Christmas away from your home country can bring out all sorts of emotions. You either love it or hate it. But more often than not, unusual Christmas destinations become the funny tales that you remember over the turkey and a pint each Christmas.
While we had a couple of extreme Christmas experiences in the past, we wanted to see what are some other unique places to spend Christmas around the world. So we teamed up with a bunch of lovely travel bloggers to bring you this exciting list of unusual Christmas destinations that might inspire you to plan your next Christmas trip.
1. Sandy Christmas on Miami Beach
Patrick over at German Backpacker made us a tad jealous about his Christmas beach destination. But we know what he means about Christmas in the sun though! It feels just wrong for us, northern Europeans!
“After finishing my exchange semester in California, I didn’t spend Christmas at home with my family but rather at Miami Beach with some friends. Christmas on the beach was a weird feeling, coming from Germany where it is directly related to winter and snow.
Seeing Christmas decorations on the streets while walking around in my flip-flops and shorts felt just wrong.
I sent a Merry Christmas video to my family and Skyped with them, and although I don’t normally get homesick, I really missed being at home on Christmas (even though I was spoilt with sun and beach!). It was an interesting experience, but in the future, I’ll make sure to be back home for Christmas.”
2. Christmas in Non-Christmassy Portugal
“To someone from Northern Europe, Christmas in Portugal might sound like one of the unusual Christmas destinations”, says James & Jemma from Portugalist.
“It is both fantastic and completely wrong at the same time. On one hand, there’s nothing quite like being able to have Christmas dinner outside or to walk along the beach in the sunshine on Christmas morning. On the other hand, all of this just doesn’t feel Christmasy at all.
Christmas jumpers, mulled wine, snow, ice-skating, and reindeer – all of these things that we associate with Christmas are also synonymous with cold Northern European winters. It’s hard to get used to wearing Christmas jumpers and ice skating in the sun.
Portugal has its own Christmas traditions, though. I think it’s only when you stop trying to compare Christmas in your host country to the Christmas you know, that you can begin to appreciate what makes Christmas in this new country so great.”
3. A Kiwi Christmas in Picton, New Zealand
Sarah & Nigel from A Social Nomad kindly shared their amazing Christmas story with us.
“We woke up in the back of the van. The campsite was quiet. It was 23 degrees when we threw the breakfast bacon on the BBQ and 26 degrees when we set off on our Christmas morning hike on Snout Track.
We hit 30 degrees on this glorious hike out on the peninsula from Picton, New Zealand. We had stunning views over Queen Charlotte Sound as we scrambled down to the shore, to explore the plethora of fresh mussels on the shoreline.
There was a picnic lunch with incredible views and then a hike back to our campground, where we snacked in true Christmas tradition for the rest of the day. These Christmas snacks, though are totally Kiwi – homemade kiwi dip and Goody Goody Gumdrops ice cream. This was our non-traditional South Island New Zealand Christmas and it was glorious.”
Picton in New Zealand sounds like under the radar and one of the most unusual Christmas destinations! At least to us! Do you know what else it sounds like? An adventurous Christmas trip idea for 2018! Better start saving now!
4. Seoul – A Rather unusual Christmas Destination
Nicole tells about her Christmas experience in South Korea. Sounds like the perfect Christmas getaway for couples in 2018, who knew!
“As a predominantly Buddhist country, Christmas isn’t a big deal in South Korea. A bit like Valentine’s Day in the west, it’s a holiday enjoyed exclusively by businesses and couples.
When I lived in Korea, I decided to visit the capital, Seoul and spend the day at the biggest theme park, Everland. It turned out that every other couple and family in the capital had decided to do the same. The day was filled with 4-hour long roller coaster queues and lots of squeezing past people with selfie sticks!
I got what I wished for in the end, my Christmas was nothing like one that I’d have at home (just not in the way that I hoped!). I learned from that experience not to put too much pressure on myself at Christmas. Having Christmas away from home is difficult so I always remind people that it’s just another day.”
5. It Doesn’t feel like Christmas in Russia
Russia seems like an obvious festive choice, right? But let’s not forget that Christmas here is celebrated on the 7th January making it yet one more of those unusual Christmas destinations.
Megan from Meganstarr has definitely felt the gap in the calendar…..
“A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to spend Christmas Day in Moscow, Russia as part of an extended layover on my way to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Russia is cold and it definitely felt like December, but it most certainly didn’t feel like Christmas. The Russian Orthodox Christmas takes place in January.
The best thing about this trip to the city was that the decorations were either already put up and on display or were in the process of being put up. So I still got to mix a little bit of that Christmas spirit despite it not being the day Russians celebrate the holiday.
During the day, when people realised I was American, they all wished me ‘Merry Christmas’. They were doing their best to make me feel at home and to make the day feel special despite being on the other side of the world, away from my family.
When I think about it now, it may have been my best Christmas to date.”
6. Zimbabwean Christmas
Cameron and Natasha over at The World Pursuit spent their Christmas in Africa and it sounds like they had a cracking time!
“Last year we had a fabulous time spending Christmas in…Zimbabwe!
