The “most lovely time of the year” is coming, and locations throughout the globe are getting into the holiday mood. The greatest locations to visit for Christmas are those with cheery decorations and festive activities that capture the holiday spirit — and it doesn’t hurt if there’s also stunning landscape. Not to mention that many of these wonderful Christmas spots are scattered around the country, so you’re just a short drive away from a fantastic December holiday.
These are the greatest locations to travel for Christmas this year, from sunny beaches to winter wonderland ski resorts.
However, owing to persistent COVID limitations and the arrival of the Omicron version, winter travel looks a bit different this year. In December, we normally have our eyes set on Europe (after all, those Christmas markets are pretty epic), but there are plenty of locations to visit in the United States that offer just as much holiday cheer—without the difficulty of crossing international borders during a pandemic.
Whether they’re New England communities with huge fairytale vibes or some of the country’s largest and brightest metropolises, these places are well worth the cost of a domestic plane ticket or road trip. And, let’s be honest, you haven’t really experienced genuine Christmas cheer until you’ve seen it through the gleaming lens of Las Vegas.
From Charleston, South Carolina, to Alaska, these are the top locations to spend Christmas in the United States. Remember, as usual, to research local travel restrictions and vaccine needs before hitting the road this year.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
This December, take advantage of excellent skiing and lovely Christmas celebrations at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Guests may enjoy family-friendly activities such as New Year’s Eve fireworks during the Holiday Roundup, which runs from December 23 to December 31. There are a number of beautiful slopeside hotels to select from, including the luxury Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa and the ski-in/ski-out Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole.
Keep an eye out for the elk antler arches that frame the Town Square in downtown Jackson, which will be lighted up with white lights over the Christmas season. You may also arrange a trip to the Granite Hot Springs Pool, which can only be reached by snowmobile, fat bike, dog sled, or ski for a unique journey that embraces the hot and cold.
Alexandria, just 20 minutes south of Washington, D.C., is a picture-perfect destination to spend the holidays. The Old Town’s row homes and centuries-old brick alleys are even more attractive when decked with snow and Christmas wreaths, and there are plenty of seasonal events to enjoy. The Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights and the annual Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend start off the celebrations along the Potomac River waterfront (December 3 to 4). Try to find Waterskiing Santa along the Potomac River on Christmas Eve.
The one thing to get you in the holiday spirit: Visit neighboring Mount Vernon (George Washington’s old residence), where you can have a lighted guided tour and eat some cider and cookies (upcoming dates include December 10, 11, and 19).
New York, New York
There is nothing quite like Christmas in New York City. Seeing the city decked with dazzling lights and towering trees while shopping for last-minute presents or sipping hot chocolate is really a once-in-a-lifetime experience that everyone should enjoy. You may enjoy a renowned holiday tradition, such as the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and the holiday markets.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is definitely one of the greatest destinations in the country to spend Christmas, with all the light displays and holiday shopping that any vacationer could want, not to mention the wonderful tucked-away position in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A lit-up paradise at the North Carolina Arboretum and the 29th Annual National Gingerbread House Competition at The Omni Grove Park Inn are among the city’s seasonal delights (on display from November 28 to January 2).
Christmas at Biltmore is as beautiful as it sounds, with 100 hand-decorated trees, 10,000 ornaments, and 100,000 seasonal lights attracting guests through January 9, 2022.
Stay at The Foundry, a hotel that launched in 2018 and has a James Beard-nominated chef overseeing its in-house restaurant.
Visit the little village of Bethlehem in Pennsylvania this Christmas. From November 19 to December 19, the city’s German-inspired Christmas City Village and Christkindlmarkt include changing displays by craftsmen, live music, and glass-blowing demonstrations. After you’ve stocked up on handcrafted ornaments and nutcrackers, take a carriage ride around Downtown Bethlehem to see all of the Christmas lights.
The Winter Light Spectacular (until January 1) at the Lehigh Valley Zoo, approximately 30 minutes northwest of Bethlehem, showcases over a million lights and lit sceneries around the zoo.
Bowling Green, Kentucky
You wouldn’t expect to have an Arctic experience in southern Kentucky, but Bowling Green is mixing things up this Christmas season. At the city’s Reindeer Farm, where families can feed reindeer, watch holiday movies, and sip cocoa while writing letters to Santa, the Christmas mood is palpable. (Adults may even partake in wine sampling.) In its second year, the National Corvette Museum will also be illuminated with Twinkle at the Track, a two-mile-long drive-through show with a million lights.
