Who can argue with the holiday season? The leaves change colors, snow begins to fall, the best decorations in the world come out, and television stations play the best movies ever made. And across the map, cities and towns of all shapes and sizes celebrate this magical time of year in their own unique ways. Some have multi-day holiday festivals and local shopping markets. Others pride themselves on being home to the brightest candy cane lanes ever seen. To add a little extra cheer to your holiday season, we scoured the country to find the top 25 most festive holiday towns you need to visit at least once in your life.
Candy Cane Lanes are awesome. Whole neighborhoods are lit up in the most wonderful holiday light displays you’ve ever seen. Now, just imagine the same thing, but along a beautiful waterway—and, instead of beautifully decorated houses, it was boats. The 109th annual, 5-night Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade is one such event. From December 19th to the 23rd, boats of all shapes and sizes parade up and down Newport Bay, celebrating the holiday season.
- Stop by the Lido Isle Yacht Club for a cocktail.
- Eat a delicious seafood meal at Harborside Restaurant.
- Hop off at Lido Marina Village and make some new friends.
Nestled in the middle of Berks County, Pennsylvania, the town of Bernville might be the most festive in all of the “Keystone State.” With a population just under 1,000, you’re probably wondering why we think you should visit, but when you set foot inside Koziar’s Christmas Village you’ll know why. It’s like the North Pole has been transported to the middle of Pennsylvanian countryside. Here are some things to keep an eye out for on the Winter Wonderland tour:
- See where all those letters land at Santa’s post office.
- Get romantic with a special someone at the Kissing Bridge.
- Check out where all your kids’ toys are made at the Toy Maker and his toy shop.
- See a hand-built train platform that’s good enough for the Polar Express.
Islands don’t necessarily conjure up images of a winter wonderland, but that’s because you haven’t been to Nantucket during the holiday season. The town is decked out in every kind of decoration you can imagine from candy cane-striped street lights to ornate light displays. Time your visit for the first weekend of December so you can take part in the Nantucket Christmas Stroll. It’s three days of Christmas bliss filled with all sorts of fun events like cookie decorating and holiday raffles.
- Enjoy the 8th Annual Benefit Art Show.
- Don’t miss The Original Nantucket Ghost Walk – Town Route.
- Attend the Cool Yule Holiday Party.
Have you ever seen hundreds of people dressed like Santa Claus race each other? If not, be sure to plan a December trip to Breckenridge, Colorado. Saturday, December 8th is Race of the Santas, which is immediately followed by the Lighting of Breckenridge, a traditional tree lighting that will take your breath away. Stash the car at the nearby resort of your choosing and take in all the festive wonders.
- See the Lighting of Breckenridge tree ceremony.
- Watch furry friends at the Holiday Dog Parade.
- Enjoy Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night” procession.
Is there a better city than New York City to spend the holiday season? We think not. There’s an absurd number of cool things to do and see. Check out the skating rink and tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center on November 28th. Catch a showing of The Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Looking for lights? Drive across the Brooklyn Bridge and park your car near 12th and 84th streets. Go for a stroll through Candy Cane Lane in Dyker Heights in Brooklyn. These people really go all out for the holidays.
- Revel in the Union Square Holiday Market from November 15th to December 24th.
- Check out the 5th Avenue Holiday Windows Display.
- Skate Wollman Rink in Central Park.
This town knows how to do Christmas. Heck, it’s named after the place Santa lives. Check out the North Pole Winter Festival, December 1st and 2nd, where you can see a firework show, take part in caroling, enjoy a tree and candle-lighting ceremony, and a host of other fun stuff. Hey, you may even meet Santa.
- See the crowning of the King and Queen of the North Pole.
- Visit Santa’s house.
