January 28, 2021

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Just Do Travel

Transport Yourself This Christmas With a Virtual Tour Across the Globe

4 min read

We’ve all been asked to stay at home during this, the world’s weirdest, holiday season. No doubt, many are mourning the lost international travel opportunities that this time of year typically affords, to see the way the rest of the world celebrates Christmastime—with unique cultural traditions, charming Christmas markets, rows of twinkling lights and enchanting seasonal decorations.

But, thanks to the magic of modern technology, this year has also seen a wealth of virtual travel opportunities crop up in destinations that may never have offered such armchair experiences before. As early as April, Airbnb had launched a collection of Online Experiences to help homebound travelers satisfy their wanderlust to some degree from the safety of their own homes.

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A Canadian tour company called ToursByLocals also began offering live virtual tours online after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down international borders this spring. “The idea was to provide our avid travelers with an opportunity to take their mind on a journey while remaining safe and socially distanced at home,” said Paul Melhus, CEO and co-founder of the company, which now offers 150 virtual experiences.

CNBC curated a shortlist of available armchair travel experiences around the world this Christmas season, including:

Christmas Tour of Stockholm

ToursByLocals is offering a live, one-hour, evening tour for individuals or small groups to see the sparkling Christmas lights of Sweden’s capital city; wend along the picturesque, historic streets and alleys of Old Town; see the stately buildings of Parliament, the Royal Opera, the Royal Palace and the Storkyrkan Lutheran cathedral; and more.

Christmas in NYC

Travelers who can’t wait for their chance to see the Big Apple famously decked out in all of its Christmas finery can book a live, 90-minute, virtual tour that will lead them along the streets of New York City to see some of its most celebrated holiday sites. Licensed local tour guide Ibrahima Diallo traverses the city both on foot and by car to capture the best viewpoints via camera.

He told CNBC’s Global Traveler that, in the span of one tour, he can cover two of these locations: The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, and the Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue festive window displays; The Winter Village at Bryant Park; Hudson Yards’ Christmas lights; the Empire State Building’s seasonal light display and the department store window displays on Broadway and 34th Street, including Macy’s. Again, guests are able to redeem 100-percent of the value of your Live Virtual Tour again when they book a future, in-person tour with the same guide.

Rockefeller Center skating winter New York City
Rockefeller Center in New York City (photo petercruise / Flickr

Christmas Spirit in Vienna

Vienna is one of the world’s most magical Christmas cities, where fairytale lights adorn the facades of Old Town’s magnificent historical structures. A local guide takes virtual tour-goers on a to see the Vienna State Opera, the Imperial Palace, St. Stephan’s Cathedral, and popular shopping areas on Graben Street and Kohlmarkt Fancy Street. Participants also learn about Austria’s unique Christmas traditions, such as the absence of Santa Claus, with homes instead being visited by a blonde Christmas angel called the “Christkind” (or Christchild) who magically delivers children’s gifts.

Vienna Christmas Market
PHOTO: Vienna Christmas Market (Photo via sborisov / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter

Virtual travelers can explore the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem in real-time with a local guide who’ll explain the history and anecdotes of its ancient sites. The tour lasts anywhere from one hour to 90 minutes and requires a minimum of four participants.

Beginning at Zion Gate, a local guide leads tour-goers along narrow streets and alleyways, passing the Sephardic Synagogues, the Roman Cardo, the Broad Wall and the Hurva Synagogue before finishing at the Western Wall. There, following a centuries-old prayer custom, the guide can leave a message in the stones for each attendee. CNC reported that it’s estimated that over a million notes are left in the crevices of the Western Wall each year.

Old City of Jerusalem with the aerial view. View of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Israel.
PHOTO: Old City of Jerusalem from above. (photo via seregalsv/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Follow Christ’s Footsteps

Also live-streaming from the Holy Land, a local guide takes virtual tour-goers to see various religious sites outside of the Old City. From the top of the Mount of Olives, the path descends to Dominus Flevit, where Jesus wept for Jerusalem, the Church of Mary Magdalene, the Church of All Nations and the Church of Mary’s Tomb before reaching the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus is said to have passed an evening in prayer and reflection just before his arrest and crucifixion.

Reindeer ride, Rovaniemi, Finland
PHOTO: Reindeer ride, Rovaniemi, Finland (photo courtesy Avanti Destinations)

Santa Claus’ Official Hometown

Gather the kids ‘round your screen and virtually travel to the Santa Claus’ official hometown in the capital of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland. As part of Airbnb’s 30-minute tour, guests young and old get the chance to ask Santa questions, tell him about themselves and their Christmas wishes, and listen to stories of the elves, toy-making and Mrs. Claus’ sensational cooking. Online viewers can also tune in to watch a free livestream of Rovaniemi’s ‘Santa Claus Village’ 24/7.