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Top 10 places to spend your Christmas

By Tiffany Lam, CNNGo
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • London's Oxford Street offers one of the world's best Christmas shopping experiences
  • In Puerto Rico, Christmas celebrations run longer than anybody else's
  • The dazzling Christmas market in Nuremberg, Germany, draws masses of visitors
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(CNNGo) -- Where to find yule lads, grannies downing vodka, the best Christmas markets and more.

Boston, Massachusetts

Why: During the festive season, Boston lays on the New England charm thick, with snow-dusted cobblestone roads, locals feasting on roasted lobster instead of Christmas turkey and candlelight carols at the Trinity Church.

The Sowa Holiday Market, which features works made by New England artisans, is a great place to get Christmas shopping done.

When: The Sowa Holiday Market will be held on December 11 and 12 this year.

London, United Kingdom

Why: Head to London for the Dicksenian holiday experience with A Christmas Carol walking tour of the places characters Pickwick, Scrooge and Tiny Tim supposedly lived.

Oxford Street also offers one of the best (and most crowded) Christmas shopping experiences in the world, with thousands of shoppers jostling to get into 300-odd shops while basking in the glow of Christmas lights.

When: Oxford Street Christmas lights were turned on November 4.

CNNGo: 15 great travel gift ideas for Christmas

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Why: Can't get enough of Christmas? Head to San Juan in Puerto Rico, where Christmas celebrations run longer than anybody else's -- sing carols, or aguinaldos, from November through mid-January.

On Christmas Eve, many Puerto Ricans head to Misa de Gallo, midnight mass, to catch a re-enactment of the nativity scene.

On New Year's Eve, locals might make you eat 12 grapes for luck, and the government hosts a free-for-all party.

The climax of the season is El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day, when children can get free gifts at the San Juan governor's house.

Three Kings Day is on January 6, 2011.

When: November to mid-January

Hong Kong, China

Why: Hong Kong may take top billing when it comes to having one of the most commercial and unauthentic Christmases around, but the city has its strong points.

Most shops are open even on Christmas Day, allowing residents to do Christmas shopping at literally the last minute. Many expats are out of town during the Christmas season, which means your favorite watering hole is probably quieter than usual.

And let's not forget the brilliant Christmas light displays on buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbour, and the 30-meter Swarovski crystal Christmas tree in Central, which tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents and Mainland Chinese tourists love to gawk at.

When: Celebrations kick off on November 29 and last till January 1

CNNGo: 8 of the hottest Asian winter retreats

New York City

Why: No Christmas destination list would be complete without a mention of the Rock at New York. The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is probably the most famous in the world and is illuminated by five miles of lights starting the week after Thanksgiving.

If you're a tourist, throw on a pair of skates and jump into the rink for the quintessential "I'm in New York during Christmas!" Facebook photo.

When: The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony was held on November 30

Sydney, Australia

Why: For those who think snow is overrated, how about singing carols on a beach while chugging ice cold beer?

Christmas occurs during the thick of summer in Australia, with average temperatures in Sydney hitting 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout December.

This year, Sydney hosted "Carols by the Beach," on Bondi Beach on December 9. The Sydney Christmas Parade was held on November 29.

Of course, there's always the option of feasting on steak and prawns on the barbie at a friend's pad.

When: November 9 to December 25

Salzburg, Austria

Why: Every year Salzburg's historic city center transforms into the Salzburg Christmas Market, or the Salzburger Christkindlmarkt. The market piles Christmas cliché upon Christmas cliché but it's hard not to be charmed by it all.

Expect to be overdosed with choral singing, mulled wine, glogg, nativity plays and gingerbread.

When: November 18 to December 26

Pogost, Belarus

Why: Belarus may be tricky for foreign visitors to enter, but what it lacks in accessibility it makes up for in eye-opening yuletide traditions.

The Belorussian festive season is all about the Koliady, a folk ritual that was originally a pagan holiday but later appropriated to coincide with Christmas and the New Year.

In villages such as Pogost, grannies down vodka by the bottle, and youngsters perform folk plays for the public during Koliady. Locals dress up as animals and carry animal heads on a stick to go trick-or-treating in village neighborhoods.

When: December 25 to January 7

Nuremberg, Germany

Why: The dazzling Nuremberg Christmas market (or the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt) is a German institution, luring two million visitors yearly with a giant carved wooden Ferris wheel, and stalls selling all the handmade nativity ornaments revelers will ever need.

Adults will enjoy stuffing their faces with sticky buns and fritters; kids will love spending the day at the Toy Museum and the German Railway Museum.

Each year the market is opened by the Nuremberg Christ Child, a lass between 16 and 19 who is elected from a pool of contestants online.

When: November 26 to December 24

Reykjavik, Iceland

Why: For a real treat for the tots, take them to Iceland, where local folklore has not one but 13 Santas bearing goodie bags at Christmas parties. The 13 Santas (or jólasveinar, meaning Yule Lads), each with Brothers Grimm-like characteristics such as "the spoon licker" and "the door slammer," come into town one day at a time starting December 12.

Then there's the Christmas Village at Hafnarfjördur, a town not far from Reykjavik that is known in Icelandic lore as the home of elves. The Christmas Village is open on every weekend from November 24 until Christmas day. Hafnarfjördur also offers walking tours to supposed elf homesites.

Back in Reykjavik, people start celebrating Christmas from late November by pigging out at traditional Christmas buffet dinners around town.

On Christmas Eve, bells ring throughout the capital, marking the formal beginning of Christmas.

There are bonfires and fireworks all over Iceland on both New Year's Eve and the Twelfth Night, which falls on January 6, 2011.

When: Late November to January 6, 2011

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