The festive season doesn’t have to mean turkey and all the trimmings. Plus it’s undoubtedly one of the best times of year to hit the road. So forget the usual Christmas feast, leave that tacky jumper in the wardrobe and try out one of these alternative ways to spend the festive period instead.
Surfing in Hawaii
Hitting the waves rather than huddling around the hearth is the order of the day in Hawaii over Christmas. This US state’s surf is spectacular all year round, but takes on legendary status in December on Oahu’s North Shore. Pros and world-class board fanatics head here for swells of more than 30 feet. If that seems a tad too intense, why not join the New Year festivities and feast on whole roasted pig, a tradition which dates back to the native Hawaiians' end-of-year Makahiki Festival, when locals took a whole four months out to party. Whether you opt for surfing or stuffing that tummy (or both), we’re sure you can squeeze in a few hours of post-Christmas dinner sunbathing.
Keep it festive: Honolulu’s annual City Lights event brings Rockefeller Center vibes to Hawaii. Think brash decorations, a brightly lit tree and carols.
An Antarctic cruise for Christmas and New Year
A cold Christmas doesn’t have to mean hunkering down when the sun sets at 3pm. Antarctica’s brief summer coincides with the festive period, making it the perfect time to hop on a boat and cruise along the icy continent’s peninsula and the South Shetland Islands. Polar Cruises (polarcruises.com) operates a 10-night trip which starts in Port Stanley on the Falklands and makes its way south for hiking stops on the mainland, plus the chance to see penguins, humpback whales and albatross up close. The constant daylight means the views are often relentless, so be sure to wrap up warm and spend as much time on deck as possible.
Keep it festive: If weather allows, take a hike on Winter Island and build a snowman at an old British Antarctic Survey hut.
Christmas and New Year safari in Namibia
After November’s rains, Namibia’s parched earth begins to turn a lush green. Newly replenished watering holes are a magnet for wildlife and the drier days of December make it the perfect time to visit. Etosha National Park, in the north of the country, is the classic destination for first timers, where big game, black rhino and some of Africa’s largest elephants roam in search of sustenance after months of dry and dusty conditions. Throw in huge views of the Etosha salt pan and the chance to drive through the ethereal red desert in the far south and this is a festive adventure as far removed from mince pies and wintry walks as you can get.
Keep it festive: Namibia’s status as a former German colony means finding traditional festive treats isn’t a struggle. Bars in the capital Windhoek serve up warm glühwein, despite the scorching summer weather.
Fake snow and Christmas lights in Hanoi
Vietnam doesn’t stop for Christmas. But that doesn’t mean the locals don’t go in for all the usual festive brouhaha. Wander along Hang Ma Street in the city’s labyrinthine Old Quarter and you’ll find a huge selection of tacky decorations, with Christmas trees and snowmen lit up outside every shop. Fake snow is blown across parks, while many of the city’s moped riders don Santa outfits once 25 December comes around. And if you love a spot of bargain hunting, the city’s malls go all out when it comes to the festive sales, flogging off high-end goods at knockdown prices.
Keep it festive: Hanoi’s crumbling St Joseph’s Cathedral is the perfect place to attend midnight Mass and see traditional nativity scenes. Plus you can celebrate afterwards with a drink in one of the Bia Hoi (fresh draught beer) joints outside the main gates.
Tango in Buenos Aires
Argentina’s Catholic heritage means that the festive period is a huge deal in Buenos Aires. Festivities kick off on 8 December with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and there’s little let up until New Year’s Day. Christmas Eve is the day you want to make sure you’re in town though. This is the main day of celebration and undoubtedly the best way to spend it is at a tango show. Theatres lay on a feast while performers take to the stage, so you can enjoy a glass of Malbec and a hefty steak rather than sitting bolt upright in an uncomfortable seat in the stalls. La Ventana and El Viejo Almacen are both top picks.
Keep it festive: Buenos Aires does New Year fireworks like nowhere else. Armed with rockets, locals take the DIY approach, spending the minutes after midnight lighting up the city sky. Find a safe spot, look up and marvel.
A four-week festive party in Fiji
When it comes to indulging over the festive season, few places are better than Fiji. Beginning two weeks before the big day and continuing for two weeks after, Fijian communities gather together to perform ritual fan and spear dances, decorating their villages with lamps and candles. Feasts are prepared in traditional lovo hot stone ovens, with dishes including garlic chicken, cassava and Palusami, spiced mutton in coconut cream. Locals also indulge in the ritual drinking of kava, a homemade moonshine of pepper plant root and water which is not for the faint-hearted.
Keep it festive: Keep an eye out for Santa plying the beaches, handing out presents from his tropical sleigh, which bears more than a passing resemblance to a speedboat.
Beach vibes in Sydney
Escaping the frosty northern winter for fun in the Aussie summer sun is a ritual we can definitely recommend. For one, there’s Sydney’s first-rate surfing. Bronte and Tamarama beaches offer superb breaks for those wanting to get down with the locals. Then there’s the sheer novelty of having a barbecue rather than a gut-busting roast dinner come mid-afternoon. And on New Year’s Eve, you can enjoy spectacular fireworks over the harbour bridge and Opera House without having to wrap up against the midnight chill like you do in New York or London.