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Top 5 Best US States to Visit at Christmas Time

Best US States to Visit at Christmas Time

Best US States to Visit at Christmas Time

With Christmas fast approaching, it’s time to embrace the season’s festivities and enjoy all that it has to offer. This can be a magical time of year, with sparkling lights, beautiful decorations, and festive events everywhere you look. Embracing the holiday season can help you wind down, take stock of the past year, and enjoy spending some solo downtime or time with family and friends.

One way to make your Christmas feel extra special is to spend it exploring somewhere new, particularly somewhere that has a truly festive atmosphere. Whether you are looking for a place to build the ultimate snowman or prefer to avoid the chilly weather altogether, there’s a perfect location for everyone.

From wandering some of America’s best Christmas markets to experiencing an authentic white Christmas, keep reading to discover our five favorite states to visit at this special time of year.

1. New York

The ‘Big Apple’ is a year-round favorite for visitors, but it can feel particularly special at Christmas. With storefronts lined with shimmering lights and decorations everywhere you look, the city of New York is incredibly festive. What’s more, is that it is also home to a variety of Christmas markets including Bryant Park’s Winter Village, which is noted as one of the best markets in the world.

If you plan on visiting New York during the festive season, it’s important to be prepared for the chilly weather. You can expect low temperatures and plenty of snow. While this might sound perfect for those looking to embrace the winter season, it might not be for everyone; so make sure to come prepared with plenty of warm clothes.

New York - the best US States tp visit in Christmas
Credit: Andre Benz

You should also make sure you build in plenty of time while visiting New York during the Christmas season, as New York sees an increase in tourists during this period, and events sell out. Instead of coming armed with a packed itinerary and stressing about making your reservations, take the opportunity to explore at a more leisurely pace, enjoying the best the season has to offer.

Expanding on New York’s Christmas destinations

New York City

Highlight: Picture this – the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree towering over Manhattan like the glittery beacon of holiday cheer it is. Surround yourself with more twinkle lights than you can count and soak up the festive vibes in the heart of the city. And don’t miss the window displays along Fifth Avenue.

Activities: Ice skating, anyone? Get your Elsa on at Wollman Rink in Central Park or twirl around Bryant Park Winter Village like a snowflake in a snow globe. And hey, why not catch a Broadway show while you’re at it? Adding a touch of sparkle with “The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular” is guaranteed to make your holiday season shine brighter than a Times Square billboard.

Upstate New York

Highlight: Escape the city chaos and venture into the winter wonderland of Upstate New York. Think charming small towns straight out of a Hallmark movie, nestled among scenic landscapes that scream “Instagram-worthy!” Lake Placid and Saratoga Springs are like holiday postcards come to life, complete with festive events and activities that’ll warm your soul.

Activities: Dive into holiday markets overflowing with local crafts and goodies, because who can resist a bit of shopping therapy, right? Sip on hot cocoa or mulled wine while meandering through downtown streets adorned with twinkling lights – it’s like being in a real-life snow globe! And don’t forget the outdoor fun – skiing, snowshoeing, or even horse-drawn sleigh rides.

2. Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is home to several cities that are well-known for their Christmas celebrations, but perhaps the most spectacular has to be Philadelphia. At Christmas time, Philadelphia is home to its own Christmas Village, encompassing everything festive that you can imagine.

The magical village is German-themed, offering a variety of different market stalls, eateries, and cosy outdoor bars selling hot drinks. International vendors create beautiful stall displays, and you can easily spend hours just wandering around admiring all the beautiful items. Make sure to purchase a warm mug of mulled wine or perhaps some gingerbread, waffles, or other sweet treats to nibble on as you shop. Not only will this keep you fueled for your shopping endeavors, but it will help you get into the festive spirit. 

Outside of the village, there are plenty of other attractions to visit as well, such as ice-skating rinks, Christmas light shows, and fantastic festive performances.

Expanding on Pennsylvania’s Christmas destinations

Philadelphia

Highlight: Get ready to channel your inner German because the Christmas Village in LOVE Park is bringing the traditional German Christmas market vibes to Philly! With over 80 vendors selling crafts, food, and all sorts of seasonal treats, you’ll be in Christmas market heaven. And hey, don’t forget to check out the dazzling light displays and decorations throughout the city – City Hall and those historic houses in neighborhoods like South Street and Chestnut Hill bring their A-game when it comes to festive displays.

