The World's Most Festive Places

Background Photo by
Chris Spencer-Payne

The Christmas season comes but once a year, and any city can slap on Christmas cheer. But some places do more than all the rest, and each festive season they’ll give it their best. So come with PIXEO around the world, to see which cities win the Christmas Gold. Bring your best camera and take a pic, who knows, maybe you’ll capture St. Nick.

Also, we promise we’ll stop writing in rhyme. Here are the Top Ten Christmas Destinations for Photographers.

1. Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

When it comes to top Christmas destinations in North America, Quebec City, in all its festive glory, can’t be beaten. The Old Port section of the city is a Christmas Village brought to life, where the historic European architecture, snow and lights conspire to overload the festive senses. Photographers will find the terrific tapestry magical, with almost endless opportunities to capture the French Canadian culture in all its wondrous glory. Don’t miss the Christmas Markets, midnight masses at heritage churches, and the occasional wandering group of carolers.

Notre-Dame-des-Victoires – Photo by Joanne Clifford

Dating back to 1688 & rebuilt in 1763 after the Siege of Quebec, this iconic historic church can be found in the middle of the Old Port of Quebec City. It is surrounded by cobblestone and other period houses and fronted by a lovely square. A very popular photo spot in the old city. (Quebec City, Quebec)

Joanne on Flickr

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2. Riga, Latvia

We’ve previously described Riga, Latvia as Europe’s Most Underrated Photo Destination, but they pull out all the stops at Christmas time. Gingerbread cookies, mulled wine (it’s delicious), and a light dusting of snow on ancient Cathedrals make this one of the best happy holiday destinations. But it’s not just about what you can put in front of your camera lens. Latvian customs are different than the rest of Europe and include traditions such as having to recite a poem before receiving a gift and the requirement to sing for your supper. As well the nation’s Russian speaking population, who are Orthodox Christians, celebrate a couple of weeks after the Protestants. So if you love Christmas, the holiday season in Latvia lasts well into January. The Latvians were also one of the last ethnic groups to embrace Christianity, so several pagan rituals endure here. These include dragging a yule log around a property to soak up bad-luck and burn it. Don’t miss the city’s three main Christmas markets, especially the one at the Riga Cathedral. The photo opportunities during these festivities are limitless.

Dome Square and Riga Cathedral – Photo by Daniels Joffe

The Christmas Market at Dome Square, with the Riga Cathedral in the background, lightly dusted with snow. Built around 1211, the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral is massive and an easy to find landmark in the old city. It is the largest medieval church in the Baltic states and has undergone many modifications in the course of its history. The clocktower and brickwork make it extremely photogenic from almost any angle, and the adjacent square bustles year-round with activity.

Daniels on Unsplash

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3. Castelmezzano, Italy

Castelmezzano is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Never is this truer than during the winter season, when snow clings to the steep peaks and creates a beautiful contrast between the warm orange-yellow glow of the village and the pale blue of dusk. For the photographer, this place is arguably at peak postcard during the Christmas season. Dotted with beautiful churches and clusters of houses perched precariously on narrow ledges, the photographer will find the city ripe for photographic picking. The local culture is also about as authentic Italian as you can get, and this is all the more evident during the Christmas season.

Castelmezzano, Italy – Photo by Paolo Santarsiero

Nestled like a bird in a nest high in the Lucanian Dolomites, Castelmezzano is stunning. One of the highest villages in the Basilicata, it provides a perfect photographic destination for the holiday season.

Paolo on Unsplash

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4. New York City, NY, USA

The classic Christmas destination of American movies, Christmas in New York, is on the bucket list of any festive fanatic. Whether it’s skating beneath the legendary Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, taking in the merriment at Times Square, or revisiting your youth with Santa at the 160-year-old world-famous Macy’s department store. New York goes all out for Christmas, and there are limitless photo opportunities. Don’t miss the new Luminocity Festival at Randalls Island, an immersive lights festival. If you like Christmas Lights, be sure to make your way to Dyker Heights, where homeowners one-up each other decorating their homes in the grand tradition of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.

Radio City Music Hall in New York, NY USA – Photo by Goh Rhy Yan

Radio City Music Hall is but one of the many New York Christmas destinations that pull out all the stops for the holidays. From Christmas displays in shop windows to stunning winter festivals, New York’s holiday season is American Christmas fun turned up to eleven.

Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash

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5. Hamburg, Germany

There is something distinctly Barvarian about Christmas, and nowhere is this more evident than during the advent season in Hamburg, Germany. Christmas in Hamburg is a huge deal, and the city is one of the best places in Europe to experience it. Thousands of lights, possibly millions, decorate the city, and in the town hall market, Santa and his reindeer fly high above the visitors and celebrations. The Christmas atmosphere here creates a beautiful festive fairyland of photographic wonder. Wander the markets with camera in hand, and you might wear out your shutter button capturing the wreaths, cookies, and lights all on display at the most beautiful time of the year. The people of Hamburg take Holiday merriment very seriously, very seriously indeed. A perfect Bavarian Christmas destination for the travelling photog.

Christmas in Hamburg, Germany – Photo by Chris Spencer-Payne

The stunning decorations of the city of Hamburg are almost without parallel. Small details and dazzling Christmas lights can be found everywhere. We recommend a stroll through the Christmas markets with a light camera in hand. You won’t be dissapointed.

