Best New Jersey Christmas Towns that Go All-Out for the Holidays

A visit to downtown Summit puts visitors in the holiday spirit with its shops, restaurants, and hidden elves!
A visit to downtown Summit puts visitors in the holiday spirit with its shops, restaurants, and hidden elves!
11/23/23 - By Margaret Hargrove

Santa Claus is coming to the Garden State, and we’ve found 11 New Jersey Christmas towns that prove it. We're talking about the places where sleigh bells ring, carolers sing, and thousands of Christmas lights sparkle. These local New Jersey Christmas towns are getting into the holiday spirit with decked-out trees, strolling entertainment, and visits with Santa.

So, pull out the warm clothes, cue the holiday music, and take a drive to one of these charming, Christmas-crazed New Jersey towns. Then check out one of these Polar Express trains in New Jersey, plus plenty more ways to be merry in our New Jersey Holiday Fun Guide.


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1. Asbury Park

If your holiday travels take you down the Shore, make Asbury Park a stop on your tour. The Holiday Bazaar is a must-see, filled with vendors and local shops selling the cutest and coolest art, jewelry, home goods, and more. Check out the bazaar every Saturday and Sunday at Convention Hall and every Sunday at The Asbury Hotel, through Sunday, December 17. While you shop, kid-friendly activities abound. Little ones can make holiday crafts to gift grandma or grandpa, as well as snap photos in the holiday photo booths.

RELATED: Top Holiday and Christmas Events in NJ for Kids

NJ Christmas Towns: Christmas at Congress Hall.
Take a trip to Cape May to see the beautifully decorated Congress Hall. Photo courtesy of Congress Hall

2. Cape May

The seaside town of Cape May goes all out for the holiday season, trimming its historic Victorian houses with gorgeous garlands and wreaths. Take in the beautiful holiday lights during a Lamplighter Christmas Tour, hop on a trolley ride with Mrs. Claus to see the Christmas lights, or swing by Congress Hall for breakfast with Santa. You can also climb aboard the Santa Express every weekend until Christmas for a festive Santa train ride, departing from either Richland Village or Tuckahoe Village.

3. Cranford

Explore the joyfully decorated Cranford downtown and discover creative, unique Christmas trees sponsored by local organizations. You may spot a few gnomes along the way, too; they're part of the town's Gnome for the Holidays scavenger hunt. On select weekend dates in December, the Cranford Theater hosts special 9:30am screenings of favorite Christmas movies. Be sure to swing by local shops and eateries for take-home goodies, like a gingerbread cookie decorating kit.

RELATED: Where to Have Breakfast with Santa in New Jersey

New Jersey Christmas towns: Morristown's Morris Museum is decorated for the Christmas season
The Morris Museum is decked out for the holidays. Photo courtesy of the museum

4. Morristown

With the sparkling holiday lights on the Green, downtown Morristown has always captured the spirit of the holiday season. Visits and photos with Santa, holiday crafts, ice sculpture demonstrations, a vintage-style rocking horse, and rides on a miniature train delight visitors who bask in the glow of thousands of dazzling lights. Be sure to stop by Santa's mailbox on the Green to drop off your children's letters. Spend time shopping for holiday goodies, plus gourmet treats, at the Morris Winter Farmers' Market by Grow It Green.

5. Red Bank

Your family will discover the best of Red Bank’s downtown arts and antique district during its annual holiday festivities. As you stroll the small-town shops, listen for the Holiday Harmonies throughout downtown, including carolers, jazz musicians, and hand bells. Be sure to make reservations now for brunch with Santa on Sundays December 3 and 17 at 26 West on the Navesink.

RELATED: Dazzling Drive-thru and Walk-Through Christmas Lights in NJ

Christmas towns in New Jersey: New Brunswick's horse and carriage rides lend some magic to this Christmas town
Take a festive carriage ride in New Brunswick. Photo courtesy of New Brunswick City Center

6. New Brunswick

Downtown New Brunswick becomes a Winter Wonderland during the holiday season. Peruse the local shops and restaurants while admiring the beautifully decorated Christmas trees representing diverse cultures and traditions throughout the city center. On select dates, witness frozen works of art come to life at live chainsaw ice sculpting demonstrations. Catch performances by local musicians, take the family on a horse-drawn carriage ride, and capture memories of the holiday season with a visit from Santa.

7. Smithville

There’s no shortage of seasonal entertainment at Historic Smithville. With charming cobblestone-lined streets, the colonial village offers a blend of old-time celebrations with a dizzying light show on the lake that will shine in your memory for decades. On weekends, gather around the fire pit on the green to make your s'mores. Weather permitting, the train and carousel are open through December.

RELATED: 8 Ways to Celebrate Hanukkah with Kids

New Jersey Christmas towns: Glide on the faux ice in Princeton
Zip around Palmer Square’s skating rink. Photo courtesy of Palmer Square

8. Princeton

Holiday happenings in this idyllic college town offer something for everyone. Looking for low-key, warm, indoor fun? The festive display of decorated Christmas trees at the Morven Museum's annual Festival of Trees gets kids of all ages into the holiday spirit. Wander through the downtown every weekend taking in the Palmer Square Holiday Entertainment, including carolers and a Strolling Santa. Bring along your ice skates for Skating on the Square every Thursday through Sunday. Check out the spectacular Palmer Square Christmas tree every evening.

9. South Orange-Maplewood

The quaint villages of the SOMA area are the perfect setting for holiday shopping. Aside from the local neighborhood shops, both areas host outdoor holiday markets. The South Orange Open-Air Holiday Market runs on Thursdays, while Maplewood's WNTR Holiday Village & Makers Market pops up Saturday, December 9-Sunday, December 10. The Dickens Village is an annual holiday tradition in Maplewood with visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus and houses decked out for the season. Stop by Santa's mailbox to drop off letters while you're there.

RELATED: Christmas Tree Farms in New Jersey Where You Can Cut Your Own

Christmas towns in New Jersey: Downtown Summit goes all out with Christmas decor
Downtown Summit's storefronts are decorated for the season. Photo courtesy of Summit Downtown

10. Summit

A visit to downtown Summit puts visitors in the holiday spirit with its shops, restaurants, and hidden elves! Try to spot more than 100 hidden elves within Summit businesses for a chance to win prizes. Take in the sights of the holiday season from a carriage ride with holiday music throughout downtown, which runs every Saturday through Saturday, December 23. Swing by downtown on Sundays for fresh foods and holiday items at the weekly farmers market. On Saturday, December 23, Celebrate Summit by shopping locally while enjoying strolling carolers and musicians, horse and carriage rides with Santa, and ice sculpture carving demonstrations.

11. Clinton

There's no better way we can think of to kick off the holiday season than at the Clinton Christmas Parade. Held the first Friday in December for the last 37 years, this parade in historic Clinton features floats, fire trucks, costumed characters, and, of course, the jolly old man in red himself. There's just so much joyful sparkle, you'll be lit up inside for days! It's a freeze-worthy reason to bundle up and be a part of the crowd. ​Save the date—Friday, December 1—and get there early for a good spot.

This post, originally published in 2019, has been updated.