50 American Cities That Are Crazy About the Holidays
50 American Cities That Are Crazy About the Holidays
There's no "right" or "wrong" way to celebrate the holiday season. Whether you're religious or not, snuggled up in a snowy climate or lounging on the beach, cooking a homemade feast or eating at a five-star restaurant with friends, enjoying the sights and sounds of the season in whatever way brings you joy is what's important. Spreading joy is definitely the priority for these 50 cities in the United States that go all out when it comes to holiday spirit, events and activities.
The U.S. capital really goes crazy over Christmas. D.C.'s National Christmas Tree is truly a sight to behold, and locals and tourists alike gather 'round for for three weeks of nightly entertainment after its epic lighting ceremony after Thanksgiving. There's also a National Menorah lighting event with hot latkes and doughnuts. Take a candlelight tour of the area's historic homes decorated for the holidays, most notably the White House itself. Shop at the cheerful holiday market, or bask in the glow of Georgetown GLOW, an outdoor light art installation. Smithsonian's National Zoo, Union Station, the Wharf and U.S. Botanic Garden also get into the holiday spirit with displays and events. Catch a holiday concert performed by the National Orchestra, the Washington Chorus or the U.S. Army Band.
Alexandria, Virginia, does things a little differently than nearby Washington, D.C., but it definitely knows how to do Christmas right. The city famously hosts Waterskiing Santa, a parade of water-skiing Christmas characters that's been a D.C. tradition for 30 years. The Scottish Christmas Walk Parade celebrates the town's heritage, while Holly's Tacky Christmas Lights at 1601 Collingwood Rd. draw visitors from miles around to see the elaborate home display. Visit Mount Vernon for fireworks choreographed to holiday music and candlelight tours and to meet Aladdin the Christmas Camel.
North Pole, Alaska
It might be more than a thousand miles off from the real thing, but Alaska's city of North Pole is home to its own year-round version of Santa's workshop. Kids can meet Kris Kringle and his reindeer there any day of the year, but the town has earned a name for itself as a top Christmas destination by hosting special events like a world-class ice carving contest. There's also a 42-foot-tall Santa statue outside and festive signs and road names around town, including Snowman Lane, Saint Nicholas Drive, Holiday Road and Santa Claus Lane.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Step back in time this winter by visiting the historic city of Portsmouth. The already photogenic city's 17th- and 18th-century homes look lovely dusted with snow. Shop locally owned stores in Market Square, which also hosts holiday activities such as a parade and a gingerbread contest. The Strawbery Banke Museum preserves and celebrates the city's past. It puts on a holiday Candlelight Stroll in which historic homes are decked in decorations and lights and costumed performers explain vintage Christmas traditions. You can also ice skate on Puddle Dock Pond alongside costumed Victorian skaters meant to evoke the charming scenes of Currier & Ives.
Dallas and its suburbs get lit when Christmastime rolls around. Fair Park turns into a 17-acre winter wonderland thanks to displays with more than 2 million lights. The Dallas Arboretum gets decorated with 500,000 lights and puts on its version of "The 12 Days of Christmas" with 12 Victorian gazebos featuring whimsical costumed characters. The DeGolyer House displays more than 800 nutcrackers. Drive through the Prairie Lights display of more than 4 million lights in the suburb of Grand Prairie, or head to the suburb of Grapevine for its Lone Star Christmas. The biggest draw in Grapevine is the ice sculptures at the Gaylord Texan Hotel carved from more than 2 million pounds of colorful ice.
Nevada City, California
The Gold Rush town of Nevada City puts on a charming annual Victorian Christmas festival. The streets are lit was gas lamps and string lights. Festival attendees can shop in the street market while being entertained by carolers, bagpipers and minstrels dressed in Victorian garb. Visitors can also dress up in their own festive ensembles while enjoying sweets and roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and carriage rides.
