There’s no place like home for the holidays, but the jolly man in a red suit shouldn’t be the only one racking up reward miles this time of year. So wave bon voyage to atrocious sweaters and re-gifted bottles of wine and give in to your winter wanderlust.
Soak Up Holiday Heritage in Bruges
You know those elaborate gingerbread houses on Pinterest that are impossible to pull off? That’s Bruges. The illuminated medieval architecture of the World Heritage Site surrounds a town square paved with cobblestones. At the annual Bruges Christmas Market, horse-drawn carriages and vendors spreading Yuletide cheer a la chocolate and beer makes you wonder why this can’t be a year-round thing.
Best for Empty-Nesters: The Snow and Ice Festival is an elaborate expose of what 40 skilled artists can do with chisels and chainsaws. The festival begins in mid November, with a whimsical new theme every year.
Get Wrapped Up in Holiday Romance in Vienna
The majesty of the Alps and the opulence of Vienna’s architecture make it one of the most romantic locations on Earth. Layer on a thick blanket of snow and a penchant for extravagant Christmas celebration, and you might find yourself tearing your return ticket in half. Watching Joe Pesci get brutalized in “Home Alone” wouldn’t be the same without the Vienna Boys’ Choir rendition of “Carol of the Bells,” but seeing it in person is simply magical.
Best for Newlyweds: Vienna’s outdoor Christkindlmarkts delivers the holiday feel-good spirit. Hot cups of mulled wine and strolls through the Rathauspark have resulted in children named Kringle and Rudolph for centuries.
Welcome to the (Almost) North Pole
OK, so North Pole, Alaska, sits about 1,700 miles south of the place your kids are dreaming about, but this is where all those letters requesting ponies and BB guns end up (to the tune of thousands every year). The 6-week Christmas in Ice festival has frosty slides and a maze, plus indoor crafts for kiddos. This is also your moment to one-up that family who always has the perfect Christmas card photo. Street names, such as Kris Kringle Drive and Mistletoe Lane, create the perfect backdrop.
Best for Families: Santa Claus House is home to the world’s largest fiberglass statue of Kris Kringle (at 42 feet, the competition probably isn’t even close). The Whos down in Whoville certainly approve.
Old Souls Rejoice in Mackinac Island, Michigan
If your holiday season is getting too Wall Street, keep it Main Street in Mackinac. Festivities kick off December 5 with cocoa, caroling and the lighting of the town’s Christmas tree. The Mackinac Island Christmas Bazaar begins the next day and revelers seeking the perfect commemorative tchotchkes flock to the community hall to scoop up deals. The spirit of giving is alive and well, as proceeds go to local churches and Mackinac Island Medical Center.
Best for Grandma and Grandpa: Mackinac restricted vehicles in the late 1800s (because of “startled horses”) and it just sort of stuck. A horse-drawn taxi from Mackinac Island Carriage Tours is a charming way to get around.