12 Festive Places to Spend the Holidays

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For many of us, holidays are all about traditions. Of course, making those traditions happen can be a lot of work, and for those not hosting, it’s easy to take traditions for granted. Taking a break from the routine by spending the holidays out of town helps everyone remember what they love about the traditions in the first place. The whole family makes new memories to treasure, and that is, after all, one of the most important parts of the holidays.

Many hotels and resorts will create an unforgettable Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year's specifically for the needs of you and your family. Let them do the work this year! Here are 12 places we recommend for a festive getaway.

Montana

Rent one of the 28 vacation homes set on the 37,000-acre Resort at Paws Up, which has a full program of special events for Christmas. On Christmas Eve, Santa Claus comes to each home to deliver gifts, and each home also has a Christmas tree that you can either decorate yourself or have pre-decorated. Take a sleigh ride through the forest, go ice skating on the rink or compete in the gingerbread house-building contest. Five-night packages include all meals, a selection of beverages (both non-alcoholic and festive) and a $500 per-person activity credit.

Winter sleigh ride
Winter sleigh ride - Photo courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up

Travel tip: Missoula’s airport is about 35 minutes from the resort. Christmas sells out every year; book as early as possible. (Read how to have a “Perfect Day In... Missoula.”)

Sydney, Australia

Spend New Year’s in Sydney, enjoying the fireworks over the harbor and the Sydney Opera House.

Sydney Harbour Bridge & Opera House
Sydney Harbour Bridge & Opera House - Hai Linh Truong/flickr

Travel tip: Get a front-row seat to all the festivities at the Park Hyatt Sydney. The Dining Room restaurant has views of the Sydney Opera House, or take in the fireworks from a cocktail party on the rooftop. Note that while the harbor and Opera House are visible, the Harbour Bridge is not. (Note that this hotel is not officially recommended by the Hideaway Report.)

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Tennessee

As soon as Thanksgiving is over, Blackberry Farm gets to work trimming trees and stringing lights. This country house hotel, set on 9,200 acres of rolling foothills in the Smoky Mountains, offers plenty of family-friendly and kid-friendly activities during the holiday season, from candlelight caroling and cookie-decorating events to family game time and visits from Santa.

Blackberry Mountain, Blackberry Farm’s new and more contemporary sister resort, also offers a tempting Christmas package.

Christmas at Blackberry Farm
Christmas at Blackberry Farm - Photo courtesy of Blackberry Farm © Beall + Thomas Photography

Travel tip: Blackberry Farm only requires a three-night stay, which is perfect for a brief Christmas getaway. (Read more about the owner of Blackberry Farm.)

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

New Year’s Eve occurs during summer in Brazil, and Rio puts on one of the largest fireworks displays in the Southern Hemisphere over the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. It’s traditional in Brazil to dress in all-white clothes to represent beginning the New Year with a clean slate.

Botafogo and Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro
Botafogo and Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro - Getty Images/iStockphoto

Travel tip: Pack your best whites and stay at Hotel Fasano Rio de Janeiro, which overlooks the Copacabana end of Ipanema Beach.

Germany

A favorite place to enjoy the holiday season is Germany, with its very gemütlich Christmas markets. Nürnberg’s Christkindlesmarkt is the largest and most crowded, while Dresden’s Striezelmarkt is the oldest, dating from 1434. But almost every German city of any size has a Christmas market, fragrant with glühwein (warm, spiced wine). Several other central European countries host festive markets as well. In all of them, you’ll find handmade ornaments, local crafts and indulgent holiday treats.

Travel tip: Follow this three-country Christmas Market itinerary, taking you through Dresden, Prague and Vienna by train.

Bath, England

Lucknam Park Hotel & Spa, a distinguished 18th-century manor house hotel in Bath, has a lovely Christmas and New Year’s program, making it a festive and gracious Victorian holiday reminiscent of Downton Abbey. Father Christmas arrives by horse-drawn carriage, and on Boxing Day, the 26th, the hotel hosts a black-tie dinner followed by dancing until midnight.

