The Best Christmas Towns in America You Should Visit at Least Once
From lighting festivals to giant trees, these are the best Christmas towns in the USA to really get you into the holiday spirit
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The Christmas towns you have to see
Christmas towns are chock-full of all the things we’ve come to associate with the holiday season. But what makes some villages the absolute best? Whether they have the best Christmas light shows, old-fashioned Victorian decorations, fun Christmas activities, things for kids to do—or they’re your best chance for a white Christmas—we share the best Christmas towns in the USA that’ll make you feel as if you’ve stepped into a Hallmark movie.
Some of the Christmas towns on our list exude Old World charm, with German markets, centuries-old traditions or a focus on the history of Christmas, while others feature huge, kitschy Christmas shops and even a giant Santa statue and are perfect for a Christmas getaway. Many are located in regions that get a lot of snow—but some southern locales also made our list. So no matter where you’re located, there’s a “Christmas village near me” to find.
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How we chose the best Christmas towns in the USA
Many of these towns have gained a reputation for going all out for Christmas, so our reporting included recommendations and ratings from travel experts and real travelers, including our own personal experience. Without further ado, these are the best Christmas towns in the USA, from coast to coast.
Best for: Boat lovers
The historic seaport of Mystic isn’t just a summer destination—it’s an exciting place to spend “Christmas in Connecticut” (if you didn’t catch the reference, the classic flick is one of the best romantic Christmas movies). See the Holiday Lighted Boat Parade, in which vessels get decked out for the holidays and parade down the Mystic River. There’s also a Santa Paddle, with Santas on paddle boards, and Santa arriving via tugboat. The Mystic Seaport Museum offers a “holiday bake” workshop of traditional New England treats, a community carol sing and a self-guided tour of their Lantern Light Village, where you can enjoy Christmas light displays, live holiday music, carriage rides and a visit to St. Nick. Meanwhile, the shops and restaurants of Olde Mistick Village will be decorated with more than half a million lights in the Holiday Lights Spectacular, the largest light display in southern New England.
The family-owned—and family-friendly—Taber Inn and Suites stands out among the many B&Bs and inns of Mystic. Set in 12 buildings over two acres, the inn is conveniently located near all the village’s attractions and features the only indoor pool in downtown Mystic.
Best for: Bourbon lovers
Nicknamed “the most beautiful small town in America,” this old stagecoach stop gets into the holiday spirit with southern-style hospitality and Christmas traditions. Light Up Bardstown starts the season with the illumination of Main Street and the town Christmas tree, along with “Christmas Corner,” which has hot cocoa, cookies, balloons and face painting for kids. Throughout December, visit My Old Kentucky Home, an 1818 mansion said to have inspired the classic song, to see it decked out for the holidays. Costumed performers sing the song as you view decorated rooms from Colonial times to the Victorian era to the 1920s. In addition, the town hosts a parade, a “North Pole Express” train ride and a candlelit Christmas Tour of Homes. Seasonal events at the area’s bourbon distilleries add grown-up celebrations to Bardstown’s many holiday happenings.
Step back in time with a stay at the Jailer’s Inn Bed and Breakfast, a circa-1819 jail-turned-hotel centrally located in downtown Bardstown. You can also take tours of the old cells—and even stay in one!—although most of the guest rooms are modern and comfortable.
Santa Claus, Indiana
Best for: Santa kitsch
Santa Claus is one of the most well-known symbols of Christmas. So it’s no wonder that each December, the post office of this St. Nick–themed town receives 400,000 pieces of mail (compared with the usual 13,000 monthly) to be canceled with a special holiday picture postmark. But its post office isn’t the only thing “America’s Christmas Hometown” is famous for: live reindeer, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, light displays, live music and entertainment, and of course, the man himself are all part of the celebrations throughout the season. And no visit to Santa Claus would be complete without stops at Santa’s Candy Castle and the Santa Claus Museum and Village.
Chain hotels abound in the area, but for a touch of local Christmas charm, stay at the holiday-themed Santa’s Lodge right in town. Set on a lovely property overlooking a lake, the hotel features a rustic, vault-ceilinged lobby that’s decorated for Christmas year-round.
Best for: Free events
Who says you can’t have a white Christmas in Alabama? This small city with a name like a fairy-tale country is a great place for a mini vacation in the winter. It transforms its main square to “Christmas in Candyland,” complete with snow-making machines to create a blizzard-like show of flurries each day. We consider Andalusia one of the best Christmas towns in the USA for the additional attractions, from snow tubing and outdoor ice-skating to play cottages and light shows (not to mention the train rides, an inflatable “Arctic” maze, music, hot chocolate, and of course, visits with Santa). Best yet? Most activities are totally free.
Located just minutes from the town square, the Best Western Andalusia Inn offers comfortable accommodations and reasonable prices for your holiday trip. It’s also right next door to Dean’s Cake House, a local bakery noted for its delicious seven-layer cakes.
Best for: Live music shows
Judy Garland might have sung “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in the classic holiday flick Meet Me in St. Louis (side note: Judy’s original version definitely belongs on your holiday playlist), but that city may be outdone by another Missouri town at Christmastime. The tourist hot spot of Branson, “America’s Christmas Tree City,” celebrates all season long with the live music shows the town is known for, plus light displays, parades and Branson Scenic Railway’s Polar Express Train Ride through the Ozark Mountains, departing from the town’s 1905 train depot. The 1880s-themed park, Silver Dollar City, also gets the holiday treatment for An Old Time Christmas festival. Plus, we can’t forget about the various Christmas shows, including Dolly Parton’s Stampede at the Dolly Parton’s Stampede Theater and the Hamners’ Unbelievable Magic Variety Show at Hamners’ Variety Theater.
