A family of four, holding hands, walks towards a gazebo decorated with lights during a winter evening event. Snow covers the ground and trees adorned with lights are visible in the background.

Family-Friendly Christmas Festivals Across the USA: Top Celebrations for All Ages

Looking for the best places to spend Christmas with your family? The USA offers a treasure trove of family-friendly Christmas festivals that can make your holiday season truly magical.

From festive parades to captivating light displays, explore some of the most enchanting Christmas destinations in the country.

Whether you’re taking a ride on The Polar Express or wandering through a dazzling holiday market, these events promise unforgettable experiences.

Families gather around a giant Christmas tree, adorned with colorful lights and ornaments, while children excitedly ride a carousel and enjoy festive treats at a holiday festival

Imagine sipping hot cocoa while your children marvel at millions of twinkling lights, or meeting Santa in a snowy wonderland.

Festivals like Santa’s Enchanted Forest and Christmas Town at Busch Gardens are designed to capture the holiday spirit and make memories that will last a lifetime.

Each festival offers unique attractions that cater to all ages, ensuring the whole family has a magical time.

From the historic Dickens on the Strand to the extravagant Holiday Lights at Cheekwood, the variety of celebrations across the United States is truly impressive.

Gather your loved ones and embark on a festive journey to one of these incredible spots for a holiday season full of joy and wonder.

Key Takeaways

  • Each festival offers unique, family-friendly attractions.
  • Travel across the USA to experience diverse Christmas celebrations.
  • Events range from light displays to festive train rides and markets.

The Polar Express Train Ride

YouTube video

The Polar Express Train Ride brings the magic of the holiday season to life with festive activities and events. You can enjoy a unique travel experience filled with holiday cheer, making it a must-visit attraction during Christmas in the United States.

History and Significance

The Polar Express Train Ride is inspired by the popular children’s book “The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburg.

Published in 1985, the story follows a young boy’s magical journey to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. The book was adapted into a movie in 2004, which further popularized the tale.

Train rides based on this story began in the U.S. to recreate this enchanting experience for families.

Today, these rides are held in multiple locations, drawing thousands of visitors each year. They are particularly significant as they offer a nostalgic yet exciting way to celebrate Christmas traditions.

Unique Features

The Polar Express Train Rides are known for their immersive holiday experiences.

During the ride, passengers can listen to a reading of “The Polar Express,” enjoy hot chocolate and cookies, and participate in Christmas carols. Many rides also feature visits from Santa Claus and his elves.

Another unique aspect is the detailed decorations that transform the train into a winter wonderland.

Some rides also have activities like reindeer games, creating an interactive environment for kids. The rides usually last between one to one and a half hours, ensuring a fun-filled yet manageable adventure.

Must-Visit Stops

Several places in the U.S. offer memorable Polar Express rides.

In New Jersey, the Delaware River Railroad Excursions in Phillipsburg provides a magical journey with scenic views and festive activities.

In Pennsylvania, the New Hope Railroad offers rides through Bucks County, featuring live music and visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus.

For a unique experience, the Skunk Train in California welcomes pets to join the holiday cheer.

Each location brings its own special touch to the Polar Express narrative, making it a delightful way to explore different parts of the United States during the holiday season.

Ice! at Gaylord Hotels

Glistening ice sculptures adorn the festive landscape, reflecting the twinkling lights and creating a magical winter wonderland at Gaylord Hotels' Christmas festivals

At Gaylord Hotels, Ice! transforms the holiday season into a stunning winter wonderland. With scenes handcrafted from millions of pounds of ice, there is much to admire and explore at these unique festivals.

History and Significance

Ice! at Gaylord Hotels began as a special holiday attraction, designed to bring festive joy and stunning artistry to guests.

The event features scenes from beloved Christmas stories brought to life by master ice carvers from Harbin, China, who travel over 7,000 miles to create these magical displays.

Using over 2 million pounds of ice, Ice! celebrates both the winter holiday and the artistry of ice carving. The event has become a favorite for families, thanks to its combination of breathtaking visuals and interactive fun.

Unique Features

What sets Ice! at Gaylord Hotels apart are its larger-than-life ice sculptures, storytelling, and chilly 9-degree walkthrough experience.

Themes like A Charlie Brown Christmas at Gaylord Palms and The Polar Express at Gaylord Opryland create a magical journey for visitors.

At Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas, the theme Santa Claus is Coming to Town captivates guests with intricately hand-carved ice sculptures.

The ice used is meticulously made from crystal-clear, white, and colored blocks to ensure the scenes are vibrant and detailed.

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Must-Visit Stops

Each location offers unique memories:

  • Gaylord Palms in Florida, where you can see A Charlie Brown Christmas come to life.
  • Gaylord Opryland in Tennessee, where The Polar Express is the theme.
  • Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Texas, featuring Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

In addition to the themed ice sculptures, you can enjoy ice skating and other winter festivities.

Twinkling lights and holiday decorations enhance the experience, making each visit feel like stepping into a winter fairy tale.

Christmas at the Billy Graham Library

The Billy Graham Library is adorned with colorful lights and Christmas decorations, creating a festive and welcoming atmosphere for families to enjoy

Christmas at the Billy Graham Library is an event full of joyous activities, historical insights, and festive fun. Located in Charlotte, North Carolina, this holiday celebration promises memorable experiences for families, featuring live music, nativity scenes, and much more.

History and Significance

The Billy Graham Library first hosted its Christmas celebration over a decade ago. The event quickly became a beloved holiday tradition for many families across the Carolinas.

The purpose of Christmas at the Billy Graham Library is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. This makes it a center of faith and tradition during the holiday season. Many visitors find the event spiritually uplifting and meaningful.

The Library sees thousands of visitors each year, highlighting its importance in the region’s holiday celebrations.

Unique Features

One of the unique features of Christmas at the Billy Graham Library is its live nativity scene. You can see animals up close, interact with them, and learn about the nativity story.

Carriage rides are another highlight. For $12 per adult and $6 per child under 12, you get a scenic ride around the beautifully decorated grounds.

The holiday decorations are stunning and create a magical atmosphere as you wander through the Library and its grounds.

Must-Visit Stops

Start your visit at the main library where you can find exhibits about Billy Graham’s life and work. This gives you a sense of the man behind the legacy and sets the tone for the rest of your visit.

Don’t miss the live nativity scene. It’s available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on select days. Petting the animals adds an interactive element that kids especially love.

Finally, enjoy some live music. Throughout the evening, you can listen to Christmas carols and other festive tunes. This creates a joyful atmosphere perfect for the holiday season.

For more details, check the official webpage.

Leavenworth Christmas Lighting Festival

Crowds gather in a quaint town square, adorned with twinkling lights and festive decorations. The air is filled with the sound of joyful caroling and the scent of hot cocoa and roasted chestnuts

Leavenworth Washington transforms into a winter wonderland during its Christmas Lighting Festival. This event features millions of holiday lights, unique Bavarian-themed activities, and various must-visit spots for families.

History and Significance

The Leavenworth Christmas Lighting Festival started in 1966. This festival’s creation was key to revitalizing Leavenworth, a small Bavarian-themed town in the alpine mountains of Washington state.

The town set out to attract visitors by transforming itself into a festive, winter wonderland.

Christmas lighting ceremonies were held on the first three weekends of December, drawing large crowds. Leavenworth’s holiday transformation has made it a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.

This festival not only boosts the town’s economy but also fosters a sense of community and joy.

Unique Features

During the festival, the entire town of Leavenworth is lit up with millions of twinkling lights.

Festivities include live performances, holiday markets, and various winter activities.

One of the standout features is the lighting ceremony held on Saturdays in December, where the town lights up in a stunning display.

Another unique aspect is the Bavarian-themed decorations, which include gingerbread-style buildings and alpine elements.

This, combined with the snowy atmosphere, makes it feel like stepping into a holiday postcard.

Visitors can also enjoy traditional German food and warm drinks as they stroll through the lit-up streets.

Must-Visit Stops

  1. Front Street: The heart of the festival, bustling with holiday markets, performances, and photo opportunities.
  2. Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum: Home to over 7,000 nutcrackers, this museum offers a unique experience for children and adults.
  3. Festhalle: This venue hosts live music and performances, including original Christmas songs by local musicians.

Dickens on the Strand

A bustling Victorian street fair with festive decorations, carolers, and families enjoying holiday activities

Dickens on the Strand, held in Galveston, Texas, is a unique festival that brings Charles Dickens’s works to life. This beloved event features period costumes, lively street performances, and a festive atmosphere perfect for the holiday season.

