Twinkling lights reflect the gently falling snow, setting the stage for a New England-style white Christmas. You’ll find small town squares with pines draped in a thousand lights, fragrant branches, wreaths adorned with ribbons and velvety knickknacks, and the aroma of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg wafts through the air. Christmas celebrations in New England towns are steeped in the decades-long tradition of coming together to say goodbye to the past year and prepare for the arrival of the promising New Year. These charming towns have the best Christmas celebrations that are sure to enhance your Christmas spirit.
Whether you want an old-fashioned celebration; a stroll through a raging collection of colored lights; richly decorated historic mansions; or a quaint, family-friendly locomotive ride, you’ll love visiting these New England towns. These holiday season stars are listed in no particular order.
1. Kennebunkport, Maine
The Christmas prelude to Kennebunkport is scheduled for December 2-12. This 40th anniversary celebration offers guests 10 days of fun and entertaining activities. The celebration kicks off with the annual Dock Square Tree lighting on December 3.
Other holiday events during the celebration include the lighting of the Cape Porpoise lobster trap tree, a parade of hats, Christmas carols at the Franciscan monastery, the arrival of Santa Claus by lobster boat and the Pooch parade. The event is always a convivial and festive moment.
Pro tip: A charming maritime town, you can find out more about where to stay and what to see during your visit in our guide to the best things to do in Kennebunkport.
2. Portsmouth, New Hampshire
The Strawbery Banke Museum presents the Candlelight Walk under the Stars, a breathtaking outdoor lighting experience. Enjoy the illuminated exteriors of the museum’s historic buildings where the designers have crafted a magical display in a beautiful glittering wonderland. Stop by the Strawbery Banke Museum on one of the first three Saturdays (5 to 9 p.m.) and Sundays (4 to 8 p.m.) of December for a delightful holiday stroll.
On Saturday 4th December, the illuminated holiday parade and tree lighting transform the Portsmouth coast into a glittering winter wonderland. The Tree Lighting Ceremony in Market Square begins at 5:25 p.m. The parade begins at 6:00 p.m. and takes place along sections of Islington Street.
From December 1 to 19, The Historic Theater presents The Ogunquit Playhouse production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Enjoying a theatrical production of this centuries-old musical is a wonderful way to savor the Christmas season.
Pro tip: New England’s coastal road trips take on a frigid appeal in the winter. When visiting Portsmouth, consider a short drive to Bangor or Boston for a different perspective of the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean.
3. Woodstock, Vermont
Experience Christmas at Billings Farm where you can explore traditional Victorian decorations and traditions with friends and family. On-farm demonstrations include candle soaking and gingerbread ornament making accompanied by traditional holiday stories.
Christmas at the Farm is Saturday, December 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and it’s fun for the whole family.
The Wassail Weekend at Billings Farm in Woodstock runs December 10-12. The festivities begin at 10 a.m. and continue throughout the day until 4 p.m. On Sunday December 12, horse-drawn carriage or sleigh rides are offered (depending on conditions). Visit the Dairy Bar for a delicious cider donut and a cup of wassail, a hot cider with spices. Wassailing is a charming English Christmas tradition where neighbors get together with neighbors to toast a good crop of cider apples in the coming year.
Pro tip: Visit our guide to the best things to do and see in Woodstock for great tips on where to stay and play in this charming little town.
4. Sturbridge, Massachusetts
Christmas by candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village will transport you to Christmas in colonial times. Stroll through the village and enjoy a cool December evening admiring the traditional holiday decorations that adorn the houses in the village. Walk the Christmas Tree Trail where you are surrounded by fragrant pine trees and twinkling lights. Immerse yourself in the spirit of yesteryear with stories handed down from generation to generation, then climb aboard the horse-drawn tote for a scenic winter ride around the village. Christmas by Candlelight is open from Friday December 3 and select evenings until Thursday December 30. Be sure to check the Old Sturbridge Village calendar for specific days and times.
Pro tip: Old Sturbridge Village is a unique living museum where you can dive into the heart of colonial life.
