The holidays are upon us and you know what that means? Time to explore the enchanting holiday towns across the United States. Enjoying festive scenery is free once you get to your destination. You can judge the rest of your activities based on your budget. Here are the dazzling displays of Christmas spirit we recommend.
Christmas Towns Across the USA
Twinkling Christmas lights, festive displays, traditional carols, smells of bayberry and pine, decorated sugar cookies in holiday shapes, and colorful Christmas trees are some of the things that leave us with “visions of sugarplums.”
Holiday travel is something else I get excited about. There are many cities around the country that will kick your holiday spirit into overdrive. These Christmas towns roll out the red carpet and lure you in with fun (and often free!) attractions and events.
It’s no secret that big urban centers such as Chicago, New York City and Denver go all-out for Christmas, decked in lights and snow. But there are lots of smaller towns in the USA that celebrate the holidays in lights, music and more — even southern cities where the white stuff is sand, not snow.
Here are 13 of our favorite enchanting Christmas towns.
Read More: The Best Christmas Hotels for Families
#1 Leavenworth, Washington
You’ll be as close to a Bavarian (German) Village as you can get in the US with a visit to Leavenworth, Washington during the holidays. The foothills of the Cascade Mountains come alive December 1st with a Winter Wonderland of carolers, sleigh rides, a lantern parade, roasted chestnut vendors, 1.2 million lights, weekly festivals, a traditional Christkindlmarkt, and a massive tree in the center of town Don’t miss the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum with nearly 5,000 items to admire.
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#2 Asheville, North Carolina
The holiday spirit is in the air at the Vanderbilt family’s historic and magnificent home: The Biltmore, in Asheville, North Carolina. Wander through the 55 decorated trees on the Biltmore property or feast on the Christmas fare menu options at its restaurants. Holiday fun doesn’t end at trees and food, though. The town loves to watch Santa Claus rappel Chimney Rock in anticipation for Christmas night.
Over at Grove Park Mansion is a dazzling gingerbread house display. Other fun holiday happenings in Asheville are the Holly Jolly Christmas Trolley tour, Olde World Christmas Shoppe, and the Tweetsie Railroad adventure through the Blue Ridge Mountains where guests will meet Santa in his gingerbread house and much more.
#3 The Palm Beaches, Florida
It doesn’t snow in Florida, but that doesn’t mean they skip the holiday season. Start in Delray Beach with a 100 ft. tall Christmas tree in Old School Square. Notably, Travel & Leisure Magazine ranked it the best in the state of Florida. It has a toy train exhibit to complete the picture. Runners eagerly anticipate the Delray Beach Jingle Bell Jog 5K event, and the Charlie Brown Christmas, at the Kravis Center, is an event everyone will love. Sandi Land Holiday Sand Sculptures (West Palm Beach) is an incredible sandcastle display that sits on the picturesque Intracoastal Waterway.
#4 Natchitoches, Louisiana
It wouldn’t be a Christmas town list if we didn’t include Santa, Miss Merry Christmas and the Christmas Belles from Natitoches, Louisiana. Photo from Cheré Coen.
From mid-November through the first week in January (40 days total), Natchitoches celebrates the Christmas Festival of Lights.It includes live music, 300,000 twinkling lights, historical tours, home tours every weekend, and a huge parade. Santa Claus and his Miss Merry Christmas and Christmas Belles honor Louisiana’s Creole heritage for the 93rd year at this incredible parade. Watch for the festive boat parade, fireworks, carriage rides, live performances, and craft markets in this National Historic Landmark district’s premier holiday event. In addition, check out Christmas in the Park, a newly added holiday wonderland in Natchitoches, and try the meat pies around town.
#5 Grapevine, Texas
The small town of Grapevine brings an incredible 1,400 events to life in 40 days during the holidays. It’s easy to see why Grapevine bills itself as the “Christmas Capital of Texas.” Events include Christmas concerts, movies at the historic Palace Theatre, a Christmas Vintage Railroad North Pole Express train ride and a Parade of Lights. Drop by the grand Gaylord Texan Resort to see the 50 ft. tall rotating tree and life-sized gingerbread house for great Instagrammable photogenic displays. Also, 9° ICE! takes place here with an indoor winter-wonderland of ice slides, sculptures, light shows, and more.
Fun fact: ICE! uses 2 million pounds of ice to create its displays. Grapevine’s Great Wolf Lodge has a holiday event called Snowland. During this event, even hotel rooms can be turned into a Winter Wonderland.
#6 Orlando, Florida
There are many holiday happenings in Orlando, Florida, the theme park capital of the world. See the Lake Eola Park tree lighting ceremony or be amazed by the huge gingerbread house at Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel. Be sure to get your ticket to Disney’s Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party so you can watch the magical snowfall on Main Street USA.
