The Best Places to Spend Christmas
Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
The "most wonderful time of the year" is quickly approaching, and even though holiday celebrations might look different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, you can still find the festive spirit in destinations across the United States and the world. The best Christmas vacations offer cheerful decorations and festive events that capture the holiday spirit, all set against the backdrop of a beautiful destination. And with many ideal holiday destinations located across the country, you're never further than a road trip from a perfect December vacation.
Wondering where you can actually travel for Christmas in 2021? From sunny shores to winter wonderland ski resorts, these are the best places to spend Christmas this year. While some destinations and hotels have released their holiday plans, these are subject to change due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, so be sure to check before planning your trip.
Related: More holiday travel ideas
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Take advantage of perfect skiing and delightful holiday events at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort this December. During the Holiday Roundup from Dec. 24 to Dec. 31, guests enjoy family-friendly events like New Year's Eve fireworks. There are several stunning slopeside lodges to choose from, including the luxurious Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa and the ski-in/ski-out Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole. And while there's plenty to do at the resort, Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park are nearby for any visitors who want to see these breathtaking spots at their wintery best.
New York, New York
There's truly nothing like Christmas in New York City. Seeing the city decorated with twinkling lights and impressive trees as you shop for last-minute gifts or sip hot cocoa is really an experience everyone should have at least once in their life. Beloved holiday traditions, like the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes and holiday markets, are back for the 2021 season, so it might be the perfect time to spend Christmas in the city.
Beaver Creek, Colorado
Hit the slopes and enjoy the ultimate winter wonderland experience at Beaver Creek in Colorado. The season offers festive activities the whole family will enjoy — check the resort's calendar for a full lineup of holiday events. Stay just 26 feet away from the closest chairlift at The Osprey at Beaver Creek, A RockResort, which offers luxurious accommodations and an outdoor heated pool, or book one of just 60 rooms at The Pines Lodge, A RockResort, which boasts incredible views and ski-in/ski-out access. Beaver Creek opens for the winter season on Nov. 24 with updated health and safety procedures.
If your idea of a "white Christmas" includes lounging on a warm, white-sand beach, head to one of the Caribbean islands accepting American tourists this holiday season, like Saint Lucia. You'll have to show a negative result from a COVID-19 test taken within five days of arrival and submit a travel registration form, but then you can relax at a COVID-19-certified property for the rest of your stay (find the full protocols on the Saint Lucia website). Luxurious Sugar Beach, A Viceroy Resort, offers a full lineup of holiday activities from Dec. 21 to Jan. 1, including making gingerbread houses, visits from Santa, a traditional family Christmas dinner, and more. Of course, you can also spend your days lounging on the stunning beach or enjoying the many amenities and activities offered by the resort.
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 holiday season. This picturesque town is located in the southern Appalachian Mountains, within the Nantahala National Forest, so it's the perfect place for a cozy escape. Old Edwards Inn and Spa and Half-Mile Farm (favorite hotels among Travel + Leisure readers) offer plenty of holiday cheer with festive decor and cozy accommodations.
If you won't have a chance to wander the charming streets of London or Munich this winter, you can get that European feel here in the United States. Solvang is a small city in California's Santa Ynez Valley that was founded by a group of Danes in the early 1900s. They created this adorable Danish community, now known for its Danish businesses and European architecture. Solvang typically hosts Julefest each holiday season, complete with festive events and decor — check the website for updates about this year's celebrations. You can also choose to stay in one of the city's beautiful boutique hotels, like The Landsby or the Winston.
A popular ski destination among East Coasters, Stowe is within driving distance of several major northeastern cities. The ski season here is slated to start on Nov. 19, so this is an ideal place to go if you're looking for a white Christmas (and plenty of outdoor activities). Stay at The Lodge at Spruce Peak for beautiful mountain views and the only ski-in/ski-out access in town. You can find updated information about COVID-19 measures on the Stowe website.
Head to the nation's capital this December for the perfect combination of holiday cheer and interesting activities the whole family will enjoy. There are so many incredible things to do in D.C., and many of these activities are free, so you can save for some last-minute Christmas shopping. Head to one of the renowned Smithsonian museums to escape the cold weather, bundle up and visit the National Zoo, or walk along the National Mall and enjoy the holiday decorations (hot cocoa in hand, of course). When it comes to accommodations, opt to stay at The Ritz-Carlton Georgetown for easy access to the city's most charming neighborhood.
Florida Keys, Florida
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. Take a scenic road trip through the Florida Keys, stopping at islands en route to famous Key West. December is a popular time to visit these beautiful islands, so you may want to opt for a secluded stay at Sunset Key Cottages, voted the best Florida resort in T+L's 2021 World's Best Awards. To get to this charming resort, guests take a ferry from Key West to the 27-acre island. Upon arriving, you'll find serenity and quiet just a short ride from the attractions of Key West.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is a great place to visit at any time of year. In fact, it was ranked the number two city in the United States in T+L's 2021 World's Best Awards. Loved for its culture, food scene, and picturesque setting, the city typically also hosts a number of holiday events throughout December, although these are subject to change due to the pandemic. You can even find nearby winter sports at Ski Santa Fe — the tentative dates for the 2021-2022 season are Nov. 25 to April 3. As for a hotel, stay at the nearby Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe, which offers a range of festive amenities, or spend the night on the historic Santa Fe Plaza when you book a room at La Fonda on the Plaza.
London, United Kingdom
There's just something magical about spending the holidays in London. Between the glittering lights, holiday markets, themed pop-up bars, and ice skating outside the Natural History Museum, the city really comes alive during the holiday season. Stay at The Lanesborough, London for a truly festive experience — the luxurious hotel has beautiful holiday decorations, a festive afternoon tea in collaboration with popular Peggy Porschen, and even private, in-suite shopping from Harvey Nichols.
Why not spend the holidays in Santa Claus's hometown? Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland, is home to Santa Claus Village and SantaPark, where you'll find the man himself plus reindeer and more festive activities. During the winter, the arctic landscapes are covered in snow, and you'll even have a chance to spot the northern lights. There are several hotels with the famous glass igloos accommodations, offering stunning views of the northern lights from your own room.
If you'd rather swap your snowshoes for a swimsuit this holiday season, head to the Maldives. This can be the perfect time of year for an extended vacation in a far-flung destination, so make the most of it by heading to the place that tops many travelers' wishlists. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island and The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands offer luxurious accommodations plus activities the whole family will enjoy.
Spend your Christmas holidays in this picturesque region in southern Germany. Start your adventure in Munich, where you'll sip mulled wine as you stroll through the charming city. Then find the Christmas spirit in fairytale small towns like medieval Rothenburg or go skiing in the German Alps — but beware of the spooky Krampus, a frightening Christmas beast of local folklore.
Just a short flight south for East Coasters, the Bahamas is a popular choice for travelers seeking sun and sand during the holidays. 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 vacation waiting for you in the Bahamas.
Elizabeth Rhodes is an associate digital editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @elizabetheverywhere.