It’s that time of year again. Time to haul out the holly, rock around the Christmas tree and let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Whether you are planning an extended family holiday get-together or just want to give your kids the gift of travel this year, there are destinations all over the world that will get you in the holiday spirit.
Here are nine festive destinations with everything merry and bright for families this holiday season.
New York City
New York City is one of those places you just have to visit during the holidays at least once. Between ice skating in Central Park, viewing the breathtaking Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and seeing the Radio City Rockettes perform their Christmas Spectacular, New York is home to some of the most iconic holiday experiences in the world.
Related: These are the best New York City hotels for families to check out
Then, of course, there are the holiday window displays at Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Macy’s and other Fifth Avenue shops (fun for window shopping or actual shopping) and the charming outdoor holiday markets in places like Columbus Circle, Bryant Park and Union Square.
For the ultimate NYC holiday experience, you can channel your inner Kevin McCallister with The Plaza hotel’s “Home Alone 2 — Fun in New York” package. You’ll get a limousine ride around the city, a large cheese pizza and a massive 16-scoop Sundae just like Kevin enjoyed in the movie while he was stranded in New York during Christmas.
Austria’s capital city hosts one of the country’s most renowned Christkindlmarkt, the Rathausplatz Christmas Market. There’s so much more to do than simply shop, though — with more than 100 stalls, you should probably bring an extra suitcase for your purchases and a big appetite for the roasted chestnuts and other treats. In addition to the market stalls, you can ride a Ferris wheel and a carousel, do some laps around the ice skating rink and walk along an illuminated path depicting scenes from the nativity.
Related: Planning a family trip to Vienna
The winter market at Prater amusement park combines theme park attractions with an enchanting Christmas market. As well as all the eating, drinking and shopping opportunities at the Wintermarkt, your kids will love the park’s rides, including Vienna’s trademark Giant Ferris Wheel, live music and children’s puppet shows.
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While in Vienna, a visit to Schönbrunn Palace is a must. Tours of the Baroque palace are available, but your best bet is a combination ticket that also includes access to additional attractions on the palace grounds like a children’s museum, gardens, a labyrinth and the world’s oldest zoo.
Surrounded by the Ozark Mountains, Branson, Missouri, is a premier Midwest destination for families. The obvious first stop is the Silver Dollar City theme park. The park’s annual “An Old Time Christmas” celebration features more than six million lights, 1,000 decorated trees, live entertainment, seasonal food and drink specialties and, of course, access to the park’s rides and attractions.
Related: 13 absolute best things to eat that you can only get in US theme parks
Outside the park, attractions all around Branson get in on the holiday fun. Along West 76 Country Boulevard, Branson’s main thoroughfare, you’ll find a holiday display with the city’s four-story-tall Christmas tree and a Christmas-themed light and music show at the Branson Ferris Wheel. You can also see the types of gifts you used to ask Santa for at the nearby World’s Largest Toy Museum.
Santa Claus, Indiana
Where better to spend the holidays than a town that celebrates Christmas all year long? Santa Claus, Indiana, is a small town in southwestern Indiana that embraces its name all year long with extravagant Christmas decorations, toy and candy shops, a theme park with lands dedicated to major holidays called Holiday World, and a post office where you can send letters to Santa (and, yes, he responds to every letter).
Related: 11 regional theme parks that are closer to home but just as fun as the big names
When you visit in November or December, the town rustles up even more holiday cheer with a drive-through light display, dinner with Santa, a live reindeer exhibit and chestnut roasting. If your family is up for a little friendly competition, see who can find the most Santa statues. There are more than 20 located all over town, including the 22-foot-tall Santa located at the Santa Claus Museum, where you can learn how the town got its unique name.
North Pole, Alaska
You don’t have to travel all the way to the planet’s northernmost point to visit the North Pole. There’s another (warmer) North Pole just 15 miles south of Fairbanks in Alaska. Like a mug of hot chocolate, the town is filled to the brim with holiday cheer all year long, with candy cane-striped street lamps and street names like Kris Kringle Drive and Mistletoe Lane — but visiting during the holidays is like the whipped cream and marshmallows on top.
The Santa Claus House is North Pole’s most popular tourist attraction. At this large holiday store, you can shop for gifts, sample holiday treats, arrange a personalized letter from Santa for your kids and take photos with a giant Santa statue (Santa himself also makes frequent appearances).
On Saturday, Dec. 10, North Pole holds a citywide Winterfest where you can shop from local vendors at the Holiday Bazaar, decorate Christmas cookies and view a festive fireworks display.
Santa’s Lapland, Finland
Lapland is Finland’s northernmost region, as well as its most magical. Those who brave its snowy subarctic wilderness will be treated to once-in-a-lifetime holiday experiences like reindeer-driven sleigh rides, snowmobile rides, sleeping in a glass-domed igloo and seeking out Santa’s house.
Related: Searching for Santa: A once-in-a-lifetime trip in Finland’s snowy Arctic
The easiest way to visit Lapland is by booking a tour package where they organize everything including flights, hotels, the use of snowsuits, meals and activities. There are various packages to choose from based on your budget and add-on experiences like skiing, show-shoeing and excursions to view the northern lights.
If your family loves the lights, decor and general merriment of the holiday season, but not the cold weather and snow, a trip to Orlando should be at the top of your wish list. Area theme parks like Disney World, Universal Orlando, SeaWorld and Legoland mark the occasion with limited-time events. All are included with park admission, save for Disney World’s “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party,” which is an after-hours event.
Outside the parks, Harry P. Leu Gardens holds an annual holiday walk-through with a million twinkling lights called Dazzling Nights, and Night of a Million Lights will illuminate the grounds of Island H2O water park, with tickets benefitting Give Kids the World Village.
You’ll need somewhere to settle down for a long winter’s nap during your visit, and even Orlando’s hotels get a merry makeover for the holidays. Ice! is a holiday event at Gaylord Palms with Grinch-themed ice sculptures, indoor snow tubing, gingerbread house decorating and more. At Caribe Royale Orlando resort near Disney World, you can watch holiday movies under the stars, drink hot cocoa and cider, create holiday crafts, write letters to Santa and view the hotel’s “sweet” holiday lobby display with Santa, his reindeer and a 32-foot-long chocolate train all made from chocolate.
Park City, Utah
Park City, Utah, is a natural holiday vacation choice for families who love to ski, but you don’t have to be an expert on the slopes to enjoy this winter wonderland. Beginning Nov. 25, you can stroll down Park City’s Main Street to see a collection of life-sized snow globes and drop your wish list in Santa’s mailbox while you are there.
You can also hop aboard the Heber Valley Railroad’s “North Pole Express,” where you’ll be served cookies and cocoa and a gift from Santa, which he will deliver personally on your return trip from the North Pole. In addition to skiing on Park City Mountain, you can also ride a toboggan-style alpine coaster or take a sky-high ride on the Flying Eagle Zip Line.
Skiers will love the convenient ski-in/ski-out location and white glove treatment at the St. Regis Deer Valley Also ski-in/ski-out, in Canyons Village, you’ll find family-friendly one-, two-, and four-bedroom villas that are perfect for families at Westgate Park City Resort & Spa.
Some of these spots celebrate with snowy sled rides to Santa’s house, while others have all the trappings of Christmas without the frigid temperatures. So pack up your sleigh (erm, car) and get ready to hit the road this holiday season.