Activities: Lace up your skates and hit the ice, ladies, because the Rothman Orthopaedics Ice Rink at Dilworth Park is the place to be! You can show off your impeccable ice skills while located right next to City Hall. Plus, if you’re traveling with fam, the Franklin Square Holiday Festival is where the magic happens. A winter beer garden? Yes, please. Holiday light show? Sign me up. Carousel rides? Let’s go round and round in style. And if you’re an art lover, the Philadelphia Museum of Art hosts its “Winter Wonderland” celebration, complete with performances, art activities, and themed exhibitions.

Lancaster County

Highlight: Time to head to Lancaster County, where picturesque farmland and Amish heritage await you. This place is like stepping into a Hallmark movie, except the Amish community adds a unique touch of charm! Now, hold on to your Santa hat, because the historic town of Lititz, aka the “Coolest Small Town in America,” takes its holiday charm seriously. Prepare for a beautifully decorated downtown area and special events like the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

Activities: Let’s take a trip around the world of Christmas at the National Christmas Center & Museum. Elaborate exhibits showcase the rich history and traditions of Christmas, making you feel like you’re strolling through a festive time machine. And if that isn’t enough, the Kitchen Kettle Village in nearby Intercourse (yes, that’s the name) hosts its “Country Christmas Village.” Don’t worry, it’s not just a village with a fancy name – there are festive decorations, holiday shopping, and even horse-drawn carriage rides to make your holiday dreams come true. Hop on the enchanting Strasburg Rail Road’s “Santa’s Paradise Express” train for a magical journey. 

3. Missouri

Anheuser Busch Christmas lights
Credit: Dave Herholz

The Ozark mountain town of Branson in Missouri truly pulls out all of the stops at Christmas time. Known as ‘the Christmas Tree City,’ Branson is home to a magical festival that encompasses an incredible 1,000 Christmas trees, alongside its striking eight-story tree with built-in special effects.

Missouri is also home to several smaller towns that give off a rustic and comforting atmosphere, presenting the perfect opportunity to take a casual stroll and do your Christmas shopping. These towns come to life in the festive season, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone without Christmas decorations adorning the front of their home.

St. Louis

Highlight: Hold onto your Santa hat because St. Louis is all about dazzling visitors with its Anheuser-Busch Brewery Lights display. With millions of twinkling lights, festive displays, and seasonal entertainment, you’ll be in beer and holiday heaven. And hey, if you’re into gardens and dazzling lights, the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Garden Glow is a must-see.

Activities: Now, let’s talk about the St. Louis Zoo’s Wild Lights. This ain’t your average zoo – we’re talking animated light displays, holiday-themed attractions, and seasonal treats. It’s like a winter wonderland on a safari adventure. And if you’re ready to show off your ice skills, head to Steinberg Skating Rink in Forest Park for some festive ice skating. Oh, and don’t forget about the historic neighborhood of Soulard – its annual Holiday Parlour Tour is a unique way to see festively decorated homes and historic buildings.

Kansas City

Highlight: Welcome to Kansas City, home of mouthwatering BBQ, soulful jazz music, and, of course, the Plaza Lights! The Country Club Plaza is all about dazzling visitors with thousands of twinkling bulbs adorning the Spanish-inspired architecture and iconic fountains. It’s like a scene out of a Hollywood holiday romance movie – but without the cheesy dialogue.

Activities: It’s time to unleash your holiday spirit at Union Station’s Holiday Reflections. Check out the festive displays, including a 30-foot tree, a model train exhibit, and holiday-themed performances. And if you’re into safari adventures, the Kansas City Zoo’s “Santa’s Safari” event will be your jam. You can meet Santa Claus, enjoy holiday music, and participate in seasonal crafts and activities. Plus, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts offers special holiday concerts and performances, including the annual “Christmas Festival” with the Kansas City Symphony and Symphony Chorus.

4. Utah

Temple Square Christmas Lights
Credit: Charles (Chuck) Peterson

If you’ve had your fill of Christmas shopping and want a more active way to enjoy the season, head to Utah – specifically, Park City. Known for its world-class skiing, this location is perfect for those wanting to make the most of the wintery weather before curling up in their chalet with a mug of hot chocolate.

