While most towns have their own decorated Christmas tree in the town square and light it up around the start of December, some towns go all-out during the festive season.
Christmastime is a magical part of the year and you should take in a few different places if you like to travel by paying them a visit as the year comes to a close.
That should mean a festive trip to New York City but there are several small towns that offer their own individual take on Christmas.
If you want an unforgettable holiday and an experience to remind you of what Christmas truly means then take a look at our list as it should have something for everyone.
Some of the towns may be close by, others may be a little off the beaten track yet these are 24 of the best places to visit during the Christmas holidays in the USA.
- New York City, New York
- Christmas Town USA (McAdenville), North Carolina
- Cleveland, Ohio
- Santa Claus, Indiana
- North Pole, Alaska
- Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
- Franklin, Tennessee
- Newport Beach, California
- Whitefish, Montana
- Natchitoches, Louisiana
- Duluth, Minnesota
- Leavenworth, Washington State
- Woodstock, Vermont
- Solvang, California
- Vail, Colorado
- Seneca Falls, New York
- Branson, Missouri
- Chicago, Illinois
- Orlando, Florida
- Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
- Stowe, Vermont
- Manistee, Michigan
- Kennebunkport, Maine
- Boston, Massachusetts
For A Modern, Festive Christmas
There are few more modern cities to enjoy Christmas in than New York City yet other cities do provide their own take. Chicago goes big and their festivities even start before Thanksgiving with their light displays.
It may be uncomfortably warm but Christmastime may be the ideal opportunity to visit Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
For A Traditional Christmas
If you want to go back in time for your Christmas then take your pick of some great places. From a Dickens-style extravaganza in Franklin, Tennessee to Bedford Falls from It’s A Wonderful Life in real-life at Seneca Falls.
You could also try a European take on Christmas in Solvang, California. For a more quintessentially traditional experience, head to Woodstock in Vermont or Kennebunkport in Maine. There is also a traditional Christmas weekend held in Stowe, Vermont.
For A Wintry Christmas
Should you insist on snow for your Christmas then there are several places to catch some of the white stuff. These include Chicago, Leavenworth in Washington State, and Boston, Massachusetts.
Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado will almost certainly be covered in snow too during winter. The same can also be said for the ski town of Vail in Colorado.
Then there are the towns that offer a fabulously festive atmosphere along with the snow and Santa. If you have children then try to ensure that you visit the North Pole, in Alaska. You could also visit the big man himself at the town of Santa Claus, Indiana.
For Christmas Lights And Displays
A lot of cities and towns go out of their way to impress with their Christmas lights and displays.
While New York City has Dyker Heights for a set of homes that look like they belong in a Hallmark film, there is Hotel Bethlehem which has more than 35,000 lights alone during the festive season.
Even Newport Beach decorates its boats on their Christmas Boat Parade with over a million lights. Chicago also has its Annual Lights Festival which begins even before Thanksgiving.
Then there is Christmas Town USA, also known as McAdenville which is transformed by its lights and displays. The lighting ceremonies at Leavenworth are incredibly popular and typically attract around 200,000 visitors to the town alone.
Then there are the lights to explore at Mile High City at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. While Natchitoches in Louisiana offers over 300,000 lights, you can also celebrate the history of the city while you are there.
Their version of a Natchitoches Christmas includes fireworks, parades, and 100 set pieces.
Top of the list, like the Swarovski crystal star atop of the huge Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza. New York City is one of the finest cities to visit pretty much any time of the year yet at Christmas it takes on a magical light.
That may be down to the films that are set there during the festive season that showcase the city in all its green, red, and fairy-lit glory. Think Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, Scrooged, or Miracle On 34th Street which always seem to rank highly on Christmas viewing lists.
If you thought Manhattan looked great as it was, imagine it with a light covering of snow. Central Park becomes a winter wonderland and there are more ice rinks than just the one at Rockefeller Center.
This is also the city for Christmas shopping as you could reenact Kevin McAllister’s antics by heading to a huge toy shop. Just remember that Duncan’s Toy Chest was based on FAO Schwarz though you could always grab a lovely cheese pizza all for yourself.
Head to the holiday markets at Union Square and grab a hot chocolate at Bryant Park Holiday Village. The Christmas window store displays on Fifth Avenue are always worth it simply for the WOW factor.
Then there are the holiday lights at Dyker Heights in Brooklyn where you can imagine you are walking into a Hallmark movie.
McAdenville is named Christmas Town USA for the simple reason that it is transformed into a winter wonderland come December. The Charlotte suburb typically has fewer than around 600 residents yet everyone joins in with the festivities.
