10 Unique Christmas Destinations to Check Out Across the Globe

10 Unique Christmas Destinations to Check Out Across the Globe

For an out-of-the-box yuletide experience you'll never forget.

Chestnuts roasting in an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, yuletide carols being sung by a choir… The holidays are approaching! All the signs are there: crisp winter (or winter-esque) weather, festive tunes, twinkling lights, and Christmas trees. But the holidays can look a little different in other parts of the world, and today we want to shine the spotlight on the more unique Christmas destinations for your yuletide travels. 

Believe it or not, there are a lot of offbeat holiday traditions around the world, from unconventional holiday feasts to spooky Halloween-esque rituals. If an out-of-the-box Christmas experience is your cup of tea, then we’re here to help: Read on for the best destinations in the world for an extraordinarily unique festive season. Mark your calendars for your most unforgettable holiday yet! 

Travellers, are you ready to splurge on your holiday travels? Treat yourself and your family to a multitude of yuletide delights, from lavish Christmas presents to dazzling holiday attractions.

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Unique Christmas destinations for happy holidays that are one-of-a-kind

1. Japan

unique christmas destinations

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Turkeys are nowhere to be found during Christmas feasts in Japan. Instead, the Japanese celebrate the holiday with Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)! It might sound bizarre, but big buckets of fried chicken are an essential part of the locals’ Christmas spread (along with strawberry cake). KFC buckets are practically worth their weight in gold in Japan during Christmastime; families typically make their orders weeks in advance. And if you forget to reserve yours? Prepare to queue for hours on 25 Dec for a coveted bucket of fried chicken. 

That said, it’s not just KFC that you can look forward to in Japan during the yuletide season. Even though Christmas isn’t a national holiday here, there’s plenty to see and do in this unique destination: massive winter illuminations, bustling holiday markets, and Disneyland spectacles. Festive lighting displays at the Tokyo Station and Osaka’s Kaiyukan Aquarium are also a must-visit for holiday tourists. Merri Kurisumasu!

2. China

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Although Christmas isn’t an official holiday in China, the East Asian country remains a great holiday destination with unique traditions to ring in the festivities. For instance, don’t be surprised when you open a wrapped gift in China and find a piece of fruit inside. Gift-giving gets a distinctly Chinese twist as locals exchange “peace apples” as presents. A tradition believed to be borne out of the similarity between the Chinese words for apple (pingguo) and Christmas Eve or safe night (pinganye), it’s a common custom nowadays to hand family, friends, and romantic partners an apple on 25 Dec. 

Note: Peace apples are just regular apples! However, the fruit can come in Christmas-themed packaging or with special engravings carved onto the skin. 

3. Austria

unique christmas destinations

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If you think Christmas is all about the sparkling tinsel and joyful carols, then you’re in for a shock in Austria. Meet Krampus, a demonic figure who roams the streets with Santa Claus during Advent. The Krampus isn’t there to hand out gifts; instead, “Bad Santa” is there to scare the kids on the naughty list. Legend says the half-goat creature snatches misbehaving kids from their beds and whisks them away in his wicker basket. Basically, he’s the horrifying cop to Santa’s good cop!

In the first week of December, Austrian hotspots like Vienna, Salzburg, Tyrol, and other alpine towns host parades where masked locals dressed as the beastly Krampus run around scaring children — and sometimes even unsuspecting adults. It’s not your usual holiday parade, but travellers who love Halloween will be hyped!

But while the Krampus makes Austria one of the most unique Christmas destinations to visit, the country is also a lovely place for the quintessential holiday experience. Snow-covered roofs and glittering lights envelop the country, while romantic Christmas markets offer the perfect setting to soak in the whimsical festive atmosphere. 

4. Catalonia, Spain

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Looking for Christmas destinations that are totally unique and one-of-a-kind? Fly to the charming region of Catalonia in Spain, where Catalans celebrate the yuletide season with delicious local food and, bizarrely, faeces. Yes, you read that right: faeces. 

Families mark the holidays with caga tió (pooping log), a wooden log decorated with a smiley face, a traditional barretina hat, and a blanket to keep it warm. In the nights leading up to Christmas, children diligently take care of their caga tió, a ritual that includes feeding the log yummy treats before bed. After a hearty holiday meal on Christmas Eve, the family gathers together to beat the caga tió with sticks and sing traditional songs. Then, when the kids finally lift the blanket off the poor log, they’ll uncover a wealth of gifts that the caga tió magically excreted! Once you get over the oddity of this Catalan tradition, it’s easy to find the custom a delightful way to reveal presents to youngsters. 

And that’s not even the only pooping character part of the Catalan Christmas celebrations. Look closely at the various nativity scenes around Catalonia, and you’ll spot the caganer, a funny little figurine with his pants down and emptying his bowels. That’s right: The statuette answered nature’s call with baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the three kings in the same stable. Locals say the caganer is a symbol of good luck and a fertile harvest — but it’s also a distinctively fun figure that adds light-hearted humour to the festivities!

