Northeast winter family vacation road trips, including ideas for Christmas in the Northeast.
As my kids have gotten older and my husband has gotten busier at work, it’s become increasingly difficult to find a good time to go on family vacations. Sports and shows often fill out weekends, school vacations, and summer. So, the days between Christmas Day and New Year have become one of our favorite times to travel on a quick family getaway. Unfortunately, this can often be an expensive time to travel, because it’s so popular.
Because of that, we generally do a winter family vacation road trip. It’s an easy way to save money, because we don’t need to worry about purchasing airline tickets. Living in the Northeast, there are lots of options to travel for a Northeast winter vacation. This year, my son specifically requested a vacation that didn’t involve skiing, and luckily, we have some great choices for Northeast winter getaways. Here are some of our favorite road trips for Northeast winter family vacations road trips.
Disclosure: Affiliate links within. Purchasing and/or clicking on some of the links may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you. Some of these Northeast winter getaways trips were provided at no cost or minimal cost for purposes of review. All opinions are our own, and we’ve editorially selected these winter getaways.
Northeast Winter Vacations
Cape Cod/The Islands
Visiting the Cape and Islands in the winter is like a secret getaway – the crowds from the summer are completely gone. While many places are closed in the winter, if you find a hotel with an indoor pool, you can still enjoy swimming. Some of the popular summer restaurants and shops are still open in the winter, and you can ride the Polar Express through the 23rd.
I found some great rates on Hotwire.com (book through Ebates.com for 2% back) for a hotel on Martha’s Vineyard and one in Falmouth. Just be sure to check ferry schedules (for the Islands) and make sure that your restaurant/attraction choices are open in the off season. Some do close, so you will have limited options. But these quaint seaside towns are so charming, and are just as beautiful in the winter.
In North Conway, there are lots of other fun things to do for a Northeast winter vacation. Besides the outlet shopping (with plenty of great deals both before and after the holidays), you can also visit Santa’s Village on New Year’s Eve for the Partybration.
Tubing is available on Cranmore Mountain resort, and if you’d like to visit an indoor water park, stay at the Red Jacket Resort. North Conway also has many delicious restaurants, and the scenery is really beautiful in every season.
If you do want to ski, Loon Mountain, Cranmore, and Attitash are popular options. Many of the hotels also have indoor pools, so your kids will enjoy swimming, even though the weather outside is cold. Do your research to find a resort that offers the amenities that you will want to have.
We also enjoy outlet shopping at Settler’s Green in North Conway. There’s no sales tax in New Hampshire, so you can get some great deals.
New York City
Anytime is a good time to visit New York City, and the holidays are arguably the best time thanks to the beautiful Christmas decorations and the holiday-themed shows. If you are looking for something to do in Christmas in the Northeast, it’s a great option. Be aware that it is expensive to stay in the city during the entire holiday season – stay outside the city if you are looking for a bargain.
January is a great time to visit because the crowds have all left. Just be sure to bundle up, it can definitely be cold. While you are there, make sure you dine at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, which is my kids’ favorite. There are other great restaurants for kids in NYC as well. Depending on the ages and interests of your kids, you may also consider seeing a Broadway show with your kids.
You may also want to see the city from a unique vantage point. There are several options, including the One World Observatory, the Empire State Building, or the Top of the Rock. The Ride NYC is a fun experience and a unique way to experience the Times Square area.
Our hotel pick: The Hilton Midtown or the Intercontinental NYC
There are lots of things to do in Lake George in December. The Six Flags Great Escape Lodge is a great lodging option, and the indoor water park is included with a stay (day passes are also available). There’s so much to do there – you could easily spend multiple nights at the hotel alone.
There are several tubing parks in the area as well as a children’s museum in Glens Falls. Of course, there are also some ski options available in the area.
Two years ago, we enjoyed visiting Freeport, Maine right after Christmas. It’s just a few hours north of Boston, and very close to Portland, Maine. Don’t miss the flagship LL Bean Store. It offers so much more than just clothing and outdoor gear, including some things specifically for children. During the holidays, they offer a number of holiday-themed activities.
We also enjoy doing outlet shopping in the other Freeport stores. There are typically some great deals available after the holidays.
We recommend: The Hilton Garden Inn.
Portland, Maine is one of my favorite places in New England. While it’s definitely a beautiful place to visit in the summer, there are also plenty of things to do in the winter. We have visited there over a few Christmas vacations, and have really enjoyed it. If you’d like, you can also combine a trip to Portland with a visit to Kittery and/or Freeport. Both are relatively close to Portland.
