Looking for the best Florida Christmas vacations?
Escape the cold this winter with a vacation to Florida during the holiday season! Although Florida tends to be warm and sunny all year, there’s no shortage of festive cheer all throughout the state.
Christmas in Florida offers a unique mix of the beachy, tropical atmosphere you’d expect year-round with a generous sprinkling of holiday magic. It’s a great place to take in beautiful light displays and shop for Christmas gifts in open-air markets without having to brave the cold.
Florida has some Christmas traditions you won’t encounter anywhere else. Disney fans lucky enough to snag tickets will experience the Christmas of a lifetime at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in Orlando.
Around the state, seasonal Christmas theme parks spring up, complete with thrill rides and carnival food and games. And many cities on both the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts throw lighted boat parades, where you can watch everything from canoes to mega-yachts decked out in holiday lights sail by.
If any of that sounds fun, or even if you’d prefer to just spend Christmas vacation lounging on the beach, read on for our favorite Christmas getaways in Florida!
14 Florida Christmas Vacations to Take this Year!
Vacationers know Amelia Island for its white sand beaches, plush resorts, and luxury golf courses. Located on the Sea Island chain of barrier islands on Florida’s Atlantic coast, it definitely checks all the boxes for a beachy Florida retreat.
This seaside village was once a port of call for pirates, shrimpers, bootleggers, and Gilded Age millionaires, and the town does its best to keep that colorful history alive today. Amelia Island rolls out plenty of festive cheer during the holiday season, too.
The downtown historic district retains its Victorian-style architecture and looks its best when decked out with Christmas decorations and bright window displays in the shops. Amelia Island doubles down on its old-timey charm with the Dickens on Centre festival, which features two stages with Victorian-themed entertainment, strolling carolers, festive food and beverages, and opportunities for kids to meet St. Nick.
See more lavish decorations on the Holiday Home Tour, stopping along the route to ogle historic homes decked out for the holidays. A docent at each home introduces guests to its history and architectural features, and guides guests through rooms with sumptuous decorations created by local interior designers and florists. Those who stay in Amelia Island through New Year’s should check out the family-friendly Shrimp Drop event, featuring fireworks, food and drink, and the dropping of a giant LED shrimp.
- See more: Best Christmas lights in Florida
Apalachicola is a hidden gem on Florida’s panhandle surrounded by natural beauty. Lounging on Gulf Coast beaches on nearby St. George Island, hiking in Apalachicola National Forest, and kayaking through the marshes and rivers are some of the best ways to experience the area. It’s also known for fresh, high-quality seafood. For example, at Up The Creek Raw Bar, guests can enjoy fresh oysters from a deck overlooking the Apalachicola River.
Apalachicola kicks off the Christmas season the Saturday after Thanksgiving with the Apalachicola Historic Downtown Christmas Celebration. Santa arrives at Riverfront Park by shrimp boat, and kids are enticed into telling him what they want for Christmas with the promise of a free hot dog after the visit.
During the event, shops stay open late, and the streets are decorated with luminaries. Carols fill the air downtown and at the Holiday Fresh Market, where shoppers can peruse local artisans’ handmade wares including food and crafts.
If you’re the type of person whose holiday of choice is Halloween rather than Christmas, Apalachicola could be a great option. The town offers ghost tours every Friday, including in December. Your ghostly guide will tell scary stories from the town’s past and introduce you to some of Apalachicola’s spookier historical sites. Try your hand with an EMF detector to see if any of those restless souls are still lingering.
Celebration is a planned community 20 minutes from downtown Orlando near Walt Disney World, designed by Walt Disney himself and founded by the Walt Disney Company in 1996.
Disney planned the town in accordance with New Urbanism, a design movement which emphasizes walkable neighborhoods filled with accessible public spaces and a mixture of residential and commercial-use buildings. Celebration’s Main Street resembles that of a small town and looks extra charming when decorated for the holidays.
The annual Now Snowing event transforms the Celebration city center into a winter fairy tale, complete with snowfall each night. Be aware, the snow is not real – it is a biodegradable material that’s also used in movies. However, it is wet, so families with kids may want to have a change of clothes on hand.