Courtesy of Nevada City Chamber/Faye White
Known as Michigan's "Little Bavaria," Frankenmuth is a small town-sized ode to Christmas. It's home to a replica of Austria's Silent Night Chapel, where the iconic Christmas song was first written and performed. Other attractions include a German Christmas museum and a life-size replica nativity scene. But the town's biggest claim to fame is Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, which claims to be the world's largest Christmas store. The store houses more than 50,000 items, including dazzling displays of decor that are an attraction in and of themselves. Although the town celebrates Christmas all year, holiday season events include gingerbread house and pretzel rolling workshops, a Christkindlmarkt and a German Christmas Songfest.
Newport Beach, California
For a unique coastal twist on a traditional holiday parade, grab a spot along the harbor to watch Newport Beach's Christmas Boat Parade, a five-night precession with fireworks and more than 100 illuminated boats decorated around a fun annual theme. The Lighting of the Bay at Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort sees Santa arrive by stand-up paddleboard to light 50 electric Christmas trees on the water. Crystal Cove beach also has its own seaside tree lighting complete with a holiday bazaar, carolers and complimentary hot chocolate and apple cider. See indoor decor at the Balboa Island Holiday Home Walking tour or watch a holiday film at the historic Lido Theater.
Courtesy of Visit Newport Beach
Nantucket is a popular summer destination, but is equally charming in the wintertime. The town's annual Christmas Stroll closes down Main Street with events and entertainment. The Stroll promotes local shopping with a craft fair and stores giving out mulled wine and cookies. Carolers roam the streets, which are lined with hundreds of 7-foot Christmas trees leading up to the centerpiece 20-foot tree that magically "talks." The Nantucket Town Crier announced the arrival of Santa by a Coast Guard boat. Other festivities include ice carvings, cookie decorating and an ugly sweater competition. The Nantucket Whaling Museum also has more than 80 decorated trees on display starting in December.
Park City, Utah
Park City offers much more than great skiing around the holidays. Stein Eriksen Lodge erects a larger-than-life gingerbread structure every year, while the Egyptian Theatre hosts a holiday sing-a-long. Santa Claus comes to town via a ski lift chair decorated as a sleigh and covered with Christmas lights. Santa will later hit the slopes at the annual Traditional Torchlight Parade, where St. Nick leads more than 100 ski and snowboard instructors down the mountain. Park City Mountain's 16-day winter festival, Snowfest, brings in lots of holiday entertainment, including live music, cowboy shows, avalanche dog meet and greets, an ugly sweater party and more.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas attracts people celebrating big occasions such as birthdays, weddings and anniversaries all year round, but hotels on the Strip go all out for the holiday decorations. The Cosmopolitan's ice skating rink looks down on the strip and has fires for roasting marshmallows and nightly "snowfall." The Bellagio turns its conservatory into a Christmas display, while the Venetian puts up a 65-foot-tall Christmas tree with 50,000 lights. The LINQ Promenade also turns into a winter scene with nightly "snow" every 30 minutes, more than 2,000 lights synced to music and carolers. Thousands of Santas will take to the downtown streets during the annual Great Santa Run. Ethel M Chocolates Factory's cactus garden gets decorated with half a million lights, while the drive-through Glittering Lights Christmas Display at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway can be enjoyed from the comfort of your car. And plenty of venues will have special Christmas entertainment.
New York, New York
There's a reason NYC is world-famous for its holiday celebrations. The city truly embraces the Christmas spirit, from its iconic department store window displays to the tree at Rockefeller Center. There are Christmas markets across the city in places like Grand Central Station, Bryant Park, Columbus Circle and Union Square. Check out the lights in Dyker Heights, see the Rockettes, and if you're a Christmas mega-fan, camp out for a spot along the parade route to see Santa Claus come to town in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Located in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, the scenic city of Roanoke puts on its Dickens of a Christmas every December, in which Dickensian performers take to the streets to entertain visitors. Activities include sleigh rides, snacking on roasted chestnuts and watching a live Nativity scene. Enjoy the sounds of the season during the the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra's annual Holiday Pops concert, and tour the Blue Ridge area's historic homes that have been decorated for the holidays.