Ever since the Fifties, seemingly every single house adopts its own holiday displays and puts on their own Christmas show. In fact, over 160 houses become decked out in their finest Christmas decorations.
There is an annual Tree Lighting that has to be seen to be believed. Christmas Town USA understandably loves decorating trees. That usually amounts to more than 200 evergreen trees as the town is adorned with approximately half a million colorful lights.
Make sure you time your visit for the Yule Log Parade and Ceremony that is a great tradition.
If you have seen the classic film, A Christmas Story, then Cleveland during the festive season should look familiar. You can even visit the family home where the film was set and then step in it.
Ralphie’s home still looks iconic yet now there is a museum that you can spend hours in, even longer if you decide to stay the night. Though if you do want to take home a memento, those leg lamps can be bought but they are fragile.
Cleveland really gets going for Christmastime with Winterfest which involves the tree lighting amidst food trucks, carriage rides, pop-up stores, and ice skating. There is also a skating rink at Riverfest complete with an igloo village, beer garden, and Santa visits.
Though if you did want to visit Santa you can head to Higbee’s and see that somewhat terrifying Santa slide. Bring the car for the drive-thru light displays dotted across the city while the zoo has its own holiday lights display.
Of course, a town called Santa Claus is a great place to head to during the Christmas holidays, especially for the postcards. The town dates back to the Twenties and the local post office gets in on the act.
Anyone who wants to send a letter to the big man himself can get a reply from ‘America’s Christmas Hometown’. Aside from the name and the postal hospitality, there are festivities such as a traditional chestnut roasting, a candy castle, and Christmas-themed fireworks.
Spend time with the reindeer exhibits and a drive-through holiday light show called Santa’s Land of Lights, all 1.2 miles of it.
If you and your family truly want to visit Santa Claus then you should head to the North Pole, in Alaska. The quaint town has its own ‘Santa Claus House’, ‘Santa Claus Lane’ and this is another place where you can see some live reindeer.
There is also one of the world’s largest Santa statues and light poles that are shaped to look like candy canes.
This is a great place for photo opportunities, whether with Santa or on Saint Nicholas Drive, Snowman Lane, or Holiday Road though you could stay in a North Pole Cabin retreat.
While many will attest that Christmas belongs at the North Pole, several would say that Bethlehem is a more traditional setting. Certainly, the name of the town is enough to attract an enthusiastic following.
The one in Pennsylvania (Also check out Best Lakes In Pennsylvania) has been nicknamed ‘Christmas City’, and with good reason too. About an hour’s drive from New York City, you can stay at Hotel Bethlehem which has 35,000 lights on display.
During the day, you can take in the popular Christmas market in the Christmas Village for handmade crafts in a market that evokes the traditional European wares.
For a more specifically European Christmas market, head to Christkindlmarkt which is their German-styled market for artisan shopping including nutcrackers and handmade ornaments, magical glass-blowing demonstrations, and live music.
There are also over 1.2 million lights at their Winter Light Spectacular held at Lehigh Valley Zoo.
For a trip back in time, head to Franklin, Tennessee. A lot of the Christmas traditions actually stem from the Victorian era, specifically A Christmas Carol, which was written by Charles Dickens.
To step back into that time, take in the gorgeous Victorian architecture of Franklin while the town’s Dickens of a Christmas festivities fill the streets with the book’s characters, as well as those from Oliver Twist.
If you have always wanted to grumble ‘Bah, humbug’ a la Ebenezer Scrooge then this is the place to do it, amongst a Christmas parade, festival of lights, musicians, and merry-making dancing.
Of course, getting your tan on during Christmas may seem a bit weird (think about those who celebrate Christmas during summer in the Southern Hemisphere) but you should still head to Newport Beach.
This may be somewhat unconventional but a Christmas Boat Parade complete with fireworks and lights may put you right in the mood.
Prizes are given out for such features as originality and best animation while you can expect around 100 boats that sail around Newport Harbor for the full 14 miles for five consecutive nights.
That’s a huge tradition as it remains the biggest-at-sea holiday celebration and one of the longest-running holiday events in the US. Bear in mind that it has been going on for even longer than the Christmas tree lighting at New York City’s Rockefeller Center.
Then there is shopping at Fashion Island and suitably gorgeous houses on Balboa Island where the decorations threaten to upstage the boats that go past them in an unforgettable sight.
Christmas should be a lot colder in the town of Whitefish, Montana, and Christmastime begins on the first Friday in December. This is when the Whitefish Christmas Stroll is held which involves bell ringing, singing, and other festive activities.
