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Instead of visiting a crowded city this Christmas, take a drive to one of America’s small towns that celebrate the holidays in a big way. Bask in the charm of these smaller cities this holiday season, where you can enjoy illuminated parades, town squares lit with sparkling lights and snow-capped roofs. From winter wonderlands to quiet seaside escapes, read on to discover the best small towns to visit for Christmas in the United States.
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Known for being America’s Christmas Tree City, Branson is an inviting small town that celebrates Christmas in style. 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 offer 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.
A top Louisiana town that knows how to celebrate Christmas the right way, Natchitoches showcases more than 300,000 lights and 100 set pieces for its downtown display. Set along the banks of Cane River Lake, the city has a six-week-long Christmas Festival celebration that started way back in 1927. The festival is a huge draw for families in the area, where you’ll find a boat parade, fireworks, a holiday market selling Natchitoches meat pie and romantic carriage rides through the historic district.
Skaneateles, New York
Skaneateles is a charming small town nestled in the picturesque Finger Lakes, where Dickensian characters from Tiny Tim to the Ghost of Christmas Past show up to celebrate the annual Dickens Festival. Step back in time with the array of characters dressed up in Victorian costume, then hop on one of the horse-drawn carriage rides, listen to the live bagpiper or simply stroll through the village and nibble on roasted chestnuts. Make sure to catch the World’s Smallest Christmas Parade Ever and a mini-performance of “A Christmas Carol”.
Santa Claus, Indiana
What could be a better Christmas destination than a city called Santa Claus? Its population hovers around 2,500, but that doesn’t stop them from going over the top for the holiday season. It’s a three-weekend celebration in this town, where you can roast chestnuts on an open fire at Santa’s Candy Castle, then visit the Santa Claus Arts & Crafts Show and check out the Santa Claus Christmas Parade. There’s an LED-light display that tells the story of Rudolph in addition to a Christmas store, Christmas museum and letter-writing activity to Santa himself.
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.
Nestled in the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg will give you a dose of small-town Texas. Soak up the Christmastime charm at one of the many holiday events held here, as its old-fashioned celebrations include carolers, parades, concerts and Nutcracker performances. Located just west of Austin, this three-day festival lures visitors in from around the state who want to go gift shopping in the 150 boutiques, admire the 30-foot Christmas tree in the middle of the Marktplatz and sip on mulled wine.
A landscape dotted with steepled churches, covered bridges and ice skating rinks, Woodstock comes alive during the Woodstock Wassail Weekend. After admiring its colonial New England architecture and picturesque river views, enjoy the village’s wagon and sleigh rides, holiday craft fair and performances by local theater and singing troupes. Watch carolers take to the snowy streets and decorated horses trot around downtown with riders dressed in Victorian attire.
You’ll be taken aback with the beauty of Leavenworth, as this Bavarian-inspired town is straight out of a fairytale, surrounded by the snow-covered Cascade Mountains. A planned storybook village with steep roofs and trees lit with a half-million Christmas lights, you can skip the flight to Europe and enjoy sizzling bratwurst, Gluhwein hot mulled wine and roasted nuts. Join in the week-long Christkindlmarkt festivities, watch hand-bell concerts and see the over-the-top decorated outdoor tree.
If you want to escape the cold for Christmas, head to Seaside, Florida for a coastal holiday celebration. Located on Florida’s Emerald Coast, Seaside is known for its fresh seafood, charming boutiques and candy-colored homes. Wintertime offers a quiet atmosphere with its post office and iconic Coleman Beach Pavilion wrapped in 4,500 lights, where you can spend time taking scenic walks or drives, photographing palm trees decorated in twinkling lights and attending the annual Turn On the Town celebration with parades, Santa Claus, and the lighting of a Christmas tree.
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.
You’ll be lured in by the charm of Frankenmuth, Michigan, as this small Bavarian-inspired town boasts a traditional Christkindmarkt in December. Visit to experience its whimsical light displays, holiday-themed historic house tours and dinner with Santa and Mrs. Claus at the popular Zehnder’s Restaurant. If you need to do some Christmas shopping, head to Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas-themed store with over 96,000 square feet of retail space packed with more than 300 Christmas trees.