By TVR Staff
White lights, cream-topped hot chocolate, horse-drawn sleighs, and jingle bells — such romantic holiday treats need not be reserved for Christmas cards and holiday songs! To help us get into the holiday spirit, we went in search of the nation’s most fun and festive towns and found these, the 30 most romantic towns for the holidays. Whether through light shows, festivals, or unique traditions, these 30 small towns know how to take holiday celebrations to the next level!
Asheville, North Carolina
The gem of Asheville, North Carolina is the grand Biltmore Estate, and that’s never more true than around the holidays. The historic Vanderbilt mansion hosts magical holiday-themed events, plus decorates with miles of ribbon, garland, and sparkling lights. There’s plenty of holiday cheer away from the hotel, too. Downtown, local art studios in the River Arts District put together craft shows to make all your holiday shopping a breeze, while one of Asheville’s biggest holiday events is Santa Claus repelling down the side of nearby Chimney Rock.
Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, the picturesque town of Aspen is like something out of a magical Christmas movie. Besides skiing and snowboarding at any of the nearby winter resorts, most of the holiday cheer can be found in the quaint downtown. Take a leisurely stroll down Cooper Avenue to partake in everything from cookie exchanges, to public s’more roasts, to meet-and-greets with Santa and his elves. Local favorites like Hotel Jerome, Ajax Tavern, and Little Nell all present special, Christmas-themed menus, while the latter even hosts an all-you-can-sip Bottomless Dom Perignon New Year’s Eve Party!
Since 1948, the small town of Bernville, Pennsylvania has been bringing holiday cheer in the form of its Koziar’s Christmas Village. Children can meet Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus, stand in awe at the decorated houses, and visit the Christmas-themed shops. But the focal points of Bernville’s Village are undoubtedly the cottage dioramas, former chicken coops decorated with more than a million lights and featuring different themes such as Christmas Beneath the Sea, Christmas in the Jungle, and Christmas in Other Lands.
Once a major mining town, Durango, Colorado is now a heavenly winter destination, and one of the most romantic small towns to find yourself in during the holidays. As a nod to its industrial past, Durango’s Christmas festivities revolve around its steam-engine train that travels along the Animas River and through the snow-covered mountains. Families and kids will love the special Polar Express-inspired trip, while Colorado families looking for the perfect tree can cut their own and have it transported back to Durango on the train.
Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Elkhart Lake, conveniently located an hour from Milwaukee between Lakes Michigan and Winnebago, is perhaps best known as a summertime destination. But it takes the Christmas season very seriously, and is therefore one of the most romantic small towns for the holidays. The town’s Old World Christmas Market is modeled after Germany’s traditional Christkindlmarkt, and includes more than 100 vendors selling everything from arts and crafts to schnitzel and other delicious holiday fare. The local resorts get in on the fun, too. The Wade House puts on an authentic 1850s Christmas celebration, complete with a Jingle Bells-style horse-drawn carriage through the woods, while the high-end Osthoff Resort provides each of its junior guests with a stocking full of gifts on Christmas morning.
Fredericksburg, located in the midst of Texas’s Hill Country, is proud of its German heritage, and that pride is perhaps never more apparent than during the holiday season. Fredericksburg’s Christkindlmarkt begins as early as November, and is the perfect place to find unique gifts or traditional Christmas treats. Throughout November and December, the town also hosts a series of holiday-themed events such as parades, tree lightings, choral concerts, Nutcracker performances, craft shows, cookie decorating contests, and charity balls, to name but a few. And don’t forget the locally brewed seasonal beers — hey, it’s German!
With its Bavarian vibe, Helen, Georgia feels like a magical Alpine village — never mind the fact it’s located on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, deep in the American South. In December, wreaths are put up everywhere (everywhere!), and local artists decorate trees that are then auctioned off during the annual Festival of Trees, a tree-lighting ceremony that takes place downtown. And true to its German roots, the town also hosts a Kinderfest and Christkindlmarkt.
Located near Yellowstone Park, at the base of the Teton Mountains, Jackson, Wyoming is one of the most romantic destinations in the country. Come the holidays, that statement only becomes more true. The town lights up each of its four arches of elk antlers with classic white lights, the result of which complements the stars in the clear Wyoming sky to create a stunning scene. Stick around for New Year’s, when a torch parade of skiers come down the side of a nearby mountain.
This Bavarian-themed town in the Pacific Northwest is charming at any time of the year, but come Christmas time, Leavenworth, Washington becomes pure holiday romance. In December, every roof of the downtown is outlined in 21 miles of lights, while the residents get in on the fun and decorate everything from their houses to their front fences. The weekend-long Christkindlmarkt is a can’t miss, as are the festive handbell concerts, caroling groups, gift and canned food drives, and sledding around the downtown Christmas tree.
