The busiest travel season is just weeks away, and while many of us want to avoid the crowds during this hectic time of year, some embrace the madness. And there’s good reason you should get out there and travel among the herds – November to December is a magical time of year for cities all over the world. It starts with Thanksgiving extending five weeks, to just after New Years Day. It’s great fun to see how other cities embrace the holidays, no matter your faith, this is a time of year for music, lights, parties, and joy. What better way to experience a city! Consider taking a December journey. It’s a really fun idea to take a little vacation in before your holiday break, or even spend your holiday in a different city – or you can ring in the new year somewhere, well, new. Traveling this time of year can be trying, but it’s worth it. Check out these great holiday season destinations!
The City of Brotherly love really goes big for the season. Not only does Philadelphia house the oldest square mile in the country, its old row houses become even more beautiful when decorated with wreaths, and its old gas lamps are woven with garland. Travel to see stunning lights in posh Rittenhouse Square, or journey to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see their big tree lit up in all its glory. Boathouse Row has their iconic houses light up for the season, too. Even more lights, if you can handle it, is the Electrical Spectacle at Franklin Square. You could also walk around the pretty townhouse clad streets and check out the décor.
Do some shopping at the Christmas Village by City Hall. It’s meant to invoke European holiday markets, and it surely achieves its goal. With over 80 vendors, you’re sure to go home with a gift. Afterwards, take skate at the Rothman Ice Rink in nearby Dilworth park.
Make sure to stop by the Comcast Center for their Comcast Holiday Spectacular, which is a massive 15 minute projected display of the Pennsylvania Ballet dancers performing the Nutcracker. If that’s not enough, head to the Academy of Music to catch the full performance in person, but book your ticket early, as the show hosts more than 50,000 audience members a year.
This Canadian treat is the quintessential Christmas Town. By December, Quebec is fully into snow season, so everywhere you walk is covered in a pretty cloud of snow. The main attraction is Rue du Petit-Champlain. Here, evergreens line the streets, lit in white lights. The streets themselves are narrow, cobblestone lanes, filled with tiny shops, and overhead snowflake lights beautifully light the way. Quebec favors stone architecture, as well as French influenced townhomes. You half expect Santa Claus walking down the street.
There are many old-style markets in Quebec City, but the best one is the German Christmas Market, full of German specialties like bratwurst and mulled wines, as well as shows, like choral singers and street performers.
Take a theme tour of the former New French era, or take a class featuring culinary specialties of Quebec. When you get a little too cold, hop into bars and the city’s top-notch restaurants to warm up with some hot buttered rum.
No, this is not a gingerbread town complete with snow and horse-drawn sleighs, that’s correct, but the holidays hit the warmer climates, too, and these Floridians know how to celebrate. Where Quebec City has evergreens, Key West has palms, and they’re circled with lights with the same amount of care. If lights are your thing, check out the Bight Before Christmas, at the Bite Marina. Here, a wonderful holiday display expands down the seawall of Green Street down to the Ferry Terminal, where lights line every imaginable surface – some even underwater! A lighted holiday boat parade, a lobster trap Christmas tree, and music festivities are all part of the Bite experience.
Key West makes for an incredible New Year’s destination, too. After catching the dachshund parade on New Year’s Eve, you can also head to Duval Street to bring in the new year with a big crowd. If you head to Sloppy Joe’s, you can witness the Annual Dropping of the Conch Shell at midnight, which features, you guessed it, a huge man-made conch shell. Want something a little more, uh, lively? Head out to the seaport and watch a pirate wench get lowered from the mast of the ship at midnight.
New York City
You’ve seen a million movies featuring New York in December, and while they’re great, you really should see it in person. Midtown is where the tourists go, and the locals even find their way up there to check out the decorations. Start at Saks Fifth Avenue, and admire the iconic window displays that are some of the most stunning in the world. Make your way to Rockefeller Center and look at the famous massive Christmas tree. Strap on some skates and take a spin round the rink, too.
New York is synonymous with theater, so if you have children, get tickets to the Christmas Spectacular, featuring the Rockettes. Or, children or not, you can catch The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, or even out at BAM in Brooklyn. Head to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a taste of Christmas beauty. Make reservations at Balthazar for a French treat!
Of course, Times Square is the most famous place in the world to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve – but a local would tell you to avoid those crowds and head to a downtown bar, decked out in your New York best, and bring in the year with a raucous crowd.
This mile high mountain city knows how to do winter, and with it, the holidays are no exception. Snow falls as early as October in Denver, though the strange temperatures make it melt just as quickly. That said, it’s common for magical snow drifts to circle down and coat the city during December.
Come just after Thanksgiving and check out Denver’s launch of the holiday season with the Parade of Lights, which starts at night, long after dark in these winter months. After you’ve got your lighting whistle wet, head to the Denver Zoo for an incredible display of animal lights (not on the actual animals!), and Blossoms of Light at the Denver Botanic Garden, which is a practice in fine art featuring LED lights glowing throughout the gardens.
Head downtown and get your fill of tuba music holiday cheer at 1600 Arapahoe street the Sunday before Christmas. Also downtown is the Denver Christkindl Market, a German village featuring Bavarian musicians, foods like ginger biscuits and baked apples, and of course gifts. Finally, the Downtown Hanukah Festival of Lights featuring the Colorado Hebrew Choir is an amazing show, not to missed. It’s free and open to the public.
Want some more music? Catch Handle’s The Messiah, or Denver’s own show of The Nutcracker. Other fabulous theater performances include A Christmas Carol, or, if you want something a little less traditional, you can check out A Drag Queen Christmas at the Fillmore.
What are your favorite holiday destinations around the world?