Fancy a break from the slopes but want to stay outdoors? Why not try something new – there’s snow biking, dog sledding, snowshoeing, tubing, and ice skating. Or, if you’d prefer a bit of a less intense activity, explore the countryside on horseback, taking in the stunning scenery at a more leisurely pace.

Traveling with children? Make sure to book a spot on the North Pole Express train. Not only will you get to see the sparkling winter landscape, but you’ll be able to enjoy hot cocoa and cookies as you wait your turn to meet Santa.

Salt Lake City

Highlight: Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah, isn’t messing around when it comes to holiday spirit. The downtown area transforms into a winter wonderland with holiday lights and decorations that could rival Clark Griswold’s house. Temple Square and Main Street are the places to be, shining bright like a diamond with millions of lights, nativity scenes, and holiday performances.

Activities: Ice skating at the Gallivan Center outdoor rink is a must-do – because who doesn’t love gliding across the ice like a graceful (or not so graceful) winter queen? And if you’re up for some wild adventures, the Hogle Zoo’s “ZooLights” event will transport you to a winter wonderland filled with lights, music, and seasonal fun. Plus, catch the Utah Symphony belting out festive tunes at venues like Abravanel Hall.

Provo

Highlight: Provo, the charming gem south of Salt Lake City, is all about festive vibes during the holidays. Hop on the Provo River Christmas Cruise for a magical boat ride along the twinkling Provo River – it’s like a romantic date with thousands of fairy lights and zero awkward small talk. And if you’re up for some lantern magic, the Downtown Provo Lantern Fest is where it’s at, with handmade lanterns, live music, and holiday festivities.

Activities: All aboard the North Pole Express at the Heber Valley Railroad for a holiday train ride that’s straight out of a winter fairy tale. Santa Claus, holiday music, and hot cocoa – need I say more? And don’t miss out on the festive fun at The Shops at Riverwoods, where carriage rides, carolers, and Santa sightings are all part of the holiday package. Oh, and art lovers, head to the BYU Museum of Art for special holiday exhibitions and art activities.

5. Florida

A somewhat unexpected addition to our Christmas list, Florida is actually a great place to spend the holidays if you aren’t into the colder weather. You can experience the sunshine state in relative peace, as tourist numbers are far lower than they usually would be in peak times.

Despite the warmer climate, Christmas isn’t forgotten here. Make sure to visit the city of St Augustine to see the displays made up of three million white lights, check out the theme parks with their seasonal decorations, or explore Santa’s enchanted forest in Miami – complete with festive karaoke.

If you’re in the Cocoa Beach area on Christmas Eve, keep your eyes peeled for a truly magical sight. Each year, the Surfing Santas hit the waves on Christmas Eve morning, spreading festive cheer, ideally combining the Florida lifestyle with the joys of the season. Get there early to spot the famous man in red before he sets off on his delivery rounds for the year.

Miami

Highlight

Miami’s iconic Art Deco District in South Beach is about to get a festive makeover. Picture this: colorful lights, festive decorations, and a holiday atmosphere that’ll make even your Aunt Mildred want to dance the salsa. Stroll along Ocean Drive and soak up the holiday vibes – and don’t forget to check out the Miami Beach Art Basel event.

Activities

Families, get ready for some serious holiday magic at Winterland at the Farm in Little Farmhouse, Redlands. It’s like a Christmas village straight out of a storybook, complete with holiday light displays and even a chance to hang out with the big man himself – Santa Claus. But hold onto your Santa hats, because the Miami City Ballet is here to blow your mind with their annual production of “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.” World-class dancers and stunning choreography.

And if you’re looking for a festive, out-of-this-world experience, head to the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden for their annual “NightGarden” event. Imagine wandering through a magical garden illuminated with thousands of lights, interactive displays, and seasonal music.

Get in the Festive Mood

Here in the US, we tend to make the Christmas season one of our biggest highlights, so if you’re looking to experience anything and everything festive, it’s an excellent time to visit. These are just five of the most festive states, but you’re sure to find a touch of Christmas spirit wherever you choose to visit. And no matter where you choose for your Christmas time expedition, always remember to Travel Till You Drop!

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About Jill

Hi, Jill Here

Hi! I’m Jill, a Dallas, Texas girl traveling the world. After a career in the Air Force and touring over 50 countries later, my need to explore keeps going! It’s time to rock & roll and find all those places I never knew I was missing.

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