The comfortable Lodge of the Ozarks is in a prime location on Branson’s “76 Strip,” near many of the live entertainment, music and theater venues the town has to offer. Rustic-themed decor, an indoor pool and a great breakfast add to the hotel’s appeal.
Best for: The top Christkindlmarkt
Nicknamed “Christmas City,” the official moniker for this town was designated as Bethlehem on Christmas Eve 1741. At the town’s famous Christkindlmarkt, which features unique artisans, music, crafts, food and handmade gifts from Germany, you’ll find the best Christmas gifts for everyone on your list. But even beyond the awesome shopping, the town overflows with Christmas spirit. Take a Bethlehem by Night bus tour, carriage ride or walking Christmas Stroll; enjoy a wassail party, a concert or a stage show; and see the decorated Trees of Historic Bethlehem, set among five historic sites.
Stay at the restored 1922 Historic Hotel Bethlehem in the town’s historic district for easy walkability to many holiday events. The well-appointed hotel actually sits on the site where the early settlers named the town on Christmas Eve all those years ago; a mural painted in 1937 on a hotel wall depicts the event, as well as more town history.
Best for: A hygge-inspired holiday
Visiting this captivating Christmas town north of Santa Barbara at holiday time will have you thinking you’ve been transported to the Old World. Founded by settlers from Denmark, the village features architecture (including a windmill!), restaurants and goodies that are distinctively Danish—not to mention that warm and cozy sensibility the Danish call “hygge,” one of the top Christmas traditions to steal from around the world. In December, Solvang goes all out for its Julefest, featuring downtown candlelit caroling tours, Santa’s village, a parade and tree lighting. The festival also takes visitors on a “Nisser adventure” scavenger hunt to find these Danish gnome-like creatures throughout the downtown. Plus, if you’re staying for New Year celebrations, their annual Solvang Christmas Tree burn happens in January (weather permitting). It’s one of the largest fire-safety demonstrations along the California Central Coast and is supervised by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.
The area is teeming with luxury resorts that can be very pricey around the holidays, but Royal Copenhagen Inn offers a reasonable alternative. Located right in the center of Solvang, the traditional inn features Danish architecture and charm.
Best for: Children’s activities
This sleepy southern town comes alive during the holidays, when thousands of twinkling lights illuminate the town’s historic Courthouse Square during the Canton Christmas Festival (also known as the “City of Lights” Christmas festival). The season’s events are especially magical for kids, as they listen to storytime with Mrs. Claus and give Santa their wish list. Youngsters can also enjoy roaming characters, animated holiday displays and rides including a gorgeous carousel that makes viewing the lights all the more beautiful as you twirl. There’s even an annual “Sip-N-Cider.”
Most lodgings in Canton are chain hotels just outside the main part of town, where you can retire after enjoying the holiday festivities. Hampton Inn Canton offers the comforts the brand is known for, at a comfortable price as well.
Best for: Illuminated Christmas set pieces
Perhaps best known as the inspiration and filming location for Steel Magnolias, Natchitoches (pronounced Nack-a-tish) really gets into the Creole Christmas spirit. Although the holiday festival in the movie was actually filmed in August, the event is real, complete with fireworks, a Festival of Lights parade and even Miss Merry Christmas, just like in the film. Now in its 97th year, the seasonal celebration features 300,000 lights and 100 set pieces, along with music, a lighted boat parade, a Christmas tour of homes and a kids fest. Even better, there are fireworks every Saturday until the end of December.
Finding a room in downtown Natchitoches during the festival can be difficult, but if you can, book the comfortable and convenient boutique hotel Chateau Saint Denis, just blocks from the Cane River Lake. You’ll be able to enjoy all the season has to offer right outside your door.
Cape May, New Jersey
Best for: Victorian architecture
This Victorian seaside town gets even more Dickensian with its gaslights and garlands for the season. Even today, the National Historic Landmark city looks like it belongs in vintage photos of Christmases past. Take a trolley ride back in time to see the Christmas lights, hear Ghosts of Christmas Past tales and jaunt along with Mrs. Claus. Candlelight holiday house tours let you see inside Cape May’s historic homes and inns, and you can enjoy a decorated “Winter Wonderwalk” at the Physick Estate, a Victorian house museum.
Cape May has plenty of comfortable accommodations, from B&Bs to seaside hotels such as La Mer Beachfront Resort. The oceanfront location can’t be beat, even in winter, with cozy rooms-with-a-view to snuggle up in after an evening touring the area’s historic buildings.
New York, New York
Best for: A big-city Christmas
OK, we know New York City isn’t exactly a “town” in the traditional sense. But no list of Christmasy places to visit in the U.S. would be complete without it. After all, it’s hard to beat NYC for Christmas spirit: home of the Rockefeller Center tree and the setting for tons of Christmas movies, from Miracle on 34th Street to Elf. Walk down Fifth Avenue to take in the amazing department store window displays; go ice skating in Central Park; visit the Holiday Shops at Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park; take in a performance of the Nutcracker ballet. And we can’t forget the iconic Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
New York accommodations can be pricey, especially around the holidays, but Pod Hotels pride themselves on their affordability. With clean, modern, simple decor, plus an excellent Midtown location just a couple blocks from Times Square, Pod Times Square checks all the boxes.
