Who says there's no place like home for the holidays? Some of the world's best travel destinations are also home to uniquely fun, quirky, and in some cases downright rowdy holiday celebrations. Here, some of our favorites.
Party in Key West. This town knows how to have a good time, and the holidays are no exception. Check out the Harbor Walk of Lights along the Historic Seaport, take tours of historic decorated inns, take in the town’s legendary lighted parade, and welcome in the New Year in what may be America’s ultimate party zone, the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square.
Ski in a Colorado Winter Wonderland. Got kids? They may think you sprung for a trip to the North Pole at Keystone Ski Resort in the Colorado Rockies. They’ll love the world’s largest snow fort, a Chocolate Village (yes, you heard that right – 8,000 lbs of chocolate including a chocolate ski gondola, chocolate waterfall, and even a chocolate Christmas tree!), a Ski Village Parade, plus Kids Ski Free when families book two or more nights, including weekends and holidays. And Keystone’s charming Sleigh Ride Dinners are like something out of Currier and Ives.
Welcome Santa Claus in... Waikiki Beach! Think you’ve seen a Santa or two? You haven’t really seen Santa Claus until you’ve seen him arrive at Waikiki Beach’s Outrigger Resort in a traditional Hawaiian canoe, greeted by hula dancers. And that’s just one part of the city of Honolulu’s unique annual celebration, which includes its City Lights displays, food booths, children’s rides, and an electric light parade. And as winter arrives, Hawaii is always a good idea!
Ride the Real-Life Polar Express in... Colorado! The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, in Durango, CO, brings the children's book The Polar Express to life with rides that take families to the North Pole and back-complete with a festive atmosphere and plenty of holiday fun.
Battle of the Big City Christmas Trees. Think NYC's Rockefeller Center has the biggest Christmas tree in the U.S.? Think again. The honor actually belongs to Los Angeles-the 100-foot tree at The Grove shopping center is typically the biggest in America. Of course, Rockefeller Center is a must-stop for December visitors to New York, along with a stroll up nearby Fifth Avenue for the window displays, a hot pretzel, and some ice skating. (You can probably tell I'm partial to Rockefeller Center—my dad worked for NBC when I was a boy, and these days Budget Travel editors make weekly appearances on the Weather Channel's AMHQ at 30 Rock.)
Dickens Brings A Christmas Carol to Life.Gerald Dickens, that is. Charles Dickens's great-great-grandson carries on the tradition, started by the Victorian author himself, of publicly performing the world-famous ghost story and embodying the characters of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and others. Gerald Dickens is currently touring the U.S. Learn more about the esteemed performer's work and upcoming performances of A Christmas Carol and other great literary works at GeraldDickens.com.
North Dakota Fruitcake Toss. The Christmas dessert everybody loves to hate takes center state at the Dickens Village Festival in Garrison, ND, where contestants compete to see who can throw a fruitcake the farthest. The Dickens Village Festival runs Fridays and Saturdays, including a parade, carriage rides, and lots of fun. (Full disclosure: I actually like fruitcake. But I wouldn't mind chucking one in the spirit of the season!)
Santa Claus, Indiana, Offers a Unique Postmark. Hundreds of thousands of kids will send letters and Christmas cards to Santa Claus this year. Santa Claus, Indiana that is. The town offers a one-of-a-kind postmark each year, inspiring people to send their letters and cards there so they can be stamped with the uniquely adorable work of art, created each year by a local student. And if you're in the Santa Claus, Indiana, area this month, don't miss the epic, mile-long Santa Claus Land of Lights, one of the biggest holiday light displays in America.
Hanukkah in Jerusalem Is Like No Other Festival. No city celebrates this festival of lights quite like Jerusalem, with giant menorahs in public squares and a tradition of sharing freshly cooked hot doughnuts during the festivities. Regardless of your faith and cultural background, a trip to Jerusalem will inspire and inform you as only an ancient—yet very much modern—metropolis can.
The New Year's Eve Trophy Goes To...Edinburgh! Sure, American cities like New York, Las Vegas, and Orlando sure know how to light up the night on New Year's Eve. But Edinburgh, Scotland, takes the prize for its three-day festival, Hogmanay, that includes concerts, torchlight parades, much public drinking, an immense crowd singing "Auld Lang Syne" (and they presumably know what it means, unlike the rest of us!), and a New Year's Day parade and jump into the icy River Forth. Talk about shaking off a hangover!