From ice skating and sleigh rides to light displays and holiday markets, the holiday season is full of festive ways to escape, near and far. So, if you’ve tired of tradition or want something extra special this holiday season, book one of these great Christmas vacations for families.
1. New York City
It’s true—there’s no better place to spend Christmas than New York City! The city is even more magical during the holiday season. There’s ice skating at Bryant Park and Central Park (and other parks across the city); the famous Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center; and the Rockettes at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular Show. The department store windows come to life with over-the-top festive scenes, as do holiday displays across the city.
The holiday season kicks off with the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and comes to a grand finale when the New Year’s Eve ball drops in Times Square, making NYC one of the best Christmas vacations for families.
Recommended Hotel: The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park.
2. Branson, MO
The Ozark Mountains of Branson, Missouri! put on quite the show for families of all ages. Branson gets in the holiday spirit with numerous live singing and dancing performances, parades, light shows and tours, where families can drive through hundreds of light displays. There is even a Christmas Tree Trail where giant trees are decorated and on display throughout Branson. (You won’t find any Charlie Brown trees here!)
But it’s at Silver Dollar City that families will discover the true meaning of Christmas in the Ozarks. An Old Time Christmas at Silver Dollar City (from early November through January 1) is one of the most magical Christmas festivals in the nation. The entire park—every inch of it—is lit with millions of lights (assembling them begins in October!) and there is a five-story special effects Christmas tree in the center of the park.
Head to Branson before December 25 and get some shopping done, too. The handcrafted goods, such as pottery and blown glass, make excellent and unique gifts. Branson Landing and the outlet center are also great for holiday shopping.
Recommended Hotel: Château on the Lake Resort & Spa.
3. Copenhagen, Denmark
European holiday markets are fun to experience on a family vacation. But Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens is the number one Christmas must in the city, and the locals can’t get enough of the tradition. Decorations, handmade gifts, holiday food and drink, lots of fun rides for the kids and of course, Santa, are part of the Tivoli Gardens experience from mid-November through December. This true Nordic Christmas experience includes snow-covered trees, real reindeer, twinkling Christmas lights and beautifully decorated wooden houses.
Tivoli Gardens is not the only Christmas market to explore in Copenhagen, either. Several others can be found throughout the city, including one at the renaissance Kronborg Castle and a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale-themed market.
Recommended Hotel: Tivoli Hotel.
4. Leavenworth, WA
Can’t make it to Europe for your Christmas vacation with the family? Experience a piece of Germany in Washington State! Leavenworth, Washington, is a Bavarian-themed town about two hours from Seattle. Families will feel like they’ve entered the inside of a snowglobe when visiting at Christmas time. The Village of Lights is bright with more than 500,00 lights sparkling from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day weekend. Families will love the Christkindlmarkt, the Christmas Lighting Festival, live music and concerts, and the Bavarian Ice Festival in January.
Recommended Hotel: Bavarian Lodge
5. Seneca Falls, NY
In New York's Finger Lakes region lies the real Bedford Falls, which was the inspiration for ~It's a Wonderful Life~. Seneca Falls knows how to ring in the season with its Christmas bells on. There is a four-day It’s a Wonderful Life Festival each December. The festival includes horse-drawn carriage rides, a Christmas tree lighting, gingerbread house, light displays, musical concerts and even visits with some of the original cast members! The movie plays in town, of course, and there’s a Bailey’s Park Vendor Village for finding that perfect gift.
Recommended Hotel: Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel
6. Jackson Hole, WY
You’ll want to book this Christmas vacation for your family early because the crowds descend on Jackson Hole during the holiday season—with good reason. You’re practically guaranteed a white Christmas, as Jackson Hole averages 400 inches of snow per year! The slopes are open on Christmas Day, too, so if Santa happens to deliver a new snowboard or set of skis, you can test them out immediately. Snowmobiling, sledding, tubing, dog sledding and sleigh rides are a few of the other winter sports that await families in this festive vacation destination. The town square is decorated for the season and there are plenty of opportunities to drink hot chocolate and roast marshmallows or chestnuts over an open fire.
Recommended Hotel: Amangani.
7. Disney World, FL
Of course Disney knows how to do Christmas vacations for families! The Disney Christmas decor fully decks the halls at all the parks, complete with millions of lights, joyful music and even “snow”! Your kids will love Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, where the guy in the red suit and the giant mouse himself say hello, along with parades, light and fireworks shows. Even Cinderella’s Castle transforms into a Frozen ice palace! At Epcot, the family can learn how different cultures and countries celebrate the holidays, and it’s a full-on feast of a holiday dessert party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM event. Expect to see large crowds at the parks around the holiday season, when children are out of school.
Recommended Hotel: Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.
8. Stowe, VT
If it’s holiday music that warms your gingerbread house during the holiday season, pack your favorite sheet music and head to Stowe, Vermont! for a stay at the Trapp Family Lodge. After leaving Austria and touring the United States as the Trapp Family Singers, the von Trapps eventually settled in Stowe and opened a lodge that you can visit for your Christmas family vacation. Throughout December, the lodge offers families a variety of festive activities like a holiday wreath workshop, sugar maple tours, cooking and baking classes, rocking climbing, and swimming. A classic movie (including ~The Sound of Music~, of course), is shown nightly, and skiing is only 15 minutes away. But a few of your favorite things while staying at the lodge will be the Christmas Eve tradition of caroling with the von Trapps. The hills may actually come alive as your family belts out Christmas carols alongside the actual von Trapp family! On Christmas Day, stay in your holiday pajamas and enjoy a Christmas movie marathon at the lodge.
Recommended Hotel: Trapped Family Lodge.
9. Oahu, HI
Santa ditches his sleigh for an outrigger canoe in Hawaii! Elaborate sand sculptures are crafted instead of snowmen, and palm trees twinkle with lights, making Oahu one of the best Christmas beach vacations for families. While Christmas in Hawaii means beach days rather than snow-capped mountains, all the traditions remain the same, with caroling, tree trimming, hot cocoa and cookies. Don’t worry if your Christmas wish is to play in the snow, either—you’ll be able to find man-made snow and ice! Who wouldn’t want to ice skate outside in shorts and a T-shirt?!
Recommended Hotel: Sheraton, Waikiki.
Chicago makes for a festive Christmas vacation for families, and stacks up nicely next to New York City. The giant Christmas tree lighting, parade and fireworks display lights up the start of the season as the parade marches down the Magnificent Mile the weekend before Thanksgiving. Families can enjoy the open-air Christkindlmarket, free ice skating at the outdoor rink at Millennium Park, indoor amusement rides at Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier, caroling in front of “The Beach,” and the Macy’s seasonal window displays.
Recommended Hotel: Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel.
11. Lake Louise, Canada
For a Canadian Christmas, visit Lake Louise in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies. Christmas on Lake Louise is the epitome of a family Christmas card. Tip: Take your family holiday card photos during your Christmas vacation so you can mail it out next year! Families can ice skate on the lake and stop at the Ice Bar for some hot chocolate or wine and create a sugar pop treat out of hot maple syrup and snow. Snowshoeing, skiing, sleigh rides, all-day board game tournaments and evening gatherings around the campfire to roast marshmallows are just a few of the activities you’ll enjoy during a Christmas vacation in Lake Louise.
Recommended Hotel: Fairmont Château, Lake Louise.
12. National Harbor, MD
Located on the Potomac River in Maryland, National Harbor sits in the shadow of Washington, D.C., but offers an epic Christmas vacation for families. The famous ICE! Exhibit is held in National Harbor at the Gaylord National Resort, one of the most magical holiday hotels in the U.S. This indoor ice experience is filled with giant ice sculptures crafted in a different theme each year. It’s only 9 degrees inside (brrrr!), but the kids won’t even notice when they’re sliding down the giant multi-story ice slides! There is also pajama story time in the Christmas Village, a Silent Disco on an indoor ice skating rink, and a Cirque du Soleil show that’s perfect for kids. New this year at the Gaylord National Resort is an outdoor Winter Square where lights and decorations sparkle and an outdoor ice skating rink and there is an ugly sweater tavern for the adults! After the chilly experience, families can walk along the harborfront, ride the carousel or soar high above the river on the Capital Wheel Ferris Wheel.
Recommended Hotel: Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.