The smell of fire-roasted chestnuts and mulled wine fills the air. You feel a chill, but the blanket of fresh white flakes makes the cold bit not just bearable but enjoyable. Ice skating ends with a mug of hot chocolate (with marshmallows and whipped cream, of course). Mr. and Mrs. Claus are waiting to greet you with candy canes. Twinkling lights adorn every house, tree and lamp post down the street; as much as this sounds like a scene from a Hallmark holiday movie, it could be your ideal winter break, particularly if you book a stay at one of these charming areas—aka the best Christmas towns in the U.S.
It’s a bold claim, to be sure, but after scouring the country, we feel confident in saying these cities will fill you with holiday cheer. But first, let’s get some of your most-asked questions out of the way:
What is the best Christmas town to visit?
Even Scrooge couldn’t resist the seasonal splendor of Leavenworth (number one on our list below), which certainly lives up to its title of “America’s ultimate holiday town.”
Where is the best Christmas village?
Historic and brimming with holiday spirit 24/7/365, Santa Claus Museum & Village in Santa Claus, Indiana (number two, below) earns our vote.
Is there a real Hallmark Christmas town?
Stepped in history and overflowing with snow-dusted New England charm, Stowe, Vermont, has played the part of the setting and film location for countless Christmas movies. (Scroll down to number 3 to learn more about it.)
What is the most Christmas-y town in the U.S.?
Ok, this is tough because so many towns of all sizes across the United States go BIG for the holidays. But if we had to pick just one, it’d be Santa Claus, Indiana. The name alone says it all. With tons of amazing attractions, including a top-notch Christmas village, you’re in for a very merry visit.
The 39 Best Christmas Towns in the U.S.:
1. LEAVENWORTH, WASHINGTON
A Bavarian-style village with heaps of holiday spirit, Leavenworth puts seasonal sights, smells and sounds on display all December. The intoxicating aroma of roasted chestnuts wafts through the air. Carolers sing in the streets, which are strung with half a million lights. The only thing missing is a Hallmark movie credit. We’re guessing that’s coming soon.
2. SANTA CLAUS, INDIANA
With a name like Santa Claus, you already know this spirited southern Indiana community isn’t going to cut corners in the holly or jolly department. Tourists can mail letters to Kris Kringle from the town’s first post office, snap a pic in front of the 22-foot-tall Santa statue, visit the original 1880 Santa Claus Church and ride themed roller coasters at Holiday World & Splashin' Safari.
3. STOWE, VERMONT
Snow-covered scenery, church spires, cozy cabins and historic downtown bedecked in festive flourishes. Stowe is totally picturesque, so it should come as no surprise that many holiday flicks were filmed in this quintessential New England town, like Always and Forever Christmas.
4. PIGEON FORGE, TENNESSEE
Dolly Parton is basically the patron saint of everything. Seemingly the holidays are no exception. Her theme park, Dollywood (which, no disrespect to Disney World, might just be the happiest place on earth), hosts the Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival with millions of twinkling lights, fireworks and live performances. The town of Pigeon Forge itself throws Winterfest and illuminates the 200-foot-high observation wheel in a spectacularly festive fashion.
5. TELLURIDE, COLORADO
Powder chasers flock to Telluride. There’s plenty of fun to be had off the slopes, too. The Polar Express train is a festive, family-friendly way to take in the beautiful scenery. Sleigh rides, holiday movie screenings, Santa’s workshop and the torchlight parade are always a hit. Don’t miss the famous Christmas “tree” constructed out of donated skis.
6. SOLVANG, CALIFORNIA
You don’t have to jet off to Europe for a Danish-style Christmas. Just head to Solvang. This storybook village in the Santa Ynez Mountains outside Santa Barbara marks the season with its annual Julefest celebration, a month of candlelit tours, caroling, extended shopping hours, authentic food, wine, beer and festive scavenger hunts. Santa's Village at Solvang Park even has real reindeer!
