The ultimate Christmas bucket list: magical places to see and festive foods to try before you die

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Sejal Kapadia Pocha
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Christmas to you might mean eating your way through a box of mince pies with family, drinking plenty of mulled wine with friends or spending a Sunday afternoon perusing your closest Christmas market for gifts.

But if you really want to get in the festive spirit, you need to try one of these. From the remarkable natural ice rink in Ottawa to the nostalgic Charles Dickens Museum in London and the unique light show in Georgia, Christmas is at its very best in these ten places...

Buy handmade gifts at Christkindlmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany

Behold the prototype for Christmas markets across the world. This original 400-year-old Christkindlesmarkt prides itself on its authenticity selling only handcrafted goods from independent businesses (you'll find no mass-produced scarves here).

More than two million people visit Nuremberg's festive market every year, and the town has been dubbed the "little town of wood and cloth" thanks to its 180 stalls made with red-and-white-striped canvas roofs. Flanked by two stunning gothic buildings, The Frauenkirche and the St. Sebald Church, it really is the perfect backdrop for the season.

As you wander from hut to hut, you'll discover local delicacies such as Nuremberg's famous gingerbread - a spiced cake rather than biscuit - blueberry-mulled wine and grilled sausages. Don't forget to buy a Zwetschgenmännle, the market's signature dolls made of prune. More than 350 different figures are available ranging from chimney sweeps for luck to kissing couples.

The final day of the market is 24 December.

Skate through a natural ice rink in Ottawa, Canada

Canada's capital Ottawa is home to the world's longest naturally-frozen ice-rink spanning 7.8 km (4.8 miles) which is the equivalent of 90 Olympic-size skating rinks.

Due to plummeting temperatures, the Rideau Canal freezes every winter allowing skaters to meander their way through the heart of the city for free. The iced-pathway is peppered with huts to change in and snack stations if you get peckish along the way. 

In the last decade the canal has only frozen in January which means it's only open in the first eight weeks of the year. We recommend spending Christmas and New Year Year's Eve in Old Quebec City or Montreal - both boast snow-filled streets with a Dickensian atmosphere - and head straight to Ottawa's icy heart in the New Year.

Walk in the shoes of Charles Dickens in London, UK

No festive story has quite captured the heart of the masses like Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Be transported back to the Victorian era at the author's beautifully restored former home, which is decorated in Christmas greenery, authentic Victorian festive fayre and the scent of citrus and spice throughout December.

Explore the dining room, which is dressed for a Christmas party and the desk where Dickens penned his works. On selected evenings in December, the entire home will be lit only by candle light so you can experience it just as he did. 

After all, nostalgia is what Christmas is all about.

Go on a husky safari at sunset in Lapland

Everyone knows that Santa lives in Lapland, but the enchanting Finnish region has so much more to offer. Embark on a wintry adventure as you ride a husky-pulled sledge through snowy landscapes that are most beautiful during sunset.

With its clear skies and optimal location, Lapland is also one of the best places to witness the magical Northern Lights - on average the Aurora Borealis appear in the region's sky around 200 times per year. For the ultimate festive experience, ask to travel to the “aurora camp” by a reindeer sleigh ride (you can also go by snowmobile).

And when you stop by at Father Christmas' headquarters, take some time to notice 'The Arctic Circle', the line visible on any map of the globe which Santa Claus Village so happens to be slap bang in the middle of. It's from north of here that the sun stays below the horizon for the whole of December resulting in total darkness (elsewhere in Lapland, daylight lasts for six hours). In the summer, the sun stays above the horizon north of this point, even at midnight, leading to 24 hours of natural light.

Drink the best hot chocolate on the planet in Bruges, Belgium

When the weather outside is frightful there really is nothing more delightful than a rich, hot cup of cocoa and we've found the world's best.

Located in the western Belgium city of Bruges, The Old Chocolate House serves a bowl of hot milk with a tray of chocolate chips to add to the hot drink using a small whisk.