Lewisburg, West Virginia
Lewisburg, West Virginia is home to the famous Greenbrier Hotel, which is itself home to one of the best holiday displays in the entire United States. The 18th century resort brings this quiet town to life each holiday season with fun light displays, dozens of Christmas trees, ribbon tying seminars, a Christmas Shop, and even weekday discounts for its famous mineral springs spa. Furthermore, the holidays are a perfect time of year to enjoy a West Virginia Symphony concert at Lewisburg’s very own Carnegie Hall.
McAdenville, North Carolina
Each and every December, Christmas Town USA comes to McAdenville, North Carolina, located an easy 20 miles outside of Charlotte. The town draws in more than 600,000 visitors annually who come to see the 450,000+ lights and 375 trees that light up a strolling path through the charming downtown. A nearby lake is lined with 33 lit-up trees, while the town’s fountain jets water 75 feet into the air, and changes colors every 10 seconds. Best of all, the first 1,000 people who show up each night to enjoy the festivities are given a free treat of hot cocoa and kettle corn.
Mumford, New York
Head to charming and romantic Mumford, New York to see how Christmas was celebrated in 1849, the year New York declared Christmas, Independence Day, and New Year’s Day state holidays. Mumford residents go all out on the fun, putting on live music, dancing, and even a tree-lighting ceremony. Tour guides lead visitors through the decorated village streets, where local re-enactors act as if they’ve just been told Christmas is now an official holiday. Huzzah!
Natchitoches, Louisiana takes the holidays so seriously, they begin preparing in June! During the holiday season, more than 18,000 people come out to enjoy Natchitoches’ Festival of Lights, during which displays including 100 set pieces and 300,000 lights are set up along the banks of Cane River Lake. The festival is unique among holiday celebrations as it serves to honor both the winter festivities and the town’s Creole heritage. The Festival also includes carriage rides, tours of historic homes, a children’s festival, fireworks, a 5K race, parades, and live performances! It’s so jam-packed and popular, that the festivities continue through the first week of January.
Nevada City, California
Located an hour northeast of Sacramento, the quaint and charming town of Nevada City is usually (and unfortunately) relegated to a stop-over city, or just passed altogether. But this former Gold Rush town, with its picturesque historic buildings and stunning mountain backdrop, is definitely worthy of a visit, especially around the holidays. Each December, Nevada City hosts the Victorian Christmas Festival, a “genuine Christmas card come to life.” White lights are put up just about everywhere, real gas lamps are lit, and carolers decked out in Victorian apparel sing on the streets. Even visitors are encouraged to dress in their Victorian best! While you’re there, pick up some fun Christmas decor or artisan local crafts at any one of the downtown’s cozy boutiques.
Newport Beach, California
Forget “Let it Snow!” “Let it Glow” and spend the holidays at the beach in Newport Beach, California. Over the course of five nights, the city hosts the fun and festive Christmas Boat Parade, during which more than 100 brightly decorated sailboats, yachts, and kayaks parade along the waterfront. This delightful tradition goes back more than a century, and visitors can get in on the lighted action on a Parade of Lights Dinner Cruise.
North Pole, Alaska
Since the actual North Pole will likely have to stay a dream destination for the time being, we think this other North Pole makes a pretty great alternative. Some 50-odd years ago, the town of Davis, Alaska changed its name to this much more festive version in an attempt to boost tourism, and so far it’s worked! The town is full of fun holiday cheer, all of which is watched over carefully by the man himself — that is, a giant, 42-foot tall Santa Claus statue! Head to the Santa Claus gift shop for all of your holiday needs, then stop in at the town post office, where all Christmas cards are marked with a unique North Pole stamp.
Kids and families will love Ogden, Utah during the holidays. The downtown Christmas Village is a child’s delight, complete with miniature cottages decorated after Santa’s North Pole Village. Each of the 60 cottages is perfectly sized for a kid or an elf, and cottages include the Elf Workshop, the Grinch’s house, and even Santa’s Castle, where children can meet Mr. Claus himself. To top off the holiday fun, take a ride on the Polar Express, a real locomotive that takes passengers through a fun glow-in-the-dark tunnel.
This former artists’ colony is most popular as a summertime beach destination, but it turns out it’s a great romantic small town for the holidays, too! Around mid-December, Ogunquit hosts the Christmas by the Sea Festival, an annual event that features a bonfire on the beach and lots of clam chowder! Local boutiques and artisans, such as the Harbor Candy Shop, are a great resource for unique holiday gifts, while more mainstream purchases can be found at two major outlet malls within an easy distance from town.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Portsmouth, New Hampshire is a charming waterfront town where people have lived since the 1600s. During the holiday season, candle boxes are lined in and around the charming downtown area, forming paths that lead visitors to beautiful old homes tastefully decorated for the holidays. Kids will love ice-skating on the open-air Puddle Dock Pond, while elves and parents alike will appreciate New Hampshire’s tax-free shopping as it’s time to stock up on Christmas gifts.
Red Wing, Minnesota
Each year, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, residents of Red Wing, Minnesota officially ring in the Christmas season with its annual Holiday Stroll. This major event begins with a town-wide pancake breakfast, followed by a full day of parades, cookie decorating classes and contests, visits by Mr. and Mrs. Claus, baby reindeer, live penguins, sleigh rides, a live nativity scene, and tons of music. Did someone say live penguins?
