[Updated October 13, 2022]
Looking for something new to do for the 2022 Christmas holidays?
Why not check out Christmas in Helen GA, which has been rated the “Top Christmas Town in America” by MSN.com and one of Southern Living‘s “Best Christmas Towns in the USA.”
It’s not difficult to understand why this tiny North Georgia mountain town is widely considered one of the best places to visit for Christmas.
The temperate weather in Helen GA reaches highs of 70-77ºF, even in the first week of December. And from hiking trails and waterfalls to wineries and more, there are plenty of attractions in Helen to keep you entertained.
But December in Georgia finds the Bavarian-influenced town of Alpine Helen all gussied up in the festive sights and sounds of the holiday season.
It starts with the Lighting of the Village ceremony the day after Thanksgiving, continues with the Helen Christmas Market and Christmas Parade in early December, with lots of holiday decor and Christmas lights into the New Year.
Read on for our guide to 15 festive ways to celebrate Christmas in Helen GA, including our picks for the best holiday restaurants, shopping, activities, and Helen Christmas events!
READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Helen GA
Helen Christmas Map
Christmas in Helen GA Guide
- Breakfast at Cimmi’s Courtyard Cafe
- Christkindlmarkt Christmas Market
- Christmas Lights at the Gazebo in Unicoi Hill Park
- Dine With Santa at Unicoi State Park
- Explore Christmas at Babyland General
- Go For a Carriage Ride Through Downtown Helen
- Helen Christmas Parade
- Lighting of the Village
- Photos With Santa & Mrs Claus
- Play a Round at Alpine Mini Golf
- Ride the Helen Christmas Train
- Shopping at Christmas & More and The Christmas Shoppe
- Take Selfies with Santa’s Sleigh at Riverside Park
- Toast With Glühwein at Hofer’s Bakery & Café
- Victorian Christmas at Hardman Farm State Historic Site
1. Breakfast at Cimmi’s Courtyard Cafe
Originally opened by Cinnamon Spurlock in 2013, one of our favorite Helen restaurants gradually grew so popular that they had to relocate to a larger location two blocks west of the Helen Square in 2018.
If the long line waiting outside for a table during our recent visit is any indication, “Cimmi” (her beloved grandmother’s nickname for her) may have to consider another expansion in the near future.
And it’s not just because the cute restaurant was featured as the “Jingle Bell Café” in the 2019 Lifetime Christmas movie, Christmas Love Letter.
Cimmi’s also offers one of the best breakfasts in town, including the homemade buttermilk biscuits with which she first made a name for herself.
Breakfast here is served all day, and includes fantastic favorites like MASSIVE Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes, French Toast, Build-Your-Own Omelettes, Nora Mill Grits, and Ham (hickory smoked or country style).
But what really makes breakfast at Cimmi’s Courtyard Cafe a must-do for Christmas in Helen is the seasonal spirit of the place.
The walls and shelves are stacked with Santas, Christmas trees, reindeer, snowmen, and gingerbread houses, and staff members are dressed in festive clothing, jingle bells, reindeer antlers, etc.
In short, it’s a great place to start your day off with a fantastic meal and a heaping helping of holiday cheer!
READ MORE: The 15 Best Restaurants in Helen GA for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
2. Christkindlmarkt (a.k.a. the Helen Christmas Market)
Now in its 15th year, the Helen Christkindlmarkt takes place over the last weekend in November and the first weekend in December, from 10AM to 6PM.
The event is rooted in traditional German Christmas markets, which date back to the time of the Protestant Reformation.
Martin Luther invented Das Christkindl, an angelic child who gave gifts to good children, which was originally designed to replace Catholic holiday customs (including the German Santa Claus).
Traditionally held on the Marketplatz (directly opposite the Helen Square), the Helen Christmas Market was expanded in 2021 to include booths at the Helen Festhalle (also home to Oktoberfest and other celebrations).
Although we didn’t see much in the way of German fare, we did find traditional Appalachian arts and crafts, organic soaps, handmade candles, Christmas decorations, and countless other options for your holiday shopping pleasure.
