The holiday season can be a magical time of year and it can also be a magical time to travel with family and friends. Throughout the United States, cities large and small put on fantastic displays, events, and festivals to celebrate the holiday season. We’ve all seen the Hallmark movies that showcase little towns that become aglow around the holiday season and wish we could visit. Well, dream no more because there are cities in America that provide that holiday spirit without having to visit a movie set. If you are looking for a great place to get away with your loved ones this holiday season, this is might be just what you are looking for. In this article, I outline my picks for the Top US Cities to Visit During Christmas.
Some of these cities have amazing holiday festivals for visitors to enjoy, while others are well-known for their brilliant holiday décor. What all of these locations have in common is a warm, inviting, holiday vibe that borders on magical around the holiday season. If you have a favorite town that you love to visit during the holiday season, be sure to tell me about it in the comments section. Not only will I be grateful to learn about it, but I am sure other travelers will appreciate hearing about it as well!
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10. Nantucket, Massachusetts
There are plenty of wonderful places to visit during the holidays on the East Coast of the United States, and Nantucket in the state of Massachusetts has to be one of my favorites. On the first Friday of December every year, the town hosts a Christmas Stroll in which stores stay open late and patrons spend the day walking down Main Street, doing some Christmas shopping, and enjoying the holiday festivities. In fact, the event has become so popular that the stores now stay open late throughout that entire weekend to accommodate all of the visitors. Among the festivities you might find on your stroll down Main Street include an ugly sweater contest, a Christmas market, cookie decorations, ice carving displays, and even silent auctions. One of my favorite parts of strolling thru Nantucket is seeing all of the beautifully decorated Christmas trees that go on display after Thanksgiving every year. If that isn’t enough to get you to visit, each year the Nantucket Whaling Museum transforms itself into a “Festival of Trees” in which over 80 Christmas trees are decorated by local organizations for all to enjoy. It is spectacular!
9. Cedarburg, Wisconsin
If you are looking for the quintessential small town directly out of a Hallmark Christmas movie, then the small town of Cedarburg just outside of Milwaukee might be just what you are looking for. Recognized by Forbes Magazine as one of the prettiest towns in America, this quaint Midwestern town transforms into a winter wonderland around Christmas. The stores on Main Street put up some of the most beautiful Christmas decorations and the shops stay open late to accommodate the influx of Christmas shoppers. Every year the town hosts Festive Friday Eves, in which certain shops on Main Street are featured and offer holiday treats, gift bags, and other festive surprises. The historic Rivoli Theatre in town also hosts its annual showings of classic Christmas movies, which is a favorite amongst visitors who are looking for a break from shopping. However, my favorite part about Christmas in Cedarburg are the events that the town hosts throughout the holiday season. Visitors can take a sleigh ride through 40-acres of wooded forest with decorated Christmas trees, listen to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra perform Christmas songs, attend a ginger bread scavenger hunt, and witness the town’s infamous tree lightning right after Thanksgiving.
8. Branson, Missouri
It’s located a little further south than most of the other cities on my list of the Top US Cities to Visit During Christmas, but that doesn’t mean that it is any less magical to visit during the holidays. Each year after Thanksgiving, the city of Branson transforms into a Christmas-time paradise with spectacular light displays, fun holiday activities, and amazing Christmas shows to help you get into the holiday spirit. If you love to drive thru Christmas light displays, then you will love visiting the Branson area during the holidays. With amazing displays such as the Let There Be Lights!, Branson’s Lights of Joy and Trail of Lights displays to choose from, you can spend a whole evening enjoying the festive lighting. However, my favorite part about visiting Branson during Christmas is the wonderful live Christmas shows that the town features. With a legendary list of live performers every year, Branson certainly is one of the best places for a Christmas music lover to spend during the holiday season.
