By Zachary Laks
Like Christmas cards sprung to life, some of America’s towns go all out for the holidays. From coast to coast, these communities go to great lengths to make the season bright by decking out their streets with twinkling lights by the thousands—or even millions. In these towns, window decorations, holiday markets, and towering Christmas trees all make for a very festive December. Here are the ten U.S. towns with incredible Christmas celebrations.
Christmas Town USA
(Photo: Steve Rankin)
Where: McAdenville, North Carolina
McAdenville, a small town about 20 minutes outside of Charlotte, gets so into the Christmas spirit each December that they change the name of their village to Christmas Town USA. More than 600,000 people visit Christmas Town USA to gawk at the 450,000 lights that decorate this hamlet. Over 375 trees light a route perfect for a winter stroll through the McAdenville’s downtown. One of the favorite vantage spots is at the nearby lake, where 33 trees line its perimeter, reflecting peacefully in the water. It’s hard to miss the town’s fountain, featuring a jet of water that is propelled up 75 feet, lit with vibrant colors every 10 seconds.
Insider Tip: Christmas Town USA hands out free hot chocolate and kettle corn for the first 1,000 in attendance each night.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Charlotte Guide
Koziar’s Christmas Village
(Photo: Jeffrey Ochroch)
Where: Bernville, Pennsylvania
Imagined as a true one-stop Christmas destination, Koziar’s Christmas Village has been a tradition since 1948. A regional hotspot for families, this popular Christmas town packs crowds in to gaze at the million-plus light displays, visit the small cottage dioramas and shops, as well as meet face to face with Mr. Claus. Look out for the several scenes depicting Christmas Beneath the Sea, Christmas in the Jungle, and Christmas in Other Lands, housed in former chicken coops.
Insider Tip: Just 20 minutes southeast of Bernville is Judy’s on Cherry, a cozy restaurant serving New American favorites. Be sure to try the hearth-fired pizzas, notably the Exotic Mushroom Pizza with porcinis, shitakes, and oyster fungi, fontina cheese, and truffle oil.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Pennsylvania Travel Guide
Ogden’s Christmas Village
(Photo: Bryan J. Smith/Only in Ogden)
Where: Ogden, Utah
Northern Utah’s Ogden, one of the country’s great railway hubs, welcomes in the holiday season each year with their downtown Christmas Village. A winter wonderland is staged in the middle of town as miniature cottages pop-up, modeled after Santa’s North Pole Village. Each of the 59 elf-sized cottages has its own theme including The Elf Workshop, The Grinch, and Santa’s Castle—a cottage where children can visit with Santa himself. Rides on the free Polar Express Train are a favorite, as the locomotive passes through a glow-in-the-dark tunnel painted with holiday flourishes.
Insider Tip: Be sure to take time to explore Union Station, the former train depot that served as a major hub for transcontinental rail service. The station has been retrofitted into three museums featuring trains, firearms, and automobiles.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Utah Travel Guide
Nevada City Victorian Christmas
(Photo: Nevada City Chamber of Commerce)
Where: Nevada City, California
About an hour northeast of Sacramento, the historic and quaint Nevada City (population: 3,068) takes great pride in their annual Victorian Christmas festival. A former Gold Rush town, Nevada City now is noted for its many historic buildings, mountainous surroundings, and bygone picturesque downtown. The Christmas season in Nevada City has been described by its Chamber of Commerce as “a genuine Christmas card come to life” as the city transforms into a winter wonderland complete with twinkling white lights, authentic gas lamps, and carolers dressed in Victorian apparel. Festival attendees are encouraged to dress in period attire, complete with feathers, scarves, and top hats.
Insider Tip: Make sure you stop by My Favorite Things in downtown Nevada City, where gorgeous Christmas décor and artisan local crafts fill a cozy boutique space.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Sacramento Travel Guide
Ozark Mountain Christmas
(Photo: Branson Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau)
Where: Branson, Missouri
Known as the Ozark Mountain Christmas, Branson, Missouri, doesn’t mess around when it comes to Christmas spirit. Branson transforms overnight as the city puts on its best and brightest Christmas flare. The historic downtown shopping center on Main Street has street lights wrapped in evergreen garland with lights flickering on the trees along the way. Known as the Live Music Show Capital of the World, Branson is home to fan favorite events such as Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, where the arena performance is adapted to incorporate snow, evergreens, and traditional holiday music.
Insider Tip: Visiting Silver Dollar City’s An Old Time Christmas festival is a must for its 5 million holiday lights and over 1,000 decorated Christmas trees. For the opportunity to ride some of the park’s world-class roller coasters, be sure to check out the Silver Dollar City’s handy weather guide that clearly outlines the policies for running each coaster.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Branson Travel Guide
(Photo: Sam Kittner/Georgetown BID)
Where: Washington, D.C.
