- Not everyone wants to be home for the holidays. In fact, many Americans love to treat the holiday break as the perfect opportunity to travel to new cities and places across the US.
- From decked-out Christmas light festivals to European-inspired holiday markets, these festive locations certainly bring the holiday cheer.
- Here are 20 of the most festive places in America to spend the holidays.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
While there may be no place like home for the holidays, these festive cities and towns come pretty darn close.
Whether your dream winter vacation involves strolling through a glittering light parade, sipping mulled wine under the stars at a European-style Christmas market, or snowshoeing through the hills of Vermont, these places are perfect for spending the holidays.
Whatever you celebrate – be it Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or New Year’s Eve – these are the best places to have on your radar for holiday vacations.
Here are 20 of the most festive places in America to spend the holidays.
Annapolis, Maryland, gives visitors a chance to indulge their sweet tooth this holiday season.
Celebrate the holidays in Maryland’s capital city, right along the Chesapeake Bay. With plenty of holiday activities happening every year, Annapolis is the perfect city to visit over your vacation. Satisfy your sweet tooth at the Chocolate Binge Festival, where a dozen local vendors sell everything from chocolate cakes, truffles, fudge, cookies, candies, hot chocolate, and fondue to martinis and more. Be sure to check out the official state Christmas tree at the State House, or take in thousands of colored lights at the Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade.
In Asheville, North Carolina, the largest home in America comes alive with 30,000 lights and a 55-foot-tall Christmas tree.
Few things compare to spending the holidays in a beautiful and quaint Southern town overlooking gorgeous mountains. Asheville, North Carolina, is home to tons of adorable coffee shops, boutiques, and great restaurants, making this mountainside escape the perfect place to spend the holidays. Sip a Cold Mountain Winter Ale from Highland Brewing Company, Asheville’s oldest brewery, or stroll through Asheville’s decorated Main Street, complete with music, horse-and-carriage rides, carolers and children’s activities.
The Biltmore House, America’s largest home, sparkles with a whopping 30,000 lights around the holidays. Its annual Christmas event allows guests to view a giant 55-foot decorated spruce tree on the front lawn, 60 elaborate hand-decorated trees, wreaths, garlands, lights and more. The estate also hosts Downton Abbey: The Exhibition around the holidays.
The quaint, snow-covered streets of Aspen, Colorado, will leave any visitor feeling festive.
From skiing to beautiful snow-lined streets, Aspen, Colorado, is a naturally beautiful and festive place to spend the holidays. The quaint ski town is guaranteed to have a white Christmas and is the perfect destination for cozying up by a glowing fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate or a cold-weather cocktails.
Aspen also makes a wonderful destination for Hanukkah celebrations. The St. Regis Aspen holds a daily public Menorah lighting and even serves latkes and other complimentary treats on the last day of Hanukkah.
In Austin, Texas, the annual “Trail of Lights” brings cheer to the city — with exhilarating rides, food trucks, family fun, and 2 million lights.
Austin has been voted the best place to live in the US – and for good reasons. From the delicious and thriving food scene to the Southern and distinctly Austin culture, this Texas city is a great place to visit any time of year. However, you should definitely consider staying here during the holidays. Between the famous 1.25-mile long Trail of Lights in Zilker Park to 37th Street’s annual Christmas spectacle, Austin is a must-visit city during the month of December.
With wreaths and ribbons decorating homes across the city, Boston, Massachusetts, offers a more traditional holiday experience.
There’s nothing quite like December in New England, and Boston, Massachusetts, truly goes all out for the holiday season. As a historic American city, the holiday season tends to lean more on the traditional side. Visitors to Boston around the holiday season can view gorgeous lit-up trees at Boston Common and Faneuil Hall Marketplace, sing along with holiday favorites at a Boston Holiday Pops show at Symphony Hall, or wander through the Blink! Holiday Light Show at Faneuil Market.
In Charleston, South Carolina, visitors can marvel at how the holiday decor makes the city even more beautiful.