Taos, New Mexico
Best for: Displays of luminarias
Many New Mexican towns follow the hundreds-of-years-old Spanish tradition of luminarias (also called farolitos), paper bags with candles inside that symbolically light the way through the streets at Christmastime. But nowhere is the practice more intriguing than the small-town Christmas in Taos, in the northern high desert. The blending of Hispanic, Western and Native American cultures is evidenced in month-long Yuletide celebrations with bonfires, fiestas, New Mexican food and local folk art among the adobe buildings of the town. On Christmas Eve, the local ski resorts all have torchlight parades, in which spectators can watch skiers come down the mountain holding flares—this is one Christmas Eve tradition your family will love. Other Christmasy things to do include visiting the holiday pop-up store, Taos Folk, at the Stables Art Gallery, the Sagebrush 2nd Annual Winter Jamboree Arts & Craft Fair at Sagebrush Inn & Suites, and the Festival of Trees at Bataan Hall.
Located right in Taos’s historic district, the Historic Taos Inn features live music, traditional cuisine and a friendly vibe. Just a bit quirky, this adobe building also has wood-burning fireplaces to relax in front of after enjoying the holiday festivities.
Best for: Christmas on Main Street, USA
This village south of Nashville offers one of the best small-town Christmas experiences in the country. Its 16-block historic district, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the most beautiful Main Streets in America—and it looks even more beautiful at holiday time. Take in the Christmas Parade, catch a holiday-themed show at the Franklin Theatre or visit the outdoor Franklin Makers Market for artisan crafts, delicious food and drink, and kids activities. But the town’s signature event is the Dickens of a Christmas festival, which features musicians, dancers and Dickens characters roaming Main Street.
The beautiful Harpeth Franklin Downtown is the only hotel within Franklin itself, but a short drive up the road toward Nashville is the much more affordable Aloft Nashville Franklin. This unique, modern, pet-friendly property offers games in the lobby and live music to energize your holiday.
San Antonio, Texas
Best for: Riverside strolls
San Antonio stands out as one of the best Christmas towns for the unparalleled setting of its River Walk, decorated for the holidays with thousands of lights hung on the bald cypress trees that line the river. The season kicks off with a Holiday River Parade of floats on boats along the river, then the illuminated River Walk is open (and free) nightly. Visitors can also book a caroling boat and belt out their favorite Christmas tunes, or enjoy them from the riverside. The San Antonio Botanical Gardens also have amazing illuminations with their Lightscape walking event, featuring lights set among the gardens as well as a “Cathedral of Light,” 100,000 bulbs in a glorious archway. Food, drinks and s’mores round out the festivities.
Stay at the historic 1859 hotel The Menger, with an awesome location one block from the River Walk, as well as a block from the famous Alamo. Surprisingly affordable, the property includes an amazing lobby atrium that looks fabulous decorated for Christmas.
Best for: A warm-weather Christmas vacation
Say “Mele Kalikimaka” (“Merry Christmas” in Hawaiian) as you combine your Christmas celebration with a tropical vacation in one of the best destinations to visit for a warm Christmas. Honor the heroes of Pearl Harbor while celebrating Hawaiian culture during the Waikiki Holiday Parade. Also not to be missed: Honolulu City Lights, illuminations and displays outside Honolulu Hale (City Hall) that include the 21-foot Shaka Santa and Tutu Mele (Mrs. Claus) statues, who dip their giant toes in the fountain. There’s also an annual wreath exhibit at the Honolulu Hale Lane Gallery and The City Department Tree Exhibition in the Honolulu Hale.
Base your stay in Honolulu to experience all the Hawaiian capital has to offer for the holidays. The beautifully decorated historic Queen Kapiolani Hotel is just a block from Waikiki Beach, with an affordable price tag and amazing views.
Best for: Local history and tradition
This is a very small town with a big history. The traditions of “Nebraska’s Christmas City” began more than a hundred years ago in 1915, when lights were strung on the courthouse dome to honor the arrival of the Civil War veterans organization Grand Army of the Republic. Today, city workers scale the courthouse dome using mountain climbing gear to hang the copper wires, many of which are more than 50 years old. The unique celebration continues with The Light of the World Christmas pageant, written by town residents in 1946. Other events include a kids carnival, Miss Christmas City pageant, elf run and more. If you’re inspired by Minden’s illuminations, you should use the best outdoor Christmas lights for your neighborhood display (maybe skip the climbing gear, though).
Minden’s remote location leaves few lodging options, but Burchell’s White Hill Farmhouse Inn, a small, locally run B&B, is a rare find for those looking for some country hospitality. This peaceful setting will truly make your Christmas Eve a “silent night.”
Best for: Pioneer Christmas spirit
“Arizona’s Christmas City” earns its nickname with tons of events to celebrate the season in this western gem of a town. The Courthouse Lighting, preceded by the annual Christmas parade, illuminates the gorgeous historic building as well as more than a hundred trees in the main square. Other events include the annual musical showcase, a Frontier Christmas Carol performance at Sharlot Hall Museum and a DIY wreath-making workshop at Highlands Center for Natural History.
A restored 1920s hotel, Hassayampa Inn offers historic elegance in the heart of Prescott, with its gorgeous lobby decked out for the holiday. It’s just a short walk to the Courthouse square to see Prescott’s light displays.
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Best for: Christmas light forests
This historic Ozark mountain village celebrates Christmas the old-fashioned way. Its charming downtown shopping district offers unique boutiques, art galleries and craft shops for one-of-a-kind gifts. Events include the Christmas Parade of Lights and a drive-thru forest of more than 300 trees and nativity scenes leading to the 67-foot-tall Christ of the Ozarks statue. The 1886 Crescent Hotel gets into the holiday spirit with Christmas at the Crescent, featuring its own Christmas Tree Forest of lit-up arbors on its 15-acre grounds, plus sleigh rides, ice skating, s’mores around the campfire and more.
With so many holiday happenings at the 1886 Crescent Hotel, it makes sense to stay right where the action is. Overlooking the village itself, the historic Crescent offers amazing views of the Ozark Mountains and luxury amenities at affordable prices.
Best for: Ski vacations
With its mountain villages covered by fresh blankets of snow, Colorado has more than its share of the best Christmas towns, from Aspen and Breckenridge to Telluride, Durango and Ouray. But we most love the ski town of Vail, which has tons of events to celebrate the season. Holiday events include a tree lighting and lantern walk—and of course, tons of snowy activities in addition to skiing, such as snowshoeing, outdoor ice skating and even dog-sledding and snowmobiling nearby. Vail Snow Days may be returning with their four-day festival of live music (to be determined for 2023).
The reasonably priced Sitzmark Lodge at Vail offers comfortable accommodations right in the center of Vail Village. Enjoy the year-round outdoor heated pool and hot tub, then walk right outside your door to stroll the pedestrian-only shopping and dining area, all dressed up for the holidays.
Best for: A Norman Rockwell Christmas
This town may be one of the best family vacation ideas! Step into a Norman Rockwell painting, literally: The buildings of this New England small town are just as they were when Rockwell lived here, and as he depicted them in his 1967 painting “Main Street at Christmas.” As you stroll through this village in the Berkshire Mountains, enjoy holiday shopping and decorations. Other seasonal activities include a holiday marketplace at the Berkshire Botanical Gardens, along with several outdoor light displays, including Winterlights at historic home Naumkeag and NightWood at The Mount, author Edith Wharton’s home. To see more of the artist’s work, visit the Norman Rockwell Museum in town.
Just a few miles up the road from Stockbridge is The Black Swan Inn Lee, a boutique yet affordable hotel on the banks of Laurel Lake. Relax in the tranquil, snowy setting as you gaze over October Mountain State Park, where you can take advantage of all the outdoor winter activities the Berkshires have to offer.
Best for: An authentic old-world Christmas
This Bavarian-inspired town didn’t always look so Old World—it actually used to be more Old West. In the 1960s, after a long period of decline, the former logging town planned a makeover influenced by the alpine landscape. Completing the overhaul, new festivals were created to draw visitors, and Leavenworth slowly grew into a must-see holiday destination. All December, the “Christmastown Village of Lights” features carolers, kids activities, roasting chestnuts and holiday characters. Beautifully lit storefronts and musical performances at the gazebo complete the classic Christmas scene. You might even be inspired to create some DIY Christmas decorations of your own.
Leavenworth is full of charming Christmas chalets, but top honors go to Bavarian Lodge. This German-style hotel features a great location across the street from the festivities, amazing mountain views from its balconies and magical Christmastime decorations, plus whirlpool tubs, fireplaces and a beer pub.
Best for: Christmas “North Pole” cottages
You know a town is Christmas-worthy when one of the cutest Hallmark Christmas movies was filmed there. My Christmas Love was partially shot on Historic 25th Street, in this former railway hub under the shadow of the stunning Wasatch Mountains. But the town is also known for its Christmas Village, a collection of tiny cottages fit for elves, modeled after Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. Visitors can marvel at the holiday displays and lights of each cottage as they wander through the winter-wonderland-like setting. The grand opening of the season follows the Electric Light Parade. Twenty minutes from downtown, enjoy outdoor winter activities at three ski resorts that get 450 inches of snow each year.
The downtown area offers some chain hotels, but for the ultimate in rustic relaxation, head up the road to Snowberry Inn. Located in a tranquil mountain setting, this log cabin B&B is the perfect place to spend a cozy holiday—guests can even enjoy the outdoor hot tub on cold winter evenings. If you don’t live near Ogden, you can still get a taste of Hallmark with the official Hallmark holiday suites!
Best for: Fans of A Christmas Story
There are tons of holiday events going on in downtown Cleveland, but we suggest you visit the modest Tremont neighborhood. It’s home to the A Christmas Story House, the original home used to film the classic 1983 movie. Restored by a superfan to match the interior sets (only the exterior of the house was used in filming), it’s now a near-replica of Ralphie’s house. You can even stay in the house overnight! Visit the museum across the street for more props, costumes and memorabilia from the movie. Then head downtown for holiday musical performances, the Winterfest event and a visit to Public Square, where Higbee’s department store building (in which Ralphie first spots his Red Ryder BB Gun and later has a run-in with Santa) still stands. For more Christmas events, head over to Playhouse Square to see a theatrical performance of A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker. Plus, the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s has a new “Frost” display.
If you don’t stay in the Christmas Story House itself, consider the Drury Plaza Hotel. Just a five-minute walk from Public Square, the hotel in a historic building offers comfortable accommodations with amenities like an indoor pool and a great breakfast to start your day of holiday activities.
