The month of December is a magical time of year, so it’s no surprise that you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to amazing places to spend Christmas in the US. From over-the-top holiday festivals in storybook towns to huge Christmas markets and parades in big cities, there’s bound to be a place for you to have the Christmas experience of your dreams!
One amazing thing about traveling during the holidays is that everywhere you go will be decked out in dazzling lights, charming yuletide decor, and pine-scented Christmas trees. Some destinations really go the extra mile when it comes to making the holidays feel merry, festive, and magical – the way they should be!
With so many amazing US Christmas destinations, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best places to spend the holidays for you. We’ve got a mix of classic white Christmas destinations and warm weather locales, small towns and big cities, so you have plenty of options when it comes to where you want to get into the holiday spirit!
Stick to these fun and unique Christmas bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing vacation this holiday season.
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The 15 Best Places to Spend Christmas in the US
1. Be Transported to Denmark in Solvang, California
Solvang is a charming Danish town in Southern California. It’s just 35 miles north of Santa Barbara, and its storybook spirit makes it the perfect pick if you’re wondering where to spend Christmas.
Solvang is also called the “Danish Capital of America,” and as this moniker implies, you can expect to find authentic European architecture and cuisine in this unique Christmas destination. You’ll even spot recreations of Denmark’s famous landmarks throughout the village!
Over the holidays, Solvang transforms into a classic European Christmas market. All the town’s famous windmills light up at night, along with the rest of the village. Christmas trees line the streets, and shops are overflowing with all the seasonal ornaments, treats, and decor you can imagine.
You have to go to Solvang Bakery and pick up one of their famous gingerbread houses. Then, check out Jule Hus. This local landmark opened in 1967, and it’s full of sparkling, unique, and quirky Christmas ornaments to bring home.
2. See the Northern Lights in North Pole, Alaska
There is a real city called North Pole in Alaska. While it’s located just southeast of Fairbanks and not at the magnetic north pole, the city has firmly embraced the Christmas spirit since its founding in 1953.
The city’s main attraction is the aptly named Santa Claus House. This former post office is now a sprawling Christmas store that’s full of toys and holiday décor. Plus, the letters to Santa that line the walls are a charming touch! You’ll be able to find Santa roaming the aisles, too, ready for any Christmas wishes.
If you’re looking to get outside, a hike through the snow-blanketed landscape of the Chena Lake Recreation Area is a unique experience. You can also enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling trails, and even ice fishing!
Plus, an amazing perk of being so far north is the possibility that you’ll catch the Northern Lights. December is in the middle of aurora season, and North Pole is a prime place to watch the show.
3. Hit the Slopes in Vail, Colorado
For the outdoor enthusiast, Vail, Colorado, has a lot to offer. You might be torn between Aspen and Vail, but we picked Vail for this list because it has a livelier atmosphere and is easily one of the best Christmas destinations in the US!
With a bevy of upgrades to Vail Ski Resort over the past few years, Vail has been improving its already world-class facilities. The runs are perfectly groomed and offer a huge variety of terrain types. From picturesque glades on the mountain to the sprawling Back Bowls to Blue Sky Basin’s backcountry, you’ll find it to be a skier’s paradise.
Vail offers a ton of activities off of the mountain, too! Check out the beautifully lit outdoor ice skating rinks, go on a holiday sleigh ride, or go for a few rounds of Ice Bumper Cars.
Shops and restaurants will be adorned with holiday decorations, and you can book the perfect Christmas dinner right in the village. If the ice and activity start to get to you, the many spas and resorts dotting Vail offer some well-deserved R&R!
4. Get into the Holiday Spirit in New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is hands down one of the best places to go for Christmas. Between the steamboats and streetcars adorned with lights and tinsel, the riverside bonfires, and the historic holiday home tours, you’re guaranteed to have an amazing experience.
The city’s iconic Christmas Eve Bonfires on the Levee originated with the early Cajun settlers in the area. This rich cultural history is responsible for many of New Orleans’ holiday traditions.
Every year, you can see hundreds of bonfires lighting up the river. Plus, there might even be fireworks shows. If it’s your first time in the city, it might be helpful to book a guided tour to navigate the crowds because the event takes place about 30 miles outside of New Orleans.
Another local tradition is the Celebration in the Oaks in City Park, where a train will take you through the park’s 25 acres, filled with centuries-old oak trees draped in lights and a bevy of other holiday displays.
Some of the city’s beautiful historic mansions open up for the public to view. All decked out in grand Christmas opulence, these homes are even more magical at this time of year. You can even carry on the spirit with a traditional multi-course Réveillon dinner, which is served at restaurants across the city just for the holidays.
5. See the Real Bedford Falls in Seneca Falls, New York
Seneca Falls is widely known to be the inspiration behind the town of Bedford Falls, which was portrayed in the classic holiday film It’s a Wonderful Life. The town has embraced its popular depiction and now holds an annual It’s a Wonderful Life Festival – a truly unique way to celebrate Christmas!