Stroll through historic Charleston, South Carolina, and seemingly step back in time to the Antebellum South. Buildings across the city are decorated in charming garlands and wreaths, and each year Charleston holds its annual Holiday Market in Marion Square. Take a Charleston Strolls Holiday Walking Tour or revel in the Charleston Holiday Pub Crawl, tasting the city’s most delicious holiday cocktails and bites along the way.
In Chicago, visitors and locals can enjoy a taste of Europe at a huge, open-air festival, like those found in Germany.
Spend the holidays in the windy city this year. Although Chicago, Illinois, gets very cold during the winter months, it’s nevertheless a festive place to spend Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year’s Eve. Stroll through the Christkindlmarket Chicago market, inspired by the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany, to truly get in the holiday spirit. The city’s largest open-air festival, the Christkindlsmarket offers traditional European seasonal treats like pretzels, sausages, potato pancakes, Strudel, hot spiced wine, and German beer.
Honolulu, Hawaii, provides a warmer holiday option — but there’s no shortage of ways to mark the season.
If having a white Christmas isn’t your thing, consider spending the holidays in Honolulu, Hawaii. Must-see attractions in the island city include the 12 Days of Polynesia festival, the New Year’s Eve party at Aloha Tower, and the Honolulu City Lights festival. Not only are there multiple festive holiday-themed attractions during the month of December, but the island’s beautiful beaches and warm weather makes for a perfect holiday break in the sun. However, tourists should be warned: December is the state’s busiest tourist season.
Start 2020 with a bang at the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The party capital of the United States, Las Vegas, may sound like the perfect place to spend the holidays to some. According to TripSavvy, New Year’s Eve on the Las Vegas strip is almost guaranteed to be unforgettable. Not only are there firework shows at Stratosphere Tower, Treasure Island, Venetian, Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Aria, and MGM Grand, but the Las Vegas nightlife is sure to keep you partying from dusk until dawn. Aside from NYE, there are a number of Hanukkah events, Christmas-themed shows like The Tournament of Kings, Opportunity Village’s Magical Forest, and ice skating at The Cosmopolitan. The city also puts on its annual Santa Run this year on December 7.
Nantucket, Massachusetts, will help any visitor feel festive, with its Christmas tree-lined streets and wreaths around town.
If you want to visit Nantucket, Massachusetts, around the holidays, make sure you go for Christmas Stroll. The island’s downtown area is completely decked out in wreaths, ribbons, and trimmings, creating a festive vibe that embodies New England charm. Hundreds of decorated seven-foot Christmas trees line the downtown streets, which are illuminated during a public ceremony with caroling at dusk the day after Thanksgiving. Holiday treats and beverages are offered by many of the small businesses in town, and Santa even visits the island arriving on a festively-decorated Coast Guard Cutter.
Indulge in a wide, delicious selection of holiday foods in Nashville, Tennessee.
The capital of honky-tonk, Nashville is alive with a culture all its own. From delicious barbecue and signature Nashville hot chicken to more traditional holiday delicacies, this foodie-approved city is perfect for people and families who love to have a little fun over the holidays and fill their bellies with delicious grub.
Be sure to check out the Nashville Christmas Lights Tour while you’re in town, and head on over to HQ Beercade for holiday-themed drinks, 3D Christmas tree displays, thousands of ornaments, 2,000 feet of twinkling lights, and a life-size Santa sleigh.
Stroll through the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, with a mulled wine in hand.
Christmas in the French Quarter is a perfect way to spend the holidays. Enjoy traditional Christmas King Cake, stroll through Royal Street and Chartres Street for the best holiday lights in the city, and don’t miss out on the festive Holiday Home Tour conducted by the Preservation Resource Center, on December 14 and 15. Take in a holiday concert at St. Augustine Church in NOLA’s Tremé neighborhood, and finish the night off with a beignet or delicious po’boy.
If you’re in town for New Year’s, take in everything New Orleans nightlife has to offer in terms of incredible bars – plus, you can stroll through the streets with your cocktail or mulled wine in this alcohol-friendly city.
Marvel at the window displays in New York City or watch the Rockettes at their annual Christmas Spectacular.