The event kicks off with a tree lighting ceremony on November 26th at 5pm. After that, the tree is lit nightly at 5:30 each night through the end of the festival on December 31st. Now Snowing has free entry and free parking, though some of the activities, such as ice skating and horse-drawn carriage rides, charge a fee.
Celebration Town Hall is a particular highlight, as it transforms into “Winter Wonderland” during the holiday season. At this market, shoppers can purchase decorated trees, tabletop Christmas displays, and other gifts.
What’s not to love about the idea of spending Christmas in Christmas? This small town, located about 25 miles from Orlando, has long been a popular destination for people wanting to send Christmas cards postmarked from “Christmas, Florida”.
The post office will mail letters to Santa, and Santa himself sometimes makes an appearance to stamp them and hear kids’ Christmas lists. The town has a Christmas tree up year-round and streets named after Santa’s reindeer, so even if you don’t visit during the holidays, you’ll still feel surrounded by festive spirit.
For those who do choose to visit during the holidays, don’t miss the Cracker Christmas event at Fort Christmas during the first weekend in December. The wooden fort is a replica of the original, whose construction began on Christmas in 1837. You might be wondering about the name of the event.
In this case, “cracker” refers to British and American pioneers who settled in what is now Florida. Fort Christmas includes several restored “Florida Cracker” pioneer homes, and the Cracker Christmas event features pioneer demonstrations including blacksmithing and lace making, as well as a craft fair with over 150 vendors.
Fort Lauderdale is located on Florida’s Atlantic coast and is known as the Venice of America. There are 165 miles of canals within city limits and a total of 300 miles in the area. Not surprisingly, Fort Lauderdale has also been dubbed the yacht capital of the world, with over 50,000 registered yachts and at least 100 marinas. To get a taste of Fort Lauderdale’s boating lifestyle, book a canal cruise or paddle your own way past the fancy houses.
Another great way to see Fort Lauderdale’s many seafaring vessels up close and also get a dose of holiday cheer is the Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade. The event typically draws a huge crowd and takes place on a Saturday in early December.
Anyone can enter their boat to join the parade, so you’ll see vessels of all sizes decorated with Christmas lights and playing festive tunes. Event organizers toute the parade as “The Greatest Show on H2O” and say the best place to view the parade is from Winterfest’s Parade Viewing Area located at Las Olas Intracoastal Promenade Park.
Christmas on Las Olas is another Fort Lauderdale holiday tradition. This family and community-focused event kicks off the season right after Thanksgiving. Lots of cities in Florida have winter festivals, but not all of them can boast a 75-foot snow mountain for sledding. That’s a highlight of Christmas on Las Olas that families with kids will not want to miss!
If your priority this holiday season is seeing as many light displays as possible, Jacksonville is the place to be. Drive through the many sparkling scenes at Jax Illuminations and tune your car radio to their station to watch the lights twinkle in time with holiday music.
Kids will love keeping their eyes peeled for their favorite cartoon characters outlined in lights along the route. The organizers recommend driving at an idle speed, around 1 mph, in which case the show is 25-30 minutes long. The installation runs from December 1-31, but is closed on Christmas itself.
For a free drive-through light display, head over to the Blackhawk Bluff neighborhood, where the residents coordinate to go all-out on decorating their houses. Arbor Glade is another bedazzled neightborhood to check out free of charge.
If you’d rather walk through the lights than drive, you have a whole host of options, including Dazzling Nights at the Jacksonville Arboretum & Botanical Gardens and ZooLights at the Jacksonville Zoo. The latter includes activities for kids, sightings of Santa and the Grinch, carolers, and more.
Deck the Chairs is another Jacksonville holiday tradition. This community event promotes local arts and charitable efforts and runs from Thanksgiving to New Years.
Each night features music and dance performances by local schools and ensembles, and select nights also offer holiday movies under the stars. The centerpiece is the 50+ lifeguard chairs transformed into everything from holiday displays to interactive science exhibits by local artists and businesses.
