by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
My criteria for great destination places to spend the winter holidays starts with charm, offers plenty to do indoors as well as outdoors that interests everyone in the family, is walkable to get around or at least offers great public transportation, perhaps even a cutesy trolley or something that is fun, has great decorations, and a festive feel. Here are more of our favorite places, where the spirit glows bright throughout the holidays, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. (See also: Favorite Places to Go Where the Holiday Spirit Glows Brightest)
Philadelphia’s Winter Wonderland
Philadelphia is well known for its wintertime holiday traditions. The season begins with America’s oldest Thanksgiving Day Parade—enjoying its momentous 100th running this year. But this year, three newcomers get an early start on the holidays. These include a vast, immersive, evening light display—LumiNature at the Philadelphia Zoo—a seasonal selfie station at The Bourse—Photo Pop Philly: Winter Wonderland—and a massive floating tree, with a sound and light show, at the center of the just-opened Fashion District Philadelphia.
Here is what’s new for the 2019 winter holidays in Philadelphia:
Holiday pop-ups abound around City Hall in the heart of Center City, including the dazzling nightly Deck the Hall Light Show (November 25, 2019 – January 1, 2020), projected on to the side of City Hall. The outdoor Rothman Orthopaedics Ice Rink & Cabin (November 8, 2019 – February 23, 2020) offer ice skating, skate rentals, twinkling lights and indoor space to warm up and fill up on snacks, cocktails, seasonal beer and hot drinks. The charming, stroll-worthy Wintergarden (November 8, 2019 – February 23, 2020) is aglow with seasonal plants and lights. Also, the Made In Philadelphia Holiday Market (November 23, 2019 – January 1, 2020) returns with dozens of independent local vendors selling their wares. (Dilworth Park, 1 S. 15th Street).
During the annual Franklin Square Holiday Festival, the Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show presented by PECO makes this historic square twinkle with free shows every night. Among the 75,000 bulbs set to music is a giant, illuminated kite. Other festivities include Saturdays with Santa; rides on the holiday train and carousel; comfort foods, local beer and hot beverages at Ben’s Sweets & Treats and holiday fare at SquareBurger; and mini-golf.
Deck the District – The Fashion District Philadelphia offers great local art, amazing bargains, delicious drinks and a holiday light show. Designer Matthew Schwam, known for putting big, bright red bows and dazzling lit-up snowflakes on significant city buildings, has promised a magical, 45-foot tall floating tree featuring 600 mirrored, stainless steel orbs for the center of the complex. Every half hour from 4 p.m. until closing, the tree will host a free light show featuring the festive sounds of the Philadelphia POPS. November 14-December 31, 2019.901 Market Street, (215) 925-7162, fashiondistrictphiladelphia.com
Photo Pop Philly: Winter Wonderland – The ultimate selfie station, located inside the historic Bourse building (now a modern food hall), invites ticketed guests through a series of artist-envisioned, purposefully Instagram-able rooms featuring virtual reality, a photo booth and lots of snow-filled backdrops, just in time for holiday card-making. Select days, November 15, 2019-January 5, 2020.111 S. Independence Mall East, (215) 925-7900, photopopphilly.com
LumiNature at Philadelphia Zoo – Two years in the making, a new, immersive display transforms the zoo’s day-scape into a nighttime multimedia light and music spectacle. Dancing lights, sounds (even talking trees) throughout furnish illusions of animals coming to life. A flock of flamingos forms a 25-foot-tall tree; an enormous polar bear broadcasts the magnificence of our planet; all four seasons host their very own party. Seasonal fare, live performers, hot chocolate and adult beverages promise to spark the winter spirit. Timed tickets. November 20, 2019-January 5, 2020.3400 W. Girard Avenue, (215) 243-1100, philadelphiazoo.org
The Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package includes overnight free parking and more perks, and is bookable at Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website, visitphilly.com, 800-537-7676 where you can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages.
Festive Holiday Traditions on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket
Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket bring the classic spirit of the season to life Thanksgiving through New Year’s, each putting their special stamp on beloved holiday traditions.
