The best places in the world to celebrate Christmas

Lockdown Christmases may have their place (in dystopian thrillers), but as the world opens up to Australians once more, it's time to start planning for the Christmas to top all Christmases – or certainly, enough to make up for the 2020 one. Consider:

Santa Claus Village, Lapland, Finland

Struggling to feel the Christmas spirit? Head to the Arctic Circle, then take a step back; at Santa Claus Village, the festive cheer is all around and, best of all, you won't have to lift a finger. Open every day of the year, Santa's hometown has every Christmas-related gimmick and experience kids could ever imagine, from dog sledding in snow and reindeer farms to the nearby amusement park, SantaPark. Book a multi-day guided tour of the village and remember, once you've "done" Christmas, you're only a short distance (or sled) from the Arctic SnowHotel & Glass Igloos and the natural phenomenon that is the Northern Lights.

New York City, United States

Dec 2005. ***EMBARGOED FOR SUNDAY LIFE, DECEMBER 12/21 ISSUE***
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Photo: Getty Images

Make those Hallmark Christmas movie fantasies a reality by booking a holiday to the ultimate in festive backdrops, the Big Apple. On the off-chance you have incredibly deep pockets, a stay at The Plaza (where Home Alone 2 was filmed) is a must.

For everyone, though, checking out iconic holiday offerings, such as the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, a walking tour of the department store Christmas displays and the holiday markets dotted around the city, won't cost the earth. Neither will a skate in Central Park. Don't forget to book a New York Ballet performance of The Nutcracker or a three-hour bus tour of Dyker Heights, where the residents are Griswold-level committed to their decorations and lighting.

Rome, Italy

For the pious among us, a trip to Rome, the Eternal City, at Christmas is considered a must. Outside of the Vatican, the headquarters of the Catholic Church, nativity scenes are everywhere, from the Basilicas di Santa Maria Maggiore and Santa Cosma e Damiano, right down to the chestnut-scented magic of Saint Peter's Square.

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Tickets to the hugely popular Midnight Mass in St Peter's Basilica on Christmas Eve (an event which curiously kicks off at 9.30pm) aren't easy to come by, but if you miss out, the televised version can be enjoyed in St Peter's Square. Arrive early.

Vienna, Austria

Everyone's got an opinion about which Austrian city wins at the festive season, and while Innsbruck is perfect for a white Christmas in the Alps, and Salzburg is famous for its market, it's Vienna that's got something for everyone. Cover your eyes (the lights are blinding) and lock in a walking tour of the markets (some of the best ones include Christkindlmarkt and Spittelberg), enjoy an Advent concert in St Stephen's Cathedral and head over to the MuseumsQuartier for an evening of ice pavilions, light projections and weihnachtspunsch, a warming traditional punch that's as fun to drink as it is to say.

Quebec City, Canada

Once heavy snow piles up on its cobbled street, Quebec – one of the oldest cities in North America – transforms into an enchanting Christmas village, teeming with festive markets, toboggan runs (the one at Château Frontenac is one of the best) and quaint shops loaded with lights and decorations.

Check out (or stay) at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac – one of the world's most photographed hotels – walk along the picturesque Rue du Petit-Champlain and enjoy a winter festival that continues well past

New Year. It's not all about Christmas in Quebec City, of course; visitors can go hiking, skinning and snowshoeing in the nearby Sentier des Caps de Charlevoix trail.

Tokyo, Japan

Much as tourists marvel at how Aussies spend Christmas Day with beachside barbecues, we too can enjoy a destination where the birth of Jesus is best celebrated with a bucket of KFC. Now the Japanese may substitute the traditional turkey for fried chicken, but other elements of the day – particularly in Tokyo – are a little more aligned with the West's way of celebrating. The city's illuminations are considered some of the best in the world, with many making the beeline to the festive displays at Tokyo Midtown, Ao no Dokutsu in Shibuya and the Keyakizaka Illumination. At this time of year, the city's top hotels pull out all the stops on Christmas high tea sessions, so book in for an afternoon of eating before making a beeline for a Japanese ski holiday at Club Med Tomamu Hokkaido or Sahoro Hokkaido.

Cologne, Germany

No one takes Christmas as seriously as the Germans, and it's a commitment everyone can appreciate after visiting Cologne, aka the Cathedral City, on the Rhine River. As with everywhere else in Germany, much of the fanfare revolves around the month-long (and over the top) Christmas markets, but in Cologne, mass consumption of gluhwein and gingerbread is sandwiched in between attending public Christmas parties (for a great list of events, visit cologne-tourism.com), Advent trips on the Rhine, the Christmas Garden in Cologne Zoo and festive concerts and performances around the city.

Hot tip? Make a visit to the observation deck of KÖlnTriangle opposite the cathedral on the Rhine to enjoy a bird's eye view of the city's festivities.

Bondi Beach, Australia

Marlies Noordeloos of the Netherlands, left, Lisa Van De Velde of Belgium, second left, Charlotte Trotter of Britain, second right, and Viktoria Sardarian of Lithuania wear Santa hats while in the surf at Bondi Beach celebrating Christmas Day in Sydney, Australia, Friday, Dec. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Photo: AP

Sure, we could have listed Dublin, Bethlehem or Prague as worthy suggestions, but who can go past the quintessential Australian experience that is celebrating the day on the country's most famous beach?

On this day, thousands of people – families, locals and (once upon a time) backpackers – get together to crank up their barbecues, watch Surfing Santa trade his sleigh for a board and sing-shout Aussie classics as they frolic in the water. If you only ever do it once (and to be frank, once may be enough for you), it's a Christmas experience to remember.

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