If you’re looking for a festive place to celebrate the holidays, check out the best Christmas towns in the U.S.
Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s kind of a big deal in my house. My husband has been a professional Christmas caroler for 26 years, and in 2016 he launched his own caroling company, The Caroling Connection.
I often joke that I’m a caroling widow. I don’t mind sharing, though, because it’s his job to spread joy and who am I to be selfish?
I also live in the Chicago area, which is one of the best places in the world to celebrate Christmas. The city comes alive during the holidays, with decorations and lights and singing and all sorts of festive joy.
While Chicago definitely goes all out, I realize it’s not the only place to celebrate, so I asked fellow travel writers to share their favorite Christmas towns.
Best Christmas Towns in the USA
If you’re looking for a perfect Christmas town in the USA, you’re sure to find a new holiday destination below.
Best Christmas Towns in the Midwest
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Pamela McKuen, All The Write Places
At Christmas time, Ann Arbor is aglow with dazzling lights and warm-hearted traditions.
The KindleFest Market in the trendy Kerrytown District is a family-friendly, German-style outdoor festival with specialty foods, musical entertainment, a children’s lantern parade, and holiday shopping.
More than 100 artisans, farmers, retailers, and vendors offer an array of distinctive goods. Stroll the brightly lit stalls while noshing on Bavarian favorites like chewy pretzels, roasted nuts, and grilled bratwurst. Toast the season with a mug of glühwein, a warm spiced wine.
A few blocks from KindleFest, Midnight Madness in the Main Street District and Moonlight Madness in the State Street District brim with cheer.
The specialty shops and boutiques lining the sidewalks are adorned in high style, and meandering carolers fill the air with song. Participating stores stay open until midnight, many offering sweet treats and unique wares.
The best part of the kickoff is all three events are within walking distance of each other, so you won’t miss out on any of the excitement.
Here are two more must-do events to put on your calendar:
A beloved tradition for more than a century, the Grammy Award-winning UMS Choral Union and the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra present Handel’s glorious oratorio “Messiah” at Hill Auditorium.
Completed in 1913, the auditorium is one of the most acoustically perfect concert halls in the country and has hosted the world’s most celebrated performers and entertainers.
The Ypsilanti Holiday Home Tour welcomes visitors to historic and architecturally significant homes decorated in seasonal glam. Most are not open to the public at any other time.
While you’re in town, be sure to stop by Zingerman’s Bakehouse for a sugar-coated, fruit-packed stollen featuring Michigan cherries!
Stacey Billingsley, Love, Laughter, and Luggage
Branson is an amazing place to get into the holiday spirit. This live-music hot spot nestled in the Ozark hills offers a little something for everyone.
Spend the evening reveling in the twinkling lights that cover Silver Dollar City, a theme park that celebrates Ozarks history while entertaining young and old with thrill rides, shows, crafts, and food.
Take in a show along the main strip–the shows in town go all out for Christmas. Shop at the Landing or the Grand Village for that special gift.
You can even take a ride on a train in your pajamas while meeting Santa! Make Branson a Christmas tradition for your family.
Theresa Goodrich, The Local Tourist
Christmas in Chicago is magical. This Midwestern town goes all-out to celebrate the holidays.
The season begins the weekend before Thanksgiving with the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival and Parade.
Michigan Avenue, one of the most famous shopping boulevards in the world, is festooned with lights during the season-opening event. There’s a festival during the day that culminates in a parade with Mickey Mouse himself and a bombastic fireworks display.
Daley Plaza becomes Christkindlmarket, a holiday market that’s styled after the traditional German festivals. You can do some shopping while sipping on gluhwein, and you might even meet the Christkindl herself.
There’s caroling on Friday evenings in Millennium Park at Cloud Gate. Lincoln Park Zoo gets decked out for the season, staying open late each night so revelers can see the millions of lights.
The Museum of Science and Industry celebrates International-style, with trees representing countries from around the world.
You certainly won’t want to miss a stroll down State Street. Macy’s has kept up the Marshall Field’s tradition of elaborate window displays underneath a line of bedecked trumpets.
Fun for the family can be had at Navy Pier when it turns into a Winter Wonderfest, complete with a visit to see Santa.
Chicago truly is a magical place at Christmas.
Santa Claus, Indiana
Carrie Steinweg, Midwest Family Traveler
Located in Southern Indiana, the little town of Santa Claus is one where they celebrate the holiday all year long. Statues of Old St. Nick can be found everywhere, so there are lots of opportunities for Santa Selfies.
If you want to celebrate Christmas in July, this is the place to be.
Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari is the big attraction – an amusement park and water park that began in 1946 as Santa Claus Land. It has since seen huge expansion and has other holiday-themed sections.
Originally established as Santa Fe in 1854, a new name had to be selected after it was discovered that there was already a Santa Fe in Indiana and it became Santa Claus, Indiana.
It’s the only post office in the world to bear the name Santa Claus and the post office receives thousands of letters each year.
They also issue a special postmark each year for those who want holiday cards mailed from the official Santa Claus post office. That town’s first post office is preserved and is part of the Santa Claus Museum & Village.
You can step inside to write a letter, then peruse the museum, go inside the original 1880 Santa Claus church and get a pic with the restored 1935 Santa statue.
The Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort is a great seasonal spot to visit where you can stay in an upscale cabin and swim, golf, fish, kayak a more. Santa’s Lodge is a year-round lodging option that carries out the Christmas theme.
Do some shopping at the Santa Claus Christmas Store or Santa’s Candy Castle, both open year-round.
