10 Best Small Towns to Visit This Christmas
These small American towns deliver major holiday spirit, whether in a massive Leavenworth, Washington light show, a two-week snow festival in Park City, Utah or a Dickens Christmas in Skaneateles, New York.
Photo By: Icicle TV
Photo By: Middleburg, VA
Photo By: Park City, UT
Photo By: Skaneateles, NY
Photo By: Solvang, CA
Photo By: Frederick, MD
Photo By: Liz Huntington
Photo By: Bob Dennis
Photo By: Carl Scofield
Photo By: Lamar Photography
Photo By: Icicle TV
Small Towns With Big Christmas Spirit
Practically every American town celebrates Christmas in some way, but these small towns stand out for holiday traditions and vibes that are worth a trip with the family. Yes, there are the winter wonderlands offering light shows, sleigh rides, holiday performances, caroling, parades and Christmas markets. But there are also small towns that include local traditions too, like a parade with horses and hounds, lobster boat rides and an elf scavenger hunt. All promise to deliver a storybook Christmas filled with candy canes, hot chocolate and Santa.
Historic Middleburg, Virginia bills itself as the country’s horse and hunt capital, so no surprise that an unexpected Christmas tradition revolves around the annual Middleburg Hunt Review. Mind you, this involves more parading than hunting, as about 150 horses and riders, the latter in traditional hunt riding attire, along with dozens of hounds, parade through town starting about 11 a.m. This year the tradition happens on Dec. 7, preceded by breakfast with Santa and followed by the Middleburg Christmas Parade. The mile-long procession involves floats and music, but you can also expect to see at least 700 animals — and not just dogs and horses, but possibly llamas and alpacas too. Of course, Christmas festivities aren’t limited to one weekend. Middleburg’s Salamander Resort & Spa is hosting events throughout the month, from brunch with Santa to gingerbread house decorating. It’s also offering Christmas Day brunch and dinner, while the historic Red Fox Inn and Tavern is providing a Christmas Eve dinner in a gorgeous, 18th-century environment.
Park City, Utah
Park City, Utah knows how to celebrate Christmas. It welcomes the holiday season on Nov. 29 with its annual tree lighting, accompanied by live music and fireworks. Holiday celebrations ramp up Dec. 20 with the start of Snowfest, a two-week holiday extravaganza with a dramatic Santa arrival. Forget fire trucks, Park City’s Santa skis downhill directly to Main Street for his official entrance. The Snowfest itinerary is still in the works, but concerts, ice sculptures and DIY s’mores are just part of the fun. The finale happens Dec. 24 with the 57th annual Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade, when more than 100 of the town’s ski and snowboard instructors ski down the mountain holding torches, followed by Santa. Tip: Head to the bottom of PayDay Express before Santa arrives to warm up with hot chocolate and cookies.
Skaneateles, New York
The lakeside town of Skaneateles, New York is located in the equally scenic Finger Lakes region, and makes an ideal backdrop for its Dickens Christmas held weekends from Nov. 30 through Dec. 23. The fun officially launches Nov. 29 with the World's Smallest Christmas Parade, as the Dickens cast winds its way through town to the Hannum House for its opening carol. Opening day is a preview for what to expect the following weekends: Christmas Carol sing-alongs with the Dickens crew at the local gazebo, interactive scenes from A Christmas Carol, horse-drawn carriage rides through town, roasted chestnuts and the chance to meet Father Christmas at the Masonic Temple. While taking care of shopping in town, you’ll also encounter a brass band, the occasional bagpiper and possibly Scrooge himself. Back to holiday cheer, December also brings opportunities to attend Christmas concerts and skate or breakfast with Santa.
While many Scandinavian settlers fanned out across the Midwest, a community of Danes made their way to sunny California via Ohio, founding the town of Solvang in 1911. Today, the town takes its Danish history seriously; you’ll find Danish architecture (including a windmill), Danish bakeries — and the annual Julefest from Nov. 30 through Jan. 3. In addition to Santa’s Village, tree lighting, parade and candlelit tours, Danish traditions include the Nisse Adventure. Nisse are mischievous elves, and during Yulefest they’re hidden around town making for a fun scavenger hunt. A competition for the best glogg (a mix of red wine, port, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, lemons, raisins and almonds) is another fun tradition, as is St. Lucia Day on Dec. 13. New for 2019, St. Lucia Day honors third-century Christian martyr St. Lucia, and Solvang’s version involves a candlelit procession led by a young woman dressed in the signature white robe, red sash and candle-topped wreath crown. Also new for 2019 will be a Christmas market light show and an elaborate drone show (dubbed the Aurora Dronealis), involving choreographed drones projecting holiday images.