You should also expect plenty of snow as this is a mountain town so should be high up on the list if you desire a white Christmas. If you fancy going skiing and warming up with some hot chocolate then head to the Big Mountains which should be covered in snow.
Then, on Christmas Eve, the town has a Torchlight Parade at its Mountain Resort. This is the opportune moment to welcome Santa Claus and wish him well on his journey as the torchlights bring a wonderful sparkle to proceedings.
Another small place to visit during the Christmas holidays is Natchitoches in Louisiana which has its own take on festivities if you want an alternate version. There are still over 300,000 lights and around 100 set pieces to enjoy, though they celebrate the city’s history as the oldest-known permanent settlement amidst the Louisiana Purchase territory.
The celebrations go on for six weeks and cover Christmas from their start in mid-November up to early January. Expect live music, fireworks over their Cane River Lake, parades, and some delicious barbecue shrimp.
If it is required that you see Santa at Christmastime then head to Duluth in Minnesota.
The town has plenty to offer for those who love the festive atmosphere which includes a winter village where local vendors sell their hand-crafted wares while you can warm up by a firepit with a hot beverage.
The main draw is Bentleyville which has a huge walk-thru light display though the holiday train ride that goes around Lake Superior is worth it for the views.
If you head to downtown, you should take in the Bayfront Festival Park which should have more than five million lights.
Indulge yourself with some sweet treats like popcorn and cookies with marshmallows you can roast over a fire while you can say hi to Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Leavenworth is a small city yet it sure is magical at Christmastime where you can take a sleigh ride amidst the evergreen trees. During the first three weeks of December, you can see a lighting ceremony every weekend and the city can expect around 20,000 visitors.
Around the Christmas tree in Town Square, you can drink mulled wine, enjoy a glass of hot cocoa and simply soak up the festive vibes.
A lot of the celebrations do have some history to them as back in the Sixties, the leaders of the town decided to invigorate the town’s tourism. This was inspired by Bavaria with their traditional German festivals and it certainly worked.
The town can typically expect around two million visitors a year, with the busiest period being around Christmas which is when you can catch their Village of Lights: Christmastown.
Ensure that you dress for the cold weather though you should visit the Nutcracker Museum and Hat Shop if you need to invest in something warm for your head.
Granted, the town of Woodstock probably needs to be located on a map first yet this is for those who want a quintessentially New England Christmas. Think Little Women or those Hallmark Christmas cards in a charming, snow-covered town.
Take in the charm but stay for the Wassail Weekend which includes twinkling Christmas lights, carriage rides, and suitably decorated homes.
Perhaps you want a European Christmas without having to book a flight. That’s possible in America if you head to Solvang in California.
This may be another town that you need to get out the map for yet when you get there you will feel like you have arrived in another country entirely.
Specifically, Denmark for the Danish-style festive celebrations they call Julefest. Held between late November and covering December, expect displays, twinkling lights, and Christmas treats.
15. Vail, Colorado
You may want to keep that map out to find the ski town of Vail in Colorado. This may seem like the ultimate in winter getaways if you want some skiing, snowball fights and idyllic Christmas strolls.
They have their own winter wonderland, known as Vail Village, which you can visit to take a break from the slops. Then there is Kris Kringle Market for their big tree lighting ceremony.
If It’s A Wonderful Life is one of those Christmas traditions then step into the town that many believe acted as the real-life setting and inspiration for the film. Seneca Falls is often mistaken for Bedford Falls and the town fully embraces its link to the classic film.
It’s still a small place to visit yet the five square-mile hamlet in upstate New York is an ideal trip if you are heading to the East Coast. Indeed, every December, Seneca Falls holds its own festival to celebrate the film.
This involves a movie screening (of course), a parade, and even a meet-and-greet with the remaining members of the cast. There are also museum exhibits and gingerbread house contests to enjoy too.
There are numerous reasons why Branson in Missouri has earned the distinction of being known as ‘America’s Christmas Tree City’.
Seven hundred of them to be exact as that’s the approximate number of evergreen and creative trees that are decked in various colors dotted about town.
You can expect the more creative ‘trees’ to be made from library books, wine bottles, and go-kart tires yet the best ones will be included on the Christmas Tree City Tour.
There is also a Polar Express train that goes through the Ozark Mountains and at Silver Dollar City Amusement Park you can enjoy An Old Time Christmas with over six and a half million lights.
There are also Broadway-esque shows, and around 1,000 decorated trees. You can even go ice skating under their Ferris Wheel.
