There’s no place like home for the holidays, but maybe this year, there’s somewhere better. In fact, one-third of all Americans will travel this holiday season, according to AAA, the largest number since the membership organization began keeping track of holiday travel.
If you’ve been thinking about traveling more this year, you’re in good company: Baby Boomers plan to take four to five leisure trips this year—about half will travel in the U.S., and about half will travel both domestically and abroad, according to AARP. These boomer travelers plan to spend more than $6,600 on 2019 travel. AARP research also shows that 57% of Baby Boomers name spending time with family and friends as their main reason for taking a vacation, with a close 48% saying that they travel to relax and rejuvenate.
So if you’re looking for a different way to celebrate the winter holidays with your spouse, family or even solo this holiday season, here are some festive locations to give you that holly jolly feeling while taking a much-needed break. From a farmhouse in New Hampshire to the wilds of Africa, we’ve got destinations that will definitely help you get into the holiday spirit. Listen for the sleigh bells, look for the brightly lit trees and buckle up for a great holiday adventure.
Celebrating Close to Home: Holiday Adventures in the USA
Many travelers think only of the big cities when it comes to holiday locales: Tourists head to Chicago for the millions of lights on the Magnificent Mile or enjoy Chi-Town’s German heritage at the famous Christkindlmarkt, a Christmas market. New York City is another popular holiday stop with the iconic store window displays, the massive Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center and hearing the iconic Rockettes sing and dance the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes®. But, there are other lesser-known places that will get you in the holiday spirit.
Christmas Farm Inn: Jackson, New Hampshire
If you’re looking for an old-fashioned New England Christmas, then the Christmas Farm Inn & Spa is the place for you and your family this year. This 15-acre resort goes all out with holiday decorations. The main house built in 1778 is bursting with holiday-inspired rooms; eat in at The Mistletoe Pub for a cozy dinner. Just a short drive away, the White Mountain ski slopes await if you’re ready to hit the slopes. Nearby Santa’s Village provides fun for kids of all ages—especially if your grandchildren join you on the trip.
The Inn at Christmas Place: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
It’s Christmas all year round at this festive hotel in the Smoky Mountains. At The Inn at Christmas Place, Christmas decorations stay up all year long, and each room has its own decorated Christmas tree. The Inn at Christmas Place offers guests free breakfasts with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, along with a myriad of holiday activities for every member of the family. Pigeon Forge is filled with holiday events and locales to make sure you’re filled to the brim with holiday cheer; in addition Dollywood is nearby and offers its own array of holiday offerings.
An Alpine adventure in Leavenworth, Washington
In the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, just two hours from the hustle and bustle of Seattle, lies the town of Leavenworth. In the 1960s, the town was given a complete facelift to resemble an Alpine village nestled in the Swiss Alps, and that aesthetic just adds to the holiday ambiance at Christmas time. Once December 1 rolls around, this snowy village becomes a winter wonderland covered in more than 500,000 lights. Holiday festivities including caroling, visits with Santa, roasted chestnuts, boutique holiday shopping, sledding, sleigh rides and more. It’s truly the holiday destination of your dreams with a full calendar of holiday events to last you all season long.
Menorahs and more: Hanukkah celebrations across the nation
Washington, DC offers a wide array of Hanukkah celebrations. The National Menorah Lighting is a popular event that draws thousands of participants every holiday season. The event features hot latkes, music and fun for the whole family on the National Mall (tickets are required but the event is free). In San Antonio, Texas, Chabad Lubavitch hosts an annual Hanukkah event on the San Antonio River Walk, including a Hanukkah River Barge cruise. Park Slope in Brooklyn, New York offers a 32- foot tall Menorah lighting each night of Hanukkah and there are many additional events around the city to celebrate the eight-day festival.
Adding International Flair to Your Holidays
If you’re looking to stray a little bit farther from home this holiday season, hear "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World" in foreign languages, and see the world, here are a few stellar ideas.
Christmas markets in Central and Eastern Europe
Europe is famous for its bucolic and festive Christmas markets. The dates for the markets vary, but most open near the end of November and run until the first week of January. If you need to get in the holiday spirit, what better place to find than in these beautiful Old World markets? Tallinn Market (Keskturg)in Estonia was named the best European Christmas Market by European Best Destinations’ readers. This market is right out of a fairy tale, and boasts Europe’s oldest Christmas tree, which has been set up in the square since 1441.
