Unusual Christmas Destinations

Off-the-beaten-path, unusual, and beautiful places to spend a Christmas holiday.

Highlights
7011 E Indian School Rd, Scottsdale, AZ 85251, USA
Tis the season to be jolly! If you’re feeling festive around the holidays or perhaps you want to keep Christmas going all year long, then a visit to the Coach House should be on your holiday wish list. When the holiday season approaches, Scottsdale locals make a trip to their favorite local watering hole to experience a festive spirit unlike anywhere else. Staffers shut down the joint for a few days in order to deck the bar from head to toe with wrapping paper, tinsel, ornaments and twinkle lights that overtake you with Christmas cheer. The bartenders and staff are laid back, friendly and really love what they do. Note: This place can get packed during the holiday season on a late Friday or Saturday night. And, the lights stay up all year!
Hverfisgata, Reykjavík, Iceland
There’s an old tale they tell the children in Iceland about these little elf-like creatures called the Jule Lads who live in the volcanic lands outside of Reykjavik. Traditionally, around Christmas time, they come down and cause all sorts of havoc, especially if you were a naughty child. However, in modern times, the legend has been altered a little to make them a bit friendlier and more endearing to the children, not unlike Santa’s elves.
6400 Nancy Greene Way, North Vancouver, BC V7R 4K9, Canada
Part of the North Shore mountain range, this 4,039-foot peak offers jaw-dropping views of the city. It’s busiest in the winter, when four chairlifts service 33 ski runs, but remains popular in the summer thanks to the steep, 1.8-mile Grouse Grind hiking trail. Those wishing to skip the sweat can ride the gondola to the summit—the ticket price includes access to lumberjack shows, the grizzly refuge, and guided eco-walks. Pay extra to zip-line, throw axes, or ascend Eye of the Wind, the world’s first and only wind turbine with a viewing pod. Afterward, hit one of the eateries like the self-service Lupins or The Observatory, which serves upscale West Coast cuisine.
andBeyond Ngala Private Game Reserve, Timbavati, 1380, South Africa
The &Beyond Ngala Safari Lodge is located on the Ngala Private Game Reserve, an unfenced private concession wedged between the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve and Kruger National Park. &Beyond leases the land from World Wildlife Fund South Africa and donates a portion of its profits to the South African National Parks Trust. As a result, the trust has been able to fund special projects and maintain West Coast National Park, located just an hour north of Cape Town.

Conservation efforts aside, &Beyond Nagala Safari Lodge is most known for offering a luxury safari experience. Guests can spot wildlife from the lounge, then be completely surrounded by the bush in their air-conditioned rooms. Have breakfast under the shade of an enormous weeping boer bean tree, while away hours at the pool with a book and your favorite drink, and indulge in a fireside dinner, surrounded by lanterns and candles. During their stay, guests even enjoy a dedicated vehicle and tracker team to guide them on twice-daily drives, bush strolls, and walking safaris. The lodge is about an hour’s drive from Hoedspruit Airport, but Airlink also operates daily direct flights from Johannesburg and Nelspruit to Ngala’s private airstrip.
North University, Austin, TX 78705, USA
The massive display of Christmas light pageantry on 37th Street draws thousands of spectators to this north campus neighborhood on an annual basis in December, but you won’t find any nativity scenes here! The theme of this display every year is more like “trippy” or “weird” and the more far out the display the better. Almost every house along a 5 block radius of 37th Street and Guadalupe participates in this annual display where the more shocking the light exhibit the better. It’s best to park a few blocks away and walk the streets with some coffee or wine in hand. This is one of my favorite holiday activities in Austin!
30 Victoria St, Singapore 187996
Chijmes is a pretty complex in downtown Singapore that used to be a Catholic convent but has been converted into a dining and entertainment complex. In December, the entrance gates to the area are festooned with lights, ribbons, and stars. There won’t be snow but there is still plenty of holiday cheer around town at this time of year. Chijmes is fairly close to Raffles Hotel and is a nice place to stop for an iced tea (or something stronger) if you’re strolling around the neighborhood.
4850 W Powell Rd, Powell, OH 43065, USA
Voted the #1 zoo in the country, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s latest addition is a 1.3-acre yard specially designed to be the ultimate polar bear habitat called Polar Frontier. The exhibit is home to two polar bears, two Alaskan brown bears and Arctic foxes. The 167,000 gallon polar bear tank features a viewing area where you can watch the bears feed and swim from both above and below.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: United States
Journeys: Sports + Adventure