North Pole, Alaska
Best for: Northern Lights viewing
Okay, so it might not be the actual North Pole, although it is the closest Christmas town to the real one. But this village near Fairbanks, named after Santa’s Arctic abode, sure enjoys playing up its namesake. The entire city stays dressed up for Christmas all year long, but the holidays are an especially magical time—it’s one of the destinations that are even better in the winter. The Santa Claus House is like one big giant Christmas shop, plus you’ll find a reindeer farm and a giant statue of Santa himself. Travel down streets with names like Snowman Lane, Holiday Road and Saint Nicholas Drive, then be sure to mail your Christmas cards from the local post office to get that North Pole postmark. Your kids can also send letters to Santa at North Pole, Alaska—and receive a response back!
The locally run Hotel North Pole offers plenty of Christmas kitsch—ask about booking the Santa Suite for extra special holiday decor. You may even be able to see the Northern Lights right from your hotel window.
New Castle, Delaware
Best for: Dickensian atmosphere
This Colonial village really gets into The Spirit of Christmas, a town-wide celebration featuring reenactments, museum programs and decorations. Visitors can see the historic homes dressed up for the season—there’s even an annual “holiday greening” event to make wreaths to decorate the well-preserved buildings throughout the charming downtown. Also enjoy this old-fashioned Christmas town with costumed Dickens characters reenacting Victorian Christmas scenes throughout the village.
Although the historic village itself doesn’t have many accommodations, there are several chain hotels nearby that offer a clean and comfortable place to stay while exploring the area. The Fairfield Inn and Suites is conveniently located, with free breakfast and an indoor pool.
St. Augustine, Florida
Best for: Dazzling lights displays
You may not get snow, but you will witness the jaw-dropping sight of the Nights of Lights’s 3 million white bulbs illuminating the city. Based on the Spanish practice of lighting a candle in the window for Christmas, the annual display has become an iconic Christmas tradition of its own. See the lights from a trolley or electric cart, or take to the water and view them by boat. Plane and helicopter rides let you see the spectacle from above. Entertainment, shopping and other seasonal community activities round out the festivities, along with St. Augustine’s annual Christmas Parade, where you’ll see floats, marching bands, horses and St. Nick himself!
Stay at the lovely Southern Oaks Inn, just a block from the center of the action at Plaza de la Constitucíon and two blocks from the Bridge of Lions. Beautifully landscaped, and both family- and pet-friendly, this property is also affordable—a true gem.
Best for: A Bavarian Christmas
Pretend you’re in the Alps instead of the Blue Ridge Mountains in this adorable German-influenced Christmas town, one of the most picturesque small American towns you’d swear were in Europe. As if it doesn’t already look storybook enough, in December it becomes a holiday paradise with its Christkindlmarkt, or Christmas market, with unique gifts, decorations, yummy food, drinks and candied treats. Plus, the annual lighting of the village has Santa and Mrs. Claus arriving on a Bavarian sleigh to greet children as the town is lit up, plus musical performances.
The quirky Heidi Motel is one of the only places in the country you can stay in a windmill! Close to the center of town, with recently updated rooms and in-room jacuzzis, this motel will make for a memorable stay.
Sun Valley, Idaho
Best for: Snow festivals
Enter the Winter Wonderland of ski resort Sun Valley, featuring a snow and ice festival to melt even the most Scrooge-like heart. From Christmas concerts and holiday-sweater parties to high tea and brunch with Santa for the kids, the entire month of December is alive with seasonal activity. But the can’t-miss event is the Christmas Eve celebration, featuring a Skating in Winter Wonderland Ice Show, fireworks and the Torchlight Parade, in which skiers holding torches glide down Dollar Mountain, creating a blaze of light. Expect fireworks, complimentary cookies and hot cocoa.
Sun Valley Lodge has beautiful mountain views and easy access to all the festivities—not to mention a heated pool and on-site spa to warm up after a chilly day.
Best for: Holiday fireworks
With its many 19th-century buildings, B&Bs and antique shops, Galena is one of the most charming small towns for a cozy, old-fashioned Christmas. Set among the snow-covered farmland of northern Illinois, the town has a charming Main Street that gets all decked out for the season. The festivities begin with “Holiday Fire in the Sky,” a fireworks display over the Galena River. See 5,000 candles along streets, stairs and sidewalks during the “Night of the Luminarios and Living Windows,” in which storefronts show off amazing window displays and offer extended hours. Revelers can also enjoy carolers singing the best Christmas songs from the Grant Park gazebo.
Galena boasts many well-appointed B&Bs, but the Aldrich Guest House stands out for its amazing location just a few blocks from Grant Park, as well as scrumptious breakfasts and comfortable rooms. Elegant yet simply decorated, it’s the perfect spot for a cozy holiday away from the crowds.
Valley Junction, Iowa
Best for: A Midwestern getaway
Is this holiday heaven? No, it’s Iowa! One of the best of the state’s many small-town Christmas celebrations happens in the thriving, quaint village of Valley Junction. For four Thursday evenings during the season, the historic railroad town in the West Des Moines area celebrates with Jingle in the Junction. The streets are lined with more than 125,000 twinkling lights, and visitors can enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides, Santa and caroling. Shop for gifts in the 150 unique stores, antique shops and other businesses downtown. It’ll make you feel as if you’re back in your own hometown.
For a touch of upscale luxury during your down-home visit to Valley Junction, stay a few minutes up the road in the heart of Des Moines at the gorgeous, historic Des Lux Hotel. With its affordable rates, along with in-room fireplaces and whirlpool tubs, you’ll want to spend the holidays in the Midwest more often.
