The 10 least Christmassy places on the world

Posted On December 21, 2009

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Bah Humbug! you say? For all you Ebenezers out there, here are the 10 least Christmassy places on the planet Earth.

If the idea of Christmas fills you with dread, there are a number of countries around the world where December 25th is not even a public holiday.  You can hop on a plane, and in a matter of hours, the horrors of present buying, TV specials and the Queen’s speech, can all be left behind. 

In the true spirit of the festive season, we bring you the top ten anti-Christmas getaways. Read on >

Japan > Although you might see giant robotic Santas in Tokyo, Christmas is not traditionally celebrated in Japan. Instead, you can visit cities like Kyoto and Nara to sample traditional culture, head to Tokyo for cutting edge electronics or go to Hokkaido to sample some of the best powder snow in the world.  And all this whilst enjoying the friendly and gracious hospitality of your Japanese hosts.

Saudi Arabia > During the last few years, the last great Kingdom in the world has begun to allow visitors, albeit with fairly strict provisos.  Those furnished with a visa can marvel at Madain Saleh (Saudi Arabia’s Petra), or visit The Empty Quarter (the largest sea of sand in the world) and home to the Arabian oryx.  The country also boasts some of the most pristine reefs in the world and is a scuba diver’s paradise.

Algeria > Algeria is a country with a rich history as well as natural beauty.  The busy city of Algiers will be many people’s first ports of call, and a visit to the nearby ruins at Djemila, Tipasa and Timgad should be on the to-do list.  Other worthwhile destinations include the holy town of Beni-Isguen and the town of Ouargla known as “the golden key to the desert” with its unique architecture.

Iran > Whilst the political situation in Iran makes it a more challenging place to visit, it remains a fascinating country with warm and friendly people.  Visit the ancient ruin of Persepolis, or the cultured and sophisticated city of Shiraz, before heading to Esfahan, regarded as one of the finest Islamic cities in the world.  Afterwards relax in the Alborz mountains and enjoy some skiing or walk the trails round the legendary Castles of the Assassins.

Thailand > From November to February is Thailand’s “cool” period when the humidity drops, and it makes it the perfect winter sun destination, and it also has the added bonus of being Christmas free.  Choose your accommodation from world class resorts to more basic dwellings, whilst sampling traditional Thai food which is surely one of the favourites of anyone with an interest in international cuisine.

Nepal > Whilst snowy mountains might sound a bit too Christmassy for the true avoider of the season, the Himalayas are not just any mountains.  Nepal has become a Mecca for mountaineers, trekkers and enthusiasts of the outdoors with world-class white-water rafting and kayaking as well as mountain biking in some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet.

Turkey > Turkey represents an alluring destination for a winter getaway from the seasonal revelries of the West.  The town of Istanbul, combines  traditional architecture with a growing reputation as one of the hippest towns around.  Apart from anything else, the thought of Christmas in Turkey offers a bewildering array of poultry based jokes which will keep you busy till New Year.

Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea > Not only does North Korea not celebrate Christmas, but they are so unfestive, that their borders are closed to all tourists from November 2009 to mid January 2010.  As such, you cannot even go there, and enjoy the Day of the Promulgation of the Socialist Constitution of the DPRK on 27th December.  Worth a mention though as one of the least festive places in the world, 365 days a year.

China > It is a tough task to summarise the attractions of the most populous country on earth in just four lines so a list seems appropriate: bicycles, rice, Great Wall, Terracotta Army, more bicycles, Beijing, pandas, Ming Dynasty, Mao Tse Tung, Communist things (the author accepts this is not a very good profile).

And finally… > With a large bank balance and a really serious case of anti-Christmasness, why not purchase your own private island and escape from everyone.  A nice little number in the Carribean can be had for $25,000,000 whilst if you’re on a tighter budget, Musha Cay in the Bahamas is yours for just $37,500 per day.

New Year destinations

Posted On December 16, 2009

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New York (USA) > Times Square is the place to be in the Big Apple if you really want to experience the festive throng and the famed “ball drop”. Be prepared to make new friends from around the world and enjoy the charged atmosphere as the countdown begins. New York at New Year can be chilly, so wrap up warm and don comfortable clothing. 

New York (USA) > Times Square

Tenerife (Spain) > The fact the Tenerife is still a warm 18 degrees in mid-winter is probably why it attracts so many Brits for New Year. The church square in Los Cristianos hosts thousands of revellers waiting to pop their bottles of Cava, and like everywhere else, you’ll be able to join the locals “oohing” and “aahing” over the spectacular firework display. 

