When it comes to the winter holiday season, Alaska knows how to celebrate in style. When you stay at a vacation rental in Alaska, you can enjoy easy and convenient access to all things winter: skiing, snowmobiling, ice skating, holiday festivals, and, of course, Christmas lights. Alaska’s temperatures in December average in the 20s for some areas, while in other spots, the temps can fall to 20 degrees below. Consequently, it’s a good idea to bundle up during your trip. Whether you’re viewing ice sculptures in North Pole or driving through the Zoo Lights in Anchorage, Alaska offers plenty of magnificent wintry sights to get you into the holiday spirit. Check out the five best places in Alaska to admire Christmas lights.

Christmas decorations
Source: Flickr/Wonderlane

1. Anchorage

Anchorage, Alaska’s most populous city, is nicknamed The City of Lights and Flowers, so it’s no surprise that it’s home to a multitude of holiday light-related events. The day after Thanksgiving, downtown Anchorage hosts the annual holiday tree lighting ceremony in Town Square. Santa and his reindeer are on hand, so be sure to bring your camera. Grab some free cookies for the kids, and sip complimentary hot cocoa to stay warm as you check out the ice sculptures around town.

Zoo Lights, at the Alaska Zoo, is another popular winter attraction. The fun begins the day after Thanksgiving, when the zoo trails light up with lots of decorative displays. Trees around the zoo are dripping with lights, and even the playground is illuminated. The coffee shop is open if you need to warm up, and you can browse for stocking stuffers at the gift shop.

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2. Fairbanks

Known as the Golden Heart City, Fairbanks lies in the Interior region of Alaska, characterized by a subarctic climate and long, cold winters, but the events here are worth bundling up in your cold-weather gear. The Winter Solstice Celebration in late December is a big deal. Fireworks light the sky, and the streets are lined with illuminated decorations, including light-up snowflakes that grace the light posts. Stop by Big Ray’s for a cup of coffee if you need to warm up during the event, and be sure to visit the local merchants’ shops to pick up some Christmas gifts.

Delight the little ones with a ride on the Santa Train. Head to the Tanana Valley Railroad Museum to board the train, and stop inside the museum afterward for free cocoa and hot cider. No trip to Fairbanks is complete without a glimpse of the Northern Lights, as this is one of the most reliable cities for viewing. Choose a night that’s clear and dark, and be sure to bundle up in layers.

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3. North Pole

Few places could be better for holiday-themed activities than a town that’s actually named North Pole. Between late November through early January, book a nearby vacation rental to enjoy the town’s Christmas in Ice event. Located in Winter Ice Park, the festival includes impressive ice sculptures and an ice playground, complete with an ice maze and ice slides.

The first weekend of December brings North Pole’s Winterfest at North Pole Plaza. There, watch the annual tree lighting, check out the holiday bazaar, and take part in the candle-lighting ceremony. There are also fireworks and the crowning of a Winterfest king and queen. If you’re staying through the end of December, be sure to stop back at Winter Ice Park for the New Year’s Eve fireworks and snowflake drop.

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4. Wasilla

Wasilla, in southcentral Alaska, hosts the Wasilla Community Christmas Celebration in early December. Kick off your holidays with a trip to this festive event. Watch as the town mayor lights up the fantastic community Christmas tree, warm up with cider or cocoa, and grab some fresh cookies to fill your belly. Santa stops in for photos, and there are free craft stations and activities for the little ones. Gather the whole family for an old-fashioned wagon ride, then duck into the Wasilla Museum & Visitor Center to learn about this historic town.

If you’re looking for a Christmas tree to make your vacation rental festive, stop by Mile 5.2 Greenhouse for an incredible selection of Noble Fir trees. When you don’t have meal plans for Christmas Day, consider the Christmas Friendship Dinner at Curtis D. Menard Sports Center. Everyone is welcome, and you can even sign the family up to volunteer or provide a donation.

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5. Palmer

Palmer, Alaska, hosts a variety of events to make your Christmas merry and bright, beginning with the Colony Christmas Celebration in early December. Check out the gorgeously lit community Christmas tree at the Palmer Library, walk through the downtown area to see the merchants’ light displays, and marvel at the Palmer Water Tower decked out in holiday lights. Be sure to stop by the Festival of Trees, where a number of beautifully decorated trees are up for raffle, or take a horse-drawn sleigh ride. There’s also a craft fair, Christmas performances at the Glenn Massay Theater, a gingerbread house contest, a parade, and a fireworks display. Before leaving the event, pick out your own discounted tree at The Gallery.

The weekend before Christmas, the Williams Reindeer Farm hosts its Christmas on the Farm event, which includes a visit from Santa, crafts for the kids, and reindeer sleigh rides. Participate in an indoor snowball fight, take a tractor-pulled wagon ride, or warm up around the bonfire.

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