The festival generally takes place over three days in early December. The entire town transforms into a real-life Bedford Falls. Movie cast members and special guests attend, plus there are special screenings of the film and exclusive presentations that peel back the curtain on the legendary production.
The town’s Bridge Street Bridge (aka the “It’s a Wonderful Life Bridge”) is a must-visit if you’re a fan of the film, where you’ll also see mementos of loved ones hung up by locals and visitors. Throughout the month of December, the town hosts all sorts of holiday brunches, Christmas caroling, and festive pop-up events, too!
6. Get Festive in Cleveland, Ohio
Cleveland is one of the most underrated places to travel in the US. It’s got beautiful historic buildings, interesting attractions, and delicious food, all without the big city price tag. Plus, when it comes to US Christmas destinations, Cleveland’s holiday events have something to offer all types of travelers.
A holiday concert is always a great way to celebrate yuletide, especially so in Cleveland. The city’s Severance Hall is an art deco masterpiece, and the Cleveland Orchestra is world-class.
If you’re in town in late November, you can start the holidays right at the Winterfest kickoff. This annual event is a lot of fun, featuring live concerts, a pop-up market, and more, all topped off with a fireworks show.
If you miss the Holiday Lighting Ceremony in November, don’t worry. This event is celebrated through February.
Other special events include the winter lights displays at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, the Festival of Trees at the gorgeous Allen Theatre, and an igloo village at Merwin’s Wharf, offering a very unique, private dining experience.
7. Visit ‘Christmas City USA’ in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Bethlehem is one of the best US cities to visit in December. Unsurprisingly, it’s also known as “Christmas City USA.” Between its festive holiday markets, the Live Advent Calendar, and unique history, you’ll have a lot to see and do during the holiday season.
Every year, the city puts up candles in every window – an original local tradition – bathing the streets in a warm glow. There’s also no shortage of light displays, dazzling Christmas trees, and yuletide decor that’ll immerse you in holiday cheer.
The city’s most well-known attractions are the two markets that open up just for the holidays. The Christmas Huts on Main event invokes the German tradition of Weihnachtsmarkt, where you’ll find handmade jewelry, treats, and gifts to bring home.
Meanwhile, Christkindlmarkt is an indoor extravaganza where you’ll be able to browse thousands of artisan goods, enjoy live performances, and even ice skate. This is one of the best holiday markets in the US – don’t miss it!
If that’s not enough, every single day from December 1-23, you can participate in the Live Advent Calendar at the city’s historic 1810 Goundie House, with activities that range from musical acts, arts and crafts sessions, giveaways of seasonal snacks, and more.
8. Be Transported to Bavaria in Leavenworth, Washington
Leavenworth is a beautiful alpine village modeled in the style of a Bavarian village. If you’re looking for a European holiday experience but want to stay closer to home, Leavenworth is easily one of the best places to go for Christmas in the US.
The spectacular Village of Lights event illuminates Leavenworth every year. The sight of trees covered trunk to branch in glowing lights, beaming eaves on every building, and even a horse-drawn carriage draped in ornaments all create a fantastical Christmas experience that you won’t soon forget.
You’ll be able to enjoy holiday arts and crafts along with nightly shows featuring carolers, local choirs, and other musicians.
Of course, you’ll also be able to go shopping at a Bavarian-style Christkindlmarkt, visit the quirky Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, go on a sleigh ride through town, or hit the slopes at Leavenworth Ski Hill. We could keep going, but maybe it’s best you discover this alpine Christmas village for yourself.
9. Experience the Best of San Francisco, California
San Francisco is another one of the top Christmas destinations in the US if you want some big-city excitement and world-class arts and culture all wrapped up in a big holiday bow. There are plenty of events to enjoy, and even typical SF things become a little more magical at this time of year.
First, you have to go to Union Square. Classic Christmas lights line the park, and the surrounding shops are decked out in all their yuletide glory. You can ice skate in the glow of aurora-colored lighting, do the classic Winterwalk, and take a look at the historic buildings nearby.
The Great Dickens Fair in nearby Daly City is an iconic event that is held from November through December and features a ton of food vendors, local goods, and 1800s fair games. Make sure to try the buttered rum, which is a famous seasonal treat.
If you’re bringing little ones, the California Academy of the Sciences offers exclusive Christmas activities, and you might want to pop into the Walt Disney Family Museum for a special exhibit. There’s also a real two-story gingerbread house that the Fairmont Hotel puts up every year. This is also a prime place to warm up with an afternoon tea.
10. Step Back in Time in Williamsburg, Virginia
This small town is known for its pastoral charm, culinary delights, and family-friendly attractions. During the holidays, that charm is multiplied, with snow blanketing the cobblestone streets and wreaths strung up all across town.
Exploring Williamsburg during the holidays involves a lot of eating, shopping, and ice skating. Between local boutiques, fine dining restaurants, the Christmas Market, and the town’s many breweries and wineries, you’ll have your pick of fun spots to check out in town.
We’d recommend making a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. The beautiful grounds and historic boutiques are a draw by themselves, and each year the events calendar is packed with holiday festivities, including the Mistletoe Market, Yule Log Celebration, and of course, the iconic Grand Illumination ceremony.
