11 Things to Do at Christmas in Cape May

Christmas in Cape May is a festive season filled with lights, decorations, shopping, and Santa. Local homes and businesses pull out all the stops with remarkable holiday displays, and shops stay open late for shoppers. There are lots of special events bringing live music, performances, and seasonal treats. All around town, there are trolleys and carriage rides showing visitors the joyful sights of Christmas.

There are so many things to do in the charming seaside town during the holidays that there’s always something new to see no matter how many times you visit. Here’s a look at some of our favorites.

See the Victorians

Victorian home decorated with Christmas lights and garland with a sign for the "Mainstay Inn."
Mainstay Inn on Columbia Avenue

The town’s Grand Victorian homes are painted in all the colors of the rainbow. A stroll around the Cape May Historic District is always beautiful but takes on a magical feeling during the winter. In December, the bright facades are often decked out with lights, garlands, and other gleaming things that make them a pleasure to see at night.

Decorations vary yearly, but walking or driving along Columbia Avenue, Jackson Street, Decatur Street, or Ocean Street is usually a good bet to see gorgeous homes and inns.

Catch a Christmas performance

The holidays are the perfect time to catch a theater performance, and the shows at the local venues never disappoint.

This year, Cape May Stage showcases A Tuna Christmas, a modern classic about the tiny town of Tuna, Texas. Two actors play 22 unexpected characters, so count on a lot of costume changes among the funny, heartwarming moments. It runs November 15 through December 30, 2023.

At the East Lynne Theater Company, you’ll find Lennie’s Christmas Extravaganza, a fun, music-filled performance from local favorite Lennie McKenzie. The show is on December 7-9.

Take a holiday tour at the Emlen Estate

Victorian house with a red roof.
Emlen Physick House in December

Visiting the Emlen Physick Estate is one of the most popular things to do in Cape May any time of the year. The outstanding Victorian house museum was built in 1879 and is an architectural wonder with detailed woodwork and period furniture.

During the holidays, the mansion is decked out with candles, garlands, and multiple trees for Christmas. The tour, led by guides in 19th-century dress, highlights the home’s Victorian-era architecture and how Victorian residents celebrated Christmas 140 years ago–in fact, the decorations make it look like the family is still there getting ready for the holiday season.

After a guided house tour, don’t miss the Winter Wonderwalk, a route that will take you across the estate to see different winter displays.

Visit the Old-Fashioned Christmas exhibit

Exhibit featuring Christmas ornaments and miniature houses.
Winter scenes of “An Old-Fashioned Christmas”

Every year, the Carroll Gallery features “An Old-Fashioned Christmas” exhibit. The free display is packed with ornaments, and a model train winds its way through a miniature Dickens Village. On the walls, there are quotes from A Christmas Carol and classic Christmas scenes and photos.

A visit here is paired with the tour of the Emlen Physick Estate, but it’s also possible to visit on its own. The Old-Fashioned Christmas exhibit is a fun place to bring kids because you can drop off letters to Santa.

The exhibit runs November 17, 2023 – January 1, 2024.

Take a candlelight house tour

There are lots of unique tours to take around town during the Christmas season. One of the most popular is the Candlelight House Tour which has delighted locals and visitors for 50 years. The self-guided walking tour includes visits to more than 10 decorated homes and inns, caroling, music, and seasonal treats. It’s guaranteed to get you in a festive mood and is an ideal way to appreciate the beauty of Cape May in December.

The candlelight tour is one of the highlights of the season and is always in demand, so book tickets early if you want to attend. Walking is encouraged, but trolleys make designated stops for people who need assistance.

Visit Winter Wonderland at Congress Hall

Hallway lined with Nutcrackers, garland, and other Christmas decorations.
Congress Hall at Christmas

Congress Hall is one of the most popular places to go in Cape May at Christmas. The historic hotel is full of Christmas cheer for adults and children.

Inside, the public spaces of the hotel are fully decked out in ornaments, life-sized Nutcrackers, and garlands sparkling with lights. Outside, the annual Winter Wonderland has food vendors reminiscent of European Christmas markets and artisans selling specialty items. We loved trying the mulled wine and bratwurst around the fire pits and browsing the market stalls. Plus, there are several outdoor bars set up making seasonally-themed cocktails.

Kids can enjoy the carousel that takes center stage on the lawn of the hotel as well as the Congress Hall Express—a mini-train that makes its way around the grounds. The festivities start November 24, 2023.

Watch the Christmas parade

The West Cape May Community Christmas Parade always kicks off the holiday season in the area. Each year on the first Saturday in December, members of the WCM Volunteer Firehouse and other civic and commercial groups make their way to Ocean Street. There is dancing, music, decorations, and costumes. The event has been a Christmas tradition for nearly 60 years.

See the best lights in town

Brightly-colored house lit with Christmas lights in Cape May.
Some of the beautiful lights in town

Much of the town lights up for Christmas, so it’s easy to find charming displays as you drive around. But where do you find the best ones if you don’t have all season to explore?

When we’re looking for the best Christmas lights in Cape May, we start with the winners of the Light Up Cape May awards. They include private homes, B&Bs, and other businesses that have made their windows or buildings particularly festive. Many of them go along with a theme like “best window” or “best olde-fashioned” decoration.

If the winners haven’t been named for the current year, the list of last year’s winners is a great place to start to find some beautiful displays.

Visit with Santa

Seeing Santa is always one of the most fun parts of the Christmas season for kids and plenty of adults, too. Beginning just after Thanksgiving and throughout December, there are lots of opportunities to see Saint Nick at holiday events.

Places where you might spot Mr. and Mrs. Claus include the tree lighting at La Mer resort, the West Cape May Christmas Parade, and the Winter Warm Up Weekend at Ferry Park. For a more formal opportunity, check out one of the many breakfasts with Santa nearby, including at Congress Hall, The Inn of Cape May, The Pier House, and Hemingway’s Restaurant. It’s a good idea to make reservations well in advance.

Go to a tree lighting ceremony

Illuminated Christmas tree under a park bandshell.
Christmas tree in Rotary Park

Each year, several tree lighting ceremonies take place in late November and early December. There is live music and caroling, and you may even find fire pits and seasonal treats, depending on the location.

Local tree lightings include Emlen Physick House, Congress Hall, and La Mer beachfront resort. The official City of Cape May tree lighting is at Rotary Park just one block from Washington Street Mall.  

Shop on the Washington Street Mall

Sign for "Cape May" with a bell hanging from it at a pedestrian shopping mall.
The mall decorated for the holidays

Washington Street Mall is a prime place for shopping year-round, but it’s especially lovely to visit at Christmas when it’s decorated for the season and stores have special lights and window displays.

Certain designated nights throughout the holiday period are Hospitality Nights—stores offer unique discounts and specials for those in search of a perfect gift. Among the merchants here, you’ll find souvenirs, designer outfits, and specialty shops, including artisan chocolates, salt water taffy, and a cheese shop that makes cheese and charcuterie boards with locally sourced ingredients. Don’t miss Winterwood Gift & Christmas Shoppe if you’re in the market for decorations and ornaments both traditional and unexpected.

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