The 15 Best Christmas Towns for Students to Visit in 2021
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- The U.S. is home to a variety of festive towns and cozy cities perfect for a holiday visit.
- Many Christmas towns boast colorful lights, parades, bustling markets, treats, and ice skating.
- Leavenworth and Park City are two of our favorites, with snowy, mountainside settings.
- Students can also visit North Pole, Alaska, and Christmas Town USA for some holiday cheer.
If your campus is lacking in holiday spirit, you can escape to a nearby Christmas town. These towns go all out for the holidays, with events like makers markets, carnival rides, ice skating, food tours, holiday productions, decadent treats, and oh-so-many Christmas lights.
Visiting Christmas towns is a great way for international and out-of-state students to explore a new part of the state in which they attend school. Some towns are close enough for a day trip to reset your brain while studying for finals. Others may be better suited for a weekend getaway.
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What's more, many of these places leave their holiday decor up through January if you want to visit post-Christmas or for New Year's.
Here are 15 of the best places to spend Christmas in college.
1. Leavenworth, Washington
We got a little dusting of snow overnight! Check out our live webcams here www.leavenworth.org/webcams . . . . #Leavenworth #pnw #washington #freshsnow #leavenworthwashington #leavenworthwa #washingtonstate #pnwonderland #travel #nature #mountains #christmas #adventure #pacificnorthwest #seattle #fall #bavarianvillage #roadtrip #cascademountains #bavaria #cascades #winter #november #villageoflights #wintertime #Christmastownast night!Posted by Visit Leavenworth WA, on Monday, December 6, 2021
Nestled in Washington state's Cascade Mountains is the Bavarian-style village of Leavenworth. While the town serves as a hot, sunny destination for summer travelers, Leavenworth is also a must-see during Christmas. The locale boasts plenty of shopping, including a year-round Christmas store full of unique ornaments and decor.
Its downtown area is home to Alpine-style buildings covered in thousands of lights and a plethora of German restaurants and breweries. Students can visit the Nutcracker Museum, take horse-drawn carriages, and watch carolers and other entertainment throughout the season.
Perhaps most importantly, Leavenworth always has snow in the winter for those craving a white Christmas.
The famous Christmas town is located about an hour's drive from Central Washington University and two hours from the University of Washington in Seattle.
2. Rock Hill, South Carolina
Just an hour from the University of South Carolina, the town of Rock Hill spends all of December celebrating the holidays. Christmasville at Rock Hill is such an extravaganza that it even has its own mobile app to help you keep track of all the events and activities.
Some standouts include a real ice rink, Dickensian carolers, historic tours, a Christmas parade, a holiday market, carnival rides, cheese and chocolate tastings, Christmas carol karaoke, live ice sculpture carving, and a performance of "A Christmas Carol" at Laurelwood Cemetery.
The downtown area is also decked out in lights and holiday decor along Elk Avenue, Freedom Alley, and Flipside Walkway.
3. Ashley, Michigan
Every year near the end of November, the city of Ashley transforms into the Village of Ashley's Country Christmas. It's about 35 minutes from Michigan State University and an hour and a half from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
The star of the event is the North Pole Express, a real steam engine that tours its way to the vintage town from the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso. There's also a variety of bakeries to visit for holiday goodies, like the Czech Bakery and Elba Sweet Shop.
Students can shop at the festive Christmas market or take a ride on the ferris wheel or merry-go-round. You can even build a toy at Santa's workshop.
4. Park City, Utah
Explore the Holiday magic on Historic Park City's Main Street❄ The perfect place to create new traditions for your family, and enjoy dining and shopping with your friends and families during the holidays. Visit our website for more information and to see events happening on Main Street this year.Posted by Historic Park City Utah on Sunday, November 21, 2021
Just a 40-minute drive from the University of Utah, Park City is a popular skiing destination that makes an idyllic setting for a snow-filled holiday in the mountains.
Here, students can enjoy all sorts of winter activities, such as skiing, sledding, snowmobiling, and dog-sledding. There's even a ski lift that drops you right into town. The historic downtown is quaintly designed and decorated for the holidays — usually with a dusting of fresh snow.
Throughout the season, Canyons Village hosts Silver Sky Nights where you can enjoy free hot cocoa, ice carving, a visit from Santa, live music, and a fireworks show.
5. McAdenville, North Carolina
Also known as Christmas Town USA, McAdenville is just 25 minutes from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte — and it's a true mecca for holiday light displays. Christmas Town USA has been voted one of the "10 Best Public Holiday Lights Displays in the Nation" by USA Today.
Students can drive or walk through a 1.3-mile-long lighted holiday display. This route includes over 250 evergreen trees covered in lights and Christmas music played from the historical McAden Mills Bell Tower.
6. New York City, New York
While New York isn't exactly a Hallmark Christmas town like some of the others on our list, it is one of the best cities in the world to celebrate the holidays. NYC is also in close proximity to many universities, including NYU, Columbia, and CUNY.
Many of the iconic NYC attractions transform during the holidays. The city is decked out with holiday displays and covered in lights. Students can enjoy gazing at the Rockefeller Center tree, ice skating, walking through a snowy Central Park, looking at 5th Avenue holiday window displays, and browsing the Union Square Holiday Market.
You can also attend iconic holiday shows like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, The Nutcracker by New York City Ballet, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
7. Branson, Missouri
Sometimes referred to as the "Las Vegas of the Midwest," Branson is also known for its wholesome, family-friendly atmosphere during the holidays. Located 45 minutes from Missouri State University in Springfield, Branson transforms into a Christmas Wonderland each winter, earning it the title "America's Christmas Tree City."