While Zimbabwe may not be your typical Christmas destination it is a fabulous country in Africa to escape the cold and go on a safari. Spending a holiday on safari is certain to make it an unforgettable one.
Who would say no to watching elephants bath, hippos grunt, and giraffe eat out of acacia trees for Christmas? We really enjoyed spending time on safari and getting away from the holiday madness back home.
In so many western countries people spend their holiday hours stressing over meals, being crowded in shopping malls, and getting stuck in traffic on Christmas Eve. We escaped all of that in Africa which made for a much more relaxing and memorable holiday.
There was no snow, but it sure was special in its own way.”
Spending Christmas watching wildlife just topped up our unusual Christmas destinations list. How about you?
7. British Christmas Roast in Indonesia
Brits sure know how to celebrate Christmas anywhere in the world! We spent one too many Christmases stressing over a Christmas roast, but Janine and Ryan from Same Same but Different blog had it all figured out! Christmas dinner on the beachfront!
Definitely a warm Christmas destination to consider for 2018?
“We spent Christmas 2016 on Gili Trawangan, an island paradise in Indonesia. It is very touristy so we knew there would be plenty going on to get us in the Christmas spirit, and we were certainly right.
We were amazed by the number of restaurants offering up Christmas feasts. We decided on a beachfront restaurant, serving up a traditional British Christmas dinner: meat, roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy.
We ate so much that we had no choice but to relax on a beanbag, look out on the crystal clear water and drink some Baileys after that. I always drink Baileys at Christmas so it was great to keep that tradition alive.
It did feel pretty strange celebrating Christmas in 30-degree heat, in just shorts and T-shirts, but we had a great time and it will always be a Christmas to remember.”
8. Our most Unusual Christmas Destination – El Salvador!
Our most memorable to date Christmas overseas has to be the one spent in Central America in 2004, way before our MapTrotting days!
Making our way from Panama City up to Mexico City via the local ‘Chicken Buses’ for 8 weeks threw up a festive pause in El Salvador. Being a deeply Catholic country they were big on celebrating Christmas with every town and city in the land proudly displaying their Nativity Scene.
We’d stopped in a little coastal town of Zunzal, a popular surfing spot, where one of the locals had built some basic accommodation in their garden. Despite speaking barely any Spanish we still got invited by the owners to their Christmas Eve family meal.
We spent the evening eating a delicious chicken and rice-based feast before heading down to the beach to drink copious amounts of rum and detonate explosives! It’s certainly a Christmas abroad which we’ll never forget and we were so humbled that a generous local family made it so special for us.
9. Mali – Easily One of the Most Unusual Christmas Destinations
Thea at Zen Travellers shares her Christmas experience in a mostly Muslim country. But it sounds like even in the most unusual Christmas destinations in the world you can still get into the festive mood.
“My most memorable Christmas abroad was by far the time I was in Mali over the holidays. This large, hot, and mostly-Muslim West-African country was vastly different than my frozen home in Canada.
Still, to my great delight, some businesses decorated for the holidays and there was even a street merchant selling Santa hats and beards.
My fellow Canadians abroad and I prepared a lovely feast that included roasted chickens, mashed potatoes and gravy and a pie for dessert.
So while we may have been a long way from home, we still made the most of our holiday. After our little taste of home, we were sure to enjoy New Year’s Eve Mali’s way.
10. Warm and Welcoming Holiday Season in Iran
While Iran is surely one of the most unusual Christmas destinations, it sounds like Tom had a very warm welcome from the locals. And that’s what holiday season is all about!
“Two years ago I decided to travel to Iran, not to escape Christmas, I simply completely forgot there would be no Christmas celebrations in the Islamic Republic.
I started to realise it when a week before Christmas I did not see any signs of the holidays. No street decoration, no Christmas trees or anything like that. It was super weird and obviously, there was zero affection with Christmas.
I asked around if public displayed Christmas decoration was prohibited, but no, there is literally hardly anyone with another religion than Muslim in Iran. Instead, they celebrate Yalda on the longest night of the year on December 20th.
Iranians are incredibly warm and welcoming people and I was invited by a complete stranger to celebrating this with his family. In his home we made music watched illegal satellite TV enjoyed a buffet and ate loads of pomegranate.”
11. Non-Traditional Christmas in Bali
It’s always interesting to hear stories from people who celebrated Christmas in the countries that have different traditions, like Natalie’s.
“Last year, I celebrated Christmas with my boyfriend and friends in Bali. It was the second time I spent the festive holidays in a tropical climate zone and – as you can imagine – the Christmas feeling didn’t really hit us.
Bali is mostly Hindu. So there is no Christmas like we celebrate it. To make it more festive, two of our groups went fishing with locals in the early morning and we cooked the fish for our Christmas meal.
For dinner, we sat together in our homestay’s Warung (restaurant), enjoyed a delicious, non-traditional meal right at the beach, and shared childhood stories. Afterwards, we went to a little concert/party and took a dip in the ocean past midnight. We got stoked on the bioluminescence in the water – so fascinating.
Christmas doesn’t always have to be traditional. The people are the key to the Christmas feeling.”