Nantucket Island’s month-long (November 29, 2019 to January 1, 2020), Nantucket Noel, is a venerable tradition. This year’s theme is Winter Nights & Holiday Nights — a reminder that, on Nantucket, the winter holidays commence with the Tree Lighting and continue for 33 days through The New Nantucket New Year’s Event and The Nantucket Hotel’s Anchor Drop on New Year’s Eve. Nantucket Noel 2019’s festivities — including the signature event Christmas Stroll Weekend (December 6-8, 2019) features more than 150 majestically attired balsam Christmas trees lining the side perimeters of cobblestoned Main Street and adjoining byways. (Book your ferry reservations online at www.SteamshipAuthority.com or call 508-477-8600.)
Christmas in Edgartown: Downtown Edgartown comes alive December 12-15 for the 38th Annual Christmas in Edgartown. Twinkle-lit architecture sets the scene for cookie contests, wreath making, amazing store promotions, The Great Chowder Contest, and a parade down Main Street.
Old-Fashioned Family Fun: Take a guided ride along a winter wonderland route in an over-sand vehicle to the remote Cape Poge Lighthouse for Christmas at the Lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard (December 7-8). The Nantucket Whaling Museum is ablaze with color during the Nantucket Historical Association Festival of Trees (December 6-31), featuring creatively decorated trees by local merchants, artists and children. And nine miles of twinkling lights greet visitors to Heritage Museums & Gardens’ Gardens Aglow, where you can visit with Santa in a 1913 Model T Ford, roast marshmallows over outdoor fire pits and stroll through the grounds on a reindeer scavenger hunt (November 29-December 29, Fridays-Sundays).
Shop Local: Quaint boutiques, charming bookstores and eclectic galleries adorn downtown areas, making it easy to tackle your holiday shopping list. One-of-a-kind gifts by local artisans can be found at Featherstone’s Holiday Gift Show(November 15-December 15), the Vineyard Artisans’ Annual Holiday Fair(December 21) and the Holiday LoveLocal Fest in Hyannis (December 7-8). Peruse the beautiful glass-blown ornaments at Sandwich Glass Museum’s Glassblowers’ Christmas, featuring handmade ornaments available for purchase (November 15-December 30). And if you shop on Nantucket between November 1 and December 24, you can earn red tickets and enter for a chance to win up to $11,000 through the Holiday Red Ticket Program.
Yuletide Cheer in Greater Williamsburg, Virginia
What a holiday combination! Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, a living-history museum, the Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, offering a glimpse of 17th and 18th century holiday traditions and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
America’s colonial past can be seen through the Illuminations taking place throughout Colonial Williamsburg. Between December 10 and 15, stroll through the Palace Green, the Capitol, Market Square or the taverns to enjoy an 18th century seasonal celebration as candles and cressets illuminate these sites, and the firing of muskets and a musical performance by the Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drums whisk us back in time.
Jamestown: Military history aficionados may take delight in Christmastide in Virginia at Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown between December 20 and 31. 17th and 18th-century holiday traditions are recalled through special interpretive programs and musical entertainment of the period. At the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, hear accounts of Christmas and winter in military encampments during the American Revolution and relive holiday preparations on a Revolution-era farm. At Jamestown Settlement, English Christmas customs of the period can be compared and contrasted with how the season may have been observed in the difficult early years of the Jamestown colony.
Busch Gardens—Christmas Town 2019 offers one of the largest lights displays in North America with more than 10 million tiny globes making all merry and bright. Between November 16 and January 5, 2020, the season rejuvenates with festive food and drink, lighted Christmas train rides, holiday shopping and heart-warming shows in Busch Gardens – Christmas Town 2019. New for 2019, the Traditions Tree Maze presented by Coca-Cola features 500 fresh-cut Christmas trees creating a spectacular maze that allows park-goers to take a stroll around the world and explore holiday traditions celebrated in places like Japan, South Africa and Mexico. Country of origin themed craft-making stations for the kids, picture-taking moments, music and lights make this immersive experience like no other. Also debuting this year, Believe lets guests dine while enjoying inspirational holiday music performed by a solo pianist in the Italy’s San Marco Theatre. Not for the faint at heart, the new Finnegan’s Flyer tests the bravest of riders as they swing at speeds of 45 mph and 80 feet above the cliffs of the Celtic Coast, taking in the festive sights of Ireland.