New York, New York, you’re a hell of a town – especially, around the holidays. It’s no secret that tourists flock to New York City every year to take in the many lights and giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, catch The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, or gaze into the decorated window displays at Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Not all the fun is in Manhattan, however. Stroll on over to Brooklyn neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens to marvel at beautifully decorated brownstones, or Dyker Heights, which famously goes all-out for the holidays.
Re-live your childhood with a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
You don’t have to hate cold weather to enjoy your holidays in sunny Florida, but it definitely may be a reason to. If you don’t want to bundle up for the holidays this year, Disney World or Orlando, Florida, in general, could be right up your alley. Despite the warm weather, visitors can still get in a festive holiday mood by walking down Main Street during “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” at Walt Disney World or visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, which is always decorated during the holiday months as well. Enjoy a delicious mug of Butterbeer or meet your favorite festively dressed Disney characters at these two Orlando theme parks, or relax on one of Florida’s beautiful beaches.
Portland, Maine, offers cozy corners to enjoy warming cocktails.
Spend the holidays in historic Portland, Maine. The city has no shortage of cozy coffee shops, bars serving up delicious eggnog, and beautiful historic streets and buildings. Attend the Portland Christmas tree lighting or sip on winter cocktails at Vena’s Fizz House. Stop by the historic Victoria Mansion, which truly comes alive around the holidays with festive decorations. Embrace either the traditional or the slightly risqué by attending either the Maine Ballet Nutcracker holiday show or a burlesque version of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” put on by the Vivid Motion dancers.
The National Christmas Tree lights up Washington, DC — but that’s just the beginning of the festivities.
Spend the holidays in the nation’s capital. Spend days strolling through the historic streets, taking in the lights and decorations in Georgetown and eating delicious food. While in DC, make sure you stop by the National Christmas Tree or shop from the many vendors at the Downtown Holiday Market in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Visitors to DC can also take a candlelight tour of various historic homes to see how Americans of yesteryear decorated their stately homes for the holidays.
Visitors to San Francisco, California, can ice skate in Union Square and then warm up with tea and scones.
Christmastime in San Francisco is buzzing with activities and sights that will bring joy to the whole family. Go ice skating in Union Square, attend the Union Square Tree Lighting ceremony, take a ride on a vintage trolley car, or experience a delicious holiday high tea complete with English tea sandwiches and freshly baked black currant scones the Westin St. Francis hotel.
Sturbridge, Massachusetts, allows families to experience the holiday season in the 1830s.
Sturbridge, Massachusetts, is home to Old Sturbridge Village, an outdoor learning museum that depicts a rural New England town of the 1830s, complete with original buildings, explore homes, meetinghouses, a district school, a country store, and various trade shops that will make visitors feel like they’ve stepped back in time. Holiday events at the village include live musical performances, Christmas storytelling, sleigh rides, delicious holiday treats, roaring bonfires, and a festively-decorated Village Common perfect for enjoying a festive winter evening. A new event this year is the Christmas Tree Trail, but the museum also plans to hold classic winter activities like a nightly tree lighting and gingerbread house contest.
Another town that gives a taste of a more traditional holiday season is Williamsburg, Virginia.
Enjoy a slice of American history this holiday season by visiting Colonial Williamsburg. This historic town was the capital of the Virginia Colony from 1699 to 1780 and played a significant role in the American Revolution. Now, the town is a living history museum where everything from the homes to the land is preserved and accurate to the time. Around the winter holidays, Williamsburg is not only decorated with wreaths, trimmings, and other holiday decorations but the town also puts on a number of festive events.
Or why not head to Woodstock, Vermont, for a white Christmas?
Woodstock, Vermont, is widely regarded as one of the most quintessentially New England towns in the country. Gorgeous in both the fall and the dead of winter, Woodstock has a number of festive attractions and activities the whole family will love. If you’re planning to stay in town over the holidays or winter season, try to book a room at the cozy and festive Woodstock Inn. Each guest suite has its own fireplace perfect for cuddling up next to with a cup of hot cocoa and a copy of “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.” The inn also holds an annual Holiday Feast, created by the inn’s restaurant staff.