Marvel at towering ice sculptures in China

From twinkling Christmas markets to three-day festivals in the sun, the Christmas and New Year period is celebrated with gusto across the globe. Marvel at towering ice sculptures in China, pick up a unique last-minute gift in France or simply head to the UK’s capital for one almighty festive extravaganza.


Short haul: Lille, France

Festive destinations 2011 - LilleA giant Christmas tree rises from Lille's main square
Laurent Ghesquière
For a sparkling dose of Christmas cheer, pop across the Channel to northern France and partake in the pretty festivities of Lille’s Christmas market, which runs until 30 December. Over 80 wooden huts are laden with handmade gifts, vivid decorations and indulgent cuisine, while Christmas tunes float across the frosty December air. A giant Christmas tree rises from the main square, and a Ferris wheel gives a bird’s eye view of Lille’s celebrations. Throughout the city, shops exude festive spirit, with windows elaborately decked. Thanks to a direct Eurostar link from London St Pancras into the heart of Lille, UK shoppers can be there – mulled wine in hand – in less than an hour and a half. Those planning to stay the night have the opulence of the 5-star L’Hermitage Gantois sitting 10 minutes’ walk from the Eurostar station.

Long haul: Philadelphia, USA

Festive destinations 2011 - PhiladelphiaPhiladelphia’s Christmas Village is open until Christmas Eve
G Widman for GPTMC
Festive season in the state of Pennsylvania dons a decidedly European accent at Philadelphia’s Christmas Village, open until Christmas Eve. Modelled on the traditional German Christmas market, this exuberant offering overflows with enticing treats; tuck into gingerbread, fruity stollen, warm waffles and colourful confectionary, and head to the food tent for the thoroughly warming combo of bratwurst (sausage) and mulled wine. Many of the flavours may be traditionally German, but the Christmas Village’s gifts and crafts have travelled from many corners of the world. Pick up US folk art, Italian gloves, Russian Christmas ornaments and Nepalese jewellery. Daily performances from local choirs and musicians entertain shoppers.


Short haul: Edinburgh, Scotland

Festive destinations 2011 - EdinburghTake the plunge in the River Forth on 1 January
Lloyd Smith
See in the New Year Scottish style with three whole days of jubilant celebration. Edinburgh’s New Year events are legendary, kicking off on Friday 30 December with a torchlight procession from the historic Royal Mile, culminating in fireworks on Calton Hill. On New Year’s Eve itself, join 80,000 other revellers on Princes Street and surrounding side streets. Dance to DJs, kick back in outdoor bars and see the sky alight with the Midnight Fireworks. If there’s any energy left, wash away the hangover with a splash in the River Forth on 1 January at the Queensferry Loony Dook – this tradition always attracts a merry crowd of supporters. Those who fancy taking the plunge need to buy a ticket beforehand – see for tickets to this and the New Year’s Eve street party. Other Hogmanay events include the New Year Games on 1 January.

Long haul: New Zealand

Festive destinations 2011 - New ZealandRhythm and Vines takes place amid the rolling greenery of New Zealand’s North Island
Rhythm and Vines
New Zealand welcomes the New Year amid the heady heights of summer, and fittingly decadent festivals erupt around the country in celebration. One of the most established New Year’s festival is Rhythm and Vines, the winner of New Zealand Tourist Board’s Best Festival/Event Award last year. This New Year event is designed for people who just love to party, supplying liberal amounts of electro, dubstep, hip hop, drum and bass and indie pop. Joining festival goers for 2011/12 are Australian drum and bass aficionados Pendulum, Scottish singer and DJ Calvin Harris and US hip hop DJ Grandmaster Flash. For an extra New Year’s treat, take a step up from camping and nab a tepee in the TePee Life Village. Rhythm and Vines takes place amid the rolling greenery of the Waiohika Estate in Gisborne on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island.


Short haul: London, UK

Festive destinations 2011 - LondonWinter Wonderland in Hyde Park has plenty of attractions
AKH Communications
For an eclectic mix of winter merriment look no further than the UK capital, London. The acclaimed Thames-side South Bank Centre is running a packed Winter Festival line-up until 11 January, with wintery performances including the internationally acclaimed Slava’s Snowshow and free festive choir events, ballroom dancing and a Winter Garden Grotto. A traditional Christmas Market lines the walkway outside until Christmas Eve. Over in sprawling Hyde Park, Winter Wonderland has truly taken hold, with an ice rink, a Christmas Circus, the Giant Observation Wheel, fairground rides, a special Santa Land and Angels Christmas Market. General admission is free, but pre-buying tickets ( for Ice Skating, The Giant Observation Wheel, Zippos Christmas Circus and The Winter Cirque is advised to avoid disappointment.

Long haul: Harbin, China

Festive destinations 2011 - ChinaOne of the world’s most impressive icy feats
Creative Commons / eastisrelative
Witness one of the world’s most impressive icy feats in Harbin, the capital city of China’s Heilongjiang Province, where the relentless winter cold is made the most of by an annual ice sculpting extravaganza at the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. Sat in China’s chilly northeast, up towards Russia, this city experiences a harsh winter indeed, with temperatures dropping as low as -30°C (-22°F). During the festival, visitors are immersed in a mesmerising world of towering icy sculptures – from intricate monuments to actual buildings crafted from ice blocks taken from the Songhua River. See snow carvings, ice lanterns and fireworks, try your hand at skiing and ice sliding, and, for those with a solid constitution, take a dip in the Songhua River. The festival kicks off on 5 January.

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