What’s your holiday vibe: Gilded Age splendor, Hallmark-movie gazebos or Bavarian-style Christmas villages? Americans have always loved decking the halls. Case in point, we’ve sought out ten of the best places in the USA to visit during this magical season, no matter what your Yuletide style is.
New York, NY
Nobody does Christmas like New York City. The Big Apple’s flagship tree, at Rockefeller Center, shines bright with over 50,000 lights, topped with a Daniel Libeskind-designed Swarovski star. Bryant Park’s Winter Village features over 180 holiday shopping and dining kiosks and an ice skating rink – a companion to the famed one at 30 Rock near Radio City Music Hall, where the Rockettes put on their legendary Christmas Spectacular.
The Chelsea Market is home to GingerBread Lane, the world’s largest gingerbread village. In the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dyker Heights, residents go ham with festive decorations. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden puts on Lightscape, a nightly display curated by a range of artists, while the Bronx’s New York Botanical Garden offers its annual Holiday Train Show and a light show, NYBG GLOW.
Vermont is a holiday wonderland, and the city of Burlington is a perfect example with its Church Street Marketplace, a holiday festival throughout the city’s main pedestrian thoroughfare. Shop windows are overflowing with flair, thousands of colored lights twinkle above, the Christmas tree lights up outside the church at the top of the street, and a nine-foot-tall menorah will be lit up on December 10. Santa is in residence for visits and requests, and carolers circulate throughout the stores and streets.
Bask in Gilded Age holiday splendor at the sprawling Biltmore Estate, the 250-room French Renaissance-style mansion and grounds built in the 1890s by George Washington Vanderbilt. Christmas at Biltmore is a longtime tradition in Asheville, and this year it’s also the setting for a new Hallmark Christmas movie: “A Biltmore Christmas.” Dubbed America’s largest home, it features 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, and ballrooms decorated in the Gilded Age holiday style, including a 35-foot Christmas tree in the banquet hall.
When it comes to throwing festivals, the state of Louisiana is unrivaled. The city of Natchitoches, the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase, has consistently ranked on lists of the best holiday celebrations; it’s also one of the oldest community holiday celebrations in the country. The six-week Natchitoches Christmas Festival takes place throughout the downtown district and along Cane River Lake, with thousands of holiday lights, a parade, live music, fireworks over the river on Saturday nights, a holiday-themed tour of historic homes, and a Christmas Gala hosted by Northwestern State University.
When you want your holiday celebration supercharged, you go to Branson. This American mecca for family entertainment goes all in, starting with the dazzling “An Old Time Christmas” at the Silver Dollar City theme park, which includes an eight-story Christmas tree and performances of “A Christmas Carol” and a living Nativity. The city’s home to multiple drive-through light displays, a tour of over 100 of Branson’s most striking Christmas trees, a Polar Express train ride, Christmas on the Showboat Branson Belle. And don’t miss Christmas at Dolly Parton’s Stampede, which in addition to its usual horsemanship includes a live nativity with flying angels.
North Pole, AK
If you’re really going for the full Christmas experience, is there any other destination but North Pole, Alaska? Located in the Fairbanks metropolitan area, the small town’s main attraction is Santa Claus House, which started in 1952 as a trading post and quickly expanded into a year-round attraction for Santa Claus fans of all ages. A 42-foot-tall Santa statue greets visitors, who can visit the “real” Santa inside and shop for gifts made by local artisans – as well as pay a visit to Santa’s reindeer next door, at the Antler Academy.
The small town of Leavenworth, a Bavarian-style village nestled in the Cascade mountains, is “Sound of Music” picturesque all year round. But Christmastime takes it to a whole new level, with live entertainment, visits with Santa, gingerbread exhibits, and more. For extra holiday charm, skip the drive on snowy mountain roads and enjoy a ride on the Amtrak Empire Builder, running from Seattle to Leavenworth every afternoon.
Another Hallmark Christmas location is Duluth, the setting for “Rescuing Christmas.” Marvel at the sweet architecture of the Pepperkakebyen, a giant gingerbread village at the Nordic Center, or hop aboard the North Shore Scenic Railroad's Christmas Tree Train. Live entertainment abounds: Catch “The Nutcracker: A Duluth Tale,” or if comedy (and personal space) is more your thing, try "A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol." And don’t miss a visit to Bentleyville, the largest display of Christmas lights in the US.
Myrtle Beach, SC
This famed South Carolina botanical garden wraps its towering, moss-draped trees in millions of lights for its magical Low Country holiday festival, Nights of a Thousand Candles, running from late November until December 31. More than 2,700 hand-lit candles adorn the paths along selected areas of the 9,000-acre gardens. Live music, hot cider, and art and artisan exhibitions add to the nightly enchantment.
The historic downtown district of this Middle Tennessee city is the setting for the annual Dickens of a Christmas Festival, in which Charles Dickens characters stroll the streets interacting with the crowd. From “A Christmas Carol,” naturally, you’ll find Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and his family, the Cratchits, as well as a Father and Mother Christmas. Musical performances, arts and crafts, a KidZone, and a Whiskey Lounge add to the fun.