Embrace the magic of the holiday season with a Christmas vacation in the US. You could watch a yule-tide dance show in New York City, ice skate in Chicago or San Francisco, or marvel at a festive light show in Leavenworth, Washington. So toss out that home-for-the-holidays mentality and check out our rundown of the best Christmas destinations in the United States.
New York City, New York
If you love snow, shopping and all things sparkly, spend your Christmas in New York. The Big Apple is a winter wonderland with popular attractions including the gigantic illuminated tree and ice rink at the Rockefeller Center and the festive window displays at the glitzy department stores.
You can also catch a classic Christmas musical at many of the theaters across the city. But if you want to embrace a US festive tradition, watch the annual Radio City Christmas Spectacular by the Rockettes dance troupe. It’s a festive extravaganza held at Radio City Music Hall with big dance numbers, grand stage design and shimmering costumes.
And when you’re done swaying to holiday tunes, visit a Christmas market for sweet treats, holiday drinks and gift shopping – among the best are the Union Square Holiday Market and Columbus Circle Holiday Market.
Where to stay in NYC
Opt for the Mondrian Park Avenue hotel in the trendy-chic NoMad District, just steps from Fifth Avenue and Madison Square Park. The characterful lobby – where big chunks of decorative logs serve as seats – sets the tone for the artistic experience that awaits further inside: think elaborate cushions and carpets, and walls covered with paintings, plus cow-print poufs and vintage skis in the alpine-themed Mondrian Terrace rooftop lounge. Fitness fanatics will be happy to know that a stay comes with free access to the New York Sports Club.
Chicago receives its fair share of snow during the winter – more than most cities in Illinois – so if you’re looking for a white Christmas, this is where you’ll find it. It also offers all the traditional big-city events and activities that will make you enjoy the festive season even more. Among the must-sees are the sparkling lights in the Magnificent Mile neighborhood – the tree-lighting ceremony in late November officially marks the beginning of the holiday season – and the Christmas Around the World exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry, which celebrates holiday traditions across the globe.
Twirl away on the ice rink at Millennium Park; pop by the Christkindlmarket for authentic German Christmas craftwork, pretzels and glühwein; and catch a showing of Joffrey Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker at the Civic Opera House. With so much to do and see here, there’s nothing quite like Christmas in Chicago.
Where to stay in Chicago
Occupying a 120-year-old landmark building in the affluent Gold Coast neighborhood, Viceroy Chicago is a mix of 1920s finesse and modern sophistication. In the rooms, retro-style furnishings and art-deco touches blend with glam skyline vistas and views of Lake Michigan – experienced through floor-to-ceiling windows. Lie down in your comfy bed covered in Egyptian cotton sheets or relax with a cocktail on the rooftop lounge, before splurging on a new outfit from the bustling Magnificent Mile district, which is just over a 10-minute walk away.
Christmas often means snow, and snow calls for skiing. And what better place to fly down pistes and moguls than Colorado? The Centennial State is blessed with several top ski resorts, with enough options to satisfy any skier’s needs. And the festive fun doesn’t stop there.
Head to Georgetown for the tree-lighting ceremony and the traditional Georgetown Christmas Market; and to Aspen for the 12 Days of Aspen festival, when the town holds concerts, theater shows and all kinds of street-entertainment events.
And don’t miss a ride on the Polar Express in Durango – you’ll enjoy a reading of Chris Van Allsburg’s classic Christmas tale on board, while drinking hot chocolate and munching on sweets.
Where to stay in Colorado
If you’re aiming for easy access to one of the most popular ski resorts in Colorado, book a room at Crystal Peak Lodge in Breckenridge. You can spend your days swishing through the powdery slopes of Breckenridge Ski Resort or exploring the restaurants downtown. If skiing isn’t your thing, stay in and unwind in plush leather armchairs next to stone fireplaces or on the vast patios overlooking the Rockies. For extra relaxation, soak in one of the outdoor hot tubs.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco is full of holiday cheer at Christmas. Travel round town on a refurbished cable car from the 1800s to see the sights (including Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach and Union Square) illuminated at night, along with many seasonal light displays.
And don’t forget to lace up your skates to glide across the Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square, right next to Macy’s glorious 83ft (25m) tree. For dinner, try one of the seafood restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf, before watching a performance of the Nutcracker by San Francisco Ballet.
Where to stay in San Francisco
Hawaii may not seem like your typical Christmas destination, but it’s a delightful place to be during the holidays – think glorious sunshine paired with fun activities and watersports.
And even if you crave Christmas traditions, Hawaii doesn’t disappoint. Each island has its own celebrations – from the Festival of Lights Boat Parade in the Hawaii Kai area on Oahu, where boats adorned with colorful lights cruise by the waterway, to the Kailua-Kona Christmas Parade on Kauai, where the streets transform into a winter wonderland with light displays, floats and live music.
Whichever island you choose, attending a luau on Christmas Day is a must. This feast includes music and cultural performances from across Hawaii and the greater Polynesia region.
Where to stay in Hawaii
There’s probably no better place to spend Christmas than Bavaria – but if Germany is a bit far, there’s a Bavarian-style village closer than you think.
Over the festive period, Leavenworth, Washington, is covered in snow and dotted with millions of twinkling lights. The town has a dazzling Christmas Lighting Festival, which includes holiday-themed activities such as sledding in Front Street Park, plus several concerts and festive shows.
The Leavenworth Christmas Market is where you can join a lantern parade – families decorate their own lanterns and follow Mr and Mrs Claus through the streets – or taste German delicacies and buy handmade craftworks.
Alternatively, take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the forest as you snuggle up in a warm blanket, the scent of roasted chestnuts permeating the air. Skiing and dog sledding are also possible here. For the best cookies in town, pop by the Gingerbread Factory – it offers a wide selection of gingerbread houses, cakes and other Bavarian treats.
Where to stay in Leavenworth
Embrace the winter vibes in this alpine resort just a short walk from downtown Leavenworth. It comes with idyllic views of the Cascade Mountains and a warm, rustic decor that will instantly make you feel at home. It has a heated outdoor pool, a game room, an ecofriendly spa, and private bathtubs in some of the rooms. Tuck into Northwest-inspired dishes and Bavarian delicacies at JJ Hills Fresh Grill and go wild over the happy hour drink specials.
New Orleans, Louisiana
One of the most interesting places to visit at Christmas is New Orleans. This buzzing city becomes even more fascinating during the holiday season, thanks to all the special events and brightly colored decorations on every corner.
Among the highlights is the Christmas Eve Bonfires on the Levee, a tradition that dates back to the earliest Cajun settlers in the region. It’s said that the bonfires built on the Mississippi levees on Christmas Eve light the way for Papa Noël – the Cajun Santa Claus – on his airborne journey around the area.
Also gather in front of St Louis Cathedral – the oldest cathedral in North America – to sing traditional holiday songs, or visit City Park to take part in the Celebration in the Oaks, a fundraising event with 25 acres (10ha) of holiday displays and 600-year-old oak trees dressed in lights.
Christmas is also the time to get a closer look at the Garden District Houses; these 19th-century mansions open their doors for home tours, letting you peek into the opulence that lies behind their wrought-iron fences.
Alternatively, go sailing on the Steamboat Natchez riverboat and indulge in four-course Creole holiday meals in the various restaurants around town. Don’t leave without tasting the buttery Cajun Kringle pastry, which is filled with praline and topped with caramel icing and pecans.
Where to stay in New Orleans
Konstantina Pyrnokoki provided additional reporting for this article.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.