The 6 Finest Christmas Wonderlands in America

Embrace the holiday spirit and cozy vibes at these six destinations.
The 6 Finest Christmas Wonderlands in America
(The Biltmore Company)
12/3/2023
Updated:
12/28/2023
0:00
It’s the time of year that twinkles, all across the United States. But some places go above and beyond when it comes to Christmas. Here are six of the very best spots to see the lights, enjoy wintry fun, and feel all the warm and fuzzies this holiday season.

Colonial Celebrations

(Christopher W Becke/Shutterstock)
(Christopher W Becke/Shutterstock)
Founded in 1632 and the capital of the Virginia Colony for more than a century, Williamsburg, Virginia, was a key city in the American Revolution. Today, you can still walk through all that history, and the town’s Colonial architecture and vibrant stories draw millions year-round. But at Christmas, everything shines. Take a carriage ride, ice skate, and enjoy the Celebration of the Yule Log, a procession where you can take part by tossing a sprig into a bonfire. Then marvel at the spectacular Grand Illumination, a fireworks display that lights up the skies over the Governor’s Palace for three weekends in December.

Christmas at the Chateau

(The Biltmore Company)
(The Biltmore Company)
Set on 8,000 acres on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Biltmore Estate in North Carolina is the largest private home in the United States. This French Renaissance chateau, which has more than 250 rooms and 175,000 square feet of floor space, was completed in 1895. From early November to the beginning of January, the halls here are fully decked with Christmas trees, fragrant wreaths, and thousands of twinkling bulbs. And once the sun sets, everything gets even better, the whole place lighting up with flickering candles and roaring fireplaces.

Orlando, Florida

(Handout/Handout/Getty Images Entertainment)
(Handout/Handout/Getty Images Entertainment)
Does spending the festive season in subtropical Florida seem a little counterintuitive? While it’s true that snow hasn’t actually fallen in Orlando since the late ’70s, in fact few places get more dressed up for Christmas. The region is home to several major theme parks: Join the world’s most famous mouse for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World, or head to Who-ville for “Grinchmas” at Universal Studios.

Michigan’s Little Bavaria

(The Frankenmuth Convention & Visitors Bureau)
(The Frankenmuth Convention & Visitors Bureau)
If you can’t make it to the Christmas markets on the Danube or the Rhine, consider a trip to Frankenmuth. This small Michigan town of about 5,000 just south of Saginaw celebrates Christmas all year round, but things really ramp up in November and December. Marvel at the 40-foot Christmas tree, which shines with (exactly) 23,000 lights. Skate on the big outdoor ice rink in the heart of downtown, and browse at Bronner’s, the world’s largest Christmas store, whose sales floor and sprawling displays cover more than 7 acres. Then, warm up by tucking into a chicken dinner or some hearty schnitzel at the Bavarian Inn.

Santa’s Town

(Spencer County Visitors Bureau)
(Spencer County Visitors Bureau)
Originally, the small Midwestern town of Santa Claus, Indiana, wanted a different name. But upon its founding in 1846, the would-be Santa Fe discovered that that name was already taken. It was the holiday season, so they went with Santa Claus—and they haven’t looked back. Today, the local post office uses its unique postmark to re-mail all sorts of envelopes. Pick up sweet treats at Santa’s Candy Castle, where you can also—as the song says—roast chestnuts over an open fire. And keep an eye out for St. Nick himself—the town has a 22-foot statue, as well as 15 more, spread around town.

Maine Man

(Jon Lovette/Stone/Getty Images)
(Jon Lovette/Stone/Getty Images)

Few places do the holidays like Kennebunkport, Maine, a graceful Northeastern town on the rugged Maine coast. It’s all very New England. For example: During their Christmas Prelude, you can take trolley rides along the seashore and enjoy delicious local traditions, like a good old-fashioned lobster bake. And the big man, himself? He won’t be arriving by sleigh. Instead, look out to the waters of the North Atlantic, where St. Nick will be rolling in by fishing boat.

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.
Toronto-based writer Tim Johnson is always traveling in search of the next great story. Having visited 140 countries across all seven continents, he’s tracked lions on foot in Botswana, dug for dinosaur bones in Mongolia, and walked among a half-million penguins on South Georgia Island. He contributes to some of North America’s largest publications, including CNN Travel, Bloomberg, and The Globe and Mail.