Best for: Traditional Swedish celebrations
Known as “Little Sweden,” this town incorporates its Swedish heritage into its brightly colored architecture, Swedish horse sculptures called dalas and, of course, its Christmas celebrations. The St. Lucia Festival, one of the fascinating winter solstice traditions around the world, honors the legend of Lucia, who came to Scandinavia bearing light and food during a famine. Wearing white gowns with red sashes and crowns of lingonberry, young women parade with stjärngosse (star boys) to symbolize life during the dark winter solstice. Traditional Swedish services of Julotta (Christmas morning) and Annandag Jule (the day after Christmas), plus a Juletide concert, are also part of the Scandinavian holiday festivities.
The candy-colored Rosberg House bed-and-breakfast looks just like a gingerbread house. And the lush decor inside—not to mention the delectable breakfasts—are just as sweet. It’s also conveniently located in the center of town, within walking distance of art galleries, shops and restaurants.
Best for: Extended shopping
The historic seaport looks picture-perfect at holiday time. See the lighting of trees during the city’s Grand Illumination. Drive through Lights on the Bay in Sandy Point State Park to view illuminated displays along the Chesapeake Bay. Downtown shops will stay open for Midnight Madness, so you can get your gift-giving on, and the Chocolate Binge Festival offers delectable treats along with music and entertainment. Hear the traditional gathering of the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club and the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra for the singing of Handel’s Messiah. Finally, the Eastport Yacht Club Light Parade features dozens of lit-up vessels sailing through the harbor.
Comprising three separate historic buildings, Historic Inns of Annapolis stands out for its distinctive character and prime central location. Just step outside your door to find all the holiday shopping and events the town has to offer.
Best for: A traditional German Christmas
True, this town is home to the world’s largest Christmas-themed store, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. But that’s not the only reason Frankenmuth makes it onto our list of the best Christmas towns. Settled by German immigrants, “Little Bavaria” looks like you’ve stepped right into a fairy tale—and it’s magical at holiday time. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clop past quaint boutiques, German-influenced architecture and 150 trees decorated with white lights. In the center of it all stands a 40-foot tree decked in red and green lights—the Christmas colors, of course—complete with an illumination and music show. Visit reindeer at a local farm, go ice skating in the outdoor rink or peruse the traditional German Christkindlmarkt.
Where else would one stay in Little Bavaria than the German-inspired Bavarian Inn Lodge? The town’s signature hotel has been delighting visitors for decades, and for good reason, as you’ll really feel you’ve been transported to Europe.
Best for: A white Christmas
With some areas of Minnesota having a near-100% chance of a white Christmas, it’s hard to narrow down the best holiday-worthy town in the area. But Stillwater, the state’s historic birthplace near Minneapolis, has been called one of America’s most picturesque towns, and it’s especially enchanting at holiday time. This river village’s Hometown Holiday event runs throughout the season, with many boutiques, restaurants and other establishments luring visitors with wagonette carriage rides and Victorian carolers. Musical and stage performances, a holiday bazaar at the old courthouse, a fun Twinkle Party in which guests are encouraged to adorn themselves with battery-powered lights, and many more events round out the festivities.
Stay downtown at the 1927 Lowell Inn for proximity to everything happening in Stillwater. Offering both Victorian-themed and modern rooms, the hotel also hosts Holiday Tea weekends in December.
Best for: A mountain escape
The mountains of Montana look even more magical at Christmastime. Thanks to the volunteer “elves” of the artsy town of Bigfork, on the shores of Flathead Lake, “Montana’s Christmas Village” gets a holiday makeover featuring evergreen garlands strewn over the businesses of downtown. Come for winter activities like downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, dog sledding, sleigh rides, ice fishing and the nearby Glacier National Park. Then stay for a holiday art walk, tree lighting, parade and performances of A Touch of Christmas holiday music and other seasonal shows at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts.
After outdoor winter fun or holiday cultural activities, retreat to the quiet Bigfork Mountain Lake Lodge to cozy up by the fireplace or relax in the jacuzzi. Even more gorgeous covered in snow (which it’s likely to be in December), the hotel boasts views overlooking Flathead Lake.
Best for: Animal lovers
Where else can you take sleigh rides to see elk? This mountain town is surrounded by ski resorts, Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge, where you can take a sleigh ride to view the aforementioned wildlife. Downtown, thousands of lights will illuminate the famous elk antler arches, and children can leave a letter for Santa in his mailbox. Santa will also “drop in” from the aerial tram on Christmas Eve. The Friday after Thanksgiving is the Town Square Lighting, and the five Saturdays after Thanksgiving are Small Business Saturdays, where you can shop for one-of-a-kind treasures from local boutiques. Resorts and hotels throughout the area also offer their own seasonal festivities as well.
For an affordable place to stay in this expensive ski town, try the Elk Country Inn. Rustic yet comfortable, the log-cabin-themed accommodations are within walking distance of the antler arches.
Virginia City, Nevada
Best for: A cowboy-themed Christmas
This Old West mining town takes visitors back to frontier times with its monthlong Victorian-inspired Christmas on the Comstock celebration. Stroll through the decorated historic downtown, watch the holiday parade, light show and fireworks, and take the young ones for a ride on a steam train decorated with thousands of lights. Adults can enjoy the “Grinch Made Me Do It” saloon crawl. Seasonal entertainment at the historic Piper’s Opera House includes their Christmas Concert featuring Glen and Molly of Lady and the Tramps.