12. Varanasi, India – A Christmas, We’ll Never Forget
So many fascinating stories about some of the most unusual Christmas destinations in the world! Here’s one more, from Danielle and John, the faces behind Two for the World.
“Varanasi, one of the seven holy cities of Hinduism, is revered by Hindus as the most sacred place to die and attain nirvana, through the ancient ritual of cremation by the River Ganges.
We arrived in Varanasi on Christmas Eve after an epic, month-long journey through India’s north. John was feeling the twinges of a stomach bug that would take him out until the new year. Christmas wasn’t really on our radar.
On Christmas Day, we took to the rooftop of our hostel overlooking the misty Ganges to munch on dhal and cheers with beer discreetly served in teapots.
As we watched life play out on the ghats below, our friend and driver Sunil – a young Hindu guy from Delhi – arrived with an enormous smile and presented us with a chocolate cake decorated with the words ‘Merry Xmas’. It was a moment, and a Christmas, we’ll never forget.”
13. Aircon Blasted Christmas in Buenos Aires
Here is another one of the unusual Christmas destinations to add to your (and our) list for next year! Sarah and James from The Whole World or Nothing seem to have had a jolly festive time in Argentina. Jealous!
“Last year we were incredibly lucky to celebrate Christmas with family in Buenos Aires. December is summertime in Argentina and it is hot out.
Coming from the UK it was a pretty surreal experience Christmas shopping in shorts and decorating the tree with the air-con blasting rather than the heating.
They do things slightly different over there and the main celebration actually takes place on Christmas Eve. It’s a late culture in Argentina so people tend to have a late meal, stay up late and sleep in on Christmas morning.
So we had a big family meal on the 24th, opened our Christmas gifts and stayed up chatting with family until the wee hours. Then on Christmas Day we went over to a friend’s, had a BBQ on their rooftop and chilled in their swimming pool with a few drinks.
It was definitely a Christmas to remember.”
14. Christmas on the Other Side of the World
Sasha and Rachel from Grateful Gypsies started their Christmas adventures abroad when they moved to Beijing to teach English. But the most memorable celebrations were in Southeast Asia.
“We’ve had two island Christmases away from home – one on Koh Rong, Cambodia, and the other one Bali. It was interesting spending Christmas in the sand instead of the snow! While on Koh Rong, we enjoyed some snorkelling and fishing. Our Bali Christmas was pretty special as well. It just so happened to fall on a full moon.
The locals in the village where we lived invited us to the temple for the ceremony. It was great how that worked out, as it was the first time in 40 years or so that Christmas occurred on a full moon.
It’s never easy being so far away from loved ones over the holidays, but we’ve had some pretty amazing Christmases on the other side of the world.”
So there you go, even if you are in some of the most unusual Christmas destinations in the world, you can still have pretty amazing festive experiences.
15. Unique Christmas Experience in China
Chris from Withabackpack shares his unique Christmas experience in China. Most of the time it’s what you make, with what you have, where you are!
“Spending Christmas in China was a very unique experience. Now, China has a number of national
holidays that give everyone in the country a day off dotted throughout the year. For example ‘Tomb-sweeping’ day, ‘Dragon boat’ festival, Spring festival and many more oddly translated celebrations that are eagerly awaited by one and all.
However, Christmas is sadly not one of them.
I found out, much to my dismay, that not only is Christmas not really celebrated here, but it is an actual workday! For the first time in my life, I had to work on Christmas day! Luckily, my students and I made the most of it and it wasn’t as bad I had expected (if incredibly un-Christmassy).”
16. Christmas in +30C in South Africa
Alya from adventurous blog Stingy Nomads shares experiences that most of us, who come from a colder continent, can relate to.
“For me and my husband, traditional Christmas is a very different I’d even say the opposite thing. I grew up in St.Petersburg, Russia and Campbell grew up in Cape Town, South Africa.
The coming Christmas will be my 5th hot Christmas in a row and third in South Africa, but I still can’t get used to it. It’s so strange to hear Christmas songs, see decorated trees and people wearing Christmas hats when it’s 30C outside. You wear shorts and put on sunscreen every time you go out.
But the strangest thing is to watch traditional Christmas movies as most of them are American trying to get into the right mood when everything on the screen looks so different from your surroundings.
But to be honest I prefer summer over winter and having a hot Christmas and New Year is not a big compromise for me.”
17. Unanticipated Icelandic Christmas
When you think of Iceland, everything Christmassy comes to mind. The snow, the ice, the sleigh… But Karen had quite the opposite experience…
“We spent Christmas in Iceland last year and it was not what I expected. After reading all about the Icelandic Christmas traditions, I was really excited about celebrating it. However, when we arrived on Christmas Eve, everything was shut.
Luckily we had a guest house with a kitchen, so we ended up eating soup and drinking Icelandic spirits with a friendly Canadian couple.
In the middle of the night when it said there was a chance for seeing the Northern Lights, we hiked up the mountain next to where we stayed and waited. We didn’t get to see the Northern Lights, but we had a blast sledging down the mountain anyway!
The following days were tough in terms of food as many supermarkets were closed…which made our road trip around Iceland in winter, not at all what I expected.”
Do you have a Christmas story about unusual Christmas destinations? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!