Best Holiday Vacation Spots 2023
‘Tis the season for holiday cheer, bright lights, and delicious food. Deciding where to head for the best holiday vacation can be the most difficult decision of the year, but can also bring the most holiday cheer.
Whether you prefer the heat and sipping a drink on the beach or would rather ring in the New Year on the slopes, this list has something for everyone and each location offers something unique and festive.
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1. Jekyll Island, Georgia
Jekyll Island is a magical place anytime of year, but during the holiday season you’ll find the island with over 350 light displays. That’s more than 1 million bulbs – wow! Catch a ride on the Jekyll trolley for the best view of the lights. Festivities begin November 25, 2022 and run through January 8, 2023. For additional details, including info on the parade and winter carnival, check out the official Jekyll Island website.
First-time visitors to Jekyll Island should be sure to check out my Destination Guide to Jekyll Island for an overview of this incredible location. If you’re able to splurge on a hotel, I recommend the Jekyll Island Club, but a wonderful, more affordable option is the Courtyard Marriott Jekyll Island which is located on the beach and close to all of the shops and restaurants.
2. Lake Tahoe, California
Located amongst two states and beautiful all year round, Lake Tahoe turns into a winter wonderland during the snowy months. Both those looking to ski on some incredible slopes and those dreaming of a holiday surrounded by the fireplace will enjoy all that the Lake Tahoe region has to offer.
Head to Heavenly Village in Tahoe’s South Shore where you’ll be greeted with a giant Christmas tree, an ice skating rink, a ferris wheel, and even periodic character appearances (think Disney style). Those looking for an outdoor adventure can hit the slopes, snow shoe trails, or even enjoy a little sledding.
3. Cancun, Mexico
If you’re looking to spend the holidays under the sun on a beautiful sandy beach, book your flights to Cancun where you’ll experience endless rays, delicious drinks, and a good time. Stay in Cancun’s Hotel Zone for more shopping and nightlife options, or head about an hour away to Playa del Carmen for slightly less tourists, but the same stunning beaches and warm weather.
Hotels are certain to be decorated with holiday cheer and the staff will be there to help you celebrate. Make sure to check out my guide to All-Inclusive Resorts if this is your first experience with one, and take a look at my All-Inclusive Packing List as you get ready to head to the beach.
4. Salt Lake City, Utah
Ski enthusiasts will love Salt Lake City’s four world-class ski resorts – Alta, Brighton, Snowbird, and Solitude, and along with several more nearby, you can’t go wrong in this winter wonderland.
Fly into the Salt Lake City International Airport and be on the slopes in under an hours, or take the train for a more unique travel experience. An Amtrak Route runs from San Francisco to Chicago and passes through Salt Lake City on its way. If skiing is not your forte, grab a book and relax in front of the fireplace or venture out to the local holiday light displays.
5. New York City, New York
The holiday season in the Big Apple begins on Thanksgiving with the famous Macy’s Day Parade, and the festivities continue through New Years. Head to New York City this holiday season to get in your holiday shopping, enjoy the decorated city, and of course, view the amazing Rockefeller Christmas Tree.
Live your best Eloise life while you’re there and make sure to visit the Plaza Hotel, enjoy all the holiday activities like ice skating and sledding, and take a carriage ride through Central Park.
6. Boulder, Colorado
Boulder, CO has the perfect combination of urban and outdoor activities, making it a best holiday vacation spot each year. Whether you want to head out for a hike or enjoy the numerous breweries the city has to offer, you are set. In addition to the activities offered year-round, Boulder has tons of festivities during the holiday season from Chanukah on Pearl (a celebration on the main street in downtown Boulder), visiting the famous Hotel Boulderado Christmas Tree, WinterFest at Colorado Chautauqua, and Snow Much Fun Light Displays throughout the city.
7. Savannah, Georgia
Already a charming city, Savannah becomes magical during the holiday season. Explore Savannah’s “Holly Days” where you can enjoy festivities that begin on Thanksgiving and continue until New Years, go Sailing with Santa, or consider taking a Holiday Sights and Festive Nights Tour. Enjoy events all throughout the season and ring in the New Year on Tybee Island with a fireworks show.
If you’re looking for additional events in the area, visit December Nights and Holiday Lights at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens or see A Christmas Tradition and the Savannah Theatre. With pleasant weather throughout the holiday season, you’ll be able to enjoy all the festivities without the freezing cold and snow.
8. Orlando, Florida (Disney World)
Disney is known for over-the-top holiday decorations so if you’re looking for hundreds to thousands of Christmas trees, Menorahs throughout Epcot, and awesome holiday-spirited parades, head to the place of magic for your holiday getaway.