Paris (France) > Regarded as one of the most colourful and exciting places to celebrate New Year, Parisians toast the nouvelle année with flutes of Champagne and papillottes, small chocolates which pop like firecrackers when opened. Head to the Champs-Elysees from where you’ll be able to soak up the seasonal atmosphere and get a good view of the Eiffel Tower which explodes with light when the clock strikes twelve. 

Amsterdam (Netherlands) > A year round city of pleasure, it’s little wonder that the Dutch capital draws thousands of Brits for New Year. Known as Oudjaarsavond, meaning Old Year’s Eve, throngs of people will head to the famous streets such as Dam Square and Rembrandtplein to welcome in 2010. The Dutch have a hands on approach to fireworks and you’ll find it all ‘going off’ in the streets, ear plugs and safety goggles are advised. 

London (England) > New Year revellers in the English capital enjoy a choice of bars, clubs and fireworks along the river Thames, at Alexandra Palace or one of the many other displays. Fans of 007 can get shaken (but not stirred) at the Bond Ball at Kensington Close Hotel, clubbers can dance till moon down at the Ministry of Sound party at The O2, and for family fun, head to one of several London ice rinks set up especially for the festive period. 

London (England) > New Year celebrations

Alicante (Spain) > Another Spanish city long popular with Brits, locals tend to start off the Nochevieja celebrations with a huge family dinner at home, after which the younger members hit the town for the night. Plaza del Ayuntamiento (City Hall Square) in El Barrio is the place to gather for the big midnight countdown, then check into one of numerous discothèques and party till Spanish sunrise. 

Malaga (Spain) > A long time favourite of Brits during the summer, Malaga continues to draw UK visitors in winter too. Though it couldn’t exactly be described as balmy on the 31st of December, an average temperature of around 16C means that New Year in Malaga is considerably warmer than in the UK. Grab your bottles of cerveza and take to the town centre to join the New Year festivities. 

Edinburgh (Scotland, UK) > The Scottish capital’s Hogmanay party is one of the biggest New Year street parties in the UK. With live music performances across four different stages from major acts including Madness, The Enemy and Calvin Harris, and midnight firework displays from the city’s high places, Hogmanay in Edinburgh claims to offer the “World’s Biggest Auld Lang Syne”. 

Geneva (Switzerland) > Its popularity as a ski hub is the reason this Swiss city ranks so high in the charts. With over 100 resorts less than a 2 hour drive away, thousands will be seeing in the New Year on the slopes of the Swiss and French Alps. There’s also plenty of celebrations in the city itself; highlights include the organ concert at St Pierre Cathedral, live music on the Promenade Saint-Antoine, plus a line-up of top DJs. Treasure hunts and circus acts will keep the children amused. 

Dublin (Ireland) > Fuelled by fireworks, live music, street entertainment and copious amounts of Guinness, New Year in Dublin is full of craic. In Temple Bar, Dublin’s famed pub district, revellers will pour onto the streets to celebrate 2010 to the sound of firecrackers and cheers. If you’re not suffering too much, drag yourself out of bed to see the New Year’s Day Parade which hosts some fantastic marching bands from both Ireland and around the world. 

Dublin (Ireland) > Irish Beer

Top New Year destinations for 2009

Posted On December 16, 2009

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World’s most popular New Year cities for 2009 > Skyscanner revealed the most popular destinations that Brits are heading to for New Year.

The data, based on user flight searches on the Skyscanner site, threw up an intriguing mix of locations in sunny, city and even snowy destinations that Brits are travelling to for their New Year celebrations.

In the number one position, New York topped the bill as the most searched for destination, and was the only city outside of Europe to feature in the top ten.  The big apple has long been one of the most famous places to see in the New Year, and the weakening US dollar may help explain its popularity.

In second place was Tenerife, a long time favourite for Brits seeking escape from the UK’s winter gloom. Paris and Amsterdam ranked 3rd and 4th, London came in 5th, suggesting many British revellers will be ringing in the New Year on home turf or that they are using London as a connecting hub for onward travel.

Alicante and Malaga, also favourites of British holidaymakers appeared in 6th and 7th, making Spain the most popular country for Brits to celebrate New Year in overall. Edinburgh ranked 8th, suggesting that Hogmanay in the Scottish capital is still a big New Year destination for many in the UK.