Fröhliche Weihnachten! That means Merry Christmas in German and you better get used to hearing it on the regular when you visit the awesome Christkindlmarket in Chicago. Get yourself a giant pretzel or a foot-long bratwurst and be sure to wash it down with a cold stein of lager. After you’ve stuffed yourself silly at the market, take a walk down the Magnificent Mile that’s been transformed into an incredible Candy Cane Lane.
- Skate on the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink.
- Check out the holiday traditions at the Museum of Science and Industry.
- Watch the lighting of the Christmas tree in Millennium Park.
What should you do during the holidays in Hershey, Pennsylvania? You should go to Hersheypark Christmas Candy Lane, that’s what. It’s 121 acres of festive fun. You can take a spin on fun holiday rides, enjoy festive lights and live holiday shows, and have a meet and greet with Santa Claus and his reindeer. Last, but not least, you’ll get to stuff yourself silly with delicious chocolate.
- Enjoy breakfast or lunch with Santa Claus.
- Get a ticket for Hershey Sweet Lights and drive 2 miles of wooded trails that are illuminated with over 600 animated displays.
What’s a New England town on the Atlantic coast that has a wonderful 3-day Christmas By the Sea festival? If you answered Ogunquit, Maine, bravo. Plus, it’s only 30 minutes from Kennebunkport, so you can double-down on Maine holiday towns. Regardless, this lovely town off U.S. Route 1 in Maine puts on one heck of a Christmas party. Park your car anywhere around Main Street and then head over to the Basement Bazaar & Art Sale. Or perhaps you’d be more interested in the Plunge ‘n’ Parade. There’s nothing more invigorating than taking a quick dip in the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of December and then sipping hot chocolate during a parade after.
- Enjoy the Taste and Trees of the Season at a number of local restaurants.
- Do last-minute gift shopping at the Kittery Outlets.
- Fill up a mug of hot chocolate and sit down at Ogunquit Beach for the Christmas by the Sea Bonfire and Fireworks.
If you need to pick up some last-minute holiday decorations, this is the town to do it in. Frankenmuth is home to Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, the biggest Christmas store in America. Located at 25 Christmas Lane, you can buy anything Christmas-related here with the exception of live reindeer. After you’ve loaded the car with every gift imaginable, a great place to kick back and relax is at the Holiday Celebration and Candlewalk on Friday, November 23rd. Psst! There’s free hot chocolate and cookies.
- Eat a meal at the Old Christmas Station.
- Go for a romantic ride with the Frankenmuth Carriage Company.
- Take a cruise on the Bavarian Belle Riverboat.
“Christmas Town USA” doesn’t take the holiday season lightly. Don’t miss the annual tree lighting ceremony at the YMCA on Friday, November 30th. Get there early because the free hot chocolate and kettle corn can go quick. That’s quickly followed by the Yule Log Parade along Main Street the next weekend. Can’t you hear the caroling already? We can.
- Take part in the Christmas town 5K on November 24th.
- Since you’re in North Carolina, eat at Hillbilly’s Barbeque and Steaks.
- Drive around the McAdenville Lake and see the 38 lighted spruce trees surrounding the lake.
Ho, ho, ho! This town takes its holiday celebrations seriously—just look at the name of the place. There’re town-wide celebrations throughout the entire holiday season. Take a tour of the Santa Claus Museum & Village. Believe us, it’s a lot more convenient than traveling all the way to the real North Pole. And since you can’t get enough of the tale of Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, treat yourself to the Santa Claus Land of Lights. The story is told through a brilliant LED light display. It’s unbelievable.
- Treat your sweet tooth to something nice at Santa’s Candy Castle.
- Tee up at the Nightmare Before Christmas Golf Scramble.
- Take the kids to meet real reindeer at Santa’s TOYS.
If we told you there was a town in central Washington based entirely on a Bavarian village you might think we’re kidding. But we’re not kidding. Leavenworth, Washington, should be high on your list of holiday towns to visit this season. As you drive down U.S. Highway 2, you’ll think you’re high in the Bavarian Alps. Start off your journey at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, where over 6,000 nutcrackers are on display. There are also amazing tree lighting ceremonies the Saturdays and Sundays of December 1-2; December 8-9; and December 15-16.