7. NORTH POLE, ALASKA
No, it’s not the *actual* North Pole. However, unless you somehow manage to nab a seat on Santa’s sleigh, this Alaska town is as close as you’re gonna get to toy-making elves. Candy cane-striped streetlights, roads called Mistletoe Lane and Kris Kringle Drive and an enormous statue of St. Nicholas really do blur the line between Christmas fantasy and reality.
8. WOODSTOCK, VERMONT
Christmas in Woodstock means full-on Hallmark movie vibes (the Last Vermont Christmas was actually filmed in this Vermont idyll). The Lighting of the Square kicks off the festive season. Wassail Weekend brings candle dipping, gingerbread house demos, cider donuts and sleigh rides. Caroling and special performances at the Woodstock Opera House pack the holiday event calendar.
9. WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA
Williamsburg blends the best of Christmas old and new. Caroling by torchlight and candles shining in historic houses that date back to the colonial era give visitors a peek into the past. While Busch Gardens does it up in a more modern way with the largest Christmas light exhibition in North America, a fantastical ice show and peppermint fudge hot chocolate.
10. BRANSON, MISSOURI
The family-fun capital of Missouri, Branson has something spirited to appeal to kids and young-at-heart adults. There are almost too many holiday highlights to hit ‘em all on a weekend trip. Prepare to pack your schedule with eye-catching trees, drive-through light installations, a Nativity petting zoo and a new Broadway-style Christmas show.
11. JACKSON, NEW HAMPSHIRE
We’re always down for Christmas in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Jackson is the perfect spot to post up for some joyful alpine fun in the Granite State. Explore the snowy hills and cross-country ski trails. Of course, you’ll want to capture a family photo on the 150-year-old covered bridge. Did we just figure out next year's Christmas card?
12. NATCHITOCHES, LOUISIANA
The holiday season in Natchitoches glows for six weeks thanks to the annual Natchitoches Christmas Festival, which dates back to 1927. From the Saturday before Thanksgiving to early January, more than 300,000 lights glow every night. Add to that fireworks over the Cane River Lake, as well as a parade with themed floats and costumed characters, and you’ve got quite the party.
13. LIGONIER, PENNSYLVANIA
A place that we’d love to gift wrap and give to our friends and family on December 25, Ligonier really does feel like a Christmas card come to life with its enchanting town green that even has a Stars Hollow-esque gazebo. There are holiday markets and horse-drawn sleigh rides, plus ample opportunities to go skiing, snowboarding and tubing.
14. FRANKENMUTH, MICHIGAN
Frankenmuth sounds like frankincense and myrrh (aka two of the gifts that the wise men brought to the newborn king). And that’s just the start of the Christmas-y connection to this Michigan town. It’s home to Bronner’s, the world’s largest Christmas store, which is the size of nearly two football fields and sells legitimately all manner of lights, decorations, trimmings and trees.
15. TAOS, NEW MEXICO
To see Taos lit up for the holidays is to be wowed by the wonder of it all. This New Mexico town turns up the mirth with a mix of decorations and artisan-made gifts, plus gleeful events like the annual tree lighting ceremony and Twirl Aglow Party. We’ll leave you with three final words: Christmas morning hike.
16. KINGSTON, NEW YORK
Christmas in the Catskills resembles the cutesy title of a Hallmark movie, when in fact it could be the way you describe your December family vacation in Kingston. Holiday happenings include cookie bake-offs and The Sinterklaas Festivities, which celebrate the area’s Dutch heritage with some mirthful modern twists. Our fave festivity activity? Donning matching PJs and sipping hot cocoa aboard the Polar Express.
17. MCADENVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
Ever heard of McAdenville? Maybe you know it by another name...Christmas Town, USA. This tiny Charlotte suburb rivals towns twice its size when it comes to seasonal spirit and decorations. Each year, the residents trim 250 evergreen trees in more than 500,000 red, white and green twinkling bulbs. The eye-catching house ornamentation is next level, too.