Ranking 9th was Geneva, the massively popular ski hub, suggesting that a large proportion of Brits will be seeing in the New Year at one of the dozens of French or Swiss ski resorts that lie within 2 hours of the city. And at number 10 was Irish capital Dublin, which is well known for its New Year’s craic drawing thousands of Brits each year.

Here’s the Top 20 New Year Destinations from UK Airports >

1.  New York (USA)
2.  Tenerife (Spain)
3.  Paris (France)
4.  Amsterdam (Netherlands)
5.  London (UK)
6.  Alicante (Spain)
7.  Malaga (Spain)
8.  Edinburgh (UK)
9.  Geneva (Switzerland)
10. Dublin (Ireland)
11. Berlin (Germany)
12. Barcelona (Spain)
13. Bangkok (Thailand)
14. Prague (Czech Republic)
15. Lanzarote (Spain)
16. Belfast (UK)
17. Faro (Portugal)
18. Rome (Italy)
19. Madrid (Spain)
20. Glasgow (UK)

Ranking based on flight searches on Skyscanner from UK airports for travel over the New Year Period 09/10.

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World’s most Christmassy destinations

Posted On December 16, 2009

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Looking for the ultimate places to get festive? We scaned the globe to bring you the top 15 most Christmassy and festively themed places on the planet [in alphabetical order].

Bethlehem (West Bank, Israel) > Yes, this is a real place. Bethlehem is commonly accepted as the birth city of Jesus, probably the most famous person in history and the whole reason that we celebrate Christmas Day at all. 

Brussels (Belgium) > Forever linked with a famous Christmas side dish that causes mixed feelings at the table, the small green vegetable really is named after the Belgian capital where it’s said to have been a popular crop for more than 400 years. 

Carol City (Florida, USA) > Guaranteed for a balmy Christmas, temperatures here rarely dip below 20C. And it seems that many of the city’s inhabitants do indeed sing for their supper. According to Wikipedia, Carol City’s most notable residents are all rappers, though Trapp Mendoza and JT Money are rarely heard waxing lyrical about baby Jesus and Rudolph the red nosed reindeer. 

Christmas Island (Australia) > There are actually several islands in various oceans named Christmas, but probably the best known is the Australian territory located in the Indian Ocean. Over half the island is national park, but according to the CIA World Fact Book, it will soon become a site for launching space missions. Is Santa going intergalactic? 

Dasher, (Georgia, USA) > Not to be outdone by his better known team mate, during his lucrative career as an elite member of Santa’s sledge team,  Dasher bought his own town too. Situated in Lowndes County, Dasher boasts a population of just 834. However, that’s 834 more people than live on Rudolf’s Island, as Dasher often reminds him. 

Holly (Michigan, USA) > This quiet village apparently featured in the 1993 Clint Eastwood movie “In the Line of Fire”. It was also home to Dr Church Jr, the man who developed the Mount Rose snow sampler, a tool used to measure snow depth and water content. 

Krakow (Poland) > This city goes off with a bang in December with a cracking Christmas market held in the main square. Quaff mulled wine and browse stalls selling Baltic amber jewellery and woollen slippers from the Polish highlands. 

Mińce (Poland) > It is not thought that mince pies originated in this small village in North Eastern Poland or that it has anything to do whatsoever with the famous festive pastry. Indeed, mince pies were invented in Britain and originally contained shredded meat (hence the name) in addition to the mix of raisins, sultanas and spices. 

Rudolf Island (Russia) > The northern most island of the Franz Josef Archipelago, this small, barren island that sits within the arctic circle is almost completely glaciated. Despite the name, Rudolf and his reindeer buddies don’t hang out here these days, it’s just too chilly. You’ll need to join a polar expedition to get to this one. 

Santa Cruz (California, USA) > Meaning “Holy Cross”, Santa Cruz is a quintessential American beach town. The place where Hawaiian royalty first introduced surfing to the mainland, the city is still known for its alternative lifestyle and liberal political persuasion. 

Sledge (Mississippi, USA) > It’s the blues rather than the wooden contraptions that hurtle down snow covered slopes that Sledge is really famous for. Despite having a population of less than 600 people, it produced the famous country singer Charley Pride, and is considered by some to be the birthplace of the blues. 

Star (Scotland, UK) > This small, quiet village, with a population of 500, is located one hour from Edinburgh. It shares its name with one of that most festive of symbols, the star, which led the three wise men to Bethlehem, and is now a popular Christmas decoration. 