History and Significance

Dickens on the Strand began over 50 years ago. Since then, it has become a cherished holiday tradition in Galveston. The festival was inspired by the popularity of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. It aims to recreate the Victorian era’s charm. The festival is named after one of Galveston’s historic streets, “The Strand.” Each December, it attracts thousands of visitors who come to enjoy the historical ambiance and celebrate the enduring legacy of Dickens’s stories.

This event highlights the cultural significance of Victorian England and its impact on modern-day Christmas celebrations. You will find participants in period attire, from elegant gowns and top hats to simpler, working-class outfits. The dedication to historical accuracy and detail is part of what makes this festival so special.

Unique Features

The festival is known for its vibrant street performances and extensive live entertainment. You can stroll through the streets while being serenaded by carolers or entertained by jugglers and musicians. The event also features roving characters from Dickens’s novels, adding to the immersive experience.

Fezziwig’s Beer Hall offers a lively gathering spot where adults can enjoy refreshments and live music. Additionally, the festival includes themed events such as costume contests and parades, offering plenty of participation opportunities for attendees.

A notable aspect is the costumed revelers and entertainers, which create an engaging and authentic historical atmosphere. Actors in the roles of Dickensian characters move through the crowd, bringing scenes from novels to life. This makes the festival not only entertaining but also educational.

Must-Visit Stops

When attending Dickens on the Strand, there are several must-visit spots. First, make sure to visit Fezziwig’s Beer Hall, where you can enjoy a festive drink and live entertainment in a historic setting. This hall is especially festive in the evening when it comes alive with music and cheer.

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The Victorian Bed Races are another highlight. This quirky event features teams racing through the streets with decorated beds, inspired by the bustling streets of Victorian London. Don’t miss the Grand Parade, showcasing elaborate costumes and floats.

For a more relaxing experience, take a leisurely stroll through the historic Strand district and admire the beautifully decorated buildings and streets. The atmosphere, steeped in holiday spirit, is perfect for some family-friendly fun and photo opportunities.

You’ll also find various vendors offering unique gifts and holiday treats, making it an ideal place to start your Christmas shopping.

Santa’s Enchanted Forest

A bustling winter wonderland with twinkling lights, towering Christmas trees, and families enjoying festive activities like ice skating and holiday performances

Visiting Santa’s Enchanted Forest is a magical experience full of holiday cheer in Miami, Florida. Known for its history and unique features, it promises fun and memorable visits for families.

History and Significance

Santa’s Enchanted Forest began 40 years ago, becoming a beloved holiday staple in Miami. It’s famous for being the world’s largest holiday theme park, a significant achievement bringing joy to countless visitors each year.

The park was originally located in Hialeah, before moving to a larger space on NW 87th Avenue. This transition allowed for more spectacular shows and festive decorations, making it a must-visit during the holiday season.

Santa Claus makes regular appearances, adding to the festive charm. The park has a reputation for magical holiday memories, drawing visitors from across the country year after year.

Unique Features

This park boasts over 100 holiday-themed rides, games, and attractions. You’ll find everything from thrilling roller coasters to classic carnival rides and kid-friendly options, providing fun for all ages.

The dazzling light displays are a highlight. Millions of lights create a winter wonderland, perfect for snapping holiday photos. There are also daily shows, featuring acrobats, magicians, and musical performances, ensuring continuous entertainment.

Food lovers rejoice at the diverse food stands. From traditional holiday treats to international cuisines, there’s something for every palate. The variety and quality of food make dining a delightful part of the experience.

Must-Visit Stops

During your visit, don’t miss the iconic giant Christmas tree, a centerpiece of the park. Standing tall and bright, it’s a great spot for family photos.

Next, head to the enchanted walking trails. These paths are adorned with intricate light displays and festive decorations, creating a magical stroll through a holiday wonderland.

Be sure to visit the meeting area for Santa Claus. Kids and families can share their holiday wishes and take memorable photos with Santa himself, adding a special touch to your visit.

Santa’s Enchanted Forest truly captures the essence of holiday cheer, making it an essential family-friendly festival in Miami every Christmas season.

Holiday Lights at Cheekwood

Vibrant holiday lights illuminate Cheekwood Gardens, creating a festive atmosphere. Families stroll through the twinkling displays, enjoying the Christmas festivities

Holiday Lights at Cheekwood in Nashville, Tennessee, is a stunning Christmas festival. It features a one-mile walking path adorned with over one million twinkling lights and numerous holiday-themed activities for all ages.

