New Jersey has a lot of quaint towns, each with its own holiday traditions. Travel the state and you’ll see dozens of main streets decked out for the holidays. Anywhere you drive, you’ll find decorations, tree-lighting ceremonies, lantern festivals, Christmas markets, and ice carving. The list is endless.
We have sampled many of these traditions and are always finding ones we’ve never experienced before. Below are some of the best quaint towns to visit during the Christmas season in New Jersey.
1. Cape May
Cape May is a beautiful place to visit any time of year, with historic Victorian mansions, eclectic restaurants, and boutiques, as well as beaches and outdoor activities galore. But for the holiday season, Cape May goes all out. The Victorian buildings are decorated and the entire town is transformed into a Dickens Village. Carolers stroll the gas-lit streets. You can even take a Christmas Candlelight House Tour and a Santa’s Trolley ride throughout the seaside town.
Pro Tip: Go for the weekend and enjoy all that Cape May has to offer. If you can’t travel to Cape May, you can take a virtual house tour.
Milburn is one of the quaintest towns in New Jersey. A walk through Taylor Park in Millburn is one of the most delightful experiences during the holiday season, with thousands of lights and a beautiful light tunnel. Bundle up and take a romantic walk across the park’s bridge; you’ll end up at a beautiful Christmas tree, and you might even meet Mr. Polar Bear. If you go for the tree lighting ceremony, you’ll be able to try your hand at some carnival games. There’s also nightly music throughout Taylor Park.
Pro Tips: The entry point for the walk is at 100 Main Street in Millburn. There are many great restaurants to sample in the town.
Lambertville is one of New Jersey’s most picturesque towns, filled with vintage halls, flea markets, art galleries, and antique shops. This postcard-perfect town is known as the antique capital of the Garden State and is especially beautiful during Christmas. Nearby, you’ll find Howell Farm, a living historical farm with a beautifully decorated farmhouse.
If you go in late November or early December, try to catch the annual holiday classic The Nutcracker at the Villa Victoria Theater.
Pro Tip: Lambertville is a great place for a weekend getaway. One of our favorite places, the Grounds for Sculpture, is nearby.
4. River Edge
River Edge is a lovely town in northeastern New Jersey full of restaurants, parks, and historical sights. Townsfolk flock to the Borough of River Edge Annual Holiday Lighting to see the giant tree and menorah come aglow, and they bring their own brand of joy to the town with the Holiday Lawn & Window Decorating Contest.
For kids of all ages, the nearby Bergen County Zoo’s Let it Glow lantern festival is a must-do during the holiday season. Picture your favorite animals lit up as larger-than-life lanterns. Elephants, monkeys, lions, and much more. You can take a train ride through the zoo or stroll the grounds. The zoo is large (more than 100 acres), but the area where the lanterns are on display is walkable.
Pro Tip: The Let it Glow lantern festival starts at 4 p.m., and you have to purchase a ticket for a particular time slot. It stays open into January.
Come early in the day for some antiquing in Lafayette. Stop at the Chocolate Goat and pick up some handmade chocolates and unique gifts. For lunch, head to Newton, where you have several choices of excellent restaurants. A local favorite is the farm-to-table Farmer’s Daughter.
After that, head over to the German Christmas Christmas Market for shopping, entertainment, and family activities. You can visit Santa, check out the petting zoo, go on a pony ride, or take a horse-drawn wagon complete with sleigh bells. There are wooden huts featuring craft vendors and food. While shopping, you can take a break and listen to local choral and choir groups. And there are thousands of Christmas lights sprinkling throughout the huge grounds.
Just a stone’s throw from the Sussex County Fairgrounds is the Skylands Stadium Light Show and Christmas Village. The Light show is a 1-mile drive through over 2 million lights. After viewing the lights, stop by the outdoor Christmas village and winter carnival for hot chocolate and other treats. You can go ice skating, ride on the Ferris wheel, and have a beer.
Pro Tip: The light show is very popular and can get crowded. When that happens, the ride through the lights takes a long time. Get there early to avoid the slowdown.
New Jersey’s farms go all out during the holidays, especially during Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Demarest Farms is the place to go for magical Christmas festivities. The Orchard of Lights is a guided drive through 32 acres of the farm in Hillsdale. On the drive, you will see sparking Christmas lights displays synced to music. After the drive, stop by the farm store to take pictures with Santa and shop for Christmas goodies. You can also park yourself by the fire pit to make your own s’mores and have some hot chocolate.
- You need to make reservations ahead of time as tickets are not sold on site.
- The Orchard of Lights can get crowded, and it’s best to go early in the season.
- While the Orchard of Lights is open until New Year’s Eve, Santa heads out to the North Pole come Christmas Eve.
Head to the town of Phillipsburg to see the Polar Express come to life on a train ride operated by the New York Susquehanna & Western Technical & Historical Society. Bring the kids in their pajamas, and they’ll be given cookies and hot chocolate for the ride. During the train ride, the Polar Express is read aloud, and Santa gives each child a sleighbell at the end.
After the train ride, check out Phillipsburg itself, which is a cute little town filled with antique shops and cafés. If you are a railroad buff, visit the museum for a chance to ride the Centerville and Southwestern small gauge trains for free.
8. New Brunswick
The town of New Brunswick is home to Rutgers University, the Zimmerli Art Museum, the State Theater New Jersey, and many excellent restaurants. For the holiday season, the town and university are nicely decorated. During Winter Wonderland, there are ice carving demonstrations, strolling Victorian carollers, a tree lighting ceremony, and musical entertainment.
- New Brunswick is easily reached by train from New York City.
- Our favorite restaurants in New Brunswick are The Frog & The Peach and Dashen Ethiopian Cuisine.
If you are looking for quaintness, go no further than the Historic Village at Allaire in Farmingdale, near Wall Township. Enter the village and you will find yourself in 1836. During Christmas, this is a beautiful location. You can take a candlelit walking tour of the village and visit the bakery, blacksmith, and the Allaire Residence Chapel. In addition, there is music, entertainment, history, and theater from the historical period.
Montclair is another one of New Jersey’s gems with the Montclair Art Museum; music, dance,, and theater performances at Montclair State University; boutiques; and plenty of mouthwatering restaurants. The holidays are an especially lovely time in Montclair, with a highlight being Christmas in King Arthur’s Court, an event in early December where you can experience what Christmas was like in the times of King Arthur.
Pro Tip: If you are interested in attending Christmas in King Arthur’s Court at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, keep your eye out for announcements and book early.
New Jersey Lights Up For Christmas
There are many more quaint towns in New Jersey that we could have included. We recommend exploring this list of towns, then going to find your own favorite spots for holiday cheer.