The Busch Gardens Christmas Town gives the famous theme park a festive air. Special ice shows, visits from Santa Claus, and a dazzling 10 million lights make this a great place to spend the day. Plus, all the theme park attractions will still be open!
11. See the National Christmas Tree in Washington, DC
Washington, DC, is an amazing place to visit during the holidays because the capital turns into one big Christmas tree. Exaggeration or not, you can’t miss the several massive evergreens dressed up for the holidays. Plus, expect all of the Smithsonian Museums to get in on the holiday cheer, too!
The National Christmas Tree is a must-see. Artists from across the nation make all the ornaments, so they change every year. You’ll find an even taller Christmas tree right on the US Capitol’s West Lawn – a tree that’s probably made its way across the country since it was hand selected from one of the country’s national forests.
Every year, Mount Vernon by Candlelight hosts seasonal tours of George Washington’s historic property, and the weekend before Christmas, you can even watch a special fireworks show!
You can also check out the United States Botanic Garden’s annual holiday exhibit, the festive ZooLights at the Smithsonian event, and the world’s largest light maze at Enchant Christmas — to name just a few of the many things Washington, DC, has to offer every holiday season.
12. Go Christmas Shopping in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
If you’re wondering where to spend Christmas, consider a trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea. With its seaside charm, 100 art galleries, and dozens of cute boutiques, this picturesque coastal town offers an appealing alternative to the classic white Christmas destinations.
We’d recommend starting your holidays with a trip to Carmel Plaza, where you can catch an outdoor concert and take in all the holiday decorations lining the streets. Then, get all your holiday shopping done.
Between the luxury boutiques, designer stores, and curated specialty shops, you’re sure to come across a special find. For decor, we’d really recommend Carrigg’s of Carmel, and there’s no better place for fine jewelry than Fourtané.
Make sure to stop by the Cottage of Sweets, a 100-year-old fairy-tale cottage packed with special British desserts. Classic cottages and inns are sprinkled all throughout Carmel, giving it a delightful storybook feel perfect for the holidays.
13. See a Christmas Production in Atlanta, Georgia
Celebrate Christmas, Southern style, by visiting Atlanta for the holiday season! This is one of the best places to spend Christmas in the US, where you can enjoy endless twinkling lights, an amazing arts and culture scene, and some of the most unique food in the country.
Going to Atlanta means going to a show. Seasonal productions include the Atlanta Ballet’s The Nutcracker performance, holiday shows from the world-famous Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and of course, A Christmas Carol at the Alliance Theatre.
If you’re looking for a light show, check out Stone Mountain, where you can go tubing, walk around in a massive holiday light garden, and enjoy an outdoor concert. Lake Lanier puts on a similar lighting spectacle, as does the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and they’re all well worth a visit.
Atlanta’s got fantastic seasonal pop-up bars: the Miracle bar is a local favorite, leaning fully into the holiday cheer with unique cocktails and over-the-top decor, and also check out Ponce City Market with its unique igloos and themed holiday bar, or have a tiki-inspired Christmas at Sippin’ Santa.
14. Visit the Christmas Capital of Texas in Grapevine, Texas
Known as the Christmas Capital of Texas, the little town of Grapevine thrives during the holidays, and families will especially enjoy the all-ages events taking place all over town throughout the season!
The Grapevine Christmas Passport makes exploring the city super fun, and it’ll help you discover all there is to do. The passport takes you to different spots around historic Grapevine, and you’ll finish the day with handmade souvenirs and great memories.
The North Pole Express is a very unique experience – you’ll get to enjoy holiday treats and a special show, all in a restored 1925 train carriage, which will take you to the magical Christmas Village Forest. This is the perfect way to show the little ones where Santa lives.
If you want more of a date-night experience, grab tickets for the Christmas Wine Train. There are plenty of tasting rooms and fantastic restaurants all over town, many serving up local Texan flavors with a twist.
15. See the Biltmore All Dressed Up in Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is another one of the top Christmas destinations in the US, and the centerpiece of the experience is the gorgeous Biltmore Estate. But there are plenty more Asheville winter activities to get you into the holiday spirit. There are festive annual events, winter waterfall tours, and plenty of seasonal shopping.
The Biltmore Estate is spectacular at this time of year. The grand house and grounds are decorated with over 100,000 lights and 100 Christmas trees, the largest of which is raised by Santa every year in the estate’s banquet hall in a winter kickoff.
On Candlelight Christmas Evenings, you can explore the grand manor to the sounds of live music, then roam through the walled gardens and the observatory. Stop by the Biltmore Winery, and enjoy a glass of wine under illuminated trees.
Visit Biltmore Village for your shopping or check out one of Asheville’s many holiday markets. You might also enjoy the Winter Lights show at the North Carolina Arboretum, and don’t miss the National Gingerbread Competition displays at The Omni Grove Park Inn!
There you have it! The 15 best places to go for Christmas in the US. What’s your favorite US destination to visit during the holidays?
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