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Christmas is a time when dreams come true, a time when little ones can’t contain their excitement, a time when the whole world lights up in celebration. The east coast of the United States boasts some of the most elaborate, fantastical, holiday spirit-boosting places in the world. From millions of lights, warm cookies, and cozy places to rest while sugar plums dance in your head to appearances by good ole Saint Nick, these towns and establishments will bring out the child in us all. Get ready to be wowed by the most extravagant places to spend Christmas on the East Coast.
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, aka Christmas City, is a wonderful holiday destination for ages. The Christmas Village, or Christkindlmarkt as it’s called, is a market with pop-up artisan shops selling wooden toys, treats and other mesmerizing goodies. The market also features live Christmas music and visits from St. Nicholas. Just across the way in the downtown area, taste a seasonal elf brew at Fegley’s Brew Works, or just marvel at the perfectly placed lights lining the historic buildings of downtown Bethlehem.
Nantucket, Massachusetts will forever be reframed in your mind from “summer getaway” to “holiday haven.” From late November to January, the charming area transforms into a Yuletide dream—the month of festivities has been named Nantucket Noel. After kicking off with a tree lighting and contagious caroling, iconic events ensue. The Annual Christmas Stroll is likely one of the most anticipated events, as folks are adorned in Victorian clothing, and a European market offers authentic goodies. Santa stops to say hello via a boat sled!
Asheville, North Carolina, is beautifully set in the mountains, already making it a lovely destination for Christmas. But two incredible establishments take it to “over the top” status. You have the magical Biltmore Estate, which is draped from top to bottom in graceful garlands, lights and trees. Stay in one of the lavish accommodations, visit the winery, or just come tour the holiday decorations. The Omni Grove Park Inn displays the most detailed gingerbread houses while creating a cozy getaway within their lavish lodge-styled, historic digs. Drink hot chocolate by the massive boulder fireplaces, grab a treat from the life-size gingerbread hut in the lobby, and enjoy a breakfast buffet of personalized omelets made from scratch donuts and other sweet or savory options.
Newport, Rhode Island, is home to traditionally decorated Guilded age mansions, some of which are open to the public for tours and visits. Multiple celebrations and events accent the old coastal Christmas atmosphere. Board the Jingle On The Rails Holiday Dinner Train, which promises a night like no other with great food and lots of Christmas spirit. Throughout the downtown, piers are lit up, candles wisp in the windows, shops are beautifully decorated, and boats with lots of holiday decorations float through the waters—you’ll be in the spirit in no time.
Some of our favorite Christmas movies are set in New York for a reason. The city becomes a breathtaking wonderland of giant trees, ice skating rinks, and intricately decorated storefronts. There are many extravagant light displays throughout the city, like those at Radio City and Saks Fifth Avenue. Lovely little seasonal markets pop up along the streets as well. Try to catch a spectacular show like the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker or the iconic Radio City Rockettes! Just remember the gum on the rails is not free candy.
Another sparkling city to visit during Christmas is Atlanta, Georgia. The Buckhead Village hosts Atlanta Christkindl Market, which twinkles with lights and features authentic German food and beverages and artisan shops. Iconic buildings light up green and red to celebrate the season, and Atlantic Station is an incredible block of buildings offering one of the best shopping experiences, with decorated streets, candy shops with hot chocolate, and an ice skating rink. There are plenty of restaurants to fuel your shopping adventure, and you might even spot Santa Claus near the Christmas tree. Be sure to catch Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center!
It all starts with a tree lighting in the quaint town of Manchester, Vermont. Crowds carol and snack on cookies while snow typically sprinkles down on the surrounding mountains. If it were any more perfect, we’d say it was a movie scene. Well, a Christmas movie was filmed here! After that, parades, markets, cider tastings, and elf train rides follow. What could be better than snuggling up at a local inn while in town? The Inn at Manchester is overflowing with poinsettias and touches of tasteful greenery. Breakfast is included, so you’ll wake to the smell of cinnamon raisin french toast, and pancakes.
C’mon, with a town name like Hershey, you know they are going to live up to hot cocoa dreams and Holiday festivities. Hersheypark basically dominates the area with its chocolate-themed goodness, and during December, they spare no expense on spoiling their guests. Stay at one of the beautifully adorned accommodation options—the lodge, hotel, or camping area. Then melt into millions of lights twinkling amongst coasters and nooks to get, drum roll, chocolate goodies. Kids can visit reindeer stables to get a glimpse of dasher and dancers until they take off on Christmas Eve.
Fuse the magic of Disney World and Christmas, and you’ve got something incredibly special to adults and kids alike. Our favorite theme park doesn’t hold back when it comes to decking the halls. While the park is lit up even more than normal, the hotels get a makeover, too, creating a maximally festive experience for guests. Prepare yourself for giant gingerbread houses, caroling choirs, countless towering Christmas trees, and seasonal goodies galore. Disney World knows how to capture the magic.