The 23 Most Magical Christmas Towns in America
Meet the U.S. locales that look like wintertime postcards.
This holiday season, don’t fall into the same pattern of Christmas hibernation (lazing around in a cozy corner of your home all season long). Instead, venture out of the holiday haze and spend your winter break in one of the many transcendentally magical Christmas towns in America. Each location—from a snowy Bavarian town in the Pacific Northwest all the way down to the tropical shores of Florida—serves up some of the most enchanting Christmas experiences, surrounded by idyllic scenery that seems straight from a postcard.
So, if you’re brave enough to step outside of your holiday comfort zone, make the trek to one of these Christmas towns, all of which possess more charm and ambiance than you previously had anticipated from these cities in America—and you’ll be glad that you left the comfort of your couch to experience these cities decorated in lights and Christmas cheer.
Where to fly: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
This Bavarian-inspired town may actually prove to be the best place to head during the holiday season, as this is a city that takes Christmas to a whole new level. If nothing else, you must at least head to Leavenworth to partake in their Christmas Lighting Festival, in which over half a million Christmas lights light up the town, accompanied by themed activities that include sledding, holiday concerts, and cider tastings. If you’re looking to stay in the area for an extended amount of time, the Bavarian-style Christkindlmarkt offers some of the best holiday shopping in the United States, offering unique and handmade gifts for everyone on your Christmas list.
Pro tip: Located in the heart of Leavenworth, the Icicle Village Resort is the perfect winter getaway, with warm ambiance galore and plenty of amenities, like a sports bar, on-site restaurant, and gym.
Santa Claus, Indiana
Where to fly: Louisville International Airport
As its name might suggest, Santa Claus, Indiana, proves to be a big deal during the holiday season. In fact, for those of you who wish to celebrate Christmas all year round, this destination has you covered with year-round Christmas-themed entertainment like the Santa Claus Museum & Village and the Santa Claus Christmas Store, teeming with thousands of unique holiday finds. If you’re looking to visit Santa Claus, Indiana, during December, be sure to do so during one of the first three weekends in that month when the Santa Claus Christmas Celebration puts on a fabulous display of lights, holiday-related activities, and all of the milk and cookies you could ever want.
Pro tip: Located on West Christmas Boulevard, Santa’s Lodge is a great place to rest after a long day of sight-seeing—especially if there are young children in tow. In fact, there’s even a sleigh in the lobby, greeting lodgers as they enter. Along with an indoor pool and endless holiday decorations, this lodge will inspire and delight every kid (and adult) in your group.
Where to fly: Ronald Reagan National Airport
Only minutes away from the heart of Washington, D.C., Alexandria, Virginia, has become a top destination for Christmas aficionados all across the country. A stroll along King Street, with its canopy of twinkling lights and historical buildings, boasts an impressive ambiance, along with a number of unique restaurants and shops. After this landlocked venture, head over to the water to see the Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights which is followed by The District’s Holiday Boat Parade, in which thousands of lights are employed to create a truly festive collection of lights against the water.
Pro tip: Serving up some of the most authentic Cajun and Creole food in the south, RT’s Restaurant in downtown Alexandria is a must for those looking to indulge in all of the finer things that this southern state has to offer.
Where to fly: Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport
Perhaps serving as one of the most picturesque Christmas experiences on the list, a walk through Williamsburg, Virginia, during the height of the holiday season is sure to dazzle anyone—especially those with an affinity for Christmas lights. If you happen to be planning a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, it may behoove you to stop by on December 2 for the Grand Illumination, which sets of a month of holiday-related celebrations in the historical establishment. For an equally impressive lighting display, head to the flagship store of the Yankee Candle Village where Santa’s workshop is always bustling.
Pro tip: For those philosophers and inventors in your life, a trip to the Food For Thought restaurant in Williamsburg is truly unique in its conception, as you’ll find quotes from inventors, scientists, and social leaders on the walls, along with discussion cards placed at each table to promote intellectual discussion.
Where to fly: Lehigh Valley International Airport
A trip to Bernville, Pennsylvania, is actually just a trip to the town’s Koziar’s Christmas Village, which proves to be a truly authentic experience, with travelers and locals alike reveling in the million twinkle lights illuminating the buildings and surrounding valleys. This is a must-see for those who can’t resist stunning displays of Christmas lights.
Pro tip: Set in the Centre Park Historic District, the Overlook Mansion Bed & Breakfast provides a truly captivating stay, complete with 19th-century charm and a large wrap-around porch.
