christmas in florida

Best Christmas Vacations in Florida

Wondering about the best Christmas vacations in Florida? Today we will discover some of the best places to spend the holidays in Florida!

Why wouldn’t you want to take your Christmas vacation in Florida? While many love a white Christmas, Florida offers another way to experience the magic of the season. With a Florida Christmas, you’ll enjoy warm weather, a festive atmosphere, and great memories. If you’re looking for the best places to spend Christmas in Florida, this article will help you decide.

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this Florida holiday guide are affiliate links (including links to Amazon) providing us with a small commission if you make a qualifying purchase – at no extra cost to you. We greatly appreciate your support!

Tampa and St Petersburg

Since I live in Tampa Bay, I might be a little biased but I think that Tampa Bay (consisting of Tampa, St Pete, and the surrounding beach communities) is one of the best places to spend the holidays in Florida. There is so much to do!

Enchant is a huge holiday event that takes place in various cities around the US. St Pete is lucky enough to be one of the locations for Enchant. It is held at the Tropicana Stadium, where you’ll find tons of lights, festive drinks, local shops set up a Christmas market, an ice skating rink, Santa, and more. It’s family friendly but also fun for any age.

florida christmas events

The Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo have an amazing light display in their already beautiful and serene gardens. Largo Central Park also has an amazing light display and also has amusement rides and food stands. Both events are free. Donations are encouraged at the Florida Botanical Gardens.

Busch Gardens is another one of my favorite holiday traditions in Tampa Bay. They host Christmas Town where you’ll find millions of twinkling lights and decorations. It seems like every inch of the theme park is adorned with holiday decorations. They also have festive shows and characters walking around.

christmas in florida

Curtis Hixon Park has a Winter Village every year in downtown Tampa. They have an outdoor ice skating rink, shows, food options, and more. Curtis Hixon Park is located right on Tampa’s Riverwalk and the Riverwalk itself is a fun place to be during the holidays. There is a floating Christmas tree, a gingerbread display, and a lighted pine tree forest. Nearby restaurants and bars decorate for the holidays, too. And of course, there is a boat parade every year.

You can see the Nutcracker ballet at the Carol Morsani Hall.

The Henry B. Plant museum also has a Victorian Christmas Stroll where you can view some beautiful Christmas decorations. The Christmas decorations will give you a glimpse into how Christmas was celebrated during the Victorian era. Each room is different and has a theme with matching displays. 

Important Dates for Holidays in Tampa Bay:

  • Victorian Christmas Stroll at the Henry B. Plant Museum Dec 1, 2023 – Dec 23, 2023
  • Enchant November 24, 2023 – December 31, 2023
  • Florida Botanical Gardens Holiday Lights in the Gardens November 24, 2023 – December 31, 2023.
  • Largo Central Park Holiday Lights November 23, 2023 – December 31, 2023.
  • Christmas Town at Busch Gardens November 11, 2023 – January 7, 2024
  • Winter Village at Curtis Hixon Park TBA
  • The Nutcracker at Carol Morsani Hall December 21-23, 2023
  • Victorian Christmas Stroll December 1-23, 2023

You can also read more details about events in the area in my blog post on Christmas Activities in Tampa Bay.

West Palm Beach

When it comes to the holidays, West Palm Beach is famous for Sandi Land. Sandi Land is a 700 ton, 35 foot tall tree made of sand. It also has over 5,000 lights! It’s probably one of the most tropical ways you can celebrate Christmas in Florida. While Sandi Land is the most notable, there are also some other festive sand sculptures. And there is a ferris wheel!

The Palm Beach Zoo decorates for the occasion with holiday lights

The Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens has a Festival of Trees.

Orlando

Orlando has tons of festive options for your Christmas vacation in Florida.

First is Dazzling Lights at Harry P. Leu Gardens. It’s a 3/4 mile walk in the beautiful gardens with tons of lights and decorations. You will need to purchase tickets ahead of time. Tickets are not sold at the door.

The Orlando Museum of Arts puts on a Festival of Trees each year. It features beautifully decorated Christmas trees and other holiday-themed displays. Each tree is uniquely themed and decorated by different individuals, organizations, or businesses in the community. This means you’ll see a wide variety of tree styles, such as traditional and classic to contemporary and whimsical.

Lake Nona Town Center transforms into a winter wonderland every holiday season. Known as Peppermint Square, you can find a loaded event calendar, photo ops, ice skating, pop up stands with holiday treats, holiday shows, and more.

Of course we cannot have a Florida Christmas destinations list without including Disney. Disney celebrates holidays year after year with extravagant decorations, holiday parades, and light displays. Magic Kingdom also hosts Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party which is a special holiday event (and requires an additional paid ticket). The park will have extended hours for the event with holiday themed characters, parades, festive treats, and more.

Even though Disney is famous for its Christmas celebrations, the company decorates all of its parks for the holidays and hosts special events. And for a more budget friendly option, you can also go to Disney Springs, which is free to visit. Disney Springs has a Christmas Tree Trail and you can get a scavenger hunt book to mark each trail off of a list to make sure you’ve seen them all.

Holiday Dates in Orlando:

  • Dazzling Lights at Harry P. Leu Gardens November 17, 2023 – January 6, 2024
  • Orlando Museum of Arts Festival of Trees November 10-19, 2023
  • Lake Nona Town Center Peppermint Square December 7-23, 2023
  • Walt Disney World; Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party November 9 – December 22, 2023

Key West

You might already know that we are obsessed with Key West. So it’s probably not surprising that we feel Key West is a great place to spend your Florida Christmas vacation. Among all the places to spend Christmas in Florida, Key West is likely one of the warmest due to its southern location. This means you’ll be able to participate in water activities if that’s your thing.

