The most wonderful time of the year is best spent with loved ones, of course. But this year, instead of going home for the holidays, explore some of the most festive cities in the country with your loved ones in tow.
These cities have fully embraced the Christmas spirit; they all offer incredible light displays, finger-licking seasonal foods, and quirky holiday events, and people flock from all corners of the country to experience them firsthand.
From big cities to small towns, and from traditional Christmas destinations to tropical ones, here are the very best U.S. cities to visit during the 2019 holiday season.
1. Frankenmuth, Michigan
Although Frankenmuth, Michigan, is home to only 5,000 people, more than 2 million visitors arrive during Christmastime -- and for good reason! An hour and a half north of Detroit, Michigan’s Little Bavaria is the best place to celebrate a German Christmas outside of Germany.
Settled by Germans in 1845, Frankenmuth has all the trappings of a Deutschland Christmas, including Bavarian-style homes, church services in German, and a traditional Christkindlmarkt.
Frankenmuth is also home to the world’s largest Christmas store: Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. The size of almost two football fields, and with 6,000 ornaments, 300 Christmas trees, and 50,000 strings of Christmas lights, Bronner’s has every Christmas gift and goodie you could imagine.
2. Santa Claus, Indiana
An hour west of Louisville, Kentucky, this southern Indiana town is nicknamed “America’s Christmas Hometown.” With a name like Santa Claus, it’s not surprising that the town is home to some of the country’s best Christmas celebrations.
During the first three weekends of December, the Santa Claus Christmas Celebration steals the show. Visitors can stroll through the Santa Claus Land of Lights, view real reindeer, roast chestnuts on an open fire, and visit the Santa Claus Arts & Crafts Show.
Don’t miss the chance to mail and receive a letter from Santa at the Santa Claus Museum. For more than 100 years, people have been sending letters to the Santa Claus Post Office located inside. What started as a one-postman operation has become a nonprofit organization that responds to thousands of letters every year -- 22,000 in 2018, to be exact!
3. Las Vegas, Nevada
The hotels located on the Las Vegas Strip are well known for their intriguing themes and lavish decorations. The holiday season in Sin City is no different, making Las Vegas one of the best cities to visit around Christmas. Hotels are decked out in Christmas trees, colorful ornaments, and even polar bears made of flowers.
Unlike in most places in the United States, attractions in Las Vegas are open on Christmas Day. Travelers can ice skate on the Cosmopolitan’s frozen rooftop pool, enjoy the extravagantly decorated main lobby of Caesars Palace, and watch the iconic Bellagio Fountains dance to seasonal tunes without worrying about closing times.
4. Chattanooga, Tennessee
Situated in the foothills of the lush Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga, Tennessee, hosts Christmas celebrations in two incredibly scenic areas: Ruby Falls and Rock City Gardens.
Although the 145-foot underground waterfall is stunning year-round, Ruby Falls is even more beautiful during its annual Christmas Underground event. Visitors can embark on a journey to the North Pole via the Sugar Plum Fairy Village and glittering ice tunnel; they’ll enjoy musical trees, snow flurries, and simulated Northern Lights before meeting Santa.
Nearby, Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights features 1 million LED lights in four different Christmas-themed displays. The 4,100-foot walking trail wraps through the displays, passes by a 90-foot waterfall, and stops at the North Pole Lodge, where visitors can decorate gingerbread cookies.
Additionally, visitors to Chattanooga can cruise down the Tennessee River, ice skate at the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex, or enjoy a make-believe ride to the North Pole at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.
5. Natchitoches, Louisiana
For the perfect small-town Christmas, look no further than Natchitoches, Louisiana. Just an hour and a half south of Shreveport, Louisiana, Natchitoches is a French Creole town that has hosted a Christmas festival every year for nearly a century.
Settled in 1714 and located on the scenic Cane River, Louisiana’s oldest city will celebrate in style from November 23 to January 6. Events will include cookies with Santa, weekly fireworks, and tours of decorated historic homes. Food vendors will sell holiday classics alongside Southern favorites such as gator on a stick, Natchitoches meat pie, and hot gumbo.
6. McAdenville, North Carolina (Christmas Town USA)
Although only 700 people live in McAdenville, North Carolina, the town’s legendary lights display attracts more and more visitors each year. For 62 years, people have come from near and far to stroll through the city that changes its name to Christmas Town USA every December.
This year, on November 30, the incredible 500,000-light display will be illuminated at the annual tree-lighting ceremony. Covering 160 homes, 265 evergreen trees, and 38 spruce trees, the display was voted one of the best holiday lights displays in the country by USA Today readers.
Visitors can enjoy the lights from their cars or on foot from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (or until 11 p.m. on weekends). Due to the traffic, we recommend that you arrive early, park at a nearby lot, and stroll through the free-of-charge Christmas wonderland.
Other attractions include a yule log parade and ceremony held in mid-December, Christmas caroling, and visits with Santa at Legacy Park.
7. Breckenridge, Colorado
For the quintessential white Christmas, spend the holiday season in Breckenridge, Colorado. This winter wonderland is surrounded by scenic snow-capped mountains and evergreen trees and offers a long list of activities to enjoy.
If you love the outdoors, you’ll love Breckenridge; you can ski, sled, and snowboard to your heart’s content on the powdery white snow. After a long day on the slopes, rock around the Christmas tree at the town’s tree-lighting ceremony, relax with a Christmas ale at the Breckenridge Brewery, or skate with Santa on Christmas Eve.
8. Orlando, Florida
Escape the snow and enjoy Orlando during one of the best times to visit -- Christmastime! In December, the Theme Park Capital of the World enjoys average temperatures in the 70s while hosting some of the best holiday celebrations.
At SeaWorld Orlando, visitors can enjoy seasonal food, holiday performances, and a live Winter Wonderland on Ice show. The Universal Orlando Resort offers Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical, Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s, and a dazzling transformation of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Plus, where else to celebrate Christmas than at the happiest place on Earth? Disney World’s four parks go above and beyond to instill the Christmas spirit. From Sunset Boulevard’s holiday postcard display to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party to the Holiday Wish fireworks, there’s no shortage of holiday-themed events on offer.
9. Lake Tahoe, California
Nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountain range between California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe’s glassy waters and snowy peaks are the perfect setting for a Christmas celebration
Known for its ski resorts, Lake Tahoe attracts up to 250,000 people on peak winter days. In addition to outdoor activities, Heavenly Village offers holiday events including breakfast with Santa, a life-size snow globe photo booth, and various live shows. Squaw Valley celebrates the season with 17 days of live music, happy hours, ice sculptures, and fireworks.
10. New York City, New York
Considering the number of movies set in New York in winter, it’s no wonder the Big Apple is a classic Christmastime destination.
Blankets of snow, carriage rides through Central Park, and the tree-lighting ceremony at the Rockefeller Center make New York an enchanting place during this time of year. Even the department stores, including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue, go all out with elaborate window displays.
Broadway always attracts holiday visitors, but the Radio City Rockettes Christmas Spectacular, with its flashy costumes, impeccable dancing, and limited showtimes, is not to be missed.
Curious as to how this list compares with last year's? These were America's 11 best Christmas destinations in 2018.