Chris on Pixabay

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6. Leavenworth, WA, USA

Leavenworth is not a big town with a population of roughly 2,000 people. It sits smack dab in the centre of Washington State and is a Barvarian styled village in the Cascade mountains. One wouldn’t typically think of the Pacific Northwest as a potential hub of Christmas merriment, but Leavenworth will prove you wrong. The Washington town is world-famous for its festive holiday atmosphere and draws visitors from around the world during this time of year. The town’s German theme is unquestionably American kitsch, but charming nonetheless. Once a logging village, it adopted its Barvarian styled look after a railroad rerouting, and the town started to die. Town leaders realized it’s unique mountain setting resembled Bavarian German, and so began the ornamental change to the town’s architecture. Once the city “became” German, so to did its major holiday events. So, if you live in the Pacific Northwest, Leavenworth is the place to be on Christmas Eve. Oktoberfest isn’t bad here either.

Christmas in Leavenworth, Washington – Photo by Russ Alman

Tourists and merrymakers alike flock to Leavenworth for the annual Christmas Lighting fesitivities. If you can’t spend Christmas in Germany, this small Pacific Northwest town may be the next best thing.

Russ on Flickr

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7. Dublin, Ireland

If you’re not looking to dive right into massive crowds of tourists, capturing Christmas while wading through the full-throated roar of holiday crowds, then most of the above Christmas destinations may not be your cup of tea. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a more understated holiday experience, we recommend Dublin, Ireland. The Irish capital is not short on Christmas lights, holiday fun and a festive atmosphere. What it is short on is massive crowds of people from afar clamouring to spend every last cent they have on bibbles and baubles and other Christmas knick-knacks. The people of Dublin are incredibly kind and welcoming, and you’ll feel a lot less like an ATM abroad. Dublin is also not short on architectural beauty that is only that much more stunning at Christmas time. Be sure to check out St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Guinness Storehouse while you are there. You can’t go to Dublin without at least dipping a toe in the Pub atmosphere.

Winter in Dublin, Ireland – Photo by Giuseppe Milo

Winter in Dublin provides for a more understated Christmas experience. Exploring the city’s streets in the early hours or late evening with a camera in hand is a peaceful and wonderful experience.

Giuseppe on Flickr

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8. Bethlehem

When thinking of Christmas photographic destinations, perhaps the most interesting place to visit is where it all started. Discover the beauty and somewhat unusual Christmas festivities at the traditional birthplace of Christ himself in Bethlehem. Unsurprisingly, or perhaps surprisingly, Bethlehem celebrates Christmas. Located in the Israeli occupied Palestinian territories, Bethlehem may not be the safest place to visit during the holidays. But if you want to experience and capture the true meaning of Christmas, there may be no better place to do it than here. Visit the Church of the Nativity, and discover the birthplace of Christ himself. Enjoy the Christmas Festival and experience an extraordinary and exceptional holiday experience that is both moving and beautiful in its own right. So, if you are the sort of person who prefers to keep Christ in your Christmas, then this is the best way to do it.

Christmas in Bethlehem – Photo by Freedom’s Falcon

Christmas in Bethlehem is the real deal. Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox Christians descend on Bethlehem at this time of year and create a spiritually moving and wonderful holiday season. Discover the authentic beauty of the reason for the season in the heart of the Christian world.

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9. Tokyo, Japan

It might come as a surprise that Tokyo makes our Christmas list. The Japanese people are primarily Buddhist or Shito, but it turns out they are also happy to celebrate the outward trappings of Christmas. The capital city of Tokyo takes this to another level, decorating their public spaces with the same vigour as any traditionally Christian destination. For the photographer, this makes for a great Christmas photography destination, even if it’s a little unconventional. Be sure to check out all the traditional dazzling nightscapes like Tokyo Station, Marunouchi, and Roppongi. At Christmas time, the highly technical LED magic the city is known for will be on full display.

Christmas in Tokyo, Japan – Photo by Manish Prabhune

Christmas lights and decorations are on full display in the heart of Tokyo during the Christmas season. Ideal for the travelling photographer who enjoys shooting the beauty of city lights at night.

Manish on Flickr

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10. Prague, Czech Republic

Prague in the Czech Republic is a beautiful European city, and when the Christmas Markets in Old Town Square pop up, the town takes it up a notch. Christmas garlands, trees and lights are on full display, and there is a palatable social feel to the festivities. Street photography opportunities abound during this time of year, but you’ll primarily be shooting fellow tourists. If you want an authentic Czech experience, you’ll have to meander a bit away from the market square, where you will find more authentic experiences. Mostly, however, the city is best known at this time of year for its Christmas lights. Perhaps no other city in Europe goes all out with Christmas lights like this historic city. This makes it our last addition to our Top Ten Christmas Destinations.

Christmas in Prague, Czech Republic – Photo by Travis Wise

A view of the Old Town Market taken from the Tower of the famous Astronomical Clock. Discover the Christmas beauty of this amazing holiday destination.

Travis on Flickr

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Christmas Destinations That Almost Made the Cut

Well, that concludes our roundup of the Top Ten Christmas Destinations for Photographers. Here’s a few more that almost made our top ten list. Each is a great place to take in the festive spirit in their own right:

The fact remains that Christmas is a wonderful time of year to get out and take pictures, and no matter where you go, there’s usually a chance to capture some holiday cheer. Here’s hoping you get some time with friends and family this holiday season and take some time to snap a few photos too. Merry Christmas!

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