5 great Christmas destinations, and how to get there

Small U.S. towns like Santa Claus, Indiana, go all out for the holidays

Lyn Mettler
Personal finance writer
Specializes in writing on travel, family and food

5 great Christmas destinations, and how to get there

Want an extra boost of Christmas spirit this year? Why not take a trip to one of these amazing small towns that go all out for the holidays?

Here are some of the most festive small towns in the U.S. when it comes to all things Christmas, and some advice for how to get there if you want to make a last-minute trip or start planning next year's holiday vacation a little early. 

Frankenmuth, Michigan

Head to Michigan for your fill of Christmas in this town that was named one of the nine most "Christmassy" towns by TIME Magazine. Founded by German immigrants in the late 1800s, Frankenmuth is home to Bronners CHRISTmas Wonderland – a Christmas store that’s open year round and is larger than a football field. 

The town also offers a variety of seasonal events like carriage rides to see the town’s decor, a traditional Christkindlmarkt, a holiday home tour and the German Christmas Song Fest at St. Lorenz Lutheran Church. And don’t miss a stop at the Old Christmas Station Restaurant for lunch or dinner.

Located in the northern section of Michigan, the nearest city to Frankenmuth is Saginaw. Saginaw’s MBS International Airport is served by United and Delta, so you’ll need to shell out some miles with either airline or drive to the quaint town instead.

See related: How to save on a holiday trip to New York City

Santa Claus, Indiana

Where else to celebrate Christmas than a small Indiana town called Santa Claus? Home to the popular Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari amusement park, the southern Indiana town offers a variety of merry celebrations throughout December. 

You can check out the 22-foot statue of Santa at the Santa Claus Museum & Village, send Christmas cards and other mail with a Santa Claus postmark at the post office, drive through the Santa Claus Land of Lights display and visit Santa’s Candy Castle for some sweets and roasted chestnuts.

To get to Santa Claus, you can fly into Louisville, Kentucky, which is 80 miles to the east and has an airport served by major airlines like Southwest. Another option is to fly to Evansville, Indiana, which is 47 miles to the west. American, Delta, Allegiant and United all fly into Evansville. 

Leavenworth, Washington

You will feel like you’ve stepped into Christmas in Germany in this charming Bavarian-style village in Washington state. Located east of Seattle, the town shines with more than half a million lights every weekend after Thanksgiving as part of its Christmas Lighting Festival. 

The festival features holiday music and caroling, sledding and roasted chestnuts, and kids can visit with St. Nick. The area also offers plentiful skiing, tubing and even sleigh rides for outdoor wintertime activity. 

It’s probably easiest to fly to Seattle, which is served by lots of major airlines, and then drive 130 miles to Leavenworth. Alternatively, you can fly from Seattle to Pangborn Memorial Airport, which is 30 miles from the town, and drive.

See related: 6 smart-money lessons from holiday movies 

Helen, Georgia

For more German-style fun in the U.S., head to Helen, Georgia, set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the northeastern portion of the state. Georgia’s third most visited city, Helen is a unique spot and a fun getaway from bigger cities like Atlanta and Savannah. 

This quaint town with cobblestone streets goes all out with Christmas decor throughout December and offers shopping at more than 200 specialty stores. You can buy gift items like ornaments at The Christmas Shoppe, handmade wooden toys at Tim’s and sweets at Hansel and Gretel’s Candy Kitchen. Other activities include a Christkindlmarkt and the Hardman Farm State Historic Site, which is dressed up in Victorian-style Christmas decor.

Helen is an easy 93-mile drive from Atlanta – home of the world’s busiest airport, where you can fly your favorite airline using miles and points. 

Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

For one of the biggest light displays around, check out Winterfest in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. There are five million lights spread throughout the area – including the towns of Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevierville – from November through February. Drive through the displays or take a ride on the Winterfest Trolley. 

This area is not short on entertainment, with many fun shows that get a Christmas re-do. Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede has a live nativity, and Christmas at the Smoky Mountain Opry features flying sugar plum fairies, live animals and Santa. Also not to miss is Smoky Mountain Christmas at Dollywood amusement park, with a light parade and Sunday evening worship services at Dolly’s Christmas Chapel. 

For an extra festive stay in the Smokies, check out the Inn at Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge, which is decorated year-round for the holidays, from stem to stern. 

The closest airport to this area is McGhee Tyson Airport (42 miles away), which is served by Delta, United, American and Allegiant.

Aside from Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, most of these small towns are filled with small hotels and bed and breakfasts that won’t allow you to use points earned from hotel cards to book a stay. 

You may instead want to use cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Discover it® Miles that let you redeem your points for any type of travel expense, rather than a specific brand. These can also work great for booking vacation rentals through sites like HomeAway.

Here’s hoping you and your family have a wonderful holiday, whether you celebrate in the quiet of your own home or decide to take a festive vacation.

See related: Get the most from these no-annual-fee rewards cards this holiday season


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Updated: 01-17-2019