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6 Lesser-Known Destinations to Get Into the Holiday Spirit

Embrace the warmth of the season in these lively locales across America.

U.S. News & World Report

6 Lesser-Known Destinations to Get Into the Holiday Spirit

Seattle skyline night at Christmas. Christmas decorations and Christmas tree on top of Space Needle.more cityscapes:

These inspiring destinations go all-out for the winter holidays with time-honored traditions, vibrant festivals and European-inspired Christmas markets.(Getty Images).

With the winter holidays just weeks away, now is the time to lock in your December travel plans. Instead of taking the same ski vacation or dashing off to a festive Christmas market to shop for seasonal goods, why not carve out some time to travel to underrated holiday attractions? For an atypical getaway, travel to these towns across America with superlative winter attractions to keep your holidays merry and bright.

Minneapolis - St. Paul

If you love winter weather, travel to the Twin Cities. In Loring Park, just steps from downtown Minneapolis, you'll find food booths and festive drinks in heated tents at Holidazzle, a special tradition that draws people from all over the region. During Holidazzle, held from Thursdays through Sundays until Dec. 23, you can find treasures from local artisans, see a holiday movie under the stars, go ice skating and enjoy fireworks. In St. Paul, stroll through the European Christmas Market in Union Depot to find one-of-a-kind gifts, holiday decorations and European-inspired dishes on the first two weekend of December. As for accommodations, luxury hotels abound in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but The Saint Paul Hotel overlooks a beautifully lit Rice Park in downtown and is within walking distance of the Union Depot as well as other holiday happenings throughout St. Paul. The hotel also offers holiday tea on Sundays through December.

The National Harbor, Maryland

Known as the one of the largest resort destinations near the nation's capital, the Christmas on the Potomac event is shining a little brighter this year at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. The resort is showcasing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer carved in colorful ice sculptures at its popular ICE! attraction. Larger-than-life vignettes bring to life the beloved 1964 TV classic, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." The walk-through attraction features 13 scenes of more than 2 million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures including favorite characters such as Rudolph, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster and more. If ice sculptures aren't enough, the resort has transformed itself into a Christmas wonderland. Visitors will find more than 2 million lights, a suspended 55-foot-tall Christmas tree, a 20-foot gingerbread display, a Christmas Village, a new live entertainment show and even a mixology class all within the resort.

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg offers an immersive holiday experience, weaving traditions of past and present. From fireworks to holiday parties in historic taverns to streets illuminated by candles, the true spirit of the season fills almost every block. You'll feel like you've stepped back in time as you warm up with a hot cider amid the flickering light of crackling fires, with caroling and other sounds of the season spilling out from the taverns and shops, each adorned with handmade wreaths and garlands. Arrive in time for the afternoon candle- and cresset-lighting on Duke of Gloucester Street, a tradition since 1934 that will take place on Dec. 3. During the holidays, join Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Trades and world-famous Fifes and Drums to admire torch-lit illuminations of candles and street-side cressets, each with a patriotic musical accompaniment.

Then, embrace the spirit of the season at the Raleigh Tavern. Celebrate seasonal festivities like music to dancing at the tavern where Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and others met. During the day, guests are invited to take in preparation for the coming night's celebration; at night, guests can join the party. The event is open to guests with Colonial Williamsburg admission, while a special evening program ticket is required for Christmas party. Also carve out some time to join the Christmas Decorations Walking Tour and learn about the evolution of holiday decorating from the 18th-century to present- day and enjoy caroling at the Courthouse, when nightly performances usher in holiday cheer.

The Brandywine Valley, Delaware

This Mid-Atlantic region, straddling the Delaware and Pennsylvania border, is steeped in holiday spirit. Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, the former home of Henry Francis du Pont, is the site of Yuletide at Winterthur, which takes place through Jan. 7, 2018. The site explores holiday traditions from the 1800s and 1900s, paying homage to early Christmas lights, the evolution of Christmas trees through the decades and even a full-room recreation of a scene from Clement Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicolas." In honor of Winterthur's current special exhibit, "Royal Splendor: The Coronation Gown from The Crown," this year's Yuletide Tour features recreations of the types of trees that would have decorated Windsor Castle during Queen Victoria's reign. The holiday festivities also include a one-man performance of a Victorian favorite, Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," performed by the author's great-great-grandson, Gerald Charles Dickens.

Strolling Christmas carolers were also a part of many a Victorian holiday scene, and it's practically guaranteed that guests will run into some at Longwood Gardens. The nation's celebrated gardens are even more enchanting during "A Longwood Christmas," which lasts through Jan. 7, 2018. The gardens pay tribute to the du Ponts' native France, as the site's conservatory transforms into a miniature Versailles with a collection of topiaries, wreaths, ornate mirrors and more than 50 trimmed trees. The entire site is illuminated with half a million twinkling lights.

If you're more intent on learning about the region's early culture, on Dec. 10, the Old Swedes Church in Wilmington, Delaware, pays tribute to the region's Swedish heritage with a visit from Sankta Lucia in a celebration. As another way to step back in time, visitors to the village of Historic Odessa can stroll brick-lined streets and also take in this year's Storybook Trees exhibit, which runs through Dec.31.


Light shows and exhibitions are an integral part of any major metropolis, and Seattle does not disappoint. Take a walk through the bright Olympic Sculpture Park downtown to admire the dazzling lights and check out the art on display, listen to music, sip a hot drink and grab a sweet bite. The Argosy Christmas Ship Festival has been a holiday tradition and fan favorite in Seattle for decades. Board the Christmas-themed ship or a similar parade boat for a two-hour cruise around Puget Sound while listening to carols, playing games and meeting Santa. Also, the German-inspired nearby village of Leavenworth becomes a Christmas wonderland come December, fully decorated with lights and brimming with holiday events and winter fun. There are carolers singing in the streets, visits from Santa, sledding and more holiday delights, including a lighting ceremony to kick off the excitement. As for lodging, there are many options in the downtown area including the Inn at the Market, the Loews Hotel 1000 and the Thompson Hotel.

Asheville, North Carolina

This city just off of Blue Ridge Parkway should be on your radar for its Christmastime traditions. Asheville's busy downtown sidewalks are dressed in holiday style, thanks to Winter Lights Downtown display in Pack Square, with double the number of lights this year, and a 10-foot gilded purple snowflake serving as the piece de resistance. Then, as the sun sets, the North Carolina Arboretum's 434 acres transform into a glowing winter wonderland, strewn with nearly 500,000 lights. In its fourth year, the Winter Lights exhibit will bring back favorite features such as a 50-foot animated tree, model trains and a Quilt Garden, while introducing new additions, including interactive motion sensor games and even more lights and music. If you're looking to trim costs, take advantage of friends and family pricing on Tuesdays. If you're willing to splurge, go all-out with the Winter Lights Holiday Tour and arrive in a vintage-style trolley.

What's more, Asheville's 25th annual National Gingerbread House Competition at the Omni Grove Park Inn is worth attending. Celebrate with a warm cup of hot chocolate and house-made marshmallows (or a ginger-apple-cider hot toddy) by one of the towering fireplaces flanking the Great Hall of this historic resort. For little ones in tow, Santa Claus is coming to the Blue Ridge Mountains by train as the Craggy Mountain Line Railroad gets in the holiday spirit. The Jingle Bell Trolley Train Run, operated by the Craggy Mountain Line Railroad, takes off on Saturdays through Dec. 17, and on Friday, Dec. 23. A $10 admission price includes hot cocoa, cookies and a meet-and-greet with Santa.

The Best Winter Getaway in Every State

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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