- Explore the Village of Lights.
- Wander around the booths of the Christkindlmarkt.
- Catch one of the Village Voices Christmas Concerts on November 30th or December 7th and 9th.
If you’re thinking about the Finger Lakes region as a perfect place to spend the holidays, then you’re on the right track. Make your way to Skaneateles, New York, and take part in their wonderful Christmas festivities. Every year, the town rolls out the red carpet and treats its locals and visitors alike to a Dickens Christmas. This old-school Christmas festival begins the day after Thanksgiving and runs every Saturday and Sunday until December 23rd. That’s practically a whole month of jolly good times. Some must-sees/dos are listed below:
- Join the Christmas carol sing-along at the Gazebo in Clift Park.
- Hop in a horse-drawn wagon and take a carriage ride.
- Reserve dinner with Dickens and Friends! on Thursday, December 7th at the Mirbeau Inn and Spa.
- Meet Father Christmas on the front porch of the Masonic Temple
Have you ever dreamed of riding on a Polar Express train through the Rocky Mountains? If so, you’re in luck because that’s exactly what you can do in Durango, Colorado, during the holidays. This lovely train ride will take you all the way to Santa’s Village. It runs from mid-November until after New Year’s, so you have no excuse to miss it. In between train rides to the North Pole, check out the 44th Holiday Arts and Crafts Festival at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. Hot cider on a cold night while carolers sing “White Christmas” is hard to beat.
- Attend the old-fashion Christmas Bazar for last-minute gift buying.
- Eat a classic Christmas meal at places like the Mahogany Grille or the Ore House.
- Take a horse-drawn sleigh ride.
You may think your hometown has a great candy cane lane, but wait until you see the display in Vacaville, California. That’s why people from all over the Bay Area flock to this festive town during the holidays. Park the car, grab your thermos of hot cider, and spend a couple hours walking up and down Arlene Drive. You’ll see some of the most intricate holiday decorations this side of the Mississippi. The houses are lit up so brightly, you’ll swear they can be seen from the International Space Station.
- Don’t miss Santa Riding the Rails at the Western Railway Museum.
- Check out the Holiday Tree Lighting in Nut Tree Plaza.
This state doesn’t just go all out for Mardi Gras and Saints games, the holiday season is just as festive. Whether it’s big cities like New Orleans and Baton Rouge or small ones like Natchioches, Christmas is in full swing come December. How serious does this place take the holidays? Well, this year they will be celebrating Natchitoches Christmas for the 92nd consecutive year. So, yeah, this place takes it pretty darn seriously. If you don’t believe us, check out these can’t-miss events during Natchitoches Christmas:
- Take a holiday tour on Thursday, December 6th and the 13th.
- If you want some exercise, sign up for the Natchitoches City of Lights 5K run on Saturday, December 1st.
- Catch live tunes with Music on the Riverbank starting on Saturday, November 17th.
- Take a living history tour on Saturday December 8th and 15th.
If you’re planning on taking a southern road trip during the holidays, be sure to stop in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Their Fantasy Light Festival at Callaway Gardens is a holiday spectacle that must be enjoyed. Not only are there fantastic lighting displays, but there’s also story time with Mrs. Claus, dinner theater shows, and organ concerts. No need to wait, go there now.
- Get dinner and see a live performance of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” on December 22nd.
- Explore the Enchanted Rainbow Forest, the Fantasy in Lights’ newest scene.
- Take a romantic walk through Snowflake Valley.
19. Tomball, Texas
The Germans have perfected the Christmas market game, but the Texas town of Tomball is making the ones in Deutschland proud. Sport a pair of lederhosen and explore all the different vendors selling everything from gigantic salted pretzels to huge glasses of beer. There’s also plenty of singing and dancing shows to keep you entertained throughout the day as well. Don’t you wish it was the holiday season all the time?
