Maine, the most northern U.S. state is a great vacation destination year-round, and at Christmas, the pretty little coastal towns and cities really come alive. Escape the bustle of the big malls and enjoy shopping for one-off gifts in quaint boutiques and craft fairs. Join in the tree lighting events and caroling, watch fireworks on the beach, and see Santa arrive by boat, fire engine, or horse and carriage, before returning to your Maine vacation rental to cozy up around a log fire. Here are some of the top Christmas getaways in Maine.

1. Kennebunkport

It’s easy to see why Kennebunkport is one of the nation’s top Christmas towns, drawing in visitors from around the world. The Kennebunkport Christmas Prelude festivities take place over the first two weeks of December, kicking off with the tree lighting and caroling in Dock Square followed by the lobster trap tree lighting in Cape Porpoise Square and more caroling. The kids love keeping a loo out for Santa as he arrives in style, first on a Maine lobster boat, and then later in the month by fire engine. With more than 100 different activities taking place there is something to keep everyone entertained. Head out to the Seashore Trolley Museum where you can take a trolley ride through the Maine woods in a heated streetcar decorated with festive greenery. Step back in time at White Columns, the 1853 Greek revival home of the Perkins family where the whole house is decorated to replicate a Victorian Christmas, and lit by candles after dark. Take a cruise down the Kennebunk River on the Nor’Easter fishing boat festooned with holiday decorations. Let the kids enjoy a cookie crawl while adults browse for gifts in the local stores, galleries, and craft fairs.

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2. Ogunquit

The coastal town of Ogunquit’s Christmas by the Sea celebrations make this pretty coastal town a strong contender for the crown of Top U.S. Christmas Town. The fun begins with Christmas tree lighting in Veterans Park where visitors are warmly welcomed to join in the caroling along with cookies and warm drinks. Santa arrives by Fire Engine and poses for family photos at the Fire Station. Celebrations include a bonfire on the beach where you can keep warm while waiting for the magnificent fireworks display, shot from the Main Beach parking lot; a living manger at the Ogunquit Baptist Church; hay rides in Veterans Park; Christmas parades, a lobster trap tree; and an open house at a Victorian shingle-style seaside cottage.

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3. Portland

Downtown Portland gets lit up with a dazzling display all winter long, thanks to the amazing designs of artist Pandora LaCasse. The lights are illuminated as part of the November tree lighting ceremony in Monument Square and keep the district colorful every night until March. From that day, through to mid-December you can enjoy free horse-drawn carriage rides throughout Downtown starting and ending at Monument Square. Don’t miss out on Elfternoon lunchtime shopping sessions — three Wednesdays on which you can enjoy free lunch and snacks while you shop downtown. The annual Portland Harbor Boat Parade of Lights is a spectacle that draws visitors from afar. Gather on Maine State Pier or climb aboard a Casco Bay Lines ferry to get a good view of all the watercraft bedecked with festive lights.

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4. Bath

You’re in for a treat if you vacation in Bath, to the northeast of Portland. This little town offers what it describes as “An old fashioned Christmas,” starting with story time and ornament-making in the Patten Free Library Children’s Room, and tree decoration and lighting in Library Park. The kids then get jingle bells to shake as they walk with Santa to the City Hall for cookies, caroling, and a meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Through December you can go trolley Christmas caroling — jump aboard a trolley at the City Hall and sing your way through the streets of Bath. Time your visit to coincide with downtown Bath open house when stores, galleries, and restaurants stay open late to welcome shoppers with festive music, refreshments, and gifts.

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5. Gardiner

Located in the heart of Maine, the city of Gardiner runs holiday events throughout December, starting with the annual Holiday Parade of Lights on Water Street. Make sure to pack your most outrageous festive sweaters to take part in the Ugly Sweater Contest as either a parade participant or spectator. Several stores stay open late and there’s free gift wrapping for your purchases.

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6. Camden

The beautiful seaport town of Camden’s Christmas by the Sea winter festival has expanded to include the neighboring communities of Lincolnville and Rockport. This family affair welcomes locals and visitors alike to enjoy the Christmas Parade that travels from downtown Camden to Harbor Park where the community tree lighting takes place. Santa and Ellen the Elf usually arrive by lobster boat and make it their mission to get to see every child in town. Makes sure you look to the skies to spot the giant star sitting atop Mount Battie. At night you can’t see the mountain, so the star appears to be floating in the air like magic.

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7. Waterville

The city of Waterville, located on the west bank of the Kennebec River, is also known as Kringleville. The annual holiday parade takes place the evening after Thanksgiving, attracting families in their thousands. Floats and marching bands travel through the streets to Castonguay Square for the lighting of a huge spruce tree. Santa arrives and stays to meet kids on most days of the week until just before Christmas when he heads off on his trip around the world.

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