Complete the magical experience with a stay at the grand, historic Williamsburg Inn, a full-service luxury (five-Diamond) resort (www.colonialwilliamsburghotels.com).
For more information and itinerary suggestions, visit www.visitwilliamsburg.com.
Holiday Family Fun in San Francisco
Here are some essentials that epitomize a lovely winter holiday in the City by the Bay.
Winter Park at Civic Center: Now in its second year, the Civic Center Plaza is converted into a pop-up winter park to celebrate the holiday season. From Nov. 30 to Jan. 5, you can skate the night away or participate in Learn to Curl sessions. https://winterparkicerinksf.com/
Ice Skating: Winter in San Francisco also means pop-up ice skating rinks. The most popular one is at Union Square, under Macy’s giant Christmas tree.Through Jan. 20, purchase tickets in advance; also check for special events ( https://unionsquareicerink.com/). Embarcadero Center has the biggest pop-up rink in the city, with gorgeous views of the waterfront (http://embarcaderocenter.com/experience/holiday-ice-rink/)
“Curious Contraptions: Flights of Fancy”: For indoor holiday fun, head to the Exploratorium at Pier 15 for an exhibition of whimsical mechanical sculptures, also known as automata. Brought to life by simple mechanisms and handmade pieces, each automata performs an entertaining drama. Understand the inner workings of these automata in “Curious Contraptions” from Nov. 21, 2019 to Jan. 26, 2020. www.exploratorium.edu
Classic Cable Car Holiday Nights & Sights City Tour: Ring in the holiday season aboard a cable car, Nov. 22 through Dec. 30, 2019 at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. The Classic Cable Car Holiday Nights & Sights City Tour begins at Taylor St. and tours through Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach, Chinatown, Union Square, Financial District, The Embarcadero and PIER 39. Along the way, you’ll see San Francisco’s festive holiday trees, trimmings, and twinkling lights decorating the city for the winter season. Enjoy jovial jingles along with a complimentary Santa hat. www.classiccablecar.com/tour/holiday-nights-and-sights/
Emperor Norton’s Holiday Bazaar: Off the Grid (OTG), the quintessential champion of the mobile food movement in the Bay Area and beyond, is debuting Emperor Norton’s Holiday Bazaar Nov. 29 to Dec. 24, 2019. Inspired by the tradition of European Holiday Markets, the Bazaar will take place at the iconic Salesforce Transit Center and Salesforce Tower Plaza. Emperor Norton’s Holiday Bazaar will deliver a magical experience with classic holiday décor, cozy spots to relax and connect, and opportunities to shop for unique, handmade gifts – all paired with the soul-warming food and drink for which Off the Grid is famous. https://offthegrid.com/emperor-nortons-holiday-bazaar/
The Great Dickens Christmas Fair: A treasured Bay Area tradition since 1970, The Great Dickens Fair is takes place Nov. 23 – Dec. 22, 2019 at the Cow Palace. The Fair’s 20th season features over 800 performers in over 120,000 square feet of theatrically-lit music halls, dance floors, and Christmas shops. https://dickensfair.com/
Lucky Tuk Tuk Tour: This might just be the most holiday fun you can have on wheels. Lucky Tuk Tuk’s vibrant vehicles are eco-friendly and colorfully decorated with holiday lights to tour you through the city with holiday cheer. Lucky Tuk Tuk can fit up to six riders, perfect for a family outing. While on board, you can enjoy a hot cup of cocoa, candy canes and even sing-along karaoke. www.lucky-tuk-tuk.com/
For information on reservations, activities and more, visit www.sftravel.com or call 415-391-2000.
Festivities in Louisville, Kentucky
WINTER WOODS SPECTACULAR: Experience the twinkling of millions of lights at this new event from the producers of the popular Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular. Held in scenic Iroquois Park, the event features a half-mile drive of lighting and artistry exploring and celebrating the holiday season. (Nov. 30 through Dec. 31)
FÊTE DE NOËL: Louisville’s Paristown neighborhood is the site of this inaugural event. A six-week Winter Village features Louisville’s only authentic outdoor ice-skating rink, along with the return of Louisville’s award-winning Holiday Laser Dome, Stoneware & Co. ornament decorating, holiday family movies and more.