Frederick, Maryland has a bit of everything to cover your Christmas fix, kicking off in November with horse-drawn carriage rides, a Christmas market and extended store hours in downtown’s cute boutique shops. Frosty Friday launches the latter on Nov. 28, involving a free trolley around town, caroling, Santa photo opps and make-your-own s’mores stations. The Frederick Holiday Circus (featuring aerial performers, not animals) is a new Frosty Friday tradition, capped off with Santa’s official arrival at 7 p.m. Throughout December the town offers a Santa Train (an 80-minute scenic ride), holiday performances, live Nativity scene, brunch and dinner with Santa, downtown carolers and the Kris Kringle Procession, a German-inspired parade that concludes with the town’s tree lighting, candlelit house tours, light festival and more. For something different, swing by Carroll Creek Park to catch "Sailing Into the Winter Solstice," an installation featuring small illuminated boats along the canal.
Virginia City, Nevada
Virginia City, Nevada is a 19th-century mining town that still maintains its historic Old West facade along the main street. The town became famous when miners discovered silver instead of gold (the first US discovery), which became known as the Comstock Lode. This history is acknowledged in the annual Christmas on the Comstock in December, filled with two weeks of events such as sleigh rides, train rides on the 50-minute Candy Cane Express (a.k.a. the Virginia and Truckee Railroad), craft fairs, tree lighting, town carolers, parade of lights and of course visits with Santa. You can also catch a performance of A Comstock Christmas Carol at the 19th-century Piper’s Opera House. Though official events end Dec. 15, the town’s independent shops will be offering deals throughout the month — and where better to buy silver?
Many New England towns will provide the warm fuzzies for Christmas, but Kennebunkport, Maine has been throwing its annual Christmas Prelude for the past 38 years. From Dec. 5-15 get in the Christmas spirit with historic candlelit inn tours, trolley rides, an outdoor Christmas market (in a heated tent), caroling, lobster boat rides, karaoke, parties, fireworks, tree lighting, gingerbread house decorating, cookie crawl and much more. In several unique twists on tradition, visitors can join a candlelit procession seeking shelter with Mary and Joseph — and watch the lighting of a towering tree of lobster traps. End nearly two weeks of seemingly endless activities by joining Santa and Mrs. Claus for breakfast, followed by a costumed dog parade and Santa’s official arrival on a fire engine accompanied by the promise of hot chocolate and candy canes.
Breckenridge, Colorado goes all out when it comes to Christmas action, starting with the annual Lighting of Breckenridge and Race of the Santas on Dec. 7. The day is even more eventful than it sounds, as the full activities entail a snowman-building competition, holiday dog parade and Reindeer Run for kids under 12, followed by the pivotal Santa race. (Granted, the entire race is less than a mile.) Santa is on hand for the official tree lighting, a spectacle involving numerous trees. Dogs are allowed to watch in a special viewing area. Another December tradition is the Ullr Fest, a Nordic-themed celebration that’s decidedly more Viking than Christmas-oriented, but fun nonetheless. This involves five days of merrymaking, not limited to an ice plunge, bonfire, parade, ice skating party and no shortage of Viking antics. Alternatively, take advantage of bonafide sleigh rides to channel your Christmas spirit. Choose from an hour-long ride with hot chocolate and cookies, a shorter ride to dinner in a heated tent, or one that combines a ride to dinner in a former mining camp, with an old-timey show to boot.
If Dahlonega, Georgia, looks straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie, that’s because a number have been filmed there. It’s also the perfect setting for the annual Old-Fashioned Christmas fest, starting right after Thanksgiving on Nov. 29 with a tree and town square lighting, horse-drawn carriage rides around the historic square, Santa Claus visits and extended store hours. The latter three continue throughout December, along with a Christmas high tea, Christmas market, holiday concerts, tree decorating, live Nativity scene, parade and caroling. Definitely don’t miss a live performance of everyone’s favorite movie, A Christmas Story, which can be caught until Dec. 22. And while it’s unlikely to snow, the town does indeed deliver an old-timey Christmas filled with hot cocoa and memory-making.
Leavenworth, Washington takes Christmas seriously. The small town of about 2,000 people is already impossibly picturesque with its Bavarian buildings set against a mountain backdrop. But it goes next level with its Christmas Lighting Festival, held over three weekends in December. The centerpiece is the lighting ceremony, where more than a half a million lights are switched on around sunset each Saturday and Sunday of the fest. During the weekend you’ll also find Santa holding court at the local gazebo, hand bell choirs, carolers, sledding, live music and a tent selling hot spiced gluhwein and hot chocolate. Keep in mind that the lights are on seven days a week during the holidays in case you miss the lighting weekends. December also brings a Christkindlmarkt and Christmas Bazaar, a nutcracker hunt at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, wreath-making class and more to keep the family entertained.