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Contrary to popular belief, December is a magical time to travel to some of the coldest parts of the world. There are plenty of reasons to trek up north in the winter, from the Northern Lights to the alpine skiing and the blankets of snow covering picturesque towns. But another magical element of December travel is the Christmas markets and Santa experiences around the globe. And it’s not just the coldest parts of the world that welcome Santa and his elves—you can bring the family to meet Santa whether you’re in Norway or Australia.
These are some of the best Santa experiences around the world:
According to Norwegian tradition, Santa lives in Drøbak—which is just a 40-minute bus ride or drive from Oslo. Santa is said to have been born in Drøbak hundreds of years ago. You’ll find him at the Christmas House (or Julehusset), which stays open all year round. You can also go next door to Santa’s Post Office and send him a letter if you don’t get enough facetime with Santa to outline your entire wish list.
Sapporo German Christmas Market, Japan
Sapporo plays host to Japan’s German Christmas Market each year, typically running until Christmas Eve. Sapporo, Hokkaido’s largest city, runs the festival in Odori Park, where visitors might see Santa roaming the market, presenting children with gifts. Families can peruse the market for presents and sample classic German street fare.
London’s Christmas Grottos are a spectacle in the city, the best of which is nestled in Hyde Park’s. Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park kicks off in November, and the festival has bright lights, seasonal decor, and seemingly endless holiday treats. Santa’s Grotto is where children can meet Father Christmas—no reservations are allowed, however, time with Santa is first come, first serve.
Adirondacks, New York
At the base of Whiteface Mountain, Santa’s Workshop hosts Yuletide Family Weekends, starting in November and running through December 22. There are plenty of cozy accommodations in the Adirondacks, but for Yuletide Family Weekends, you can opt to stay at the lodges within the Christmas Village. Santa will even stop by the lodges for a visit. While visiting Santa’s Workshop, young children can ride the reindeer carousel and try kiddie bobsledding.
North Pole, Alaska
Santa Claus House is a long-standing Alaska tradition. Thirteen miles north of Fairbanks, Santa Claus House is open all year, and in addition to visiting with Santa himself, you can stop in at their sweets shop for a cup of coffee, fresh cookies, and fudge. On the property, you’ll find Santa’s sleigh and can spend some quality time with his reindeer. Santa Claus House also boats a larger-than-life Santa statue, and it’s the only place in the world where you can send gifts with an authentic North Pole postmark.
Sweden presents Santaworld each year within the woods of Mora, an area known for stunning waterfalls and towering trees. Santa’s house and Santa’s post office are both Santaworld staples, as is Gnomes Village. The fairytale characters enhance the experience, from gnomes and elves to Santa himself. To top it off, the wildlife encounters with reindeer and moose feel magical in their own right.
Santa’s Magical Kingdom has been a Christmas tradition in Australia for eight years running. Santa and Mrs. Claus are slated to put on The Christmas International Spectacular Show at the magical kingdom, too. Melbourne’s Christmas offerings continue with their Boho Luxe Christmas Market, Frankston’s Christmas Festival of Lights, the Lego Christmas Tree in Federation Square, and The Gingerbread Village at Melbourne Town Hall.
A trip to Rovaniemi around the holidays means meeting Santa in the Arctic Circle. Santa Claus Village is open year-round here, so visitors to Finland can stop by any time. While visiting with Santa, you can also explore the Christmas House, which looks at Christmas on a global level and shows how people celebrate around the world.
Durban, South Africa
At the South African Marine Biological Research Sea World, in Durban, South Africa, a different kind of Santa experience often emerges. Unlike most encounters with Father Christmas, this isn’t one that happens in Santa’s house, workshop, or sleigh. In recent years, divers at the marine theme park in South Africa have dressed up as Santa during shows around the holidays. Nearly 200,000 tourists visit the marine park around Christmastime, some of whom have the rare privilege of catching aqua-Santa.