Visions of sugar plums: This Ohio city nails Christmas. Die-hard fans of A Christmas Story will be pleased to know that Ralphie's yellow clapboard house has been restored to exactly as it appears in the 1983 movie, both inside and out – right down to the tacky leg lamp in the window. There are tours daily, as well as an on-site gift shop selling Red Ryder BB guns, pink bunny pyjamas and talking action figures (achristmasstoryhouse.com). Afterward, head over to the Cleveland Botanical Gardens (cbgarden.org), where horticulturists create a winter wonderland every year with "snow" (real stuff outdoors, fake stuff indoors) on the trees and 3,000 holiday-themed plantings that go way beyond poinsettias. Kids can hop onboard the Garden Express, a train that rides through the children's garden, and make some last-minute requests to Santa at the wishing tree.
To all a good night: Drop in at the Ritz during happy hour for its signature "Rocktails" – cocktails inspired by hit rock songs (ritzcarlton.com). There's a list of 21 to choose from, representing each year the hotel has been open. Try 1995's bubbly Champagne Supernova (Oasis), or 1997's Spice Up Your Martini (Spice Girls).
LOCATION: WHISTLER, B.C.
Visions of sugar plums: Those who get restless around the holidays should head to this town, which has activites galore. Enjoy dog-sledding, winter ziplining, horse-drawn sleigh rides, Christmas carolling at the Fairmont Hotel and, best of all, snowcat fondue tours (whistler.com). In a nutshell: Ride up a mountain in a snow-grooming machine, then indulge in wine and fondue by candlelight at the top. Another don't-miss is the Fire & Ice Show, where Whistler's top skiers jump through blazing rings of fire (every Sunday night at 6:30 p.m., starting Dec. 16) and a DJ spins tunes before fireworks cap off the performance (whistlerblackcomb.com).
To all a good night: Relax in the eucalyptus steam room and outdoor hot tubs at the Scandinave Spa Whistler, a popular Finnish-style retreat (scandinave.com). Then stay overnight at the Eagle's Nest, dubbed Whistler's most luxurious vacation home (whistlerplatinum.com). A short 15-minute drive from the ski town, it boasts stunning vistas of the nearby mountain ranges, soaring ceilings, supersleek interior design and its own pool and private theatre.
LOCATION: NEW YORK
Visions of sugar plums: Manhattan is bursting with Christmas clichés, but let's be honest: Clichés are what the holidays are all about. Who could resist the opportunity to admire the iconic, towering Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, skate a few laps around the ice rink below or check out the labour-intensive window displays? (Barneys's Disney-themed Christmas window features an animated video of Minnie Mouse in a Lanvin dress, sashaying down a runway.) For a new tradition, trek over to Dyker Heights and sign up for A Slice of Brooklyn's Christmas Lights and Cannoli tour (asliceofbrooklyn.com) to gaze upon homes with awesomely tacky animatronic elves and glowing nativity scenes while feasting on holiday desserts from Mona Lisa Bakery. It's also time for the city's animal population to celebrate Christmas, which is why Prospect Park Zoo (prospectparkzoo.com) and Bronx Zoo (bronxzoo.com) will be giving presents – in the form of wrapped treats – to its meerkats, otters, red pandas, baboons and other creatures throughout the month of December. This provides mental and physical stimulation for them, and a major dose of cute overload for us.
To all a good night: Warm up at the swanky Le Parker Meridien (parkermeridien.com), which is hosting a Gingerbread Extravaganza (Dec. 1 to Jan. 3). Pastry chefs will recreate monuments from around the world using gingerbread and other edible ingredients. Proceeds benefit the local charity City Harvest.
Visions of sugar plums: The nation's capital offers more than just beaver tails and ice sculptures. If the kids want straight-up Santa time, your best bet is the Ottawa mayor's annual Christmas party at City Hall on Dec. 8, which includes a visit with Mrs. Claus, face-painting and a craft-making session at Santa's workshop (ottawa.ca). If you feel like burning off holiday calories in advance, sign up for the Santa Shuffle and Elf Walk, a five-kilometre run or one-kilometre stroll on Dec. 1 that sees participants jogging in goofy red hats, beards and other festive gear to raise money for the Salvation Army (santashuffle.ca). At night, drive over to Taffy Lane in the Orleans neighbourhood and bask in the glow of Christmas lights galore: Residents here have developed a reputation for going overboard with their home decorations, regardless of the hydro bill.
To all a good night: Drive east to Montebello, Que., and check out the stunning indoor pool at the Fairmont, which has a Mad Men-meets-ski-lodge vibe (fairmont.com). Or, stay in town – not just in Ottawa, but at a restaurant called Town, which serves a killer crostini with mortadella mousse, fig and onion compote, and toasted hazelnuts on top (townlovesyou.ca).
Visions of sugar plums: According to Icelandic folklore, there is not just one Santa, but 13 of them – Yule Lads, as they're known – each with his own moniker, be it Window Peeper, Spoon Licker or Sausage Swiper. The gang will be visiting the National Museum, which sets up a Christmas House starting Dec. 12: Each morning, one of the lads will tell stories to local children (thjodminjasafn.is). At the Family Park & Zoo (mu.is) in nearby Laugardalur, one can hunt for another colourful personality – the Icelandic Yule Cat, which according to legend will devour children who don't help their parents with household chores in the days leading up to Christmas. Kids can follow its "paw prints" around the zoo and ask the security guard to share his stories of encountering the festive feline late at night.
To all a good night: Escape these semi-terrifying experiences by taking an evening stroll down Laugarvegur, a street bursting with hip boutiques and indie clothing shops specializing in designs by local artists. Kiosk sells edgy women's attire while Hrim is a must-visit for its jewellery, handbags and decor items such as beautiful white-birch serving trays carved in the shapes of different glaciers.
LOCATION: NUREMBERG, GERMANY
Visions of sugar plums: Known as "the little town of wood and cloth," Nuremberg hosts an internationally renowned Christmas market each December (christkindlesmarkt.de). It's been running since the 17th century and draws upward of two million visitors throughout the month with its giant wooden Ferris wheel and rows upon rows of stalls selling handmade ornaments. But it's really the food that makes Christmas in Nuremberg so exciting. One section of the market features the world's largest bowl of mulled wine-and-rum punch (9,000 litres), a glass of which is best accompanied by a marjoram bratwurst, described by the tourism authority as "a forget-me-not for the tummy."
To all a good night: Crash at the swanky Le Meridien Grand Hotel – decked out with red accents everywhere – and ask for an Unlock Art card, which gets you free access to the acclaimed New Museum and all of its collections featuring contemporary art and design from 1945 through to today (lemeridiennuernberg.com).