Ducks on pond in Bath, England
Ducks on pond in Bath, England - © Toby Parkes/flickr

Travel tip: The property has wonderful restaurants, a cooking school, spa, equestrian center and more.

Lapland

Finland’s pristine landscape, flocked and shimmering with snow, strongly evokes the Christmas spirit. Go ice-fishing or snowshoeing or try a husky safari by day, and spend evenings at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, watching the Aurora Borealis flicker overhead as you drift off to sleep in a glass igloo. For those with kids (or those wanting to relive their childhood dreams), visit Santa Claus’ red chalet home, located just five minutes from the resort. (Note that this hotel is not officially recommended by the Hideaway Report.)

Santa's Home at Kakslauttanen
Santa's Home at Kakslauttanen - © Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort

Travel tip: Start your trip in Helsinki, Finland, where we recommend the Hotel Kämp or in Oslo, Norway, where we recommend the Hotel Continental. Winter is, of course, the chilliest time to be in Lapland, so make sure you pack warm winter gear that can withstand the elements. It is worth the effort, as this is the best season to experience the Northern Lights as well as activities like dogsledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

The Serengeti

There is no more exciting way to spend Christmas than staying at Singita, a place whose name means “place of miracles.” And Africa is a wonderful place to spend the holidays, not least because it’s an ideal time to witness the Great Migration in the southern Serengeti and observe animals being born!

Exterior of Sasakwa Lodge
Exterior of Sasakwa Lodge - Photo courtesy of Singita Sasakwa Lodge

Travel tip: Stay at the luxurious Singita Sasakwa, set on a hilltop overlooking the Serengeti plains. Be sure to book early! The holidays fill up fast, especially at the best safari camps.

Sun Valley, Idaho

Sun Valley at Christmas is as charming as the village under your Christmas tree, and it has no shortage of holiday traditions. Along with skiing, there are numerous family activities, from sleigh rides and ice skating to mountainside dining and torchlight parading on Christmas Eve.

Sun Valley around Christmas
Sun Valley around Christmas - © LifeDesign HQ/flickr

Travel tip: Stay at the Sun Valley Lodge. Due to snowstorms, try to plan flights at least a day before you wish to arrive and/or a day after when want to leave. Sun Valley/Ketchum is rather remote.

Ireland

Enjoy wood-burning fireplaces, hot apple cider, Champagne breakfasts and traditional holiday dinners at Sheen Falls Lodge, a lavish manor set on 300 acres above Sheen Falls and Kenmare Bay.

Exterior of Sheen Falls Lodge
Exterior of Sheen Falls Lodge - Photo courtesy of Sheen Falls Lodge

Travel tip: The international Shannon Airport is two and a half hours from Sheen Falls Lodge. Two- or three-night Christmas packages are available.

Southern California

If you want to avoid the chill that comes with visiting a winter wonderland, Southern California is a delightful alternative. But just because you’re by the beach doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some holiday magic. Pelican Hill will handle all the decorating for you. Simply select from a menu of holiday décor, and the staff will put up a tree, dress the mantel or deck out your entire villa or bungalow. In addition, throughout most of December, the Coliseum Pool & Grill serves traditional Hanukkah dishes.

Newport Beach, Crystal Cove
Newport Beach, Crystal Cove - Photo courtesy of The Resort at Pelican Hill

Travel tip: For families with kids, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and Hollywood are within easy reach.

London

London is a wonderful city in which to spend Christmas with children. The elegant 69-room Goring will set up a Christmas tree in your suite, and the concierge can help you choose holiday events that would appeal to your children. The Stafford also has legendary Christmas celebrations.

Christmas at The Goring
Christmas at The Goring - © Telegraph Media Group

Travel tip: Get the best of both worlds and experience London and the English countryside. Spend some time just after Christmas in the Cotswolds at Slaughters Manor House.

To book your holiday vacation, contact the Andrew Harper Travel office at (800) 375-4685 or [email protected].

By Hideaway Report Staff
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