A number of holiday events take place in December, including Das Nikolaus Fest, Dancer’s Dash and the Santa Claus Arts & Crafts Show. For more info, visit santaclausind.org.
Clear Lake, Iowa
Sara Broers, Travel With Sara
Clear Lake, Iowa is a small lake town located at Exit 194 off of I-35 in North Iowa. Christmas By The Lake, is an annual celebration that is always the first weekend in December.
From the arts and crafts to the strolling carolers, there is something for everyone.
As the sun sets on Saturday evening, a lighted holiday parade lights up Main Street. At the conclusion of the parade, attendees gather at the sea wall to watch a fireworks show over the lake.
Santa’s house is popular with kids of all ages and Cookies Etc, is a popular place to experience a decorated holiday cookie with a secret recipe all of its own. My suggestion is to buy a dozen cookies upon arriving in town and indulge while viewing the fireworks show at the seawall.
The shops are all decked out with holiday decor and Christmas music to add to your Christmas experience. One of my favorite stops includes The Red Geranium, which is home to North Iowa’s finest holiday decorations.
A visit to Clear Lake’s best-known sandwich shop, Starboard Market makes any visit to this lake town complete. The Clear Lake Arts Center is also home to some of the finest homemade Christmas ornaments you will ever find.
If you find yourself struggling to get into the Christmas spirit, Clear Lake, Iowa will quickly fill your soul with the joy and love that Christmas has to offer.
Mason City, Iowa
Theresa Goodrich, The Local Tourist
Just a few miles from Clear Lake, Iowa, is another town that goes all out for Christmas. Mason City inspired hometown legend, Meredith Willson, to write The Music Man, and he used the town as the model for River City.
Visit during Christmas and it’s easy to see why. Every business is decorated, including the only remaining Frank Lloyd Wright hotel, and Decker House B&B is about as festive as you can get.
Music lovers won’t want to miss Tuba Christmas in Southgate Mall, and even the historic train engine gets dolled up for the season in Mason City, Iowa.
Kris, Nomad by Trade
Frankenmuth, Michigan is a small Bavarian-inspired town where it’s Christmas all year long. Home to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, which claims to be the world’s largest Christmas store, visitors come year-round to step into a seemingly endless maze of ornaments, tree lights, stockings, garland, inflatables, nativities, and everything else you could dream of for the holidays.
For a small fee, they’ll customize almost any ornament that you can find with names, dates, or other milestones. Our Christmas tree is never complete without glass bulbs from Bronner’s with each family member’s name.
The fun starts outside as the parking lot and area surrounding the store are full of over-the-top decorations perfect for taking photos with. Just beware: the weekends leading up to Christmas get super crowded.
Head into Frankenmuth’s adorable downtown area for some delicious food and Christmas lights. The little town looks like it’s been transported from Bavaria with its half-timbered buildings and it’s a great place to explore.
Frankenmuth hosts its own German-style Christmas market in December, so you can get a taste of that without heading to Europe.
In keeping with its German heritage, St. Lorenz offers concerts of German Christmas carols and services in German. Don’t miss the town’s famous chicken dinners served up at rivals Zehnder’s and Bavarian Inn if you’re looking for a hearty meal.
Frankenmuth is located about an hour north of Detroit, just off of I-75.
Garrison, North Dakota
Alicia Underlee Nelson, Prairie Style File
Deemed the Christmas Capitol of North Dakota, the tiny town of Garrison in the western part of the state transforms into a Victorian wonderland straight from the pages of a Charles Dickens novel during the Dickens Village Festival.
Starting Thanksgiving weekend and continuing for the first two weekends of December, the locals go all out, donning Victorian finery and offering a variety of historical amusements to revelers.
Wear your finest bonnet or top hat for a traditional English high tea and horsedrawn carriage ride, followed by a night at the theatre. The show is always a work by Dickens and this year it’s a timely adaptation of the classic “A Christmas Carol,” a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.
Shoppers like browsing the craft vendor booths and quilt show, while little ones can do art projects, snack on sweet rice pudding, and sip hot cocoa during the daily lighted Christmas parade.
And everybody loves a ride on the Queen Elizabus, a cherry red, double-decker bus that looks lifted from the streets of London.
If that all sounds a bit too posh, grab a smoked turkey drumstick in one fist and a piping hot baked potato in the other and fuel up for the big Fruit Cake Toss. Anybody can compete for prizes in multiple age groups. All you have to do is sign up and hurl your dessert the longest distance down Main Street.
If you actually want to eat your fruitcake, you can snack on one of the securely wrapped cakes after the winners are crowned.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Erin Klema, The Epicurean Traveler
During the holiday season, Grand Rapids is aglow with twinkling lights. In downtown, festive displays of glowing lights adorn Van Andel Arena, the Amway Grand Hotel, and the Ellis Parking garage on Pearl Street NW.
A large Christmas tree sets the scene outside the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and trees twinkle with blue lights around the outdoor ice skating rink at Rosa Parks Circle.
In addition to ice skating at Rosa Parks Circle, there are several other annual holiday traditions in Grand Rapids.
The Grand Rapids Ballet’s The Nutcracker and the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Holiday Pops take place at DeVos Performance Hall. Also, Grand Rapids Civic Theatre hosts an annual holiday show. In recent years, the holiday show has been Mary Poppins, A Christmas Story: The Musical, and Annie.
Yet my favorite holiday event in Grand Rapids is the Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World exhibit at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.
Beginning in November and running into January, the exhibit features more than 400,000 glowing holiday lights, strolling carolers, and 40 trees decorated to represent the cultures and holiday traditions of countries around the globe.
Visitors will learn the stories behind such holiday traditions as Poinsettia, Scandinavian ornaments, and mistletoe. Plus, Santa and his reindeer are known to drop by for a visit.
Santa also comes to downtown Grand Rapids each November to kick off the holiday season with a grand parade. Beginning in 1919, the Santa Parade has become Michigan’s second-largest parade behind only Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
Each year, young parade-goers line the streets of downtown Grand Rapids to catch a glimpse of Santa on his float that features his sleigh flying over the city’s iconic Blue Bridge and the Grand River.
Whether touring the light displays at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park or in downtown Grand Rapids, visitors will find a city full of holiday festivity and Christmas cheer.
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
Tom Bartel, MNTrips
Depending on which side of the Twin Cities metro area you prefer, you’ve got plenty of holiday attractions to choose from.
In Minneapolis, consider starting at the newly renovated Dayton’s department store. The iconic downtown location at 700 Nicollet Mall is now home to three dozen local arts and craftspeople and is the perfect place to start your holiday shopping.
While you’re downtown, check out the Holidazzle displays at Peavey Plaza at TK Nicollet Mall, and at Loring Park on the west end of downtown.
Be sure to check out the displays, too, at the Meet Minneapolis Visitor Center at 5th and Nicollet. In 2021, there are six Christmas “mannequin” trees decorated with Black history themes.
The American Swedish Institute at 2600 Park Avenue is housed in a south Minneapolis mansion that is always finely decorated for the holidays. The decorations always represent the Scandinavian heritage of Minnesota, as well as typically working in a cultural display from another Twin Cities community. This year, it’s the Hmong community. Be sure to check the Institute’s gift shop for your holiday presents.
And, a real Minneapolis tradition is the annual production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at the Guthrie Theater.
In Saint Paul, be sure to check out the European Christmas Market in the old Union Depot. Lots of local and imported crafts for your stocking stuffers, as well as plenty of holiday goodies to munch while you’re shopping.
If lights are your thing, there’s the Glow Holiday Festival walk-through light extravaganza at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. It runs through January 2. It’s a timed entry, so get your tickets in advance.
Another fantastic lighting display is at the Saint Paul Cathedral December 15-19. There are both indoor and outdoor displays. The outdoor display is free, but the indoor “Starry Night” presentation requires a ticket.
And, for a dose of Christmas history, check out “Holidays on the Hill” at the historic James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue. The Gilded Age mansion of railroad tycoon hill is sumptuously decorated in 1910 style. Get tickets at the Minnesota State Historical Society website.
Kansas City, Missouri
Sage Scott, Everyday Wanderer
Across the nation, Thanksgiving is often the official start of the Christmas season. After enjoying a hearty feast of turkey, all the delicious sides, and pumpkin pie, many Americans will trim the Christmas tree and otherwise transition from one family-and-friends-filled holiday to the next.
In the middle of America, tens of thousands of Kansas Citians segue from their Thanksgiving table to the Country Club Plaza to enjoy one of Kansas City’s oldest traditions.
With the streets closed to traffic, pedestrians fill 15 blocks of the upscale, Seville-inspired outdoor shopping district to kick off Christmas with the Plaza Lighting Ceremony.
Pro Tip: If you can’t make it to the Country Club Plaza in person, the Plaza Lighting Ceremony is broadcast on local television so you can enjoy it from home.
With a backdrop of live music and horse-drawn carriages, a special guest and a child helper chosen randomly from the crowd flip the switch at precisely 6:54 pm on Thanksgiving evening, transforming the dark (often cold and sometimes dreary) night into a spectacular scene full of bright bulbs and cheery color.
Beginning with a single strand of 16 brightly colored lights strung above a doorway back in 1925, today more than 80 miles of lights with 280,000 multi-colored bulbs outline every window and tower of the Country Club Plaza.
See the Plaza lights from 5:00 pm to 3:00 am daily from Thanksgiving evening through mid-January.
Kim Reiner, Oh My! Omaha
Omaha’s annual holiday celebrations last for weeks, starting on Thanksgiving night and running into the first week of January. There is something to see or do every day and night of the season, making this one of the best Christmas towns in Nebraska.
On everyone’s to-do list is to stroll through the Old Market where millions of lights are strung up for 40 blocks as part of Omaha’s Holiday Lights Festival.
The weeks-long festival includes carolers on the weekends, an outdoor ice skating rink, the free Wells Fargo Family Festival, and fireworks on New Year’s Eve.
The city’s major attractions all have annual events, including The Durham Museum’s “Christmas at Union Station,” Lauritzen Garden’s Holiday Poinsettia Show, the zoo’s Holiday Happenings, and Omaha Children’s Museum’s “Santa’s Magic.”
If you’re looking for Christmas tree displays, the largest tree in the area is indoors at The Durham Museum.
Omaha is home to a thriving performing arts scene, and there are quite a few traditional holiday shows performed each year.
Three family favorites include Omaha Community Playhouse’s “A Christmas Carol,” American Midwest Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” and Omaha Symphony’s “Christmas Celebration.”
For holiday shopping in Omaha, there are a couple of weekends to note for finding a one-of-a-kind gift. Two of my favorites are usually the first weekend in December.
Hot Shops has an open house with live demonstrations (check out the glass blowing!) and the Holiday Market, featuring local and regional artists and food vendors, is held in tents at Aksarben Village.
Theresa, Fueled By Wanderlust
Cleveland, Ohio is an incredibly charming city to visit for Christmas festivities. Throughout December, visitors flock downtown to Public Square to see the city’s official Christmas tree and the entire area decked out in colorful lights.
Christmas devotees will also love the chance to visit the house where A Christmas Story was filmed, which is located just a few minutes outside downtown Cleveland.
Find holiday spirit in Cleveland by heading straight downtown to Public Square. On one end of the square is Tower City, with huge holiday wreaths above the entrance and its towers lit up red and green. Across the square, the Old Stone Church holds Christmas services and adds loads of ambiance when it is lit up at night.
The festivities in Public Square begin with Winterfest, which is held the weekend after Thanksgiving. Fun events include ice skating, holiday trolley rides, food trucks, horse-drawn carriage rides, and carolers at the Old Stone Church. The evening culminates in the lighting of the Christmas Tree, with fireworks to mark the occasion.
Another must-do when visiting Cleveland at Christmas time is visiting the “A Christmas Story House”. Located in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood, this house was the set of Ralphie’s family home, complete with leg lamp in the window. After touring this beautifully restored house, you can head across the street to the museum, which has an extensive collection of artifacts from the movie.
For a fun stay in Cleveland, the Hilton and Hotel Indigo both have a holiday suite that is decked out in Christmas decor, serves milk and cookies, and provides holiday movies to watch. The Hyatt is also a solid choice, as it’s housed in the Old Arcade, which looks absolutely magical when decorated at Christmas time.
Best Christmas Towns in the Northeast
Eileen Cotter Wright, Pure Wander
Boston is the town where I’ve been born and raised. There are many things special about this place in the world – a huge passion for sports, a pretty locale on a harbor-front and a thriving intellectual college culture.
When it comes to the holidays, Boston is one of the best New England Christmas towns, allowing its excitement and pride to really shine. Everything is kicked off right in Faneuil Hall with the annual tree lighting, usually before the first snowflake has fallen.
The tree is a gift from Halifax, Canada every November and is celebrated with carolers, food and fun. There are other tree lights too throughout the city to check out as Dec. 25th creeps closer.
Each Boston neighborhood displays its Christmas cheer in different ways. Holiday-themed baked goods roll out in the North End at Mike’s and Modern Pastry. Churches like St Patrick’s in Copley Square host beautiful winter concerts and religious masses for the season.
In Boston Common, the Frog Pond turns into a festive skating rink, which was once a place to find the famous swan boats during warmer months.
By the way, it’s worth staying in town through the week after Christmas too, as Boston has a great New Years party too called First Night. Tons of ice sculptures, fireworks, performances and more are accessible to the public, no matter how cold the weather is outside.
New York, New York
Talek Nantes, Travels With Talek
New York City during the holidays is a magical time. 5th Avenue is festooned with multi-colored twinkling lights wrapped around trees. Animated characters populate the large store windows and the aroma of roasting chestnuts wafts through the crowded streets.
Rockefeller Center proudly displays its annual giant Christmas tree and decorative angels stand guard at the walkway.
The city puts on a special show during this time. In a town full of unique attractions and activities, winter brings out the best of them. Some special activities include:
- A stroll in Central Park in the snow; a first snowfall is ideal when a blanket of snow covers the park creating a magical “wonderland of snow.”
- You can also ice skate in Central Park and Rockefeller Center among many other places.
- See the Nutcracker Suite at Lincoln Center, a holiday tradition.
- View the Christmas markets throughout the city but especially in Bryant Park.
- You shouldn’t miss the Winter Solstice celebration at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest cathedral in the world. To hear the music with the cathedral’s acoustics is truly amazing.
- Finally, top off your trip to The Big Apple with a visit to Macy’s to ask Santa Clause for your own special treat.
Best Christmas Towns in the South
New Orleans, Louisiana
Kim Swanson, Traveling Swansons
New Orleans is a beautiful and interesting place to go any time of the year, but New Orleans during Christmas is just incredible! Seeing the French Quarter adorned with holiday light displays, wreaths hung from the balconies, and red bows on light poles is just magical!
You can’t visit New Orleans during December without visiting the Roosevelt Hotel. Every year the Roosevelt Hotel transforms its lobby into a winter wonderland. It’s fascinating to walk through and see all the Christmas trees, birch trees, and more than 60,000 lights.
NOLA Christmas Fest is an indoor family-friendly 2-week long event that includes ice skating, tubing down an ice slide, playing on an ice bocce court, and of course Santa.
During the season, enjoy Miracle on Fulton Street, a walk through a dazzling boardwalk with a 30 foot Christmas tree and gingerbread village. Come right on the hour and get “snowed” on.
Celebration in the Oaks is a holiday light festival in City Park that begins Thanksgiving day and goes through New Years Day. Pack your family in the car and enjoy these amazing Christmas lights on this 2-mile driving tour.
Visit the Audubon Zoo on select nights during the season and experience Audubon Zoo Lights. Life-size replicas of zoo animals, a light show, games, and live entertainment.
If you happen to be in New Orleans a few days before Christmas, head to Jackson Square in the evening for Caroling In Jackson Square.
A unique tradition in New Orleans on Christmas Eve is the lighting of the bonfires along the Mississippi River. This lighting is intended to light the way for “Papa Noel,” the Cajun Santa Claus.
As you can see New Orleans is an exciting place to be during the Christmas season!
Charleston, South Carolina
Victoria Yore, Southern Trippers
There are so many places to visit for Christmas in the USA, and Charleston South Carolina shouldn’t be passed up.
There are so many amazing things to do in Charleston on a normal day, let alone during Christmas! One of the free things to do is walk around the downtown historical district in Charleston to see all of the houses decked out for Christmas. They really go all out.
If you love Christmas lights, check out the Holiday Festival Of Lights which is always a fan favorite. Next, did you know that there are Christmas markets in the USA? That is right, you don’t have to travel to Europe to get your fix.
The Charleston Christmas Market is a must-see and such a fun event. Of course, while you are not exploring holiday-themed events, you should go out on the town for dinner and drinks. Camellias is an all-pink champagne bar with sparkling glitter everywhere and it is a must-do any time of year.
For a day trip, head to Angel Oak which is stunning all year round!!
Cindy Ladage, Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl
Clarksville, Tennessee is a magical place during the holiday season. Located just half an hour from Nashville, this western Tennessee town does Christmas right.
Downtown offers historic buildings and art from sculptures to fun shops that decorate with creative ways. One year, one neat store had an upside-down Christmas tree and it was quite lovely!
The Customs Museum provides a great history of this river city, where tobacco was Queen, and the Union army once occupied the town. The gift shop has beautiful pottery and more that make great gifts!.
While downtown, take in a Christmas play at the Roxie! Stay at the Riverview Inn located in the heart of everything, offering walking distance to downtown and the River Walk.
Oh my, the lights along the Cumberland River. Take a walk and fall in love with the holiday! With over two million lights, enjoy this twinkling half-mile lighted river walk where Christmas scenes come to life.
Another way to enjoy the holiday is at the “Trees of Christmas” at the Smith Trahan Mansion. These are just a few of the wonderful reasons Clarksville is on of the best Christmas towns in Tennessee.
Dan Bagby, Honeymoon Always
Each year during the Christmas season, over 30,000 people come from all around Texas to visit Burnet, Texas.
The First Baptist Church has created Main Street Bethlehem which is a free outdoor presentation for anyone to visit as their gift to the state of Texas. The small town is full of shops with actors portraying craftsmen, Roman guards, townspeople, and beggars providing an immersive experience.
You’ll also find animals like camels, sheep, goats, and oxen that you can pet as you go to the town stable. You will want to arrive early around 5 pm or expect a long, but fast-moving line. Fridays are the best day to come and the earlier in the month the less crowded.
As you wander the town you will find an overcrowded inn and a trail that leads to a peaceful cave away from the noise of the bustling town where you find Mary, Joseph and the newborn baby Jesus resting.
Main Street Bethlehem provides a one-of-a-kind experience during Christmas. The town is built using similar methods as you might have found around the birth of Christ.
Since it is night time the alleyways and roads are lit with fire torches making it seem even more real and true to the real Bethlehem. We have gone several times and always bring friends and family who are visiting during the season.
Julie Ap, Open Wide the World
You wouldn’t think a snow-loving, North Pole-obsessed Midwesterner would find much to like about Christmas in sunny Texas, would you? Well, then you haven’t been to Grapevine, Texas!
Grapevine has been designated as the Christmas Capital of Texas, and it sure lives up to its name! Beginning in mid-November, the charming city of Grapevine transforms itself into a magical Christmas destination.
Festivities kick off with the Carol of Lights, illuminating the city with millions of sparkling bulbs. The Twinkle Light Boat Parade takes the magic to the water as glimmering watercraft tour Lake Grapevine.
And the Parade of Lights returns to a traditional city-street parade route, with more than 100 lighted floats, marching bands, and of course, a Santa Claus float finale.
But that is just the beginning! For 40 days, The Christmas Capital of Texas puts on more than 1400 holiday-themed events and shows. And area resorts go all-out, competing for the most extravagant seasonal decorations and most thrilling holiday activities.
Family favorites include Texas’ largest ICE! event, indoor snow tubing, the North Pole Express train tour, and photos with Santa. (But who knew Santa has a Texan accent?)
Adults especially enjoy Christmas concerts and classic holiday movies at the art deco-style Palace Theatre, but most of all: Christmas wine train rides on the Grapevine Vintage Railroad!
But the true Christmas Capital highlight for any mom -or dad- who worries for months about the family Christmas card photo: the oversized Christmas decoration photo props!
With numerous adorable props to choose from, including enormous ornaments and bulbs, a sleigh, and even a kissing booth, Grapevine has taken the worry out of Christmas photos and made the experience something to look forward to instead. That alone is worth the price of the plane ticket in my book!
Merry Christmas, y’all!
Ketki Sharangpani, Dotted Globe
Helen is a small touristy town in the Appalachian mountains that is built like a Bavarian Alpine town in southern Germany.
When we planned our holiday road trip through the Blue Ridge ranges, I never expected to come across Bavarian Christmas celebrations in northern Georgia.
Helen’s unique chalet-style architecture looked like a gingerbread town when lit up by the holiday lights. Even the horse-drawn carriages looked straight out of a fairytale with twinkling lights and jazzed-up seats.
During the holiday season, Helen is brimming with festive events. Live music could be heard as we strolled down Main Street.
Helen was hosting its Christmas market that day and browsing through the artisan gifts, cookies, chocolates, ornaments and decorations was one of my favorite things to do in the town.
The market is a mere precursor to the festivities that follow and Helen is full of lit-up Christmas trees, breakfasts with Santa events, and a downtown Christmas parade during the holiday season.
Helen is one of the best Christmas towns in Georgia and is truly magical with snowflakes streaming down on candy shops and specialty stores.
Victoria Yore, Disney Trippers
Orlando is a completely magical place to celebrate the Christmas season! Out of all the Floridian cities, Orlando and the immediate surrounding area rock Christmas!
First off, of course there is Christmas at Disney World, which goes all out! If you don’t have a pass or ticket and don’t want to pay for one, don’t worry! The Disney Springs area offers FREE Christmas cheer and even has a Christmas tree walk that is super well done!
Universal Studios celebrates with Grinchmas which is a cute take on the holiday with lots of parades and grinch cheer!
Once again, if you don’t want to pay for the parks, you can still walk around the entrance by only paying for parking.
Looking to get away from the theme parks? Orlando offers so much more for Christmas! One of the coolest things to do, literally, is to visit ICE at the Gaylord Palms Resort.
There are indoor ice sculptures, snow, Santa, ice slides and more! As you can imagine, this is a real treat for Floridians, many of whom have never even seen snow.
During the season, downtown Orlando is decked out in Christmas lights and you can even do a walking tour to see all the lights!
Finally, Orlando also puts on a ‘festival of trees’ where you can walk around and check out all the Christmas trees lit up for the holidays! It is such a fun city with so much to see and do!
Michelle Marine, Simplify Live Love
Huntsville, Alabama might seem an unlikely destination for top-notch Christmas displays, but the town has more than its share of fun Christmas-time activities.
Dubbed Rocket City, Huntsville is the home of US Space & Rocket Center, the Redstone Arsenal, Space Camp and more.
It’s also number seven on US News & World Report’s 2017 list of best places to live in the United States. Huntsville is full of family-friendly adventures, and their offerings at Christmas time don’t disappoint.
Following are just a few of the fun Christmas activities your whole family will enjoy:
You won’t want to miss Galaxy of the Lights at the Huntsville Botanical Garden. Featuring 1.8 paved miles with nearly 200 animated light displays it’s worth a visit. Visitors can drive the paths, walk, or bike ride and ooh and ahh at Santa, nursery rhyme characters, and a twinkling icicle forest.
For a free display of live Christmas trees, head to downtown Huntsville and walk the Tinsel Trail where approximately 300 trees will be beautifully decorated in Big Spring Park.
More fun holiday activities include ice skating in the park at the Huntsville Museum of Art and a walking tour of Christmas Past in the Twickenham District.
On this luminary lit walk, you can visit private residences and the historic Weeden House Museum, also beautifully decorated for the season.
If you like more active adventures, don’t miss the Turkey Trot or guided hikes at The Land Trust of North Alabama. Ballet fans will enjoy Mommy and Me Nutcracker Tea and also Nutcracker performances at Huntsville Youth Ballet.
Whether you like active outdoor adventures, beautiful Christmas tree displays, visiting with Santa, or driving through twinkling lights, you’ll find lots of fun holiday activities waiting for you in Huntsville!
Pine Mountain, Georgia
Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, Green Global Travel
For 11 months out of the year, there’s not a whole lot to do in the sleepy town of Pine Mountain, Georgia. But every November and December, Callaway Gardens’ annual Fantasy In Lights Christmas celebration is the largest light display in the state of Georgia.
It has even been recognized by National Geographic as one of the Top 10 Christmas Light Displays in the World!
Be sure to check out “Snow Day,” which brings those two magical words every child loves to hear to life in lights depicting scenes of building snowmen, sledding and sipping hot cocoa.
This is just the latest expansion of the state’s most high-tech Christmas light display, which already included over 8 million twinkling bulbs and 14 classic themes (including “Snowflake Valley,” “Magical Christmas Garden” and “Santa’s Workshop”) stretched across a 5-mile drive filled with holiday music.
Fantasy In Lights also includes narrated scenes of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and The Nativity at Robin Lake Beach. There’s a 22,000-square foot Christmas Village offering handmade arts and crafts, food, and opportunities to take photos with their awesome-looking Santa.
Kids will really love story time with Mrs. Claus and the weekend breakfasts with classic characters such as Frosty, the Grinch, and Rudolph.
Visitors are welcome to view the holiday spectacular via their own personal vehicle or take the “Jolly Trolley.”
For guests who want to spend an entire weekend at Callaway Gardens, they also offer special packages starting at under $150/night that include a room at the Mountain Creek Inn, Fantasy In Lights admission, a special Jolly Trolley loading area and reservations, a commemorative ornament, and admission to all of the Gardens’ nature attractions (including a magical indoor butterfly garden).
Best Christmas Town in the West USA
North Pole, Alaska
Lina, Bucket List Places
North Pole, Alaska is the epitome of the perfect Christmas town in the United States.
Located close to the arctic circle, this town is decorated with Christmas decorations year round. But in the winter is when the true Christmas feel of this town comes out.
Come take a stroll on Santa Claus lane or visit one of the incredible ice sculptures in the winter.
Visit the post office and send a letter home from the North Pole for your friends back home to be jealous.
Visit the Santa Claus House, a gift store with the world’s largest Santa Claus standing at 40 ft tall.
Considered to be one of the best places to visit in Alaska, there are a number of attractions for those who are in the Christmas spirit. In the winter, this town also becomes a popular place to come and watch the Northern Lights only seen in select places around the world.
North Pole is located a short 20 minute drive from Fairbanks, Alaska, a hub for travel to Alaska with countless flights from various states arriving there daily. For those that can’t travel all the way to Alaska to visit, send a letter to Santa at 1 Santa Claus Lane in North Pole.
Krystianna from Volumes & Voyages
One of the best (and most underrated) Christmas Towns in the USA is Denver, Colorado. The Mile High City goes hard for the holidays, and visiting during this time is truly magical.
The best thing to attend in December is the Denver Christkindl Market which takes place right downtown. It’s impossible to miss it! During this event (which usually runs for about a month) there’s tons of great German food served up, including schnitzel, spaetzle, and even mulled wine. The vendors also sell fun trinkets like ornaments.
Another of the best places to visit in Denver in December is the 16th Street Mall. Though it’s mainly a shopping area, the entire street gets all decked out with Christmas decorations, especially at Downtown Crossing. This street is also home to the electric tree that Denver is pretty well known for. Sit back and watch it as it puts on a light show once the sun goes down.
Right near the 16th Street Mall is also a hidden gem called the Milk Market. This market serves many purposes; it’s a food hall, hotel entrance, and a public workspace! Between the buildings is a beautiful alley that is covered in holiday lights and decorations.
Last but not least, nobody can miss out on Denver’s Union Station around the holidays. Each of the restaurants at the train station put out igloos for their guests to eat in, there are trees everywhere, and the entire building is lit up both inside and out.
Next time you’re planning a trip for the holidays, consider going to Denver!
For some, Honolulu might not be the first place that comes to mind for a Christmas wonderland but what is better than a beach-filled, adventure-packed city for a chilled-out holiday season?
Where it may be lacking in the fluffy white snow, Honolulu sure makes up for it in Christmas cheer and is the perfect getaway for anyone looking for something a little different this year (especially for those who hate the snow).
For starters, the hotels in Honolulu go slightly overboard with the festive decorations in their lobbies. Stroll through town, peep through the windows and visit the reception of some of the most decorated hotels in Hawaii.
Next stop is the Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki. Featuring a 34-foot Christmas tree, massive displays, and visits from Santa with free photo opportunities, this is the Christmas wonderland of your children’s dreams (or your own)!
Take a drive through town to admire the Honolulu city lights around Honolulu Hale at 530 S King Street, visit the Polynesian Cultural Center to see the drive-in movie, and drop by the Waikiki Beach Walk for live Christmas music every night.
See? There is so much to do around Christmas in Honolulu it will surely be one to remember!
Candice, CS Ginger
Boise is one of the best places in the west to visit around Christmas time. There are so many fun things to do in Boise in the winter, especially in the month of December. Boise has a relatively dry winter but is near the beautiful Idaho mountains which get lots of snow.
There are multiple outdoor ice-skating rinks with the best being at Indian Creek Plaza. At Indian Creek Plaza you will also find a Christmas light display with hundreds of thousands of lights. There are also lots of cute shops where you can get cookies, hot chocolate, or dinner.
Some other great places to see Christmas Lights are at the Scentsy Commons in Meridian and at Winter Garden aGlow at the Boise Botanical Gardens.
If you are looking to ski, you can head up to nearby Bogus Basin which is about 40 minutes from downtown Boise. Bogus Basin offers ski rentals and lessons as well. If you are in Boise for a longer time, you can head up to the ski resorts near Cascade and McCall.
Another great place to head for skiing in town is Gateway Parks. They offer a tubing hill as well as a ski and snowboard hill. Rentals are available here as well. Reservations are required and are good for 90-minutes.
There are a number of local Christmas markets in the month of December. The markets are filled with local goods and handmade gifts and crafts making them perfect holiday presents. The Boise Farmers Market and Capital City Public Market are held every Saturday and there are pop-up bazaars and markets throughout the valley.
Taos, New Mexico
Kirsten Maxwell, Kids Are A Trip
Taos is a stunning destination any time of year, but during the holidays, the city delights locals and visitors alike.
Everything begins right after Thanksgiving with the annual caroling and tree lighting festival.
The town’s central Plaza features a locally sourced tree and hundreds of farolitos (small paper bags weighted with sand that hold lighted candles) line the city streets.
Celebrations continue throughout the month including the Lighting of Ledoux (this charming historic street celebrates with its own festive lighting), Bonfires on Bent Street (featuring Aztec dancers, specialty food, and carolers), and a nine-day Las Posadas celebration re-enacting the journey of Mary and Joseph as they sought shelter the night before Jesus’s birth.
Nothing is quite as magical as Christmas Eve the Taos Pueblo. The Taos Pueblo is the only living Native American community designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark.
As darkness begins to fall, people gather throughout the site, finding their viewing spots amongst the ancient adobe buildings. When the sun has set, massive bonfires are lit and the procession of the Virgin Mary begins from St. Gerome Church.
The archbishop of Santa Fe leads the group around the plaza, while men at the front fire rifles into the air from time to time.
At first, people cannot contain their excitement and there is a hum of noise through the crowd, but everyone succumbs to the beauty of the dark, winter night and the peacefulness of the moment.
Eventually, the procession returns to the front of the church, marking the end of the performance. It is a Taos tradition everyone should experience once in their lifetime.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Brodi Cole of Our Offbeat Life
Las Vegas is a lot more than gambling and parties on the Strip. For locals and tourists alike, it also offers a variety of Christmas activities throughout November and December from drive-through lights at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Racetrack to Christmas Town at Cowabunga Bay.
The best Christmas-themed experience in Las Vegas is Ethel M’s Cactus Garden Holiday Lights. Ethel M is the gourmet chocolate line owned by the Mars chocolate empire that also makes Twix, Snickers, and M&Ms. The Las Vegas chocolate factory also has a retail store attached as well as a 3-acre cactus garden.
From mid-November to the end of December each year, the cactus garden is decorated in Christmas lights that guests can stroll through with handmade chocolate deserts and artisanal hot cocoa.
The entry fee for groups of up to six people is a mandatory $5 donation that goes to the Three Square Food Bank and HELP of Southern Nevada. Groups larger than six can simply pay additional donation fees for each multiple of six visitors.
Reservations are strongly recommended but not required.
Halfway through the cactus garden’s Christmas lights walking trail, Santa is on hand for photos. Guests can either take their own pics for free or pay $25 for quality professional photos taken by the staff.
The walking path ends at the chocolate store and factory. Guests are given a free piece of chocolate at entry. Then they can both shop and watch the chocolatiers at work making chocolate in the factory through large glass windows.
Katie & Ben from Go Wander Wild
You’ve probably heard of Bend, Oregon as a destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks in central Oregon, there are endless outdoor adventures to be had. Add to that a happening food scene and craft beer culture to rival Portland’s and you’ll understand why so many people flock to visit Bend all year round.
We think Bend is a particularly magical place to visit during the holidays. The city is so cozy under a fresh blanket of snow with temperatures that aren’t too cold to keep you from enjoying all the winter fun.
And there is plenty of fun to be had with all the winter activities in Bend—from world-class skiing at the nearby mountain resorts to the miles of snowshoeing and cross-country ski trails in the designated Sno Parks in town.
During the holiday season, the city comes to life with colorful Christmas lights and several town-sponsored events to celebrate the winter holidays. The kick-off begins with the annual tree lighting ceremony and Christmas Parade at The Commons in downtown Bend.
Each season the Old Mill District transforms into SantaLand, a magical holiday wonderland full of twinkling lights and carolers. Gone are the days of queuing up in long lines at the indoor mall to get a photo with Saint Nick, this modern-day Santa Claus arrives in style via helicopter to greet everyone.
Stop by the Locavore Gift Faire to peruse the work of local artists and craftsmen to find the perfect holiday gift. And be sure to stop at the Tree of Joy project where you can donate a gift to children and families in need.
Don’t miss the Holiday Lights Paddle Parade, a Bend tradition like no other. On the second Friday in December, local paddling enthusiasts dress up their kayaks and canoes with holiday lights and decorations to paddle down the Deschutes River in a floating parade.
Visiting Bend during the holidays is sure to keep your Christmas spirit kindling all season long.
Tim Trudell, The Walking Tourists
For a true German Christmas experience, head off to Bavaria. Or, maybe take a drive to Leavenworth, a Bavarian-style village in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, about two hours east of Seattle.
The view is beautiful with German-inspired architecture in front of white-capped mountains. You may want to break out and start yodeling or singing like Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music.”
Known for its Oktoberfest and Christmas celebrations, thousands of people visit the town for a taste of German holidays, along with food and drink. Authentic German food can be found at a few restaurants, as well as German bier.
During the day, visitors check out attractions. With more than 6,000 nutcrackers on display, the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum provides a walk through history and design, including themes such as US presidents, Star Wars and Disney characters.
Leavenworth’s Kris Kringl store is like offering an elf a room full of sugar. It’s Christmas every day! Full of ornaments – from standard fare to special themes – the store’s two floors are wall-to-wall holiday decorations.
Ornaments are featured as parts of special displays around the store, including Santa Claus and his sleigh being led by reindeer, which hovers above shoppers. It’s easy to get lost among the ornaments, decorations and other holiday-themed goodies and spend hours taking in the scene.
When the sun sets, visitors gather for the nightly lighting of the Christmas trees. Strings of multi-colored lights envelope fir trees and line buildings along the main street.
A chorus sings holiday songs, encouraging visitors to participate. You half-expect Linus to step on stage and start reciting his monologue about the true meaning of Christmas.
Remember to grab a cup of hot chocolate to help stay warm as you stroll through the town square, taking in the sights.
Have fun and Happy holidays!
San Francisco, California
Noel Morata, Travel Photo Discovery
San Francisco is amazing as a Christmas town, every neighborhood is decked with Christmas cheer and the downtown area is also set up with festive lights and Christmas decorations.
All the tourist areas are in full Christmas mode, there are special Christmas markets and events like the all Santa day festivities and harvest festivals.
Shopping markets, Christmas performances and many holiday shows happen around the city. Union Square – the main shopping venues are festive and all the stores are decked with amazing displays including the adopt a pet displays at Macys which are always a crowd pleaser.
Even the Embarcadero center with its skating rink, Ferry Plaza markets and Christmas programs bring in the local crowds to Celebrate with Holiday cheer.
You’ll always find plenty of activities and events to put you in a celebratory mood when you visit this amazing city.
Best Christmas Towns in US Territories
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Alexander Waltner, Swedish Nomad
Christmas in Puerto Rico in general is widely celebrated. There are many songs and it’s popular to go carol singing, which is known locally as Parrandas.
It’s common that friends gather in the evening before in order to wake up them up and get them to join the Parranda.
As for decorations, the whole town of San Juan is decorated, especially in the old town. Christmas lights and signs saying Feliz Navidad is everywhere.
The Puerto Rican homes are widely decorated with greenery as well. The figures of the three kings are especially popular here. Many elder Puerto Ricans also wear the traditional straw hat called “pava”.
Coquito is a common Christmas drink that’s made from coconut milk and rum. It’s kind of eggnog, but with a Puerto Rican twist.
Christmas is usually celebrated together with family, and in the evening people will go and attend the Catholic masses in the church.
There you have it! The best Christmas towns in the USA according to travel writers. I hope you’ve found some new magical Christmas towns to celebrate this year.
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