The 15 Best Christmas Towns in the US

Hotel del Coronado

Courtesy of Hotel del Coronado

The country’s biggest cities may host some of the most iconic Christmas experiences, like ice skating at New York City’s Rockefeller Center or the festive holiday storefronts along the Magnificent Mile in Chicago. But don’t overlook the small towns, where holiday fun snowballs with charming festivals, made-for-Hallmark traditions, and, often, more Christmas lights than residents. Some of the best Christmas towns are wintery snow globes; others are warm-weather destinations with boat parades and twinkling palm trees. Ahead, 15 U.S. towns that may be small in size but are big on holiday cheer. 

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Breckenridge, Colorado

Lighting of Breckenridge

Courtesy of Breckenridge Tourism Office

Holiday movie lovers might recognize Breckenridge from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” with Clark Griswold’s greased-up sledding incident shot on the ski area’s Peak 8 and many more slapdash scenes filmed throughout this classic Colorado mountain town. Break from the Griswold’s haphazard script, and enjoy one of Breck’s many chill traditions leading up to Christmas. Pets trot through town dressed as reindeer, elves, and the like during a holiday dog parade and hundreds of jolly runners in red velour suits dash down Main Street for the “Race of the Santas.” Beyond the obvious holiday celebrations, Breckenridge also hosts the Ullr Fest every December, where it’s tradition for eager skiers and snowboarders to wear Viking hats, drink from a “shot ski,” and praise the Norse god of snow in hopes of a powder-filled season.

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Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Bethlehem, PA in snow

Discover Lehigh Valley

Back in 1741, a religious group settled in the Lehigh Valley, and, on Christmas Eve, after a bishop visited a two-room log cabin housing both people and animals, the Pennsylvania city had a name: Bethlehem. Today, Bethlehem delivers on its reputation as “The Christmas City” with a German-style Christkindlmarkt, a Rude Elf Belgian-style beer brewed during the winter, and a large outdoor ice skating rink at the SteelStacks, which is a former steel manufacturing plant made over into an arts and culture gathering place. If you stay in town until New Year’s Eve, you’ll witness the Peeps Chick Drop, a tradition in which a 400-pound replica of the marshmallow candy is lowered from the sky by a crane. Bethlehem, by the way, is also the headquarters of Peeps-maker Just Born Confections.

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Bardstown, Kentucky

tree lighting

Visit Bardstown

Leave it to a small town to get its residents and businesses on the same decorating schedule. Bardstown holds the annual Hanging of the Greens, which culminates with the whole town "flipping the switch" on Christmas to make Bardstown a dazzling display of lights and decor that visitors can take in on a special driving route. To drum up even more Christmas cheer, My Old Kentucky Dinner Train transforms into the North Pole Express, and an ice skating rink pops up at the Farmer's Market Pavillion. Plus, with a nip of bourbon, Bardstown's fruit cakes might even win over the staunchest critics of the divisive dessert.

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Taos, New Mexico

Taos at Christmas

Sarah Ponder

Enjoy a Southwestern-style Christmas in Taos, where adobe buildings in the historic plaza are lined with candle-lit farolitos for the holidays, and you can order your burrito with red and green chile (i.e., Christmas-style) year-round. December itineraries in this New Mexico destination could include hitting the slopes at the Taos Ski Valley Resort, spending the night in an adobe hacienda like the Inn at La Loma Plaza, where some rooms come with wood-burning kiva fireplaces, and indulging with hot sipping chocolates from award-winning chocolatier Chokola. Taos Pueblo—a Native American community with multi-story adobe buildings that have been continuously inhabited for more than 1,000 years—holds a Procession of the Virgin Mary, mass, and bonfire on Christmas Eve, as well as traditional dances on Christmas Day. The UNESCO World Heritage Site gatherings are open to the public, but no photography is allowed.

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West Palm Beach, Florida

Kwanzaa celebration

Van Richardson

In The Square neighborhood of West Palm Beach, a banyan tree is draped with 100,000 colorful LED lights, and nightly light shows give the illusion of falling snow. In addition to the Christmas festivities, the neighborhood also hosts a Hanukkah Celebration with live music, a candle lighting ceremony, and an Afrique Ngozi Dance & Drums Kwanzaa Performance. One of the most popular holiday events in the area is the Palm Beach Holiday Parade, which includes a floating fireworks display, 80 boats strung with lights and decorations, and a toy fleet of boats that pick up donations along the parade route.

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Frankenmuth, Michigan

Nativity scene and the Silent Night Chapel in Frakenmuth Michigan
Michael Deemer / Getty Images

Known as Michigan’s “Little Bavaria,” Frankenmuth stays on brand with its architecture, Christkindl market, and family-style chicken dinners at rival restaurants Zehnder’s and the Bavarian Inn. The town only has 5,000 residents, but it welcomes 1 million tourists every year, many of whom flock to Frankenmuth during the holiday season to shop at the sprawling 2.2-acre Bronner’s, which stakes its claim as the world’s largest Christmas store. During the holiday season, travelers can rock around the musical Christmas tree downtown, go ice skating, and visit a reindeer farm

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Fredericksburg, Texas

Christmas main street

Trish Rawls

Rich with German heritage, Fredericksburg goes all out during Weihnachtszeit (or the Christmas season). The Hill Country locale pops up an ice skating rink and lights up its Christmas Pyramid, a 26-foot tall, spinning carousel-like creation. These wooden German decorations date back to the 16th century, and some believe they inspired our modern-day Christmas tree traditions. During the holiday season, Fredericksburg visitors can stop by the Marktplatz at 6 p.m. to hear an audio presentation about the town’s history and holiday carols and participate in a countdown as the marketplace lights up for the night. Then, hit up Main Street, which has boutique shops, wine tasting rooms, and restaurants.

