Family Travel

22 of the Best Christmas Towns for a Holiday Getaway


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Christmas town getaways"
Christmas town getaways
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson

The holidays can be the most magical time of the year. Nothing highlights this more than the fact that across the globe, people are united in a unique celebratory spirit. Though traditions may vary, that distinctive magical undercurrent of holiday cheer remains the same. Cities and towns glitter with holiday delight and spread an aura of warmth all winter long, with some really going the extra mile for Christmas. These Christmas towns feature over-the-top decorations, spaces that light up all night long, and special events that are guaranteed to make the season extra memorable.

Some families love to spend Christmas away from home. Others, like mine, like to take a quick getaway before the big day to get in the holiday mood. For all of the Christmas movies that spotlight joyful, ambitious characters pursuing holiday adventures, going on a trip this time of year can place you and your family as the central characters in your very own Hallmark movie. What better way to invite your family’s personalities to come alive and spark novel holiday memories, than experiencing a new town and its culture together? No matter how you decide to celebrate this year, here are some of the best Christmas towns across the U.S., Canada, and a few in Europe that go all out for the occasion.

22 of the Best Christmas Towns for a Holiday Getaway

1. Asheville, North Carolina

Milder temperatures in Asheville make winter a great time to explore this cozy mountain town. Anyone who wants to live out a Hallmark movie dream should make a beeline there around Christmas. The Hallmark Channel’s new movie, A Biltmore Christmas, was filmed at Asheville’s iconic Biltmore Estate. During the winter, the mansion and grounds are filled with opulent Christmas decorations for the holidays.

Several locations across town, including Antidote, a 1920s-era craft cocktail bar, are also decked out for the holidays. Omni Grove Park Inn’s National Gingerbread Competition is another draw. Whimsical cabins of candy, gumdrop-adorned castles, and sugar-spun landscapes are on display throughout the resort. Other highlights of Asheville at Christmastime include the North Carolina Arboretum’s Winter Lights exhibit, which brings the gardens to life with over half a million twinkling lights, a rock-climbing Santa rappelling from one of the largest chimneys in the world at Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park, and the Dickens in the Village Festival where visitors can step back in time into A Christmas Carol.

2. Branson, Missouri

Nestled in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, Branson sits right in the middle of the United States. That means it’s within a day’s drive for most of the country. A highlight of Christmas in Branson is visiting Silver Dollar City’s “An Old Time Christmas” featuring more than 6.5 million twinkling lights, Broadway-quality shows with a Branson twist, and festive foods. Branson also turns into a town of Christmas trees during the holidays. There are more than 1,500 Christmas trees on display throughout the town. Participate in a scavenger hunt to find the best and tallest along the town’s Christmas Tree Trail. The Branson Christmas Coalition also holds special events throughout the season. Hotels throughout Brason get in on the fun too. The Ozarker Lodge hosts an Old Fashioned Christmas for guests and Big Cedar Lodge holds tree-lighting ceremonies, family campfires, and visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

3. Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville is best known as Music City, and the town comes alive with the sounds of Christmas during the holidays. The Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium hold incredible concerts all year long. However, during the holidays they showcase the sounds of the season, from country to classics to pop. Music City also lights up during the holidays. Cheekwood Estate and Gardens twinkles inside and out and the Nashville Zoo becomes illuminated all season long. Gaylord Opryland is a must-see as the enormous resort becomes a winter wonderland, complete with enormous ice sculptures, indoor ice slides, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, gingerbread decorating, and more.

4. Oxnard, California

This coastal gem, nestled between Malibu and Santa Barbara, is famed for its stunning Christmas Tree Lane which features festively lit houses and over-the-top decorations. Take the Oxnard Holly Trolley to enjoy the sights while sipping on hot cocoa and munching on Christmas cookies. Another can’t-miss event is Oxnard’s Parade of Lights in the Channel Island Harbor. During this event, visitors watch brightly lit boats parading the harbor. Historic Heritage Square is another must-see for holiday cheer in Oxnard, which is filled with festive Victorian homes and a Gingerbread House Exhibit for the season.

5. Williamsburg, Virginia

Stepping into Williamsburg is stepping back to colonial times. During the holidays, the town is full of yuletide cheer. Experience a Christmas Market and see a festive lighted Boat Parade. Williamsburg offers the chance to experience Christmas as early American settlers did by exploring Christmastide at the Jamestown Settlement. Christmas Town at Busch Gardens is a bespoke experience. Wandering the park decked out with over 10 million lights, riding the Christmas Town Express, and meeting Santa and his reindeer are highlights of the park’s winter festival.