Chicago goes big for Christmas as seemingly each restaurant and venue has their own plans for the festive season. There are several events that begin even before Thanksgiving with the musical performances at Lincoln Park Zoo and the Annual Lights Festival.
Even The Museum of Science and Industry gets involved with ‘Christmas Around The World’ with 60 trees to demonstrate how various cultures have their own take on the holidays.
Then again, you can attend the Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier, go ice skating at Millennium Park or Maggie Daley Park, or take in their huge outdoor Christmas market which is another German-style Christkindlmarkt.
If you have always wanted to visit an igloo then take in a heated one at The Godfrey Hotel. There is also a Christmas tree exhibition with other holiday activities to enjoy.
19. Orlando, Florida
Disney World is always magical yet at Christmas you can see it decked out with Christmas trees. Santa Claus is also there and you can take in Epcot’s International Festival of the Holidays.
Of course, the rest of Disney World is still available, it just takes on a wonderful festive atmosphere during Christmas.
While you may not see Santa Claus when you visit Rocky Mountain National Park, you may still see some live deer. The park should be covered in snow and you can enjoy some skiing and snowboarding while staying at one of their ski resort spots.
During Christmas week, you can expect several activities to be organized by the park rangers including movie sessions, storytelling, and walks under the moonlight.
Then again, you could take a dip in one of their hot springs, take in a Colorado winter hike, or see their Christmas Parade which is held at Estes Park.
21. Stowe, Vermont
You can take in another ski vacation in Stowe, Vermont where you are pretty much guaranteed a white Christmas. That and mountain views, snow-covered slopes, and a traditional Christmas weekend.
Another traditional take on Christmas can be found in the town of Manistee, Michigan. Just like in Franklin, Tennessee, you can expect to be taken back to the Victorian era in one of the state’s unique celebrations of the holidays.
That includes a whole weekend of activities like the Victorian Sleighbell Parade, complete with those drawn by horses while one highlight will be the 30-foot Christmas tree being pulled by a few of them down River Street.
You can also expect to see carolers dressed in typically Victorian attire and a gorgeous display of luminaries, a Festival of Trees, a 5-kilometer race, and a craft bazaar.
Coastal Maine is well-worth visiting for most of the year, even when the temperature truly drops in winter. At Kennebunkport, you can witness their Christmas Prelude from early to mid-December.
This is a typically New England celebration which includes Christmas markets and a Christmas tree lighting made up of lobster traps. Then there is Santa who arrives at the Christmas Prelude on… a lobster boat.
You can also enjoy historic home tours with many transformed with Christmas decorations. It is also Maine so you can still indulge in lobster rolls from The Clam Shack as well as the range of Christmas treats.
Perhaps we have saved the best until last with Boston, Massachusetts. Yes, New York City may take all the plaudits for Christmas yet Boston seems to have picked the best bits and put them all together.
You will still get the holiday shows and the winter markets but the snowy landscape too. There are over 50,000 lights alone at Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park while you can go ice skating as well as skiing at City Hall Plaza.
The residents are likely to implore visitors to take in a Holiday Cruise, and you simply must at Boston Harbor. Quincy Markets is also a great place to visit in the city for giant trees that are wrapped in lights while enjoying the live music.
Of course, Boston is cold, especially in December, so wrap up warm with some sweaters, big coats, layers, boots, gloves, and hats if you do want to see the Christmas holidays in this marvelous city.
Try to figure out what sort of a Christmas you want before booking travel and accommodation as there are plenty of different types of Christmas you could have in the US.
From an idyllic winter getaway complete with skiing and snowboarding to more traditional fare that takes its inspiration from Europe. Whether that be Victorian England during Dickens’ age or mainland Europe such as Germany or Denmark.
Christmas films are a big part of the festive season so you may want to re-enact your favorite one by visiting the locations.
That could be The Plaza Hotel and Central Park which feature in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York or the city in general as depicted in Scrooged and Miracle on 34th Street.
You could take in the town that inspired Bedford Falls for It’s A Wonderful Life which is Seneca Falls. However, if your standout Christmas film is A Christmas Story then take a trip to Cleveland, Ohio.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you want some sun and vitamin D in the month of December, your best bet is to head to the state of Florida. Just like the McAllister family did in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York though it should be sunny and not raining.
You should specifically head to Key West which is the southernmost city in the country and should be the warmest place with an average temperature of 77°F.
If you want to enjoy Christmas along with some snowboarding and skiing then there are some ideal states. These include Wyoming, Colorado, Vermont, and New Mexico.
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