It's not just the name Bethlehem that led this community to adopt the moniker Christmas City; the quaint Pennsylvania town is known for getting dressed to the nines each holiday season. Bethlehem's annual Christkindlmarkt is a heartwarming holiday event with live Christmas music and artisan vendors. While in town, stop by the nearby Lehigh Valley Zoo for their annual Winter Light Spectacular, which features more than 1.2 million brightly shining bulbs. For even more holiday spirit, drive about an hour to the famed Koziar's Christmas Village, celebrating its 75th year.
Whether you love Christmas for the family time and well-worn traditions or the bright lights and festive atmosphere, the best places to get your holiday fix aren't big cities like New York and D.C. (even though, yes, we love their holiday vibe, too). It is the smaller communities that really go all out, the 'Christmas Cities' that should be at the top of the season's travel list.
For these cities across the United States, Christmas isn't just a holiday, it's a way of life and often their claim to fame. They erect dreamily lit-up villages, serve hot mulled wine, and cover the city in hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights. Some, like Santa Claus, Indiana and McAdenville, North Carolina have parades and Christmas tree lightings that date back years and years. Some of these towns will even transport you back in time, like at the colonial-style celebration in Williamsburg, Virginia or the Charles Dickens-inspired one in Franklin, Tennessee. While you may still find a few changes due to COVID (not the least of which include masking and distancing), there's still plenty of holiday cheer to go around.
For more Christmas excitement, try our guides to the best holiday markets in New York and London. If your ideal winter vacation combines Christmas cheer with something a little more adventurous, check out our favorite ski towns and snowboarding resorts. And if your Christmas will be brighter if you head out of the snow to warmer climes, our list of the best beaches in the country's got you covered, er...uncovered.