These 10 Towns Around the World Claim to Be the Christmas Capital
'Tis the season for twinkle lights, gingerbread houses, and holiday sing-alongs, so make time to visit a Christmas Capital. But, which one? Multiple towns boast the coveted Christmas Capital distinction, and they're must-sees. Here are 10 to check out this holiday season.
Photo By: Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau
Photo By: Geheimtipp Hamburg
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Photo By: Discover Lehigh Valley
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Photo By: David J. Murray / Clear Eye Photo
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Photo By: Garrison Convention & Visitors Bureau
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Grapevine has long been celebrated as the Christmas Capital of Texas, hosting more than 1,400 holiday events throughout the season including parades, concerts, caroling, holiday wine trains, photos with Santa, and a nightly light show spectacular. At the Gaylord Texan Resort, the Lone Star Christmas wows guests with 1.5 million twinkle lights, a life-size gingerbread house, and a 52-foot tall Christmas tree. Meantime, nearby Great Wolf Lodge delights with indoor snow showers, a hot cocoa bar, and ready-to-book Snowland Suites trimmed with sparkly garland and fully-decorated Christmas trees.
Thanks to magical Christmas markets throughout Europe, any number of cities across the pond could lay claim to a title, but it’s Hamburg, Germany that’s known as the Christmas Capital of Northern Europe. More than a dozen wondrous, light-filled Christmas markets enchant visitors with mulled wine, hot chocolate, bratwurst, and of course, festive heart-shaped platzchen cookies. Rathausmarkt is among the most beloved Christmas markets, boasting a flying Santa (on a sleigh, of course), handmade gifts, and Spielzeuggasse, an alley dedicated to children that's full of wooden, handcrafted toys.
Known as the Christmas Capital of Virginia, holiday-goers drive for miles to see the spectacular holiday light display at the historic Elks Home in Bedford, a small town nestled in the shadow of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Candlelight tours at Poplar Forest celebrate the season, guiding visitors through Thomas Jefferson’s personal hideaway, which is trimmed in period holiday decor. Stop in the Welcome Center for the Festival of Trees, and vote for your favorite Victorian Christmas tree. On select evenings, Santa welcomes guests with free cookies and hot chocolate.
Bethlehem may not hold a Christmas Capital title, but as the self-proclaimed Christmas City in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, Bethlehem warms visitors with a holiday spirit worthy of a spot on this list. The annual Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem is considered one of the top holiday markets in the country thanks to ice sculptures, handmade gifts, live holiday music, and a 26-foot tall Christmas tree in the outdoor courtyard. From here, it’s an easy side trip to Hershey, the Chocolate Capital of the World, for Hersheypark Christmas Candylane, which dazzles with NOEL, a spectacular evening show that features more than 250,000 dancing twinkle lights.
As England’s Christmas Capital, there’s a lot to love about Winchester during the magical holiday season. For one, there’s the Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market, which is widely considered to be one of the best holiday markets in Europe, attracting more than 350,000 visitors each year. Here, you’ll find handmade gifts and ornaments, many of which can’t be found at the shops in town. Before you go, take a lap at the Winchester Cathedral Ice Rink, which sits adjacent to the market. A clear roof helps ensure you can skate every day the market is open.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
In New Hampshire, it’s Portsmouth has a month-long Vintage Christmas celebration that helps cement this port city’s claim to Christmas Capital of America. In this postcard-perfect New England town, strap on ice skates for a lap at Puddle Dock Pond, ooh and ahh over gingerbread houses on the first-floor gallery of Discover Portsmouth, then settle in for a showing of holiday favorite, Elf The Musical, at The Music Hall. Ride the free vintage Christmas trolley around town to step back into a colonial holiday celebration.
In France, Strasbourg is the Capitale de Noël (Capital of Christmas). Festive twinkle lights adorn windows and balconies while Christmas markets add to the magic of the season. The first holiday markets were held here more than 400 years ago, making them among the oldest in Europe and the first in France. At Place Kleber, the Great Christmas Tree lights up daily at 5 p.m. to the marvel of wide-eyed holiday-goers. Along the Grand Rue, glistening lights are festooned across the entire length of the shop-lined boulevard.
Garrison, North Dakota
As the Christmas Capital of North Dakota, the quaint hamlet of Garrison transforms into a Victorian Christmas village for three weekends during the holiday season. The Dickens Village Festival charms visitors with a nightly lighted holiday parade, horse-drawn carriage rides, a festival of trees, and even a fruit cake toss competition. Experience the magic of the town from the Queen Elizabus, a double-decker bus that sets off every 90 minutes, allowing visitors to revel in the magic of this decorated holiday village (from the warmth and comfort of this big red bus).
Many consider Copenhagen to be the Christmas Capital of the World, due largely to the city’s genuine love for all that is jolly and bright during the holiday season. The storybook town effortlessly transforms into a whimsical winter wonderland complete with twinkle lights, colorful decorations, hot mulled wine, and faux icicles. Seven different Christmas markets ensure there’s one to visit each night of the week, including an uber kid-friendly market at Tivoli Gardens and the fairytale-centered Hans Christian Andersen Christmas Market. Then, of course, there’s hygge, and Christmas is high season for experiencing the coziness of Copenhagen.
Lafayette-West Lafayette, Indiana
As the Christmas Capital of the Midwest, Greater Lafayette, which includes both Lafayette and West Lafayette, transforms its streets into a Victorian village complete with carolers, horse-drawn carriages, and roaming characters in period costume. Stop in McCord Candies for handmade candy canes, then visit Purdue Memorial Union for a look at one of the tallest indoor Christmas trees in Indiana. As a bonus, there’s a massive gingerbread house. Faith Church’s Living Nativity is also a must-see. Since 1990, the Living Nativity has captivated with 14 life-size scenes and multiple live animals, including donkeys, camels, and sheep.