10 Best Places to Get into the Holiday Spirit in the US

by Libby Zay 
Posted Nov 23rd 2010 02:16 PMUpdated Nov 23rd 2010 05:16 PM


There are some cities that shine like no others during the holidays. Some glitter with thousands of blinking lights, while others celebrate the season in ways all their own. To make sure our readers get in the holiday spirit, AOL Travel has rounded up ten of the top places to have a jolly good time. Celebrate the season at these classic stops, and don't be shy about letting us know your family favorites in the comments section below.

10. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Known as "Christmas City, USA", Bethlehem was founded on Christmas Eve in 1741. An electric Moravian star shines over the charming downtown area and Lehigh University campus, two areas radiating with holiday spirit -- especially when blanketed in snow. By far the most famous draw to Bethlehem for the holidays is the German-style Christkindlmarkt, where over 150 artisans peddle handicrafts, Christmas decorations and food. The market is set up every Thursday through Sunday from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas on Spring and Main Streets. There is no better way to get in the holiday spirit than picking out presents for your loved ones! Bethlehem Travel Deals

9. Santa Cruz, California
The west coast may not have snow, but that doesn't mean California is devoid of holiday cheer. The palm trees along the main avenue and boardwalk in the funky seaside town of Santa Cruz are decked out in a glittering holiday display. On weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Santa arrives by train to the Santa Cruz boardwalk. Visitors can hop on an old locomotive run by Roaring Camp Railroads that rolls along the beach, through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, across a 1909 steel truss bridge, and through a tunnel while Santa and Mrs. Claus make their way from car to car. Santa Cruz Travel Deals

8. Washington, DC
The Pathway of Peace, the walkway leading up to the National Christmas Tree at the White House is illuminated every day from dusk until 11 p.m. A tradition since 1923, today one tall blue spruce and 56 smaller trees -- representing the holiday spirit of the 50 states, five territories, and District of Columbia -- are planted in the Ellipse, the grassy area just south of the White House. There is also a National Menorah on the White House grounds during the eight-day Chanukah celebration. Hot latkes are served, the U.S. Navy Band performs, and dreidels spin during the lighting ceremony. While in town, stop by ICE! at the Gaylord National, featuring ten colorful scenes sculpted from two-million pounds of ice. Washington, DC Travel Deals

7. San Antonio, Texas
The Lone Star State shines during the holiday season, especially along the San Antonio River Walk, where approximately 122,000 lights form a twinkling canopy over a riverside path. Over 150,000 people gather here annually for a one-hour parade along the walk, which is also televised. Throughout the season, more than 185 school, church and civic choral groups ring in the season with carols as they cruise beside the river walk. San Antonio Travel Deals

6. Wheeling, West Virginia
One town that takes the holiday spirit seriously is Wheeling -- especially if you are looking to be wow-ed by Christmas lights. Set in the hills above the Woodsdale area of Wheeling is the main attraction, Oglebay's Winter Festival of Lights. This six-mile drive is decked out in one of the largest Christmas light displays in the country. There's a twinkling snowflake tunnel, a six-story tall poinsettia wreath, and more. Even Snoopy and the gang make an appearance! Other holiday activities in Wheeling include the "Fantasy in Lights" Christmas parade, and a special, ongoing Christmas party at the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum. If you need some extra cash for Christmas presents, cross your fingers and hope for a Christmas miracle as you play the slots at Wheeling Island. Wheeling Travel Deals

5. Las Vegas, Nevada
Everything about Las Vegas is larger than life, and the holidays are no exception. Every casino along the strip tries to out-do its neighbors with over-the-top decorations. The Bellagio Fountains dance to Christmas music and Fremont Street is decked out in red and green neon. If lucky, you may even be able to take your winnings to the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace or the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian to help spread the holiday cheer. Take a break from the center of action and head to the Winter Lights Festival at Springs Preserve, where an eight-acre garden is lit with a half-million sparkling lights. If visiting Las Vegas around the holidays, be sure to make reservations, as rooms and restaurants fill up fast. Las Vegas Travel Deals

4. Asheville, North Carolina
Christmas at Biltmore, America's largest home, is a classy affair. George Vanderbilt first introduced his new home to family and friends on Christmas Eve, 1895 -- a celebration that is continued during "Candlelight Christmas Evenings" at Biltmore today. The estate is decorated with dozens of Christmas trees, miles of garland, countless strands of white lights, and thousands of ornaments. Lend an ear to a choir group singing in the glassed Winter Garden, or step back in time in a ballroom where dancers dressed in vintage attire glide through the room. By day or night, Christmas at Biltmore is sure to get you in the holiday spirit. Asheville Travel Deals

