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The holidays are just around the corner, which means it’s almost time to fill your Instagram feed with perfect shots of colorful Christmas trees, holiday cookies, nauseating mistletoe kisses, you and your friends in ugly sweaters, and even that snow angel you tried, and failed, to make. Why? Because it’s the season, and it’s tradition! Read below to find 10 must-do holiday photo ops that even Santa would “like.”

RELATED: 7 over-the-top holiday lights displays you’ve got to see

An iconic Christmas tree

When the holiday season comes around, every big city and small town boasts an iconic Christmas tree. You know which one we’re talking about—that tree that you can snap a photo of and your neighbors (or even people from afar!) know exactly where it is. Take the tree at Rockefeller Center, for example, which is strung with 50,000 colorful LED lights and topped with a 900-pound Swarovski crystal star. Stand in front of Channel Gardens, where you can catch the 12 winged angels lined up in front of it, et voila! That’s your shot.

Find a great NYC hotel here.

A holiday train ride

Flickr CC: J Diaz

Christmas-themed trains have become a trend, and for good reason: They’re beautifully decorated and have dancing elves, jolly waiters serving hot cocoa and marshmallows, Christmas tunes and of course, Santa Claus himself. In Grapevine, TX (known as the Christmas Capital of Texas), you can even take the North Pole Express® all the way to the “North Pole,” where a snowy winter wonderland and Santa’s workshop are waiting when you arrive. If you’re not in Texas, hop on the official THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride, which can be found in 50 cities, from Miami, FL all the way north to Canada.

Browse hotel deals near Grapevine here.

A winter wonderland

Ice skating at Maggie Daley Park | Photo: Courtesy of Choose Chicago

Ice skating at Maggie Daley Park | Photo: Courtesy of Choose Chicago

Ice skating is a charming winter pastime, especially during the holiday season. Grab your friends or that special someone and find an ice rink in your city where you can capture some yuletide cheer! On the ice skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park in downtown Chicago, skaters can wind their way through an alpine forest while snow falls over the surrounding city skyline. If you don’t want to skate, buy a cup of hot cocoa and watch everyone else do it. The view alone is worth going for.

Check out great downtown Chicago hotels here.

A holiday parade

Flickr CC: Jeff Kern

Parades are a fun way to celebrate the season—and lucky for holiday revelers, there’s always one nearby. Watch as ornaments, furry reindeer, elves, snowman and marching Nutcracker soldiers parade down the street, paving the way for Santa’s grand entrance. Some of the most magical holiday parades are at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and march right past Cinderella’s Castle as it glows with thousands of Christmas lights.

Reserve your Disney hotel right here.

A festive hotel

We love how every city always has one (if not many) hotels that really get into the holiday groove. Think twinkling lights, tinsel galore, a giant gingerbread house in the lobby and, of course, a can’t-miss Christmas tree. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, just look at the Mission Inn in Riverside, CA. This SoCal stunner attracts visitors far and wide for its hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights, giant nutcracker statues and its extravagant, 19-foot Christmas tree.

Book the Mission Inn or a nearby hotel here.

A Christmas market

Who doesn’t love a Christmas market? There’s mulled wine, handmade ornaments for sale, mulled wine, animals, holiday music and… did we mention mulled wine? For the perfect Instagram photo, wear a cozy winter hat, grab a piping hot cup of vino and strike a pose in front of a festive chalet. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, take a peek at Bethlehem, PA’s famous Christkindlmarkt. Here, you’ll find 50-plus artisans selling their handicrafts, live Christmas music, an appearance by St. Nick himself and, like we said, mulled wine.

Check out hotels near Bethlehem here.

A holiday “fun run”

There is never something not funny about hundreds of people dressed as Mr. or Mrs. Claus, Rudolph, an elf or even Olaf running through town. If you’re near Virginia Beach, VA, head to the Surf-n-Santa 5 Miler, the largest Santa run in the entire world, and you’ll see what we mean. Every major city has a holiday fun run at this point, so join one wherever you are and capture the holiday hilarity in all its glory.

Get great deals on Virginia Beach hotels here.

A themed-out holiday festival

Flickr CC: Selena NBH

Instead of travel shots, how about a time-traveling shot? Find a themed-out holiday event in your hometown where everyone gets into character. We love the annual “Dickens of a Christmas” festival in Victorian Village in Franklin, TN, where you’ll mingle with Father Christmas, carolers, locals in full Victorian garb and characters from A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist. Even Ebenezer Scrooge will be there!

Book a room near Franklin right here.

Over-the-top downtown décor

When a whole city gets into the season, it’s hard not to feel the holiday magic. (It makes for great photos, too.) St. Augustine, FL proves that you don’t need cold temperatures to feel the Christmas spirit! Every year, its Spanish-style historic downtown comes alive with “Night of Lights,” an award-winning activation with over three million Christmas lights, carriage rides, restaurants and bars decked out in holiday trimmings, and more.

Check out great hotels in St. Augustine here.

An impressive neighborhood lights display

Sure, NYC is famous for Dyker Heights Lights and LA has its Candy Cane Lane, but if it’s a decked out holiday ‘hood you want, there’s probably one in your own hometown. Take, for example, McAdenville, NC—otherwise known as Christmas Town USA. In a town with less than 700 residents, a half million people visit every December to see homes with Hallmark Channel-worthy Christmas decorations and more than 500,000 Christmas lights.

Book your stay near McAdenville here.

Tagged: Events, Holidays, Seasonal, Top 10 list, Types of Travel

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

Jennifer Agress

Jennifer Agress

Jennifer is a Miami-based writer and editor who loves good food, a better martini and traveling every chance she gets. She writes about luxury travel, dining and lifestyle for Travel Weekly, Private Air Luxury Homes, Preferred Travel, Modern Luxury Weddings, INDULGE Miami, Thrillist, NUVO Magazine and more. When she’s not on a plane, she’s likely plotting her next adventure—follow @JenniferAgress on Instagram to see where she lands.
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All is calm, all is bright. In some cases, really bright.

Here are seven of some of America’s most over-the-top holiday light displays.


St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights. Photo courtesy of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau.

St. Augustine, Florida: During Nights of Lights, the 450-year-old city illuminates its landmarks with white lights in a display that’s been called one of the world’s 10 best. The festivities include a bunch of special events, such as carriage and boat tours, outdoor concerts and more.

Blossoms of Light in Denver, Colorado

Blossoms of Light in Denver, Colorado | Flickr Creative Commons: Amy Aletheia Cahill

Denver, Colorado: Denver Botanic Gardens sets the scene for a classy holiday with Blossoms of Light. The flora becomes even more inviting when it’s illuminated with thousands of lights, including a spot named the Romantic Gardensfull of aromatic plants and plum trees. (Can you say marriage proposal spot?) There’s also live entertainment on select nights, and visitors can purchase 3-D HoloSpex glasses to enhance their view of the lights.

Tacky Lights Tour in Richmond, Virginia

Tacky Lights Tour in Richmond, Virginia | Flickr Creative Commons: Taber Andrew Bain

Richmond, Virginia: On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Richmond Times-Dispatch‘s annual list lovingly named the Tacky Lights Tour. Houses must have at least 40,000 lights to make the list; some are tasteful, some downright tacky. The newspaper alerts homeowners that they’ll be included, so when you embark on a self-guided tour of the eyesores, you’ll be laughing with them—not at them.

Glittering Lights | Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Glittering Lights | Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Las Vegas, Nevada: There are drive-through light shows… and then there’s Glittering Lights at Sin City’s Motor Speedway. Roll down your windows, turn up your windows and cruise around the 2.5-mile track that proves the Vegas Strip isn’t the only part of town that glistens.

Christmas in Los Angeles

Christmas in Los Angeles, California | Flickr Creative Commons: Loren Javier

Los Angeles, California: Come to see the stars, but stay to see the lights. Downtown L.A. Walking Tours offers a nightly Holiday Lights Tour showcasing how the City of Angeles celebrates the season. Stops include the Broad Museum, Grant Park with its illuminated fountain, Nutcracker Village at California Plaza and more.

CheapTickets-Clifton Mill-Ohio-Christmas-lights

The lights of Ohio’s Clifton Mill combine old-school technology with new-school glitz. Photo by Tina Lawson/Flickr Creative Commons.

Clifton Mill, Ohio: Millions of lights brighten up this 19th-century the mill, gorge, riverbanks, trees and bridges. The decor includes a Santa Claus Museum, light show synchronized to music on the old covered bridge, 100-foot “waterfall” of twinkling lights and more. Legendary Lights is located about 40 miles southwest of Columbus.


Everything’s bigger in Texas, even the holiday lights. Photo of Austin’s Trail of Lights by Mark Scott/Flickr Creative Commons.

Austin, Texas: The city’s Trail of Lights gets more elaborate every year. Zilker Park’s display now includes a 155-foot-tall artificial Christmas tree, ferris wheel and carousel. It’s one of the largest holiday events in Austin, with live performances, a lighted tunnel and more.

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Tagged: City, Family, Festivals, Florida, Holidays, L.A., Las Vegas, Seasonal

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.

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With approximately 800 miles of beaches, Florida offers plenty of free fun in the sun. But when you’ve gotten your fill of vitamins D and “sea,” consider these other amusements that don’t cost a dime.

SummerJazz on the Gulf via Pat Shapiro

SummerJazz on the Gulf via Pat Shapiro

Catch a free concert: Year-round warm weather means perennial outdoor concert season, so pack a picnic basket and a blanket. Options range from the Florida Orchestra’s Pops in the Park concerts in St. Petersburg and Tampa, to the SummerJazz on the Gulf series in Naples, to Springing the Blues in Jacksonville. In South Florida, free is chic, as with the New World Symphony Wallcast concerts projected onto a 7,000-square-foot wall in Miami Beach SoundScape. Sounds like music to our ears.

Southermost Point via nathanmac87 at Flickr Creative Commons

Southermost Point via nathanmac87 at Flickr Creative Commons

Get the picture: The best souvenirs also happen to be the cheapest: photographs. Florida is home to some prime photo ops, so grab that selfie stick and start making your Facebook friends jealous. Begin your shutterfest in St. Augustine, where you can catch the free ferry to Fort Matanzas National Monument in all its 16th-century glory. Then make your way down to Sarasota‘s Ringling Museum of Art on a Monday for free admission to its gorgeous estate. And finish up in Key West with a quintessential photo at the Southernmost Point buoy marking 90 miles to Cuba.

Loxahatchee Slough Natural Area stretch of the Florida Trail via Winnie Lo

Loxahatchee Slough Natural Area stretch of the Florida Trail via Winnie Lo

Take a hike: Keep that camera handy for a jaunt along the Florida National Scenic Trail. The 1,300-mile path stretches from the Everglades all the way up to historic Fort Pickens. Some parts of the trail are more developed than others, but plenty are suitable for hikers of all ages and fitness levels looking to get up close and personal with the Sunshine State’s flora and fauna.

Wynwood Walls via Phillip Pessar at Flickr Creative Commons

Wynwood Walls via Phillip Pessar at Flickr Creative Commons

State of the art: Warm weather is perfect for evening art walks, where you can gallery-hop and sometimes enjoy free wine and entertainment. If you’re in Miami, definitely head to Wynwood – a trendy neighborhood with a concentration of vibrant, larger-than-life murals. If you happen to be there on a Tuesday evening, stop by Wood Tavern for two free tacos — no catch.

Gulf of Mexico via Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater

Gulf of Mexico via Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater

Celebrate the sun: Floridians take our sunsets quite seriously. Whether we’re sitting on a beach, out for an evening stroll or even just stuck in traffic, we take a moment to appreciate the ever-changing cotton candy skies. There are even formal events to mark the end of the day. Two of the best-known take place at Mallory Square in Key West and Pier 60 in Clearwater Beach. Both events feature live entertainment, vendors and a family-friendly atmosphere against the backdrop of the setting sun.

Story by Dalia Colon

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Tagged: Beach, Cheap Tips, City, Family, Florida, Food & drink, FREE!, Music, Seasonal

Note: CheapTickets compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site.