For many of us, Christmas travel means heading to grandma’s house — you know, over the river and through the woods. For others, a holiday destination means a nice hotel resort on a beach somewhere. Today, I wanted to share idea for places to go for Christmas on the east coast that will put you in the holiday mood.
These are 15 East Coast Christmas vacations that offer something extra special. From parades of boats to horse-drawn sleigh rides to botanical gardens dripping in twinkling lights, these Christmas weekend getaways are postcard-worthy venues for catching the holiday spirit.
Best Places to Go for Christmas on the East Coast
Updated November 19, 2019. Dates are subject to change and we recommend visiting the destination website to find out more details before planning your trip.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
The waterfront, historic town of Portsmouth celebrates the holidays with a Vintage Christmas. This month-long celebration is chock full of events from the Vintage Christmas kickoff party to the Annual Gingerbread House contest, Christmas tree lighting and Illuminated Holiday Parade, and the Annual Candlelight Stroll.
There are also special performances of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, and Family Holiday Pops by the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra, making Portsmouth a great East Coast Christmas vacation. Visitors can then enjoy a winter skate on the outdoor ice-skating rink at Puddle Duck Pond.
Woodstock, Vermont has to be one of the most charming towns in New England and a perfect place to get into the holiday spirit during its Annual Wassail Weekend (December 13-15, 2019.)
This yearly celebration is filled with decorated historic homes, horse-drawn carriage rides, breakfast with Santa, and twinkling lights throughout the town square. Riders dressed in Victorian Era costumes and horses draped with sleigh bells lead the way in the Wassail Parade.
Visitors can also enjoy musical performances ranging from Christmas with the Celts to Cello by Candlelight, choirs and sing alongs.
Snowland at the Great Wolf Lodge is a true kid’s delight! Celebrate the holidays with special cookie deliveries from Wiley the Wolf, eat in the life-size gingerbread house, grab some free hot chocolate, decorate cookies, and participate in special activities like the Polar Wolf Walk.
Make your stay extra special by booking a Snowland Suite, with special holiday decorations and your very own tree. Check out the video we made from our stay last December.
Newport, Rhode Island
I know that summer seems like the ideal time to visit the Yachting Capital of the World, but Newport turns out quite nicely for the holidays as well. Many of the historic Newport Mansions are decked out for Christmas in Newport, with special events like costumed caroling and garden club competitions.
Downtown, you can enjoy the holiday decorations while shopping or enjoy festive ice skating. Warm up afterwards in front of the fire at the historic Whitehorse Tavern.
Any town called Bethlehem is duty-bound to host some sort of Christmas celebration, right? Bethlehem, Connecticut is no exception and is one of the more charming Christmas towns in America. On the first weekend in December, this small town in Western Connecticut hosts an annual Bethlehem Christmas Town Festival.
The weekend is filled with musical performances, a tree lighting, photos with Santa, horse-drawn hayrides, craft fairs and gift bazaars, along with plenty of food and refreshments. Visitors can enjoy strolling carolers, holiday characters, a train ride, Santa’s workshop, and a bell choir concert.
New York, New York
Is there any better place to spend Christmas than New York City? It is worth battling the crowds and the cold to be part of the magic that is Christmas in NYC.
The whole city is decorated, but you must check out the store windows along Fifth Avenue and the giant holiday decorations on Sixth. There are many Christmas markets to enjoy, many with tasty treats, including Christmas markets in Union Square, Bryant Park, and Columbus Circle.
A visit to “the tree” in Rockefeller Center is a must, but you will get a better picture and a much shorter line for ice skating at Bryant Park. Also, buy tickets in advance to see the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall or sign up for one of the Christmas Lights tours from On Location Tours.
Little-known Indiana, Pennsylvania is not just the Christmas Tree Capital of the World, it is also Jimmy Stewart’s home town. This little town does Christmas in a big way with a six-week “It’s a Wonderful Life” festival.
You can visit the Jimmy Stewart Museum, take a horse-drawn hayride through the trees at the Fleming’s Christmas Tree Farm, take in a Jimmy Stewart-themed show, and enjoy the It’s a Wonderful Life parade and festival.
New York gets a lot of attention as being a great “big city” holiday destination but I’d argue that Philadelphia gives it a run for its money. Christmas Village in JFK Plaza features food stalls and shops from more than 60 vendors and Winterfest down at the RiverRink you can go ice skating or enjoy the outdoor fire pits.
