Santa’s loading up his sleigh, living room trees are sparkling with lights, and the presents are wrapped and hidden, so why not do something really special this Christmas? Hit the road.
America is chock-full of towns that herald the arrival of Yuletide with bang-up, over-the-top celebrations, millions of lights, dozens of Santa sleighs, real reindeer, and Christmas celebrations that you and your family will remember forever.
Newsmax has rounded up 50 of the very best places in America for you and your loved ones to visit this Christmas season — places that will etch themselves forever in both your memories and your hearts. Our list isn’t defined specifically by size or by number of visitors, but you’ll notice that each location’s unique, wholesome, and family-oriented events and activities help shape these rankings.
1. Christmas Town USA, in McAdenville, N.C., goes all out to give a once-in-a-lifetime Christmas experience to the 600,000 people who regularly show up. With 375 Christmas trees, more than 450,000 twinkling lights, free kettle corn and hot chocolate for the first 1,000 people who arrive for the Lighting and Yule Log ceremonies, and a sparkling, dancing fountain of light in the center of its lake, McAdenville is hard to beat.
2. The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., with a 236-year-old tradition, goes all-out for Christmas, with opulent decorations, a West Virginia Symphony performance at Lewisburg’s Carnegie Hall, and the famous Christmas Eve Gingerbread Ball in Colonial Hall. Its 60 Spectacular Days of Holiday Cheer features shopping at 37 distinct stores, tree lighting ceremonies every weekend in December and, of course, plenty of opportunities to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus.
3. Koziar’s Christmas Village in Bernville, Penn., features more than a million lights that illuminate their various displays, including Christmas Beneath the Sea, Christmas in the Jungle, and Christmas in Other Lands, as well as indoor and outdoor model trains. It opened in 1948 and is still going strong today.
4. Ogden’s Christmas Village in Ogden, Utah, has 59 pop-up cottages modeled after Santa’s North Pole Village, where kids can see elves busily working to get ready for their Christmas Eve sleigh ride. You can also take a free ride on the Polar Express train through a gaily decorated tunnel or go and visit Santa’s Castle.
5. Branson, Missouri’s Ozark Mountain Christmas is Yuletide with a country flair. Silver Dollar City’s roller coasters, five million lights, 1,000 Christmas trees, and the Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade will add a special sparkle to anyone’s Christmas.
6. Nevada City, California, hosts an annual Victorian Christmas Festival as a step back in time, where carolers dress in period costumes to sing joyous noels as the authentic gas lamps flicker and the smell of roasting chestnuts fills the air.
7. Georgetown, Texas, has huge wooden nutcracker soldiers dotting the streets, an annual window display competition between 18 stores for the most lavish Christmas show, and the 35th Annual Christmas Stroll through Georgetown Square’s Bethlehem Village, which is like a Christmas card come to life. You may even see the Grinch and his pals in Whoo-Village.
8. Zoar Village in Zoar, Ohio, founded in 1817, boasts horse-drawn wagon rides, a candlelight church service, a live manger scene, and tours of its historic homes where craftsmen show off their wares.
9. New York, New York, always goes big for Christmas, with a huge Norway spruce bearing 30,000 lights, five miles of wiring, and a 550-pound star on top at Rockefeller Center. There’s also the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, “The Nutcracker” at Lincoln Center, the Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show and, of course, holiday shopping along Fifth Avenue’s winter wonderland.
10. Wisconsin’s Elkhart Lake Christmas features an Old World Christmas Market modeled after Nuremberg, Germany’s Christkindlesmarkt, horse-drawn carriage rides through the woods complete with jingle bells, and traditional German food and sweets.
11. Genesee Country Village in Mumford, N.Y., makes note of the year 1849, when New York declared Christmas as a state holiday. Groups of visitors tour local period homes where they learn of the historic event and celebrate with the residents.
12. Charlottesville, Virginia’s historic downtown mall explodes with Christmas lights during the Yule season, with 90 local vendors of crafts and foods. The nearby resting place of President James Madison and his wife Dolley, in Montpelier, also hosts annual candlelight Christmas tours.
13. Chicago, Illinois, goes Christmas-crazy with millions of holiday lights strung along The Magnificent Mile, a large outdoor German Christkindlmarket craft market, and Navy Pier’s Winter WonderFest, which boasts an indoor ice-skating rink.
14. Key West, Florida, makes up for the fact that there probably won’t be any snow with its lavishly lit Boat Parade, the Holly Jolly Trolley, tours of historic Key West inns, and performances of “The Nutcracker,” the largest stage performance in the Keys.
15. Yuletide in Taos, N.M., features lovely luminarias or farolitos, warming bonfires, winter concerts by the Taos Community Chorus, and the Christmas Tree lighting and Electric Light Parade on Taos Plaza.