Bruges is also a wonderful city to spend Christmas in, with a horse-drawn carriage rides on cobbled streets and twinkling fairylights reflected in the canal. Plus the smell of fresh, warm waffles is enough to trump the tastiest mince pie.

And if you're hitting an afternoon slump you can climb the 366 steps in the medieval bell tower Belfry to see a breath-taking view of the chocolate box city below.

Marvel at hundreds of baubles at the Christmas Balls Museum, Poland

If you're looking to dip below the radar, why not visit the first and only museum dedicated to Christmas baubles in the small southern Polish town of Nowa Dęba?

Dęba is the home of a manufacturer of traditional Christmas tree decorations and the Muzeum Bombki Choinkowej was created by its owner Janusz Bilinski in 2012. They have around 16,000 handmade pieces on show, from glass-blown trinkets to designs in aluminium.

Last year's most popular ornament was a realistic depictions of ginger cookies made from glass and glitter.

Once you've sifted through the collection and bought more baubles than you can shake a diamante-clad stick at, take a train ride to Kraków to marvel at its medieval buildings and the vast Rynek Główny - Europe’s largest market square - which hosts its very own Christmas market.

Be sure to buy traditional ‘oplatek’ Christmas greetings which are wallet-sized, paper-thin and crispy leafs of bread carrying an imprint of the Nativity scene.


See a spectacular light show in Callaway Gardens, Georgia, USA

On a normal day these man-made woods are an incredible sight. But at Christmas the landscapes are simply magical thanks to 15 dazzling displays made from eight million lights. Each display depicts a different festive scene such as a march of the toy soldiers or a nature-themed 'Snowflake Valley'. Visitors can drive through the show themselves but we recommend booking yourself on one of the train cart rides.

The resort also holds its very own Christmas Village for shopping (look out for local crafts from Georgians), dining and meeting Santa.

And if that's not enough, Georgia boasts many other incredible festive light displays, from Rock City's Enchanted Garden of Lights to Atlanta Botanical Gardens' 'Garden Lights, Holiday Nights' festival.

Snap a picture at Rockefeller Center in New York City, USA

Miracle on 34th Street, Elf and Home Alone 2 - there's something about New York City that lends itself as the perfect backdrop for a Christmas film. And no matter how many times we've visited New York, the Metropolis is always on the top our wish lists, with one landmark trumping them all - the Rockefeller Center.

Ever since Macaulay Culkin reprised his role as the abandoned Kevin in Home Alone 2 and made a wish for his mother to return to him in the company of no-one but the skyscraper's decorative gold angels and mammoth Christmas tree, the masses have fallen head over heels for the spot. However, the giant tree is an 80-year-old tradition.

Whether you want to lace up your skates or stroll around the area with a cup of eggnog, it's a landmark for everyone. Plus, there's plenty to do in New York City once you've taken an obligatory selfie.

Burn a clock to mark the winter solstice in Brighton, UK

It might not be directly linked to Christmas, but this clock-burning ceremony on 21 December in Brighton has wintry fun and lights-spectacle written all over it. 

Created by Same Sky, a community arts charity in the South East, Burning the Clocks marks the shortest day of the year and is a lively celebration of the 12 months that have passed. It's also a day of reflection and spending time with friends and family. 

Ahead of the event, locals make their own paper and willow lanterns. On the night, lanterns are passed through the city in a parade and turned into a blazing bonfire at the finale on Brighton beach.

Go picnicking on a beach in Sydney, Australia

While you might be against straying away from the cold comforts of a northern hemisphere, everyone should experience Bondi Beach on Christmas Day at least once in their lifetime. 

With bathers in red Santa hats and beach parties taking place across the shore, it's the epitome of an Australian summer. But if you're looking to escape the noise, follow the eastern coastal trail to Coogee Beach, the more peaceful alternative to Bondi. Here you should pick a cosy spot, lay down your picnic basket and drink in the pristine views.

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Sejal Kapadia Pocha

Sejal Kapadia Pocha covers stories about everything from women’s issues to cult foods. She describes herself as a balance between Hermione and Luna Lovegood.