating either. Gliding around a rink helps improve your balance and coordination. Larger cities often set up massive outdoor rinks that make for ideal people watching. New York’s Rockefeller Center and London’s Somerset House host two of the most famous. For smaller ponds, grab a pick-up hockey game or practice figure skating moves. And be sure to warm up with hot chocolate afterwards.
If walking is more your speed, snowshoeing lets you hike through snowy forests and meadows. The wide shoes distribute your weight so you don’t sink in. It’s great exercise and allows you to access scenic areas that would be difficult to reach otherwise. Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest and Colorado’s San Juan National Forest have networks of snowshoe trails. You may even spot animal tracks crossing your path.
No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Find Festive Events
Attending special events is one of my top tips for avoiding holiday blues. Cities large and small host all kinds of festive happenings to liven up the season. Seek out these events to mingle with merry crowds and dive into some Christmas cheer. You’ll forget all about closed attractions with so much holly jolly spirit all around.
Outdoor Christmas markets are a fabulous option that I can’t recommend enough, especially in Europe. Spending an evening browsing the wooden stalls with a mug of mulled wine just puts you in the holiday mood. Handmade crafts like ornaments and decorations make for great gifts. And don’t miss foods like gingerbread, sausages, and potato pancakes that vendors are cooking up. My favorites are in Nuremberg, Cologne, and Strasbourg, which have been running for centuries. But you can find charming markets all over Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Just follow your nose to the scents of roasted nuts and cinnamon!
Getting tickets to the Nutcracker ballet is another quintessential way to celebrate. No Christmas is complete without experiencing this cherished Tchaikovsky classic. Watching the story unfold with the lavish costumes, sets, and of course the iconic score is magical. And you don’t have to be in New York to see it – most major cities have productions this time of year. Check for showtimes at your local performing arts center or opera house. Bring some tissues just in case you get caught up in the emotion like I always do.
Caroling events and concerts spread musical cheer as well. Many churches and choirs put on special holiday performances. The soaring vocals and familiar carols really get you in the spirit. Messiah singalongs are especially powerful. Belting out the iconic Hallelujah chorus alongside hundreds of fellow carolers is a rush! Also keep an eye out for free outdoor caroling events where anyone can join in. Singing holiday tunes together with strangers makes for wonderful camaraderie.
Don’t overlook seasonal theatre productions either. Local theatre troupes often put on plays and musicals tailored to the season. These range from Charles Dickens classics like A Christmas Carol to wackier fair like The Santaland Diaries. Community and black box theatres are great places to catch these holiday-themed shows. And the good cheer continues at festive comedy shows and improv nights with comedians riffing on their favorite Christmas memories.
No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Visit Friends and Family
Nothing perks up the holiday spirit quite like visiting loved ones. While tourist sites may have reduced hours, the laughs, memories, and comforts of being around friends and family are always open for business. This is the perfect time of year to reconnect with your circle and make new traditions. As Torsten says, “the natural world keeps on turning, no matter what time of year it is.” The same goes for human connections.
Visiting friends and family allows you to relax and simply enjoy their company without distractions. My friend Leah recently flew home to spend Christmas with her parents in Minnesota. Even though the weather was freezing and most attractions were closed, she cherished the quality time. Mornings were spent lingering over pancakes with her dad as he told childhood stories. Afternoons found Leah curled up on the couch next to the twinkling tree, reading and sipping hot chocolate with her mom. And Christmas dinner was filled with all the nostalgic favorites they had missed, from scalloped potatoes to grandma’s famous coconut cake. No museum could have brought Leah more comfort.
Traditions also take on special significance when shared with loved ones. My colleague Brad makes an annual trip back to his small hometown in Idaho every December. He joins his three brothers to cut down a Christmas tree in the same forest where they all grew up. Even though they’re scattered across the country now, reuniting for their longtime tradition amidst the quiet snowfall brings them closer together. They top off the day with a hearty venison stew at their childhood home.
Visiting family and friends allows you to participate in treasured rituals you may have been missing out on too. My friend Jessica spent last Christmas with her aunt’s family for the first time. She was amazed by how meaningful it felt to string cranberries and popcorn with her young cousins as they prepared handmade garlands. Though she was far from home, sharing in their traditions warmed her heart.
Of course, part of the magic of visiting loved ones is catching up on all that you’ve missed. My brother recently flew to Boston to see his college buddies. Tourist sites were an afterthought as the group swapped endless stories and inside jokes late into the night, making up for lost time. By the end, their faces were sore from laughing. Reconnecting and reminiscing with old friends is the ultimate tonic.
No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Pamper Yourself
Pampering yourself is essential for avoiding holiday blues when attractions are closed or crowded. After all, ‘tis the season for indulgence and self-care. Treating yourself to relaxing experiences will melt away any stresses or disappointments.
My colleague Melanie makes pampering a priority on her Christmas vacations. One year in Paris, she booked a suite at the posh Prince de Galles hotel. While sightseeing was limited, Melanie felt like royalty lounging in the Art Deco-inspired room. She spent one whole day simply enjoying the luxurious bathtub and panoramic city views. Sleeping in, ordering room service, and watching Netflix felt deliciously decadent.
Another time, Melanie visited a Scandinavian spa during a Quebec City holiday. Though most attractions were on reduced hours, she found nirvana alternating between saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs. The massage left her muscles loose and tingling. Afterwards, she napped by the fire and sipped complimentary herbal tea – the picture of relaxation.