5. Sweden

unique christmas destinations

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Reindeer? Not in Sweden. In this Scandinavian country, ancient tales describe Santa Claus or elves delivering gifts riding a goat from house to house. And so, the animal has become an essential part of the yuletide season. From goat ornaments hanging on the tree to bigger straw sculptures scattered around Swedish towns, the Yule Goat enjoys its fair share of the spotlight during the holidays. 

There are many Swedish destinations to visit for this unique Christmas tradition, but the most famous is Gävle, a city that builds a giant straw goat every year at Castle Square. It towers over the square at over 40 metres tall — a sight to behold amidst the cosy winter wonderland!

No matter where you’re going — whether you’re expecting Bad Santa or giant goats — you’ll want to enjoy the good times and leave the worries behind on your holiday travels. 

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6. Iceland

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Blanketed in snow and covered with thousands of twinkling holiday lights, Iceland is a captivating sight with the arrival of the merriest season of the year. Avid travellers would know all about the biggest perk of visiting Iceland in winter: The northern lights often make an appearance around the holiday season! But the country’s unique yuletide customs make it stand out even more among other Christmas destinations. 

Bibliophiles will especially love jólabókaflód or the Christmas book flood, which refers to the long-running tradition of exchanging books as gifts on Christmas Eve — and then spending the rest of the evening under the spell of their new novels. Reading is such a popular Icelandic pastime that a local proverb even proclaims, “It’s better to be without shoes than without a book.”

Iceland is also home to the jólasveinar or Yule Lads, a group of 13 mischievous trolls who take turns visiting kids across the country to leave kids inside their shoes. Their gifts vary: candy for the good ones but rotten potatoes for naughty children!  

7. Finland

unique christmas destinations

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In the deep freezing cold of Finland’s winter, nothing feels as good as warming up. And we don’t mean just cuddling by the fire. That’s fine, but the Finnish have a special way to heat up the holidays: the Christmas sauna. Many homes in Finland feature a private sauna, so locals won’t even need to leave the house for this long-time steamy tradition. Tourists need not worry, too; saunas are also commonly found in hotels and Airbnbs!

Families do make the Christmas sauna a bit more festive than usual. For example, some make it a point to decorate the space around the sauna with lanterns, candles, and birch branches. Finns tend to bathe in the sauna before the Christmas Eve dinner. After the entire family is done, they usually leave the sauna quite warm with some water in the bucket — just in case the sauna elf or saunatonttu also needs some time in the sauna.

8. El Salvador

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Love fireworks? Most people wait until New Year’s Eve for the pyrotechnics, but not Salvadorans. In El Salvador, revellers toast the season with sparklers, firecrackers, and Roman candles, making this Central American country one of the most dazzling destinations for unique Christmas extravaganzas. 

It’s definitely not a quiet holiday; besides all-day pyrotechnics throughout December, locals spend Christmas Eve with extended family parties full of feast-worthy food and dancing. On Christmas Day, everyone usually makes a beeline for the beach! 

9. Oaxaca, Mexico

Potatoes may be a holiday staple around the world, but Mexico’s Oaxaca City is all about radishes. Locals of the colourful city gather on 23 Dec for Noche de los Rabanos (Night of the Radishes), a festival centred around an annual radish-carving contest. 

The quirky Noche de los Rabanos dates all the way back to 1897, when the city mayor Francisco Vasconcelos made it a part of the festivities as a way to promote local agriculture. And if you’re imagining radish-sized little figurines, then we assure you that the Oaxacan creations are much more elaborate than that. Truthfully, it’s only gotten more and more intricate with each passing year! Jaw-dropping radish models come in all shapes, sizes, and designs, from Da Vinci’s Last Supper to Mexican icons like Frida Kahlo. 

10. Caracas, Venezuela

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There’s never a bad time to visit Venezuela, but if you travel to Caracas in December, you’ll get to witness a truly unique pack of locals glide their way to church for early morning Mass. This isn’t a particularly unique practice among Catholic destinations, but what makes this Christmas tradition unique in Caracas is that the devout travel by roller skates! A lot of the city roads actually shut down to give the skaters a clearer path.

Also read: 4 Best Luxury Travel Destinations to Save Up for

Start packing for the ultimate holiday getaway at these unique Christmas destinations. We guarantee an out-of-the-box celebration that you definitely won’t find at home! 

Make your holiday travel plans a reality ASAP! 

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About Author

Celia Grace Nachura
Celia Grace Nachura

There are very few things Celia won’t do for a good story, but her favourite ones always involve the beach, animals, or any type of outdoor activity. She’s been writing for as long as she can remember, and can usually be found typing away at home with her cute dogs at her feet. Away from work, she spends most of her time trying out every hobby she can get her hands on, from running to crocheting to baking (she’s pretty okay at most things that don't involve cooking).