A popular holiday event that usually sells out months in advance is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Snag tickets to this coveted event that is held in Magic Kingdom each November and December where you’ll experience a fireworks show, get to see a special parade, and be surrounded by holiday-themed entertainment.
Even if you’re not looking to fork over several hundreds of dollars for your family to attend the Christmas Party, Disney World at Christmas is still a magical place. You can catch Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks Show, and enjoy Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration. If that’s not holiday spirit then I don’t know what is.
9. Scottsdale, Arizona
Scottsdale is a large city, with a lot of holiday cheer. Houses, restaurants, and city streets are decorated and full of holiday fun. Scottsdazzle is a city-sponsored event and offers something for everyone, even the pups. For those looking for a more elegant holiday experience, head to Christmas at the Princess. Non-guests are welcome (tickets required) so make sure to check out the hotel’s ice rink, light displays, s’mores, and more.
10. Asheville, North Carolina
If the mountains are calling, consider Asheville, North Carolina for your holiday getaway. The city is full of holiday lights and cheer, and there are plenty of events for the whole family to enjoy.
Visit the North Carolina Arboretum during the holiday season to support their largest annual fundraiser and enjoy over one million holiday lights. You’ll get to enjoy this self-guided walk tour of the Arboretum’s lights. This is a ticketed event that runs from mid-November through New Years Eve.
Christmas at Biltmore is another popular spot for holiday cheer and celebrations begin at the beginning of November and continue through the first week of January. Sporting a different theme each year, you can view over 100 decorated trees, hundreds of thousands of holiday lights, stunning flowers, and so much cheer. Enjoy a holiday meal or indulge in a free wine tasting. Tickets are required and can be purchased at Biltmore’s website.
11. New Orleans, Louisiana
While New Orleans may be famous for its Mardi Gras celebration, it’s not to be overlooked for any of the other holidays, especially Christmas. The city is full of holiday traditions from Bonfires on the Levee to guide Papa Noel to Celebration in the Oaks at City Park. If holiday song is your calling, enjoy the Candlelight Caroling at Jackson Square.
Of course, the famous New Orleans Jazz Clubs and Restaurants will be waiting for you to enjoy some of what the city is famous for while enjoying a cocktail or two.
12. Helen, Georgia
A quaint little town that feels like Germany, but sits amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’re sure to find adventure in Helen. The town is filled with lights and holiday cheer after Oktoberfest ends and weather cools off, but remains pleasant.
The annual Lighting of the Village occurs shortly after Thanksgiving and kicks off the holiday season in Helen. Everyone can watch the holiday lights turn on in the Bavarian Village and kids can even meet Santa. Best of all, the event is free. The Christkindlmarkt also makes an appearance in Helen for a weekend or two and it’s a great place to do your Christmas shopping, enjoy delicious food, and warm up with a cozy drink.
13. Turks & Caicos Islands
A stunning destination for the beach lovers out there, Turks & Caicos provides a little bit of holiday cheer while surrounding you with shimmering turquoise water and white sandy beaches. An excellent choice if you’re looking to relax and enjoy a low-key holiday.
The resorts around Grace Bay (the main area) are certain to be decorated with lights and holiday decor, bringing a holiday cheer to the island. Additionally, the Maskanoo parade – the biggest celebration on Turks and Caicos – takes place on December 26th and celebrates the West African and Caribbean heritage of the islands.
14. Chicago, Illinois
Chicago is a great family-friendly destination for the holidays. Kids will love ice skating in Millennium Park (note that the Cloud Gate sculpture, or more commonly the Bean is currently under construction until Spring 2024) and exploring the Christkindl Market in Wrigleyville. Michigan Avenue is decorated with all sorts of holiday cheer. Want more holiday lights? Visit Lincoln Park Zoo’s ZooLights to see over two million lights that are on display.
15. Key West, Florida
For those looking for a more spirited and fun holiday season, book a vacation to Key West, FL where you can blend beach time with the area’s party atmosphere. The bars and restaurants that line Duval Street are certain to be in the holiday spirit and vendors at Mallory Square will also partake in the fun.
Additionally, there are several holiday-specific events in Key West. Each year, a weekend or two is set aside for the Holiday Historic Inn Tour where you can visit four of the island’s historic inns, each decorated for the holiday season. You’re also in for a treat if you happen to visit during the Key West Parade. Other fun holiday activities take place at Historic Seaport Key West and the Old Town Trolley Tour. Consider booking the Holiday Sights and Festive Nights Trolley Tour where you’ll ride around in a narrated trolley and see all the beautiful holiday decorations that Key West has to offer.
I hope this list provides some inspiration as you plan your holiday getaways! I cannot wait to see where your travels take you this season – make sure to leave a comment with your destination. Safe Travels!