16. The 12 Days of Aspen in Colorado turns this ski destination into a winter wonderland, with lights, horse-drawn sleigh and wagon rides, a visit from Santa, live reindeer, the Ugly Sweater Party, a concert by Burt Bacharach, and fireworks over Aspen.
17. Charleston, South Carolina, hosts Christmas in Charleston, with bourbon eggnog, the Holiday Festival of Lights, “The Nutcracker” ballet, and sleigh rides.
18. Boston, Massachusetts’ Christmas celebrations feature three tree lightings, performances of Holiday Pops by Boston Pops, the Christmas Celtic Sojourn at the Cutler Majestic Theater, and lavish Christmas décor, including a huge Christmas tree in front of historic Faneuil Hall.
19. Santa Claus, Indiana, lives up to its name with the Santa Claus Land of Lights, the Family Christmas Light Adventure, hot chocolate at Santa’s Candy Castle, an international fruitcake-eating contest, and the Santa Claus Christmas Parade.
20. San Antonio, Texas, decorates its historic River Walk with 120,000 lights and, this year, carolers will serenade diners from boats along the 1.3-mile San Antonio River. The Fiesta de las Luminarias will feature 6,000 candle-lit brown bags for the tradition of lighting the way for the Holy Family.
21. Atlanta, Georgia’s tradition of riding the Pink Pig at Macy’s is a must for the holidays, but don’t forget to go ice skating at Centennial Park, sled down Stone Mountain, or revel in the Magical Night of Lights at nearby Lake Lanier Islands. The city also hosts the lighting of Macy’s Great Tree at Lenox Square Mall and Garden Lights, Holiday Nights at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, with more than a million twinkling lights.
22. In Louisville, Kentucky, you can make your own Christmas tree ornament at Glassworks, take in “A Christmas Carol” at the Actor’s Theater, enjoy Christmas and music from Pam Tillis at the Galt House, go to the Snow Fairy Princess Tea, or have breakfast with Santa Claus.
23. Head for Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida, for the traditional Candlelight Processional at Epcot Center, and enjoy the bright illuminations at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, with Santas, angels, and elves everywhere you turn. Also plan a stop at Mickey Mouse’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Disney’s Days of Christmas.
24. Durango, Colorado, features the Polar Express, a train pulled by a real steam locomotive, with hot chocolate and Christmas carols, which takes kids to visit Santa Claus.
25. Woodstock, Vermont, kicks off Christmas with an equestrian parade of more than 50 horses and riders and the Wassail Weekend, celebrating the Norse tradition, and features sleigh rides, a wassail feast, and tours of the area’s historic homes.
26. Newport Beach, California, hosts the 107-year-old Boat Parade, a three-hour spectacle in which residents brightly decorate their boats. All kinds of vessels, from kayaks to multimillion-dollar yachts, participate.
27. Frankenmuth, Michigan, has Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, the “World’s Largest Christmas Store,” with daily visits from Santa Claus and Christmas carol sing-a-longs. Frankenmuth calls itself Michigan’s “Little Bavaria,” and features horse-drawn carriage rides through covered bridges, a holiday celebration, and a Christmas Candlewalk.
28. Paradise, Pennsylvania, boasts the National Christmas Center Family Attraction and Museum, with 20,000 square feet of life-sized, walk-through displays which show off Christmases present and past, plus visits with Santa Claus.
29. New Orleans, Louisiana’s pure Christmas nighttime beauty is hard to top, with candlelight carols sung in front of the city’s historic St. Louis Cathedral, Reveillon (meaning “awakening”) dinners, lots of hot jazz, and NOLA’s ChristmasFest.
30. In Miami, Florida, Santa’s Enchanted Forest, the world’s largest Christmas-themed amusement park with more than 100 rides, draws a million visitors a year. Watch Santa take a death-defying ride in the motorcycle cage or marvel at the 92-foot Christmas tree and more than 3 million lights.
31. Los Angeles’ Hollywood Christmas Parade, a dazzling spectacle of floats and lights, is not to be missed. Also be sure to try some outdoor ice skating, or indoors at Chill at the Queen Mary, head to Anaheim for Disneyland Christmas Fantasy, or take in Grinchmas at Universal Studios Hollywood. And don’t miss the Latino Las Posadas celebration on Olvera Street.
32. Leavenworth, Washington, holds three Christmas tree lightings to accommodate the flood of visitors who come to this small town every Christmas season. Live music, the arrival of St. Nickolaus, a parade, a performance of “The Nutcracker,” sledding, and Winter Wonderland Walks make this a must-see spot for Christmas fans.
33. Baltimore, Maryland’s 34th Street transforms into a festival of lights with some traditional displays and some quirky, like a Christmas tree made out of hubcaps. The German Christmas Village has choirs, traditional German food, and the Charity Weekend, where you can buy a Christmas ornament to contribute to a charity.