Visitors can also skate right beside City hall at the Rothman Rink or check out the Holiday Festival at Franklin Square, with a light show featuring over 50,000 lights coordinated to music.
One of my favorite attractions is outside the city at nearby Longwood Gardens, which is one of the premier botanical gardens in the U.S., covering 1,000 acres filled with flowers, lights, miniature train displays, lights and fountain shows, and special holiday events.
It is hard to beat the sweetness of the holidays in Hershey, PA. Candylane in Hersheypark features more than 70 rides amidst the twinkling lights. You can even meet some of Santa’s reindeer!
After a chilly night at the park, grab some chocolate and take a drive through the Hershey Sweet Lights, two miles of drive-through light displays to put you in the holiday mood on your winter vacation. During the day you can enjoy sweet temptations like chocolate tastings at the Hershey Story Museum and chocolate making at Hershey’s Chocolate World.
Annapolis has been named one of the best towns for the holidays by Travel & Leisure. The city’s downtown is decorated with garland and lights to put you in the holiday mood while visiting some of its cute boutiques to do your holiday shopping.
The month of December is filled with back-to-back events including the Annual Chocolate Binge Festival, where you can sample all sorts of chocolate — sign me up!
On the second Saturday of December, the Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade features beautifully decorated boats in the Annapolis Harbor.
In Annapolis, the capstone holiday event is the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman football game. The season draws to a close with a family-friend New Year’s Eve Celebration at the City Dock ending with festive fireworks.
All the Gaylord Hotels (Grapevine, DC, etc) put on a magnificent ICE event with ice sculptures, displays, lights and family fun. The Gaylord Opryland goes all out with more than three million Christmas lights with a themed ICE celebration.
You can watch ice skating performances (or skate on the Gaylord Opryland’s 6,000 square-foot ice rink,) jump aboard the kids train, take photos with Santa, decorate gingerbread, eat cookies with Mrs. Claus, enjoy the outdoor nativity, or snuggle up on a horse-drawn carriage ride.
There are even Christmas fountain shows, a riverboat cruise through the hotel atrium, or a real showboat cruise on the Cumberland River. And while you are there, be sure to catch a show at the Grand Ole Opry!
Wilmington, North Carolina
The holiday season starts early in Wilmington, North Carolina as Thanksgiving week kicks off Flotilla Week in Wrightsville Beach. Flotilla Week is jam-packed with special activities from Friday’s tree lighting ceremony, a visit from Santa, Festival in the Park, the Holiday Flotilla procession of decorated boats, a massive fireworks display, and the annual Airlie Gardens’ Enchanted Airlie.
Enchanted Airlie turns its 35-acres of walking trails in the nighttime forest with nearly one million colorful lights, holiday displays, and seasonal music.
Charleston, South Carolina
The Annual Holiday Festival of Lights takes place in James Island County Park from November 15, 2019-December 31, 2019. Charleston’s most popular holiday event features two million shimmering lights with a three-mile driving tour each evening, making it one of the best places to visit for Christmas in the south.
After the drive, visitors can partake in the many family attractions and activities including roasting marshmallows, train rides, lakeside lights, an amazing dancing light display, an enchanted walking trail, an old-fashioned carousel, Santa’s Sweet Shoppe, and many gift shops. And that’s not all.
There is also an Annual Christmas Parade of Boats, which takes place n the Charleston Harbor. This Lowcountry holiday tradition features a display of lighted and festive boats.
Jekyll Island, Georgia
Jekyll Island may be a popular summer destination but it gives visitors a good reason to come celebrate the holidays on this Golden Isle for a Christmas getaway weekend. The Historic District, home to historic “cottages” of former Jekyll Island Club members like the Rockefellers, transforms into a holiday wonderland.
Special theme tours relive the old grandeur and take guests back in time. The season kicks off with a Christmas tree lights the Saturday after Thanksgiving and continues with storytelling, Christmas carols, craft workshops, and more.
St. Augustine, Florida
From November 23, 2019 through February 2, 2020, the country’s oldest city shines brightly with the glow of 3 million tiny white lights during St. Augustine’s “Nights of Lights” celebration.
There are many ways to enjoy the lights, from Old Town Trolley tours, carriage rides, harbor tours, or guided walks. During the Annual Holiday Regatta of Lights, a parade of colorfully-decorated boats fill the bay.
There are so many other fun places to visit for the holidays, but these are some of our favorites.