Washington D.C.’s oldest neighborhood comes alive each December with the warmth of the holiday lights that dot the streets and historic buildings of Wisconsin Avenue NW during Georgetown Glow. The yuletide decorations fill the area known for its over 450 stores, restaurants, and galleries, making it a one-stop hub of art and commerce for holidays. This year’s fourth-annual Holiday Window Competition, kicking off November 28, pairs local shops against each other to create the most inventive and fun window displays. Vote for your favorite by visiting Georgetown’s Facebook page and liking your favorite shop’s photo in the 4th Annual Georgetown Holiday Window Competition album.
Insider Tip: Stop by the Ritz-Carlton at 3100 South Street NW, to take a break from the cold and enjoy their complimentary hot apple cider, 3–7 pm daily.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Georgetown Travel Guide
Historic Zoar Village
(Photo: Andy Donaldson Photography)
Where: Zoar, Ohio
The tiny town of Zoar, Ohio (population 169), about 40 miles south of Akron, offers an old-fashioned Christmas with its many historic landmarks and homes, all artfully decorated with evergreen garland finishes. Marvel at the chance to visit fully operating blacksmith and tinsmith shops, where local artisans produce crafts and goods the old fashioned way. The Historic Zoar Village offers walking tours that trace the history of the town, which gives the opportunity to observe the many buildings decorated for Christmas in nineteenth-century style. The excursion concludes at the Zoar United Church of Christ, where Christmas carols are played on the chapel’s original organ.
Insider Tip: Head about 20 minutes north to Canton, Ohio for Canton’s Classic Car Museum, a true automobile haven with 45 antiques and rare classic cars are on display. They even have a 1911 Model T Ford!
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Ohio Travel Guide
Wisconsin’s Elkhart Lake Christmas
(Photo: The Osthoff Resort and Elhart Lake tour)
Where: Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
In between Lake Michigan and Lake Winnebago and an hour away from Milwaukee sits Elkhart Lake, a getaway town known for its summertime racetrack. Come winter, Elkhart Lake shifts it focus to an all-out Christmas-time celebration, complete with its famous Old World Christmas Market. Modeled after the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany, the market features a hundred vendors from the region selling crafts, art, and the traditional schnitzel, sauerbraten and potato pancakes. For something truly unique, stop by the Wade House, a local resort for mid-nineteenth-century Christmas celebrations, including a horse-drawn decorated carriage through the woods. It’s like stepping directly into “Jingle Bells.”
Insider Tip: The Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, a destination luxury family resort, ushers in Christmas in grand style complete with horse-drawn hay wagon rides, hot cocoa, and Christmas caroling. And for those staying through Christmas, your kids will wake up Christmas morning to their own stocking of goodies, compliments of the resort… er, Santa.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Wisconsin Travel Guide
Genesee Country Village
(Photo: Ruby Foote)
Where: Mumford, New York
The Genesee Country Village brings yuletide to the hinterland with its annual Christmas celebrations. Travel back to 1849, the year New York declared Christmas, Independence Day, and New Years Day state holidays, as tour guides take you through the village streets. Live music, dancing, and tree lighting are part of the experience as you join your guide in visiting the homes of the residents to inform them of the news that Christmas has just been declared an official holiday.
Insider Tip: Head up to Rochester, about 25 minutes north of Mumford, to stop by Café Cibonwhere special winter cocktails have been created to help escape the cold. Go for the Grand Slam, a holiday favorite with its charcoal bourbon, maple whiskey, cardamom simple syrup, and egg white.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s New York Travel Guide
Charlottesville’s Historic Downtown Mall
(Photo: Charlottesville Albermarle Convention and Visitors Bureau, Robert Mical)
Where: Charlottesville, Virginia
Charlottesville’s vibrant community bands together to deliver an incredible presentation of holiday lights and festivities throughout the historic town, home of Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. Charlottesville’s Historic Downtown Mall, a walkway that serves as the cultural hub of the city, transforms into a winterscape complete with a holiday market. Featuring 90 local vendors of holiday crafts and goods, this is a prime place to pick up unique gifts for loved ones on your list. While in Charlottesville, make sure to visit James and Dolley Madison’s Montpelier estate, where Christmas is celebrated in nineteenth-century style, complete with candlelight tours of the estate, live holiday music, and children’s crafts.
Insider Tip: Stop by Java Java on the pedestrian mall for some delicious hot cocoa to warm your hands as you meander through the holiday boutiques.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Charlottesville Guide