The spacious Victorian-style rooms of Silverland Inn and Suites continue the Old West theme of Virginia City in the heart of town. Lovely views overlook the desert hills—you may even get a visit from some of Nevada’s wild horses.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Best for: A quintessential New England Christmas
Complete with snowy scenes and covered bridges, New Hampshire’s villages offer the classic Christmas of your dreams. The best of these Christmas towns, though, may be Portsmouth and its Vintage Christmas, which offers a gingerbread house decorating contest, holiday lights parade, musical shows and beautifully decked out Market Square. The waterfront living history museum, Strawbery Banke, features a Candlelight Stroll among decorated historic buildings and outdoor ice-skating. You can even enjoy hot apple cider and a holiday shopping experience at Pickwick’s at the Banke.
The Hotel Portsmouth, within walking distance of the town’s holiday happenings, offers elegant yet simple luxury at reasonable prices in an 1881 Victorian mansion. Claw-foot tubs and fireplaces add to the cozy ambiance.
Seneca Falls, New York
Best for: Old movie buffs
Seneca Falls is said to be the inspiration for Bedford Falls in one of the best Christmas movies of all time, the 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life. All season long, you can marvel at the town’s similarities to the film and even visit a steel bridge identical to the one where George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) contemplates his life. If you’re lucky enough to visit during the It’s a Wonderful Life Festival in December, you can also meet former child actors from the movie, including Zuzu herself, Karolyn Grimes. Musical performances, film history, exhibits, fireworks and a bonfire, drinks and dining events, and the live radio play Merry Christmas, George Bailey are also part of the holiday fun in one of the best Christmas towns in the country.
The town and all its holiday happenings are totally walkable with a stay at the Gould Hotel. The 1920s hotel features richly decorated rooms in a historic building.
McAdenville, North Carolina
Best for: Neighborhood Christmas lights
One of the best small towns in America for Christmas lights, McAdenville, aka “Christmas Town USA,” features 100 decorated homes, plus 265 evergreen trees illuminated with 500,000 colored lights. The town gets 600,000 visitors in December to see the lights by car and on foot, as some roads are closed off to traffic. One lucky elementary student is chosen to flip the switch at the start of the season, then the luminaries go on nightly throughout the month. Visitors can also enjoy the Yule Log Ceremony and the Annual Christmas Town Festival.
After your excursion to McAdenville, drive a few minutes down the road to the charming town of Gastonia and the Esquire Hotel, a revamped 1918 bank that later housed law offices—hence the name of its eatery, Barrister’s Restaurant. The boutique hotel’s decor is top-notch, and be sure to check out the cool rooftop lounge.
Garrison, North Dakota
Best for: Victorian cosplay
For three weekends during the holiday season, the “Christmas Capital of North Dakota” transforms into a Victorian village with its Dickens Village Festival, which has been drawing crowds to the small-town Christmas on the shores of Lake Sakakawea since 1994. Get dressed in your finest period gear (or a street urchin costume will do) for unique events like a fruitcake toss, quilt show, street carolers, double-decker “Queen Elizabus” rides, top-hat decorating and Fezziwig’s Feast. The fun culminates in performances of a theatrical adaptation of A Christmas Carol.
Accommodations in this small town are hard to come by, but visitors can enjoy a relaxing winter retreat by renting a lakefront vacation home with amazing views. You can even enjoy ice-fishing right outside your door.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Best for: Arts and culture
The vibrant cultural community of OKC steps into Christmas with its monthlong Downtown in December celebration, which includes the gorgeous illuminations of Lights on Broadway in historic Automobile Alley. Enjoy window displays, sidewalk events including live music, balloon art and pop-up shops. Outdoor ice-skating, snow tubing at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, a Santa run, performances of classical music and The Nutcracker ballet, and many more events are scheduled. Also check out Treefest at the Red Earth Art Center, in which Native American tribes across the state create ornaments and other artwork that represents their culture.
In keeping with the city’s artsy vibe, stay at the Fordson Hotel. Housed in a historic Ford Model T assembly plant just a five-minute walk to Film Row, with funky modern decor, this is one of the most unique places to spend your Christmas holiday.
Best for: Restaurants and wine
This gold rush town rushes headfirst into the holiday season with its Victorian Christmas celebration. During December, Jacksonville’s National Historic District is draped in greenery and twinkling lights as visitors take in the seasonal beauty and enjoy the Victorian Christmas parade, tree lighting, caroling, musical performances and visits with Father Christmas. Shoppers make their way among charming boutiques, outstanding restaurants and antique stores. Holiday tours of the 1873 Beekman House, home of a wealthy pioneer family, are also offered, along with tastings in the many fine wineries of Oregon.
Stay right downtown at the Jacksonville Inn, which dates from 1861 and features an award-winning restaurant and wine shop with an abundant selection. The lush accommodations reflect the historic elegance of the town, which is on full display during the holidays.
Newport, Rhode Island
Best for: A romantic couples getaway
See how the Gilded Age’s upper crest celebrated the season when visiting the Newport mansions all dressed up for the holidays. Christmas trees, evergreens, wreaths and poinsettias (including a 15-foot poinsettia “tree”) adorn The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House. View them in candlelight for a holiday evening out as well; guests can even splurge for a black-tie Holiday Dinner Dance. The Sparkling Lights at the Breakers event will show off the grounds of the estate with tens of thousands of colored lights throughout. The experiential “Newport Nutcracker at Rosecliff” has the audience moving with the dancers throughout the mansion, as if you’re part of the story. The charming town of Newport has many holiday events as well, with unique shops, tree lighting, musical performances and festive fare at restaurants.
