Are you thinking of taking your winter or holiday break abroad but are worried about safety and security? Who could blame you, given the state of the world today? Fear not, however: There are indeed international destinations that are both peaceful and perfect for the holidays. In fact, most of the 10 countries at the top of the Global Peace Index 2015 (download the full report here) from the Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace are also noted for winter and/or holiday attractions, such as skiing, sleighing and Christmas market shopping.
— By CNBC's Kenneth Kiesnoski
Posted 2 December 2015
Kicking off the list at No. 10 is the Czech Republic. This land of beer, dumplings and polka music is so peaceable that its nonviolent 1989 overthrow of communism was dubbed the Velvet Revolution. Now an ever-more-prosperous member of the European Union, the Czech Republic draws more than 7 million vacationers a year, and its picture-perfect capital city, Prague, is a tourist mecca. The city's Christmas markets now count among Europe's most popular.
Pictured: Prague's Old Town
How does Christmas in the Outback — or at a beach or a "barbie" — sound? Head to Australia, ninth on the list of safest destinations, for holiday shopping on chic Melbourne streets and some sunbathing on Sydney's Bondi Beach. (Remember: When it's winter in the U.S., it's summer Down Under.)
Pictured: Bondi Beach, Sydney
If there's an official homeland of safety, law and order, Japan — renowned for its culture of politeness — might very well be it. Lost your wallet and passport? If you're in Tokyo, don't panic; you'll likely find them at the city's Metropolitan Police Lost and Found Center, which houses some 800,000 lost belongings turned in by local Good Samaritans.
Speaking of things biblical, Japan is a great place to spend Christmas, too. Though largely Buddhist and Shinto in heritage, the country's taken to the Western holiday — at least, its secular aspects — as if it were homegrown. In a unique local twist, Christmas Eve is now popular for a romantic couple's night out.
Pictured: Christmas in Shibuya, Tokyo
Toronto, Canada's largest city, is often called "New York, run by the Swiss." Extend the analogy to the entire country, and our neighbor to the north looks a lot like home — but without a lot of the stress, strife and crime.
You have a continent-wide selection of holiday celebrations to pick from in Canada, but those who can wait until a little later in the winter will revel in the annual Carnaval de Quebec, a midwinter festival of all things ice and snow in 407-year-old Quebec City, North America's only walled city.
Pictured: Rue Petit-Champlain, Quebec City
This Nordic nation always comes in near or at the top of global surveys ranking achievement in everything from quality of life and educational prowess to Internet penetration and gender equality.
Finland is also, apparently, headquarters for Saint Nick himself, with the Lapland town of Rovaniemi — just 6 miles south of the Arctic Circle — laying claim to the title of "Hometown of Santa Claus." Fancy roping your very own reindeer this holiday? The locals can help.
Pictured: Sami reindeer herder, Lapland
Cuckoo clocks, chocolate, cheese fondue — and maybe a little apres-ski? Sound like the charming ingredients to a holiday stay? Then head for Switzerland, No. 5 on the list of safest destinations. Okay, your alpine getaway will cost you — Switzerland is home to five of the top 10 most expensive cities in Europe, according to online database Numbeo — but the expense will also buy you a relatively safe and secure stay.
The country is more than 10 times safer than the U.S., with a homicide rate of just 0.5 per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 5.2 in the States, according to data from the OECD.
Pictured: Swiss Alps
Our No. 4 safest spot, New Zealand, may be more "Lord of the Rings" than "King of Kings," but it still makes for a safe and scenic holiday getaway destination. Celebrate Kirihimete (Christmas, in the native Maori tongue) and the other "winter" holidays Kiwi-style and you'll more than likely end up on a beach or — as in Australia — at a "barbie."
And don't look for poinsettias here; the holiday foliage of choice in New Zealand is the pohutukawa, a red-blossomed evergreen tree.
Pictured: Aotea Square, Auckland
"Silent Night," sung by the Vienna Boys' Choir. What could be more Christmas ... or Austrian? Vienna, Salzburg and other history-rich cities, towns and hamlets beckon visitors to Austria, third-safest destination on our list, this holiday season.
Trawl traditional Christmas markets, mug of gluhwein (mulled wine) in hand; hit the alpine slopes featured in classic family film "The Sound of Music"; or waltz in 2016 at a traditional Viennese ball come New Year's Eve.
Pictured: Hofburg and Kohlmarkt, Vienna
What's the happiest place on Earth? No, it's not the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, according to many recent international quality-of-life surveys, but Denmark. Nothing rotten there, Shakespeare notwithstanding. Safety, security and equality surely play a big part in the widely reported Danish sense of contentment.
Sample it for yourself with a holiday break. Denmark is rich in winter traditions, from Santa Lucia candle processions to traditional Christmas markets. Tivoli Gardens, hallowed granddaddy of urban amusement parks, offers one of the best such markets in the heart of capital city Copenhagen.
Pictured: Christmas market, Copenhangen
What better place for a winter break than a country called Iceland, of all things? This volcanic island in the North Atlantic, home to just 323,000 inhabitants, has made a name for itself over the past decade as a quick nightlife and adventure travel getaway for people in Europe and the U.S. East Coast (capital city Reykjavik is a five-hour flight from Boston).
Hot springs, volcanoes, geysers, craters and eerie expanses of lava draw nature enthusiasts, while world-class (and all-hours) dining, drinking and dancing appeals to jet-setters.
Don't worry about running into trouble out in the clubs or out in the wilderness — Iceland has one of the world's lowest crime rates. Brazil-based think tank Igarapé reported one murder in all of 2012 in Iceland, for a rate of just 0.3 per 100,000 people. No wonder, then, it comes in at No. 1 in the Global Peace Index 2015.
Pictured: Snæfellsnes peninsula, Iceland