Sure, a Christmas winter wonderland is magical, but have you thought about spending the festive season in Australia? From coast to coast, Christmas down under means summer sun, lazy days beachside and, yes, shrimp on the barbie. 

Whether you’re taking in the magical Christmas lights of Sydney’s CBD, enjoying some culture in Brisbane or heading to Adelaide for the markets, here are the top festive activities happening around Australia that are sure to bring you yuletide cheer. 

Sydney Harbour at nighttime with a colourful fireworks display happening over the water and skyscrapers
Christmas celebrations in Sydney are beautifully over the top © Visun Khankasem / Shutterstock

Sydney: bright lights, beachside festivities and…fish markets

Sydney certainly decks the halls – or rather, its Central Business District – in sparkles. Pitt Street Mall is adorned in lights, with buskers adding to the magical ambience as crowds get through their festive shopping. Stunning light displays are projected onto the spectacular Gothic-Revival facade of St Mary’s Cathedral, where a choir performs carols nightly from 5 December until Christmas. 

The countdown to Christmas is always hectic, but nowhere is this more evident than at the Fish Markets in Pyrmont. Sydney’s mecca of all things piscatorial is packed to the rafters during its annual 36-hour Seafood Marathon, which runs non-stop from 23 December right through to 5pm on Christmas Eve. Locals jostle to pick up the freshest oysters, prawns and fish for Christmas lunch, but if you’re just visiting, pull up a pew at one of the onsite restaurants to take it all in while enjoying a hearty plate of fresh fish. 

If you’re in the mood for a weekend away from Sydney in the Christmas lead-up, the annual light displays at Hunter Valley Gardens are a fun, festive option. Drive an hour south to Wollongong to take part in the annual Santafest on 14 December – a Santa-themed pub crawl that raises money for local charities. Whether you’re an ‘Early Starter’ at midday or opt in for the 4pm 'Traditional Start’, Santa suits are almost obligatory. 

If you’re not sure what to do on Christmas Day itself, pack a picnic and make tracks for the beach. From Palm to Bondi to Cronulla, you’ll find many locals merrily swimming, catching a few rays or snoozing post-lunch.

Christmas Lights Show at Brisbane City Hall. The exterior of the hall is illuminated by a colourful light projection and there is a very tall, decorated Christmas tree outside the building
Brisbane's City Hall wishing visitors a merry 'Brismas' © POC / Shutterstock

Brisbane: parades and a dose of Christmas culture

The Christmas Parade that makes its way down Queen Street Mall each day from 14-23 December is something of an annual tradition in these parts, with light displays, music and performances to kick-off a Merry ‘Brismas’ in the sunny city. Brisbane is also the place for a few cultural Christmas pursuits, from the Queensland Ballet’s annual performance of The Nutcracker (13-21 December), to Christmas Actually – a live performance of all the hits from Love Actually – and the ever-popular Christmas Beach Cinema at South Bank

Shoppers stroll past Christmas decorations in the Adelaide Arcade, an old-fashioned, covered arcade with black-and-white tiled floor
Adelaide Arcade gets into the Christmas spirit © Charles Lewis / Shutterstock

Adelaide: festive tastes with European flair

If you’re visiting Adelaide, but feeling homesick for a white Christmas, Hahndorf is the largest German settlement in the country and is located within easy reach of the city. This is the place to go for some northern hemispheric yuletide vibes, just minus the snow. The tight alleyways of the Hahndorf Christkindlmarkt heave with traditional food stands, stalls peddling Christmas decor and crafts handmade by local artisans. 

From Hahndorf it is a short drive to the ever-popular cellar doors of Adelaide Hills and the Barossa, where you’re spoilt for choice over long delicious lunches with festive-inspired menus. Don’t forget the wine pairings, of course. 

Perth: the place for Christmas cruising

Swap Christmas window shopping for a cruise south to the riverside houseboats of Mandurah – Mandjoogoordap in Pinjarup dialect. Book a canal trip, bring the drinks and snacks, then hop aboard and check out the brilliant waterfront light display as a decidedly festive playlist keeps you in the silly season spirit.

There’s plenty to keep you busy back in the city too, including festive markets and outdoor concerts at Quarry Amphitheatre

A shot of an ice rink surrounded by colourful Christmas objects made from fairy lights including a golden bauble and Christmas tree
Santa's House at Federation Square, Melbourne © Dean Walliss

Melbourne: carolling and sweet treats

Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a good dose of carols, and Melbourne is the place to give it welly. The city’s annual Carols by Candlelight is in its 82nd year. Pack a picnic, your reindeer ears or Santa hats and head for the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on Christmas Eve in the Kings Domain gardens to sing your heart out. 

If you’re partial to a Christmastime dessert, the Melbourne Christmas Festival (from 29 Nov) will give you plenty of opportunities to indulge your sweet tooth. Head to Collins Street to check out the mouth-watering Gingerbread Village by Epicure, where Melbourne’s top landmarks are given the sweet treatment. 

From there it’s an easy tram ride to Sugar Republic in Fitzroy, where a pop-up world of confections to rival Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory awaits. Work your way through the ten immersive scenes that make up ‘Christmasland’ – including a life-size snow globe and pool of marshmallows. Bring your camera and an appetite! 

Canberra: capital Christmas markets 

Australia’s capital may be small in size, but it more than delivers its weight in Christmas spirit. There are markets aplenty to explore and shop for seasonal souvenirs, including the Undercurrent Design Market (22-24 November) for unique local designer pieces; Canberra Christmas Market (7-8 December) for fashion, food and speciality items; and collectors’ favourite Old Bus Depot Markets each Sunday. 

Given things are a little quieter in Canberra than the east coast capitals, Christmas Day venues are limited so it’s important to book well in advance. This year, Marble & Grain are serving up a sophisticated ‘surf and turf’ style banquet complete with sparkles (save room for the summery bombe Alaska infused with strawberry and watermelon), while Rydges Capital Hill is the place to be for a traditional Christmas roast with all the trimmings.

A shot of thousands of red crabs coming in from the sea onto the white sand beach of Christmas Island at nightfall
The annual summer crab migration on Christmas Island is a memorable way to spend the festive season © Justin Gilligan

Bonus round: Christmas Island

Did you know that Australia has its very own Christmas Island? What Australia’s best kept secret lacks in frosty landscapes and elves it makes up for in tropical forests and crystal clear waters – the perfect backdrop for the annual crab migration. Taking place each summer, the crab migration sees millions of red land crabs make for the sea to breed, even closing roads on the island in some parts. Definitely a memorable way to remember your Christmas in Australia.

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