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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, charming shops, and town squares lit with sparkling lights. From winter wonderlands to quiet seaside escapes, read on to discover the best small towns to visit for Christmas in the United States.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
One of the most charming small towns in the United States, Natchez is known for its Southern hospitality and historic homes. The picturesque Mississippi town is a great place to escape the crowds this holiday season and enjoy a quiet riverside setting. There are plenty of holly jolly happenings, including brightly colored lights on Main Street and an annual tree-lighting event on Thanksgiving weekend that features pyrotechnics set to music, visits with Santa, caroling around the tree, and tasty food vendors. You can also tour Sunnyside, which is the “Biltmore of Natchez” and an elegant 1850s Greek revival gem in the historic downtown, then shop for gifts at Darby’s or antiques at Hal Garner at Nest.
Dahlonega is considered one of the most fun and festive Christmas towns in Georgia for a reason. Tucked away in northern Georgia, about 75 miles from Atlanta, this town boasts an array of festive events and holiday displays around town. Its Main Street is so picture-perfect that it’s been featured in popular Hallmark movies. Typically running for a full month the day after Thanksgiving, its popular Old-Fashioned Christmas celebration includes Santa visits, lighting of the downtown square, a parade, and other festivities like caroling and Christmas-themed theater events.
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.
Alexandria is often named among the most magical Christmas towns in the U.S. Stepping into the historic old town, you’ll feel as if you were transported into a real-life Dickens Village with its 18th-century row houses. The long list of holiday events begins with the annual Tree Lighting in front of City Hall, musical performances, and an appearance from Santa and Mrs. Claus. Time-honored festivities also include the annual Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend & Parade and the Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights on the Potomac River.
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.
Durango is a top pick in Colorado during Christmas, as it offers a winter wonderland scene with seasonal activities like sleigh rides, dazzling light displays, and ice skating in the heart of town. However, its main attraction is the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Families can hop aboard the locomotive and take a journey in and out of the foothills towards the “North Pole” via the Polar Express train ride, which brings the award-winning The Polar Express book and movie to life, complete with Santa, his elves, and many of your favorite characters. Just north of town at Purgatory Resort, you can enjoy snowboarding, skiing, and other popular winter sports
One of the most beautiful towns in Idaho, Coeur d’Alene is even more picture-perfect in winter with its snowy Christmas setting. The popular Holiday Light Show features over 1.5 million lights, and the annual tradition gets bigger and better every year. Watch the most magnificent fireworks display in the Pacific Northwest when they flip the switch and light up the lake at its Annual Lighting Ceremony, then Journey to the North Pole on 40-minute holiday lake cruises to view the twinkling lights displays and visit Santa Claus and his elves at his waterfront toy workshop. Santa Claus even reads each child’s name from the Nice List. If you have some last-minute shopping to do, Downtown Coeur d’Alene has an eclectic mix of shops on Sherman Avenue, Lakeside, and Front Streets. Stay at Coeur d’Alene Golf & Spa Resort and choose packages that include cruise tickets, cookies delivered to your room by Santa’s elves, and fireside story time.
Taunton, Massachusetts is one of the best places to celebrate Christmas in New England, so much so that it has been nicknamed “The Christmas City” for its over-the-top holiday cheer. Not only does the town’s classic winter setting blanketed in snow create the perfect scenery for Christmas, but it also boasts an annual Lighting of the Green and Lights On festival, an event that has been going strong for over 100 years. The spectacle includes a Christmas parade, light displays, fireworks, kid-friendly activities, and live entertainment on historic Taunton Green.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
Located in the heart of West Texas, Big Spring offers an all-American Christmas getaway. Nicknamed the “Lighted Poinsettia Capital of Texas,” there’s plenty of festive cheer to go around. Follow the Comanche Trail Festival of Lights to see more than one million colorful lights from the warmth of your car, or catch Big Spring’s annual Christmas Parade on Scurry Street to see elaborate floats. One of the most festive places to stay is Hotel Settles, a beautifully restored luxury hotel that has a brunch buffet with Mr. & Mrs. Santa Clause, cookie decorating, yuletide tunes, and a large tree in its lobby.
If you’re looking for a small town in the U.S. that does Christmas big, head to Atchison, Kansas for a fun-filled holiday season. The annual Sights and Sounds event features a long list of activities to choose from, including free carriage rides, a Santa house, story time aboard the Atchison Trolley, holiday photo opportunities, and more. Entertainment comes in the form of a Mr. & Miss Winter Wonderland Pageant, a coloring contest, and a North Pole Village where kids can write letters for Santa and drop them off. Don’t miss the lighted Christmas parade through downtown Atchison, which is the grand finale of the Sights & Sounds of Christmas event.