18. MYSTIC, CONNECTICUT
Christmas in the Connecticut shore town of Mystic is really special. Walk around the historic waterfront district and marvel at old-school sea captain’s homes decorated with twinkling lights. Pick up nostalgic candy, whaling trinkets and other adorable stocking stuffers at the many shops. Indulge your sweet tooth with a cup of hot cocoa and a Mystic cream doughnut.
19. CAPE MAY, NEW JERSEY
Something about Victorian architecture just says Christmas to us. (Maybe it’s a Dickensian thing?) Lights, dazzling decorations and an outdoor shopping village at Congress Hall enhance Cape May’s festive appearance. This popular summer destination is also pleasantly uncrowded in the winter. That sense of solitude really adds to the peacefulness of the season.
20. GALENA, ILLINOIS
Historic and picturesque with impressive architecture, warm hospitality and charm in spades, Galena already has all the making of a postcard-worthy destination. Throw in heaps of snow, twinkling lights, hot cacao, horse-drawn wagon rides and some tinsel? You’ve got a picture-perfect Christmas vacation that will undoubtedly delight even the Scroogiest family members.
21. ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA
‘Twas the night before Christmas and all the vacationers in St. Augustine we’re out and about in tee shirts and shorts, peeping the impressive displays of glowing white bulbs that illuminate the entire Historic District during the annual Nights of Lights festival. Look at luminaries while walking around or consider a horse-drawn carriage ride.
22. JACKSON HOLE, WYOMING
An epic outdoor playground with a wild western spirit, Jackson Hole shines (merry and) bright during the winter. Throughout the month of December, Santa frequently stops by the beautifully decorated Town Square to the delight of children of all ages. Kiddos can also ski with Saint Nick and go ice skating at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
23. NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND
Impeccably decorated gilded mansions, larger-than-life Christmas trees, lavish parties with plenty of eggnog, cobblestone streets dusted in fresh flakes and ocean views is how Newport does the holidays. Beeline it to The Breakers to see all the opulent wreaths, poinsettias and ornaments before ordering a Winter Kiss cocktail at Jo’s American Bistro.
24. HELEN, GEORGIA
We have a feeling that if the Grinch visited Helen at Christmas, his heart would grow two sizes. This adorable town in the Blue Ridge Mountains is known for its glorious holiday celebrations with Bavarian flair. On the docket? Watch the annual Lighting of the Village in Edelweiss River Park, have breakfast with Santa, watch the parade and slog back Glühwein (a traditional German spiced wine).
25. KENNEBUNKPORT, MAINE
Most people think of Kennebunkport as a summer destination, but this enchanting Maine town is like stepping inside a snow globe in the winter. From snow-dusted streets and mom-and-pop shops perfect for purchasing any last-minute gifts to cozy restaurants that serve mulled wine and quaint inns, there’s no shortage of seasonal splendor.
26. ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA
A Victorian-inspired holiday full of singing carols, handbell choirs and crafts awaits in historic Alexandria. Colorful lights and art-adorned lampposts transform King Street into a winter wonderland. Swing by Market Square to see the shimmering tree, go ice skating and patronize the holiday markets.
27. WHITEFISH, MONTANA
Winter is the most wonderful time of the year in Whitefish. This vibrant mountain town in northwest Montana and gateway to Glacier National Park pulls out all the stops for Christmas. Visitors can look forward to colorful decorations, caroling, the torchlight parade on December 24, yuletide cocktails, sledding and cross-country skiing at Glacier Nordic Center.
28. PARK CITY, UTAH
So, what exactly does Christmas in Park City entail? Obviously, you’re going to find world-class slopes and a white-hot après-ski scene. Don’t skip ice skating on the outdoor rink at the base of the atmospheric and impressively decorated Park City Mountain Resort. Afterward, warm up with a steamy cup of hot chocolate.