7. Chicago, Illinois
It may be called the “Windy City”, but during the holidays the city of Chicago should be renamed the Christmas City. The beautiful city of Chicago is gorgeous year-round, but during the holidays the Christmas décor makes the city look even more beautiful. That is why it has made my list of the Top US Cities to Visit During Christmas. There is a seemingly endless supply of holiday events, shopping, and festivities to enjoy in Chicago during Christmas, but I do have my favorites that I would like to share with you. One of those favorites is the infamous Christkindlmarket. Modeled after a seasonal tradition that originated in Nuremberg, Germany, the Christkindlmarket is an amazing open-air collection of booths selling holiday crafts, holiday treats, and just about anything else you can think of that makes Christmas so magical. If you are into decorated Christmas trees, you will also not want to miss out on seeing the Great Tree at Macy’s Walnut Room. Every year Macy’s goes over-the-top to make its large Christmas tree one of the most beautiful in the country. If that doesn’t give you your fill of Christmas lights for the holidays, then I would also suggest checking out the amazing light displays at the Morton Arboretum or the Lincoln Park Zoo. Both put on out-of-this-world light displays that will certainly make your Christmas a memorable one.
6. Jackson, Wyoming
If your idea of a memorable holiday adventure is visiting one of the premier ski and outdoor locations in North America, then you will absolutely love visiting Jackson, Wyoming during Christmas. Home of the infamous Jackson Hole Ski Resort, the area is world-renown for its amazing ski slops. If you aren’t familiar with the Teton Mountain Range, it is often compared to the beautiful Alps in Europe. In fact, the Grand Teton mountain is known to be called the “Matterhorn of North America” because of its rough, jagged peak. However, beautiful mountains and legendary ski slopes aren’t the only reasons to visit Jackson, Wyoming during the holidays. The city of Jackson itself is quite beautiful and during the holidays with a fresh coat of snow, an abundance of festive Christmas lights, and its small mountain town feel, it can be quite magical. In addition to Christmas sleigh rides, shopping in the town’s wonderful shops, and Santa sightings, one of the most popular things to do in Jackson around Christmas is to see a show at the famous Jackson Hole Playhouse. Considered one of the biggest attractions in Jackson year-round, it is especially popular around Christmas when holiday-themed shows are on its bill. Regardless of whether you hit the slopes or just enjoy the holiday ambiance, a visit to Jackson during the holidays is sure to be an adventure you never forget.
5. North Pole, Alaska
Out of all the cities on my list of the Top US Cities to Visit During Christmas, North Pole, Alaska certainly has the most fitting name. After all, it is the home of Santa Claus, so it makes perfect sense to me that it would be an amazing place to spend a weekend during the holidays. The world renown Santa Claus House has been attracting curious tourists to North Pole for decades. I cannot think of a more magical place to shop for your Christmas gifts, or maybe just a keepsake to remember your visit. However, North Pole is a great holiday destination for many other great reasons. With street names like “Snowman Lane,” “Holiday Road,” and “St Nicholas Drive”, it is impossible to visit North Pole and not get into the holiday spirit. Visitors can enjoy a Christmas-themed ice art contest in aptly named Ice Park, become a kid again at Elf’s Icy Playground, which features over 100 ice slides to play on, or just enjoy a warm cup of hot cocoa and take in the holiday spirit that lives strong in this magical Alaskan town.
4. Orlando, Florida
It may not seem like an obvious choice of destination to spend some time during the holidays, but Orlando Florida can be a magical place around Christmas. Even though it may not get a lot of snow, it is without a doubt one of the Top US Cities to Visit During Christmas. After all, it is the home of the place in the world that is most renown for being a kid. Of course, I am talking about Walt Disney World. If you haven’t been to Disney World around Christmas, you really are missing out. Not only does the theme park go all-out with its holiday decorations, shows, and festivities, but you can get a reprieve from the cold weather and enjoy a little sunshine while you are there. Some of my favorite parts of spending time at Disney around Christmas is seeing the beautiful decorations at the park (it really is amazing how far Disney goes to deck the place out), the fantastic holiday parades and fireworks displays, and getting to see Santa mingling with Mickey Mouse and his friends in Disney’s cast of characters.
