Winning tip: Brooklyn, New York
New York may be magical at Christmas but Dyker Heights in Brooklyn is perhaps the Christmas lights capital of the world! Hundreds of homes go all out to decorate their exteriors in a way that makes Clark Griswold's efforts in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation look second rate. Head to Brooklyn in the early evening (avoid weekends) and take a stroll up and down the blocks that are blasting out Christmas spirit. You can not help but feel Christmassy in a way that reminds me of 80s movies. Best of all, it's free. And there is the odd eggnog truck to keep you full of festive cheer.
If you think genuine terror is a good way to entertain children (and adults), visit rural areas of Austria on 5 December. On the Eve of St Nicholas Day, when the devil comes to the children, he gets out on the streets to chase naughty children and take them away to hell. The Krampus is not for the faint hearted: a giant, horned, hairy beast carrying a flaming torch and, sometimes, with real "kidnapped" kids riding in a box on his back. It has giant bells tied around its waist so you can hear it coming. But be warned – if any locals notice you looking nervous, you will be stooped and pushed in front of the monster to be whipped.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
We took an early morning jog along the banks of the Mekong in Phnom Penh in Cambodia, past families taking picnics in the park all dressed up in Santa costumes. Our trip to the Killing Fields was probably the most moving, harrowing Christmas Day I've ever spent, but I would not have missed it for the world. We really needed our post-visit cocktails by the pool.
Spending and Christmas in Poland skiing is joyous, especially with the traditional 12-course Christmas Eve dinner (wigilia). There is no meat served as it is a course for every one of Jesus' disciples with dishes such as pierogi (filled dumplings), carp and exceptional Polish cheesecake. The Zakopane Mountains have great skiing and parties consumed by Polish vodka – much cheaper than the Alps.
Last year, we spent Christmas in Berlin on a home-swap deal. Wonderful. The Prenzlauer Berg district was quiet and we cycled through the city all week, away from the madding crowd, as it was. Cold and sunny, we cycled into the museums, the parks, the Berliner Philharmonic for a concert, the Liquidrom Spa for a sauna, stopping for a glass of mulled wine at Christmas markets in the evening. It costs only the flight (about € 170 return from Paris) and the bus to and from the airport. One of the best Christmas holidays ever.
Quebec City, Canada
Quebec City at Christmas is a magical place that all generations will enjoy. Our kids adore skating at the ice rink in Place D'Youville and zooming down the toboggan run at Les Glissades de la Terrasse. The grandparents' favorite was exploring the Dickensian charm of Old Quebec's streets, sparkling with snow, tinsel and fairylights, and browsing the gorgeous Christmas market. Our highlights included a meal in Hotel de Glace, North America's only ice hotel, and (free!) Skating on the vast Plains of Abraham. We all sang the carols outside Château Frontenac. We rented an apartment, although hotels for all budgets abound.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
One of our most memorable Christmas trips was spent in Ha Long Bay. The three-day cruise included a trip to Cát Bà Island and a visit to a traditional pearl village. On Christmas Eve, the crew made a "traditional" meal of barbecued goose, followed by a laser show on the top deck.
• About £ 91pp with transfers from Hanoi, tourshalong.com
Papamoa beach, New Zealand
The pristine, white Papamoa beach in New Zealand was a great place to spend Christmas Day. A morning jog, swim, sunbathe then a long, lazy picnic on the beach, with the feelinggood factor increasing as families shared their hampers with each other, made for a very uplifting experience. Inspired by some excellent local wine, I even plucked up the courage to take part in the sunset haka contest in the evening, giving an energetic performance in front of the judges. Result: second place and another bottle of wine.
Visiting Venice for Christmas was a beautiful experience, wonderful comforting carbon-rich food, snow-dusted islands and candlelit churches, all without the crowds. You might even be lucky enough (as we were) to catch the annual Santa Gondola race, where Santa-suited Venetians race underneath bridges, all for charity.
Rottnest Island, Western Australia
I had an unforgettable Christmas visit to Rottnest Island, off the coast of Perth. Grab and ferry from Hillarys Boat Harbor for around £ 40 return to enjoy stunning scenery, unique wildlife (gorgeous beaches on the islands in this part of the country) and glorious beaches. Highly recommend hiring a bike to cycle around the island. You are sure to see lots of Santa hats and festive cheer along the way. And there's always the Rottnest Hotel for those who would prefer to sit and drink it all in … literally!