From magical, merry markets in Cologne to your very own winter wonderland in Sweden, we’ve tracked down five fabulous festive breaks bound to make this Christmas one to remember. Tom Herbert gets in the festive spirit

Ice hotel church, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden © bjaglin

The Jukkasjarvi Icehotel in Sweden

Located 200km north of the Arctic Circle in the remote Swedish village of Jukkasjarvi, Lapland, the Icehotel is an experience like no other. Built each year from snow and ice taken from the Torne River and only open from December to April, the Icehotel is surely one of the coolest Christmas holidays you could go on – Kiruna, the nearest town never experiences temperatures above -6°C during the season. Different artists are chosen every year to build sections of the hotel, which is itself maintained at the relatively warm temperature of -5°C. There’s an Ice Church, fully operational and a popular place for marrying couples, along with a bar and restaurant that serves their drinks in glasses made out of ice. Reindeer bedding and sleeping bags in your bedroom complete the experience, so whilst it may be below freezing both inside and out, you are always guaranteed a warm night’s sleep – and with a mere one hour of sunshine a day throughout December, you may be spending a lot more time in your bed than anticipated.

Snuba diving © Peyri Herrera

Snuba diving in St Lucia

Who says you have to be cold at Christmas? For those of us who prefer sunnier climes, St Lucia could be the perfect Christmas getaway. Winter is considered to be the dry season and with temperatures on average around 25 – 26°C a dip in the ocean is the perfect way to cool off. The Caribbean Sea plays host to some of the most diverse flora and fauna in our oceans and there is no better way to explore it than by Snuba diving, a sort of halfway house between scuba diving and snorkelling. It’s perfect for families as it doesn’t require you to have any certification or previous experience, and it’s simple to get the hang of – you breathe through a regulator while your air supply floats on the surface. It certainly beats a freezing cold walk on Christmas Day through the New Forest.

Cologne Christmas market ©

Christmas markets in Cologne

In the run up to Christmas, from the 24th of November to the 23rd of December, the ancient Rhine city of Cologne in Germany is home to seven of the most magical Christmas markets around, with each one offering a completely different experience than the last. The big four between them attract almost 2 million visitors a year and can be found at the Cologne Cathedral, the Alter Markt, the Neumarkt and the Rudolfplatz. The remaining three are the Cologne Harbour Christmas Market, the Stadtgarten Christmas Market and the Christmas Avenue. Whether your preference is drinking mulled wine beneath the impressive backdrop of the Cathedral, immersing yourself within a Brothers Grimm fairy tale or witnessing a nautical stage performance, you will be able to find what you’re after at Cologne’s magical markets. However, at this time of year temperatures don’t rise much above 5°C and with there being on average only four hours of sun a day, you may need to wear something a bit warmer than the traditional lederhosen.

Santa Park in Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland © Timo Newton-Syms

Santa Claus Village and Santa Park in Finland

What better way to spend Christmas than by visiting Father Christmas himself? Deep within Finnish Lapland, in a city called Rovaniemi, lies a combined Santa themed village and amusement park. The appropriately named Santa Claus Village and the accompanied SantaPark are Arctic amusement parks in a place where festive temperatures are, on average, a positively Baltic -11°C. Both are around 10km northeast of Rovaniemi and within 2km of Rovaniemi Airport, and a bus journey from the centre of town only takes half an hour. The village is fully functional and comes complete with a Post Office, shops and restaurants.  If you’re tempted, you’ll even be able to sample the traditional Finnish delicacy of reindeer, however try and avoid the deer with the big red nose. SantaPark offers an interactive range of activities as diverse as sleigh rides, elf shows and elf schools. It goes without saying that Elf and Safety is, of course, paramount.

Statue of Jesus, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem © Matthew Roth

Christmas in Jerusalem

Every year pilgrims flock to one of the oldest cities in the world to experience Christmas in the city where it originated. Jerusalem offers a completely unique festive experience due to its distinctive history and position as one of the world’s most holy cities. As such, Christmas in Jerusalem is a must see, especially given the mild Mediterranean climate that the city witnesses during December – indeed, the days average a balmy 10°C. Amongst the many things on offer, you will be able to discover Christmas concerts at St Andrews Church and at the Jerusalem YMCA, a Christmas market at the Jaffa Gate and a midnight mass in Bethlehem. And if you fancy a change from the religious celebrations, however, you can join in with Jerusalem’s young at the many bars throughout the city that host their own Christmas parties – go on, it’s Christmas.



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