34. Mall of the Americas in Minneapolis, Minnesota, goes virtually Noel-nuts every Christmas with huge holiday wreaths, giant ornament balls, two 40-foot-high Christmas trees, and Santa Sid, the most popular mall Santa in the country, drawing more than 17,000 visitors per year.
35. Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Tennessee has more than 2 million lights strung over 50 acres and boasts a huge Nativity scene with figures 10 feet tall. The famous Nashville Christmas Parade is on tap again this year, with the theme “Miracle on Broadway,” and the Nashville Ballet will present “The Nutcracker.”
36. Washington, D.C., is far from left out when it comes to Christmas. The lighting of the national Christmas tree in President’s Park has been a tradition since 1923, and families can also enjoy the Pathway of Peace, with 56 smaller trees representing the 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia.
37. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, has the Inn, which features a visit from Charles Dickens’ great-great-grandson, scads of Christmas decorations, and the Christmas Place, the largest Christmas store in the South. Nearby, Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas will have a visit from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and high-tech holograms of Christmas Past, Present and Future, along with special Christmas shows.
38. Solvang, California, does Christmas with a Danish flair. The city, known as the “Danish Capital of America,” decorates its half-timber houses and working windmills with Christmas lights, and also hosts a parade, Danish dancers, and the Julefest Tree Lighting Ceremony, plus a Santa village.
39. Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, is all about the history. You can visit Christmas at a typical 1780s farm, hear accounts of Christmas during the Revolution at the Yorktown Victory Center, enjoy the Christmas tree lighting, the boat parade, Yorktown Market Days, the Toyland Parade and, yes, Virginia, they have Santa Claus.
40. The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana, gives kids their very own Santa Claus, horse-drawn sleigh rides, a gingerbread house-building contest, and a lavish Christmas feast.
41. The Great Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco, California’s Cow Palace brings the Victorian era in London to life with 700 costumed performers in Victorian garb, loads of tasty food, music hall tunes in Mad Sal’s Dockside Alehouse, plenty of Christmas shopping, dance parties, and Irish and Scottish dancers.
42. Christmas by the Sea in Ogunquit, Maine, has a tree-lighting ceremony, hay rides, a Chowderfest Dinner With Dickens at the Clay Hill Farm and, this year, a concert by Rusted Root. There is also a carol-singing stroll that leads to the town’s holiday fireworks display.
43. North Conway and Lincoln, New Hampshire, are the perfect spots for train-lovers. Try the Polar Express and its Journey to the North Pole. You munch chocolates on the way and, when you arrive, elves take you to see Santa at his Toy Workshop where the boy from the “Polar Express” book, now grown up, relates his experiences, and your kids get to tell Santa just what they want for Christmas
44. Beaufort, South Carolina, residents and visitors enjoy the annual Crystal Coast Christmas Flotilla of gaily decorated boats and a gala traditional Christmas parade through downtown city streets.
45. Park City, Utah, is nestled in a valley that glows with thousands of lights during the Christmas season and features the annual Electric Parade and Santa Claus on skis, leading a torch-lit procession down the PayDay Trail. Nearby Montage Deer Valley has an enormous gingerbread house, 13 feet tall, made out of 11,000 cookies.
46. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, has dazzling white lights hung like Spanish moss in the trees and 5,500 hand-lit candles showing off the beauty of Brookgreen Gardens. The city also features the Festival of Trees at Ripley’s Aquarium — with 50 sparkling trees, one for each state — and the Christmas Show of the South, featuring the Carolina Opry.
47. Annapolis, Maryland, features the “It’s a Wonderful Life Holiday Celebration,” free horse and carriage rides, the Jolly Express cruise around Spa Creek, and State House by Candlelight, with caroling and a huge Christmas tree. But the big event is the Eastport Yacht Club Parade of Lights, with festive decorated boats cruising the Annapolis Harbor.
48. Newport, Rhode Island, encourages locals to use only white Christmas lights, which gives an old-timey, candlelight atmosphere to the entire town. The seaside town’s rich history is the focus here, with walking candlelight tours of the city’s old mansions and a nod to pirates and smugglers with the Rogues and Scoundrels History Walking Tour. The Newport Artillery will fire a cannon blast to mark the opening of the season at the tree lighting on Dec. 1.
49. Helen, Georgia, is a Bavarian old-time village nestled in the mountains, and its Deck the Halls festival at Unicoi State Park kicks off the celebrations, followed by the town’s annual costume holiday parade, carriage rides, visits from Santa, a traditional German Christkindlmarkt, and the annual Christmas in the Mountains Lighted Parade.
50. In Las Vegas, Nevada, the Bellagio takes the holiday lead by transforming its 13,000-square-foot conservatory and botanical garden into a Christmas wonderland, while carolers sing around the dancing lights in front. Meanwhile, the Ethel M. Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden in Henderson drapes more than a half million lights over three acres of cacti. Don’t miss the giant Christmas tree at Doge’s Palace at the Venetian.