LIGHTS UNDER LOUISVILLE: At this holiday favorite, Louisville Mega Cavern is transformed into a festive underground light spectacular. Enjoy a 30-minute ride through part of 17 miles of underground passageways. Featuring more than 850 lit characters with three million points of lights. ( Open through Jan. 4)
For more information, Louisville Tourism,gotolouisville.com
Christmas on the Beach in St. Petersburg
St Petersburg, Florida affords a marvelous opportunity to combine arts, culture, heritage with white sand beach. St. Petersburg/Clearwater offers scores of special activities – lighted boat parades that take place at various times in small villages; outdoor carolers at the holiday market. The very special Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home of the Dolphin’s Tale stories) transforms into Winter’s Wonderland. The annual Holiday Lights in the Gardens has a million LED lights shining throughout the Botanical Gardens (from 5:30 p.m.; $5 suggested donation). Head to Christmas Town at Busch Gardens for some great thrill rides and to see the park transform into a holiday wonderland of Christmastime entertainment, holiday shopping and a million twinkling lights!. Stay at the glamorous, historic and grand beach resort, the DonCesar Resort, known as “the Pink Lady” (www.doncesar.com) or the Vinoy Renaissance, both members of Historic Hotels of America (historichotels.org, 800-678-8946).
For more ideas, visit www.visitstpeteclearwater.com.
Enchanted Garden in Chattanooga
Chattanooga, Tennessee offers a surprising array of extraordinary experiences: walk through a secret underground ice cave and see Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights, explore a nocturnal fantasyland with more than one million twinkling lights high atop Lookout Mountain; hop on board a train for a North Pole adventure; sing Christmas carols and dance with Santa on a river cruise; meet coral reef Santa divers; build creative gingerbread houses; watch animals open their own Christmas presents when you visit the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Tennessee Aquarium.
Enjoy Chattanooga’s Holiday Trail of Lights Nov. 15, 2019 – Jan. 17, 2020: Now in its third year, the Chattanooga Holiday Trail of Lights showcases 12 major holiday activities featuring millions of twinkling lights, holiday meals on a river cruise, live holiday music and entertainment, animal encounters, ice skating, Santa sightings and train excursions to the North Pole! Throughout the trail there are an array of festivals, gingerbread-house making workshops, special holiday meals, live music, theater performances, shopping deals, artist demonstrations, fireworks and plenty of ways to spend New Year’s Eve in Chattanooga.
The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel offers an absolutely magical experience. The historic hotel (and member of Historic Hotels of America) is literally created out of the legendary railroad station dating back to 1909, where you can stay in one of 48 Victorian train cars converted to the most delightful rooms, wonderfully furnished in period pieces (but with modern amenities like high-speed wireless Internet access), and the station serves as the hotel lobby (you can also tour some of the historic trains and meet the engineer). A free electric shuttle from the bus terminal next door takes you downtown. I don’t know when I have had a more enjoyable and enchanted stay. (Chattanooga Choo Choo, 400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402, 800-TRACK-29 (872-2529, www.choochoo.com.)
Get the full scoop on planning a holiday getaway in Chattanooga at www.chattanoogafun.com/winter
Historic Holiday Sites
National Trust for Historic Preservation (the organization is the umbrella for Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org), offers Great Experiences & Tours, (nationaltrusttours.com). The National Trust has just introduced a new program to make history fun for families: Distinctive Destinations. From grand homes to artists’ studios to working farms, these places across America can add memorable moments to your off-the-beaten-path road trip, create new opportunities for your next vacation, or even be your new favorite gift shop (https://savingplaces.org/distinctive-destinations). They even have created an online list of holiday experiences at its collection of historic holiday sites. (https://savingplaces.org/collections/distinctive-destinations-historic-holidays, email@example.com, 202-588-6000,:800-944-6847).
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