7 Winter Wonderlands not to miss!

For us in the Northern Hemisphere, winter has arrived with full force and the holiday season is well upon us. Whether it is Christmas Markets in Germany or the Rockefeller Tree in New York City – the winter season is an especially magical time around the world. So grab a cup of gluhwein, dress in your heaviest winter coat, put peppermint in everything, and enjoy the season while it lasts!

Here are our Ambassador’s tips for 10 seasonal events to check out this (or any) winter!

1. Dresden Christmas Market (Dresden, Germany)

Dresden Christmas Market by Mapics/shutterstock

Dresden has one of the oldest (585th this year) and most beautiful Christmas Markets in Germany where you can buy the traditional Christstollen that was first mentioned and baked in the 15th century. Dresden is in the Guinness book of world records for the largest stollen, called ‘The Dresden Giant Stollen’, which weighs in at 4.2 tonnes! It will be cut on December 7th at the world famous Stollenfest. The worlds largest Christmas pyramid (14.62 meters), also found in Dresden, has been in the Guinness Book of World Records since 1999. 

There are also other smaller Christmas Markets in the center like the Historical Christmas Market near the famous Church of our Lady, as well as the Medieval Christmas Market where one can enjoy a 1.5 hour long bath in 40°C water. Being naked in a hot bath while freezing people walk by is something not to miss! -submitted by Nicky

2. Oh Bej! Oh Bej! (Milan, Italy)

Milan streets decked for the holidays by ajborges/shutterstock

A translation of ‘oh so nice!’ in Milanese, this gorgeous Christmas Market is the most important in Milan. The market, now located near Sforza Castle, sells sweets, Christmas decorations, gifts and much more. It is said it has been celebrated since 1510, making this a 500 year old tradition! -submitted by Carlo

3. The Rockefeller Center Tree and Ice Skating (New York City, USA)

The Rock Center Ice Rink and Christmas Tree by lazyllama/shutterstock

Although some New Yorker’s may dismiss the entire area of mid-town as over-rated and too touristy, this New York transplant is an adament supporter of Rockefeller Center during the Christmas season. The plaza in front of Rock Center is transformed into an ice rink straight from the movies (literally, numerous movies have had scenes in this rink!) and the lit tree in night is the perfect back drop to your Merry Christmas from New York City card! -submitted by Mike

4. Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos (Catalonia)

Los Reyes Magos in Barcelona by Iakov Filimonov/shutterstock

On the 5th of January the three kings are paraded on huge thrones around towns. They throw sweets to the children and people go dead crazy to grab the sweets. This festival can be found throughout Spain in almost all cities and villages.

A unique tradition we have in Catalonia is that children hit a log (Tió de Nadal) with sticks to make it poo their presents. The story goes like this:
Parents hide Tió around the house. Children get a letter saying “a strange creature arrived home”. They have to run and be first to find it around the house. Once they find their Tió, they have to feed it, and look after Tió to please him. If they are doing fine, Tió will grow (meaning the parents change the first Tió into a bigger one). On Christmas night children sing a son and hit Tió. Under the blanket they will find their presents because they “looked after” Tió very well. See it in action here! -submitted by Ana

5. Yule Lads (Reykjavik, Iceland)

Reykjavik in Winter by Heiti Paves/shutterstock

In definitely one of the more unique stories I have heard this holiday season, Iceland has quite an interesting folklore including monsters and beings that descend from monsters to wreak havoc on children. The Yule Lads specifically are 13 children who come each night, one at a time, leaving gifts for good children in shoes. To me, potato is a trade up from the coal Santa supposedly leaves, but if you happen to be in Reykjavik check out the festivities at city hall! -submitted by Marco

6. Celebration in the Oaks (New Orleans, USA)

Christmas in the French Quarter By Colin D. Young/shutterstock

A majestic outdoor display featuring over a million lights and light sculptures in City Park, home to two and three hundred-year old moss-draped live oak trees. It is conveniently located at the end of a streetcar line in the Mid-City area. –submitted by Charles

7. Hyde Park Winter Wonderland (London, England)

Winter Wonderland by Alexey Fedorenko/shutterstock

A massive, kinda touristy, but very very fun market! It’s open from early December until just after New Years. They had a mulled wine merry-go-round last time I was there. A pint will run you about £6 and rides between £5-10. Consider going to Cafe Bavaria and sitting by one of the open fires and chat to people. There’s live music most evenings there. Go at the weekend if you love crowds, Sunday is usually quieter in the evening. Tuesday is quietest. -submitted by Sarah and Giles

For a change of pace, London has a few winter light festivals and events throughout the city. Check out the schedule of the various events. Photos don’t do it justice! -submitted by John

(This post was written with contributions from the Couchsurfing Ambassadors)

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