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4 Unexpected Places to Celebrate the Holidays in Style

Stay close to home or travel abroad to celebrate the winter holidays in underrated locations.

U.S. News & World Report

4 Unexpected Places to Celebrate the Holidays in Style

Winter day in old Quebec

Twinkling lights, yuletide cheer, horse-drawn carriage rides and lively Christmas markets await in these vibrant destinations.(Getty Images).

If you want to steer away from cookie-cutter holiday festivities and family customs this year, take the kids on a nontraditional holiday vacation. Whether you stay close to home or venture to a far-off locale, prefer an active vacation or want to relax, these four understated getaways will make the season merry and bright. So, consider skipping typical traditions and heading to these untapped holiday spots.

St. Augustine, Florida

For a brilliant display of holiday cheer, retreat to the historic and charming coastal city of St. Augustine. The city's annual Nights of Lights event dazzles with more than 3 million lights strung throughout the city decorating everything from palm trees to restaurants and the city’s central plaza, Plaza de la Constitucion. You can revel in the extravaganza with nightly tours to take in the spectacular display by horse and carriage rides, trains and trolleys, boat tours or aerial views by helicopter. No matter how you decide to see the bright lights of the city, be sure to capture a glimpse of the glittering bay front and historic city from the Bridge of Lions.

During the day, tour the Dressing Downton exhibition at the Lightner Museum, visit the architecturally beautiful campus of Flagler College and stroll the historic streets of the nation's oldest city. Make reservations at the newest hotel in town, the Marker 8 Hotel & Marina. With 26 themed rooms, this luxury boutique property along the bay affords some of the best views of the city’s skyline.

Quebec City

For a holiday with a European feel – without a flight across the pond – celebrate Christmas in Quebec City. Draped in a blanket of snow and decorated with sparkling lights and greenery, Old Quebec is one of the most picturesque and festive places to be in winter. Bundle up and visit the European-style Christmas markets, with their inviting aromas of gingerbread, mulled wine and bratwurst. Shop for handcrafted items made in Quebec and explore the cuisines of Germany and the Alsatian region in France with traditional foods such as Nuremberg gingerbread and German Christmas cake and dessert beverages like Café Liégeois (sweetened coffee with ice cream and Chantilly cream).

Wander the winter wonderland of Place-Royale to the end of Rue du Petit-Champlain and stroll through Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville to see the stunning light display with historic Notre-Dame-de-Québec Basilica on one side and City Hall at the opposite end. Take a walking tour to learn about Quebec’s Christmas traditions with a guide in period costume. Zip down (at 70 mph) the Toboggan Slide Au 1884 on Dufferin Terrace, which is more than a century old and is situated next to the iconic Château Frontenac. Meet Santa Claus at the Quartier Petit-Champlain and ice skate outdoors at Place D'Youville.

Retire in the evening to one of the most photographed buildings in the world, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. Views from high atop the hotel are stunning. If you prefer an intimate luxury property, reserve accommodations at Auberge Saint-Antoine in the Old Port district.


With an impressive list of holiday activities for young and older revelers alike, London is an untapped winter vacation destination. Visit the city’s Christmas markets and festivals, pop-up winter restaurant venues, like the Woody Bear rooftop, and splurge on a themed afternoon tea in one of the city’s posh hotels, such as The Ritz London, The Savoy Hotel or The Rubens at the Palace. For family fun, head to Hogwarts in the Snow at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London or opt for nighttime ice skating at the Tower of London, which is illuminated with hundreds of snowflake lights. Hampton Court Palace, located just outside of London, hosts a Tudor Christmas spectacular with caroling, music, live performances and an outdoor skating rink during the holiday season.

Back in the city, the Winter Forest at Broadgate’s Exchange Square is a Nordic-inspired snow-covered pine forest where adults can imbibe on festive cocktails, dine, shop and take in favorite old movies, like "It’s a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle on 34th Street" at Tipi Cinema.

For an indulgent holiday to remember, make reservations at Claridge’s in Mayfair. This luxury property boasts a Christmas package that includes amenities such a horse-drawn carriage ride with hot chocolate and marshmallows, a Christmas lunch at one of the hotel’s restaurants and for children, reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" on Christmas Eve and leaving mince pies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer. With the hotel’s Christmas tree designed by Karl Lagerfeld, the property is sure to offer an elegant and unforgettable holiday.

Greensboro, Georgia

To celebrate in style with a bit less sparkle, relax in the cozy indoor ambiance or opt for outdoor adventure at The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee, a lakeside luxury resort in the rolling hills of north Georgia. Here, you can experience gracious southern hospitality with family, friends and even Fido. The Ritz-Carlton outpost is part of the Reynolds Lake Oconee, a 12,000-acre golf community, and is just a 90-minute drive east of the Atlanta airport. For the holidays, the halls are decked with a 19-foot high gingerbread house, which adorns the hotel’s lobby. At 6,240 pounds and decorated with 1,984 pounds of candy, the gingerbread house offers plenty of sugar and spice and everything nice in this life-size sweet treat.

With six distinctive golf courses and 117 holes of golf, the property also offers the perfect opportunity for golfers to perfect their swing while on holiday. The new world-class sporting facility, The Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds, is the ultimate outdoor lover’s playground. Even first-timers can experience the thrill of hitting fast-moving clay targets with the thoughtful and deliberate guidance of the course designer, and internationally renowned British competitor of Olympic Trap and Skeet, Justin Jones. Jones designed the sporting courses at Gleneagles in Scotland and The Greenbrier in West Virginia and this 20-station course in Georgia replicates a challenging British shoot. Other activities include archery, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and hiking. At the center of the grounds is Sandy Creek Barn, a beautiful 1800s Amish barn relocated from Pennsylvania.

When it’s time to relax, savor a Southern-inspired spa treatment at the hotel's 27,600-foot spa or take a leisurely swim in the indoor pool. For a celebratory evening, make reservations at Linger Longer Steakhouse. A great casual option is The National Tavern with its modern design and lively bar.

America's 50 Prettiest Winter Towns.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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