Advent, singing to saints and December traditions
The Advent Fest in Budapest is another popular destination for European travelers. Visitors can fill up on traditional holiday treats and go ice-skating in the square. From Italy to Holland and throughout Eastern Europe, you will find celebrations of St. Nicholas, traditionally on December 5-6. In Salzburg, Austria, you can catch a special parade featuring more St. Nicholas' scary counterpart, Krampus.
If you happen to be in Scandinavia on December 13, you will hear the sounds of singing "Santa Lucia" before you see the candlelit crowns in celebration of Santa Lucia Day. Children process and sing, and hand out saffron buns at schools and home. Make sure you enjoy some glögg (mulled wine with almonds and raisins) and gingerbread cookies.
Meet Santa Claus in his village in Finland
If you want to be where Santa is this holiday, then head north to the Arctic Circle in Finland to Santa Claus Village. You can take a Lapland Safari, visit Santa’s reindeer, and if you need even more Santa Claus in your holiday, visit SantaPark and take a train ride with Santa or even learn to be one of his elves in Elf School. For a truly out-of-this-world hotel experience, stay in the Arctic Tree House Hotel and see the Northern Lights from the comfort of your warm bed. (If you've been to the Tallinn Christmas Market or enjoying Santa Lucia in Sweden, you can take a ferry to Helsinki, and then head to the Arctic Circle by train, getting a taste of Central and Northern European traditions).
Holiday Adventures abound in Uganda, Africa
Maybe you’re looking for a true adventure this holiday season. You can’t go wrong visiting Uganda in December. The frequent rains stop in December, so it makes it a prime time for land and boat safaris. This is the low season for tourists, as well, so overall prices are lower and a lot of the locals are also on vacation. For a luxury hotel experience, check out the Kampala Serena Hotel, which is set on 17 acres of water gardens in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. You can relax at the Maisha Spa and Health Club with its Swedish saunas and Turkish steam rooms.
Hanukkah in the City of Lights
If you need a reason to visit Paris, then you couldn’t pick a better one than celebrating the Festival of Lights. Paris is chock full of Hanukkah activities and events, including a public Menorah lighting at the Eiffel Tower. Jewish bakeries serve up all the best Hanukkah specialties, like latkes. Early December is a good time to visit Paris when you will find discounted rooms available in advance of the holiday rush.
Tips for booking a last-minute holiday adventure
If you’ve decided to head out of town in December, it’s definitely not too late to make stellar travel plans, on a budget. Here are three ways to make the most of your planning:
Be flexible with your dates and destinations as you plan your holiday travel plans. Sunday can be one of the more expensive days to fly, but simply moving your return to a Monday or Tuesday can make a big difference in the price of your ticket. While you can still find smashing deals 14 to 21 days before your trip, you should probably expect that airfare becomes more expensive the closer you get to your travel dates. You can use Google Flight Search, which tells you how much money you’ll save if, say, you depart a day earlier or fly into a different airport.
In addition, it’s helpful to know that AAA names December 22, 23 and 26, as the busiest days in airports during the holiday season; fewer travelers choose Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for traveling. These two days seem to be the cheapest when it comes to finding air travel deals over the holidays.
Find boutique hotels in a flash. For example, a site like HotelTonight can connect you with a boutique property that would've taken you hours of research to uncover on your own. Despite the name, with HotelTonight you can book up to a week in advance or catch a last-minute deal, plus they’ll share need-to-know tips and connect you with their in-house concierge before you arrive.
Rely on the pros. If you don’t like to waste time poring over hotels, hire a travel pro to match you with the right fit—often at an unadvertised rate. Some may add a small fee to expedite last-minute plans (and make a few urgent phone calls on your behalf), but an accredited organization will give you peace of mind that your vacation has been fully vetted. You can also contact a region's tourist board for information on local celebrations.
Remember to pack your patience! Holiday travel can mean long lines at airports, families traveling with young children excitedly awaiting Santa and weather-related delays.
If this is your first around-the-holidays vacation, you might just be starting a new tradition in your retirement years—driving or jetting away to an unforgettable destination. Plus, this might be a great opportunity to invite your immediate or extended family for a trip away during the happiest time of the year.
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