Stocking (Austria) > A municipality in Styria, southern Austria, stockings are also vital receptacles in which Mr Claus deposits his gifts. Traditionally, children hang their stocking by the fireplace allowing Santa easy access. A mince pie and a glass of brandy are normally left in return. 

Tinsel Town (Los Angeles, USA) > Hollywood’s nom de plume, the Tinsel part refers to the glittering, flashy, but superficial nature of Hollywood and the film industry. Tinsel, the popular Christmas decoration, was invented in Germany in 1610 and was originally made of shredded silver. 

Turkey > Though rather known for its warm seas, many might be surprised to hear the country also receives heavy snowfalls, boasts mountains over 4000m high and has ski resorts where you can guarantee yourself a white Christmas. The large bird traditionally eaten at Christmas actually originates from South America. 

Finland, the real home of Santa Claus

Promoting itself as the “real home of Santa Claus,” Finland celebrates Christmas with markets, festivities and traditions, all culminating on Christmas Eve with a taking of the sauna, enjoyment of Christmas treats and gatherings with friends and family, and a visit by Santa Claus.

Santa Claus, or Joulupukki in Finnish, is known to reside in northeastern Lapland, on the Korvatunturi Fell. Legend states that the Korvatunturi Fell is shaped like an ear, allowing Santa to hear the wishes of children from around the world. Korvatunturi is “home base” for Santa’s travels above the Arctic Circle.

Santa Claus’ Office is in Santa Claus’ Village on the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland. The nearest town, Rovaniemi, is 8 km away. (Highway 4 north of Rovaniemi).

Santa Claus Village, open throughout the year with free admission, is home to Santa Claus’s Office where visitors can meet Santa, visit his Main Post Office and observe the flurry of the festive season. Cards, letters and parcels sent from Santa Claus’ Main Post Office are stamped with a unique Arctic Circle postmark. Through the years Finland’s Santa Claus has received more than 18 million letters. Each year he receives more than 600,000 letters from more than 150 countries. More info at >

Santa’s Park is a fantasy world inside an underground cave where “elves” work all year in preparation for Christmas. Guests can bake and decorate gingerbread in the Gingerbread Kitchen, learn elf skills in Elf School, or make Christmas decorations in the Elf Workshop. Santa Park’s Sleigh Ride takes guests through four seasons of Finland to the elves’ toy factory where presents for Christmas are made. Entrance is 20 euro for children and 25 euro for adults through January 10. More info at >

According to the Finnish tradition, Christmas is brought to the homes by St. Thomas on December 21 (St. Thomas Day) and is taken away by St. Knut on January 13. St. Thomas markets prepare for the December 21 celebration, selling handmade Christmas decorations, ornaments, handicrafts, gifts, and treats such as gingerbread and hot mulled wine, Glögi, a warming combination of wine, spices and fruit. The St. Thomas Market in Helsinki, in Esplanade Park, is the largest Christmas market in Finland with approximately 150 vendors. On weekends, entertainment includes a Finnish Christmas pageant and a visit by Santa Claus. The market is open daily from December 7 to 20. In Turku the Christmas Fair is open on weekends through December 25. More info at >

Christmas and winter activities in Finland

The Finnish Tourist Board is promoting Lapland as a Christmas Wonderland with a series of five to eight-day packages.

The packages include Continental Journeys’ six-day air-inclusive “Christmas in Lapland-Rovaniemi” departing New York on December 22. The package includes plenty of activities such as a snowmobile safari, a magical forest walk with Santa’s helpers, visit to a reindeer farm, Santa’s Workshop and Santa’s Park, a snow carnival and ice fishing. Included are tourist-class hotels, upgradeable to superior and first class hotels, most meals, daily sauna, hotel taxes and service charges. Add-on gateways and additional nights are available. Info at >

Five Stars of Scandinavia’s five-day Rovaniemi land-only package, has three departures December 16, 23 and 30. Participants earn a reindeer driving license, learn about reindeer herding, take a husky safari and a snowmobile safari, and visit Santa Claus Village to meet Santa Claus. Included are four nights’ hotel accommodations, four dinners and breakfast daily, daily sauna use, all equipment and special winter gear, and hotel taxes and service charges. Info at >

A fully escorted, eight-day upscale tour from Maupintour spends two nights exploring Helsinki and four in Rovaniemi, all in deluxe hotels. In Lapland, an icebreaker cruise kicks off the stay in Kemi, followed by a visit to Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi and a reindeer farm, activities such as a snowmobile safari, a toboggan run, snow-shoeing and ice fishing. The December 20 departure includes all excursions, six nights accommodations, most meals, daily sauna use, and escort. Info at >

The Finnish Tourist Board at >

Helsinki’s Ylläs-Halli Center for Winter Activities offers a year-round locale where visitors can train or try out various winter sports such as biathlon, curling, ice skating, sledging, ice wall climbing or snow-tubing. To create a Ylläs Lapland feeling, the arena provides a “snowy” environment with walls covered with huge images of Lapland, ice bears and winter imagery, plus real trees. Included are a 1.2-kilometer cross-country ski track, with terrain options for beginners to advanced skiers, plus a supervised area where young visitors can practice sports. To minimize environmental impact, the arena produces its own energy in an environmentally friendly way. The arena utilizes geothermal heat, solar energy and wind power according to its own strict energy and environmental program. Info at >

The Kannisto Domestic Animal Farm offers an unusual experience for families or anyone who would like to spend Christmas on a genuine farm. The holiday program starts Christmas Eve with a stables tour to meet the farm animals. Guests will hear stories about the life in the countryside followed by a traditional smoke sauna. The evening continues with a Christmas Feast and a visit by Santa Claus. On Christmas Day, the program includes cart or sledge riding, horseback riding or a walk to rocky Leikkilinna Mountain, and caroling. Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, gives guests traditional holiday pastry and time to experience outdoor activities and take care of the farm animals. Prices for the Christmas Holiday package are 280 euros per adult, 140 euros per child 7 to 14 years old, 70 euros per child 2 to 6 years old, and children under 2 years old are free. Included are accommodations for three nights with all meals, saunas, nature excursions, cart or sledge riding and Santa Claus’s visit. Info at >

Usually, Finland’s legendary Moomin trolls hibernate during the coldest months, but this year the magic of the season awakens the Moomin family from their winter’s sleep. Moomin Valley features skating and sledding, guests can meet the Moomin family and have lunch at Moomin Mama’s Kitchen, enjoy snacks in a Finnish cabin, and visit the Moominhouse. Moominworld, a theme park for children and families based on the books of Finnish artist and storyteller Tove Jansson, is open February 20 to 28. The park is located on the southwest coast of Finland on a small island facing the old town of Naantali, just 10 miles from Turku and a couple hours’ drive from Helsinki, Tampere or Pori. Sokos Hotels offers a package which includes accommodation for one night at Sokos Hotel Seurahuone in a double room with two junior cots (children under 2 years old are free), buffet breakfast and entrance to Moominworld for two adults and two children. Info at >  or

The Wild Taiga offers a variety of small hotels and tours in the wilderness just next to the Russian border. Tours here feature action-packed activities such as snowmobiling, husky safaris and cross-country skiing. Visitors can also horseback ride, go on a reindeer sleigh, fish, snowshoe or watch a wide variety of animals in their natural habitats. Kuhmo and Suomussalmi, two cities in the Wild Taiga, are a textbook example of the mixture of rich tradition and strong local culture. The region’s settlement history is among the oldest in Finland. For those looking for cultural fulfillment the area offers a rich rural history, chamber music, rune singing, memorials of the Winter War and a variety of concerts. Info at >

Christmas shopping in Europe

There are many shopping possibilities around Europe to get travellers in the Christmas Spirit.

Many European cities are attracting guests with the lowest hotel rates of the year allowing travellers to get in some cheap last minute shopping before Christmas. In Milan, 110 euro, travellers save 14 percent in comparison to the previous month, in Venice, 115 euro, twelve percent. Prices have also decreased in Nice, 85 euro, eight percent less and Barcelona, 96 euro, nine percent less.

To prolong the festive season into 2010, travellers can visit the Three King’s celebration on the 6th January in Barcelona.

In comparison to the previous month, hotel prices have risen in European cities that offer Christmas markets throughout December. In the German city of Nuremberg travellers pay 108 euro for a standard double room over the Christmas period, twelve percent more than in November. The same can be seen in other German cities, such as Dresden, 86 euro, an increase of ten percent and Stuttgart, 108 euro, an increase of six percent.

The same trend can also be seen in popular cities in Austria and Switzerland. A standard double room in Vienna is 109 euro in December, five percent more than the previous month, while in Zurich prices have increased due to the Christmas market by three percent to 183 euro.

Although Christmas markets in Europe are mostly associated with Germany and Austria, many others can also be found in England, Estonia, Finland, France and other countries around Europe. However, my favorite one is in Berlin, Germany and that is not due to hot mulled wine only!

Take a look at the following links >

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