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Christmas on the East Coast

The holiday season is upon us, which means it's time to brush off the winter coat and pull out the hot cocoa. Before long, holiday decorations, light displays, and Christmas markets will be popping up along the U.S. East Coast, and if you're anything like us, then you'll be counting down the days until Santa Claus comes to town. While you wait, why not book an excursion to explore the sights and sounds of the holidays on the East Coast? We’ve rounded up five fabulous destinations that are sure to make your holiday season magical and memorable.

Baltimore

A visit to Baltimore over the holidays offers a variety of ways to celebrate the season, from iconic light displays to festive events you’ll only find in Charm City. From Thanksgiving through Christmas, enjoy an authentic German Christmas Market right in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The wintry wonderland features dozens of vendors selling handcrafted wares from around the globe. Rest your feet and enjoy German bratwurst and pretzels, paired perfectly with German beer or mulled wine — as local choirs and musical artists dazzle the crowd. 

The outdoor Inner Harbor Ice Rink is another favorite attraction, where you can lace up your skates and enjoy the view from atop the Amphitheater overlooking the water. When the chill sets in, head indoors to the B&O Railroad Museum, where you’ll find the Holiday Festival of Trains. Throughout the month of December, the museum transforms into a train lover's paradise, with awe-inspiring train displays and train rides on the Reindeer Railway and the Polar Express. 

Be sure to catch the many decorative displays throughout the city, including the Hampden neighborhood’s “Miracle on 34th Street” display, a tradition started over 70 years ago by a local couple. Another favorite is the Zoo Lights at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, where you’ll find lights shaped like wildlife and plenty of space to stroll through the festive grounds. Watch for special events on the Zoo Lights calendar, including an evening of unlimited beer and wine tasting or a holiday music fest with ice sculptures; in this season of giving, it’s nice to know that every ticket supports animal care and conservation. 

 Christmas lights at night, in Hampden, Baltimore, Maryland

Boston

By late November and early December, Boston comes alive with festive Christmas trees, lights, and decorations throughout the city — with two of the largest trees at Boston Common and Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Venture to SoWa’s Winter Festival, the biggest holiday market in Boston. There, you can sip hot mulled wine or Baileys hot cocoa as you shop from dozens of local artisans and food vendors and explore artist studios, galleries, showrooms, and boutiques.

Fancy some time in the great outdoors? Head to Boston Common for ice skating, or stroll over to Columbus Park to take in 50,000 blue and white sparkling holiday lights illuminating the trellis and trees. Or book a holiday cruise around Boston Harbor to enjoy holiday carols and cozy drinks or a New Year’s Eve cruise to ring in the new year.

You have your pick of joyful Christmas activities in Boston over the holidays. Catch an unforgettable performance of The Nutcracker by the Boston Ballet at the Boston Opera House, or enjoy a Holiday Pops concert at Symphony Halls. As the city comes alive with carolers, Christmas shopping, festive displays, and holiday cheer, it’s easy to see why Boston is a must-see for your holiday adventures.

Winter season Boston Public Garden at Back Bay

New York City

There’s a reason (or countless) that people flock to New York City over the holidays. There’s simply nothing quite as magical as seeing Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and many other iconic destinations in person. Provided you’re geared up for crowds and cold weather, you’re sure to have the adventure of a lifetime in the Big Apple.

Dating back to 1933, the traditional Rockefeller Christmas Tree ceremony in Midtown Manhattan happens around the end of November or early December. Standing at least 75 feet tall, adorned with more than 50,000 lights, and topped with a sparkling Swarovski star, the tree is breathtaking to behold and perfect for selfie-snapping.

Kick off your Christmas shopping at the Union Square Holiday Market, where the aroma of hot apple cider and roasting nuts wafts through the air. Bundle up and take an edge off the chill with hot cocoa or mulled wine as you find unique holiday gifts and soak up every moment of this classic NYC experience. Prepare for a crowd, as this is the largest Christmas market in New York City. Also on the list of Christmas shopping places to see: Columbus Circle Holiday Market at the southwest entrance of Central Park. From handmade gifts and souvenirs to tasty eats, you’re sure to stumble upon unique finds.

For Christmas activities in NYC, the only question is where not to go. The Rockettes Christmas Spectacular Show, a staple at Radio City Music Hall since the 1930s, is a family-friendly event that deserves a spot on your bucket list. At the Lincoln Center, don’t miss George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker ballet performance. On weekends in December, you can top off your day with a jaunt on the Holiday Nostalgia Ride on a vintage eight-car subway train.  

