With snow-capped mountains, pristine rainforests and cities filled with glittering lights, the Pacific Northwest has wonders to spare. Whether you need to entertain the kiddos while they are on winter break, want a relaxing weekend escape or have the itch to explore somewhere new, consider the abundance of wintertime fun to be had in your own backyard.

Slide down glistening slopes, travel between the tree tops or cozy up inside with a delicious meal or captivating show. The best part? Most of these destinations are only a quick boat, train or car ride away. Make the most of the winter season and tour these five must-visit locales for an epic holiday getaway with your friends or family.

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 Victoria

With dazzling lights, historic buildings decked out in bright green pine boughs and velvet ribbons, horse-drawn carriages and carolers on nearly every street corner, the charming city of Victoria packs in more holiday fun and magic than you can imagine. Visit the iconic Butchart Gardens and explore their spectacular  Holiday Lights display that spans the 55-acre grounds to see if you can spot all of the 12 days of Christmas. Back in town, hop on the colorful and whimsical Centennial Square Ferris Wheel to soar 65 feet above the sparkling lights of the Square and soak in stunning views of downtown Victoria and the Inner Harbour.

More than 300,000 glistening lights cover the grounds at The Butchart Gardens. Photo: The Butchart Gardens
More than 300,000 glistening lights cover the grounds at The Butchart Gardens. Photo: The Butchart Gardens

For more festive fun, enter a forest of more than 75 glittering trees at the Empress’ and Bay Centre’s Festival of the Trees or check out the city’s best-dressed teddy bears at Bear Wear in the Hotel Grand Pacific. If you prefer sweets, feast your eyes on more than 24 elaborately frosted creations at the Gingerbread Showcase at the Inn at Laurel Point or the incredible, life size gingerbread house at the Empress’ Candy Wonderland.

Seattle

Each December, Seattle transforms into a veritable epicenter of holiday cheer, hosting a huge range of activities that are sure to light up the faces of your friends and family. Check out rousing performances of Christmas carols at A Victorian Country Christmas Festival or watch George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at McCaw Hall. If you’re looking for some quality time outdoors, go skating at Seattle Center’s Winterfest or take part in the Ugly Sweater Run in Redmond.

Seattle's festive light displays are sure to leave you mesmerized.
Seattle’s festive light displays are sure to leave you mesmerized.

Of course, a visit to the Emerald City would not be complete without experiencing a few of the stunning light displays scattered about the city like stars across the sky. Wander through a jungle of exotic animals created out of lights at Woodland Park Zoo’s Wildlights or watch as ships and sailboats glide across the Sound covered in glowing strands of lights during the Argosy Christmas Ship Festival. You can also treat your taste buds to the suds of the season while soaking in some of the city’s most popular landmarks all decked out in lights on the Holiday Brews and Bulbs tour.

Leavenworth

Just a few hours northeast of Seattle, the quaint, picturesque town of Leavenworth looks like it could have been plucked up from Germany and set among the Cascade Mountains. The smell of chestnuts and brats fills the air. Gluhwein tents selling hot spiced wine and cider line the street. An array of boutiques brimming with unique handcrafted goods. These sights and smells, along with more than half a million twinkling lights, turn this snowy mountain town is winter wonderland full of holiday cheer.

There is nothing more magical than snow falling on the quaint, light covered city of Leavenworth. Photo: Icicle TV, courtesy of Visit Leavenworth
There is nothing more magical than snow falling on the quaint, light covered city of Leavenworth. Photo: Icicle TV, courtesy of Visit Leavenworth

As the sky starts to dim, follow the melodic sounds of Alphorns to the town Square for the highlight of the day – the Christmas Lighting Festival. In one magical moment, the entire town comes to life with a synchronized display of lights, live musical performances and even visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus. However, the lights are not the only way to spark your holiday spirit. Grab a sled and whiz down the slippery slopes of the town’s sledding hill on Front Street Park, glide over fresh powder on a sleigh ride or trek through the nearby Riverfront Park by snowshoe.

Portland

It’s hard to find a hipper holiday season than the one taking over Portland in December. For the beer lover, check out the Holiday Ale Festival, a celebration of bold winter ales held in the heart of downtown Portland. Savor over 50 distinct brews while keeping cozy under the heated white tents in Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Featuring excellent eats and outstanding views, Portland is marvelous to visit any time of year.
Featuring excellent eats and outstanding views, Portland is marvelous to visit any time of year.

If you are a traditionalist, take in Portland Playhouse‘s award-winning rendition of the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. Or, bring your family along on the Portland Christmas Tour to soak in the biggest and brightest lights displays in the city. Travel past historic mansions and neighborhoods decked out in their holiday finest with a stop at the Christmas Festival of Lights at The Grotto, which features a spectacular light display, nightly concerts, a Christmas-themed puppet show and a petting zoo.

Vancouver

Boasting both stunning natural beauty and a bustling multicultural city center, BC’s biggest city has everything to quench your thirst for urban merrymaking. Head to the annual, German-inspired Vancouver Christmas Market and stroll through the stalls to pick up unique gifts such as authentic wood carvings and toys, knitted goods, nutcrackers and pottery.

Come nightfall, grab a steaming hot cup of eggnog and hop on the Bright Nights Christmas Train to ride around the popular Stanley Park and soak in the array of colorful light displays covering the grounds. Be sure to keep your eyes (and ears) peeled for the Christmas performers along the train route.

Brimming with tasty treats, unique shops and downtown Vancouver’s only Christmas Carousel, the Vancouver Christmas Market is fun for kids all ages. Photo: Jordan Kutev Architect Inc.
Brimming with tasty treats, unique shops and downtown Vancouver’s only Christmas Carousel, the Vancouver Christmas Market is fun for kids all ages. Photo: Jordan Kutev Architect Inc.

If you are looking for more lights and frosty fun, venture to the awe-inspiring Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Gaze upon Vancouver’s pristine evergreen forests, including the world’s tallest Christmas tree, from 230 feet off the ground. Hundreds of thousands of dazzling lights strung throughout the park make this impressive view even more spectacular, as they light up the park’s bridges, trees and walkways and cause them to glitter like diamonds.

Whether you’re searching for the perfect city-wide event to get you in the holiday spirit or a quiet retreat to enjoy with loved ones, the Pacific Northwest has a range of options that are sure to fit the bill. Grab your friends and family, pack your bag and embark on a memorable holiday escape (no visits to crowded airports or lengthy flights required!) and discover the beauty of the season.

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Feature Photo: Kate Zaidova

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