A photo of white manor housing the Woodstock Inn, covered in snow and Christmas lights
Photograph: Courtesy Woodstock Inn

The best Christmas towns in the U.S. to get you in the holiday spirit

Looking for the perfect holiday vacation? Book a trip to the best Christmas towns in the U.S. for extra cheer.

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Christmas can bring magic to your life no matter where you are. But there are certain places where holiday magic is taken to the next level. Picture snow-capped trees, twinkling lights charting a path down the main street, charmingly decorated vintage homes and inns, carriage rides, carolers—the whole works. The best Christmas towns in the U.S. feel like Hallmark Christmas movies in real life (and often, they are the real settings of these films.)

If you're a die-hard Christmas enthusiast or simply appreciate a little Yuletide joy, grab your scarf and head to one of these holly, jolly towns. On our list of the merriest towns in America, you'll find cities with Christmas as their main claim to fame (like North Pole, Alaska and Santa Claus, Indiana), charming New England villages (like Essex, Connecticut and Stockbridge, Massachusetts) and European-style destinations like Solvang, California and Leavenworth, Washington. From coast to coast, take in stunning Christmas light displays, shop local holiday markets, and cozy up next to a fire. Ho, ho, let's go!

Best Christmas towns in the USA

Even without snow, this charming Danish-inspired city in southern California (less than an hour away from Santa Barbara) turns up the 'hygge' for its annual Julefest. The month-long Christmas celebration includes a Julefest parade (complete with marching bands) and a proper Santa’s Village (where photos with Santa are totally free). A tree-lighting ceremony in early December kicks off the festivities with caroling, ballerinas, and the arrival of Santa himself, but you should aim to visit during the city-wide Christmas gnome hunt, inspired by the Nordic folklore surrounding nisse, otherwise known as Christmas elves (if you find any, you win a prize). And, if those holiday gnomes stoked your curiosity, you can also take a candlelight tour to learn about the city of Solvang and Danish yuletide traditions.

You can visit Santa almost anywhere during the holiday season—even your local mall, if you must—but he accepts visitors all year in North Pole, Alaska. Is this really where Santa lives, you ask? Not exactly, considering that it’s about 1,700 miles from the real geographic North Pole. Nevertheless, you can’t knock the small city’s year-round spirit. Here, The Santa Claus House is the main attraction (where you can meet Santa and his reindeer), while the city itself leans into its name with candy cane-striped light posts and street names like Kris Kringle Drive and Snowman Lane. Each year, the local post office receives hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa, and you can send mail to friends and family with a North Pole postmark to make your holiday correspondence extra special.

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Judging by the name alone, you can tell this small Indiana town does not mess around when it comes to Christmas. From its Holiday World theme park (with rides like Rudolph’s Roundup and Reindeer Games) to Santa’s Candy Castle (a sweet shop featuring hard-to-find candies and homemade confections), the town of Santa Claus is Christmas-y all year long. The local post office receives thousands of letters from kids yearly, and volunteer elves write back to each one. Once the Christmas season officially starts, there’s even more holiday cheer with Christmas-themed fireworks, reindeer rides, and the Santa Claus Land of Lights—a 1.2-mile drive-through event that tells the story of Rudolph (you know: the one with the shiny nose).

If you’re looking for an American Christmas straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, look no further than Stockbridge. Each year, the Massachusetts town steps back in time to recreate Rockwell’s Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas, and its Main Street closes to traffic as it’s lined with vintage automobiles (you can even see the original painting at the local Norman Rockwell Museum). There’s also a holiday marketplace at the Berkshire Botanical Gardens and a holiday concert featuring over 100 carolers on the porch of the historic Red Lion Inn (which also features a cozy fireplace to warm your hands and toes).

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Named 'the most beautiful small town in America,' Bardstown delivers southern hospitality and plenty of season’s greetings. From November through the end of the year, Light Up Bardstown: A Holiday Road Trip creates a winter wonderland along Main Street, where numerous homes and businesses are illuminated. You can also take in a Christmas parade with floats and bands, hop aboard the North Pole Express, or see a musical, interactive version of A Christmas Carol at My Old Kentucky Home. For a different kind of holiday spirit, visit the Maker’s Mark Distillery for a special candlelight tour.

