Credit: @roddypittman on Instagram
New York State is full of charming towns that will have you feeling like you’ve stepped onto the set of a Hallmark holiday movie. Have a holly jolly time as you take an enchanting ride in a vintage train car on the Polar Express, explore Santa’s Workshop, step back in time to celebrate Christmas the Dickens way, see the world’s largest menorah, commemorate Kwanzaa with song and dance, and more. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Come celebrate at these 11 New York towns that go all out for the holidays.
Masks are encouraged, but optional in most settings per New York State guidelines. Individual businesses or attractions may require mask wearing. Call ahead and check websites and social media to make sure attractions and amenities are open and available.
JUMP TO: North Pole | Skaneateles | Seneca Falls | Cooperstown | East Aurora | Lake George | Manhattan | Ellicottville | Kingston | Corning | Saratoga Springs
1. North Pole (Adirondacks)
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It turns out you can find everything in New York—even the North Pole! This quaint hamlet of Wilmington nestled in the shadows of Whiteface Mountain is home to Santa’s Workshop, where the man in the big red suit, his helpers, and team of trusty reindeer are ready to make your holiday wishes come true. Drop off your wishlist at Santa’s house, hop on the steam train, carousel, and other kiddie rides, and see the vintage amusement park shine during the Village of Lights. There will be caroling, roaring fires, plenty of shopping, and even a Nativity Pageant. Don’t forget to stop by the U.S. Post Office to send a letter postmarked from the North Pole! Make it an Adirondack winter adventure with a stay at a cozy cabin at The Wilderness Inn and a visit to nearby Lake Placid, where you can ride down the toboggan chute, explore Olympic history, and more.
2. Skaneateles (Finger Lakes)
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Skaneateles goes all out for the holidays, going so far as to even dress up a lone tree perched at the end of the town’s pier. As you take in the sights of the season, celebrate the holidays the old-fashioned way with Dickens Christmas. The Ghost of Christmas Past along with other familiar characters from “A Christmas Carol” (and even Charles Dickens himself!) take to the streets, delighting holiday shoppers while they explore the town’s stores and restaurants as the smell of roasting chestnuts hits your nose. Carol sing-alongs, horse-drawn wagon rides, a snowman building contest, storytime with Mother Goose, and more jolly events will make you feel merry and bright at this lakefront town. Don’t forget to budget in time for yourself. Treat yourself to a massage at Mirbeau Inn & Spa before retiring to your room and cozying up to the fireplace.
3. Seneca Falls (Finger Lakes)
Fans of the beloved Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” will want to plan a trip to Seneca Falls, also known as “The Real Bedford Falls” — the fictional setting of the iconic Frank Capra film. The town hosts an annual festival in honor of the movie’s release with events and appearances by cast members, plus the traditional ringing of the bells to close out the ceremonies. The It’s a Wonderful Life Museum is open year round so you can see its vast collection of film memorabilia. You can also pay a visit to the bridge that was the inspiration for the film’s famous opening scene. Immerse yourself in Victorian splendor with a stay at Barrister’s Bed & Breakfast, an 1860 Colonial Revival home, while you explore the area’s many wineries, cheese farms, craft beverages, and Seneca Falls’ role in the women’s rights movement.
4. Cooperstown (Central New York)
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Christmas in Cooperstown is sure to be a homerun! Its downtown looks as pretty as a greeting card as its 18th-century buildings are set aglow with twinkling lights. Find Santa and Mrs. Claus at the Christmas Cottage in Pioneer Park, where there’s a mailbox to drop off letters to Kris Kringle. The Farmers’ Museum gets into the holiday spirit with lantern tours, candlelight evenings, and performances of “A Christmas Carol.” The Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad runs Santa Claus Express and North Pole Express trains that are so popular they tend to sell out each year. Even the National Baseball Hall of Fame hosts an annual holiday party that doubles as a food and toy drive. Cooperstown makes for a great spot all winterlong. Enjoy ice fishing at Otsego Lake, 300 miles of snowmobiling trails, as well as good beer and good times at Brewery Ommegang and Cooperstown Brewing Co. The Otesaga Resort Hotel, White House Inn Bed & Breakfast, Landmark Inn, and The Inn at Cooperstown all make for cozy stays.
5. East Aurora (Greater Niagara)
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Still need to check off that holiday shopping list? Head over to East Aurora, where buying local has never been easier. Find artisan wares, boutique clothing, home goods, and gift shops along its historic Main Street that gets all decked out for the holidays. Its vintage movie theater is known for taking movie theater popcorn to a whole new level and Vidler’s 5&10 is your one-stop-shop for old school candy, vintage collectibles, traditional toys, and other unique finds. Known as the Largest "5 & 10" Variety Store in the world for over 90 years, Vidler’s is also a bit of a celebrity having been featured in several made-for-tv Christmas movies. The sounds of the season fill the air as carolers from near and far gather in front of Vidler’s every year for Carolcade, celebrating its 50th year. Stay overnight at the historic Roycroft Inn, built in 1895. Nearby Buffalo, which hosts one of the largest Juneteenth festivals in the country, is also known for its big Kwanzaa celebration, featuring a flag raising, the lighting of City Hall, and nightly festivities during the weeklong observance.
