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Best Things to do at Christmas Around the World

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Are you studying abroad, or perhaps just taking a short trip somewhere this Christmas time? Discover some of the best things to do at Christmas around the world, in the world’s top 10 cities for international students...

We've done some research on things to do at Christmas in the top 10 entries in the QS Best Student Cities, an index of the world’s top destinations for international students. As you can see, Christmas can be pretty different depending on where in the world you happen to be! Choose to study in Australia, and you could be spending Christmas day on the beach, but opt for a European study destination and you may need to wrap up a little warmer to visit those famous Christmas markets. Here’s a whirlwind tour of some of the best things to do at Christmas around the world...

1. Paris: Sample bûche de Noël

Paris, ranked the world’s top city for students for the past two years running, is the capital of a country renowned for its love of good food. So if you’re spending Christmas here, prepare for your tastebuds to be dazzled. One sweet treat you can expect to encounter is bûche de Noël (‘Christmas log’), a traditional chocolate dessert shaped like a log, often decorated to represent part of a wintry scene.

2. London: Uncover the ghosts of Christmas Past

Second in the 2013/14 QS Best Student Cities is UK capital London. If you’re here at Christmas time, you could get in the mood with a visit to the Geffrye Museum, which is currently hosting an exhibition entitled Christmas Past. Here you can explore the origins and mutations of 400 years of English Christmas traditions, from kissing under the mistletoe to hanging up stockings by the fireplace.

3. Singapore: Walk under the ‘supertrees’

If you’re in Singapore at Christmas, you’re likely to find the weather a lot warmer than in either of the European capitals above (though be warned: it could be pretty rainy). The city’s manmade ‘supertrees’, some as tall as a 16-storey building, are covered in plants – essentially vertical gardens – and at night they come to life with dazzling light displays, always a good way to mark a special occasion!

4. Sydney: Party at Bondi Beach

Fourth in this year’s Best Student Cities index is popular Australian destination Sydney. If you’re lucky enough to be here at Christmas, you’ll surely be headed for one of the city’s nearby beautiful beaches. In a party mood? Join the crowds at the famous Bondi Beach, where there’s even a Christmas Day music festival.

5. Melbourne: Take a river cruise

One place behind Sydney is fellow Australian student hot-spot, Melbourne. Again, with Christmas falling in the middle of the Australian summer, the best things to do at Christmas here typically involve spending time enjoying the sunshine – and what better way to do that than with a cruise on the Yarra River? You can even enjoy a traditional Christmas lunch as you’re guided through the sights and history of the city’s landmarks.

6. Zurich: Explore the Christmas markets

Switzerland’s Zurich, sixth in the Best Student Cities, is one of Europe’s top destinations for Christmas markets, promising magical lights and decorations, a warming aroma of glühwein (mulled wine) wherever you roam, and a good chance of getting that coveted ‘white Christmas’. The Christmas markets themselves are full of traditional food, drink and gifts – but you don’t have to do any actual shopping to enjoy the festive atmosphere.

7. Hong Kong: Unleash your inner child

If you’re craving those younger years when Christmas was full of childhood wonder, why not recreate that experience by unleashing your inner child at Hong Kong’s very own Disneyland? The theme park, located on Lantau Island, is full of shows, rides and life-sized fictitious characters come-to-life – and at Christmas time all the excitement and sparkle gets cranked up a notch even higher than usual.

8. Boston: See the lights turned on at Boston Common

In Boston, ranked eighth in the latest Best Student Cities, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the city’s oldest park, Boston Common. This is the site for the city’s main Christmas tree, and crowds gather every year for the ceremonial switching on of the lights, accompanied by a firework display. There’s also an ice-skating rink on the park’s pond during the Christmas period.

9. Montréal: Celebrate Christmas Eve at Notre-Dame Basilica

Over in Canada, one of the best things to do at Christmas in Montréal is to join the traditional Christmas Eve service at Notre-Dame Basilica. Located in the city’s historic Old Town, this gothic-style Roman Catholic church is also known for its music concerts, with lots of special performances in the run-up to Christmas.

10. Munich: Get in the festive spirit at Marienplatz market

Back in Europe, Munich is another of the continent’s most popular destinations for Christmas markets (like Zurich, above). In fact each year more than 20 markets pop up for the festive season, with Marienplatz hosting the largest. Traditional gifts and treats sold here include lebkuchen (biscuits similar to gingerbread), glassware, wood carvings, candles and cakes – and there’s also a daily music concert.

What do you think are the best things to do at Christmas around the world? Share your own experiences and traditions in the comments below.

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Written by Laura Bridgestock
The former editor of, Laura oversaw the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edited the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributed to market research reports, including 'How Do Students Use Rankings?'

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