Christmas in Key West has a kitschy nautical vibe: think palm trees instead of pine trees decorated with lights, and plenty of light displays featuring flamingos, crabs, and other tropical or sea life wearing Santa hats.
As a case in point, their Harbor Walk of Lights display along the seawall boasts Christmas trees made out of or decorated with fishing buoys and lobster traps. Ride the Old Town Trolley for a view of the holiday lights, and be ready to sing carols.
If you’re looking for a high class Christmas experience, Key West can deliver that, too. Book a private catamaran and enjoy champagne, Christmas cookies, and a holiday meal all while sailing the pristine waters around Key West. Other tour operators offer Christmas Day brunch on a sailboat.
Back on land, check out the holiday historic inn tour. Each one is decorated for the season and provides food and drink for ticketholders.
Miami’s Christmas claim to fame is Santa’s Enchanted Forest, which professes to be the world’s largest holiday theme park. The many rides include everything from the humble carousel to thrill rides that go upside down.
The park also features carnival games and food, shows by acrobats and magicians, and of course Christmas lights and chances to meet Santa. Starting in 2022, Santa’s Enchanted Forest has a new location in Doral that covers 40 acres of attractions open from November 9th to January 8th.
No matter the time of year, Miami is known for its nightlife. At Christmastime, adults can enjoy a number of holiday-themed bar crawls such as the Wynwood Santa Crawl and the Ugly Sweater Crawl in Brickell. Both events are ticketed, with wristbands covering a free cocktail at multiple participating bars, plus discounts at others.
As you might imagine, Santa hats are provided for the Santa Crawl. No ugly sweaters are provided for the one in Brickell, but guests are strongly encouraged to don their holiday apparel.
For a more refined holiday experience, consider the Deering Estate Historic Holidays Evening Stroll. The site preserves the 1920s home of Charles Deering, a prominent industrialist, environmentalist, philanthropist, and art collector.
During the holidays, the historic buildings are decked out by top-tier designers from the area. You can see the decorations, including over a dozen Christmas trees, during the day or attend the evening stroll event which includes a bonfire and Christmas movies in the moonlight.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom in Orlando is a bucket list item for Disney fans from all over the world. The Most Magical Place on Earth becomes – dare we say – a bit more magical, filled as it is with decorations and characters in their holiday finest.
Highlights include the parade, fireworks show, and appearances by Mickey in front of Cinderella’s castle. Munch on cookies and sip cocoa as you take it all in. The event runs select nights starting in early November and ends right before Christmas. Note that tickets sell out quickly: this is the type of thing you’ll want to plan in advance.
EPCOT offers another great holiday theme park experience with its International Festival of the Holidays. The candlelight processional is the highlight of the experience, featuring a celebrity narrator, 50-piece orchestra, and full choir. Guests can also taste holiday meals and treats from around the globe.
Those willing to brave the cold should check out the ICE! Experience at the Gaylord Palms hotel. Each year, artisans create dazzling decorations and holiday scenes hand-carved from brightly colored ice. Kids and adults alike will love exploring the ice castle and zipping down slides made of ice. Note that the temperature inside the exhibit must remain at 9 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the sculptures looking their best; luckily, parkas are provided!
If parades are the highlight of your holiday season, Pensacola has you covered. This charming, beachy city on Florida’s panhandle throws three parades during the holidays. There’s the Lighted Boat Parade, featuring festively-decorated vessels and fireworks at the end.
There’s the Surfing Santa Parade on Pensacola Beach, which ends at the Gulfside Pavilion where kids can meet Santa. And finally, there’s the Pensacola Christmas Parade, featuring multiple bands and a flyover by the Bue Angels.
Pensacola’s two holiday festivals, Winterfest and the First City Lights Festival, are also great for kids and families. Each one offers photo ops with Santa, and Winterfest includes falling snow and a chance for kids to experience the Polar Express, with the Conductor calling the children by name to ride a miniature train through the decorated streets of Pensacola. Pajamas are encouraged for the experience, with prizes for the most festive set.
If all else fails, leave the simulated snow behind and hit the beach. Pensacola is known for its white-sand beaches, including Pensacola, Navarre, and Opal Beaches.
