Cozy Christmassy towns
By Sydni Ellis
There’s a reason so many big-city characters travel to small towns in Hallmark movies. The charming town squares, twinkling lights, friendly neighbors, festive parades, sweet Christmas tree farms, romantic horse-drawn carriage rides, and snow everywhere — what’s not to love?
If you’ve ever wished you could jump in your TV and live out your own holiday fantasy, we completely understand. Instead, pack your bags and travel to cozy Christmassy towns that exist in real life. These quaint destinations are just a small sample of places to visit in the U.S. — and there are many— that might get you in the spirit of the season. Make sure to bring your favorite Christmas sweaters, money for all the cute souvenirs you’ll want to buy, and plenty of holiday cheer. This is going to be a holiday to remember!
Caroling is a staple of every good Christmas movie, which is why it’s the first thing you should do when visiting Wilmington, North Carolina. This town is the setting for Hallmark’s Christmas in Harmony because of its pretty weather and festive activities. On Dec. 17-18 and Dec. 23-24, you can sing Christmas carols with Santa on a horse-drawn carriage or trolley, with pretty horses dressed up like reindeer to add to the experience. Tickets are $14, horsedrawntours.com. Or go on a cruise with Wilmington Water Tours to see the colorful holiday lights set up a long the Wilmington Riverwalk on Friday and Saturday nights ($25/person) wilmingtonwatertours.net.
Wilmington is also famous for its Cape Fear Festival of Trees inside the North Carolina Aquarium, happening now through Jan. 3, 2022. These uniquely decorated Christmas trees are set against a stunning aquatic backdrop, providing plenty of amazing photo ops, ncaquariums.com/fort-fisher. Later, see the more than one million twinkling lights and festive flowers at Enchanted Airlie, part of Airlie Gardens. Tickets are $30/car and include admission to wander the gardens decked out in lights and music. Grab some hot cocoa to enjoy while walking through this winter wonderland, airliegardens.org.
Feel like getting some shopping done? Wilmington offers plenty of boutiques and holiday markets to explore. You can also find big-brand stores at Mayfaire Town Center, where you can shop in between taking pictures with Santa and listening to classic holiday music. A Christmas Shoppe in Historic Downtown Wilmington is another can’t-miss, as this is the town’s only year-round Christmas store featuring old fashioned ornaments, artisan gifts, coastal décor, and so much more. It’s a perfect place to score some souvenirs! achristmasshoppeilm.com.
In the evening, check in at the gorgeous C.W. Worth House Bed and Breakfast, a historic Victorian mansion built in 1893. It has romantic rooms, a cozy porch, a gourmet breakfast, and plenty of little details to make your stay special, like claw foot tubs and crystal chandeliers. The owners say they are committed to providing a “memorable experience and delightful stay,” and love helping guests find things to do to make their holiday even more wonderful. Learn more at worthhouse.com.
Many small towns in Connecticut have been the setting for Hallmark movies, like My Christmas Family Tree (even though the actual movie was filmed in Canada). Explore the charming New England town of Mystic, Connecticut, for a wonderful Christmas vacation this month. The Lantern Light Village illuminates the Mystic Seaport Museum from December 10 – 22 for $29/person. Roam the outdoor area that takes you through holiday décor of now and vintage décor of the 19th century lit by authentic kerosene lamps. This event will also have live music, horse and carriage rides, warm fire pits, a visit from St. Nicholas, and holiday-themed crafts and games, mysticseaport.org.
More lights can be found at the Holiday Lights Spectacular in the charming Olde Mistick Village. More than half a million lights transform the village into a holiday dream, where guests can go shopping or dining surrounded by festive cheer. On Dec. 10, attend the Festival of Lights & Luminaria event, complete with live music, treats, and hundreds of luminaries to light your path, oldemistickvillage.com. Next, take a scene straight out of a Christmas movie: wander through a Christmas tree farm! The family-owned Yetter Road Tree Farm is a Mystic tradition, featuring all kinds of firs, spruces, and pines to explore, while snapping tons of pictures. Even if you can’t take a tree all the way home, stop by the gift shop to pick up a custom wreath, decoration, handmade item, or ornament souvenir.
Take a break with dinner at Mystic Pizza, inspiration for the ‘80s Julia Roberts film of the same name. Then check into Stonecroft, an 1807 country inn complete with canopy beds, glowing fireplaces, homemade breakfast, and gorgeous surrounding gardens — which may be covered in snow during your visit! stonecroft.com.
Known as Christmas City thanks to its unique name, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is one of the most holly jolly places to visit this year. It is the setting of Lifetime’s Radio Christmas (although it was filmed in Canada) and contains tons of holiday-themed activities to do. The Christkindlmarkt features unique gifts from more than 150 fine artisans, live Christmas music, hearty laughter from St. Nick, handmade ornaments and nutcrackers from Germany, and a picture-perfect atmosphere until Dec. 19.
Also happening is a Live Advent Calendar, hosted by the Downtown Bethlehem Association, where special guests will open their business doors each night on Main Street to countdown to Christmas and distribute treats to the crowd each night through Dec. 23. It’s one of the only live advents in the country! Other activities in Bethlehem include horse-drawn carriage rides, holiday house tours, old fashioned holiday decorations and activities, and tons of delicious hot cocoa.
Don’t miss the Christmas Huts on Main in historic downtown Bethlehem, where you can see holiday-themed wooden huts from unique vendors offering holiday gifts to stock up on. Another place to get a fantastic gift, the Moravian Book Shop, which was founded in 1745 and is the oldest, continuously operated bookstore in the world! You can even sample beer and chocolates while shopping for souvenirs, moravian.edu. For a dazzling display of Christmas lights, head to the Lehigh Valley Zoo for their Winter Light Spectacular ($15/person). There are more than 1.2 million lights here, as well as fire pits, seasonal treats, live music, and appearances by Disney princesses. Tickets at lvzoo.org.
Spend the night in the Historic Hotel Bethlehem on Main Street, featuring an elegant lobby, world-class services, and award-winning cuisine. It’s been a home away from home for visitors since it opened in 1741, where it comes alive this time of year with unique Christmas décor, 35,000 glowing lights, seven-foot toy soldiers, life-sized nutcrackers, and an amazing gingerbread house that looks like the hotel on display. It’s enchanting! hotelbethlehem.com.
Holiday movies are designed to give you warm and fuzzy feelings this time of year, and these three Christmas towns are the same. You’ll come looking for a vacation and leave feeling like the happiest kid on Christmas morning. The beautiful lights, uplifting music, and charming Christmas events only happen once a year, so be sure to make the most of it. And don’t forget to take videos, so you can capture all your merry memories to last forever — that’s even better than a movie, anyway.