Unsurprisingly, a city nicknamed Corning (also known as Crystal City) celebrates its connection with the glass industry during the holidays. The Corning Museum of Glass features a Holiday Open House with free admission, glass-making projects, cookie decorating, and a special Mr. and Mrs. Claus appearance. Plus, there’s a show-stopping Christmas tree composed of 2,000 glass ornaments created on-site (you can also create your own handmade glass ornament if you’re feeling crafty). Marching bands and adorned floats go through downtown during the city’s annual Parade of Lights, and Corning’s Sparkle event offers choral performances of holiday music and horse-drawn carriage rides.

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Leavenworth is truly a winter wonderland destination. Home to The Nutcracker Museum (where you’ll find over 9,000 festive figures), a reindeer farm that’s open year-round, and The Gingerbread Factory (which serves tasty treats even when it’s not technically gingerbread season), this place has all the holiday cheer you can handle. In December, the Village of Lights: Christmastown amps up the Christmas celebrations with breathtaking light displays (complete with more than half a million bulbs), festive German food, and carolers performing in the town’s lovely gazebo. While here, enjoy abundant winter activities, including sledding and cross-country skiing, then warm up with a toasty fire at the Bavarian Lodge.

Everything’s bigger in Texas, which also goes for Christmas celebrations. Grapevine, the self-proclaimed Christmas capital of Texas, boasts 40 days of holiday events. There’s a decorating contest for homes and businesses, a Christmas market, and multiple parades—including a drone show. Grapevine also has a North Pole Express train for families and a memorable wine train excursion for adults (yes, please). But if you’re craving a classic white Christmas experience, head to Great Wolf Lodge Waterpark’s Snowland experience for twinkling lights, hot cocoa, and indoor snow showers.

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Fans of Gilmore Girls might expect to see Lorelei and Rory strolling through this adorable Connecticut town as close to Stars Hollow as you can get in real life. See a festive Main Street during the town’s annual Holiday Stroll (think horse-and-carriage rides with Santa), or ride the Essex Steam Train. In past years, the special daytime ride, The Santa Special, features appearances by Santa, Rudolph, and Pablo the Penguin. To cap off your visit, spend the night at the outrageously charming Griswold Inn (which offers total Dragonfly Inn vibes.)

Step into a twinkly painting of historic inns, covered bridges, and charming holiday activities at Woodstock’s Wassail Weekend, a perfect way to get in the holiday spirit. In this quintessential Vermont destination, you can take a carriage ride around town, watch the Wassail parade, build a gingerbread house, go caroling on the green, and skate with Santa. Head over to Billings Farm and see 19th-century holiday traditions—like candle dipping, snowshoe treks, and sleigh rides—and spend the night at the Woodstock Inn, the picturesque hotel of your dreams.

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With its 19th-century buildings and cozy bed and breakfasts, Galena’s has a warm (and especially LGBTQ-welcoming) spirit. Start the festive season with the Galena Holidaze Festival, a family-friendly event featuring caroling and items for sale made by local and traveling artisans, and Holiday Fire in the Sky. This stunning fireworks display lights up downtown and snow-covered countryside. The town literally glows during Night of the Luminaria & Living Windows when over 5,000 candles line the streets, steps, and sidewalks and shops create extraordinary window displays.

Kennebunkport, a perfect weekend getaway from Boston, puts a unique Maine twist on the holidays with its annual Christmas Prelude. Here, a lobster-trap Christmas tree and a homemade hat parade reel in the small-town charm while Santa even treks up and down the Kennebunk River on a lobster boat. The town also has traditional festivities, like a Bavarian Christmas market and candlelight caroling at the local monastery. Grab a cup of cocoa and hop aboard the Prelude Trolley or a lobster boat for a scenic ride—you won’t regret it.

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