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.
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 29th. 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. But if you only do one thing while in town for the holidays, be sure it’s paying a visit to the Union Square Holiday Market. From November 16th to December 24th you can buy just about anything here.
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. For help planning your ultimate Christmas visit, Nantucket.net is an excellent resource.
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 2nd 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.
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 through December 3rd, 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 can even visit Santa’s house.
Park City doesn’t mess around when it comes to festive celebrations. They start the minute Thanksgiving ends with the Winter Electric Parade. Locals deck out their cars and motorcycles with pretty lights and cruise down Historic Main Street. You can even decorate your rental car and join in the fun. Follow that up with the Park Silly Holiday Bazaar in early December. This festive indoor market is the perfect place to pick up last minute gifts. But the centerpiece of all holiday celebrations is the Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade, the 55th annual, down the mountain on Christmas Evening.
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.
We all know about Gettysburg’s Civil War history, but something that’s left out of the history books is the town’s fantastic holiday traditions. The Gingerbread Celebration and Holiday Mart on December 1st and 2nd is something you must check out. Stick around for a few days and enjoy the Annual Olde Getty Place Christmas Parade. Fill up a thermos of hot apple cider and watch the festivities roll by.
Ho, ho, ho! This town takes its holiday celebrations seriously—just look at the name of the place. There’s town-wide celebrations throughout the first three weekends in December. 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. And before you leave town, make a stop at Santa’s Candy Castle and give into that sweet tooth craving. For more holiday cheer, visit the Spencer County Visitor’s Bureau.
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.
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 24th. Psst! There’s free hot chocolate and cookies.
11. McAdenville, North Carolina
“Christmas Town USA” doesn’t take the holiday season lightly. Don’t miss the annual tree lighting ceremony at the YMCA the first weekend of December. 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.
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’s also an amazing tree lighting ceremony with carolers in the town center.
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 43rd 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.
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.
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 13th to the 17th, boats of all shapes and sizes parade up and down Newport Bay celebrating the holiday season.
The train to Christmas Town departs from Hood River, Oregon, and you better be on it. Make your way to the Mt. Hood Railroad depot and stash the car in the parking lot before purchasing your ticket. Once you arrive in Christmas Town, the cheery staff walks up and down the aisles passing out hot chocolate and cookies, and if you’ve been good you might even be greeted by Mr. Claus himself. After getting back to Hood River, line up on Oak Street and watch the incredible Hood River Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting on December 1. The Christmas spirit is alive and well in this town.
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.
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. Wait no more and go there now.
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?
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!
Are you looking for a perfect Midwestern town to visit during the holiday season? Perhaps a place with a fabulous Christmas market and a list of holiday celebrations that’s a mile long? Look no further than Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The Old World Christmas Market will satisfy all of your holiday needs, and the New Year’s Eve celebrations at the Osthoff will be something to write home about. Better start thinking of some resolutions.
If you find yourself touring through 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 like the tree lighting ceremony in Dock Square, Santa arriving via lobster boat, a Christmas fireworks display, and the annual Pooch Parade. And that’s just a few of them! Please, send pictures.
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!
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.
25. Ogunquit, Maine
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.
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.