For some people, the perfect Christmas vacation involves fully leaning into winter on a snowy mountain somewhere, curled up next to a crackling fire. Others prefer to lounge on a beach as far away from cold weather as possible. Wherever you choose to spend “the most wonderful time of year,” you’re likely to find some version of holiday cheer.
From the sunny shores of Saint Lucia to the storybook town of Solvang, California, to Santa Claus’ own hometown in Finnish Lapland, these are the best places to visit for Christmas this year.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is an idyllic ski destination perched in the beautiful Tetons of Wyoming. Late December here is packed with holiday programming that typically includes ice skating, skiing with Santa, and caroling. The festivities usually kick off with a Christmas tree lighting and end with fireworks on New Year’s Eve.
There are several stunning slopeside lodges to choose from, including the luxurious Teton Mountain Lodge and Spa and the ski-in, ski-out Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole. Looking for gifts in downtown Jackson? The iconic elk antler arches that frame the Town Square are illuminated for the holidays, making it feel magical. For a unique adventure that embraces the hot and cold, plan a trip to the Granite Hot Springs Pool, which can be accessed only by snowmobile, fat bike, dog sled, or skis.
New York City
There’s truly nothing like Christmas in New York City. The city lights shine brightly year-round, but holiday lights add to the magic. You’ll hardly have to look for activities or entertainment with all the famous displays: the enormous tree at Rockefeller Center and the smaller but still dazzling tree at Washington Square Park, the LED-lit Saks Fifth Avenue facade, and the animated window displays at Macy’s Herald Square, to name a few. You can sip hot chocolate while you shop for last-minute gifts at German-style Christmas markets and partake in the age-old tradition of watching the Radio City Rockettes perform their annual Christmas Spectacular on a holiday vacation in NYC.
The Bruges Christmas Market is one of the best in Europe. This enchanting event takes over the Markt, the square at the heart of the city, with stands and wooden chalets selling everything from handmade Christmas ornaments to waffles and woolly socks. The colorful storefronts surrounding the square are adorably festooned with holiday decorations, and you’ll find confectioneries serving Belgian hot chocolate — no doubt some of the best you’ll ever taste. The festivities extend to a smaller market in nearby Simon Stevinplein square. Elevate your stay with a suite overlooking the picturesque canal at the luxurious and historic Hotel Van Cleef.
Beaver Creek, Colorado
Another place to experience the holidays on the ski slopes is Beaver Creek, Colorado, about 12 miles over the road from bustling Vail. This picturesque ski village typically sees festive activities for the whole family, from an annual Christmas tree lighting to changing events like holiday movie nights and cookie-baking competitions.
As for a cozy place to rest your head, The Osprey offers luxurious accommodations and a heated outdoor pool all mere feet from the chairlift. Otherwise, you can book one of just 60 rooms at The Pines Lodge. Both offer ski-in, ski-out access.
If your idea of a white Christmas involves soft, powdery sand, consider going to this beautiful Caribbean island. The luxurious Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort, typically offers a full lineup of holiday activities such as visits from Santa, a traditional family Christmas meal, and a New Year’s Eve beach bash. Of course, you can also spend your days lounging on the stunning beach between St. Lucia’s iconic peaks, the Pitons, or enjoying the resort’s regular amenities and activities, including a pool, spa, dive facility, and kayak rentals.
Highlands, North Carolina
If you’re looking for a charming, small-town Christmas experience that feels like it’s straight out of a Hallmark movie, head to Highlands, North Carolina. This picturesque town is in the southern Appalachian Mountains, within the Nantahala National Forest. Throughout December, you’ll find storefronts along and around Main Street decorated with wintry displays. The city runs a competition, so cast your vote on which you think is the best. Visit with Santa in Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park on any Saturday in December leading up to the big day. Old Edwards Inn and Spa and Half-Mile Farm (favorite hotels among Travel + Leisure readers) offer cozy accommodations with a side of holiday decorations and Christmas cheer.
Christmas markets, warm glühwein (mulled wine), medieval castles, and a museum wholly dedicated to Christmas will surely get you into the holiday spirit while visiting Salzburg. As you probably know, the city is the birthplace of Mozart and the setting of “The Sound of Music,” a movie that seemingly plays on repeat over the holidays. Ice skate around a statue of the iconic composer at Mozartplatz and soak in stunning views of the snow-capped Alps on the south-facing terrace of the Hohensalzburg Fortress. The most luxurious place to stay? That would be Hotel Goldener Hirsch right in Old Town.
If you won’t have a chance to wander through a storybook town in Denmark this holiday season, you can get a similar feel in Solvang. The small city in Santa Ynez Valley was founded by a group of Danes in the early 1900s. They created this adorable community, now known for its Danish businesses and architecture. Solvang typically hosts Julefest, a month-long village celebration complete with outdoor gatherings and holiday decorations. Make the stay even more Christmassy with a stay at The Landsby or the Winston, two of Solvang’s coziest boutique hotels.
A popular ski destination among East Coasters and one of the most picture-perfect places to go for Christmas, Stowe is within driving distance of several major northeastern cities (Boston, Albany, and Montreal, to name a few). The ski season typically starts in November, so this is an ideal place to hit the slopes if you’re looking for a white, powder-filled Christmas. Stay at The Lodge at Spruce Peak for beautiful mountain views and ski-in, ski-out access.