3. Orlando, Florida
With dazzling daily parades and spectacular light shows, celebrating the season at Disney World is one surefire way to feel jolly around the holidays. Stumble into Disney's Street of America and find yourself watching a spectacular light show, dramatically choreographed to holiday music. There is also Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, nightly fireworks, a snowfall on Main Street, and meet-ups with Santa -- plus all the attractions that make Disney special all year round. For both the young and old, joining in the holiday spirit at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party is an unforgettable experience. Orlando Travel Deals

2. New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans celebrates the holidays with a twist: Christmas New Orleans Style is a month-long festival celebrating Papa Noel. Every corner of the city comes alive with glowing lights, festively decked out streetcars, and candlelit caroling. Take a tour of decorated antebellum homes, listen to the sounds of riverboat caroling cruises, catch a special Christmas theater performance, shop along the French Quarter, or sit back and enjoy the view on a carriage ride. There is also a traditional lighting of a 12-foot menorah at Chanukah at Riverwalk, as well as several New Years celebrations throughout the city. New Orleans Travel Deals

1. New York, New York
The City That Never Sleeps simply cannot be topped during the holiday season. It seems as if every street and window in Manhattan is decorated in dazzling displays. The mere thought of Christmastime in New York brings up images such as the high kicks of the Rockettes at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, window shopping at Macy's or Saks Fifth Avenue, and taking a spin around the Rockefeller Center ice rink. For some more off-the-beaten path things to do during the holidays, check out the Origami Holiday Tree at the American Museum of Natural History or give cross country skiing a shot in Central Park. Even with the cold wind blowing, there are endless ways to get into the holiday spirit in New York. New York Travel Deals

Filed Under: Seasonal, Holidays

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January 24 2015 at 4:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tonya Wariner

I agree about New York. Nothing compares. I'd add Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah on the list.

November 29 2014 at 1:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

i also recommend King of Prussia PA-the king of prussia mall is GIGANTIC, and well decorated for the holidays. a nice experience! (ps-it isnt too far from bethlehem or philly).

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April 10 2011 at 9:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


December 12 2010 at 4:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They can't mention all the places that are so beautifully decorated during Christmas, and I am sure Chicago is stunning. I don't care if it is warm, hot, pouring rain, or what not - I just LOVE Christmas time. I am currently in Spain, and it is warm, but they sure make the best of it, and I am completely in the Chrsitmas spirit. But I will say that I would love to be in New York right now, and they will be getting snow in the next few days - and lots of it so I hear.

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December 12 2010 at 4:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

RE: #2 New Orleans

Why did they not mention Celebration in the Oaks (formerly known as Christmas in the Oaks).

This is a beatiful lighting display winding through City Park. There's a Cajun Christmas village, too. They light up Storyland for the kids and the Carousel Gardens are in full swing 'til about 10 pm. You can take a train ride through the park and see the lights and decorations and take a walking tour through the City Park Botanical Gardens.

In the Gardens, all local schools pick a theme and decorate their own Christmas tree. The trees are judged and the best are awarded prizes.

There's entertainment nightly by local groups, school bands and choruses.

Oh, and you can take a carriage ride, too!

Miss it! Moved to NYC after the hurricane.

The French Quarter is better than it's ever been!

December 12 2010 at 3:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey, South Detroit is geographically Windsor, Canada (look at a map!).
However, as a former resident of that Winter Wonderland, I do miss the subzero weather, the disaffected police force, and the utter sense of hopelessness in Detroit. Moving to the warmth, vigor and energized economy of Texas was the answer for my family. We went to the Christmas Parade on the Riverwalk in San Antonio and it was great!

December 12 2010 at 2:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bill Moore

I've been to a few of these cities over the years and your pick of Wheeling, W.Va. is certainly a winner. Oglebay's a place that's hard to beat no matter the season. For the Christmas Spirit, the weather is right, the people are smiling and the heart felt spirit of Christmas is alive and well. An excellent pick on your part.

December 11 2010 at 11:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
yes, my name is Lizette

I believe that all 10 cities are great.
The Christmas spirit make me feel any city very special.
What about the warm weather Christmas?

December 11 2010 at 11:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply