Travel

The best places in New England to visit around Christmas

If you go, heed all COVID-19 guidelines from state and local officials.

You can follow a map of "Winter Lights" on Cape Ann this holiday season. Melissa Cox Photography

As many New Englanders remain close to home this holiday season due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are plenty of festive towns worth exploring.

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“Despite the pandemic, we look forward to Christmas in Massachusetts this year more than ever, since it is the time of year to cherish the joys that give us hope and comfort,” Keiko Matsudo Orrall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, said in an email. “Family gatherings may be smaller than past years, but we still find magic in the holiday lights, tree decorations, buying gifts, and giving thanks for what we have.”

The following 10 New England cities and towns have a lot of Christmas spirit, New England travel experts said. All COVID-19 travel restrictions must be followed when crossing state lines, and be sure to heed guidance from local officials as well.

Follow a map of holiday lights on Cape Ann

There will be lights aplenty on Cape Ann this holiday season during the area’s first annual “Winter Lights,” according to Orrall. Cape Ann includes the city of Gloucester and the towns of Essex, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Rockport. More than 150 businesses are participating in the twinkly event, and you can follow the lights using this map. It’s worth getting out of the car in Rockport, according to Orrall, where there’s a Holiday Tree Art Stroll on Main Street, comprised of 68 six-foot-tall wooden trees crafted by local carpenters and decorated by local artists. There’s also a Christmas tree in Dock Square and a magical mail room where kids can drop off letters to Santa. Check out the state’s COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Wander through holiday trees inspired by children’s literature in Concord

Children’s literature is on display in a festive way at the Concord Museum’s holiday exhibit, “Family Trees: A Celebration of Children’s Literature,” running through Jan. 3, 2021. Visitors can see 28 holiday trees and wreaths inspired by children’s books. Concord is a “treasure trove” of history and culture, according to Orrall, who noted the famous writers who once lived there: Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. While in Concord, don’t forget to walk Main Street, which is full of gift shops, galleries, and cafes, Orrall said, and it’s also worth stopping at Walden Pond to “take in the beauty of nature that inspired Thoreau and others.” Check out the museum’s COVID-19 safety measures and the state’s COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Step into a Normal Rockwell painting in Stockbridge

You can stroll the same Main Street depicted by Norman Rockwell in his 1967 painting “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas (Home for Christmas)” when you visit Stockbridge, which Orrall called a “quintessential New England town.” The town, which was just named the No. 1 Christmas town in America by Country Living, reenacts the painting every December (the event was virtual this year due to the pandemic). Visitors can still explore the boutiques, galleries, and restaurants along Main Street, as well as the Norman Rockwell Museum. Here are the COVID-19 safety measures at the museum. Also worth checking out, according to Orrall: “Winterlights” at Naumkeag (just named among the best public holiday lights displays in America) and a “Winter Wonderland Walkway” at the Stockbridge Library. Check out the state’s COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Go on a hot chocolate crawl in Salem

You can add more chocolate to your holiday season by going on a hot chocolate crawl through the historic town of Salem, said Ann Marie Casey, executive director of the North of Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, in an email. During the crawl, visitors can taste everything from classic hot chocolate to chocolate elixirs to hot chocolate with coffee. In between sips, don’t forget to check out Winterlude Lights, the festive lights on display in Salem’s downtown, Casey said. Check out the state’s COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Shop island artisans in Edgartown

When you visit Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard this month, you can stroll the “stately architectural treasures” along North Water Street, all decked out for the holidays, said Bill DeSousa, publicist for the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, in an email. Don’t forget to support island artisans by shopping for gifts at the Island Made Holiday Gift Show at Heather Gardens through Dec. 24, he said. “Town-wide there is palpable holiday cheer in decorations, music, goodwill from locals, gallery owners, shopkeepers, restaurateurs and innkeepers,” said DeSousa about Edgartown. Check out COVID-19 safety measures on Martha’s Vineyard and the state’s COVID-19 travel restrictions.

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A tree made out of life preservers at Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport.

See a tree decorated with life preservers in Newburyport

It’s worth stopping by the Custom House Maritime Museum to view a tree decorated with life preservers, “a nod to the Port City as the birthplace of the U.S. Coast Guard,” Casey said. COVID-19 safety measures such as mask and social-distancing policies are posted at the entranceway of the museum. For more tree fun, check out the 8th Annual SeaFestival of Trees, decorated window displays you can view both in person and virtually. Check out the state’s COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Get your Christmas cards postmarked in Bethlehem, New Hampshire

There’s plenty of holiday spirit in Bethlehem, where folks seek postmarks for their Christmas cards, at Christmastime each year, according to Lori Harnois, New Hampshire’s director of travel and tourism. “The mere mention of the little town of Bethlehem is sure to conjure up visions of the holiday season,” Harnois said via email. Still need a tree? You can pick one up at Rocks Estate or Finnegan’s Fine Firs, she advised. Here are New Hampshire’s COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Dine, shop, and take in the history of Portland, Maine

You’ll find “old world charm” in Portland this holiday season, said Steve Lyons, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, in an email. “Outdoor dining in Portland has been extended through the holiday season and outdoor heaters make it cozy,” Lyons wrote. While there, don’t forget to check out the “Old Port Holiday Historic Walking Tour,” a 90-minute tour of Portland, and the third annual Maker’s Market at Thompson’s Point, which has moved outside this year. The market offers fresh farm products, handmade items, craft food and beverages, and more. Here are Maine’s COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Stroll an open air mall in Burlington, Vermont

You’ll feel festive while shopping at Church Street Marketplace in Burlington this season, according to the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing, because the open air mall is full of lights and decorations, as well as a large Christmas tree “meticulously decorated for the holiday season.” Before you go, check out which shops and restaurants are open for business, as well as Vermont’s COVID-19 travel restrictions.

See lights in the park in New Haven, Connecticut

It’s worth checking out the thousands of “dazzling” lights and 60 animated displays in this year’s “Fantasy of Lights” in Lighthouse Point Park, a drive-through experience along the shore, said Randy Fiveash, director of the Connecticut Office of Tourism, in an email. Other spots worth a stop, according to Fiveash: the 65-foot Christmas tree at New Haven Green and the Shops at Yale, which is offering the first-ever holiday shopping passport. View the Connecticut COVID-19 travel restrictions.

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