During your visit, you’ll be able to explore the Portland Museum of Art, which also includes kid-friendly exhibits. There are also lots of delicious restaurants. Don’t miss a visit to Holy Donut, where you can try the most delicious donuts made with mashed potatoes.
You can read more things to do in Portland, Maine here.
New Haven, CT
Foodies and families will love the options available in New Haven, CT. Most famous as the home of Yale University, New Haven has some fabulous museums and delicious restaurants.
The Yale Peabody Museum and the Yale University Art Gallery are both great places to visit with kids. Of course, you can’t miss out on the famous New Haven pizza – it really is delicious! During our visit a few years ago, we spent two nights in the city and really enjoyed exploring. There are so many great restaurants.
See day trips from Boston here.
Right over the Rhode Island border is Mystic, CT, most famous as the home of Mystic Pizza. Several years ago, we drove to Mystic right after Christmas and enjoyed a two-night stay. Activities include the Mystic Aquarium, which is my favorite aquarium in the area. It’s got both indoor and outdoor exhibits. During our visit, they handed out complimentary hot chocolate outside because it was chilly.
Across the street from Mystic Aquarium is Olde Mistick Village. This old-fashioned village includes shops and restaurants. It’s fun to walk around, and my kids enjoyed spending some of their Christmas money in the shops.
A bit further down the road is Mystic Seaport. This interactive museum focuses on the United States maritime experience. During our visit, we enjoyed some of the hands-on activities. Opening times and event schedules are seasonal, so check the schedule before venturing out.
Mystic tends to be busy during the summer, but it’s not too crowded in the winter. We enjoyed staying at the Hilton across from the aquarium. It offers an indoor pool for swimming in the winter, and we were able to visit the aquarium and Olde Mistick Village without having to drive.
See more things to do in Mystic, CT here.
We’ve visited Smugglers’ Notch Vermont in the summer, but I can imagine it would be wonderful to visit in the winter as well. It’s a ski resort, so families with skiers will have plenty to do. But, the resort also has a FunZone with inflatables and other indoor activities. There’s also an outdoor skating rink, tubing, and winter walking. The resort is huge, so you’ll have a variety of lodging options. We love the full kitchens, because we are able to prepare some meals in our room to save money.
Before leaving, be sure to check directions. The Notch is the easiest way to get to the resort from some destinations, but it’s closed in the winter. Be sure you know where you are headed before going too far the wrong way.
Last winter, with brutal freezing temperatures in the forecast, we opted for a day trip to Kittery rather than a longer vacation over the Christmas/New Year break. Kittery, Maine is right over the New Hampshire border, and features a number of great outlet stores. After Christmas, we were able to take advantage of some great post-holiday sales. Even in the winter, you can get some delicious lobster in Maine, so be sure to stop for a delicious lunch.
If you are headed to Portland from Massachusetts, Kittery is an easy stop along the way. Grab lunch, and do some shopping before getting to Portland.
Boston has so many great winter family activities. You could easily spend several nights and fill each day. If you want to stay warm indoors, definitely consider visiting the Boston Museum of Science, the Boston Children’s Museum, the New England Aquarium, and the Museum of Fine Arts. My kids’ favorite is the Museum of Science, where you could definitely spend most of the day, between the exhibit halls and the various shows.
If you want to get outside, head to the Boston Common for ice skating. There are also several shows going on in the theater district, including the Blue Man Group. For delicious Italian food, visit the North End where there are dozens of authentic Italian restaurants offering all types of Italian cuisine from pizza and pasta to more adventurous meat dishes. Don’t miss the popular cannolis that you can get at several different cafes in the neighborhood.
Another great option for a Northeast Winter vacation is the Great Wolf Lodge New England. This family resort includes loads of indoor activities, including a huge indoor water park, a ropes course, the MagiQuest game, an arcade, and small bowling lanes. Only overnight guests at the resort can enjoy the indoor water park, so you’ll definitely want to spend at least one night there. Many families find that they only need one night there, because you can use the water park both on your check in day and your check out day. There are also a number of holiday events that happen at the Great Wolf Lodge.
Before heading out, check out our Great Wolf Lodge packing list here.
I absolutely love Newport. It’s most known as a summer vacation destination, due to the location right on the water. In the winter, things are definitely slower. If you want to see the famous Newport Mansions, several of them are decorated beautifully for the holidays. Many of the shops and restaurants in town are also open year round, so you can definitely walk around downtown.
Originally published in 2013, updated in 2018.