New York, New York
Where to fly: John F. Kennedy International Airport
Though it may prove to be a bit more crowded than the North Pole during the holiday season, New York City, with its avenues of impressive Christmas window displays and bustling shoppers, has the potential to transport you to a higher level of appreciation for the season. To truly appreciate the Christmas season in New York City, take a stroll down Fifth Avenue (preferably with a hot chocolate in tow) and admire the Macy’s shop displays. For those who are a bit more athletically-inclined, going ice skating in Central Park is a must. And finally, if you’re truly looking to indulge in the delights of the season, head to a show—namely, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which never fails to capture the magical quality of the season.
Pro tip: To witness the type of sophistication and elegance that is native to New York City, book your room at the Lotte New York Palace, just one block away from Sak’s Fifth Avenue. Especially during the holiday season, this boutique hotel shines brightly with its 30-foot-tall Christmas tree and troves of decorations.
North Pole, Alaska
Where to fly: Fairbanks International Airport
If you’d rather experience a less crowded version of the holiday, a trip to North Pole, Alaska, with its impeccable scenery and Christmas ambiance is sure to be worth every penny spent. While the city does celebrate Christmas all year round (with a name like that, you can’t disappoint), visiting in December has its perks. For example, the North Pole Christmas In Ice Celebration attracts ice sculptors from all around the world, eager to display their latest creation—which you will also have the opportunity to admire. The Winter Festival also attracts a large number of tourists from all over the world with its impressive firework display and holiday-related activities like trips to the Santa Claus house, which stores the more than 400,000 pieces of mail per year that are sent from children to the North Pole (and, as it turns out, there are actually a small number of volunteers who respond to these letters each year).
Pro tip: Take a break from your Christmas-themed excursion by taking a quick 15-minute detour to nearby Fairbanks, Alaska, where, on a clear night, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Get front row seats to this natural phenomenon by staying at the Borealis Basecamp, a modern geodesic dome offering panoramic views of the sky from your bed.
Where to fly: Albuquerque International Sunport
Another truly idyllic Christmas experience, Durango, Colorado, is home to the Polar Express, a Cascade Canyon excursion that leads travelers on a 26-mile journey through the San Juan National Forest and Animas River in heated coaches. After your journey through the snow-capped mountains, enjoy some Christmas shopping at the shops on Main Ave. or go skiing on the slopes at the family-friendly Purgatory Resort.
Pro tip: After your trip on the famous polar express has concluded, continue on with the theme of the Wild West by staying at the Strater Hotel in downtown Durango, offering a saloon-style bar, theater, and steakhouse—all within a truly historic and elegant building.
Where to fly: Burlington International Airport
A trip to Woodstock, Vermont, during the holiday season can make tourists feel as though they’re stepping back in time. Book your reservation at the historic Woodstock Inn and Resort, which is beautifully decorated with lights and holiday decorations each year. If you want to truly capture the holiday spirit that comes alive in Woodstock during this time of year, be sure to journey there on Wassail Weekend, taking place on December 7th through the 9th this year. During this festive weekend, the city comes alive with the Christmas Parade, various surrounding ski resorts, local shopping staples, and horse-drawn wagon tours.
Pro tip: Venture a bit outside of Woodstock to enjoy Vermont’s beautiful countryside—all on display from the comfort of your own room at the Lincoln Inn & Restaurant, serving up impressive winter landscapes and an impeccable fine dining experience.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Where to fly: Myrtle Beach International Airport
If you’re all for Christmas fun but would rather celebrate the season in warmer temperatures, then Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is the perfect destination for you. Perhaps more than any other location on the list, Myrtle Beach offers a variety of Christmas-themed shows, from The South’s Grandest Christmas Show at the Alabama Theatre to the Legends in Concert Holiday Show, proving that nearly everyone can find some aspect of the holiday season to truly enjoy. Once you’ve indulged in a show (or three), Myrtle Beach offers a large selection of light shows and holiday events such as meals with Santa Claus.
Pro tip: Embrace a beach-themed Christmas adventure by staying at hotel BLUE, where visitors can sip on eggnog from the lazy river or beach, located right outside of the hotel.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Where to fly: Salt Lake City International Airport
Though the town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, brings a large number of tourists into its captivating city throughout every season, its the winter season, with its cheery Christmas celebrations and stunning snowy landscape, that has proved to be one of the more idyllic attractions in America during the holidays. Your first holiday-related pit-stop in Jackson Hole should be the National Elk Refuge, where visitors can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride and admire the impressive language and wildlife. Or, if you’d rather ring in the holidays with a laugh or two, head to the Jackson Hole Playhouse to see the dinner theater’s musical comedy offering for the holiday, “Holidays at the Playhouse.”
