The snowy city island of Trømso offers unparalleled views of the northern lights (look for them between 6 p.m. and midnight) and a chance to say you’ve been to the North Pole—well, the Arctic Circle, anyway—for Christmas. Plus, there’s dogsledding, great food, and a mountaintop cable car. Here, “day” is just a couple hours of twilight blue.
Where to Stay: Most hotels shut down for the holiday, but not the Clarion Hotel Bryggen, right on the harbor. The views of Trømso Sound are best admired from the roof’s steamy Jacuzzi.
Stroll historic Nerudova street in Mala Strana to view the city’s Gothic and Baroque architecture, or catch an opera or ballet at the State Opera or National Theater. Visit the holiday markets in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square.
Where to Stay: The 109-room Hotel Josef is outfitted with Baleri armchairs, Philippe Starck bathroom fixtures, and fluffy duvets.
The wilderness Urho Kekkonen National Park, a 90-minute flight from Helsinki, is an actual winter wonderland: traverse the frosty landscape via a reindeer-pulled sled, or go cross-country skiing on the Saariselkä trails.
Where to Stay: Some of the igloos at Hotel Kakslauttanen are made of thermal glass—so you stay warm watching the northern lights.
In this compact Alpine city, a display of 12,000 crystal lights marks the season on November 21. Grab a heissi schoggi (hot chocolate) and explore the galleries on Rämistrasse, check out the Conelli Christmas Circus, or listen to a holiday concert in the Romanesque-style Grossmünster church.
Where to Stay: Set on the Sihl River, the Hotel Restaurant Helvetiahas 16 rooms with Art Nouveau touches.
Charleston puts its own spin on the holidays—pecans roasting instead of chestnuts, eggnog spiked with bourbon, and choirs singing spirituals at Drayton Hall plantation.
Where to Stay: The 21-room Wentworth Mansiondresses in subdued Victorian finery for the holidays with magnolia wreaths, old-world Santas, and two grand Christmas trees in the foyer. Every room has its own fireplace. On your pillow at turndown: chocolate truffles.
In this otherworldly landscape, daylight is a four-hour affair and the liquid-green aurora borealis illuminates the nighttime sky. Statues of the 12 Yule Lads (the Icelandic version of Santa Claus) peer out from every corner shop and window.
Where to Stay: For covetable views of the Hallgrímskirkja cathedral and reasonable room rates, check in to the Hótel Leifur Eiríksson.
Santa Barbara, CA
During winter, the coastal towns in Santa Barbara County combine New England–style comfort and old California elegance with outrageous holiday kitsch.
Where to Stay: In Montecito, the 500-acre San Ysidro Ranch could be a Vermont hunting lodge (rooms have wood-beamed ceilings and stone hearths), except that it’s 20 minutes from world-class surfing at Rincon Beach.
New England’s old-world ambience and coziness make Boston a natural choice for the holidays. Enjoy Beacon Hill’s cobblestoned streets dusted with snow, and celebrate the ghosts of Christmases past with the Christmas Revels at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre.
Where to Stay: A gas fireplace warms every bedroom at the XV Beacon Hotel, which mixes classic details like an antique cage elevator with bold abstract paintings. Just a few minutes away from Boston Common and Faneuil Hall.
In this Scottish gem known for its widespread arts and theater culture, a holiday light show includes fireworks illuminating the sky from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” around the Sir Walter Scott Monument serve even better than carolers.
Where to Stay: Fireplaces are continuously rekindled at the baronial Balmoral. The Caledonian Hilton Edinburgh is Scotland’s answer to the Plaza and equally as opulent.
Nashville is the most flamboyant ode to the holidays east of the Mississippi; “O Tannenbaum” is sung with a twang as honky-tonks share space with family values.
Where to Stay: With Gaylord Opryland’s nearly 3,000 rooms and more than nine acres of enclosed gardens, it is no surprise that it does Christmas in a big way. Two million lights shine in outdoor displays, while large-scale tributes inside range from campy to breathtaking. If you prefer a quieter place, check into the 124-room Union Station, a refurbished train depot with a grand stained-glass ceiling in its lobby.
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And if you need a special Christmas present to make dreams coming true? We offer the THER8 TRAVEL VOUCHER!