Santa's Workshop North Pole, Colorado
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Colorado Springs, Colorado
Tucked in Colorado Springs is an amusement park called The North Pole. Here, you'll not only find—what else—Santa's Workshop, but there's also rides, plenty of twinkling lights, and more, all at the foot of Pikes Peak. That's not all the town boasts, though. You can ride the Polar Express train that takes you straight to said theme park, plus enjoy the annual festival of lights parade that marks the illumination of the town's streets and kicks off a series of festive holiday events.
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College Station, Texas
They say everything's bigger in Texas, and that's certainly true at Santa's Wonderland—one of the biggest Christmas celebrations in the state. The College Station locale is home to dozens of magical holiday experiences, from an illuminated Santa hayride, to an oversized gingerbread village, to a live nativity scene, to a cowboy Christmas corral. Of course, revelers will also get the chance to meet the man in the big red suit, too.
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In the Santa Ynez Mountains outside Santa Barbara, this tiny Danish village celebrates Christmas with ample cheer during its annual Julefest. Events include the Skål Stroll Wine and Beer Walk, candlelight tours, a nativity pageant, a holiday concert, and the Julefest parade. Keep an eye peeled for the Jule Nisse: festive gnomes with clues leading toward holiday prizes.
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Bad Ragaz, Switzerland
The Swiss town of Bad Ragaz kicks off its yearly Christmas season in late November with a ceremonial festival of lights, illuminating the 131-foot-tall sequoia tree on the lawn of Grand Resort Bad Ragaz—supposedly the tallest living Christmas tree in Europe. Other events hosted at the picturesque village's Grand Resort include several Christmas markets, multiple concerts, dinners, parties, and processions, and a Russian Christmas gala.
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Woodstock, Vermont is a magical place all year long—but perhaps even more so at Christmastime, when the quintessential New England town turns into a holly jolly hotspot straight out of a Hallmark movie. (In fact, the network's Last Vermont Christmas was set there.) During its annual Wassail Weekend, you can tour Woodstock’s most charming historic homes, travel by horse-drawn wagon to see the town's quaint covered bridges and snowy vistas, shop for locally-made holiday presents, attend a variety of world-class concerts, line the streets for the colorful equestrian parade, and gather for the lighting of the town's tree, yule log, and hundreds of luminaries. Need a place to stay? Make sure to check out the postcard-pretty Woodstock Inn & Resort.
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Nearly 100,000 people travel to Franklin, Tennessee each year for its Dickens of a Christmas: a two day festival featuring over 200 musicians, dancers, and characters from Charles Dickens stories. Other highlights include a Victorian Christmas Village, carriage rides, and a makers village.
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Dreaming of a white Christmas? Look no further than Leavenworth, Washington, a small town tucked away in the Cascade Mountains. For three weekends leading up to Christmas, the village's snow-covered, Bavarian-style buildings are illuminated by more than 500,000 twinkling lights and the sounds of hand-bell ringers, marching bands, and carolers fill the streets. In addition to oohing and aahing over the breathtaking display, visitors can also ski, sled, or tube down the powdery mountainside, take horse-drawn carriage rides, and stop by the annual Christkindlemarkt for handmade gifts and steaming cups of Gluhwein (a.k.a. spiced wine) or cocoa.
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Denmark's second-largest city, the quaint destination of Aarhus is a Christmas dream. The town boasts thousands of lights on its "Strøget" high-street, with delights including a Christmas market selling Danish specialties, the exterior of department store Salling wrapped up like a gift, Christmas tree-lined streets in the Latin Quarter, and a panorama of Danish Christmas throughout the ages at The Old Town Museum, Den Gamle By.
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Natchitoches may be a small Louisiana town—but it celebrates Christmas in a big way. The holiday prep gets underway in June, when 300,000 glittering lights and 100 riverbank decorations are tested in anticipation of the annual Festival of Lights, which has been running for more than 90 years. During the six-week holiday festival, visitors can also participate in docent-led tours of historic homes; shop at Louisana’s oldest general store, Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile; pick up creamy eggnog daiquiris at Maggio's Package Liquors, a drive-through beverage barn; munch on the town's iconic, piping hot meat pies; watch fireworks light up the sky over Cane River Lake; and stay at the Steel Magnolia House Bed and Breakfast, which served as part of the film's set.
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Calling itself the Best Christmas Town in America, Colonial Williamsburg particularly shines at Christmastime. Traditions abound, such as caroling by torchlight, a gun-salute display, and every home in the historic area lighting a candle in their windows—dating back to the days of the Founding Fathers. As far as lights, the area can’t be beat, with Busch Gardens donning 10 million lights for the largest display in North America. And the Community Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Market Square is a must.