- Pretend you’re in Germany when you wander the Tomball German Christmas Market.
- Listen to musical acts like Auf Geht’s Musik and Yellow Rose Children’s Clogging Group at the Telgte Dancehall.
Driving west along Interstate 70 from Denver, Colorado, you’ll come across the town of Georgetown. A lovely town nestled deep in the Rocky Mountains that turns into a premier holiday destination during the Christmas season. Starting in late November, the holiday season kicks off with a Christmas tree lighting celebration at Strouse Park. But the biggest event is the Georgetown Christmas Market, held over the first two weekends of December. What’s the best part of it all? The admission is free!
- Catch the speed reading of “The Night Before Christmas” at the Hamill House.
- Take a Christmas Market Museum Tour that will take you through the Hamill House, Hotel de Paris, and Energy Museums.
Resting at the southern tip of the great state of New Jersey, Cape May is a perfect place to spend the holidays if you want a little beach mixed in. Stroll through the impressive Candy Cane Lane light displays at Congress Hall and take a Christmas Candlelight House Tour. The tours are self-guided walking tours through historic homes, inns, hotels, and churches all done up with proper holiday decorations.
- Attend the West Cape May Christmas Parade the first Saturday of December.
- Experience Hospitality Nights on the Washington Street Mall. Vendors offer free refreshments while you browse for last-minute gift ideas.
- Go for one of MAC’s holiday-themed trolley rides.
If you find yourself touring New England during this upcoming holiday season, the town of Kennebunkport, Maine, should be numero uno on your list of “must-visit places.” Start off your celebration at the multi-day Christmas Prelude event. Take your pick of any number of amazing festivities:
- Check out the Holidays on Ice kickoff party.
- Attend the tree lighting ceremony in Dock Square on November 30th.
- Don’t miss the 13th annual holiday parade.
What isn’t there to do in this city when the holidays roll around? You’ve got the Building Lighting Ceremony at Embarcadero Center, complete with an ice-skating rink. There’s the Union Square tree lighting ceremony downtown that’s a sight to be seen. And last, but not least, there’s The Great Dickens Christmas Fair you must explore—the perfect place to pick up some last-minute gifts.
- See readings of poems by Charles Dickens impersonators.
- Get your picture taken with Santa Claus.
- Dress up in a Victorian costume and join in the festivities.
Pack your best top hat, cane, and monocle because Nevada City’s Victorian Christmas is something you’ll want to be dressed up for. It seems like the whole town comes out for this celebration. There’s free parking at the Nevada County Government Center and a free shuttle will take you to the celebration. There’s Christmas caroling, scores of foods to sample like roasted chestnuts, and the entire downtown district is lighted by gas lamps just like in Victorian times. It’s incredible!
- Check out Victorian singers, bagpipers, and brass bands at various locations throughout downtown.
- Keep an eye out for Nevada City’s famous Walking Christmas Tree.
- Go for a horse-drawn carriage ride.
Peaches. Pines. Bulldogs. Moonshine. Georgia is full of all sorts of goodies, especially in the town of Dahlonega. There’s historic landmarks and vineyards. Boutique clothing stores and antique shops. But above all else it has an epic Christmas festival. This town puts up so many Christmas lights you could practically see it from the International Space Station. Spend a few days in town and check out these awesome events:
- See the Lighting of the Square on November 23rd.
- Watch the holiday parade on December 1st.
- Keep your ears open for nightly caroling.
- Stroll the Christmas Market on Candy Cane Lane on Friday, November 30th.
Parades. Markets. Candy cane lanes. Festivals. Whatever it is you’re looking for this holiday season, the towns and cities listed above will have one if not all of the above. Start the engine on your rental sleigh and hit the road this holiday season.
Header image via Nickolay Stanev/Shutterstock.com