From Thanksgiving through January 1, downtown Ogden, Utah, turns into a Christmas Village modeled after Santa's village at the North Pole. The village is made up of many different themed elf- or kid-sized cottages, each with a hidden train inside for children to spot. Enjoy a hot chocolate and live music, meet reindeer and Mr. and Mrs. Claus and take a free train ride. An Electric Light Parade kicks off the festivities with floats, performers and fireworks.
Courtesy of Visit Ogden
There's a reason millions of visitors flock to Walt Disney World during the holiday season: no one captures Christmas magic quite like Disney. As long as you're strategic and know what to expect, Disney at Christmas offers spectacular fireworks displays and live performances, lovely parades, special holiday treats and miles and miles of lights and decorations all around the parks. In fact, Disney World puts up more than 1,000 trees, 300,000 yards of ribbons and bows and 8.5 million lights.
Much like its Biblical namesake, the city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, has a star lighting visitors' way - though this one is electric. Founded on Christmas Eve in 1741, Bethlehem declared itself "Christmas City, USA" in 1937. Around the holiday season, the city puts on a Christkindlmarkt, lights up hundreds of trees in the historic district and stages its one-of-a-kind Live Advent Calendar. Every day, someone is chosen to knock on the door of the Goundie House. A special guest inside emerges and gives treats to the crowd.
Courtesy of Bethlehem Christkindlemarkt/Craig Roberts
Castle Noel in Medina, Ohio, is the country's largest indoor year-round Christmas attraction. It's home to America's largest collection of holiday movie-related artifacts, compiled by the appropriately-named collector Mark Klaus, including Hollywood props from movies such as "Elf," "Christmas Vacation" and "The Grinch." Castle Noel also has Christmas window displays of years past from New York City department stores Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, Lord & Taylor and Macy's. Aside from the museum, every December the city hosts its Candlelight Walk, which includes a Christmas market and craft fair, a tree lighting ceremony, trolley rides, carolers and more.
Leah Klafczynski/Akron Beacon Journal/TNS
Starting with the annual Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade, Philadelphia hosts a monthlong Christmas celebration full of brotherly love. LOVE Park becomes a dreamy winter scene thanks to its colorful Christmas Village. Go ice skating at Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest, watch the Deck the Hall Light Show projected on City Hall or see Franklin Square light up in the Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show. The Wintergarden at Dilworth Park is full of holiday topiaries and seasonal plants. Stick around until New Year's Day for the colorful, iconic Mummers Parade.
Courtesy of Christmas Village in Philadelphia
This hub for family-friendly attractions in the Ozarks goes big when it comes to the holiday season. Branson Landing is dripping in light displays, and there are multiple drive-through light displays and live entertainment options to get you in the holiday spirit. Silver Dollar City has a holiday parade, nightly light shows and 1,000 decorated Christmas trees. Branson Scenic Railway transforms into the Polar Express and offers magical rides.
Courtesy of Silver Dollar City
Newport, Rhode Island
Downtown Newport celebrates the holiday season with concerts, craft fairs, lantern walking tours, a Christmas high tea, a door decorating contest and more. But the crown jewel of this romantic small town at Christmastime is the beautiful decorations at the Newport Mansions, including the Vanderbilt family home The Breakers. These Gilded Age homes are filled with thousands of poinsettias, fresh flowers, evergreens and wreaths.
Courtesy of Discover Newport/John W. Corbett/PSNC
For your Christmas nightlife kicks, head to Austin, where the "weird" city's bars, restaurants and venues all get in the holiday spirit. Get all your quirky gifts and enjoy live music at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. Stroll through the 1.25-mile Trail of Lights in Zilker Park and stand under the the 155-foot Zilker Holiday Tree. Don't miss the fun light show at Mozart Coffee Roasters or the decorations on 37th Street. Go caroling downtown during the Holiday Sing-Along and Downtown Stroll. Drive down Loop 360 to see hundreds of trees decorated by locals. The Circuit of the Americas also hosts a winter carnival.