Affordable accommodations in the tony town of Newport are hard to come by, but Beech Tree Inn and Cottage offers a reasonably priced B&B without sacrificing comfort. This quiet and cozy inn is the perfect spot to retreat after a busy day of holiday merry-making.
Charleston, South Carolina
Best for: History buffs
Low-country southern history and hospitality come alive during the holidays when this stunning city becomes even more beautiful. Visit the illuminated display over the water at James Island County Park’s Holiday Festival of Lights. Learn about Charleston’s holiday past with visits to the city’s historic homes, such as this piece of Christmas trivia you probably didn’t know: The poinsettia is named for a Charlestonian, Joel Roberts Poinsett, who brought back the Flor de Noche Buena (“Christmas Eve flower”) from Mexico in the early 19th century. Guests can also listen to traditional African American Spirituals Concerts at Drayton Hall and Gullah Christmas stories at Edmonston-Alston House.
Stay in one of the city’s many charming historic hotels that are beautifully decked out for the holidays, such as the grand Francis Marion Hotel, which dates from 1924. The location in Charleston’s historic district can’t be beat, and the gorgeous interiors of the hotel are jaw-dropping at Christmastime.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Best for: Waterfall chasers
Gorgeous waterfalls of tumbling icy water in the Big Sioux River illuminated by more than 355,000 colored lights are the highlight of the Christmas season in Falls Park, a winter wonderland fit for Santa himself. But that’s not all the city has to offer: Downtown Sioux Falls also gets the holiday treatment with a Parade of Lights and tree lighting, while the town’s thriving entertainment scene offers holiday musical and stage performances. There are plenty of outdoor winter activities in the area as well, including skiing, snow tubing, snowshoeing and ice skating.
A stay downtown at Hotel on Phillips allows visitors to walk to many area holiday attractions, bars and restaurants and offers amazing views over the river. The hotel, which features an art deco style, plays up the building’s history as an early-1900s bank with the original 16-ton vault door as the entrance to the lounge.
Best for: A classic country Christmas
With covered bridges, rolling farmland, horse-drawn sleigh rides and charming country inns, Woodstock, Vermont, is worthy of being named one of the best Christmas towns in the USA. The quaint town of Woodstock hosts a Wassail Weekend, a feast for the senses with holiday lights, the sound of bells from horse-drawn wagons, decorated homes, music, and hot cider and donuts. The celebrations continue during the festive Christmas at the Farm event at Billings Farm rural history museum, with candle dipping, holiday stories, cooking demonstrations, sleigh rides and snowshoe trekking.
Right outside the town, the Jackson House Inn presents a refined historical inn that looks wonderful dressed up for Christmas—especially when covered in snow. Classically elegant rooms feature fireplaces and four-poster beds.
Best for: Colonial Christmas traditions
Historic Colonial Williamsburg observes Christmas as our forefathers did, with tours, stories and strolling costumed performers among the decorated buildings of this living history museum. The Grand Illumination lights up the sky with fireworks displays; other events feature candles, a bonfire, caroling, and fife and drum music. For more old-fashioned holiday celebrations, visit other Colonial towns in the Greater Williamsburg area, including Jamestown and Yorktown; for modern revelries, check out the Busch Gardens Christmas Town events.
Immerse yourself in 18th-century life with an experiential stay in your own private cottage in the Colonial Houses of Colonial Williamsburg. Settle down by the fire in the evening, or stroll along the historic, holiday-decorated streets after the crowds have left.
Lewisburg, West Virginia
Best for: Theater and classical music performances
Named one of the “coolest small towns” in America, Lewisburg has a downtown that’s even more delightful when decorated for Christmas, kicking off with its Holiday Festival, with live music, food, carriage rides and beautiful holiday decorations. The town also has a thriving arts scene, so visitors can check out seasonal performances at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre and Carnegie Hall (one of four venues established by steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie that are still in use as theaters today; the most well-known is in New York City). More Christmas revelry awaits at The Greenbrier resort, including musical events, storytime with Santa and holiday dinner parties.
A stay at The Greenbrier may be pricey, so try the more affordable historic property the General Lewis Inn. Just a couple of blocks from downtown, this 1834 mansion also features a farm-to-table restaurant.
Best for: Families
If you’re looking to visit some of the best Christmas towns in the USA, try endearing Cedarburg. This cute town gets the twinkle-light treatment at holiday time, with specialty shops and eateries looking more inviting than ever. On Festive Friday Eves, luminarias line the streets and revelers can enjoy music, entertainment, wine and food tasting, free trolley rides and an outdoor cookout. Children of all ages can also stop by the pint-size “gingerbread” Santa’s Workshop and enjoy a drive-thru holiday light show.
There are a couple of sophisticated B&Bs in Cedarburg itself, but if you’re coming with the family, stay at the Chalet Motel of Mequon down the road. It’s simple, yet clean and comfortable, and the rate can’t be beat.
Best for: New England beach lovers
This quiet fishing village gets lively at holiday time with its annual Christmas by the Sea festival. In addition to dressing up the boutiques of downtown, the residents take to the beach to celebrate at Perkins Cove. To experience true Maine style, sample chowder at the Taste the Season event; a bonfire, caroling, hay rides, tree lighting, storytelling, ornament making and craft shows are also part of the fun. The Christmas town has even been known to make Christmas trees out of lobster traps!
Ogunquit has many lovely inns, but Anchorage by the Sea stands out for its phenomenal oceanfront location, just a short walk into downtown for all the Christmas activities. Ask for a room with a view to take full advantage of the setting.