There are also lots of food and drink vendors, as well as live music and dance performances.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Rental Cabins in Helen GA
3. Christmas Lights at the Gazebo in Unicoi Hill Park
Located right next to the Helen Square, Unicoi Hill Park is situated on a hill that provides a lovely overlook of one of our favorite mountain towns in North Georgia.
The 2.31-acre park is a great place to spend a few hours at any time of year, with wildflowers blooming in spring, great fall colors that last into late November, and lots of picnic tables and grills for summer BBQs.
There’s also a fun playground for kids (they’ll love the dinosaur!), a tiny man-made waterfall, and a path that leads to the lake, hiking trails, and other attractions at Unicoi State Park.
But if you’re visiting at Christmas time, the park’s main attraction is the Gazebo. It’s decorated with (and surrounded by) thousands of colorful lights, making it one of the best places to see Christmas lights in Helen.
This year’s decor includes a massive wreath, Gingerbread house-style candies, an illuminated Santa and reindeer, and Christmas trees festooned with vivid jewel-tone lights. It’s a great selfie spot during the day or night!
READ MORE: The Best Christmas Lights in Atlanta and North Georgia
4. Dine With Santa at Unicoi State Park
There are plenty of opportunities for kids and families to get photos with Santa in Helen.
But the annual Breakfast With Santa at Unicoi Restaurant in the Unicoi Lodge is the ONLY place you can dine with the jolly old elf (and Mrs Claus, too)!
Held from 8AM to Noon on the Saturday before Christmas, this beloved Helen Christmas event includes plenty of photo opps, a Candy Cane Hunt, Pajama Parade, and ornament crafting.
Advance reservations can be made by calling 706-878-2201 ext. 549, and tickets typically cost $9.99 for kids and $14.99 for adults.
If you want to extend your Christmas vacation in Helen, Unicoi State Park & Lodge also a sumptuous dinner on Christmas Day, as well as a Polar Bear Plunge in Lake Unicoi to welcome in the New Year!
READ MORE: The 15 Best Fall Fairs in Georgia
5. Explore Christmas at Babyland General Hospital
While Helen is inarguably among our favorite Christmas towns in Georgia, driving the 8.3 miles to visit Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland GA is one of the things to do near Helen GA for families with kids.
Better known as the birthplace of Cabbage Patch Kids, this expansive attraction is situated on 650 acres in the North Georgia Mountains.
If you were alive in the 1980s, you probably remember the time when Xavier Roberts’ “Little People” were the most-coveted Christmas gift in America (see: 9-month wait list, $150 price tag).
Touring the facility is a great way to learn about the history of the dolls, which are still hand-stitched by local artists.
In November and December, both the building’s exterior and interior are completely decked with wreaths, trees, lights, and other traditional Christmas symbols.
For a full-on immersion in holiday cheer, head past the massive “Magic Crystal Tree” at the back and look for a room on the right.
Inside you’ll find Cabbage Patch dolls dressed in their holiday best, an array of Christmas trees and wreaths, and even a full-sized sleigh with Santa ready to pose for photos on select dates.
READ MORE: North Georgia Christmas Tree Farms Where You Can Cut Your Own Christmas Tree
6. Go For a Carriage Ride Through Downtown Helen
There’s a reason why Helen was named one of America’s best Christmas Towns, and chosen as a filming location for Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas movies like Christmas Love Letter and A Taste of Christmas.
It’s small, it’s quaint, and it’s quirky, with a unique mixture of old-fashioned Southern charm and even older-fashioned European elegance.
Taking a horse-drawn carriage ride through Downtown Helen when it’s all lit up with festive Christmas lights is a great way to see the town’s highlights while cozying up under a blanket.
The Alpine Carriage Company charges around $10 a person, with friendly drivers and majestic draft horses gently pulling a gorgeous carriage straight out of your romantic getaway fantasies.
READ MORE: 15 Great Places to Go Horseback Riding in Georgia
7. Helen Christmas Parade
Another one of the most popular annual events in Helen GA, the 2022 Helen Christmas Parade fills the streets of town with holiday cheer on Dec 10 at 2PM.
Locals and visitors alike arrive early to claim a spot along the parade route through Downtown Helen, with prime places along Main Street opposite both the Helen Square and the Unicoi Hill Park Gazebo.
