Some towns really get into the Christmas spirit, dressing themselves up in a winter wonderland that could inspire a smile in even the biggest Grinch. Although some of the most legendary reside in Europe, you needn’t travel overseas to experience this once-a-year holiday magic. Many towns right here in the United States offer Christmas enthusiasts an impressive slice of what you’d find thousands of miles away. Here are some of our favorites that may inspire a ho-ho-holiday visit.**
Leavenworth, Washington. Photo courtesy of Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce
Closest major city: Seattle (117 miles)
Strolling this Bavarian-style village in the Cascade Mountains is like stepping into a Christmas snow globe. Decked out in twinkling lights and fresh snow, it hosts a month-long Christmas celebration called Village of Lights: Christmastown! The holiday lights stay twinkling seven days a week from Thanksgiving through February. Entertainment includes live music and strolling carolers; holiday characters for photo ops; Santa visits; and a Krampus Crawl (Dec. 4). There’s also an opportunity to check off something on the Christmas bucket list: befriending a reindeer. The family-run Leavenworth Reindeer Farm invites you to meet Santa and feed its herd of friendly reindeer.
Breackenridge, Colorado. Photo courtesy GoBreck.com
Closest major city: Denver (81 miles)
Let’s face it: Any Colorado mountain town is going to make you feel like you’ve landed in a Hallmark Christmas movie. But if we had to single out one for its holiday ambience, it’s Breckenridge. Snow-covered mountain peaks look down upon a twinkling town where, during holiday months, carolers roam the streets and horse and carriages are decked for the season. In addition to all the activities that befit a mountain town, such as sledding, skiing and ice skating, Breckenridge hosts two unique holiday events: The Race of the Santas (Dec. 4), a jolly Main Street race by runners sporting red coats and white beards, and Ullr Fest (Dec. 9-12, 2021), a 10-day celebration of all things winter.
Frankenmuth, Michigan. Photo courtesy Frankenmuth Chamber of Commerce
Closest major city: Detroit (93 miles)
This tiny Michigan town celebrates Christmas year-round. Come December, however, Frankenmuth goes full-throttle “I love Christmas” for visitors hoping to capture a piece of that magic without leaving the Midwest. Its Main Street boasts horse-drawn carriage rides, festive window displays, and restaurants serving belly-warming cuisine and beverages to keep you fueled for exploration. There’s also a brand-new ice rink to enjoy. Frankenmuth is also famously home to Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, billed as “The World’s Largest Christmas Store.” Christmas trinkets galore fill a space the size of 1.5 football fields, along with 300 ornately-decorated Christmas trees to ogle.
Solvang, California. Photo courtesy Central Coast Pictures
Closest major city: Los Angeles (128 miles)
What this quirky town in California’s Central Wine Country lacks in snow, it makes up for in holiday cheer. Solvang goes all out during Julefest (pronounced Yule-Fest), a month-long celebration of lights, music, shopping, and holiday merriment. The town’s distinctly Danish architecture, which includes its iconic windmill, are decked out for the holidays—it’s an ambience that’ll transport you to a Christmas in Europe without leaving California. The festival this year includes an outdoor Christmas Market fashioned after the Old World, along with the now-annual Nisse Adventure, a digital scavenger hunt to find Christmas elves hidden throughout the town.
Stockbridge, MA. Photo courtesy of Kirkiki/iStock.com
Closest major city: Boston (131 miles)
Enjoy nostalgia of a bygone holiday era while visiting Stockbridge. Norman Rockwell’s 1967 painting of this New England town during the holidays helped to put it on the map for millions. Today, you can step into that setting during the Stockbridge Main Street Christmas (Dec. 3-5), when the town recreates the scene with vintage automobiles and classic decorations. Another highlight of this special weekend is the holiday house tour, which features some of the area’s finest Berkshire cottages, historic homes, B&Bs, and private homes decorated for the holidays.
Grapevine, Texas, photo courtesy of Christine Kohler/iStock.com
Closest major cities: Dallas/Fort Worth (23 miles)
Grapevine is the official “Christmas Capital of Texas.” (Seriously, the state senate issued this declaration in 2009.) The town hosts a whopping 1,400 events over 40 days. Blending Christmas merriment with a cowboy attitude, the holiday spectacle includes a town decked out in millions of lights; parades (on land and water); a wine train; holiday movie screenings at the restored Palace Theater; and photo ops with live reindeer and Santa. One of the most popular attractions: The North Pole Express, a train ride that includes caroling elves, mugs of Frosty Chocolate Snow Milk, a stroll through a snowy North Pole, and a Broadway-style show.
Dollywood in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Photo courtesy of Dollywood
Closest major cities: Atlanta (196 miles) & Nashville (222 miles)
Make it a Smoky Mountain Christmas. Throughout the months of November and December, Gatlinburg hosts a plethora of events as the mountain town comes alive with twinkling lights and an abundance of Appalachian-infused holiday spirit. Hop aboard the whimsical Gatlinburg trolley to take in the lights and displays throughout town, or take the aerial tramway up to Ober Gatlinburg for a bird’s eye view. Stroll the beautiful hills of the Wilson Glyn Christmas Tree Farm. Stake your seat for the Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade, a traditional Christmas parade that features something unique to the region: bluegrass music. Shop for custom gifts while supporting a hardworking community of local artisans at the Great Smoky Thanksgiving & Christmas Arts & Crafts Show. Visit Dollywood, which is decked out in more than 5 million lights for Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas (Nov. 6 - Jan. 2, 2022). Choices, choices!
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Photo courtesy Discover Lehigh Valley, DiscoverLehighValley.com
Closest major city: Philadelphia (70 miles)
Oh, little town of Bethlehem. Nestled in the Lehigh Valley region of eastern Pennsylvania, this picturesque town was named Bethlehem on Christmas Eve in 1741 by its Moravian settlers and today is known as “Christmas City USA.” It lives up to the name. There is not just one, but two German-inspired outdoor markets for your holiday shopping: the Christmas Huts on Main and the Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem. You can also join Christmas-themed walking tours with guides in period clothing that take in the town’s historic buildings (some dating back to the 1700s) and attend the Live Advent Calendar (Dec. 1-23). This unique, nightly event involves a downtown merchant coming out of the door of the historic Goudie House to dispense a surprise treat for whomever is waiting.
** All holiday events are subject to change and will adhere to public health and safety requirements as required by local jurisdictions and private businesses. Event websites will have the most up-to-date information.