Every year, the Sugar Plum Fairy takes spectators of all ages on a fairy-tale journey in the Christmas ballet "The Nutcracker." Credit: Igor Golovniov/Shutterstock

A Nutcracker Christmas in Europe and NYC

Immerse yourself in the holiday spirit by watching one of the most popular Christmas ballets of all time

by Lisa Hübener

It’s Christmas Eve. The snow is falling peacefully and the Stahlbaums’ home is filled with the scent of fir trees, festive decorations and atmospheric lighting. Little Clara is gifted with a stately nutcracker by her whimsical godfather, Drosselmeyer. In her adventurous dreams that night, a wild battle against the vicious Mouse King ensues. Full of heroism and armed with a slipper, Clara and the nutcracker defeat him. The nutcracker reveals himself to be an enchanted prince who brings Clara to Candyland. Together, with living toys and the Sugar Plum Fairy, they celebrate a great feast. In the heady throes of first love, Clara and the prince dance a pas de deux before an elegant waltz concludes the grand finale.

The magical story about heroism and love has touched the hearts of generations in various variations for more than 200 years. The original “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” was penned by E. T. A. Hoffmann in 1816 and has been adapted into a popular two-act Christmas ballet. Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed the music for the ballet that has beguiled audiences for generations. 

We have put together the best places for you to experience your personal nutcracker dream. So, sit back, relax and let the Sugar Plum Fairy lead you on an enchanted journey.

Semperoper, Dresden 

Dresden in eastern Germany is the perfect destination to spend a fascinating evening of ballet while exploring the home of the real nutcracker.

From December 5 to December 26, 2022, the Semperoper will bring “The Nutcracker” to stage. This interpretation by Aaron S. Watkin and Jason Beechey is based on the original story by E. T. A. Hoffmann, yet provides a few surprises as the plot is relocated to Dresden. 

In addition to the famous Striezelmarkt, other typical elements of the Christmas season from Dresden appear. The choreography, on the other hand, remains classic in nature and is performed by the Palucca Academy of Dance. The Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, which was founded in 1548 and is one of the most renowned orchestras in the world, sets the tune. The Semperoper itself is steeped in history, with three buildings and countless reconstructions. Even though the current one dates back to only 1985, Dresden’s opulent landmark hasn’t lost its radiance and delights millions of visitors every year. Our tip: Ensure to take the guided tour of the Semperoper in Dresden before the performance to get exclusive behind-the-scenes insights into the history of the State Opera.

To experience the enchanting scenery of the ballet in reality, head to the Striezelmarkt. The famous Christmas market in the center of Dresden is one of the oldest in the world (circa 1434). The name is derived from Striezel, the high German word for Stollen, and refers to the protected local Christmas pastry made of yeast, raisins, candied orange peel and a dusting of powdered sugar. In addition to this local delicacy, you’ll also discover ornate nutcrackers, Christmas pyramids and Schwibbögen (candle arches). Handmade in the nearby Ore Mountains, the richly ornamented unique wooden decorations are the perfect Christmas souvenir.

Tickets to Dresden

Royal Opera House, London

A truly royal Christmas trip awaits you in London. Even the Grinch gets into the Christmas spirit at the sight of magnificently decorated Covent Garden and the Royal Opera House.

“The Nutcracker” is part of the repertoire of the Royal Opera Ballet, which has its home at the Royal Opera House. The theater has been the annual venue for the British Academy Film Awards since 2007. Because of its artistic and creative choreography, the Royal Opera Ballet company is considered one of the best in the world. 

Peter Wright’s successful production of “The Nutcracker” has been enchanting audiences in London for nearly four decades, while the influence of current director Kevin O’Hare is evident in the balanced blend of tradition and innovation. Julia Trevelyan Oman’s sumptuous historic costumes along with the ambience of the Royal Opera House will take you back to the 19th century, from which both the ballet and the theater originate. Heavy red velvet, opulent gold décor, and horseshoe balconies set the appropriate stage for the celebrated entrance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from December 6, 2022 to January 14, 2023. Our tip: Get one of the best seats in the stalls in row K.

After a night at the ballet, head to Covent Garden. There, you’ll find a massive, festively decorated Christmas tree with oversized ornaments and mistletoe. From November to January, sample seasonal dishes or Christmas Sandwich Festival specials from London’s best restaurants. Mulled wine fans head to the Winter Warmer Festival for traditional and creative hot wine recipes from rosé mulled wine to spiced punch, hot cider and mocktails. 

Experience the most English of traditions at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea at One Aldwych. A warm cup of chocolate, or lemon-fizz tea comes in handy when the London weather shows its classic side. Salmon and beet macarons fill you up and there’s a milkshake waterfall and fluffy cotton candy, too. These magical delicacies will make you think you are in a real-life Candyland or the chocolate factory from Roald Dahl’s iconic story.