Sarasota is another great destination for beach lovers, with Lido Beach, Siesta Key, and many others nearby, for a total of 35 miles of coastline. The Sarasota Beach Pass app provides a handy guide to local beaches, and if you check in at a certain number, you’ll earn prizes like coupons to local restaurants, a pair of sunglasses, a Sarasota-themed tumbler, and more.
Sarasota has plenty of holiday cheer, too, especially at Holidays on the Green at University Town Center. This event features twinkling decorations and nightly animated light shows, ice skating, fireworks on saturday nights, horse-drawn carriage rides, holiday movies under the stars on Fridays and Saturdays, and all kinds of themed events throughout the season, such as yoga under the holiday lights.
University Town Center is in the heart of Sarasota, and surrounded by local restaurants offering festive food and drink. Holidays on the Green runs from before Thanksgiving through early January.
Need to squeeze in some last-minute Christmas shopping? Check out the farmer’s market at Lakewood Ranch on Sunday mornings or the Sarasota Holiday Arts & Crafts Festival in early December.
St. Augustine is the oldest continuously-inhabited city settled by Europeans in the United States and home to the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S. The annual Night of Lights festival makes the old Spanish-style architecture shine from mid-November until the end of January.
Particular highlights include the huge Christmas tree in the Plaza de la Constitución and the twinkling lights in the pedestrian-only shopping area of St. George Street.
The festival offers a free park-and-ride shuttle for convenient access to downtown. Festival-goers can join guided tours to learn about the area’s long history, or browse the markets and shops on their own.
The Old Town Trolley is another great way to see the lights, and tickets include sugar cookies and hot cider for guests to enjoy on the ride. Or, see the lights from the water and admire the twinkling reflections in the waves on a variety of scenic cruises and charters.
For one night only during the Night of Lights festival, visitors can see the St. Augustine Lighthouse lit up by thousands of luminaries and climb to the top for a bird’s-eye view of the sparkling lights below. The event is free to attend, but guests are asked to bring a non-perishable food item as a donation.
St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field is home to Enchant, a Christmas light maze presented by the Hallmark Channel running from right after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Visitors to this story-themed experience will receive a passport to stamp at various locations throughout the maze.
Traverse the skating trail under the lights, meet Santa in person, and snap photos at countless Instagram-worthy scenes throughout the installation. The event also includes a Christmas village featuring crafts and festive cocktails and treats.
If you still want more holiday lights, check out one of the lighted boat parades or the light displays at Busch Gardens and the Florida Botanical Gardens. The latter is free (suggested donation of $10), with hands-on activities for kids. If all of these light displays inspire you to amp up your own holiday decor, stop at Robert’s Christmas Wonderland, a huge emporium for all things Christmas including trees, ornaments, wreaths, lights, stockings, candles, and more.
If you’ll be in St. Pete into early January, be sure to check out the annual Greek Orthodox Epiphany celebration in nearby Tarpon Springs, a tradition for over a century. Enjoy delicious Greek food and watch the local teenage boys dive into Spring Bayou to retrieve a cross. The one who gets to it first is said to receive a year of blessings.
One of the best places to go this december for Christmas.
West Palm Beach
We can’t mention Christmas in the Palm Beaches, or in Florida for that matter, without mentioning Sandi: a 35-foot Christmas tree made out of sand and covered in lights.
Sandi is the centerpiece of West Palm Beach’s Holiday in Paradise event, running for the whole month of December. Each night, music and light shows run on the quarter hour, making Sandi truly sparkle. This year, a ferris wheel (named Ferris, of course), giving guests a new, bird’s eye view of Sandi and the surrounding festivities.
West Palm Beach also offers the chance to experience snowfall in Rosemary Square while shopping for holiday gifts, and of course there are beautiful light displays all around town.
Highlights include the posh resort, The Breakers, where staff spend six days decking the halls with live greenery and lights. The Palm Beach Zoo also twinkles with holiday cheer and offers family-friendly activities like photos with Santa, festive treats, and a holiday dance party.