Christmas is a magical time, no matter where you celebrate it in the world. It’s the season for giving, togetherness and joy.
If you’re alone in a new country, however, things may be a little different — especially if you don’t know the best places to go for Christmas.
It’s perfectly okay to feel lonely. A significant number of international students in the UK experience feelings of loneliness and homesickness during the holiday season.
This is increased by cultural differences and the absence of familiar traditions.
Christmas in Europe: What it’s like
In Europe, cities and towns come alive with festive lights, and the bustling Christmas markets offer a treasure trove of handmade crafts and seasonal treats.
In the UK? Try the mince pies and mulled wine — they are must-haves for any visitor.
However, the season can also bring a longing for students far away from home during Christmas.
Recognising the challenges faced by students during this time, many universities in the UK take steps to create a supportive and festive environment.
They organise events such as Christmas dinners, where students from diverse backgrounds can come together to share a meal and celebrate the season.
Universities may host holiday-themed gatherings, film nights or cultural events that embrace the diversity of traditions.
These initiatives aim to foster a sense of community among students who may be spending Christmas away from their families.
But what if your university doesn’t have any of these events? Or you can’t travel to any of the best places to go for Christmas?
Stuck in your dorm room?
If you find yourself cosied up in your dorm room in the UK during Christmas, fear not – there are many ways to create the festive spirit.
Transform your room into your own winter wonderland by stringing fairy lights along the walls and hanging up a makeshift wreath on your door.
Light a cinnamon-scented candle to fill the room with the fragrance of the season.
These are simple steps that can lift your mood easily and instantly.
And when it comes to getting in the Christmas spirit, settling in with the best Christmas movies is an absolute must.
Join in the misadventures of Kevin McCallister in “Home Alone,” watch the jolly antics of Buddy the Elf, or watch the Christmas episodes of our favourite sitcom of all time “Modern Family.”
These beloved characters and their timeless tales will have you laughing, reminiscing and feeling the magic of Christmas, even if you’re miles away from home.
Here’s a list of some of the best Christmas movies to help you get in the spirit:
- Nightmare before Christmas
- It’s a Wonderful Life
- A Christmas Carol
- The Polar Express
- Love Actually
Better still, do it with a cup of hot cocoa in hand, complete with marshmallows. You don’t need a turkey to celebrate this season and to celebrate you.
Your favourite dessert, a hot drink and a classic film are all you need.
Travelling for Christmas
If you find yourself with a bit of extra money and want to explore the enchanting Christmas spirit beyond the UK, consider venturing to neighbouring countries that are renowned for their festive traditions.
A short flight away, you can experience the magical Christmas markets of Germany, particularly in cities like Munich and Nuremberg.
Picture yourself wandering through centuries-old squares adorned with twinkling lights, savouring the scent of mulled wine and indulging in delightful German treats like bratwurst and gingerbread.
A short train ride away is Brussels, Belgium, where you can check out the Winter Wonders festival, where the Grand Place transforms into a dazzling light show, and the Christmas market offers many crafts and delectable chocolates.
For a Nordic Christmas adventure, fly to Stockholm, Sweden, where you can experience the cosy ambience of the Old Town’s Christmas market.
The city comes alive with festive decorations, and you can partake in the tradition of St. Lucia Day, marked by processions of people dressed in white robes and candles.
Embrace the chill with ice-skating in Kungsträdgården Park or warm up in traditional Swedish saunas.
While these are great places to visit, the best places to go for Christmas aren’t limited to just these cities alone.
Wherever you are in Europe, most cities and towns will have spaces that truly bring the Christmas spirit alive.
Our examples are mostly based in the UK but these are places that you’ll find in most parts of Europe too.
5 best places to go for Christmas
1. Christmas markets
When you are far from home during the festive season, the Christmas markets in the UK are great to whisk you into the holiday spirit.
The air is thick with the aroma of roasted chestnuts and cinnamon-laced treats, and the sounds of carollers fill the atmosphere.
Strolling through the stalls, you’ll discover many handcrafted treasures, twinkling lights and the season’s warmth.
Whether it’s the Bath Christmas Market, where the Georgian architecture provides a stunning backdrop, or Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, each market tells a tale of Christmas cheer and community.
As you explore these markets, let your taste buds revel in the culinary delights offered. The UK may not be known for its food scene but its desserts are different class altogether.
Indulge in steaming mugs of mulled wine or mince pies. The spices can warm the coldest winter chills. If you’re in Wales, keep a look out for warm Welsh cakes.
2. Shopping malls
Going on a Christmas shopping spree in the bustling shopping malls of the UK is like stepping into a winter wonderland that you cannot miss out on.
The magic of Christmas shopping extends beyond the gifts themselves; it’s about the experience of finding that perfect something for your loved ones, from cosy knitwear in Marks & Spencer to the latest tech gadgets in Apple.
Don’t have gifts to buy? That’s okay. It’s fun enough to just soak in the atmosphere.
The twinkling lights, decorated storefronts and the melodic hum of holiday music create a wonderful experience bound to ignite the Christmas spirit within you.
Head to iconic shopping destinations like Oxford Street in London or the Trafford Centre in Manchester, where many shops cater to every taste and preference.
Harrods is where luxurious gifts and decorations are sold, while Selfridges have a mix of high-end brands and unique finds.
Venture into Hamleys to witness the joy on children’s faces as they explore the toys.
Whether you’re a believer or not, churches are one of the best places to go for Christmas.
One of the must-visit churches is Westminster Abbey in London, where the architecture and the echoes of centuries past create a truly magical atmosphere.
Or step into St. Paul’s Cathedral, its iconic dome towering above, and let the candlelit services and carols put you in the spirit.
The ethereal beauty of the King’s College Chapel in Cambridge is another beautiful destination where the renowned Christmas Eve service, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, is held.
These churches not only host religious services but also showcase choir performances and charity events, providing a unique blend of spiritual and cultural experiences.
Whether you’re seeking solace or simply want to discover the beauty of the season, the churches of the UK open their doors to all and are one of the best places to go for Christmas.
4. Ice rinks
Live somewhere with an ice rink? You’re in luck.
These are one of the best places to go for Christmas because everyone’s flushed with happy hormones as they zip across the ice.
During your first few tries, expect to fall but it’s simple enough and before long, you may just be doing spins
Once you’re done gliding your way to icy joy (or tired of falling), check out the surrounding stalls which will most likely have some hot snacks and drinks to warm you up in all the right ways.
Many communities and churches organise carol-singing events, inviting you to join in the harmonious melodies of classic Christmas tunes.
Whether singing with a local choir or participating in a neighbourhood carolling session, this can instantly put you in the spirit of the season.
Volunteering during the Christmas season is another heartwarming way to explore the festive spirit in the UK.
Many organisations and charities organise special events, such as serving Christmas meals to the less fortunate or participating in gift drives for those in need.
Whether you’re wrapping presents for a charity drive or serving hot meals at a local shelter, the act of giving back during the holiday season becomes a way to create meaningful connections and find joy in the true spirit of Christmas.