Tickets to London

Teatro alla Scala, Milan

Grace and holiday shopping are on the agenda in Milan. Lose yourself in sparkling elegance and unforgettable views of Italy’s fashion metropolis. From December 15, 2022 to January 11, 2023, “The Nutcracker” makes its grand comeback to the stage of Milan’s Teatro Alla Scala. The performances are a tribute to the 30th anniversary of the death of Rudolf Nureyev, one of the most famous dancers to ever grace the stage. Nureyev stood for the emancipation of the male role in ballet and made classical dance accessible to a wide audience. La Scala’s version of “The Nutcracker” features the virtuoso’s signature technique and athletic prowess. The detailed, stylish costumes and set design show the traits of Nicholas Georgiadis, who received the Order of the British Empire for his work.

The Teatro alla Scala is one of the most prestigious houses in the world. While the 2004 renovation updated the stage technology and acoustics, every effort was made to preserve the historic furnishings and façade. The best seats are in Loge 19 in the rear stalls.

If you are spending more than one night in Milan, head to the Galleria. A Swarovski Christmas tree dominates the space every holiday season. At 40 feet high, the tree connects Piazza Duomo with Piazza alla Scala. Thousands of lights and 10,000 crystal figurines, featuring the Duomo, La Scala and Panettone cakes, illuminate the tree.

Just a few yards away, you’ll come across another of Milan’s gems: the Duomo. After admiring the fascinating Gothic façade, head to the top. Book a ticket (preferably in advance) for a sightseeing tour and elevator access. From its domed roof you will see Milan decked out like a banquet for the senses.

Tickets to Milan

David H. Koch Theater, New York City

No city takes Christmas to the next level quite like the Big Apple. From the Christmas displays at Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue to the Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting, New York at Christmas is like no other place in the world.

George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” is one of the New York City Ballet’s annual highlights and has been one of the most popular adaptations since 1954. From November 25 through December 31, 2022, 90 dancers, 62 musicians, and 125 children from the School of American Ballet will transport you in the world of makebelieve. 

New York City Ballet co-founder Balanchine brought classical Russian ballet to the United States. Together with magnificent costumes by Oscar winner Barbara Karinska and magical sets by Rouben Ter-Arutunians, Tchaikovsky’s ballet takes on a decadence like no other production in the world. Snowflakes, candy canes and living toys swirl across the stage of the David H. Koch Theater. Expect red velvet chairs, balconies and spherical chandeliers and a foyer that enchants with modern art by Jasper Johns, Lee Bontecou and Reuben Nakian.

To make your Christmas trip unforgettable, a visit to the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is a must. True to the motto “Pic or it didn’t happen,” you’ll find the perfect backdrop for your holiday selfie for your loved ones back home. Just steps from Rockefeller Center lies Central Park. Drift along the winding, snowy paths to Wollman Rink. Since 1949, locals and tourists alike have been skating their pirouettes here in front of the fabulous Manhattan skyline. Take a little inspiration for the perfect free skate from The Nutcracker and enjoy a night under the stars.   

Tickets to New York

Casino de Paris, Paris

Paris is the city of love, but it also stands for elegance and a long ballet tradition. So where better to spend a romantic weekend and see one of the best stagings of the Nutcracker at the same time?

The Casse-noisettes (Nutcracker) will be performed at the Casino de Paris, one of Paris’ most beloved 18th-century venues, until November 12, 2022. The award-winning St. Petersburg Festival Ballet performs the classic variation of the story. So expect rigorous elegance and high standards in the Russian ballet tradition. The company, which consists of Russians and Ukrainians, actively promotes peaceful coexistence and strong cohesion. The small but talented Hungarian Festival Orchestra, one of the best on the continent, provides the musical background for the Christmas ballet under the direction of maestro Vadim Nikitin. If you can’t make it to the Casino de Paris, an alternative performance of “The Nutcracker” awaits at the Palais des Congrès de Paris from December 27, 2022 to January 8, 2023.

Take your fairytale experience even further with a visit to Disneyland. From November 12, 2022 to January 8, 2023, the theme park is dedicated to Christmas. Share your Yuletide wishes with your favorite characters or admire Mickey’s sparkling Christmas parade. There are plenty of seasonal souvenirs, musicals and a surprise or two to celebrate the park’s 30th anniversary.

Tickets to Paris
A Nutcracker Christmas in Europe and NYC
The moment when Clara receives her Nutcracker and the fairy tale about heroism and love takes its course. Credit: International Festival Ballet