The season of sleigh bells and snowmen is upon us — but before you panic, pour a glass of wassail and take a seat.
With so much going on, a holiday vacation is exactly what you need to escape the chaos and unwind with loved ones.
If a Christmas getaway is on your list for Santa this year, we wouldn't mind offering a few ideas. After all, Santa's a busy guy.
We've put together a list of unique destinations that offer a little something for everyone, whether you're looking for a romantic couples trip or something for the whole family.
Find snow-covered towns that look like they're straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie, sunny escapes and ski destinations to give you all the thrills (and chills). Some give off a warm and cozy vibe, while others are literally warm.
No matter what you pick, all of these spots are bound to make your spirits bright — especially since many of them bring the holiday cheer with light displays, sleigh rides and other quintessential winter activities.
Start packing your bags now because it's only a matter of time until you'll be jingling your way to vacation.
Head to Solvang for a little slice of Denmark in the U.S. You’ll swear you’re in Europe strolling along the Danish-inspired streets of the village, which is located in California’s Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Barbara wine country. The tiny town is home to more than 120 wineries and vineyards, boutique shopping and bakeries that offer — you guessed it — Danish pastries. There’s even a horse-drawn street car reminiscent of days gone by.
Come Christmas, it’s exactly what you’d expect: an old-world wonderland. The town’s annual Julefest Christmas celebration begins after Thanksgiving and is a bounty of holiday lights, interactive candlelight tours and more festive fun.
Find out more at SolvangUSA.com.
Aspen is recognized worldwide for its incredible skiing, scenic mountains and luxury accommodations. During the holidays, the already-magical destination becomes a veritable winter wonderland with snow-covered trees and twinkling lights. There are winter activities abound like skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and even outdoor swimming (don't worry, the pools are heated).
There’s also caroling at a few of the local hotels and afternoon s’mores at Aspen’s Snowmass ski resort. With abundant winter activities, restaurants and things to do, Aspen is an ideal getaway for just about anyone — couples, families and solo travelers.
Find out more at AspenChamber.org.
Can’t make it to Europe for the Christmas markets this year? Do the next best thing and travel to Frankenmuth, Michigan. Yes, you heard that right. Michigan. Smack dab in the middle of the U.S. is the cutest Bavarian town that isn’t actually in Bavaria.
You’ll be positively delighted by the charming architecture and fun festivities this little town has to offer. Outfit your Christmas tree at one of the holiday shops, take a drive through the twinkling lights or go ice skating in the park. There’s also a waterpark for the kids and Frankenmuth’s famous all-you-can-eat-fried-chicken dinner at Zehnders.
Find out more at Frankenmuth.org.
In the 1960s, the town of Leavenworth, Washington, had a big idea. Hoping to draw visitors to its streets, Leavenworth’s leaders decided to change the town’s aesthetic from sleepy to European. Why? Since it's nestled in the Cascade Mountains, Leavenworth was the ideal location for a Bavarian transformation.
The last five decades have seen an explosion of tourists (nearly a million annually) who come to participate in one the town’s many festivals. Christmas, of course, is its biggest. Each December, the town comes alive under an umbrella of twinkling lights and cheerful holiday festivities. Among them is The Village of Lights: Christmastown, which features more than half a million holiday lights, along with music and entertainment.
This one’s perfect for families with kids and anyone else looking for a little bit of Bavaria in America.
Find out more at Leavenworth.org.
There’s nothing like spending the holidays in New England. Think candles in the window, rustic charm and cozy little towns with snow-covered rooftops. If that's up your alley, then Stowe, Vermont, is your destination. Offering the ultimate winter experience, Stowe is home to some of the best skiing along the East Coast. Conveniently located next to Mount Mansfield (Vermont’s highest mountain peak), the powder doesn’t get much better.
Along with downhill skiing, Stowe offers other winter activities like sleigh rides, fat bike riding, dog sledding, snowmobiling, ice skating and Nordic skiing. There’s also a lively nightlife, dining and plenty of après ski options. Even better, you can take a tour of Ben and Jerry’s (and enjoy free samples).
Find out more at GoStowe.com.
Full of revelers and rich history, New Orleans, or NOLA as it’s often called, is a one-of-a-kind destination that offers a little something for everyone. Influenced by both the Spanish and French, the city’s European heritage is apparent in everything from the gas lights to its unique architecture in the French Quarter.
