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“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, Everywhere You Go!” Yep, the song is right, it’s prime time to get in the holiday spirit. What better way than to plan holiday travel inspired by the movies? Some of my favorite holiday movies are set in the most inviting locales. From New York to Chicago, these are the most delightful holiday travel destinations inspired by movie locations. (Just ask Buddy, Ralphie, and Kevin.)
3 Best Holiday Travel Movie Locations
1. New York (Inspired by “Elf”)
2. Cleveland (Inspired by “A Christmas Story”)
3. Chicago (Inspired by “Home Alone”)
What do these cities have in common? They are home to spots from classic holiday movies. What would “Elf” be without Buddy’s snowball fight in Central Park? Or Kevin’s shenanigans in his lovely “Home Alone” in the suburbs of Chicago? And “A Christmas Story” wouldn’t sing without Cleveland as the backdrop for the leg lamp and Red Ryder BB gun.
Naturally, all three of these home cities have tons of fun tourist attractions, and some of them make you feel like you are IN those movies. Let’s talk about where to travel in New York, Chicago, and Cleveland that will transport visitors INTO these Christmas classics.
Holiday Travel Inspired by Movie Locations: What to See and Do
Holiday Travel Movie Locations # 1: New York (Inspired by “Elf”)
Home of Christmas classics such as Miracle on 34th Street, New York has so many iconic locations. So it’s easy to see why these spots lend themselves to holiday fare.
Of course, being a huge fan of the movie “Elf,” I immediately conjure images of Buddy (Will Ferrell) on his first date with Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) as she shows him the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas Tree. As such, here are the best holiday locations in New York City.
Window Displays on Fifth Avenue
Gimbels may have been a fictional department store where Buddy the Elf briefly worked, but the Fifth Avenue department stores are on their “A” game with these window displays. My favorites: Macy’s Herald Square and Saks Fifth Avenue. Macy’s Santaland and its connection to Miracle on 34th Street make this store particularly historic since the movie is set there. This year, Saks launched its “Theater of Dreams” concept with a live Broadway show featuring 124 Broadway dancers.
Other over-the-top displays include the Saks Fifth Avenue laser light projections. This fabulous light show features more than 225,000 lights and is known for its 10-story light display. The laser lights show at Saks Fifth Avenue leaves crowds mesmerized. Saks’ windows and the accompanying light show will remain on display through Jan. 2, 2019.
The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Plaza
The giant Christmas tree towering over the skating rink is a quintessential New York holiday scene. This year’s tree is a 72-foot-tall Norway spruce, and it will be lit from November 28th, 2018 until January 7, 2019. Visiting hours are 5:30 am through 11:30 pm. Additionally, on Christmas Day, the tree’s 50,000 lights shine for a full 24 hours.
TravelingMom Trivia: This is the 12th year that Habitat for Humanity is donating the tree. At the end of the holiday season, the tree will be milled, treated, and made into lumber that will be used for home building.
No matter which rink you choose, nothing is more festive than ice skating in New York. Both Central Park and Rockefeller Center have ice skating, but Globetrotting TravelingMom Terri recommends the Winter Village at Bryant Park for FREE ice skating ($20 to rent skates).
Billed as Midtown Manhattan’s “Winter Wonderland,” the Winter Village also draws shopper with its jewel-box kiosks featuring over 125 artists artisanal gifts. Now through January 2, 2019; Monday – Friday: 11am-8pm and Saturday & Sunday: 10am-8pm.
No surprise, New York is teeming with holiday markets. From Columbus Circle to Union Square to Bryant Park, Traveling Mom has an in-depth outline of all the holiday markets to make the decision easier. Or heck, better yet, try them ALL!
Holiday Train Show
Located in the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx, the Holiday Train Show wows adults and kids alike with miniature displays of familiar landmarks interspersed among train tracks.
Globetrotting TravelingMom Terri Marshall describes the scene: “Model trains weave through a display of 150 landmarks including Grand Central Station, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Yankee Stadium, each re-created with bark, leaves, and other natural materials all under a canopy of twinkling lights. I love watching the faces of the little ones light up when they spot the trains chugging through the displays.”
