For me, the winter holiday season is the perfect time to travel. Crowds tend to be manageable or even nonexistent and you get a more intimate feel for the destination. I often travel in November or December and have even traveled over Thanksgiving and Christmas. While it’s not something most people want to do every year, I think taking a break from normal family stress at home is important for everyone. With that in mind, I decided to put together a list of the best places to visit this holiday season and better yet, you can book all of them by using American Express Membership Rewards® points. With points, you could pay for some or all of your trip and even use points for hotel gift cards for room nights, spa treatments, dining and more. Check out all the ways to use points for travel here: www.membershiprewards.com/mrtravel.
This post is sponsored by American Express on behalf of the Membership Rewards Program, but all words, thoughts, opinions and fun I had in putting this together are entirely mine.
1. New Orleans
New Orleans isn’t exactly off-the-beaten path, except around the holidays. For some reason, many people forget that New Orleans is always a festive city, no matter the time of year, and Christmas is no exception. There are plenty of things to do throughout the month of December from caroling in Jackson Square to soaking up the jazz influenced holiday classics heard throughout the French Quarter. New Orleans is especially known for great food, so don’t miss the traditional Reveillon Dinners. Dating back to the mid-1800s, Reveillon Dinners are served up by the city’s best restaurants as decadent four-course holiday meals in the New Orleans Creole dining tradition.
I love Brussels and I frankly don’t think it gets enough attention, especially during the holidays. I have spent two Christmases there and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back for a third. A festive city by nature, Brussels goes all out for Christmas. Start at the Grand Place, where every evening, on a rotation, a massive light show illuminates the entire square with a giant Christmas tree at the center. The lightshow changes every year and is scored to music, creating a fun experience for everyone. From there follow your nose to the massive Christmas Market that occupies several streets and the entire plaza at Place Sainte-Catherine. You’ll find gifts, great food and of course plenty of mulled wine to keep the winter chills away.
3. Amelia Island
When it’s sub-zero in most of the country, Florida still retains some of its residual heat; Amelia Island in particular is a great place to relax and decompress during or after a busy holiday season. The island features seven championship-caliber golf courses as well as a plethora of outdoor activities including fishing, kayaking and hiking. For the history buffs, Amelia Island offers museums and attractions including walking tours up Historic Centre Street, Silk Stocking District and Fort Clinch State Park. If you’re simply looking to unwind, Amelia Island offers wine tastings, food festivals, concerts and art galleries. There’s certainly something for everyone. There are several hotel options, but my favorite is the Ritz Carlton, Amelia Island; a massive resort that caters to families, as well as couples, equally well. Whether or not you stay as a guest, their Salt Restaurant is not to be missed. Using dozens of salts from around the world, the food is modern, but approachable and undeniably delicious. Afterwards order a romantic S’mores on the beach package to enjoy the night air and nibble on a delicious dessert with your loved one.
4. River Cruise
River cruises are gaining in popularity and with good reason. They allow guests the opportunity to visit several different destinations, especially in Europe, with the convenience of only unpacking once. This time of year, while there are many great cruise companies, Viking River Cruises may be the most well known; they offer a wide range of cruising options in Europe, especially during December. A classic Christmas Market cruise is a great option, as is a tour only through France, stopping off at small towns and villages you would never see on your own. Back on board, the chefs create regionally inspired meals and snacks available throughout the day. There’s really nothing better than bundling up in a blanket and sitting back watching the scenery scroll by as you sip on a piping hot cup of cocoa.
5. Quebec City
This is one of my favorite cities in North America and while it WILL be cold, the city lights up during the holidays. Make sure you set aside some time to visit The Château Frontenac – the most photographed hotel in the world. This picture-perfect hotel was built during the great railroad boom and is the prominent figure in the Quebec City skyline. From there, explore Quebec City’s old town, which drips with French influence. Christmas trees, delicious snacks and the famous sugar shacks are all not to be missed during the holidays. The city features a number of special events and festivals, offering everything from outdoor pursuits to sampling even more of the great food found around the region. Just make sure you pack your winter coat.
Traveling during the holidays shouldn’t be avoided, it should be embraced. Escaping to off the beaten path destinations is a great way to get out there and explore without the hassle of massive crowds or inflated prices. Even better is the possibility of using earned Membership Rewards® points to pay for a part of your trip or the entire vacation, making your perfect getaway more manageable.
What are some of your favorite places to explore during the holidays?