Locals and visitors skate under the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York City

New York State

If the thrill of the city isn’t enough for you, there are plenty of attractions and experiences to enjoy throughout New York State. No matter where you go in New York, there’s likely to be a Christmas market or spectacular tree lighting nearby. The Empire State Plaza Tree Lighting in downtown Albany offers free fun for the whole family with ice skating in the plaza, fireworks, caroling, live performances, horse and carriage rides, and visits with Santa.

While in Albany, catch the Italian American Heritage Museum’s Christmas market. There, you’ll find an array of Italian-made decorations, olive oils, jewelry, art, and novelties. Don’t miss the special exhibit depicting an Italian Christmas Nativity, an homage to a centuries-old Florentine tradition.

Christmas markets abound throughout the Empire State over the holiday season. The Broadway Market, a mainstay of Buffalo dating back to the 1800s, bustles with retail and food vendors, Santa visits, and a holiday train show. Meanwhile, the Poughkeepsie Christmas market in the Hudson Valley features classic German food and drinks, confections, and one-of-a-kind gifts.

Also in the Hudson Valley, the Gilded Age Christmas State Historic Site welcomes guests to the Beaux-Arts mansion. Take a tour of the opulent, turn-of-the-century structure, decked out in holiday decorations. Other notable New York State holiday experiences include the Saratoga Springs Victorian Streetwalk in the Capital-Saratoga region. Take a stroll back in time through the historic downtown, lined with Victorian-influenced homes. The annual Streetwalk is a flurry of hot cocoa, cookies, and festive displays.

And if you’re flying with PLAY to Stewart International Airport, you’ll be conveniently located right by the largest outlet mall in the United States, Woodbury Common, the perfect place for a one-stop Christmas shopping marathon. New York State is also the perfect area to find entertainment for the whole family, from national parks and Legoland to a huge variety of ski resorts, it’s truly the perfect family holiday destination.

Central Park winter with skyscrapers and Bow Bridge in midtown Manhattan New York City

Giant red christmas baubles located on Sixth Avenue, Manhattan. New York City

ice skaters having fun in New York City central park

Washington, D.C.

Right in the heart of the nation’s capital, you’ll never run out of things to do during the holiday season. From holiday parades and photos with Santa to holiday light displays, tree lighting ceremonies, and Christmas markets, the city offers numerous Christmas activities and events for the whole family.

An official tree lighting by the President of the United States welcomes visitors to see the impressive, live evergreen tree that grows in President’s Park. Decorated with handcrafted ornaments created by artists around the country, the tree is grand to behold. The nearby America Celebrates display of trees also features trees that honor the culture and heritage of each state.

At the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, ZooLights features a free holiday light display of magical proportions. The event kicks off Thanksgiving weekend and lasts through New Year’s Day, offering glowing animal lanterns, live music, and thousands of sparkling LED lights.

Another favorite winter tradition is the ice skating rink at the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden. The fountain transforms into an ice rink in the winter months, when kids and adults alike can glide along the ice surrounded by the beauty of the sculptures. Afterward, grab a bite to eat at the Pavilion Café during the week from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

For some, no holiday season is complete without taking in a show, and the Washington Ballet’s The Nutcracker does not disappoint. This unique twist on the classic performance is set in historic 1882 Georgetown, with historical figures like George Washington and King George III at center stage.

For your Christmas shopping, don’t miss the D.C. Downtown Holiday Market. Local D.C. artisans and creators set up shop in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Open from noon to 8 p.m. daily, the market features rotating vendors, craft coffee, and festive treats for all your holiday shopping needs. Additional holiday markets include the Annual DC Brau Holiday Market, the Annual Holiday PopUP Shop in Van Ness, and the Dupont Circle Christkindlmarkt in the Heurich House Museum. If shopping local is your jam, you’ll also love the Shop Made in DC marketplace, where you can shop over 5,000 products from DC’s best makers.  

Washington DC decorated with lights for the winter holidays

Final Thoughts

No matter where your travels take you on the East Coast, you’re sure to find all the Christmas shopping, twinkle lights, and festive displays needed to make your holiday season sparkle. Don’t wait to plan your holiday getaway, as flights naturally fill up at this time of year, and many Christmas activities require tickets. Book your PLAY flight today to begin dreaming of your wondrous holiday adventure.

Book a flight to the East Coast now!

Oct 13, 2022