6 festive Christmas cities

From big city adventures to quaint towns that exude the magic of the season, there's a reason why these destinations show up on best-of lists and bucket lists for places to spend the Christmas holiday.

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  • For those who find themselves visiting family and friends for the holiday, or for those stranded or just passing through, these six cities and towns in America are among the best places to experience the winter holiday season.

  • 1. Washington D.C

  • The nation's capital is always a hot spot for travelers no matter the season, but unique features like the National Christmas Tree literally in front of the White House, along with a festive stroll down the National Mall make Christmas in D.C. pretty special during the festive time of year. Take a stroll to Union Station to see giant wreathes in the classical arches of the Beaux-Arts architectural wonder, and do some Christmas shopping.

  • This amazing shot has us planning early for Christmas escapes to #DC! #holidayseason #tlpicks 📷 @travelandleisure

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  • 2. New York City

  • City sidewalks, busy sidewalks dressed in holiday cheer is not just a song, but an accurate description for The Big Apple in December. Thanks to countless holiday movies that make a backdrop of the city, New York has become a veritable icon of Christmas in America.

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  • You'll feel the cinematic magic of being in the city that's so nice, they named it twice. Be sure to experience ice skating and the giant tree at the Rockefeller Center, the 5th Ave holiday window displays, and, of course, the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.

  • 3. Salt Lake City

  • From the grandeur of snow-capped mountains to the festive refinement of the Grand America hotel, Utah's capital city is a major destination for a winder wonderland vacation that ups the ante when it's time to celebrate the holidays.

  • Top of the world with my little snowboarder chicks! • #sundance #blessed #snowboarding #utah #bestsnowonearth

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  • There are countless musical and artistic performances in nearly every church and venue in town nearly every night, including Christmas classics like The Nutcracker, The Messiah and every rendition of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol that ever was. With old cathedrals, new shopping, and a world-famous light display at Temple Square, the entire city embraces the holiday spirit and transforms into a picturesque Christmas village straight out of a snow globe.

  • 4. Santa Fe

  • There's just something about a Southwestern style Christmas, with the adobe architecture, the desert cactus and the smell of piñon pine that whisps you away to the land of enchantment. Add to it the allure of local Native American craft markets and the impressive display of paper luminarios, and Santa Fe becomes a bucket list destination for the Christmas traveler.

  • #santafechristmas #faralitos

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  • Here, you're likely to see ristras of chilies instead of wreathes of pine boughs, perhaps as an indicator that the food is as good as the charm. One taste of the traditional posole stew, and Christmas will never be the same. Santa Fe also attracts deeply spiritual demonstrations tied to the religious tokens of the Nativity, and is a holy site especially for Hispanic Christians to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus.

  • 5. Branson, Missouri

  • An Ozark mountain Christmas feels a little like a time warp into a bygone era encapsulated and put in song form one way or another by the constant offerings of one live show after another. When you're in Branson for the holiday, get ready to celebrate ... with the entire town.

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  • If kitsch is your thing, than Branson is your pilgrimage, and I don't just mean the hokey pokey live shows with earnest and cheesy performances. There's a Christmas light parade, souvenir shops with trinkets that could fill an ocean and a special effects tree display that's about as garish as it is a tinsely delight. A Branson Christmas is Lights, Camera, Santa. Curtain up, it's showtime.

  • 6. Alexandria, VA

  • If you crave colonial charm, then a visit to Virginia's port city, just across the Potomac from the nation's capital will propel you back in time to cobblestone streets, gas lanterns and red-bricked row houses that date back 300 years or more.

  • Christmas season in Old Town Alexandria isn't just a glimpse into history, but it's a celebration of small business shopping, world-renowned restaurants, cultural parades like the Scottish Walk, candlelight tours and even a boat parade of lights. Bundle up and stroll down King Street, it doesn't matter where you go, or where your eyes take you, it's a 360-degree immersion of history, ambience and charm.

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  • Of course there are countless charming towns and regions that make Santa's big day a real celebration. But if you fancy a yule tide getaway, these destinations should float right to the top of your twice-checked list.

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A city rat living large in the suburbs, Joseph likes to explore everything from politics to food. Connect with him on twitter @planetjoseph.

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