We’ve barely scratched the surface of the Big Apple, so if you need some touring plans for New York, we’ve got you covered! TravelingMom.com has plenty more posts about holiday destinations in New York. Plus, plan your full itinerary with our New York 1 Day Touring Plan or our New York 3 Day Touring Plan.
Holiday Travel Movie Locations # 2: Cleveland (Inspired by “A Christmas Story”)
“You’ll shoot your eye out!” Betcha you can guess I’m talking about the classic holiday movie “A Christmas Story.” Did you know that Cleveland is home to “A Christmas Story” House and Museum? Better yet, families can spend the night in this landmark! But book far in advance because it is extremely popular! Sleeping arrangements include a queen bed, queen sleeper sofa, and even Ralphie and Randy’s twin beds! Rates begin at $395 per night, and they vary with the season.
And NEW this year, the Bumpus House is welcoming overnight guests! Located just to the left of the “A Christmas Story” house. Remember those pesky Bumpus hounds that stole the Christmas turkey? It’s THAT house.
“A Christmas Story” House and Museum
As Storyteller Traveling Mom Mary Lebeau learned: “The leg lamp played a vital role in the revitalization of the Christmas Story house. Long-time fan Brian Jones of San Diego owned a business – appropriately named The Red Ryder Leg Lamp Company – which made and distributed replicas of the infamous ‘major award.’ Jones used his earnings from the leg lamp sales to make the down payment when he purchased the home for $150,000 on eBay.” Wow, now she’s a superfan!
Cleveland Botanical Garden captivates with Glow! Including live holiday music, gingerbread houses, and a wishing tree, Glow runs from November 23, 2018-January 5, 2019. A Glow favorite, the Garden Express takes riders through the outdoor gardens, past twinkling lights and lively decorations.
Holiday Travel Movie Locations # 3: Chicago (Inspired by “Home Alone”)
Chicago was already on the holiday touring map long before Macauley Culkin uttered his iconic scream in “Home Alone” or Clark Griswold hung his Christmas lights display. So it’s high on the list of holiday destinations because it has some of the most exciting, entertaining family experiences.
Live animals, festive lights, and FREE? Sign me up! Lincoln Park Zoo hosts this event featuring:
- Photos with Santa (through December 23 before he heads back to the North Pole)
- 3D displays
- Warm spiced wine and frosty lager
- Delicious holiday snacks
- Holiday gift shopping
- Live ice-sculpture carving
- Carousel, train, ferris wheel, Light Maze, Undersea Adventure & Polar Journey experiences
- Musical light shows at Winter Wonderlawn
- Candy Cane Lane and more than 100 giant themed displays
- 3D holiday specs while supplies last
November 23, 24, 25 and 30
December 2018: 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31
January 2019: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6
Times: 4:30–9 pm.
Caroling at Cloud Gate
One of my favorite things to do for the holidays is go caroling. Between my love of music and singing with others, there’s something very communal and connecting about caroling. So it makes sense that caroling at Cloud Gate would be my first stop in Chicago. Moreover, Millennium Park makes an exceptional backdrop to this experience. In fact, Millennium Park is the epicenter of holiday merriment, says Suburban TravelingMom Jamie Bartosh: “Local Chicago choral groups perform in front of the iconic Chicago sculpture. You can sing along with some of the songs, and Santa is usually there, too.”
Dates: November 23 and 30 and December 7, 12, and 14 from 6-7pm
Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”
This isn’t your mama’s Nutcracker. This legendary ballet company in America reimagined a timeless holiday classic, thanks to choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Now set in 1893 Chicago at the World’s Fair, The Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” combines a live orchestra and local backdrop; as a result, it is a huge hit with locals and visitors alike.
Midwest TravelingMom Andrea Guthmann discovered the reasoning behind a new Nutcracker: “Why mess with a good thing? ‘The reason for a new Nutcracker was both necessity and opportunity,’ says Joffrey artistic director Ashley Wheater. ‘We had a production that was nearly 30 years old. The scenic elements were falling apart, the costumes were threadbare. We knew it was time to do a new production.’” Here’s more of her full review of the Joffrey Ballet Nutcracker.
Dates: December 1-30, 2018
Need more Chicagoland holiday ideas? Then check out Suburban Traveling Mom Jamie Bartosh’s Essential Guide for the Best Family Holiday Events In Chicago 2017.