Been dreaming of a white Christmas? Isn't it about time you stopped dreaming and made it happen? Europe and Canada offer some sensational destinations for a cool Yule, where you can celebrate with colourful Christmas markets or even take an unforgettable sleigh ride through the snow. Whether you love culture, carols or the great outdoors, these magical holiday havens offer a Christmas to remember.
THE DESTINATION Dresden
WHY HERE For baroque splendour, the German city of Dresden is hard to beat. The city on the Elbe owes its eye-catching cityscape to its most famous ruler, Augustus the Strong. Inspired by France's Louis XIV, he wanted to create a city and a court that reflected his might and power. Along with striking buildings such as the Zwinger Palace, the Semperoper and the Frauenkirche church, Dresden's highlights include the 101 metre long Procession of Princes mural, made of Meissen porcelain tiles, that links Neumarkt and Schlossplatz squares.
GET IN THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT The Striezelmarkt is one of Germany's oldest Christmas markets, having been founded in 1434. It is also one of the biggest, with around 230 different stalls. Keep an eye out for the hand-carved nutcrackers in their vibrant red, green or blue coats.
INSIDER TIP A visit to the nutcracker workshop, where you can discover the secrets to hand carving these Christmas favourites, is an APT Signature Experience.
THE DESTINATION Nuremberg
WHY HERE With its mighty city walls, its ornate churches and its warren of narrow medieval lanes, Nuremberg offers visitors a trip back in time. Wander through its squares and alleys, watched over by the Kaiserburg fortress that crowns the city, and it is easy to imagine yourself back in the days when this was one of Germany's richest cities.
GET THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT Christmas markets don't get much better than this. Nuremberg is famous for its splendid Christkindlesmarkt, with stalls featuring everything from handmade Christmas craft pieces to freshly-baked gingerbread (Nuremberg's gingerbread is considered by many to be the best in Germany). Another local specialty is the tiny but tasty Nuremberg sausages, which are served three to a bun.
INSIDER TIP Keep an eye out for the Beautiful Fountain, found in the northwestern corner of the Christkindlesmarkt. This ornate Gothic fountain is over 600 years old, and touching the gold ring is believed to bring good luck.
THE DESTINATION Vienna
WHY HERE Vienna is always a handsome city, but it rarely looks as good as it does when its imperial architecture is draped in twinkling lights. There is plenty to discover in the Austrian capital, from ornate imperial palaces to beautiful baroque libraries, grand cathedrals and world-class museums, not to mention the city's famous café culture.
GET THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT You will find Christmas markets happening right around town, with an additional dose of Yuletide spirit delivered courtesy of the ice skating rink that pops up in the Rathausplatz. However, Christmas in Vienna is all about music, with a series of concerts celebrating local heroes Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Strauss held at a number of atmospheric venues, including the Schönbrunn Palace.
INSIDER TIP Stop in at the Snow Globe Museum, which celebrates local lad Erwin Perzy, who invented the first snow globe over 100 years ago.
THE DESTINATION Victoria, British Columbia
WHY HERE There is more than a touch of Old England to British Columbia's capital, with its grand Victorian and Edwardian buildings. It's not all about architecture, however: other highlights include the Royal BC Museum, where you can get close to woolly mammoths or walk through a colonial street, and the magnificent 20 hectare Butchart Gardens.
GET THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT How big is the Christmas lights display at The Butchart Gardens? So big that the team starts prepping two months in advance. Stroll through the gardens to admire the hundreds of thousands of festive lights, then head for the ice skating rink at Waterwheel Square, where carollers also perform. Another dose of Christmas cheer is on offer at the historic Craigdarroch Castle, built by a local coal mining magnate. Each year they put on a Victorian Christmas, complete with period decorations and sing-along carol sessions.
INSIDER TIP On an APT tour delight in the light display at The Butchart Gardens, followed by dinner in the original Butchart family residence.
THE DESTINATION Lake Louise
WHY HERE This is one of Canada's most spectacular destinations, with its emerald coloured water surrounded by swathes of forest, watched over by soaring peaks. But we'll let you in on a little secret: Lake Louise is even more beautiful in the winter, when the frozen lake and the snow-draped trees form part of a magnificent snowscape.
GET THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT Ice skating on the frozen surface of Lake Louise is a must-do, but there are plenty of other ways to enjoy this winter wonderland. Experience the thrill of dog sledding, or try your hand at snowshoeing. You will be surprised by how quickly you get the hang of it, and there are few better ways to experience the absolute stillness of winter in the wild. After a day in the snow, relaxing in front of a roaring fire at the lovely Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is a perfect way to wind down.
INSIDER TIP A horse-drawn sleigh ride along the lake shore is one of APT's Signature Experiences.
THE DESTINATION Banff
WHY HERE Banff is a best of both worlds destination. It has superb restaurants, great shopping, inviting bars to enjoy a pre-dinner drink. But, surrounded by some of the world's most spectacular wilderness, it is also a fabulous outdoors destination. What more can you ask for?
GET THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT Christmas doesn't have to be about just carols and Christmas cake. Banff is a great place to indulge your adventurous side, no matter what the season. In winter, skiing is the obvious choice, but the action isn't confined to the slopes. Head out for a day snowmobiling, or you might like to give dog sledding a try. The area also has a number of amazing ice walks: visit Johnston Canyon, where you can admire frozen waterfalls, or don a headlamp for an unforgettable evening ice walk.
INSIDER Christmas celebrations start early in Banff: if you are heading here in November you may get to see the Santa Clause Parade, or experience the town's Christmas market.
What's your favourite European city to visit at Christmas time?
Vienna. The city is magical. People have a happy glow on their faces, bundled up, drinking mulled wine (Glühwein). You smell the cinnamon; you taste the cookies, sweet and savoury pretzels and other local goodies. But it's not just about eating and drinking, it's also that cosy feeling you get when you're with your loved ones.
What is your most memorable experience on tour?
I will never forget a few years ago when it started to snow on Christmas Day. One of my guests, an Australian woman in her 60s, had never seen snow before. She was trying to touch the flakes, taking pictures and dancing around like a child. I guess Christmas always brings out our inner child.
This article is produced in association with APT.
Discover the gems of a white Christmas in Europe and Canada – celebrate the colourful Christmas markets or take an unforgettable sleigh ride through the snow...everything is taken care of on an unforgettable luxury journey with APT. For more information visit www.aptouring.com.au/traveller, call 1300 290 669 or contact your local travel agent.