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St. Augustine, Florida
When you think of the most dazzling light displays across the globe, places like Hong Kong and Madrid probably come to mind. But what about St. Augustine, Florida? According to National Geographic, it's one of the top 10 places worldwide. That's because every year, more than three million twinkling bulbs (each white, per city ordinance) drape all 20 blocks of the city's Historic District during the annual Nights of Lights festival. Guests can view the brilliant spectacle by trolley, train, boat, helicopter, horse-drawn carriage, and, of course, foot. Even more brilliant: You can enjoy the whole show without wearing a coat, hat, and gloves.
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A quaint Alsatian village close to the German border, Colmar, France is reportedly one of the locales that inspired Belle's town in Beauty and the Beast. Indeed, the fairy-tale aspect of Colmar comes to life during the holidays, with five Christmas markets, an endless array of twinkling lights, carolers, a roller coaster, carousel, and an ice skating rink.
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Newport Beach, California
Drop your anchor at Newport Harbor for the annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, which started more than a century ago with a single gondola and a few canoes. Now, it's one of the biggest holiday celebrations on the water, with owners of more than 150 boats—from kayaks to 100-foot super-yachts—spending months (and thousands of dollars) decorating their vessels with everything from LED lights and inflatable characters to live bands and air cannons. After setting sail for five consecutive nights in December, owners of the brightly decorated boats compete for prizes in a range of categories, including animation and humor and originality.
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For a traditional American Christmas, head to Alexandria, Virginia, where the Old Town's streets and 18th-century row houses bustle with good cheer each December. Festive-seekers can find carolers, hand bell choirs, ample lights and decorations. What's more? Nearby, you'll find Mount Vernon, home to Aladdin, a Christmas camel, as well as a Colonial Christmas experience.
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During the Christmas season, Duluth, Minnesota seems to shine just a little bit brighter—literally. The festivities officially kick off the Friday before Thanksgiving with the Christmas City of the North, nighttime parade that includes two dozen marching bands, 70 businesses, several dance groups, and even Santa. But the headliner is the Bentleyville Tour of Lights—America's largest free walk-through Christmas light display—in which displays of local attractions, as well as a 12-foot Christmas tree are lit up by more than 4 million multi-colored lights, while volunteers offer hot chocolate, cookies, and popcorn along the way. Pro tip: The port city averages 70 inches of fluffy powder each year, so be prepared to dash through the snow—unless you're taking a ride on the Christmas City Express, a vintage train wrapped in holiday lights and decor.
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Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
A meticulously-preserved walled medieval town in Germany, Rothenburg ob der Tauber boasts a centuries old Christmas market well worth the trip to its cobblestone streets. (Incredibly, this used to be Germany's second largest city.) Revelers can find treats like mulled wine, grilled sausage, roast chestnuts, or an original Rothenburg Snowball fried dough pastry, while other highlights include a German Christmas Museum. The market kicks off every year with the appearance of the “Rothenburger Riders,” horsemen who—while formerly scary—are now believed to be messengers of good news.
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McAdenville, North Carolina
For more than 60 years, residents of McAdenville, North Carolina, have come together to deck the tiny town and 375 trees in more than 500,000 red, white, and green twinkling lights—which is exactly why its known as Christmas Town, USA. But the festivities don't stop there: Locals also decorate their own homes to look like something you'd see in a Hallmark movie and host a variety of holiday activities—a tree lighting ceremony, yule log parade, and 5K race—for the 600,000 annual visitors.
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Santa Claus, Indiana
With a name like Santa Claus, how could this small Indiana town not be full of seasonal tidings? Celebrations include the annual Christmas parade, a Santa Claus Arts & Crafts Show, Santa's Candy Castle for elven chats, a German-inspired Das Nikolausfest, and the Santa Claus Museum & Village, where children can write letters to St. Nick. (P.S. letters postmarked by December 20th will receive a response, too!)
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On December 24, 1741, a little town located in the heart of Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley was named Bethlehem by Moravian Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf. Since then, the town—which is about an hour outside Philadelphia— has taken its name and history very seriously. Every November, more than 150 artisans from around the country set up shop alongside live musicians at the German-inspired Christkindlmarkt, while an 81-foot-tall steel star shines down on the town and can be seen from 25 miles away. Not to mention there's also a live advent calendar that counts down the days to Christmas, starting December 1.
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Mont Tremblant, Quebec
At Christmastime, Canada's pedestrian village Mont Tremblant turns into a winter wonderland, complete with skiing, tubing, dogsledding, and horse-drawn sleighs. Toufou, the town mascot, greets visitors who come for events such as the holiday parade, Lumberjack Day, concerts and entertainment from the Grelot Family elves, and generational storytelling on Legends Day.
Courtesy of Wilmington and Beaches CVB
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There might not be much—if any—snow in Wilmington, North Carolina but that doesn't stop the charming port city and its nearby island beaches from having a very merry Christmas season. Every year, the historic coastal area hosts more than 50 holiday events, including concerts, candlelight tours, and Christmas parades. Not to be missed: Enchanted Airlie, in which 35 acres of forest and beautiful gardens are covered in one million festive holiday lights.