It can get frigid on the shores of Lake Michigan, but residents of the Windy City still turn out for Chicago's many magical events leading up to the holidays. Mickey and Minnie Mouse lead the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival parade, which officially illuminates the more than one million lights on the famed Michigan Avenue. The Macy's on State Street puts up nostalgic holiday window displays, or you can shop at the German Christkindlmarket. The Museum of Science and Industry hosts a yearly display of more than 50 Christmas trees from around the world, all encircling an almost-50-foot-tall Grand Tree. The Lincoln Park Zoo is lit up with 100 displays, while the Morton Arboretum displays the beauty of trees in winter with music and interactive light designs.
Santa Claus, Indiana
Santa Claus, Indiana, has fully embraced its holly, jolly name, with a variety of Christmas-themed activities, making it the perfect holiday destination. Shop for sweets at Santa's Candy Castle and decorations at the Evergreen Christmas Store or visit the Santa Claus Arts & Crafts show. Watch a choreographed light show in Kringle Place Shopping Center or the annual Christmas parade. Drive through the Festival of Lights inside Christmas Lake Village or get active during the Dancer's Dash 5K or Nightmare Before Christmas Golf Scramble. And whatever else you do, make sure to get your Christmas cards stamped with the one-and-only Santa Claus Postmark.
Kevin Pang/Chicago Tribune/TNS
Located in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Lancaster is home to the nation's oldest farmers market, where you can pick up Amish whoopie pies to eat while enjoying the sights and sounds of the season, as well as a huge Christmas celebration during the holiday season. Listen to the Tuba Christmas group cover carols at the Christmas tree lighting, play at the Dutch Wonderland winter carnival, savor cookies and milk and a bedtime story on the Night Before Christmas Train or enjoy the festive decor and hunt for the hidden Belsnickle at 15 historic inns on the Belsnickle Christmas Tour.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Winter is the best time to snag travel deals in New Orleans. Around the holidays, the historic city will be festooned in red, green and gold, and City in the Oaks puts on one of the country's best light displays. St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square and St. Augustine Church in the Tremé neighborhood host a series of free holiday concerts. During Miracle on Fulton Street, the boulevard turns into a winter wonderland with lights, gingerbread displays and hourly "snow" fall. Many of the cities eateries host sumptuous traditional Reveillon feasts on Christmas Eve, which also see bonfires illuminate the levees on the opposite side of the Mississippi River.
Cleveland already has a Christmas claim to fame as the location of the house from "A Christmas Story," but it brings the holiday magic at a variety of events. Cleveland Botanical Garden lights up with thousands of bulbs, and the Cleveland Museum of Arts Winter Lights' Lantern Festival includes a procession of dancers, puppets and more. See the various lights throughout the city on a Holiday Light trolley tour or attend a holiday show at the Cleveland Orchestra. Downtown's Winterfest includes a tree lighting, ice skating, horse-drawn carriage rides and more.
Founded by Danish farmers who left the Midwest in search of warmer weather, this village's authentic buildings evoke the charm of the Old World. Along with its appearance, the town's businesses will also get you in the Christmas spirit. Snack on Danish pastries while riding the horse-drawn streetcar, then peruse the Scandinavian nativities and decorations at the Jule Hus Christmas store. The town amps things up every December for Julefest (pronounced "Yule-Fest"), which includes a parade, a nativity pageant and live music events.
McAdenville, North Carolina
Since 1956, McAdenville has called itself Christmas Town USA. More than 160 homes in town put up elaborate decorations and displays, and hundreds of the town's evergreen trees are covered in more than 450,000 red, green and white lights. The town's lake is surrounded by lighted trees with an illuminated fountain at the center.
Nashville sure puts a musical spin on a country Christmas for locals and visitors alike. Amy Grant and Vince Gill host their annual Christmas concert series at the Ryman, while Trace Adkins will be in residence with his Christmas show at Country Christmas at The Gaylord Opryland Resort. The hotel also hosts Cirque du Soleil's Cirque Dreams Holidaze show. The Country Music Hall of Fame also hosts musical acts during its Deck the Hall music series.