Key West also goes all out with festive holiday decorations and boat parades. Make sure to check out the famous Christmas tree made out of lobster traps and buoys at the harbor walk.

To see Christmas lights throughout the island, you can take a the Conch Tour Train Holiday Lights Tour. It’s a one hour tour that takes you to some of the most festively decorated houses, buildings and neighborhoods in Key West.

If you’re staying through New Years Eve, then you can enjoy the Conch Shell Drop. It’s kind of like the Times Square ball drop but it’s a giant conch shell instead.

Key West has a lighted boat parade and also has a holiday lighted bicycle ride. Overall, Key West is a great destination for a Christmas vacation in Florida.

Captiva and Sanibel Islands

Captiva Island is a great place for families to spend the holidays in Florida. There is a great community and island pride on Captiva Island which makes for a welcoming, cozy way to celebrate the holidays.

It always seems as though everything on the islands is decorated, including boats. Of course, there are boat parades but if you’re not in town the weekend that there is a boat parade, you can stroll along the marinas during the evening for beautifully decorated boats.

Nearby Sanibel Island has holiday concerts that are a fun way to get into the festive spirit.

If you happen to be there during the luminary stroll, this is a really fun festive event. A golf cart parade takes place, and the golf carts themselves are decked out in holiday spirit. The luminary stroll features a 3-mile-long trail illuminated by luminaries. You can also enjoy and support the small shops in the area. You can also meet Santa, enjoy a live nativity scene, and there is live music and activities for the entire family. Please be aware that for 2023, the luminary stroll is postponed due to the anticipation of a grand celebration next year for their 50th anniversary.

Captiva and Sanibel Islands are close to Fort Myers, which has a lot to do. So if you are looking to stay busy, you can easily combine that with your trip. If you do venture out to Fort Myers, I recommend the Edison and Ford Winter Estates if you’re trying to stay in the holiday spirit. They always decorate beautifully for the holidays.

Important dates for holiday events in Sanibel and Captiva Islands:

  • Captiva Boat Parade December 2, 2023
  • Luminary Stroll – Postponed for 2023, but will be back as a huge event in 2024 for the 50th anniversary

Jacksonville

Jacksonville hosts several Christmas parades throughout December. There is the Jacksonville Light Boat Parade, the Jacksonville Christmas Parade, and the Jacksonville Beach Deck the Chairs event, which features more than 40 creatively decorated lifeguard chairs.

There are also holiday themed theatrical performances, concerts, and ballets. The Alhambra Theatre puts on a musical production based on A Christmas Carole, the Jacksonville Symphony puts on a Holiday Pops concert; and there is the Hip Hop Nutcracker, putting a unique spin on the holiday classic.

The Jacksonville Arboretum and Botanical Gardens transforms into an interactive holiday display. 3/4-mile is decorated with lights and sculptures. Or you can drive through the JAX Illuminations Holiday Light Show.

You’ll also find tons of holiday lights at the Jacksonville Zoo.

Miami

It’s hard to include a best of Florida list about anything without including Miami. The holidays in Miami are no exception. The Art Deco Historic District along Ocean Drive is covered with lights.

You can also visit Santa’s Enchanted Forest. It’s a holiday-themed amusement park and festival that becomes an annual holiday tradition for many. There are rides, family friendly shows, good food, games, attractions, and more. Of course, you can meet Santa, too!

The Miami Zoo gets decorated with over a million lights. They also have holiday musical performances, holiday themed boat rides, and photos with Santa.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is beautiful year-round, but is truly magical during the holidays. It’s beautifully decorated for the holidays. Visitors can even participate in making a lantern.

The Deering Estate is a restored estate with history dating back to the early 20th century. During the holiday season, the estate is adorned in 1920s style, allowing you to experience what it was like to celebrate Christmas during that era. They also have events, such as Storytime with Santa and evening strolls.

The Miami City Ballet performs The Nutcracker throughout the holiday season.

Important holiday dates for Christmas in Miami:

  • Santa’s Enchanted Forest November 9, 2023 – January 7, 2024
  • Miami Zoo Holiday Lights on the following dates: Nov. 24 & 25; Dec. 1 & 2; Dec. 8 & 9; Dec. 15, 16 & 17; Dec. 22 & 23; Dec. 28, 29 & 30 from 6:30 pm – 10 pm.
  • The Deering Estate November 24, 2023 – January 7, 2024
  • Miami City Ballet performs The Nutcracker December 8 – 30th

St Augustine

St. Augustine is known as the nation’s oldest city. It is very charming any time of year which only makes it extra magical during Christmas.

St Augustine is home to the Nights of Lights festival. Basically, this is where millions of lights can be enjoyed around the historic district. The festival runs from approximately the end of November through the end of January. There are several ways to enjoy Nights of Lights; there are trolley tours, carriage rides, and you can wander by foot. But in my opinion, the best way to experience Nights of Lights in St Augustine is by boat.

There are also family friendly holiday events in St Augustine. You can catch the boat parade, go on a holiday tour of the inns in town, or visit the St. Augustine Lighthouse to visit Santa when they host their annual luminary night.

2024 Holiday Dates in St. Augustine:

  • Luminary Night – December 6, 2023
  • Boat Parade (Regatta of Lights) – December 9, 2023
  • St Augustine Nights of Lights – November 18, 2023 to January 31, 2024

While Florida might not have the traditional snowy Christmas, it offers a one-of-a-kind holiday experience that you won’t find anywhere else. Whether you prefer the magic of Disney, the historic charm of St. Augustine, or the tropical vibes of Key West, Florida has something special for everyone during the Christmas season. I’d also love to hear your favorite places to celebrate the holidays in Florida!

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