My friend Sam takes a similar approach. One Christmas he found himself alone in Athens as friends had to cancel last minute. But Sam still enjoyed world-class pampering at the opulent Grande Bretagne. His jaw dropped when he saw the palatial royal suite. Sam spent his days lounging on the private terrace overlooking the Acropolis, then luxuriating in the marble bathroom’s deep soaking tub. He capped it off with a rejuvenating massage at the hotel’s spa. Sam didn’t even mind that the city’s top museums were closed most days – he had found travel bliss.
Booking a package at a wellness or medical spa is another superb option. My colleague Jen swears by her annual Christmas trip to Canyon Ranch. Though activities at this Tucson resort are endless, Jen mainly enjoys the tranquility. She starts each morning with yoga, then hits the selenium-rich pools and sauna. Jen schedules various skin treatments like hydrating facials, smoothing body scrubs, and even a private sound bath meditation. The nourishing meals and hikes in the desert air leave her feeling brand new.
Even simpler pampering like a salon visit can lift your spirits. My friend Celia was disappointed when the Czech museums she hoped to visit were unexpectedly shuttered. But she perked right up after a day of pampering at a Prague spa. She treated herself to a massage, classic pedicure, and an upd0 for her locks. Afterwards, Celia practically floated through the city’s Christmas markets. She returned home recharged rather than let down.
No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Explore a New Neighborhood
Exploring a new neighborhood is one of my top tips for avoiding the holiday blues. When the main tourist attractions have limited hours, shifting your attention to lesser-known local gems can unlock a whole new side of a destination. Wandering charming streets and discovering hole-in-the-wall shops and eateries will make you feel like you’re in on a special secret. And you’re guaranteed to encounter festive cheer as neighborhoods deck their lanes with twinkling lights and decorations.
My colleague Amanda found herself in this situation a few years back during a Christmas trip to London. The itinerary she had planned revolved around top sites like the British Museum and Westminster Abbey which ended up closed on multiple days she hoped to visit. Rather than sulk, Amanda opted to explore new neighborhoods each day. She stumbled upon brilliant little moments everywhere she went. In Notting Hill, carolers outside a cozy pub welcomed Amanda in for an impromptu concert over pints. In Brick Lane, she savored steaming curries and watched street artists at work. And in Belgravia, the whimsical Christmas displays at small local shops charmed Amanda as she picked out gifts for friends back home. Wandering without an agenda let her truly soak up the festive spirit pervading London.
My friend Eric had a similar experience in New York City. The Rockefeller Center tree was up, but several Midtown museums he planned to visit were unexpectedly shuttered due to maintenance issues and reduced holiday hours. At first Eric was frustrated, but then he shifted focus to exploring Brooklyn. He spent memorable afternoons browsing indie shops and cafes in Williamsburg. One standout was a performance art display in a tiny gallery from a local collective. At a cozy bar in Bushwick, he fell into conversation with neighbors who gave recommendations on their favorite underground jazz club that turned into an only-in-New York night. By slowing down to appreciate local flavor, Eric uncovered amazing experiences he’d have otherwise missed.
Visiting Christmas markets and decor displays helps you tap into a neighborhood too. My colleague Natalia makes it her mission to hit as many local holiday markets as she can find wherever she travels. At the smaller markets, she loves mingling with residents and soaking up the community spirit. The handmade crafts and goods feel more authentic than mass-produced souvenirs. And cooking demos and choir performances showcase talented locals. Natalia has discovered charming neighborhood markets everywhere from Seattle’s Ballard and Portland’s Mississippi to San Francisco’s Ferry Building and the Distillery District in Toronto. Wandering between festive stalls with a warm drink in hand instantly puts you in a merry mood.
No Holiday Blues: Enjoying Christmas Travel When Attractions Are Closed - Savor Seasonal Food and Drink
Indulging in seasonal cuisine and libations is one of the best parts of Christmas travel, even when attractions have limited hours. The flavors of the season delight the senses and provide a tantalizing taste of festive traditions. Don’t deny yourself the chance to sample holiday delicacies that capture the spirit of the destination. After all, ‘tis the season for eggnog, gingerbread, and all things peppermint.
My colleague Gaby relishes the chance to savor festive flavors wherever she goes. One standout Christmas market memory is from Prague, where she sampled klobasa sausage with tangy mustard and washed it down with full-bodied svařené víno. The mulled wine perfumed the crisp air as Gaby browsed handmade crafts. She still reminisces about that first sip of warm, gently spiced holiday nectar.
Of course, baked goods are another must during the Christmas season. My friend Louise fondly remembers the overflowing confection stands in Vienna. She nibbled spiced Speculoos cookies as she walked between stalls, then stopped to watch demonstrations of how strudel was stretched and swirled. The paper cones of roasted chestnuts warmed her fingers as she continued exploring the market and its edible delights.
Seeking out regional holiday delicacies can make you feel like an insider. My colleague Jordan still smiles when he thinks of his first real Eggnog Riot in New York. The bartender proudly explained it was from the only distillery still producing rum according to George Washington’s boozy original recipe. The cocktail’s richness and complex blend of spices perfectly captured the season.
Cooking classes are another tasty way to dive into local food traditions. My friend Amanda learned to make tamales during a Christmas vacation in Oaxaca, Mexico. She learned regional techniques from a talented local chef and helped wrap hoja santa leaves around the masa mixture. Savoring the savory, tender tamales at the end brought Christmas in Mexico to life.
Of course, visiting friends and family provides the ultimate chance to enjoy time-honored recipes. An annual highlight for my colleague Leslie is her aunt Luisa’s Venezuelan Hallacas. Every year Leslie joins her aunt to fill the corn dough pockets with savory spiced meat, olives, and raisins. They chat and reminisce while assembling the treats to enjoy on Noche Buena, Christmas Eve. Though the sights may be limited, Luisa’s Hallacas are Leslie’s favorite part of her holiday vacations.