Photo courtesy of the Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau
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It's no wonder Branson, Missouri is known as America's Christmas Tree City: This is a town that does Christmas proud. Over 6.5 million lights sparkle in Branson every festive season, with other highlights including more than 1,000 Christmas trees, Rudolph's Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade, three drive-through light displays, a Living Nativity petting zoo, and the Christmas celebration at Silver Dollar City with its nightly lights display and Christmas festival.
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The hometown of Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert—who reportedly introduced the Christmas tree and other German festive customs to England—the Bavarian city of Coburg, Germany comes alive at Christmastime with its traditional Christmas Market, candlelight parade led by the Coburg Children's Choir, and Christmas decorations aplenty. Revelers can also enjoy treats like spiced wine, mulled beer, and Lebkuchen, a baked German gingerbread treat, as well as enjoy horse and carriage rides around the charming town.
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During the holidays, Little Bavaria in Frankenmuth, Michigan features a panoply of events earning its spot as one of the preeminent Christmas destinations in the United States. Highlights include a European-style Christmas market, meals with Santa and Mrs. Claus, horse-drawn carriage rides, and the world’s largest Christmas store: Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the size of one and a half football fields.
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This medieval city features one of England's biggest and most charming German-inspired Christmas markets with more than 100 wooden chalets. Seasonal bright spots include the outdoor skating rink, British Crafts Village complete with nativity scene, festive food like bratwurst, minced pies and mulled wine, family carols at Winchester Cathedral, an annual Lantern Parade, and a charitable Santa Fun Run.
Photos courtesy of The Mission Inn
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The six-week long Festival of Lights debuts each Thanksgiving at historic The Mission Inn in Riverside, California, with a grand countdown celebration featuring more than 5 million holiday lights and a fireworks display. Despite the sunny Southern Californian background, holiday-seekers can find horse-drawn carriages, an arts market, nightly live entertainment, and, of course, visits with Santa Claus.
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The small Swiss town of Montreux features a legendary Christmas Market overlooking Lac Léman with more than 160 chalet stalls, crafts, mulled wine, local delicacies, live music, artisan gifts, and numerous restaurants. Children and adults alike can enjoy the Lumberjack Village, catch sight of Santa on his flying sleigh, ride the Big Ferris Wheel, visits elves in the Place du Marche (otherwise known as Elves Square), and even take a cogwheel train up the Rochers-de-Naye mountain to Santa's House. Nearby, the medieval fortress of Chillon Castle provides even more festive delights.
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The Georgian spa town of Bath, England transforms into a winter wonderland at Christmas, complete with annual Bath Christmas market featuring more than 150 chalets, an ice rink, Victorian carousel, parties, wreath-making workshops, festive train rides, visits from Santa, and more. Don't forget to check out the Christmas Tree Carol Trail to enjoy each of ten trees decorated in the style of a classic Christmas song.
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North Pole, Alaska
Only fifteen miles away from Fairbanks, you'll find the picture-perfect village of North Pole, Alaska. As befitting a town literally celebrating Christmas year-round—Santa and Mrs. Claus make an appearance in the 4th of July parade—here guests can find the Santa Claus House: equal parts general store, post office, and holiday shop. No trip is complete without seeing Santa's sleigh and reindeer, the annual Winter Festival, the world's largest Santa statue, and aptly named streets like Snowman Lane and Kris Kringle Drive.
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In the unofficial capital of Southwest Germany's Black Forest, the town of Freiburg features Christmas charm aplenty. Its traditional and undeniably quaint Christmas market offers crafts, gifts, seasonal nibbles and drinks from more than 130 stalls, while other must-dos include a life-sized wooden nativity and daily advent services at St. Martin's Church.
Where is the most magical Christmas town? ›
North Pole, Alaska, USA
If Christmas kitsch is what you're after, the most obvious Christmas destination is also the best. In the tiny town of North Pole, Alaska, 2,200 residents (including Old Saint Nick himself) celebrate Christmas all year long, with holiday decorations on display from January through December.
Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland
Rovaniemi in Lapland, Finland may be the best place on earth to celebrate Christmas. Located just north of the Arctic Circle, Finns argue that it makes a much likelier home for Santa than even the North Pole.
For more than 60 years, residents of McAdenville, North Carolina, have come together to deck the tiny town and 375 trees in more than 500,000 red, white, and green twinkling lights—which is exactly why its known as Christmas Town, USA.Where is the most Christmassy place to visit? ›
- Vienna, Austria. ...
- New York, New York, USA. ...
- Nuremberg, Germany. ...
- Tokyo, Japan. ...
- North Pole, Alaska, USA. ...
- Lapland, Finland. ...
- Montreal, Quebec, Canada. ...
- Sydney, Australia.