The SoKY Marketplace Ice Rink, an outdoor rink where you can skate with Santa and the Grinch, is the one thing that will get you in the holiday mood.
The Lodge at Olde Stone, which opened in mid-2019, has 12 charming, Kentucky-inspired rooms as well as a restaurant offering Southern cuisine.
Branson, who acts as a family-friendly younger sister to Las Vegas, goes all out every Christmas season. With 1,500 Christmas trees in and around town, ice skating under the Branson Ferris Wheel, and multiple drive-through light displays, the Ozark Mountain town turns into a winter paradise.
The annual An Old Time Christmas celebration at the 1880s-themed amusement park Silver Dollar City will get you in the holiday mood. The celebration will stretch until December 30 and will include 6.5 million lights, 1,000 trees (including an eight-story tree), outdoor entertainment, parades, and, of course, rides.
Charleston, South Carolina
If you want to have an authentic Christmas experience but aren’t a lover of chilly weather, Charleston is the place to go. This year’s holiday attractions include the 32nd Annual Holiday Festival of Lights (November 12 to December 30), which will include an estimated two million dazzling lights.
Lean into the Lowcountry tradition of the Holiday Parade of Boats, which travels from Cooper River through Charleston Harbor and on to Ashley River on December 11.
Beaver Creek, Colorado
At Beaver Creek in Colorado, hit the slopes for the ultimate winter wonderland experience. The Christmas season provides festive activities for the whole family to enjoy – see the resort’s schedule for a complete list of holiday events. Stay at The Osprey at Beaver Creek, a RockResort that provides magnificent accommodations and an outdoor heated pool, or reserve one of just 60 rooms at The Pines Lodge, a RockResort that features spectacular views and ski-in/ski-out access.
Chicago knows a thing or two about getting into the Christmas spirit, from its European-inspired Christkindlmarket to its many light displays (and the freezing temperatures). The 51-foot Christmas tree in Millennium Park and cozying up in a heated igloo at The Godfrey Hotel are two must-do activities.
One thing to get you in the holiday spirit: ZooLights (now through January 2), an annual light festival hosted at Lincoln Park Zoo. Visit the event’s schedule to find sensory-friendly hours.
If relaxing on a sunny, white-sand beach is your idea of a “white Christmas,” come to Saint Lucia. From December 21 to January 1, the luxurious Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort, provides a complete schedule of holiday festivities, including visits from Santa, a traditional family Christmas feast, a New Year’s Eve beach blowout, and more. Of course, you may also spend your days relaxing on the beautiful beach or taking advantage of the resort’s various services and activities.
Dallas’ holiday festivities put most northern cities to shame, proving that you don’t need chilly weather to get into the Christmas mood. Holiday at the Arboretum (currently until December 31), a Christmas town with millions of lights, a 50-foot tree with lights that move to music, and visits with Santa Claus, is the most noteworthy. Other things to do in Dallas include driving through the Dallas Zoo Lights tour and skating near to the country’s largest indoor Christmas tree at the Galleria Dallas Ice Skating Center.
This Christmas season, celebrate the enchantment of the holidays in Denver with spectacular activities and millions of dazzling lights. Enjoy a wonderful day of shopping and ice skating downtown, or take the family to the Denver Zoo Lights. Visit the Mile High Tree at the 16th Street Mall (it’s really 110 feet tall, but that’s still fairly spectacular), then get a taste of culture by seeing A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker (see the complete schedule here).
This winter, the Denver Christkindlmarket (one of the greatest German marketplaces in the nation) returns to Civic Center Park, open everyday now until December 23.
Highlands, North Carolina
This holiday season, travel to Highlands, North Carolina, for a quaint, small-town Christmas experience that seems right out of a Hallmark movie. This charming village is nestled in the southern Appalachian Mountains, inside the Nantahala National Forest, and is one of the coziest spots to visit during the holiday season. Old Edwards Inn and Spa and Half-Mile Farm (travel + leisure readers’ favorite hotels) provide plenty of Christmas happiness with festive décor and comfy suites.
If you won’t be able to visit the picturesque streets of London or Munich this winter, you may have a taste of Europe right here in the United States. Solvang is a tiny community in California’s Santa Ynez Valley that was developed in the early 1900s by a group of Danes.