The popular Christmas town hosts the Ozark Mountain Christmas Festival and features events and activities like Christmas shows, light displays, a Polar Express train ride, specialty shops, ice skating, and snow tubing.
There's also a theme park called Silver Dollar City, which opens in the winter for the "An Old Time Christmas" festival. Here, students can enjoy looking at 1,000 decorated Christmas trees, a parade, holiday goodies, rides and roller coasters, and a holiday show.
8. North Pole, Alaska
If you've ever wanted to visit the North Pole, look no further than Alaska. About 25 minutes from the University of Alaska, the town of North Pole wholly embraces its name during the holiday season with its annual Winter Festival.
North Pole's most popular destination by far is Santa Claus House — a store featuring ornaments, toys, a live Santa, and walls decorated with letters to Santa from children all over the world. The North Pole post office on South Santa Claus Lane receives over 400,000 pieces of mail each year addressed to Santa.
Student visitors can also enjoy firework shows, ice sculptures, arctic fishing, and a holiday bazaar.
9. Stockbridge, Massachusetts
A historic New England town about an hour's drive from the University of Massachusetts, Stockbridge has no doubt inspired several Hallmark Christmas movies.
The town's main street and surrounding historic homes are lit for Christmas, making for a cozy winter stroll. Students can also visit unique restaurants and stores while staying at an idyllic inn or B&B.
Other activities include hillside sledding, ice skating, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and caroling. Students can also visit a Norman Rockwell museum and a holiday marketplace.
10. Solvang, California
Our Tree Lighting Ceremony and Parade return THIS WEEKEND for Julefest 🎄✨ 📅 December 3rd - Tree Lighting Ceremony Begins at 5pm at 1st Street & Mission Drive. Festivities include ballerinas, live entertainment, caroling, and the much-anticipated arrival of Mr. Claus! 📅 December 4th - Julefest Parade Begins at 11am. The parade will make its way down Mission Drive, Copenhagen Drive, and adjacent Streets. PLUS, SAVE THE DATE: December 11th, 5pm The Solvang Nativity Pageant returns with music, actors and animals for a live retelling of the “Christmas Story”. Please bring your own chairs and blanket to this family friendly event. More information about everything Julefest, can be found at solvangjulefest.org #solvangusaPosted by Solvang USA on Monday, November 29, 2021
About 40 minutes from UC Santa Barbara, Solvang is a Danish village primarily known for its holiday Julefest. Though there won't be snow, the Danish architecture and holiday lights all make for a very "hygge" holiday.
Julefest offers a tree-lighting ceremony, live entertainment (including ballerinas and carolers), Santa's village, a parade, a makers market, and candlelight tours. Solvang is also home to many unique shops, Danish restaurants, bakeries, bookstores, stationers, and children's boutiques.
11. Franklin, Tennessee
This festive town is about a 40-minute drive from Middle Tennessee State University and a half-hour drive from Vanderbilt University. Franklin spends December celebrating with its famed "Dickens of a Christmas" festival.
The town sets out to emulate the Victorian setting of Charles Dickens' stories by lighting and decorating the historic downtown area. The festival features musicians, dancers, a Victorian village, holiday window displays, food and craft vendors, and Dickens characters brought to life.
Students may run into Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim from "A Christmas Carol" or Fagin from "Oliver Twist" as they stroll the streets.
12. Cape Cod, Massachusetts
A scenic Christmas on the coast can be had at Cape Cod, which is about 20 minutes from Bridgewater State University and 40 minutes from the University of Massachusetts.
Here, the holiday season kicks off with the largest holiday parade in Southeast Massachusetts. Visitors can see decorated floats, local talent and bands, live animals, and trolley cars. And instead of arriving by sleigh, Santa arrives by boat.
Strolling through the town and looking at the harbor lights is an event in itself. Students can also see the local theater's production of "A Christmas Carol," enjoy giant light sculptures, and take a lighted walk called "Gardens Aglow" at the Heritage Museums & Gardens.
13. Newport, Rhode Island
Finally 🙌 Holidays at the Newport Mansions returns this Saturday 🎄— Discover Newport (@DscvrNewport) November 18, 2021
Details: https://t.co/x13p1tQY9v pic.twitter.com/BdsWWJnUPw
Most Rhode Island students can make a day trip to Newport for some quick holiday spirit. This Christmas town is just 25 minutes from the University of Rhode Island and 40 minutes from Brown.
Christmas in Newport is a monthlong celebration that features events like a production of The Newport Nutcracker, the wharf tree lighting, tours of the holiday-decked Newport mansions, caroling, community fundraising activities, historical lantern tours, and pictures with Santa.
14. Lewisburg, West Virginia
Lewisburg features all the events and activities that make for an epic Christmas town — horse-drawn carriage rides, a tree-lighting ceremony, holiday window displays, a Christmas parade, visits with Santa, and all-around magical decorations.
Located about two hours from West Virginia State University, the town calls its holiday celebration The Magic of Christmas in Lewisburg. Student visitors can find a downtown covered in lights and giant snowflakes and filled with tons of shops offering special holiday discounts and giveaways. They can also listen to carolers as they wander around town.
15. Helen, Georgia
Helen is a German-inspired town located about an hour from the University of Georgia. The village boasts loads of Christmas lights and decorated trees. It's so idyllic that a few holiday Lifetime movies have actually been filmed here (namely, "Christmas Love Letter" and "A Taste of Christmas").
Helen boasts a Christmas parade, German restaurants and breweries, and shopping — all against the backdrop of the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. During the first two weekends of December, Helen hosts the Christkindlmarkt — a traditional German market filled with Christmas gifts, authentic decorations, and irresistible treats.
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