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Santa Claus, Indiana

Santa Clause indian lights

Courtesy of Santa Claus, Indiana

Consider Santa Claus, Indiana, the U.S. branch of the North Pole. The city is packed with holiday-themed businesses, including Santa’s Candy Castle; Santa’s Toys, which is located on a street called N. Kringle and brings out reindeer during the holiday season; and Frosty’s Fun Center, a pizza shop with arcade games. Visitors can learn about the history of Old Saint Nick and write letters to him at the Santa Claus Museum and Village. Even if you don’t have a chance to visit Indiana during December, you can still route your holiday cards through Santa Claus to get a special postmark. 

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Coronado, California

Hotel del Coronado

Courtesy of Hotel del Coronado

The Hotel del Coronado lit the first outdoor Christmas tree with electric lights in 1904 and has been hosting enchanting holiday celebrations ever since. Guests and locals can strap on ice skates and glide across a beachfront Frosted by The Sea ice rink. The hotel also puts on holiday movies on the beach, Victorian teas, and gingerbread house workshops, and Elves are available to deliver gifts to kids. Stroll around the peninsula after sunset; homeowners go all-out with their holiday light displays.

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Branson, Missouri

Silver Dollar City

Courtesy of Silver Dollar City

For Christmas overload, Branson's Silver Dollar City glows with 6.5 million lights during the holiday season, making parts of the theme park lighter at night than during the day. Park-goers can check out an eight-story musical Christmas tree, live entertainment shows, a holiday light parade led by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and chow down on a holiday dinner with turkey, ham, and prime rib options polished off with cinnamon ice cream. The holiday cheer is palpable throughout the rest of Branson (population 13,000). The tourist destination is nicknamed "America's Christmas Tree City" because businesses put up more than 700 trees during the holiday season. Visitors will see plenty of evergreen trees strung with lights, but there are also holiday trees made with everything from Go-Kart tires to wine bottles. 

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Newport Beach, California

Boats And Yachts Take Part In The Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade
David McNew / Getty Images

Elaborately decorated yachts, sailboats, powerboats, and even kayaks take to the water for the multi-night Newport Beach Boat Parade in its 114th year. Beyond the boats sailing in the harbor, waterfront homes, yacht clubs, and businesses are encouraged to participate in the adjacent “Ring of Lights Competition.” Awards are given to the boats and houses, but the real winners are those who witness the spectacle. While in Newport Beach, shop small at Creative Communal open-air holiday market where local artisans sell gifts, or check out the Night of 1000 Lights at the Sherman Library and Gardens, which includes French cabaret singers and can-can dancers in the Tea Garden.

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Leavenworth, Washington

USA, Washington, Leavenworth, street scene, winter (blurred motion)
Merrill Images / Getty Images

With the Cascade Mountains as a backdrop and Bavarian buildings dripping with lights, Leavenworth is a winter wonderland. The holidays are such a big deal here that the city puts out its own Christmas song, performed live at the Festhalle. The community center also has a gingerbread house exhibition and is a place where kids can learn how to make Lebkuchenherzen necklaces that have gingerbread heart pendants. Meanwhile, the gazebo in the heart of town hosts live entertainment with choirs and carolers, and the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum is stocked with more than 9,000 nutcrackers from 50 different countries.

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North Pole, Alaska

Giant Santa
Stuart Westmorland / Getty Images

A development company in 1944 gave the small city its festive name because it was hoping to draw a toy manufacturer to the area that could advertise products being made at Alaska’s North Pole. While that never happened, North Pole is home to the Santa Claus House, which sells ornaments, decor, and toys. You know you’ve arrived when you see the 42-foot-tall Santa statue greeting you from the highway. Inside, the walls are covered with “Dear Santa” letters from children worldwide. North Pole (which boasts themed street names like Mistletoe Lane and Kris Kringle Drive) is just about 15 minutes from Fairbanks.

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Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Elizabeth City boat parade

Courtesy of Elizabeth City

To live up to its nickname as the “Hot Cocoa Capital of the World,” Elizabeth City has a wintertime “Hot Cocoa Crawl.” The 30 stops include coffee shops, restaurants, and bars that sell gourmet hot chocolates and decadent cocoa desserts, but there are also boutiques with gourmet marshmallows and mini knit sweaters for mugs. Stores also compete in a holiday storefront decorating contest. Other holiday-centric events include a Lighted Boat Parade, where skiffs, sailboats, and pontoons with twinkling lights circle the waterfront to the soundtrack of Christmas carols. Elizabeth City also holds a “Christmas Around the World” parade.

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Sevierville, Tennessee

Shadrack's Christmas wonderland

Courtesy of Shadrack's

The Great Smoky Mountains is a gracious holiday host, with Sevierville and its neighboring cities, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, dressed to the nines in Christmas lights. More than 15 million lights illuminate a 25-mile stretch of the Foothills Parkway, plus Shadrack's Christmas Wonderland is a drive-thru attraction with lights that dance in sync with Christmas music that you can tune into on your radio. Of course, it'd be a shame to visit the Smokies without stopping at Dollywood, where kids can see Santa in his workshop. The theme park, outfitted with 6 million lights, also has train rides, fireworks, holiday shows, and festive treats like gingerbread funnel cake.