They helped to build this lovely Danish hamlet, which is today recognized for its Danish companies and European architecture. Each Christmas season, Solvang has Julefest, replete with festive activities and décor – check the website for information on this year’s festivities. You may also stay in one of the city’s lovely boutique hotels, such as The Landsby or The Winston.
Stowe, a prominent East Coast ski resort and one of the most picturesque Christmas destinations, is within driving distance of many major northeastern towns. The ski season here is set to begin in November, so if you’re searching for a white Christmas, here is the place to go (and plenty of outdoor activities). Stay at The Lodge at Spruce Peak for stunning mountain views and the town’s sole ski-in/ski-out access.
This December, visit the nation’s capital for the ideal blend of Christmas spirit and fun activities for the whole family. There are so many amazing things to do in D.C., and many of them are free, so you can save your money for some last-minute Christmas shopping.
To escape the cold, visit one of the famed Smithsonian museums, wrap up and visit the National Zoo, or stroll down the National Mall and see the winter decorations (hot cocoa in hand, of course). When it comes to lodgings, The Ritz-Carlton Georgetown is a great choice for convenient access to the city’s most picturesque area.
Florida Keys, Florida
The Florida Keys are a perfect vacation for people wishing to spend the holidays in a U.S. beach resort, with delightfully mild December weather. Take a lovely drive across the Florida Keys, stopping at islands along the way to the famed Key West.
Because December is a popular season to visit these gorgeous islands, you may prefer to stay at Sunset Key Cottages for a more private stay. Guests board a boat from Key West to the 27-acre island to reach this quaint resort. When you arrive, you’ll discover tranquillity only a short ride from Key West’s attractions.
If you’re wondering where to go for unique Christmas festivities, look no further. Every December, this little New England town explodes with holiday enthusiasm during its annual Christmas Prelude, an 11-day celebration that’s about as New England as it gets—one of the major attractions is a lobster trap tree. (This year’s event will take place from December 2 to December 12.) The lobster rolls at The Clam Shack, which are regarded as some of the finest in Maine, will make you forget about gingerbread and sugar plums entirely.
Las Vegas, Nevada
If you thought Las Vegas was beautiful before, wait till you see it decorated for Christmas. Essentially, the whole Strip is transformed into a winter paradise filled with festive activities for the whole family. Rooftop ice skating at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, bright displays outside The LINQ promenade, a 6-foot-tall gingerbread man at ARIA, and a gigantic holiday display—complete with a 42-foot Christmas tree—at the Bellagio’s Conservatory and Botanical Gardens are among this year’s events.
Newport Beach, California
The Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade is one of the country’s oldest holiday festivities, marking its 113th year this year from December 15 to 19. (By comparison, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting has been going on for 89 years.) The “parade” takes place in Newport Beach’s harbor, where yachts, boats, and kayaks have been known to display up to $50,000 in decorations to millions of tourists
North Pole, Alaska
Despite being 1,700 miles south of the genuine North Pole, the small Alaskan village is completely flooded with Christmas happiness. North Pole’s nominal spirit extends to its street names, which include Snowman Lane, Saint Nicholas Drive, Holiday Road, and Santa Claus Lane, which features light posts sculpted like candy canes. The town’s post office, which receives tens of thousands of letters written to Santa Claus each year, is also lovely.
Park City, Utah
If world-class skiing isn’t enough of a reason to visit Park City this winter, the town also happens to be a fantastic spot to spend Christmas. Skiing, fly fishing, snowmobiling, and dog sledding are all popular activities in the former Olympic city, and there are plenty of resorts to warm up in between runs.
Sip hot chocolate and meet Mrs. Claus on a 90-minute train journey with the North Pole Express at Heber Valley Railroad.
There are lots of reasons to visit Seattle over the holidays, apart from the wonderful sight of a Christmas tree atop the Space Needle. Winterfest at Seattle Center (November 26 to December 31) is a one-stop shop for Christmas pleasure, with family-friendly activities including train rides and ice sculpture demos. Snowflake Lane (November 26 to December 24), a nightly light display with caroling and snow machines promising a white Christmas, is situated only eight miles east of Seattle in the town of Bellevue.