Santa Claus, Indiana
No list of the most romantic small towns for the holidays would be complete without Santa Claus, Indiana. As you might expect by the name, this place oozes Christmas spirit at just about any time of the year. Nicknamed “America’s Christmas Hometown,” Santa Claus hosts a series of fun events that includes a themed parade, a candy castle for the kiddos, and Santa’s Land of Lights, a 1.2 mile drive-through light show. But Santa Claus’ biggest claim to holiday fame is its letters. Thanks to a genius PR plan thought up by the postmaster general during the 1920s, children from all over the country write letters to Santa addressed to Santa Claus, Indiana. Each year, Santa’s elves (a.k.a Santa Claus locals) volunteer to answer thousands of these letters in an effort to keep the Christmas Spirit alive.
Sierra Madre, California
A romantic holiday-esque town in Southern California? Sierra Madre proves that even L.A. likes to get in on the holiday magic. The town, which is located just a few miles east of Pasadena, brings in real snow from the San Bernardino Mountains, then builds a massive snowman in the town’s central square. Though, of course, the snowman does eventually melt, he provides a festive centerpiece to the decorations and life-size nativity scene that also takes place. And don’t miss the 154-tree long Christmas Tree Lane!
Skaneateles, New York
Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, and continuing on through mid-December, the small town of Skaneateles, New York hosts a charming Dickens’ Christmas. During this annual tradition, Charles Dickens, plus 50 of his most beloved characters, interact with residents and visitors all over town — on the street, in stores, and even in restaurants. The fun continues throughout the season with live music, lots of shopping, good food, and horse and wagon rides throughout the village.
Solvang, located just inland from the Pacific Coast, is famous for its authentically Danish buildings, windmills, and vibe. Consistent with its Scandinavian heritage, the town hosts the annual Solvang Julefest, a fun event that includes carolers in costumes, musical concerts, horse-drawn wagon rides, a living nativity, and the Julefest Parade. The Julefest Wine & Beer Walk promotes locally brewed seasonal beers, while shoppers will get a kick out of the Shop, Mingle, & Jingle event. Solvang’s holiday festivities culminate in January with the Christmas Tree Burn, a bonfire event that takes place outside of Old Mission Santa Ines.
St. Augustine, Florida
Each holiday season, the oldest city in the United States presents one of the nation’s best holiday light displays. From the last week of November until December 31, St. Augustine, Florida celebrates Night of Lights, during which everything — seriously, everything — is lit up with white and colored lights. Other popular holiday events in town include a Christmas Parade, and the Mission Nombre de Dios Christmas in Toyland Holiday Inn Tours.
Taos, New Mexico
The artsy town of Taos, New Mexico — arguably a romantic place at just about any time of year — comes to life during the holidays with tree lightings, concerts, and craft fairs. Every Christmas Eve, locals and visitors gather for a religious procession that takes place at the Taos Pueblo, the ancient Native American settlement situated just outside of town. Bonfires, luminaries, and a historic gun salute are enjoyed by the crowd, who experience a unique Southwestern style of the Christmas Spirit.
Holiday lovers will have a blast in Vail, Colorado — a true winter wonderland. Every December, just as the local ski season kicks in, the town hosts Snowdaze, a fun annual event that includes nightly live concerts in the snow, plus a tree lighting event timed to line up with the winter solstice. If you can, stick around for New Year’s Eve, when a torchlight parade skis down nearby Golden Peak and the whole sky is lit up with fireworks.
Williamsburg, Virginia, the historic town that has never quite left the 1770s, becomes a whole new experience during the holiday season. Through well done reenactments, visitors can see how English colonists celebrated Christmas, complete with fife and drum performances, caroling by torchlight, and the threat of the anti-Santa called the Lord of Misrule. Be sure to stay for dinner with the Jeffersons or the Washingtons, and grab your fill of roasted wild turkey, puddings, and other colonial favorites. The holiday season culminates with the Grand Illumination, a festival-type event complete with fireworks and a historic gun-salute display.
Add snow and some horse-drawn sleighs to this picturesque village, and Woodstock, Vermont is like something right out of a postcard. The town’s historic homes, as well as many local farms, decorate and host special, holiday-themed events. Visitors shouldn’t miss the nostalgia-filled Woodstock Wassail Weekend, an annual event during which carolers sing and locals gather for the lighting of the town Christmas tree and Yule log.
Zoar, Ohio, located about 40 miles south of Akron, has a population of fewer than 200 people. Still, this charming small town knows how to ring in the holidays! Zoar uses its historic homes and landmarks to full advantage in its old-fashioned Christmas celebration. Visitors can take a walking tour of Historic Zoar Village to see 19th century-style Christmas decor and decorated historic homes. You can even pick up unique artisan gifts that were made the old fashioned way by the local blacksmith or tinsmith. Finally, don’t forget to stop in to the Zoar United Church of Christ, where Christmas Carols are played on the magnificent original organ.