Pictured Above: The Williamsburg Inn, located in Colonial Williamsburg, has earned the AAA Five Diamond rating since 2017.
After all we’ve been through, let’s make this the year to escape with our loved ones to an idyllic place for the winter holidays. In this column, the travel dream-makers at AAA share their choices of a few of the country’s most charming towns that get decked out for December, some places that hold the promise of snowflakes, and a few that are just darn cute, with lots of opportunity for merrymaking. So, think cozy thoughts, and take some tips for your holiday getaway from our experts.
Time your trip to Woodstock, Vermont, for the annual Wassail Weekend in mid-December.
LAKE PLACID, NEW YORK
This town in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains is gorgeous! Go during the annual weekend-long Holiday Stroll, where you’ll find family-friendly activities, Santa sightings all around town and a tree-lighting ceremony on Main Street overlooking an ice-covered Mirror Lake. In the snow-capped mountains just outside town, you can visit the Olympics Sports Complex and enjoy winter sports in the serene landscape. —Brena Carpenter, senior retail sales associate, AAA Dayton South, Ohio
Known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria, this quaint town is home to Bronner’s, the self-proclaimed world’s largest Christmas store, and Zehnder’s Snowfest, one of the country’s top snow-sculpting events. Visit Zehnder’s restaurant for great comfort food, and then take a horse-drawn carriage ride to enjoy the town in its holiday finery. It’s only a couple hours’ drive for my family and me, and it’s our holiday tradition to drive there for a day. We always say we want to spend a weekend in Frankenmuth because we never have enough time to do it all. —Janet Creque, social media manager, AAA Toledo, Ohio
Halfway between Louisville, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio, this midsize city along the Ohio River attracts visitors year-round, with 133 blocks of downtown designated as the largest contiguous National Historic Landmark in the US. Check out the house and garden tours, musical events and more. Then, drive two scenic hours southwest to Santa Claus, Indiana, to visit the Santa Claus Museum and Village. In the evening, drive through Lake Rudolph’s 1.2-mile Santa Claus Land of Lights, and overnight at Santa’s Lodge. —Ken Keck, retail sales associate, AAA Forest Park, Ohio
Make it a long weekend in southeastern Virginia. Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s Christmas Town is magical, with more than 10 million lights and 1,400 fresh-cut Christmas trees adorning the theme park. After an evening of thrill rides, Santa and holiday shows, go back in time to experience Colonial Williamsburg for the Grand Illumination, which traditionally takes place the first full weekend in December. It’s really cool to see the replica historic buildings decorated for Christmas; there are torch-lit tours, strolling carolers and so much more. —Jenny Gaynor, senior travel agent, AAA Crofton, Maryland
Recognized by Travel + Leisure as one of the country’s best holiday markets, the annual Christkindlmarkt in this historic eastern Pennsylvania town features more than 100 artisans, live music, and an array of local and European-style food vendors. Spend the day shopping, and then travel an hour west to Koziar’s Christmas Village in Bernville, Pennsylvania, to walk grounds filled with a dazzling indoor/outdoor display, with lights draped over barns, buildings and landscapes. —Valerie Holmes, travel agent, AAA White Marsh, Maryland
WHEELING, WEST VIRGINIA
Check out the Winter Festival of Lights at Oglebay, the former country estate of 19th-century industrialist Earl W. Oglebay that now serves as a resort, park and conference center. You can explore 90 lighted attractions across 300 acres of the estate at this event that attracts more than a million visitors a year starting in early November. You might even think about booking a package and staying over for New Year’s Eve. —Stephanie Pross, social media specialist, AAA Newport, Kentucky
Ober Gatlinburg’s Aerial Tramway provides breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.
How about a laid-back weekend in a comfy cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains to find a little holiday spirit? Gatlinburg is old-time Americana complete with an evening parade December 4 that’s part of the town’s annual Winter Magic festival, which runs from November 12 through February. There’s skiing, snowboarding and tubing at Ober Gatlinburg, too. Just a few miles up the road is Pigeon Forge, where, no matter what the weather is like outside, you can find hills for snow tubing at Pigeon Forge Snow, America’s first indoor year-round snow park. —Beth Faison, travel agent, AAA Glenside, Virginia
Known as The Switzerland of America, this town is snuggled in the valley of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado. You can try typical snow country activities such as ice skating and sledding, or take it easy with a soak in a natural hot spring. Stroll the town’s charming Victorian main street during the annual WinterFest starting in early December and continuing with IceFest at the Ouray Ice Park in January. Ouray is so beautiful for the holidays; it’s like a fairy-tale town. —Michelle Stinnett, travel agent, AAA Edmond, Oklahoma
With the snow-dusted pines of the Green Mountains as the backdrop, this picturesque town will have you feeling as if you’ve walked onto a movie set. Explore the area’s three covered bridges by a horse-drawn carriage decked out in sleigh bells during the annual Wassail Weekend in mid-December. During this time, the village comes to life with the sights and sounds of the season, including tours of beautiful historic homes and a chance to have breakfast with Santa. —Nicole Pappas, senior travel agent, AAA King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
HOLIDAY HOMES AND GARDENS
Many of our nation’s historic grand estates, famed gardens and luxury resorts invite guests to revel in the sights of the season. These attractions made our experts’ list, and we hope you’ll enjoy them, too.
- Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina
- Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
- The Homestead, Hot Springs, Virginia
- The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
- Mount Vernon Estate, Mount Vernon, Virginia