10 Underrated Places With Fantastic Holiday Celebrations

Enjoy twinkling lights, seasonal decorations and fun traditions in these charming locales.

By Kyle McCarthy, ContributorNov. 17, 2016
By Kyle McCarthy, ContributorNov. 17, 2016, at 9:00 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

10 Underrated Places With Fantastic Holiday Celebrations

View all in one page
1 of 11
Young couple kissing surrounded by city Christmas lights.
Credit

(Getty Images)

Get into the holiday spirit in these festive destinations.

Even if you don't like the idea of battling heavy crowds at the airport or on the road, if you're a fan of festive holiday traditions, bright light displays and spreading Yuletide cheer, you won't want to miss catching over-the-top decor in underrated locales near and far. And thanks to TackyLightTour.com, a directory founded by Matt Burgess to help travelers find places with a minimum of 10,000 lights within a 10-, 25- or 50-mile drive, pinpointing top towns to get into the Christmas mindset is simple. If you're ready to enjoy 10 other unusual celebrations, take a car, bus, train, boat or plane to these festive holiday hot spots at home and abroad.
Winterthur Dollhouse.
Credit

(Courtesy of Jim Schneck)

Winterthur, Delaware

Top Holiday Experience: Strolling through a dollhouse

Explore an extraordinary dollhouse at the 175-room estate of Henry Francis du Pont (now the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library) in Delaware's Brandywine Valley. "Yuletide at Winterthur" (from Nov. 19, 2016, to Jan. 8, 2017) includes "Currier & Ives Christmas," jazz concerts, wine tastings and festive tours. The American decorative arts collection will premiere a 6-foot, 17-room home with working lighting and needlepoint rugs handmade by former owner Nancy B. McDaniel. Marvel at more than 1,000 objects, including miniature wreaths, trees and new toys. What's more, strolling carolers, daily singalongs and special performances take place in the nearby Longwood Gardens Conservatory.
Next:

Get into the holiday spirit in these festive destinations.

Even if you don't like the idea of battling heavy crowds at the airport or on the road, if you're a fan of festive holiday traditions, bright light displays and spreading Yuletide cheer, you won't want to miss catching over-the-top decor in underrated locales near and far. And thanks to TackyLightTour.com, a directory founded by Matt Burgess to help travelers find places with a minimum of 10,000 lights within a 10-, 25- or 50-mile drive, pinpointing top towns to get into the Christmas mindset is simple. If you're ready to enjoy 10 other unusual celebrations, take a car, bus, train, boat or plane to these festive holiday hot spots at home and abroad.

Winterthur, Delaware

Top Holiday Experience: Strolling through a dollhouse

Explore an extraordinary dollhouse at the 175-room estate of Henry Francis du Pont (now the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library) in Delaware's Brandywine Valley. "Yuletide at Winterthur" (from Nov. 19, 2016, to Jan. 8, 2017) includes "Currier & Ives Christmas," jazz concerts, wine tastings and festive tours. The American decorative arts collection will premiere a 6-foot, 17-room home with working lighting and needlepoint rugs handmade by former owner Nancy B. McDaniel. Marvel at more than 1,000 objects, including miniature wreaths, trees and new toys. What's more, strolling carolers, daily singalongs and special performances take place in the nearby Longwood Gardens Conservatory.

Tempe, Arizona

Top Holiday Experience: A boat parade

The land-locked university town of Tempe, Arizona, hosts an unexpected event Dec. 10: the Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade. Food trucks stand by as locals set up lawn chairs around Tempe Town Lake. The Santa boat is one of 50 illuminated, ornamented canoes, speedboats and sailboats parading at 7 p.m., accompanied by carolers and fireworks. Drive around to catch the glittery, spray-painted 25-foot-tall tumbleweed tree in nearby Chandler (the tree-lighting takes place on Dec. 3); miniature 1880s Freestone Railroad in Gilbert; 8,000 hand-lit luminarias at Desert Botanical Garden; and the fun for kids at ZooLights at Phoenix Zoo from Nov. 23, 2016, to Jan. 8, 2017.

Henderson, Nevada

Top Holiday Experience: Chocolate and cactus holidays

What happens at Ethel M. Chocolates' Botanical Cactus Garden in Henderson, Nevada, doesn't stay there – glittering lights and chocolate are a free treat Nov. 15, 2016, to Jan. 1, 2017. Visit the redone chocolate factory, founded in 1981 by Forrest Mars after retiring from the famous candy company. A viewing aisle overlooks the production of preservative-free, gourmet chocolates; stop for a sample before walking out to the 3-acre Ethel M. Garden, where 300 species of drought-resistant cacti and ornamentals are adorned with lights. The Nov. 15 lighting ceremony features several performers, plus local choirs and Santa entertain visitors each weekend.

Annapolis, Maryland

Top Holiday Experience: Lights on and around the bay

The colonial heart of Annapolis, Maryland, exudes holiday cheer on water and land. From Nov. 22, 2016, to Jan. 1, 2017, families love to drive by 60 animated and stationary "Lights on the Bay" displays, whose designs reflect on the gentle waves of the Chesapeake Bay. Dec. 10 marks the 34th annual Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade in Annapolis Harbor, when thousands gather at the City Dock and U.S. Naval Academy sea wall to watch intricately lit and decorated boats glide by. Plus, downtown stores encourage the giving spirit until midnight on Dec. 1, Dec. 8 and Dec. 15, offering live music and refreshments to visitors.