History and Significance

Cheekwood Estate & Gardens has been a landmark in Nashville since its establishment. The Holiday Lights event began as a unique approach to using the beautiful gardens during the winter season. Its success has grown annually, making it a beloved tradition. Running from mid-November through early January, it draws countless families to celebrate the holiday spirit with spectacular light displays and festive activities.

Unique Features

Visitors are treated to enchanting light displays across the gardens. The highlight is the one-mile walking path illuminated by over a million lights. Real reindeer add to the magic, offering an unforgettable experience for children. The event also includes s’mores stations, seasonal drinks, and a Holiday Marketplace where you can purchase unique gifts. Families can explore both the gardens and the mansion.

Must-Visit Stops

While at Holiday Lights, don’t miss the chance to visit some key spots. Stop by the Reindeer Village to see live reindeer up close. Next, make sure to walk through the Walled Garden, which boasts the most stunning light installations. Lastly, head to the Holiday Marketplace for some hot cocoa and a unique shopping experience. Make your visit complete by savoring the festive atmosphere that fills the air.

Exclusively for late-night adventures, Cheekwood offers special entry tickets after 8:30 PM, making it a perfect last-stop to end your night on a high note. For more details, check out Holiday Lights at Cheekwood.


A festive market with twinkling lights, wooden stalls, and a giant Christmas tree. Families gather to enjoy holiday treats, live music, and festive decorations

Christkindlmarkts are German-style Christmas markets filled with festive stalls, traditional food, and joyful activities. These markets bring a sense of old-world charm and holiday spirit to various locations across the USA.

History and Significance

Christkindlmarkts originated in Germany in the late Middle Ages. Their purpose was to celebrate Advent and provide villagers with an opportunity to buy supplies for winter. Over time, these markets evolved and spread to other countries, including the USA. In cities like Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Christkindlmarkt has become a cherished tradition, often featuring authentic German crafts, foods, and entertainment.

Unique Features

One standout feature of Christkindlmarkts is their emphasis on traditional German culture. Expect to find handcrafted items such as wooden toys, glass ornaments, and intricate nutcrackers. Food is also a highlight, with stalls offering treats like bratwurst, stollen, and glühwein (mulled wine). Many markets also have ice skating rinks, live music, and visits from Santa Claus, making them perfect for families.

Must-Visit Stops

In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the Christkindlmarkt is a top destination. Held at PNC Plaza in SteelStacks, it features numerous vendors selling unique holiday gifts. Another notable market is the Carmel Christkindlmarkt in Indiana. Known for its festive trolley rides and seasonal activities, it offers delicious drinks, snacks, and plenty of shopping opportunities.

For a unique experience in the sunny south, visit the Christkindlmarkt in Lake Worth, Florida. It’s organized by the American German Club and offers a delightful blend of old-world charm and Florida sunshine.

These markets provide charming and festive atmospheres perfect for family excursions during the holiday season.

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Christmas Town at Busch Gardens

Colorful lights adorn festive buildings, while a towering Christmas tree sparkles in the center of the town square. Families stroll through the streets, enjoying holiday music and the scent of hot cocoa

At Christmas Town at Busch Gardens, you’ll experience one of the largest Christmas light displays in North America, festive food and drink options, and attractions tailored for families. This annual event captures the holiday spirit with unique features and must-visit stops.

History and Significance

Christmas Town has become a cherished holiday tradition at Busch Gardens. Located in Williamsburg, Virginia, it first opened in November 2009. Since then, it has attracted visitors from all over the country. The park transforms into a winter wonderland, showcasing the beauty and magic of the season.

The event features over ten million twinkling lights. This extensive display has earned it recognition as one of the most spectacular Christmas celebrations in the United States. It also emphasizes the importance of family-friendly festivities, creating lasting memories year after year.

Unique Features

One of the standout features of Christmas Town is the transformation of the entire park. Busch Gardens becomes a enchanting place filled with lights, themed decorations, and festive music. The event includes special attractions such as the Holly Jolly Express. This train ride lets you see giraffes, rhinos, and zebras while listening to holiday tunes.

Visitors can enjoy live entertainment and holiday shows. The park offers seasonal food and drinks, with options like Christmas cocktails, cookies, and hot cocoa. The Christmas Town Sampler Lanyard allows you to try various holiday treats at a set price, making it a convenient way to experience the culinary delights.