29. WELLSBORO, PENNSYLVANIA
Feeling nostalgic for ye olde holiday traditions? The annual Dickens of a Christmas festival turns back the clock on downtown Wellsboro with a Victorian marketplace featuring street entertainers, musicians, artists, craftsmen and food vendors—and, yes, everyone dresses in period garb. Streets close to cars and the gas lamps glow, giving the cobblestone lanes an even more old-timey feel.
30. STOCKHOLM, WISCONSIN
Stockholm may be in Wisconsin, but it draws seasonal inspiration from Sweden and observes Christmas for an entire month. Almost all the residents and local businesses get involved in the festivities, which include a winter solstice fire celebration, tin ornament making class, gingerbread bake-off and photo ops with Jultomte (the Swedish version of Santa Claus).
31. DAHLONEGA, GEORGIA
Dahlonega—where the Hallmark movie Christmas in Homestead was filmed—is a picturesque former gold rush town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains that spreads heaps of holiday cheer. Revel in the convivial spirit of the annual tree lighting, carolers, carriage rides, parades, live music, giving your wish list to Santa and Christmas markets.
32. WAKEENEY, KANSAS
No one would dare to utter the words “bah, humbug” when exposed to such pageantry as Wakeeney whips up for the festive season. The “Christmas City of the High Plains” (a title the town has proudly held since 1950) puts on the largest holiday extravaganza between Kansas City and Denver, complete with a 35-foot-tall evergreen tree that flaunts 6,800 colored lights and a crown of ivory stars.
33. COEUR D'ALENE, IDAHO
The name Coeur D’Alene calls to mind a twee French village. However, this Idaho community is all American in the way it celebrates Christmas. And while it's going to be cold outside (the monthly average hovers around the freezing mark), a festive lake cruise and 1.5 million twinkling lights strewn across downtown will give you all the warm, fuzzy feels.
34. KETTLE FALLS, WASHINGTON
A bonafide winter wonderland located just 30 miles south of the US-Canada Border, Kettle Falls brings joy to the most curmudgeonly of visitors with its access to cold-weather recreation and festive celebrations like the annual Christmas tree lighting and a holiday craft fair that’s sure to put a dent in your shopping list.
35. STOCKBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS
A cozy community in the Berkshires that gives off idyllic New England Christmas vibes, Stockbridge spreads merriment with lights, wreaths and joyous energy. Locally owned shops, galleries and restaurants welcome patrons with a warm smile and festive offerings. The original “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” painting at the Norman Rockwell Museum is a timeless reminder of the wonder of the season.
36. MILTON, DELAWARE
Even Buddy the Elf might learn a thing or two about getting in the Christmas spirit from Milton. This wondrous little town in Sussex County, Delaware just radiates joy. The centerpiece of the holiday season is Winter WonderFEST at Hudson Fields, which runs the entire month of December. The Light Spectacular, ice skating and the carnival are just some of the many can’t-miss attractions.
37. WYOMING, IOWA
Wyoming may have just 500 residents, but that doesn’t hamper the holiday cheer. Thousands of people visit this tiny town in Jones County, Iowa, each year to see the beautiful lights and imbibe the convivial spirit. BTW, local vineyards mean you’re all but guaranteed to get some delicious mulled wine.
38. NANTUCKET, MASSACHUSETTS
You probably associate Nantucket with summer, but this idyllic island is a peaceful and joyous slice of paradise during Christmas time. Heart-warming holiday traditions range from the annual Christmas Stroll that’s chock full of cookie decorating, caroling, ugly sweaters and ice sculptures to the Nantucket Whaling Museum getting the winter wonderland treatment.
39. SNOWMASS VILLAGE, COLORADO
Snowmass Village captures the true essence of the Christmas season with decorations, delicious food and downhill action. The coolest thing that goes down during the holidays? Snowmass Luminescence is a sensory-stimulating collection of large-scale interactive LED installations. Eggnog-fueled après ski roistering certainly exists, while the Viceroy Snowmass serves a more wholesome spread of fresh-baked cookies and hot chocolate.
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