5. Foxborough, Massachusetts
Gillette Stadium in Foxborough is home to the New England Patriots. It also houses the Magic of Lights, a driving light show. From November 13 to January 19, 5 p.m. to 9:25 p.m., it’s guaranteed to amplify your holiday spirit. Travel through the 200-foot-long illuminated tunnel as it envelops you in a sparkling Wonderland environment. As you travel the over 1 mile course, you will encounter over 40 different scenes and paintings of inspiring lighting. You’ll dream of recreating these beauties in your own front yard… maybe next year.
Magic of Lights operates in many locations across New England.
Pro tip: The cost for this event is per wagon, so pack all of your friends and family in the SUV and head to Foxborough for an inspiring lighting adventure.
6. Newport, Rhode Island
The Golden Age mansions in Newport are stunning any time of year, but when decorated for Christmas, it’s a holiday extravaganza. The Breakers, The Elms, and Marble House are adorned with garlands, wreaths, trees, balls, lights, and copious amounts of silver and gold. The luxurious and breathtaking decorations are on display from November 20; please check their event calendar for specific days and times.
The Sparkling Lights at the Breakers is a spectacular outdoor walking adventure that travels through The Breakers Gardens. The easily navigable trails offer beautiful displays and lighting boards at every turn. With nearly half of the 13 hectares of the manor house sparkling with a thousand lights, you will be surprised and delighted with the ornate displays.
The mansions of the Newport area are spectacularly dressed in their Christmas ornaments. Check out our story on the Newport Mansions At Christmas for more information and great photos.
Pro tip: Newport is a lovely place for a weekend getaway, and we’ve got some great ideas on where to stay, dine, and play that will make your planning easier.
7. Bethlehem, Connecticut
When you’re in the mood for a charming old-fashioned New England Christmas, the Christmas Town Festival will bring you back to a simpler, family-focused Christmas celebration. For 2 days, on December 3 and 4, the city turns into a festival of joy and seasonal good humor.
The mostly free events include tree lighting, Christmas concerts, a fire engine parade, artisans, a scavenger hunt, a Bell concert and Santa Claus arriving on a fire truck.
Each year a unique and specially designed town ornament is made from pewter and is available for sale. The style of these collectible ornaments has changed over the years, but the feeling remains the same: Christmas is a time to celebrate friends and family. You can buy ornaments since 1982, they will give your tree an old-fashioned colonial feel.
Pro tip: Spending a quiet weekend in this charming little town will give you an American dream feeling where just enjoying life is the key to happiness.
Christmas train rides in New England
Christmas train rides are a wonderful way to experience a special adventure with the young people in your life. All over New England, train stations are gearing up for a ride inspired by the North Pole. Copious amounts of hot chocolate are smoking, cookies are baking, stationery for Santa’s letters is printed, and the elf molding is almost complete.
We’ve compiled a list of small towns that celebrate the big time when it comes to visiting the North Pole by train. A train ride through the local landscape is a wonderful way to celebrate the arrival of the Christmas season.
The Essex Steam Train and River Boat in Essex, Connecticut is a 90-minute train ride filled with sugar cookies, singing songs, and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Enjoy a breakfast, pizza, or sunset train ride with Santa on the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad in Unity, Maine.
The Polar Express train ride from Buzzards Bay, MA brings the film to life. Each car has costumed drivers and entertaining waiters creating an immersive experience. Wear your pajamas and pack your camera for this exciting ride.
The Hobo and Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad operates the Santa Express trains in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Enjoy the magnificent panoramic views of Winnipesaukee while meeting Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus.
Another Polar Express train ride to the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum in Portland, Maine takes guests to the North Pole where they can see Santa Claus preparing his sleigh for his Christmas deliveries.
Whether you like a Christmas in the back of the house, in a small town; a scenic train ride through the winter wonderland; a lively and energetic festival; or a ride through a tunnel of light, you will find many New England towns that have wonderful Christmas celebrations. Schedule a date with your friends and family, get away from all the crazy prep and just enjoy each other in the spirit of the season.