3. Washington, DC
If you are a big fan of Christmas light displays, then you will absolutely love visiting Washington D.C. over the holidays. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing America’s capital decorated for the holiday season. In addition to seeing the Capital rotunda decorated, the Washington D.C. area has a number of celebrated light displays that you can enjoy. However, Christmas in the capital isn’t just limited to seeing beautiful light displays. One of my favorite things to do in D.C. around Christmas is to visit the national Christmas Tree. Each year, a gigantic evergreen tree is decorated in President’s Park near the White House and it is an absolutely amazing site to behold. After checking out the tree, you can lace up your skates and enjoy a skate at the National Gallery Of Art’s Sculpture Garden or the Washington Harbour Ice Rink. If you are a bit chilly after your skate, you can head to Union Station to enjoy their holiday model train display, which is one of the most most unique and amazing holiday displays you will find in the country. Finally, I would recommend enjoying a Christmas show at either the historic Ford Theatre, which features a production of A Christmas Carol each year, or a rendition of the Nutcracker at the Washington Ballet. With all of the history and festive activities, it certainly will be a holiday season you will cherish forever.
2. McAdenville, North Carolina
If you are wondering why McAdenville, North Carolina is on my list of the Top US Cities to Visit During Christmas, you are really in for a treat. It may not be a snowy northern city, but that hasn’t stopped McAdenville from being named Christmas Town U.S.A. Each year, this quaint North Carolina city puts on some of the best Christmas-themed celebrations that you will find in the entire United States. It all starts with its annual lights display, which seems to include decorating virtually every tree, building, and object in the downtown area. Visitors can take a walk thru the downtown area and enjoy the lights and do a little holiday shopping. If you plan your visit right, you can also take part in the annual Yule Log Parade, which is always a memorable holiday experience. However, my favorite part about Christmas in McAdenville is witnessing the annual Christmas Tree lighting. It’s an amazing experience in a town that has become one of this country’s most amazing Christmas travel destinations.
1. New York City, New York
There are a lot of great destinations on my list of the Top US Cities to Visit During Christmas, but perhaps none are more over-the-top magical than visiting one of America’s largest and most magical cities during the holidays. The city is a hot travel destination year-round, but visiting New York City during Christmas is an absolutely amazing experience. There are so many amazing things to see and do, it is hard to decide where to begin. As if the city needed more lights to be magical, wait until you see the city decorated with Christmas light displays during the holidays. Walking around the city and enjoying all of the holiday lights is an experience worth visiting during Christmas alone.
One of my favorite spots to visit in New York City is undoubtedly Rockefeller Center. If you are a fan of Christmas trees, then Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree is an absolute must see. The annual lighting of the tree is such a big deal that it actually has its own TV program every year. Seeing it lit on TV is cool, but being there to see the tree in person is something you will never forget. In addition to the tree, the whole area is usually lit up in festive decorations that will be sure to put a big holiday smile on your face.
If you love seeing live shows, then I would also recommend checking out the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. This amazing music show typical features many popular Christmas songs and the singing and dancing are at a level that only New York City can deliver. If you are interested in seeing the show, I would recommend getting your tickets early because they tend to sell out fast. Speaking of shows that sell out fast, another Christmas-time show in New York City that I highly recommend seeing is the timeless class, the Nutcracker. It’s a Christmas favorite for a reason, and you won’t find a better production anywhere else in America.
On the days you would like to slow things down and just enjoy the Christmas spirit in the city, I would recommend taking a walk down 5th Avenue and enjoying all of the Christmas window displays. I cannot stress enough how enjoyable this experience is, especially when you do it with a warm cup of hot cocoa in your hand and the people you love by your side. You can also make a stop by Rockefeller Plaza to do some ice skating at the ice rink. This sheet of ice is so infamous that it has been featured in many holiday movies, including Home Alone 2. It’s a great way to cap off a wonderful day of Christmas joy in one of America’s most festive cities.