Photo courtesy of NJ Division of Travel and Tourism
There are two types of people who live in New Jersey—those that retreat to warmer locales for the holidays, and those that stay close to home and embrace Christmastime in the chilly winter. And if you’re in the latter camp, you’re in luck, because the Garden State is brimming with towns that go all out for the holiday season, from Christmas carolers to decked-out homes to light displays and parades.
Below are nine New Jersey towns that transform into winter wonderlands in December and make it easy to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year close to home. Bonus: You just may get some holiday home décor inspo while you’re there!
Atlantic City (Atlantic County) is extra lucky this time of year, when the Boardwalk and hotels are decked out for the season. Highlights include the Gallery of Trees exhibit, an Elf on a Shelf scavenger hunt, interactive light shows and, of course, in true AC fashion, a variety of live holiday shows and concerts.
Cape May (Cape May County) is a hot spot in summer, but book a few nights down here in December and you’re in for a treat. The Victorian homes are decked out with lights, wreaths and garlands, but really, the entire town is brimming with holiday spirit. From a trolley ride to a tree lighting to breakfast with Santa, you certainly won’t run out of festive fun here.
Ho-Ho-Kus (Bergen County) certainly lives up to its jolly name this time of year. Its famous Hermitage mansion, a National Historic Landmark, is where most of the holiday magic happens, including a holiday craft show, carolers, Santa’s workshop and Victorian Christmas candlelight tours. Other notable events include a wreath-making workshop, a tree lighting and more.
Maplewood’s (Essex County) annual Dickens Village is a must-see for the whole family, which brings various scenes from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to life. Kids will love this display of miniature houses, as well as the opportunity to send a note to Santa at the North Pole. If you’re there on a December weekend, visit the WNTR Holiday Village and Makers Market for more shopping ops and photo ops.
Morristown (Morris County) has been a hotspot for the holidays for more than 100 years, and the celebration has only gotten bigger and better with time. The historic Green features tons of family fun, including vibrant light displays, crafts, ice sculpture demos, an electric train, photo ops with Santa and more.
Ocean City’s (Cape May County) annual Christmas parade is a big draw, as are the free horse and carriage rides on winter weekends. Another unique attraction here are live holiday shows performed by the Greater Ocean City Theater Company, as well as a free train show for the littles.
Princeton (Mercer County) is an iconic Jersey town, and you’ll feel the historic holiday spirit during your end-of-year visit here. Most of the action happens in and around Palmer Square, where there’s ice-skating, carolers and a massive tree, but other Princeton standouts include historic walking tours, holiday trolley rides and the Festival of Trees event at the Morven Museum.
Red Bank’s (Monmouth County) holiday festivities appeal to all the senses, including the ears. Holiday harmonies will play in the background while you shop the downtown district, or you can go on a scavenger hunt to find the Red Bank Elf. Also on the agenda here at the shore are horse and carriage rides and photos with St. Nick.
Smithville (Atlantic County) is where to go if you want to slow it down amid the hustle and bustle of holiday craziness. This historic village has tons of cute shops to snag some last-minute gifts, as well as activities such as a holiday train ride, a light show that reflects off the lake and the Magic Talking Christmas Tree, brought in from Santa’s forest for the occasion.
What’s your favorite place in New Jersey to celebrate the holidays? Tell us on Instagram @njhomemag!