6. Washington, D.C.

Christmas in the nation’s capital is a great way to see familiar sites in a new way. Head to the National Mall to see the National Christmas Tree along with trees representing every state, all while getting a great view of the White House. Then, head indoors to the National Botanic Garden’s annual “Season’s Greetings” exhibition featuring model trains, pretty poinsettias, and other festive holiday decorations. A holiday treat is ice skating among stunning works of art in the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden under twinkling lights. When it’s time to shop, head to historic Georgetown and see the city lit up for the holidays. 

7. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Coeur d’Alene Resort’s annual holiday extravaganza features more than 1.5 million lights, over 250 displays featuring handmade holiday décor, an illuminated firebreathing dragon, one of the largest floating Christmas trees in the world, and more. Revelers to Coeur d’Alene can also hop aboard the Reindeer Express, take a cruise journey to the North Pole, and enjoy characters straight out of a Dickens novel singing Christmas Carols. When it’s time to grab a bite, head to one of the town’s igloos to enjoy frosty cocktails and dinner.

8. Berkshires, Massachusetts

With over two dozen quaint New England towns, the Berkshires is certain to bring holiday cheer to everyone. Normal Rockwell left his mark on the Berkshires, and every year Main Street in Stockbridge recreates his famous scene, Main Street at Christmas. It wouldn’t be a classic Christmas without a light display, and WinterLights at Naumkeag Historic Home and Gardens delivers. The Berkshires is also a great place for snow sports, including skiing, snow tubing, snowshoeing, and more to make Christmas a little more fun.

9. Frankenmuth, Michigan

Frankenmuth is filled with traditional Bavarian homes, a testament to the town’s deep European roots. Every winter, the town creates a traditional German Christmas market called Frankenmuth ChristKindlMarkt, selling everything from handmade gifts to holiday delights. Frankenmuth is home to  Santa’s Reindeer Farm, where children can meet Santa and see some of his reindeer in training. Visitors can also experience Frankenmuth’s Spectacular Musical Tree Show, skate on the festive Frankenmuth Ice Rink, and participate in one of the town’s many holiday events. The town is also home to Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store featuring an array of ornaments, trims, trees, lights, stockings, and collectibles. Anyone who wants to be sure to see it all can ride the Frankenmuth Christmas Shuttle to see all of the town’s best Christmas sites.

10. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Throughout the winter Pittsburgh twinkles with its annual Light Up Night event, adding sparkle to the city’s skyline. Pittsburgh also hosts numerous holiday markets, themed pop-up bars, and family-friendly events. Peoples Gas Holiday Market brings a cherished European tradition to North America with the world’s only approved replica of the Vatican’s Nativity Scene. For more holiday-inspired displays, check out GLOWLAND to see dynamic and interactive installations in the heart of Pittsburgh.

11. Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston is charming all year long but during the holidays it turns into a real-life Charles Dickens scene. Garlands of greenery embellish historic mansions, classic magnolia wreaths hang from the wrought-iron gates along Charleston’s streets, and the trunks of the city’s iconic Palmetto trees twinkle throughout the night. The James Island’s Annual Holiday Festival of Lights features more than two million sparkling lights. Over the holidays, the city comes alive with the sounds of holiday-inspired jazz and festive holiday meals. The city’s hotels offer holiday packages, including the French Quarter Inn, which holds readings of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas from Santa, the melodies of Christmas carolers, and a selection of freshly-baked cookies with milk, which can be enjoyed cozied up next to the fireplace and Christmas tree in the suite’s foyer.

12. Fredericksburg, Texas

Fredericksburg is a classic Texas town, but it holds tight to its German roots. The town was founded by 120 German immigrants in the 19th century and German Christmas traditions are in full swing during Fredericksburg’s Weihnachtszeit celebration all season long. Check out an authentic German Christmas pyramid, ride on the Jolly Trolley, and experience Fredericksburg’s Christmas Night of Lights. Then, visit Deck The Halls at Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farmstead to string popcorn, decorate homemade cookies, learn house to make wreaths and candles, and see how Christmas was celebrated more than 100 years ago. Every night leading up to Christmas, the community gathers to celebrate Christmas with a presentation featuring the story of the town’s German heritage, and holiday carols.

13. Taos, New Mexico

Yuletide in Taos is the quintessential small-town Christmas experience. The celebrations run throughout the holiday season and incorporate several holiday traditions unique to the mountains of Northern New Mexico. One of the best is Las Posadas, which is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter after the birth of baby Jesus. Leading up to Christmas, a procession of the Posaditas visit different houses each night and are sent away until the ninth night when they are finally given posada or shelter. Those along the route decorate their home entrances with farolitos (lanterns) to light the way. Traditional Taos holiday foods include Tamales and biscochitos, which are given to the posadistas. Taos also comes alive with ornament and craft-making with Mrs. Claus and the Festival of Trees featuring 26 exquisitely decorated trees.

14. Leavenworth, Washington

Leavenworth feels like a traditional Bavarian town was transported to Washington State. During Christmas, the town sparkles with so many lights that it has been dubbed The Village of Lights. Throughout the holidays there is entertainment in Leavenworth’s bustling downtown, Christmas crafts, photos with Santa, and more. Just after Christmas, the town keeps the holiday spirit alive with its annual Winter Karnival, harkening back to the 13th Century German tradition of Fasching. LOGE Camps in Leavenworth has snow tubing, a holiday market, and nightly s’mores around the fire pit. There is even Grinch-themed Karaoke.

15. Burlington, Vermont

Each year thousands of people visit the quaint town of Pine Tree, Vermont where the classic movie White Christmas takes place. If you want to visit, there is just one problem—all visits must take place virtually because the town only existed on a soundstage in California where the movie was filmed. Nevertheless, Vermont is a great place to visit to channel White Christmas vibes. One of the best Vermont towns to visit over the holidays is Burlington. It has one of the most charming main streets in the country and a large Christmas market. Unfortunately, no one can guarantee a white Christmas anywhere in Vermont, but snow makes the town all the more charming.

16. Durango, Colorado

Durango is a great ski destination all winter long, but it really comes alive over Christmas. It’s also a great spot for other winter sports that will make the holidays special, including dog sledding, snow tubing, and fat biking. For a truly magical Christmas experience, take a sleigh ride through town or ride the Polar Express through the mountains.

17. Orlando, Florida

Both Universal Studios and Disney World in Orlando have over-the-top Christmas events with incredible light displays, parades, holiday-themed shows, and more. However, the town is so much more than theme parks. Check out the ICE! Display at Gaylord Palms to see larger-than-life, colorful ice sculptures, or head to JW Marriott Grand Lakes for Santa’s Teddy Bear Tea, stargazing and s’mores, storytime with Mrs. Claus, and tuck-ins by Santa. There is even a kids’ club on site for parents who want to have a kid-free Christmas date.

18. Quebec City, Canada

Every winter, Quebec City transforms into a fairyland Christmas village filled with lights and charming decorations. The city is full of old-world European charm all year long but is breathtaking when covered in snow. The smells of cinnamon, gingerbread, and sausages from the German Christmas Market waft through the city during the holidays. Snowbirds can even stay at the Hôtel de Glace, North America’s only ice hotel. Quebec City embraces both the cold and its French roots during its annual winter celebration, also known as the Bonhomme Carnaval.

19. Toronto, Canada

As the nights get longer in Toronto, the lights get brighter during the holidays. The city boasts more than 60 spots to ice skate, from indoor rinks to quaint ponds. The city’s Cavalcade of Lights is an annual event that boasts larger-than-life illuminated holiday displays and the city’s official Christmas tree. Shop at Toronto’s Bentway Christmas Market which features the work of more than 120 Toronto artists. Restaurants throughout the city make holiday specials with a Canadian twist, including The Drake Hotel’s Festivus Dinner featuring Maple-Bourboned brined and smoked turkey breast.

20. Bray on Thames, United Kingdom

The U.K. has no shortage of charming Christmas towns for a jolly holiday, including Bray on Thames in Berkshire. Just 40 minutes from London, Bray on Thames offers a long stroll along the Thames River to see riverbank cottages decked out for the holidays with twinkling lights and garlands. Visitors can browse the town’s Christmas markets to find the perfect gift, and ice skate in the lovely Alexandria gardens. The village is also home to several Michelin-starred restaurants which offer special holiday menus. A highlight of a trip to Bray is a stop at Monkey Island Estate. The property, whose 800-year history includes visits from Royalty, sparkles at Christmas.

21. Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw is filled with old-world charm and the city is magical during Christmas. There are classic European Christmas displays throughout the city but the largest spans the length of the defensive walls of Old Town Warsaw. Old meets new with the vibrant neon displays that light up the city all night long. Head to Warsaw’s Old Town Square to ice skate and see the town’s huge Christmas tree. Just outside the city, the Royal Gardens at Wilanów Palace come to life with thousands of illuminated 3-D displays, holiday decorations, and captivating light and sound presentations.

22. Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh’s historic city center comes alive with holiday cheer during Edinburgh’s Christmas celebration. There are traditional Christmas Markets, classic fair rides, live events, and festive food and drink. A highlight of Christmas in Edinburgh is the East Princes Street Gardens Christmas Market. One of the best traditional Christmas markets is located in  East Princes Street Gardens with views of the Edinburgh Castle and the city’s iconic skyline. Hop on Edinburgh’s magical Santa Train to travel through an illuminated winter wonderland. When it’s time to explore the city, travel along Edinburgh’s illuminated walk and enjoy the view of Edinburgh Castle and Old Town. Along the way, stop to take photos in front of illuminated decorations and Edinburgh’s Nativity Scene. The city also hosts silent discos, carolers, and visits with Santa.

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