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10 Underrated Places With Fantastic Holiday Celebrations
Enjoy twinkling lights, seasonal decorations and fun traditions in these charming locales.
Get into the holiday spirit in these festive destinations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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