Though the song goes, “for the holidays, you can’t beat home sweet home,” they never specified the home had to be yours. If you’re planning a vacation for the season, you’ll want to make sure your winter travel destination is nothing short of a wonderland. While New York City and San Diego are popular go-tos for snow or sunny warm weather, we’ve gathered a few other decked-out cities that are worth the trip this winter. On the list, you’ll find Bavarian towns with cheery festivals and gingerbread-looking Main Streets, ski resort must-sees, Victorian-style celebrations, a few snowbird escapes, and holiday-movie-themed activities if you’re traveling with kids.
Plan your visit in time for seasonal festivals and events, warm up with hot cider by the fireplace, book a sightseeing train ride, or stop by an alpine town for gift shopping at a Christkindlmarkt. Book your winter getaway and feel the magic of this most wonderful time of year.
Kick off the snowy season with one of the most winter-ready alpine towns in the country. This Bavarian village, tucked into the scenic, sprawling Cascade Mountains, packs in year-round fun with mountain coasters, Bavarian architecture, and German culture. However, the area is best known for its winter festivities, which begin with the Village of Lights Festival—typically drawing around 100,000 people to watch the city sparkle. During the winter months, there are plenty of fun events and shops to enjoy, including touring the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm, strolling the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, sleigh rides, ice skating, and downtown’s lively Christkindlmarkt. Make new memories with friends and family at the market’s food stalls, holiday shopping, and live music from Bavarian bands.
Like Leavenworth, Helen is a Bavarian town that offers year-round Old World charm, mountain outdoor activities, and delicious German cuisine. Once December rolls around, you will truly feel like you’re walking around a gingerbread town on its picturesque Main Street, aglow with string lights, decorations, and a towering 20-foot Christmas tree. Plan your visit for the winter parade, shop around the Christkindlmarkt, snack on some sweet treats, and lace up your sneakers for uninterrupted waterfall views on the Anna Ruby Falls hiking trails. Favorite winter stops include the Victorian Christmas at Hardman Farm, the mountain coaster, and if you’re traveling with kids, be sure to check out the Hansel & Gretel Candy Kitchen.
While New England is known for its cute and quaint towns, Woodstock dresses up its streets for the colder weather. The town square offers shopping at decorated storefronts, ice skating, and bakeries abuzz with hot cider and donuts. Spend a winter weekend away up north and get the most out of your trip during the Wassail Weekend festival. Take a step back in time at Billings Farm and enjoy the season 1890s-style, fit with decorated Victorian homes, buggy rides, gingerbread house competitions, and plenty of old-fashioned outdoor activities. Between candle-making, cow-milking, and paying the farm animals a visit, your winter vacation will be one to remember.
Colorado is no doubt a go-to winter travel destination for its world-class ski resorts, but Durango takes the season celebrations up a notch with fun for both kids and adults. The town boasts a Polar Express-style winter train ride with an 1800s steam locomotive that traverses through Animas Valley to the “North Pole,” picking up a very special Kris Kringle passenger along the way. The train ride includes a retelling of the Polar Express story, hot chocolate, and sweet treats. For adults looking to relax on their winter getaway, head over to the Durango hot springs for a long rejuvenating soak, despite the cold weather.
Looking for a festive winter vacation, sans snow? There’s no shortage of holiday magic in Texas Hill Country, from ice skating to an authentic 26-foot German Christmas pyramid, better known as a Weihnachtspyramide. Fredericksburg pulls out all the stops for its winter festivities, decorating Main Street storefronts until they shimmer, setting up booths and vendors for a Marktplatz, and ringing in the season with holiday concerts and live music. If you’ve wanted to sightsee Fredericksburg for wine tasting and fantastic German cuisine, a winter trip might be the best time to do it.
Don’t overlook Branson when planning a winter getaway. Considered the jewel of the Ozarks, the city’s sparkling entertainment doesn’t stop once the snow starts falling. Take your pick of drive-through light displays, holiday cruises on the Showboat Branson Belle, snow tubing at Wolfe Mountain, and reindeer petting zoos at Branson’s Promised Land Zoo. In between outdoor activities, take advantage of pop-up markets or dinner at Dolly Parton’s Stampede, with a winter performance of horseback riding while you dine. Another must-see on your winter vacation is the World’s Largest Toy Museum, home to over one million beloved children's toys, ranging from the 1800s to today.
If the snowbird life is more up your alley, St. Augustine provides the perfect blend of warm weather and winter festivities. The historic downtown comes to life with the Night of Lights Festival, a Christmas Parade, and luminaries at the St. Augustine Lighthouse. Enjoy the ocean breeze and beautifully lit palm trees adorning the streets. During your stay, sightsee the city by classic carriage ride, old-fashioned trolley, or a Grinchmas Ride—the perfect choice for kids to enjoy music and a fantastically green tour guide.
Make new memories between the snow angels, ski resorts, and sing-a-longs on your next winter vacation. Come December, Park City abounds with fluffy snow, perfect for a weekend getaway to the slopes or fun festivities with the kids. Shop along cozy Main Street or take on an adventure with a ski-in/ski-out stay. Plan your trip in time for the Electric Parade, Park City Mountain’s Snowfest, or to enjoy The Park City Holiday Spectacular’s performers and live music. Board the North Pole Express at Heber Valley Railroad for a thrilling train ride of storytelling, hot chocolate, and stunning snowy views. For a unique experience, road trip over to Midway’s famous ice castles, just a half-hour away.
Ice castles are nice, but seeing a real-life castle decked out for the holidays is a different wonder entirely. The Biltmore Estate, America’s largest home, puts on the ritz for winter tours. The grounds and each of its 250 rooms glimmer with decor. During your trip, grab tickets to spend a chilly evening enjoying the Biltmore’s events, which offer live music and wine tasting by its many roaring fireplaces. For outside activities, snowshoe the hiking trails for stunning views, sample festive local beers with a pub crawl, sightsee by holiday carriage ride, and race down the slopes at nearby ski resorts.