The Bucket List: 7 Holiday Destinations that Sparkle

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From Kobe to Vienna, cities around the world celebrate the holiday season with elaborate festivals that turn their downtown into colorful and brightly-lit scenes out of a storybook. Start planning for next winter’s travels or keep reading to get into the spirit of the season by desktop traveling to these seven destinations that turn it on for the holidays.

1. Vienna, Austria

Photo by Roderick Eime, CC BY 2.0

When it comes to decking the town halls for the holidays, few cities can compete with Vienna. Austria’s capital looks downright magical and hosts more than 20 official markets with around 150 vendors selling everything from food and drinks to holiday gifts. If you’re limited on time or just want to make sure you experience the festivities to their fullest, head to the Rathausplatz, the square in front of City Hall. The Christmas Village outside of Belvedere Palace, a baroque beauty sure to be on any visitor’s itinerary, is also a must-see. Parade Court at Schönbrunn Palace hosts yet another famous market as does the one at Maria Theresa Square, or Maria-Theresien-Platz.

2. Singapore

Photo by Eustaquio Santimano, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

From the solar-powered trees at Gardens by the Bay to the countless skyscrapers that make up its skyline, Singapore shines all year long. It’s at its brightest, however, during the holiday season. Signs of the season can be seen throughout the city-state, but the place to head is Orchard Road, Singapore’s retail hub with plenty of high-end shopping. The nearly 1.5-mile boulevard gets draped in millions of twinkling lights, arches and bright displays. The retailers and malls along the stretch get into the spirit as well by decorating their facades to compete for the Best Dressed Building award.

3. Kobe, Japan

Photo by jpellgen, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The 12-day light festival that is Kobe Luminarie features more than 200,000 lights that come together to form massive displays and tunnels that attract millions of visitors from around the world each December. The celebration started in 1995 to commemorate the nearly 6,000 lost during the 7.2-magnitude Great Hanshin earthquake earlier that year and to help bring tourism back to a city that lay in ruin.

4. Gothenburg, Sweden

Photo by la Ezwa, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Gothenburg, a charming city on Sweden’s west coast that has dubbed itself Christmas City, hosts several cheerful holiday celebrations, the most popular of which is arguably at Liseberg. More than five million lights and thousands of garland adorn this popular amusement park. Vendors are also there to sell crafts. Arrive along the twinkling Christmas Lane, which stretches for nearly 2 miles between the city’s harbor and the amusement park and features 40 attractions along the way. The Christmas market in the Haga district is another popular option. The main street is heavily decorated and vendors set up shop to sell their wares.

5. Toronto, Canada

Photo by Shaheen Karolia, CC BY 2.0

Every winter Toronto’s Distillery district hosts a spectacular pop-up Christmas market. The local-centric neighborhood features artisan shops selling gifts for the holidays. There’s also a beer garden when you’re ready for a break from all the shopping. Be sure to also visit the market in Union Station’s Grand Hall. Local vendors are there and ready to send you home with a souvenir or a snack. Toronto’s waterfront also features several light displays from the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel to a tall ship near Amsterdam Bridge.

6. Brussels, Belgium

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Brussels puts on a charming display of holiday spirit each winter. The festivities include a giant ice skating rink at La Place de la Monnaie and a giant tree at the Grand Place, which puts on a spectacular sound and light show. The real draw are the Christmas markets that pop up around Belgium’s capital. Various chalets set up along the participating streets and sell themed delicacies from Switzerland, Quebec, and of course Belgium.

7. Medellín, Colombia

Photo by Augusto Serna, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Every year Medellín, Colombia hosts what is known locally as El Alumbrado, or The Lighting. For around 45 days, tens of millions of lights are hung throughout the city, traditionally along the Medellín River and more than 100 other locations. Each winter the festival picks a theme for the decorations and displays to follow. This year’s festival aims to capture Carnival.

Top photo: 8 Kome, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.