Edinburgh Castle, arguably the city’s most recognizable landmark, glows over the holiday season. The annual Castle of Light event began in 2019 and draws crowds with spectacular displays projected onto the exterior walls of the 12th-century stronghold. The projections typically get a refresh every year, and have included everything from fire-breathing dragons to flowers. Other holiday must-dos include the festive afternoon tea at Dome, where the stately Georgian Tea Room is enhanced with seasonal decorations. Sip mulled wine at one of the Christmas markets and ice skate on George Street for the full experience. If you’re around on New Year’s Eve, participate in Hogmanay, Scotland’s own end-of-year celebration. Edinburgh puts on a Hogmanay festival that includes a torchlight procession, concerts, and a disco party.
See the National Christmas Tree, ice skate at Washington Harbour, and sing along with a choral concert at the National Cathedral this December. Washington, D.C., hosts an array of holiday happenings throughout the season, and many of them are free, so go ahead and spend some extra money Christmas shopping. Head to one of the renowned Smithsonian museums to escape the cold weather, bundle up and admire the lights at the National Zoo, or walk along the National Mall with a hot cocoa in hand. When it comes to accommodations, The Ritz-Carlton Georgetown can hardly be beat.
With pleasantly warm December weather, the Florida Keys are an ideal escape for those looking to spend the holidays in a U.S. beach destination. Kick off your Christmas vacation with a scenic road trip through the Florida Keys, stopping at islands en route to Key West. This is a popular time to visit, so consider staying away from the crowds at the secluded Sunset Key Cottages, a 27-acre private island resort accessible by ferry. Upon arriving, you’ll find serenity just a short trip from the attractions of Key West.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is a great place to visit any time of the year. Loved for its culture, food, and picturesque setting, the city typically hosts a number of holiday events throughout December. Annual highlights include the Santa Fe Botanical Garden’s Glow light display and Christmas concerts inside the impressive Loretto Chapel leading up to December 25. You can even find winter sports at Ski Santa Fe, about 15 miles away. For a special hotel experience, book your stay at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe, which offers a range of festive amenities, or spend the night on the historic and holiday-lit Santa Fe Plaza at La Fonda.
Christmas is a summer holiday in the Southern Hemisphere, and Buenos Aires celebrates it with outdoor asado feasts and fireworks. High temperatures in December range from the upper 70s to the low 80s Fahrenheit, which means Papá Noel sometimes wears a tank top. The sunny weather is perfect for sipping cocktails and picnicking on the Plaza Intendente Alvear. While you’re in the Argentine capital over the holidays, sample the pan dulce (“sweet bread”), admire the decorations that usually take over the Galerías Pacífico shopping center, or make like a local and escape the city to a nearby beach.
There’s just something especially magical about London at Christmastime. Between the glittering lights, cider-slinging holiday markets, themed pop-up bars, and ice skating rinks from Hyde Park to the Queen’s House in Greenwich, the city really comes alive for the holiday season. Stay at The Lanesborough for a truly festive experience — the luxurious hotel has beautiful holiday decorations, in-suite shopping from Harvey Nichols, and the option to have your room fully decorated with the hotel’s Christmas in Residence program.
Why not spend the holidays in Santa Claus’ hometown? Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, is home to Santa Claus Village and SantaPark, where you’ll find the man himself and his reindeer sidekicks. During the winter, the arctic landscape is covered by a thick blanket of pretty snow. You’ll also have the best chance of the year at spotting the northern lights. There are several hotels in the area with glass igloo accommodations, which provide stunning 360-degree views of the aurora borealis from inside.
If you’d rather wear sandals than snowshoes, the Maldives might be the ideal place for you to spend Christmas. Winter is the dry season, when the weather here is at its best. Daily highs average in the mid-80s Fahrenheit — perfect for a holiday beach getaway. At the end of the day, kick back in luxurious accommodations at Conrad Maldives Rangali Island or The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands.
Spend your Christmas holidays in this picturesque region in southern Germany. Start your adventure in Munich, where you can sip mulled wine as you stroll through a genuine German Christkindlmarkt. Then head out of the city to find Christmas spirit in small towns like medieval Rothenburg or go skiing in the Alps. Wherever you go, beware of the spooky Krampus, a frightening Christmas beast of local folklore.
Quebec City is about as European as it gets outside of Europe itself. The predominantly French-speaking Québécois celebrate the season with German-style markets, ice skating at Place D’Youville, and shopping in Old Quebec, transformed into a dreamy scene. For a truly Canadian experience, take a ride on Au 1884 (aka the Dufferin Terrace Toboggan Slide), one of Quebec City’s oldest attractions. The slide runs right past Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, a castlelike hotel where you can stop for soup or coffee to escape the cold.
Just a short flight south for East Coasters, The Bahamas is another popular choice for travelers seeking sun and sand during the holidays. Mid-December is the start of the high season here, probably because daily highs in the 80s are such a welcome change to chilly temperatures in much of the U.S. Thanks to a wide range of accommodation options — from resort complexes like Baha Mar with seemingly endless amenities to more intimate private island resorts like T+L reader favorite Kamalame Cay — there’s a perfect Christmas vacation waiting for you in this sunny oasis.