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Everything’s sparkly and bright at five of America’s historic landmarks—all open for touring this holiday season.
1. Christmas at Biltmore
In fitting fashion, it was Christmas Eve of 1895 when George W. Vanderbilt officially welcomed his family and friends to Biltmore, his 250-room country retreat overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains. Today, this National Historic Landmark (and America’s largest home) still welcomes guests for the holidays for daytime and candlelight evening visits through January 12th. On the self-guided tours, check out the stunning 35-foot-high tree, miles and miles of festive lights and garlands, and Antler Hill Village—where Santa holds court on weekends to decide who’s been naughty or nice. Want to learn how to make a wreath? Holiday craft classes are also held daily. Pricing varies; visit biltmore.com to learn more.
2. Holiday Evening at Vizcaya
December 18 and 20, from 6 to 9:30 pm, experience Vizcaya—the Italian Renaissance-style winter villa of American industrialist James Deering (of tractor fame)—as it would have looked at Christmas time in the early 20th century. The main house, which overlooks Biscayne Bay, will be dressed to the nines in twinkling lights and holiday decoration (much like Deering, who moved in on Christmas Day in 1916, would have liked it). There will be holiday tunes played on the home’s custom-built pipe organ as well as holiday treats and libations available for purchase. Tickets will be available on-site for $25; visit vizcayamuseum.org to learn more.
3. A Christmas City Stroll
Every afternoon until December 23, explore Christmas City USA on 45-minute walking tours through beautiful downtown Historic Bethlehem. You’ll learn about the town’s Colonial and Victorian architecture, as guides in period dress explain the famous candle-in-every-window tradition and shed new light on the well-known Bethlehem Star. If you go, book a horse-drawn carriage ride and remember to swing by the Moravian Museum of Bethlehem on Church Street to see some of the oldest holiday decorations in the country. The town’s famous sugar cookies and Moravian stars also make perfect stocking stuffers! Admission costs $12 for adults; $6 for youths six to 12; carriage rides are $50 for four people. Visit historicbethlehem.org to find out more.
4. Christmas at the Newport Mansions
Through January 5th, The Breakers, The Elms, and Marble House—three icons of the Gilded Age—will be decked out in spectacular Yuletide finery and open for tours. Thousands of poinsettias, fresh flowers, evergreens and wreaths can be expected, while each window in the three homes will be lit with a white candle. Dining tables will also be set for Christmas dinner with period silver and china. Admission to all three houses is $28 for adults and $9 for children six to 17. Visit newportmansions.org to learn more.
5. Christmas at the Castle
In 1919, publishing baron William Randolph Hearst sent a simple note to San Francisco architect Julia Morgan: “Miss Morgan we are tired of camping out in the open at the ranch at San Simeon and I would like to build a little something.” The resulting estate, with its 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens and walkways, will be decorated for Christmas in appropriately festive Gilded-era style. Expect glittery lights, garlands, wreaths and twin 18′ Christmas trees in the Assembly Room. Plus, docents will be suited up in 1930 period clothing. To find out more about tour options available through the end of December, visit hearstcastle.org.
For more on historic homes, consider: