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While they say, there’s “nothing like home for the holidays,” sometimes it’s fun to mix things up. If you’re thinking about heading elsewhere this Christmas, there are some great options to consider, from storybook small towns to exciting cities buzzing with holiday cheer. These destinations, in particular, should be at the top of your list.
New York City at Christmas is a bucket list experience for those seeking an exciting city destination. It’s especially spectacular during the holidays with all the lights and usually at least a dusting of snow. You’ll have opportunities for ice skating at Rockefeller Center with its giant Christmas tree, and horse-and-carriage rides through Central Park that provides an old-fashioned twist as well. You’ll be able to shop ’til you drop while enjoying the impressive holiday window displays, attend the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, a Broadway-style show hosted by the famous Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, or New York City’s Nutcracker by the New York City Ballet.
One of the most quintessential postcard-perfect towns to celebrate Christmas is Woodstock, Vermont, with its covered bridges, at least a light dusting of snow, and plenty of pine wafting through the air. This historic city knows how to do the holiday right, starting with Woodstock Wassail Weekend – a pre-holiday festival with 19th-century Norse culture traditions. It includes a parade with over 50 horses and riders that don period dress and Christmas costumes, along with wagon and sleigh rides, carolers serenading and the lighting of the tree and yule log. An old-fashioned celebration with a big feast is hosted at the Billings Farm & Museum, and all the local shops with their beautifully decorated windows stay open late during the event.
A small town in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Lancaster boasts a festive atmosphere amongst Amish farms. There are carriage rides, singing carolers and plenty of gift shopping available at the Lancaster Central Market. Watch the tree lighting ceremony with tuba accompaniment or hop aboard the Strasburg Rail Road for cookies and milk while Victorian-dressed actors read “The Night Before Christmas”, then explore one of Lancaster’s other top attractions.
Beloved for its beautiful coastline, Newport is a charming city with stunning beaches, waterfront hotels, and plenty of New England charm. During Christmas, the Holidays at the Newport Mansions provides the perfect mix of opulence and Christmas magic, with Newport’s Gilded Age mansions decked with ornamented trees, holiday lights, wreaths, dining tables set with period silver and china, and more. You can also bundle up and see the Illuminated Boat Parade at the harbor, where colorful boats compete for the best decorated. Christmas in Newport is another notable event, featuring multiple activities, like concerts, tree lighting, craft fairs, and candlelit house tours.
It’s like stepping into a snow globe when you visit this famous ski town during the holidays. The town is transformed into a breathtaking Victorian-style Christmas village throughout December, starting with the Lighting of Breckenridge, which includes hundreds of Santas racing down Main Street, picking up milk and cookies as they go, caroling and the Blue River holiday lighting on the first weekend of the month. There are horse-drawn carriage rides, plenty of opportunities to shop for gifts, and if you stick around for New Year’s Eve you can watch the torchlight parade down the mountain, followed by fireworks.
Known for being America’s Christmas Tree City, Branson is one of the best small towns in the U.S. for Christmas. It’s here that you can experience a month-long holiday extravaganza with live music, festive displays of lights, and fun-filled parades. This Midwest city and country music capital offers drive-thru light displays in addition to an illuminated nativity scene atop Mount Branson, while An Old Time Christmas features the largest Christmas display in the area. The Branson Scenic Railway’s Polar Express Train Ride is a favorite with families, with hot chocolate, cookies and a reading of the original story from Santa himself.
St. Augustine is one of the most charming Christmas towns in Florida. It’s perfect if you’re looking for a warm-weather holiday getaway, while its lack of snow is replaced with an uber-festive annual Night of Lights festival. The city is glowing with lights, candles, and Christmas decor, and you can see it all aboard the Old Town Trolley’s Famous Night of Lights Tour. The city also has other family-friendly events, including colorful boat displays at the Regatta of Lights. Participate in the much-loved Holiday Tour of Inns, or bring the kids to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum on Luminary Night to say hello to Santa.
This Charlotte suburb with less than 700 residents is known as Christmas Town USA. For more than six decades, McAdenville puts on an impressive display for the holidays that includes 265 evergreen trees with a half-million dazzling lights, with over 160 houses elaborately decked out in a variety of decor. Yahoo and Time magazine once named it among the “top 10 destinations to visit during the holidays”, and many news stations broadcast live from town around Christmas too. You’ll find lots to do in nearby Charlotte as well, from a variety of holiday-related events and world-class museums to outstanding shopping and dining.
A&E Network once crowned Leavenworth the “Ultimate Holiday Town USA.” Located along the eastern edge of the soaring Cascades, this charming Bavarian village with an impressive snow-capped mountain backdrop will make you feel as if you’ve stepped into a historic German town. The Christmas Lighting Festival, held from early December through just before Christmas, includes old-fashioned caroling and an array of sparkling lights. On Fridays, St. Nikolas himself welcomes children with song and fruit.
Durango – located near the Four Corners area where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico all meet – is the Christmas town behind The Polar Express, the popular book that became a movie starring Tom Hanks. Families can enjoy sipping hot chocolate while riding the train to the “North Pole” to pick up Santa, and this Western town offers all sorts of other holiday-related events, while Purgatory Ski Resort is just a short drive away for skiing and boarding enthusiasts.
A Denmark-like destination, Solvang is a Danish village nestled in California. You’ll find unique celebrations in this small town, with around 150 boutiques decked out in traditional Christmas decor selling all kinds of Danish goods such as clogs, high-quality toys and porcelain and lace. After you’ve spent a few hours shopping for gifts, attend the annual Julefest celebrations. Everyone in the family can get into the holiday spirit with its parade of dancers, vintage car displays and horse-drawn carriages. Don’t miss the live nativity pageant that brings to life the Christmas story.
One of the top places to go for a ski escape during the holidays offers lots of festivities for Christmas, beginning in November with the annual Electric Parade. Park City’s procession includes locals that light up cars, trucks and bikes while cranking up holiday tunes as they traverse down Main Street. On Christmas Eve, you can hit the slopes alongside Saint Nick who spends the day skiing before leading a torchlight parade down the PayDay trail. Throughout the season, kids and adults of all ages will be dazzled by the nearly 13-foot-tall life-size gingerbread house that’s made with 11,000 cookies.
Dubbed “The Mountain Side of Maryland,” the small town of Frostburg is just three hours from Washington and Baltimore and about two-ish hours from Pittsburgh. This charming destination in Allegany County is a delightful place to visit during the holidays, especially on the first Saturday of December when the whole town shows up for the annual Storybook Holiday event. You can have breakfast with elves at the historic Hotel Gunter, then catch the city’s Christmas parade, which winds its way down Maine Street led by Jack Frost. At night, City Place hosts the beautifully-lit Festival of Trees event (which includes a cookie and hot cocoa reception!), while the historic Frostburg Palace Theatre will be showing the ‘Miracle on 34st Street’. For more sweet treats, try a Frosty the Snow Shake at Princess Restaurant.
What could be better than a visit to the North Pole? In this Alaskan town, you can drive down streets like Kris Kringle Drive, Mistletoe Lane or Santa Clause Lane and enjoy the annual North Pole Christmas In Ice Contest that draws ice sculptors from across the globe. National newscasts are frequently broadcast live from the Santa Clause house as well. This is also the aurora season, which means you’ll have a good opportunity to view one of Mother Nature’s most awe-inspiring shows: the stunning Northern Lights.
Hop on a ferry to this enchanting Michigan town with just 500 residents, where everyone celebrates the holidays just like they did a century ago. Here, people travel by horse and buggy, as motorized vehicles have been banned for the past century. At Christmas, Santa actually visits every child to hear their Christmas wishes. The annual Christmas bazaar features unique crafts and decor filled with green, red, and lots of lilac – a favorite local color.