Sleigh Bells Ringing: American Cities With Holiday Spirit Galore

Sometimes the best gift is the gift of travel. If you’re brimming with holiday cheer and yearn to travel in the month of December—there are plenty of festive destinations that are conductive to joyous holiday celebrations. Cooking your own holiday feast, attempting to string up tangled Christmas lights, and hauling a giant tree into your front room can be exhausting. Visiting a beautiful city adorned with sparkling holiday decorations is a relaxing way to enjoy one of the most hectic times of year.


New York Christmas

Photo by Ibrahim Boran

I am well aware that New York City appears on virtually every list of cities to visit during the Christmas season. Those who love the Big Apple know that New York simply does certain things better than virtually any other city—and celebrating the holidays is one of those things. New York features giant Christmas trees in Manhattan, dazzling Christmas decorations on Fifth Avenue, and ice skating galore. Every year, new holiday-themed events and Christmas light displays pop up throughout the city. In recent years, ElfCon—a hot chocolate crawl in which participants dress as elves to benefit charity—has become particularly popular. If you’re a true Christmas lover, you absolutely must visit New York City at least once during the month of December.


Most people associate New Orleans with Mardi Gras, but the Big Easy is a glorious place to celebrate Christmas, too. Virtually every major New Orleans restaurant and bar features special food and drinks during the holiday season, including eggnog cocktails and rooster gumbo. The swanky Roosevelt Hotel features a vibrant light display. Visitors can participate in a series of long-standing holiday traditions, including a Mardi Gras-style Christmas parade with holiday-themed beads, a Santa bar crawl where participants are loaded into a roller sleigh and transported from bar to bar by elves, and Christmas caroling at Jackson Square. In the month of December, New Orleans may not be covered in a fresh layer of snow. However, New Orleans is still a premier Christmas destination thanks to lights, holiday festivals, and some of the most delectable holiday-themed food and drinks imaginable.


salt lake city christmas

You don’t have to be a devout Mormon to appreciate the stunning Christmas light display that illuminates Salt Lake City’s Temple Square every holiday season. Salt Lake City is home to countless family friendly holiday activities, including the Festival of Trees, which features Christmas trees which have been lavishly decorated by various Utah residents. Every December, Ballet West stages an elegant and engaging production of The Nutcracker. Salt Lake City is approximately 30 minutes away from a handful of major ski resorts. Every Christmas Eve, Snowbird Ski Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon hosts a Torchlight Parade where skiers and snowboarders race down the mountain with torches to help light Santa’s way. Spectators are served hot chocolate, and treated to a fireworks display. Sometimes Santa even makes a special appearance in the sky near the end of the parade.


honolulu christmas

If the thrill of a frosty white Christmas isn’t quite what it used to be, consider spending the holidays relaxing on a tropical island. Honolulu, Hawaii hosts a celebration called Honolulu City Lights which features a parade, Christmas sculptures, and an ever-expanding display of Christmas lights. An evening spent at Honolulu City Lights will convince you to add a giant purple octopus to your Christmas decor. The Sheraton Hotel in Waikiki features Christmas-themed sand sculptures that will inspire you to up your sandcastle building game. If you’re strolling along the beach in Waikiki at just the right moment, there’s a chance that Santa will paddle ashore in a canoe. A trip to Honolulu in December proves that you don’t have to freeze to get into the Christmas spirit.


Old World Christmas Market

Every year in early December, the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin is home to an Old World Christmas Market which channels 16th century European traditions to offer visitors artisanal food and gifts. The Old World Christmas Market features crystal ornaments, wooden dolls, and handstitched scarves and shawls. There are even a few almonds roasting on an open fire. Visitors can dash through the snow in a horse-drawn carriage, or craft cookies and ornaments. Santa has been known to make appearances with his reindeer. If you’re searching for a spot where you can enjoy the sights, sounds, and textures of Christmas—there are few places more jolly than Elkhart Lake’s Old World Christmas Market.


Grapevine, Texas

The holiday season is the pride and joy of the town of Grapevine, Texas. Grapevine features Christmas lights, Christmas trees, Christmas plays, Christmas movies, and every type of Christmas decoration imaginable. One of Grapevine’s most popular Christmas activities is the Grapevine Vintage Railroad, which features separate Christmas trains that cater to children and adults. The kiddie train allows little ones to ride to the Texas version of the North Pole to visit Santa while they are dressed in their coziest pajamas. The adult train features copious amounts of wine and a DJ who spins contemporary mixes of classic Christmas songs. If you’re looking to ride the wine train in Grapevine, you best act fast. Tickets for the wine train sell out fast. The Grapevine Vintage Express proves that in Texas, Christmas dreams come true if you’re 4 or 40.



Each December, every inch of the state of Vermont turns into a magical winter wonderland. However, the town of Chester is the only city in Vermont that is so full of Christmas spirit that it was transformed into the fictional town of Santaville for a TV Christmas special. Chester is home to countless Christmas activities and performances, including a performance of Celtic arrangements of traditional Christmas songs. Chester features numerous historic buildings which look like a Christmas Village when they’re covered with a fresh blanket of snow. The iconic Fullerton Inn looks as though it was specially constructed for a Christmas display. Chester is also home to a robust community of artists. There are few better places to shop for unique handcrafted presents.


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