Travel Picks: Top 10 Yuletide hotspots

Thu Dec 17, 2009 11:05pm EST
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SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Christmas has become a global festival, regardless of religion or location. Lonely Planet's "1000 Ultimate Experiences" lists the best places in the world to experience the yuletide spirit. This list is not endorsed by Reuters.


With today's emphasis on present grabbing and overindulging, it's hard to deny that the real meaning of Christmas often seems forgotten. For a refresher, nothing compares to a pilgrimage to Jesus' birthplace. The energy on Manger Square and in the Old City on Christmas Eve could light a forest of Christmas trees. The place to be as the clock strikes 12 is St Catherine's Church, for the Midnight Mass service.


When too much Santa is never enough, rug up and head north to Finland's Arctic Circle. The jolly man in the red suit is this neighborhood's most famous resident, and round these parts they milk him for all he's worth. Still, the deep wintertime snow and reindeer-dotted forests go a long way toward off setting the touristy atmosphere, though there's an amusement park called SantaPark not far from the village. You'll need deep pockets, but you'd have to be pretty Grinchlike to leave without a smile.


Surely you know what Christmas in the Big Apple looks like, thanks to countless movies: Christmas lights, cheesy muzak, preferably a light dusting of snow. The world's tallest Christmas tree is lit at the Rockefeller Center in early December. Ice skating below it is a must for wintertime visitors, as is checking out the window displays in New York's largest department stores. Finish with a New York Ballet performance of "The Nutcracker" for a Christmas straight out of central casting.


Hit the beach to talk turkey with fellow travelers. Bondi is the antithesis of northern-hemisphere Christmas cliches: sun, sand and surf replace snow and fairy lights. Come 25 December the beach acts as a magnet for backpackers a long way from home, who celebrate alongside other "Christmas orphans." Bands and DJs rock the Pavilion, everyone checks out everyone else, and a festive atmosphere prevails. Items you may not normally take to Christmas dinner: swimsuit, sunscreen, sunhat.   Continued...

<p>A man walks near trees illuminated with Christmas lights in Skopje December 14, 2009 REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski</p>