Seneca Falls, New York
Although It’s a Wonderful Life was filmed on an RKO set in Los Angeles, the good people of Seneca Falls, New York, believe that their five-square-mile upstate village inspired the genuine Bedford Falls. To demonstrate this, they arrange a variety of vintage-themed events each December. This year commemorates the 75th anniversary of the festival, which will feature special film screenings, gingerbread home competitions, and museum exhibitions.
St. Augustine, Florida
Christmas at St. Augustine is simply spectacular. This year’s holiday season begins with the city’s traditional Christmas Parade and runs through January 31 with the iconic Nights of Lights celebration. During the event, three million small white lights illuminate the Bridge of Lions and 20 city blocks in St. Augustine’s historic center. Because it’s Florida, you won’t need a coat or gloves to watch the whole event.
St. Louis, Missouri
It’s been 77 years since Judy Garland first sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” at the conclusion of Meet Me in St Louis, and the Missouri city has always embraced its place as one of America’s yuletide capitals. Make sure to see Wild Lights at the St. Louis Zoo, the poinsettia display at Jewel Box in Forest Park, and ice skating at Steinberg Rink. For the third year in a row, the Union Station development has added a new Polar Express-themed train ride.
During the Christmas season, Music City is all about—wait for it—music. From now through January 2, experience “Country Christmas” at Gaylord Opryland, which has a plethora of Christmas events, ice skating, and acres of light displays. Or, for a two-mile drive through Jingle Beat, a light display set to remixed renditions of popular Christmas tunes, travel to the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. When in doubt, you can always see a holiday performance at the Grand Ole Opry.
The Hidden Bar will host a Home Alone-themed pop-up event beginning November 24, featuring drinks and nibbles inspired by the film, as well as décor that convert the area into the McCallister home.
New Orleans, Louisiana
We’re not shocked that New Orleans embraces the holiday season, but it still makes us feel warm and fuzzy. NOLA comes alive with events like LUNA Fête, which takes over the Central Business District surrounding Lafayette Square from December 16 to 19. Celebration in the Oaks (November 25 to January 2), a festival with artisans, food and drink kiosks, and decorations decorating the centuries-old oak trees, transforms City Park into a winter paradise for the full month.
The annual Christmas Eve lighting of the bonfires along the Mississippi River’s banks is a seasonal custom that is as “New Orleans” as they come.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is a fantastic destination at any time of year. The city is well-known for its culture, culinary scene, and scenic surroundings, but it also stages a variety of festive activities throughout December. Ski Santa Fe, located less than an hour distant, also offers adjacent winter activities. Book your accommodation at the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe, which provides a variety of festive facilities, or spend the night on the historic Santa Fe Plaza when you stay at La Fonda on the Plaza.
London, United Kingdom
There’s something enchanting about spending the holidays in London. The city truly comes alive during the winter season, with shimmering lights, festive markets, themed pop-up pubs, and various ice skating rinks situated from Hyde Park to the Queen’s House Greenwich. Stay at The Lanesborough in London for a genuinely festive experience, with magnificent holiday decorations, in-suite Harvey Nichols shopping, and the opportunity to have your room entirely decorated with the hotel’s Christmas in Residence program.
Why not spend the holidays at the hometown of Santa Claus? Santa Claus Village and SantaPark are located in Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, and include the man himself, as well as reindeer and other festive activities. The polar landscapes are blanketed with snow throughout the winter, and you may even see the northern lights. There are various hotels that provide the famed glass igloos, which provide amazing views of the northern lights from your own room.
If you’d prefer wear a bikini instead of snowshoes this Christmas season, fly to the Maldives. This might be an ideal time of year for an extended holiday in a far-flung destination, so take advantage of it by visiting the location that tops many tourists’ wish lists. The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island and The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands provide magnificent accommodations as well as activities for the whole family.
Spend your Christmas vacation in this beautiful area of southern Germany. Begin your journey in Munich, where you’ll enjoy mulled wine while strolling around the lovely city. Then go skiing in the German Alps or enjoy the Christmas mood in fantasy tiny villages like ancient Rothenburg — but beware of the creepy Krampus, a terrifying Christmas beast of local tradition.
The Bahamas, a short trip south for East Coasters, is a favorite vacation destination for sun and sand seekers. There’s a great holiday waiting for you in the Bahamas, thanks to a broad selection of lodging choices ranging from resort complexes like Baha Mar with apparently unlimited facilities to more intimate private island resorts like T+L reader favorite Kamalame Cay.