6. Lake George (Adirondacks)
Credit: Photo by @AJ Mello
Take a stroll down Canada Street and admire tens of thousands of holiday lights and decorations adorning the famous lakeside Shepard Park. Transport yourself to a true winter wonderland at Ice Castles and feel the frost at winterfest with dog sledding, tubing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and more. Let the holiday spirit consume you all winter long with Winter Carnival weekends throughout February. A tradition since 1961, this family-fun attraction features the infamous outhouse races, where teams construct hilariously artistic, and hopefully aerodynamic outhouses that race across the frozen lake. Warm up with a chili cookoff and fireside s’mores or chill out with make-your-own sundaes. Stay for fireworks every Saturday night and spend the night at the Inn at Erlowest, a mansion built in 1898 offering 10 unique suites overlooking the lake. Looking to add to your arctic experience? Dine inside a glowing igloo, right on the grounds of the inn, and enjoy superb farm-to-table dining and an extensive wine list.
7. Manhattan (NYC)
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New York City in December... as if that phrase doesn’t speak for itself, everywhere you look is a wintry spectacle. Manhattan serves as the backdrop for countless holiday movies and TV shows, often easily identifiable by the holiday markets at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Grand Central Terminal, to name a few. Ice skating at Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park, and Central Park will have you feeling like the main character in your own movie. Stroll down Fifth Avenue and let the magnificent holiday window displays stop you in your (snow) tracks. Manhattan is also home to iconic holiday traditions including the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes, and NYC Ballet’s Nutcracker.
New York City also goes big for Hanukkah, holding menorah lighting ceremonies at Grandy Army Plaza in both Brooklyn and Central Park, with the latter being home to the world’s largest menorah. The Brooklyn event is celebrated with live music, hot latkes, and gifts for kids. There are also celebrations for Kwanzaa, including a day of festivities honoring African American heritage, culture, and community at the Apollo Theater and five days of music, dance, art-making, and more at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.
8. Ellicottville (Chautauqua-Allegheny)
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Ellicottville is the perfect holiday destination for wintertime adventure seekers. There’s lots to love in this one-square mile village, which has 24 shops, 23 bars and restaurants, and two ski slopes all within walking distance. Enjoy skiing, tubing, and a thrilling mountain coaster at Holiday Valley Resort. HoliMont Ski Resort is North America's largest private ski area devoted to family skiing adventures. Enjoy a seasonal brew at Ellicottville Brewing Company, take a horse-pulled wagon ride along the snow-covered 12-mile Pat McGee Trail in nearby Salamanca with Crosspatch Horse Ranch, and embark on a snowshoeing excursion through picturesque Allegany State Park. The streets of Ellicottville are also brightly lit for the holidays, with each tree wrapped in lights and shops boasting elaborately decorated windows. Make the Inn at Holiday Valley your basecamp for a memorable family getaway during this magical time of year.
9. Kingston (Hudson Valley)
This adorable town on the Hudson River, located about 90 miles north of New York City, welcomes the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus on an antique fire truck and lights up their holiday tree at its annual Snowflake Festival (plan ahead for 2023 as this year’s event has already passed). You can also take a magical train ride up to the North Pole in a vintage 1950s coach on the Catskill Mountain Railroad’s Polar Express. Be sure to head over to “Santa Claus Lane,” or Derrenbacher Street, where residents hold nothing back with their incredible light displays that would make Clark Griswold proud. Stay at Hotel Kinsley, located in a restored 19th-century New York State Bank building.
10. Corning (Finger Lakes)
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When a town is named one of the “Best Christmas Towns” in the USA, you better believe it’s worth a visit. The appropriately named “Crystal City” resembles a winter postcard with shimmering lights decorating the famous Gaffer District. Make sure to check out the massive Christmas tree covered in hand-blown glass ornaments in Centerway Square. Spend the night and get cozy at the Corning Staybridge Suites, less than one mile from the renowned Corning Museum of Glass, where you can make your own glass ornament for that special someone in your life this holiday season. On display at the museum is Kwanzaa Setting, a glass kinara holding candles representing the seven principles of the African American celebration, and Tree of Life Menorah and Hanukkah Objects to mark the Jewish festival of lights.
11. Saratoga Springs (Capital-Saratoga)
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There is endless merriment in downtown Saratoga Springs during the holidays. Local boutiques and unique shops line the main street on Broadway for picturesque holiday shopping and dining. What’s better than one Santa? Hundreds. Saratoga SantaCon is an annual, can’t-miss event, with all proceeds going to benefit the Franklin Community Center. SantaCon is the Capital District’s largest pub crawl and has been for over five years. Holiday costumes are strongly encouraged as the festive pub crawlers make their way through Downtown Saratoga Springs spreading holiday cheer. Saratoga keeps the festive spirit all year long, partying into 2023 with Saratoga New Year’s Fest. This festival takes place over two days from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day, featuring big music acts, a variety of food and beverage vendors, fireworks, a New Year’s Day 5K run, and much more. In nearby Albany, Hanukkah celebrations include a menorah lighting at the Colonie Center and Kwanzaa kicks off with a grand celebration at the New York State Museum.
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