Pro tip: For those seasoned skiers looking to conquer more challenging terrain, a stay at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort offers a lively base village and expansive slopes that almost feel like a gathering place for locals and tourists alike in this mountain town.
Where to fly: Springfield-Branson National Airport
For nearly 30 years, Branson, Missouri, has taken the celebration of the holiday season very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that they host a number events, beginning in November and ending on New Year’s Day, that have worked to put Branson on the map as a top Christmas destination. If you’d rather hide out from the cold, experience the stunning light displays all across Branson from the comfort of your car with driving tours like Let There Be Lights! and Trail of Lights. However, if you’re willing to brave the cold, taking part in An Old Time Christmas Festival, boasting cheery excursions like a dazzling display of lights at Silver Dollar City, two live Christmas shows, a thousand decorated Christmas trees, and the Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade.
Pro tip: Calling all Titanic history buffs: a trip to Branson would not be complete without a quick jaunt over to the Titanic Museum, housing 400 pre-discovery artifacts in 20 galleries throughout the space.
Where to fly: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
Known for its charming alpine aesthetic, the town of Helen, Georgia, somehow becomes even more magical during the holiday season. Reign in the holiday season as your ancestors did during the Victorian era by paying a visit to the Hardman Farm Historic State Site, where reenactments take place every Friday and Saturday night in December. If you happen to visit Helen on December 8, the Annual Christmas Parade celebrates the town’s Bavarian roots while also bringing the typical cheer of the season to every person in town.
Pro tip: After a long day of sightseeing, curl up with a book and some eggnog at your own private cabin in the woods, complete with a roaring fireplace and expansive views of the surrounding mountain range.
Where to fly: Denver International Airport
While yes, Aspen is a top skiing destination during the winter months, this town in Colorado also offers a number of other Christmas-related activities that have nothing to do with the surrounding slopes. The annual Winterskol festival, taking place between January 10th and 13th, showcases some of the world’s best ice sculptures, while the accompanying torchlight parade brings a bit of cheer and warmth into the ice-laden activities. If you’re looking to please the younger crowd, paying a visit to the St. Regis’ massive gingerbread resort replica will hold their attention long enough to steal a sip from one of the area’s many delicious breweries.
Pro tip: Sitting at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola in Aspen is The Little Nell—a chic ski resort with impressive sweeping landscapes and all of the winter charm that you could ever desire during the holiday season.
Where to fly: Boston Logan International Airport
As it turns out, Nantucket actually proves to be equally charming during the off-season, when the summertime tourists have vacated and the locals put on a stunning display of holiday cheer throughout the town. Head to this scenic part of Massachusetts during the first full weekend in December to participate in the Christmas Stroll, where you can simultaneously sip on mulled wine, listen to carolers, and shop for unique Christmas gifts. After the stroll has commenced (or if you don’t make it there in time to participate), be sure to stop and take in what has made this area so famous during the holiday season—its hundreds of adorned seven-foot-tall Christmas trees that grace nearly every spare corner of the town.
Pro tip: One of the more recent establishments to crop up in this beachside town is the impressively cozy Greydon House, a boutique hotel that’s made perfect for the winter season with snug furniture tucked around every corner—each making for a great reading nook when you find a moment of alone time.
Park City, Utah
Where to fly: Salt Lake City International Airport
For a guaranteed white Christmas, head to the breathtaking city of Park City, Utah. Further, Park City proves to bear a special small-town charm, combined with access to a plethora of shops, restaurants, and cultural events—especially during the Christmas season. Take a walk down Historic Main Street to indulge in some of the best holiday shopping in the state, surrounded by idyllic scenery both natural and man-made. Revel in the mountain air and holiday cheer by putting on a pair of ice skates and gliding around Park City’s outdoor rink in Park City Mountain Base Area.
Pro tip: Nestled on a hillside, the Torchlight Inn Bed & Breakfast is comfortable and classy, providing a relaxing retreat with its spacious rooms and cozy fireplaces.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Where to fly: McCarren International Airport
While Las Vegas, Nevada, may not be the first place your mind goes to when imagining the idyllic Christmas experience, for years, the city has always provided a colorful and jolly display of holiday cheer. The most impressive display of this cheer might be encapsulated in the impressive display of lights and holiday music at The Bellagio Fountains—and plus, it’s free to the public. Then, after a trip to The Bellagio Fountains, make the short trek to The Bellagio Conservatory, where the South Garden is decorated every year with thousands of lights, poinsettias, and a Christmas tree over 40 feet tall.