During Christmas, New Orleans comes alive with a variety of events including Bonfires on the Levee, a dazzling display along the Mississippi and Candlelight Caroling in historic Jackson Square. You also don’t want to miss Celebration in the Oaks in City Park, which takes visitors on a train ride to view 25 acres of lights and holiday displays.
While there’s plenty of family fun in The Big Easy, New Orleans is known for its buzzy nightlife, making it an ideal getaway for couples.
Find out more at NewOrleans.com.
Montreal, Canada is a quick jaunt across the U.S. border and upon arrival you’ll swear you just deplaned in France. Though Montreal is a modern, vibrant city, the section designated as “Old Montreal” is pure, old-world enchantment. Upon arrival, you'll feel like you’re strolling down the cobblestone streets of Paris with accordion music filling the air. The holidays, however, are when the real magic happens.
Twinkling lights fill Jacques Cartier Square and revelers gather to watch performances, imbibe at outdoor bars and celebrate the spirit of the season. There are also traditional Christmas markets, skating rinks, an interactive light installation and the city’s annual Santa Claus parade.
Find out more at MTL.org.
New York City
Start spreading the news! If you didn’t already know that New York City is one the premiere holiday destinations, considered yourself officially informed. There are so many things to do in the city: Broadway, Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge, you name it. But the holidays? Well, it's as magical as it gets.
Prepare to be wowed looking at the famous Rockefeller Tree all lit up for the season. Arguably the best view can be had while ice skating at the Rock’s iconic ice rink. Ice skaters can also head over to Central Park’s Wollman Rink for an escape from the hustle and bustle. Visit the Empire State Building decked out in festive red and green lights for the holiday season. Not to mention the abundant holiday decoration displays throughout the city, including the giant Christmas ornaments, a must-see along the Avenue of the Americas.
Find out more at NYCgo.com.
Taos, New Mexico
Known as the “Soul of the Southwest,” the Taos Ski Valley beckons snowboarders and skiers to the legendary terrain along the slopes of Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Once a trading outpost, Taos is now a beacon to skiers seeking perfect powder. It’s also famous for its art colony, Native American culture and fabulous food. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, they host a series of celebrations called “Yuletide in Toas.” Here, you'll find a holiday market and crafts fair that features the work of local artisans, concerts, traditional Native American dances and other holiday festivities.
Find out more at Taos.org.
Escape the cold and head to sunny Florida for a Christmas getaway that’s sure please the whole crew. Best known for its theme parks — Universal Studios, Walt Disney World Resort, SeaWorld and Legoland, among others —there’s no shortage of fun activities, especially for families with kids.
Along with its world-famous parks, Orlando offers a wide array of shopping options, dining experiences, arts and entertainment.
Find out more at VisitOrlando.com.
Williamsburg, Virginia, was established in the 1600s and remains a cornerstone of American democracy. History buffs will appreciate taking a trip back in time as they stroll along Colonial Williamsburg or visit the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Williamsburg is also known for its parks, museums, shopping and restaurants.
If that’s not enough, Williamsburg is also home to Christmas Town, one of the largest holiday light displays in North America held annually at Busch Gardens theme park.
Find out more at VisitWilliamsburg.com.
Once upon a time, the quaint village of Mystic was a quiet fishing seaport along Connecticut’s shoreline. That all changed, of course, after it was featured in “Mystic Pizza” starring Julie Roberts. Since then, it’s become a tourist hot spot. It's easy to see why: Small boutiques, seafood restaurants and its quintessential New England vibe make it a draw for families and couples alike.
The Mystic Aquarium is a must-do as is the acclaimed Mystic Seaport Museum which offers the annual Lantern Light Village, a throwback to the 19th century with costumed role players and carriage rides.
Find out more at ThisIsMystic.com.
The charming town of Woodstock, Vermont, is like a Hallmark movie come to life. Tucked away in the Green Mountains, there are covered bridges, cozy inns and quaint shops. Come Christmastime, the town gets a makeover with hundreds of white lights just in time for “Wassail Weekend, an annual festival with historic home tours and the Horse and Carriage Holiday Parade.
Other fun activities include carriage or sleigh rides, shopping and dining.
