10 Best Holiday Destinations for Families

It’s no secret that the holiday season is one of the busiest travel times of the year. After all, the kids are out of school, making it an ideal period to take that long-awaited family vacation. However, picking a place can be tricky, especially if you’re looking for a destination that doesn’t leave behind the typical holiday festivities like light displays, traditional decorations, and delicious treats. The holidays are stressful enough, and choosing where to spend them shouldn’t be, so we’ve made a list (and checked it twice) of the best holiday destinations for families this year.

1. Charleston, South Carolina

Escape the snow and head to Charleston for the holidays. This South Carolina charmer is great in all seasons, but it puts on some extra flair when the festive season rolls around. Journey back in time with candlelight tours of the historic 19th-century Nathaniel Russell House. The Holiday Festival of Lights is a must-do for the whole family — expect elaborate (and sometimes interactive) light displays and opportunities to meet Santa, saddle up on a Victorian carousel, hear live Christmas music, and take rides on a small holiday train, just to name a few.

Our Pick for a Charleston Hotel: Market Pavilion Hotel

2. Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado; vxla/Flickr

Denver has the holidays on lock with a mix of culture, candy, and Christmas staples. For starters, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts is creating Camp Christmas, a massive, immersive art installation inside a 10,000-square-foot space at the Stanley Marketplace. Guests can travel through six different eras of Christmas, from Roman times through the disco days and up to present day. Also worth checking out: Hammond’s Candies, a local family-owned shop that churns out whimsical candy canes for the holidays. Plus, just 30 minutes outside of Denver, in Aurora, the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center will create an ice-carved winter wonderland based on the classic Christmas film “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The resort will also have a holiday-themed aerial show, a “Naughty or Nice” escape room, cookie decorating, ice Theskating, and themed scavenger hunts.

Our Pick for a Denver Hotel: The Ritz-Carlton, Denver

3. Bangkok, Thailand

Wat Arun, Bangkok

Wat Arun, Bangkok/Oyster

As a Buddhist country, Thailand may not be the first place you think of when it comes to Christmas. However, families can still find some holiday spirit in this southeast Asian country, particularly in Bangkok. Head to the large malls to catch impressive displays of Christmas lights, a few Christmas-themed performances, and even glimpses of Santa himself. Over at the zoo, animals often roam around in festively decorated enclosures or even don their very best Christmas hats. Upscale Western restaurants sometimes create special Christmastime menus, though the biggest taste of Christmas can be had at the Great Gatsby Market, an excellent place to grab gifts and soak in the holiday vibes. Just keep in mind that it’s only open for the week surrounding Christmas. Bangkok’s Siam Square is also usually decked out in Christmas decor, and strolling along the Chao Phraya River provides nice views of the boats and homes that have been outfitted for the holidays.

Our Pick for a Bangkok Hotel: Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok

4. Budapest, Hungary

Budapest Christmas Market

Budapest Christmas Market; BudapestChristmas.com/Flickr

During Christmastime, the Pest side of Budapest practically transforms into one large collection of festive holiday markets. Just follow your nose toward the sweet smells that waft from chimney cakes, spiced hot ciders, baked goods, and more. Market stalls spill out into the streets and span much of the central downtown Pest area, filling this side of the city with loads of Christmas cheer. Meanwhile, the quieter Buda side is great for exploring cobblestone streets and escaping the cold air with a soak in one of the city’s many hot spring bathhouses. Bonus: The city is extremely walkable, with a good underground public transport system, making it a great, easy-to-navigate option for families.

Our Pick for a Budapest Hotel: Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace

5. London, England

London, England

London, England; Kyle Taylor/Flickr

Both Christmas and Hanukkah are celebrated with great splendor in London. Christmas decorations and lights can be found everywhere, but they particularly present in central London and around high street shopping areas. Spiced drinks, iced cookies, and even special Christmas-themed sandwiches are available around every corner. For Hanukkah, the Jewish Museum London will often host special events and educational programming. Huge menorahs (including one so tall that the rabbi has to be lifted up by a machine to light it) pop up throughout the city’s neighborhoods, and communities come together to light them each night. Kick off the Festival of Lights in Trafalgar Square with the first-night lighting of the hanukiah followed by live music and dancing.

Our Pick for a London Hotel: The Lanesborough

6. New York City

Rockfeller Center, New York City

Rockefeller Center, New York City; June Marie/Flickr

New York City is arguably the most iconic U.S. destination to spend Christmas. While the holidays are visibly celebrated throughout all boroughs, most of the quintessential experiences can be found within a few blocks in Manhattan, between Columbus Circle and Rockefeller Center. This is where you’ll find the famous Rockefeller Center tree, decorated department store windows along Fifth Avenue, light shows projected across buildings, and of course, huge crowds. New York City also has a big Jewish population, so you can enjoy Hanukkah celebrations, services, menorah lightings (including the world’s largest hanukiah over in Brooklyn), and traditional foods.

Our Pick for a NYC Hotel: New York Hilton Midtown

7. Orlando, Florida

It’s likely that Orlando is already on your radar as a family-friendly destination, and the holidays tend to up the ante. The city’s world-famous theme parks go all out when it comes to festive experiences and seasonal twists for existing attractions. For example, Universal Orlando creates Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and kicks off the season with a Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular as early as November. Over at Disney World, expect themed firework shows, ice palaces, and holiday celebrations like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, among other fiestas. Outside of the parks, you’ll find plenty of decorations and may even be lucky enough to be serenaded by joyful carolers.

Our Pick for a Florida Hotel: Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

8. Munich, Germany

Munich, Germany

Munich, Germany; Heinz Bunse/Flickr

Germany is a fun, family-friendly place to celebrate Christmas. Some believe that Santa Claus actually came from the German tradition of Saint Nicholas. However, instead of waiting for Santa to deliver gifts through the chimney on Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes out on December 6, hoping Saint Nicholas will fill them with goodies. In Munich, the central Marienplatz hosts a huge traditional European Christmas market filled with food, drinks, and gift stalls, but there are several others scattered throughout the city as well. Almost every street will be adorned with Christmas decor and lit up with lights. Riding the Christmas tram — mulled wine and kid’s punch included — is a real treat and a great way to see many of the decorations and festivities around town. Other wintertime activities include ice skating, spotting reindeer at the zoo, and even snow tubing.

Our Pick for a Munich Hotel: The Charles Hotel

9. Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville, Tennessee; Denise Mattox/Flickr

Nashville doesn’t shy away when it comes to the holidays — be it Christmas or Hanukkah. Aside from celebratory menorah lightings, you can expect events featuring donuts and latkes, live music, dreidel tournaments, and more. Additionally, the packed schedule of Christmas events from the Gaylord Opryland is sure to get your family in the holiday spirit. We’re talking holiday shows on ice, musicals based on classic Christmas stories, and an outdoor light exhibit that twinkles from above, below, and all around.

Our Pick for a Nashville Hotel: Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center

10. Copenhagen, Denmark

The Danish take Christmas very seriously, from mulled wine to holiday markets, and there is no better place to experience it all than in Copenhagen. Why? Not only will you be able to walk the festively decorated streets, peruse the cozy Christmas markets, and indulge in some spiced wine or cider, but you can actually spend Christmas night among the lights and rides at the Tivoli Gardens theme park. Warm up with more mulled wine while your kids rush from ride to ride, enjoy the beautiful light displays, and be sure to catch the fantastic water and lights show. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a traditional Danish Christmas tree, which is decorated with real candles instead of electric lights.

Our Pick for a Copenhagen Hotel: Tivoli Hotel

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