Must-Visit Stops

In Christmas Town, there are several must-visit stops that you won’t want to miss. One highlight is the Festive Food and Beverage Cabins. These cabins offer a range of holiday treats, from savory snacks to sweet desserts. Make sure to try some local favorites.

The light displays are another major attraction. Be sure to stroll through the park to see them all. Additionally, don’t miss the Williamsburg holiday market where you can shop for unique gifts and souvenirs.

Enjoy animal encounters and themed holiday rides. The joy of the season comes alive with dazzling fireworks ending the night on a high note.

Visit Busch Gardens Christmas Town to learn more about the event and plan your visit.


A festive winter scene with colorful lights, holiday decorations, and families enjoying Christmas festivities at a Zoolights event in the USA

During the holiday season, several zoos across the USA transform into enchanted wonderlands filled with twinkling lights and festive events. These Zoolights events attract families and visitors by offering unique features and memorable experiences.

History and Significance

Zoolights started as simple holiday light displays in a few select zoos. Over time, these displays grew more elaborate, drawing larger crowds each year. For many families, visiting Zoolights has become a cherished holiday tradition.

One prime example is the annual U.S. Bank Wild Lights at Saint Louis Zoo. This event features over a million dazzling lights. These events not only celebrate the Christmas spirit but also raise awareness about wildlife conservation.

The Indianapolis Zoo is also celebrating its 53rd year of Christmas at the Zoo, making it a long-standing tradition for locals and visitors alike.

Unique Features

Zoolights are not just about lights; they offer unique attractions that vary from zoo to zoo. The Lehigh Valley Zoo’s Winter Light Spectacular includes a walkthrough of beautiful displays and various festive activities.

Some zoos host special events such as breakfast and dinner with Santa, giving children a chance to meet Santa in a magical setting. The Saint Louis Zoo also offers sensory-friendly nights to accommodate all guests.

Walking through illuminated tunnels or seeing a 40-foot lighted tree at the U.S. Bank Wild Lights are among the standout features that make these events unforgettable.

Must-Visit Stops

Certain Zoolights events are must-visits due to their exceptional displays and popularity. One such event is the Festival of Lights at Cincinnati Zoo, one of the longest-running and most beloved. It runs from November 19 through January 9.

The Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago is another notable destination, showcasing large-scale light displays that captivate visitors young and old. For those near Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Zoo offers a top-rated Zoolights experience that’s perfect for getting into the holiday spirit.

Frequently Asked Questions

A bustling Christmas market with colorful lights, festive decorations, and families enjoying holiday activities like ice skating and visiting Santa's workshop

Here are some popular questions about family-friendly Christmas festivals in the USA. You’ll find helpful details on top destinations, affordable options, and places with snow or warm weather for the holidays.

What are some top family-friendly Christmas festival destinations in the USA?

Check out Santa’s Wonderland in College Station, Texas, the largest Christmas experience in the state. Another top spot is the Christmas Prelude in Maine, featuring Santa visits and a lobster trap Christmas tree.

Which destinations offer affordable Christmas vacation options for families?

Cities like Boston, Massachusetts, offer festive yet affordable Christmas experiences. The city turns into a winter wonderland with holiday markets and events, making it a magical but budget-friendly option.

What are the best all-inclusive Christmas vacation packages for families?

The Sherry-Netherland in New York and Marriott’s Willow Ridge Lodge offer all-inclusive packages that cover lodging, food, and festive activities. These options allow families to enjoy the holidays without worrying about additional costs.

Can you recommend family-friendly places with snow to spend Christmas in the USA?

For a snowy Christmas, Maine is a top choice with its high snowfall and festive events. Kennebunkport offers an 11-day festival and snow-filled charm. Boston also provides a winter wonderland experience with its coastal location.

Where can families find warm destinations to celebrate Christmas in the States?

California cities like Los Angeles and San Diego are great for warm-weather Christmas celebrations. You can enjoy festive lights and parades without the chill, making it ideal for those who prefer a milder climate during the holidays.

What are some budget-friendly Christmas travel destinations in the USA?

Destinations like College Station, Texas, and parts of New England like Ogunquit, Maine, offer budget-friendly Christmas experiences. These locations provide festive activities. You can find light displays and holiday markets without breaking the bank.

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