Greenville, South Carolina
One of the best towns in the country for a weekend getaway, Greenville, South Carolina, has a charming downtown that gets decorated with colorful lights that make a lovely backdrop for the open-air ice skating rink. Do your holiday shopping and support local artisans at the Holiday Fair and the Makers Collective's craft holiday pop up. Or sample local breweries on an ugly sweater bar crawl. Enjoy the Poinsettia Christmas Parade and the Festival of Trees, in which more than 100 decorated trees are displayed.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is home to the Biltmore Estate, the largest private home in America. The halls of this stunning home are dramatically decked in year with more than 50 decorated Christmas trees. During your visit, enjoy live music, wine tastings, a conservatory full of holiday greenery and more. The Antler Hill Village's shops and restaurants will also be atwinkle, and the area transforms into a Victorian town for the Old World Dickens in the Village Festival.
About 40 miles away from Frankenmuth, Midland is where jolly men from around the country travel to learn the secrets of St. Nick at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School. Open since 1937, it's the longest continuously running Santa Claus school in the world. Students brush up on their Santa history and costume skills, while also learning ways to connect with children, such as Christmas-specific sign language, toy making and singing classes. The town also hosts an annual Santa parade, after which the jolly old elf and his reindeer set up shop at the Santa House. Enjoy a Christmas tea, holiday floral workshop or stroll through the decorated greenery at Dow Gardens.
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City sprawls over from Kansas to Missouri, making for one unique city. The Strawberry Hill Ethnic Museum and Cultural Center celebrates the holiday traditions of the area's many immigrant groups during its Olde World Christmas celebrations, while Union Station's halls are decked for the arrival of Santa on the the Kansas City Southern Holiday Express train. Crown Center Square's 100-foot-tall tree is adorned with 7,200 lights. WinterFest at Worlds of Fun has live shows, costumed characters and activities like ice skating. For those not wanting to leave the comfort of their cars to see dazzling lights, there's the festive Christmas in the Park drive-through display.
Bernville has been home to Koziar's Christmas Village since 1948, when it began with a man decorating his farm for Christmas. Now, the decor comprises a whole charming Christmas town made up of decorated seasonal shops including Santa's post office and workshop and a holiday bakery. Other sights include displays of a manger and the 12 Days of Christmas, a kissing bridge, costumed characters and more.
Los Angeles, California
Though it doesn't look like a quaint, snow-dusted town from a postcard, Los Angeles has pleasant weather so you can enjoy all the holiday festivities the city has to offer. Go shopping at the Grove to see live entertainment, a 100-foot Christmas tree and nightly "snowfall," or visit The Original Farmers Market to shop with a soundtrack of live Dickensian carolers. Go ice skating, see life-size gingerbread houses, visit the area's many decorated theme parks or watch LA's big parades, including the Hollywood Christmas Parade, the Los Angeles Harbor Holiday Afloat and the Rose Parade.
Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia, turns into Christmas Town during the holiday season. The theme park will be aglow with more than 10 million lights. Take a ride on the Christmas Town Express train, watch the musical light show around a 50-foot Christmas tree and pose for pictures with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and his friends. Aside from Busch Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg also decks the halls for the holidays with more than 2,500 wreaths. Take a guided tour to learn about holiday customs in the 18th century, go ice skating at Liberty Ice Pavilion or enjoy the sights and smells of the season at Yankee Candle Village's Holiday Park with over 40,000 ornaments.
Sangjib Min/Newport News Daily Press/MCT
Woodstock, Vermont, is a like a postcard come to life around Christmastime. Aside for being picturesque while dusted with snow, the city is famous for its annual Wassail Weekend. Events include a parade, concerts, craft fairs, a holiday house tour, horse-drawn sleigh rides, a community yule log and a family-style Wassail Feast.
With a population of less than 200, Zoar, Ohio, is a small town with big heart when it comes to the holidays. Historic Zoar Village decorates its landmark buildings for the season, and hosts a weekend celebration featuring a tree lighting, a craft show, a candlelight church service, horse-drawn wagon rides, and visits from Belsnickel, Santa, and Kristkind.
If you're looking for holiday lights, look no further than Denver, which has multiple exciting displays. There's a light show on the City and County Building, Zoo Lights at the Denver Zoo, the Denver Botanic Gardens' annual Blossoms of Light display, and the Denver Parade of Lights. There's also the Holiday Carousel at the Denver Pavilions, ice skating on Evergreen Lake, a walking tour of professionally decorated homes and a Christkindl Market.
Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania, makes the holiday season extra sweet with its celebrations and attractions. Enjoy the Hershey Sweet Lights display from the comfort of your own car. This 2-mile ride has nearly 600 illuminated displays. The park itself is turned into Christmas Candylane with dazzling decorations, breakfasts or lunches with Santa, seasonal rides and shows, and more. Take in the view of the entire park from the Kissing Tower.
Red Wing, Minnesota
Red Wing, Minnesota's annual Holiday Stroll is one jam-packed day full of unique ways to get into the Christmas spirit. Grab a drink at the ice bar, enjoy fire dancers, take a reindeer sleigh ride to see the lights downtown, watch fireworks and a light parade, bid on fantastical decorations at the Festival of Wreaths and go on a scavenger hunt for the Holiday Stroll Medallion hidden around town. Pick up a commemorative ornament to remember the special celebration.
Concord, New Hampshire
The historic town of Concord kicks off the Christmas season with a Christmas Tree Lighting celebration complete with horse-drawn wagon rides and fireworks. Other seasonal entertainment includes a holiday house tour, vintage holiday movie screenings, the Concord Community Chorus' performance of Handel's "Messiah," an Irish Christmas symphony concert and more.
St. Augustine, Florida
One of the most underrated towns in the country, America's oldest city, St. Augustine, is a great destination for Christmas. Admire the Spanish architecture and Nights of Lights, one of the best Christmas light displays in the country, on a horse-drawn carriage ride or a boat tour. Get unique gifts at Christmas markets and craft shows. The city's cool but pleasant winter temperatures mean you can also snag great winter deals in the offseason.
North Pole, New York
North Pole lives up to its name thanks to Santa's Workshop, one of the oldest theme parks in the U.S. Kids will love all the nostalgic park has to offer during Yuletide Family Weekends, including rides, shows, bobsledding, carolers and more. At night, the park becomes a Village of Lights to take in while shopping or making s'mores.
Courtesy of North Pole, NY
Carmel-by-the-Sea is a petite 1-square-mile town known for its fairytale cottages. The city's stores, restaurants and inns offer unique holiday shopping, eats and drinks. The annual tree lighting at Devendorf Park has entertainment and an appearance by Santa, and the Carmel Heritage Society's Inns of Distinction tour allows you to explore lovely properties will enjoying food and wine from local businesses.
Christmas festivities start in the Bavarian-inspired town of Helen, Georgia, the day after Thanksgiving, when Santa and Mrs. Claus light up the town center. During the rest of the month, the city hosts a Christkindlmarkt, a Christmas parade and a Festival of Trees featuring decorated trees and wreaths.
A white Christmas might not be in the forecast, but it sure feels like a lot like Christmas in Andalusia, Alabama, every year come December. This small town's historic courthouse square transforms into Candyland, a free family event with "snow" and light shows, themed cottages for kids to play in, a maze, holiday train rides, tubing and ice skating.
Founded by German immigrants, Fredericksburg combines Old World German traditions with Texas flair. The city erects a traditional Christmas Pyramid in the Marktplatz, and the Pioneer Museum's Kinderfest teaches kids about Christmas customs of the past. Fredericksburg is located in Texas wine country and hosts an annual Christmas Wine Affair with tastings, tours and holiday entertainment. Explore the city's historic homes dressed for the holidays on the Christmas Home Tour, and catch the festive Light the Night Christmas Parade.
Even beach bums soaking up the sun can get into the Christmas spirit in Honolulu. The city has a Christmas parade, and Santa sets up shop in town at his beach house in Ward Village. He makes a stop at the Outrigger Hotel by arriving via outrigger canoe. While other mainland hotels have ice sculptures, the Sheraton Waikiki erects massive holiday-themed sand sculptures. The Polynesian Cultural Center hosts the 12 Days of Polynesia, which includes a "snow day" with fresh snow to play in. Take a trolley tour to see the dazzling Honolulu City Lights, just one of many amazing holiday lights displays throughout the country.
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