Other fun Magic Kingdom party offerings are holiday-themed parades and stage shows, and seeing Mickey and his friends in their holiday attire. Universal Orlando Resort lures guests in with fun holiday offerings, a special parade, and Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Equally important and family-friendly events in Orlando are SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration and LEGOLAND’s Christmas Bricktacular.
#7 Washington, DC
It wouldn’t be Christmas in America without seeing the National Christmas Tree. Other DC festivities include Georgetown’s GLOW DC exhibit of outdoor light displays, a downtown holiday market, and Holiday Parade of Lights. Live theatre events include A Magical Cirque Christmas, The Illusionists Magic of the Holidays, Disney Jr. Holiday Party, and Sing! An Irish Christmas. Other favorites are Zoo Lights at the National Zoo, Christmas at Washington National Cathedral, Waterfront Kid’s Christmas Pageant, and A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre. Watch for holiday teas, cookie decorating events, and nearly anything you can imagine in the heart of Washington, DC.
#8 Lewisburg, West Virginia
Celebrate the season early with Lewisburg, West Virginia’s Holiday Festival taking place November 23rd and 24th. Here you can enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides, ice-carving demos, caroling, storytelling, and photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
At The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, (America’s resort since 1778) partake in the merriment of the season at the annual Christmas Eve Gingerbread Ball, holiday parties, tree lighting, 60-days of Christmas cheer, and a year-round Christmas store (Christmas Depot). Two of my favorites are hot chocolate by the fireplace and sleigh riding around the immaculate snow-covered grounds.
#9 Frankenmuth, Michigan
Frankenmuth, Michigan is a quaint American town with stately Bavarian architecture and a reputation for celebrating Christmas 365 days a year with its traditional Christkindlmarkt. The town of Frankenmuth has a noteworthy holiday home tour, huge displays, and the world’s largest Christmas store: Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. Bronner’s welcomes two million guests per year. In addition, it is three times bigger than a Walmart store! If it’s Christmas related then you’ll find it at Bronner’s.
After that, pencil in time for dinner with Santa and Mrs. Claus at Zehnder’s Marketplace Restaurant or “Holiday How To” baking and cooking classes.
#10 Jacksonville, Florida
I had to see the cool Christmastime offerings in Jacksonville, Florida to believe it! Situated on Jacksonville Beach is a dazzling display of holiday-inspired lifeguard stations called Deck the Chairs. Holiday enthusiasts can see Elf! The Musical at the locally-owned Alhambra Theatre (with a 3-course dinner, too), two different performances of the Nutcracker Ballet at the Florida Theatre, or hear the Jacksonville Symphony perform Handel’s Messiah at the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts. In addition, get in the spirit at ZOOLights at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and WinterFEST at Adventure Landing. Then, be sure to see the 31st Christmas on the St. Johns River tree lighting ceremony.
#11 Sevierville, Tennessee
A Christmas in the Great Smoky Mountains gateway begins with the annual Smoky Mountain Winterfest Celebration with ice-skating at The Wilderness. A popular event is the 5K (or 1/2 marathon dash) while dressed as Santa in the Santa Hustle Smokies, and checking off holiday wish lists at the Sevierville Tanger Outlets. Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland is the drive-through light show that you may have seen televised in the past. The displays represent the 12 Days of Christmas through a family-friendly, vivid LED light and music show.
#12 Cape May, New Jersey
The lamplighter Christmas tour is a unique way to see area bed and breakfasts adorned in their holiday finest. You can also enjoy the Hereford Lake Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and Christmas parade in Cape May, New Jersey, America’s original seaside resort town. The Cape May Christmas candlelight historic home tour is one of the town’s most anticipated events. It tours several picturesque Victorian inns, hotels, and churches. Two other favorites are Winter Wonderland at Congress Hall with an outdoor shopping village and concerts, and Mac’s holiday trolley rides with ghost tales, a visit from Santa Claus, and a tour of twinkling lights.
#13 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The river city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania comes alive during the holidays with an arsenal of fun. From the Pittsburg Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker at the Benedum Center to the holiday decor at Phipps Conservatory, there is no shortage of events and holiday fun for adults and children. Kennywood (the area amusement park built in 1899) has a spectacular Holiday Lights event with 2 million lights that reflect beautifully in the pond and the tallest Christmas tree in Pennsylvania!
Drive through the fantastic LED light synchronization show at Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland at Big Butler Fairgrounds. Other popular Pittsburgh holiday events are Ice-skating at the MassMutual Ice Rink and shopping the Alpine-style wooden chalets at the Peoples Gas Holiday Market in Market Square.
Where to See the Best Christmas Lights Displays in the USA
These Christmas towns aren’t the only places to celebrate the holidays! These lists of beautiful holiday light displays are sure to include a display near you!