Pro tip: Especially if you’re looking to impress a particularly tough crowd, the Treasure Island hotel in downtown Las Vegas is sure to impress even the harshest critics, featuring an array of entertainment (like live shows, shopping, bars, and restaurants) while also providing great amenities intended to relax weary travelers after a long day of sight-seeing (like the spa and salon).
Where to fly: Harrisburg International Airport
More than anything, a trek through Lancaster, Pennsylvania, during the height of the holiday season has the power to turn any grinch into a Christmas fiend. With its impressive display of lights, cheery carolers, decked out historical buildings, and holiday musicians, Lancaster will never disappoint those looking for the most immersive Christmas experience. Whether you’d rather seek shelter from the cold with a visit to Longwood Gardens, or you want to find the true spirit of Christmas within the Kitchen Kettle Village, there’s no doubt why this town is considered one of the top destinations during the holiday season.
Pro tip: After your holiday festivities, sit back and relax at the posh Cork Factory Hotel, a renovated 19th-century factory that boasts amazing brick interiors, a delicious on-site restaurant, and close proximity to downtown Lancaster.
Where to fly: Alexandria International Airport
Natchitoches, Louisiana, aside from housing some of the most breathtaking historic French-Creole townhouses in the country, is also home one of the most famous Christmas festivals in the world—The Natchitoches Christmas Festival. Taking place from November 17th to January 6th, this beloved festival puts a number of local charming shops and restaurants on display, while also providing historical Christmas-themed tours, live music, and a stunning display of lights.
Pro tip: For a true taste of the south, pay a visit to the Cane River Creole National Historical Park, which has managed to artfully preserve the plantations that once dominated this city’s landscape.
Delray Beach, Florida
Where to fly: Palm Beach International Airport
A trip to Delray Beach, Florida, can afford travelers the best of both worlds during the winter season—a sunny, beach-side escape with plenty of holiday-related activities to occupy those wishing to still celebrate Christmas in all of the traditional ways. To truly enjoy the holiday season spent in Delray Beach, you must pay a visit to the town’s 100-foot-tall Christmas tree, displayed proudly in the center of the town. After a visit to the tree, take a stroll around the downtown area for amazing holiday shopping and beach-themed restaurants.
Pro tip: If you happen to be embarking on your holiday adventures with a significant other, then a stay at Crane’s Beach House Boutique Hotel & Luxury Villas is sure to turn up the heat in your relationship—even in the dead of winter. Serving as a full-blown tropical paradise complete with cascading waterfalls and pools, you’ll finally be able to leave the cold of winter behind—at least for a little while.
Where to fly: Bishop International Airport
Similar to Leavenworth, Christmas in Frankenmuth, Michigan, often means incorporating bits of the city’s culture, which is distinctly Bavarian, into the season’s festivities. Frankenmuth also offers a Christkindlmarkt, with shops that pay homage to the town’s Bavarian heritage while also incorporating some essential Christmas-inspired goods like fresh chestnuts and handmade garlands. If you happen to find yourself in Frankenmuth on the first or second Saturday of December, then you could be one of the lucky few to dine with Mr. and Mrs. Claus during breakfast or lunch at Zehnder’s Restaurant.
Pro tip: Fully embrace the Bavarian culture that reigns supreme in Frankenmuth by booking your room at the Bavarian Inn Lodge—a sprawling resort that features Bavarian-inspired cuisine, decor, and even costumed employees.
Where to fly: Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport
For a more historic holiday ambiance, head to Annapolis, Maryland, to indulge in the 18th-century buildings decked out in lights and Christmas decorations. After you’re done walking through the various shops and historic buildings in the downtown area, venture over to the waterfront, where the Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade coordinates its efforts to create a dazzling light display. To capture the best view of the multiple boats lit up with thousands of glittering holiday lights, be sure to do so after dark, when the lights reflect on the water, creating a truly magical scene.
Pro tip: Make your Christmas trek even more history-laden with a stay at the Historic Inns of Annapolis, where you’ll have your pick between three charming buildings built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Not only that, but they are situated right across the street from the idyllic Maryland State House, which looks even more breathtaking during the winter months.
Sierra Madre, California
Where to fly: Bob Hope Airport
Just outside of Pasadena, California, lies the city of Sierra Madre, providing the idyllic backdrop for a truly traditional Christmas experience. A walk along Baldwin Avenue, featuring 100-year-old Craftsman homes and antique shops decked out in bows and lights almost feels cinematic in the way it completely charms both the locals and tourists.
Pro tip: If you’re up for a hike after your Christmas-themed excursions, then Sierra Madre provides an outstanding number of recreational trails to choose from—all beautifully showcasing the stunning landscapes surrounding the city.
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