Calistoga, California

Top Holiday Experience: A tractor parade in Napa Valley

Celebrate over fine food and cabernet in Napa Valley before the Annual Lighted Tractor Parade, honoring Calistoga's agricultural heritage on Dec. 3. Dress warmly to watch decorated vintage and modern tractors, antique trucks and choral groups riding construction equipment. On Nov. 26, Napa's 50th Holiday Parade of ornamented residents and pets kicks off the free, hop-on, hop-off Holiday Trolley service running weekends. The Yountville Festival of Lights only occurs Nov. 25, yet it remains Napa's pilgrimage site for celebrity chef followers throughout the season.

Carlsbad, New Mexico

Top Holiday Experience: Cruising New Mexico's Pecos River to see holiday lights

Residents of Carlsbad's Pecos River waterfront celebrate the holidays by decorating backyards and boat docks seen only from the river. During the 25th Christmas on the Pecos (Nov. 25 to Dec. 31), nightly ferries will offer 40-minute guided tours of New Mexico's biggest celebration. Carlsbad also boasts the Calico Christmas Market, an arts and crafts fair for shoppers, and the festive MainStreet's Electric Light Parade, both held Thanksgiving weekend. What's more, the charming children's book, "Rocko, the Christmas Bat" is a fun souvenir of your Carlsbad Caverns National Park visit.

Grapevine, Texas

Top Holiday Experience: A layover in the Christmas Capital of Texas

Grapevine hotels love holidays: The enormous Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center has ice slides and a skating rink, and Great Wolf Lodge has an indoor waterpark and falling snow. Yet this Texas town is so close to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport that you can feel the spirit during a brief layover. More than 1 million visitors attend 1,400 events between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, including a scuba diving Santa at the local aquarium, a light show on historic Main Street, talking reindeer at the visitor's center and the vintage railroad's North Pole Express to Santa's Workshop.

Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

Top Holiday Experience: A lakeside retreat and parade

Join the Nov. 25 Lighting Ceremony Parade to the Coeur d'Alene Resort, whose floating boardwalk overlooks Lake Coeur d'Alene, mountains and the evergreen forests that provided the 80-foot Engelmann spruce U.S. Capitol tree. Visitors carry candles, sing carols and watch fireworks until the resort's 1.5 million strong Holiday Light Show is illuminated. Be sure to get tickets for daily cruises past a soaring Christmas tree. On the way to Santa's North Pole Toy Workshop, Santa recites the names of each "nice" child onboard.

Manchester, England

Top Holiday Experience: Participating in European traditions

You may picture wreaths on Big Ben, but England's real holiday spirit is best experienced in Manchester. The 350 vendors of Manchester Christmas Market are at 10 central sites, Nov. 10 to Dec. 20. Albert Square Market is unmistakable, with pan-European food and drink stalls and a massive illuminated Santa in front of the historic Town Hall. St. Ann's Square features grilled bratwurst, hand-carved wooden ornaments and gingerbread. Plus, there's a French Noel and a World Christmas Market, too. Known as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, East Manchester's edgy Ancoats neighborhood, IMAX Virtual Reality Center, burgeoning foodie scene and nearby Lake and Peak districts will keep holidaymakers busy.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Top Holiday Experience: Enjoying 26 days of Christmas

Icelanders begin Christmas 13 nights prior to Dec. 24, and celebrate 13 days afterwards. Advent wreaths with candles and triangular lights burn against the long nights. Shoes sit in every window, so 13 Yule Lads can leave nice children a gift and naughty ones, a potato. Reykjavik's holiday ice rink and small Christmas Market light up Ingólfstorg Square. The Christmas Village in downtown Hafnarfjörður, open weekends through Dec. 23, offers live entertainment, handcrafted items and homemade Icelandic delicacies. See more of Iceland by whale watching, skiing in the small town of Akureyri, and looking beyond holiday decor for the spectacular northern lights.
1 of 11

Kyle McCarthy, Contributor

Kyle McCarthy, author of a dozen Frommer's guidebooks and contributor to many publications, is ...  Read more

Recommended

10 Amazing Montana Vacations

Breathtaking landscapes and year-round outdoor adventures will inspire you to visit Big Sky Country.

May 20, 2019

The 13 Best Savannah Tours

Experience real southern hospitality when visiting Savannah with these top tours.

John RodwanMay 16, 2019

The 15 Best Boston Tours

Get to know one of America's most historic cities with these tours.

Kim Foley MacKinnonMay 14, 2019

The 18 Best New Orleans Tours

With so much to see and do in New Orleans, these tours will help you maximize your time in the Big Easy.

Claire LawtonMay 10, 2019

The 7 Best Chicago Boat Tours

These low-key tours offer unique views of a city famed for its skyline.

Holly JohnsonMay 9, 2019

30 Cheap Weekend Getaways in the USA

From beach destinations to amusement parks, these vacations are perfect for an affordable and quick trip.

May 9, 2019

The 15 Best Chicago Tours

Foodies, boat enthusiasts and historians alike will appreciate any one of these tours of the Windy City.

John RodwanMay 8, 2019

16 Incredible Midwest Vacations

See which outstanding escapes showcase some of Middle America's top destinations.

April 29, 2019

The 21 Most Beautiful Waterfalls to See Around the World

Discover which stunning falls offer once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences.

April 25, 2019

The 20 Best Michigan State Parks

Two peninsulas, four Great Lakes and innumerable natural highlights elevate Michigan's state parks.

April 18, 2019