With retail stores starting to showcase holiday decorations before most folk even picked out a Halloween costume and holiday-themed movies running non-stop for almost two month prior to the big day, it can be difficult to get into that joyous seasonal spirit. From long lines for that must-have toy on the list to searching for a parking spot at the mall to grumpy salesclerks and shoppers, it is easy to understand how Charlie Brown searched for the true meaning behind the season in Charles Schulz’ “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
If you’ve got a case of the holiday blues, cringe when you hear a carol on the radio or are dreading the upcoming season Grinch-style, it may be time to visit some US destinations that have an abundance of holiday spirit to share. There are spots that do a little bit more than hang wreaths on the door and string lights from the rafters. Many towns and cities across the nation pull out all the stops for the holiday season, transforming their limits into a wonderland worthy of wide eyes and jaw drops. Before you start cheering the Grinch on in his quest to stop Christmas from coming, plan a trip that really gets the ho-ho-ho’s going. To help, we’ve got the 10 best destinations to ignite even Scrooge’s holiday spirit.
New York, New York
The Big Apple is home to the most iconic Christmas tree in the world. It, along with the ice skating rink the Rockefeller Christmas Tree towers over, attracts millions of visitors from late November through the week after New Year’s Day. The tree is just one stop along a NYC Christmas tour that includes Macy’s Santa Land and 34th Street holiday window displays, Bryant Park’s Winter Village, the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden and more.
A visit to the Big Apple during the holiday season is not complete without seeing a performance of the annual Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. From Santa’s arrival at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, the Big Apple is a holiday stop to do at least once.
Chicago is another major city pulling out all the wrappings for the holiday season becoming a Midwestern winter wonderland. Like the Big Apple, there are a lot of fun Christmas activities to get the young and young at heart into the spirit. Shop outdoors at the Chriskindlemarket and forget about being stalking for a parking spot at the mall. Inspired by the open-air markets in Nuremberg, Germany, booths have everything from handmade nutcrackers to beer steins.
Zoolights at the Lincoln Park Zoo is an annual event showcasing light displays, carolers and ice sculptures. Lace up the skates at the McCormick Rink in Millennium Park before heading over to Chicago’s signature Bean for a holiday sing-a-long. There is also sure to be a performance of “The Nutcracker” or “A Christmas Carol” to be had somewhere in the city.
Vermont is a stunner any time of year, but the Green Mountain State is a winter paradise. Woodstock is a quaint village definitely worthy of its spot on this list. It is a place where you can watch the Yule log burn in person before riding in a horse-drawn buggy while snow gently cascades around you.
This New England charmer will melt the Grinch’s heart and yours as you stroll along Main Street, which is lined with enchanting shops and restaurants. Early December features Woodstock’s annual Wassail Weekend. Wassail Weekend welcomes Santa with a huge parade and a list of other holiday-centered events.
Park City, Utah
Main Street in Park City is another picturesque spot decking the halls from top to bottom with sparkling lights and holiday décor against the backdrop of the snow-covered Wasatch Mountains. It’s also one of the few places where you can see Santa’s expert skiing skills. Yes, the big guy in red prepares for his Christmas Eve deliveries by heading down the slopes on December 24.
A 50 year plus holiday tradition in Park City is the Torchlight Parade on Christmas Eve where all the ski and snowboard instructors in town come down the mountain with torches in hand. The procession includes Santa and concludes with cookies and hot chocolate in the village. Park City also hosts the 16-day Snowfest, which features live music and other seasonal entertainment. Snowfest typically starts in the beginning of the month and ends on New Year’s Eve.
Charleston, South Carolina
With all the talk of winter, it can be hard to remember there are some fabulous holiday destinations you do not need to layer up and pull on the snow boots for. There is a lot to love about Charleston regardless of the season and this Southern sensation puts on its holiday best, starting with the three-mile-long Holiday Festival of Lights featuring two million lights strung up in holiday-inspired displays.
The Holiday Festival of Lights begins in early November and runs through New Year’s Day. Experience an old-fashioned plantation Christmas by visiting the stableyards at Middleton Place. Charleston hosts four holiday parades through different sections of the city as well as the Parade of Boats on the Cooper River.
Christmas in the Ozark Mountains is an experience to remember. Branson calls itself America’s Christmas Tree City and certainly does sport a whole host of gorgeously decorated trees and more. This Missouri hotspot doesn’t wait for Thanksgiving to start the holiday fun. It kicks off early in November and runs through New Year’s with a full calendar of parades, drive-through light displays, Christmas shows, and concerts as well as carriage rides and a whole host of holiday events.
Make sure to leave time for a ride on Branson’s Scenic Railroad’s Polar Express to hear Santa read parts of the famous story while you sip hot chocolate and munch on cookies.
Asheville, North Carolina
Another warm weather enchanter is Asheville. This Blue Ridge Mountain city in North Carolina is washed in twinkling lights for the entire holiday season. If you love gingerbread, do not miss the National Gingerbread House Competition at the Omni Grove Park Inn. Last year the sweet competition celebrated its 25th anniversary.
Another must-do is Christmas at the Biltmore, which runs from the first weekend in November through the weekend after New Year’s Day. The Biltmore Estate is a major tourist attraction in North Carolina. Its main house was built by George Washington Vanderbilt II in the late 1800s. Get your Christmas at the Biltmore tickets ahead of time because this is a popular spot during the holidays. There are day and evening tours as well as places to stay on the estate.
Cape May, New Jersey
You don’t have to ask what exit Cape May is on the infamous Garden State Parkway. It’s the last and New Jersey’s jewel at the tip. The holiday season starts early in this Victorian village by the sea, featuring candlelight house tours, ghosts of Christmas past trolley rides and the annual Dickens Christmas Extravaganza. All of Cape May dresses up for the holidays with most of the historic Victorian homes and inns showcasing their own unique holiday decorating styles.
Go shopping at the Washington Street Mall and enjoy refreshments courtesy of the merchants before taking a horse-drawn carriage ride through the town. West Cape May’s annual Christmas parade is held on the first Saturday in December. There are plenty of places to stay from bed and breakfast’s to Congress Hall which celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2016. Be sure to book early for a Cape May Christmas.
When holiday time rolls around, Leavenworth becomes a Bavarian Village complete with a Christkindlmarkt offering German foods, handmade crafts and a lantern parade. Hop on a sleigh ride and take a spin through Leavenworth’s gorgeous forests nestled against a winter mountain backdrop and then stop by the Nutcracker Museum. Magical best describes the holiday decorations adorning the Front Street shops. The Leavenworth Christmas Lighting Ceremony gets all the excitement started when the lights illuminate all at once, making for a spectacular sight.
If you missed “Mystic Pizza,” the cult hit starring a young Julia Roberts you can catch it at the restaurant that inspired the movie. It runs continuously, but Mystic offers more than pizza and 80s nostalgia especially during the holidays. Santa comes to town via the annual Holiday Lighted Boat Parade Thanksgiving weekend. He leaves the sleigh at home and arrives by tugboat instead.
If that sight doesn’t get you in the holiday sprit, take a Lantern Light Tour at the Mystic Seaport. It’s a New England tradition. Stroll through the Festival of Lights at Olde Mystic Village beginning in early December. This fun-for-all-ages event is free and includes complimentary treats and more.