Find out more at WoodstockVT.com.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Located an hour’s drive north of Boston, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is a delightful seacoast town. Although the town has plenty of boutiques and restaurants of its own, it's worth it to take a short drive to the Kittery Outlets. Not only will you be able to knock off your holiday shopping in one shot, you can also attend Vintage Christmas, the town's month-long holiday celebration.
Other highlights include the Strawbery Banke Museum’s Candlelight Strolls, ice skating at the Labrie Family Skate rink (weather-dependent) and a gingerbread house contest hosted by the Portsmouth Historical Society that’s truly a sight to see.
Find out more at GoPortsmouthNH.com.
Park City, Utah
Park City, Utah is home to the Sundance Film Festival, the 2002 Winter Olympics and some of the finest skiing the west has to offer.
Beyond the snow, there are all kinds of other activities and events including concerts, torchlight parades and trolley rides. The town’s historic Main Street gets dressed in its Christmas best with sparkly lights and life-size snow globes. The best part? The town chairlift, which transports skiers to and from Park City Mountain right from the end of Main Street.
Find out more at VisitParkCity.com.
Santa Claus, Indiana
It's all in the name: Skip the North Pole and book a trip to Santa Claus, Indiana, this year. You may not find Saint Nick in the flesh, but you can enjoy all the things his namesake town has to offer.
It’s everything you’d expect from a place dubbed “America’s Christmas Hometown.” There are holiday events like the Santa Claus Christmas Celebration, a Santa Claus museum, a candy castle and a post office where you can get your Christmas cards postmarked by the Man in Red.
Find out more at SantaClausInd.org.
The White Mountains, New Hampshire
When Santa’s not at the North Pole, he's probably hanging out with the elves at Santa’s Village in Jefferson, New Hampshire — at least during the weeks in December. The theme park is exactly what you’d expect given its name. There are Christmas-themed rollercoasters, roaming reindeer, decked-out snowmen and hot cocoa to warm you from the inside out.
Santa’s Village isn’t the only gift in the area. Just 40 minutes away, there's Loon Mountain, a family-friendly ski mountain that even offers gondola rides to the top of the mountain if snow sports aren’t your thing. Other winter activities include snowmobiling, snow tubing and Nordic skiing. If that’s not enough, the scenery along the Kancamagus Highway is bound to take your breath away.
All in all, the White Mountains are a great escape for couples, families and anyone who doesn’t mind the cold.
Find out more at VisitWhiteMountains.com.
Siesta Key, Florida
While everyone’s saying “ho, ho, ho” this Christmas, you’ll be “ha, ha, ha-ing” all the way to the sunny beaches of Siesta Key, Florida. Named the second-best beach in the U.S. by Tripadvisor, its white sands and turquoise water are exactly what tropical dreams are made of.
Nearby Sarasota is a cultural and shopping mecca between The Ringling Museum and Gardens and St. Armands Circle, a collection of boutiques guaranteed to provide all the retail therapy you’ll ever need.
This escape is perfect for beach lovers and shoppers, aka everyone.
Find out more at VisitSarasota.com.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
Spanning 278 miles, the Grand Canyon is a sight to behold. It’s scope and beauty are unparalleled, and a must-see at least once in your lifetime. Since most people flock to the national park during the summer months, there will be less people to block your view and stop traffic along the Canyon’s scenic roadways come Christmastime.
Make sure to visit the South Rim and if there’s no snow, hike the Bright Angel Trail for breathtaking views. Don’t miss a trip aboard the Grand Canyon Railway, located in the town of Williams. During the holiday season, the train is transformed into the Polar Express, complete with hot chocolate and cookies for the kids.
Find out more at NPS.gov.
Newport, Rhode Island
Newport, Rhode Island, is best known for its striking seaside location. With beautiful beaches, marinas, shopping and restaurants, Newport is a popular destination for tourists year-round. One of its biggest attractions, however, is its collection of magnificent mansions built during the Gilded Age by some of America’s biggest magnates including the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Fords.
Now historical landmarks open to the public, the opulent homes and grounds undergo a magnificent transformation during the holiday season. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any holiday décor more lavish or grand. Make a weekend of touring them all and be sure to check out the Sparkling Lights display held on the grounds of The Breakers, the former Vanderbilt summer “cottage.”
Find out more at DiscoverNewport.org.