This is a classic small town Christmas parade, complete with festive floats, horse-drawn carriages, costumed characters, and lots of sweet treats tossed to the kids (and candy-loving adults) along the way.
But of course the biggest stars of the show are Santa and Mrs. Claus, who briefly abandon their usual post in the band shell at the Helen Marketplatz to greet their adoring fans along the parade route.
READ MORE: The Best North Georgia Christmas Events
8. Lighting of the Village
If you’re looking for that homey small town Christmas vibe, the Lighting of the Village at Riverside Park makes Helen one of the best places for Christmas in Georgia.
With a population of less than 600 people, Helen’s Christmas celebration feels like those you’ll find in little towns throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains.
But thanks to its proximity to metro Atlanta, the town attracts 7,000-8,000 visitors for this annual Christmas event!
After Santa and Mrs Claus arrive, local church and handbell choirs set the mood with classic Christmas carols. Some even invite crowd sing-alongs, which feels magical in that “Whos down in Whoville” kind of way.
Finally, around 6PM, the crowd counts down from 10 and the lights switch on, illuminating the park (and Helen’s Town Square) with an array of dazzling colors.
Massive Christmas trees, snowflakes, elves, and rocking horses cast a beautiful glow, and make great selfie spots once the crowd begins to dissipate. All in all, it’s one of our favorite Helen Christmas events.
READ MORE: Garden Lights, Holiday Nights: Atlanta Botanical Garden Christmas Lights
9. Photos With Santa & Mrs Claus
As someone who has been obsessed with jolly ol’ St. Nick ever since I was a young boy, any chance to see Santa Claus in the flesh is always exciting.
Santa and the lovely Mrs. Claus can be found at numerous different Helen GA events, including the Lighting of the Village in November and the Helen Christmas Parade in December.
But you can also find them at the band shell on the Marketplatz, where they greet children and pose for family photos from noon to 3pm every Saturday and Sunday through December 18.
Not only is it one of our favorite things to do in Helen at Christmas, conveniently located near the best shopping and attractions in Helen, but it’s also 100% free!
READ MORE: The 15 Best Waterfalls Near Helen GA
10. Play a Round at Alpine Mini Golf
Kids (and, let’s face it, even some of us young-minded adults!) love mini golf at any time of year. But Alpine Mini Golf in Helen becomes especially fun at Christmas time.
Located at the south end of Main Street (directly across from Outpost Gold & Gem Mining), their course is designed to look like an Alpine village with lovingly landscaped gardens.
During the holiday season, the place is decorated to the nines with festive spirit, with lots of Christmas trees, Christmas lights on the gazebos, Christmas music, and more.
Visit after dark to see the entire course illuminated with the twinkling colors of Christmas, and grab some tasty treats from the Scoop De Scoop Ice Cream Parlour.
READ MORE: The 25 Best Day Trips From Atlanta GA
11. Ride the Helen Christmas Train
The town of Helen may not have a life-size Christmas train to match those in places like Blue Ridge GA (Blue Ridge Scenic Railway) or Bryson City NC (Great Smoky Mountains Railroad).
But their kid-sized Christmas train is fun for families who attend the annual Lighting of the Village ceremony, offering an easy (and free!) way to get around town.
With just 3 cars, each of which can hold 4 people, the tiny train transports those who visit Helen back-and-forth from Riverside Park to Main Street’s Central Plaza.
Note that the lines can get a bit long at times, and the walking distance isn’t all that bad. But for families with younger children, it’s a fun way to see the holiday sights in Helen while getting from place to place.
READ MORE: Festive Fun at Tweetsie Railroad Christmas in Blowing Rock NC
12. Shopping at Christmas & More and The Christmas Shoppe
From sweet treats and German and Appalachian crafts to Amish furniture and bottles from Georgia wineries, Helen is a haven for those who love to shop ’til they drop.
But Alpine Helen is one of the few small towns in North Georgia where you can also shop for Christmas decor all throughout the year.
Located at 8749 North Main St, the Helen Christmas Shoppe is stuffed to the gills with Christmas trees, ornaments, and collectibles from brands like Big Sky Carvers, Enesco, Glory Haus, and Jim Shore.
There’s also a massive Santa statue out front that makes for great photo ops.
Christmas & More is located at 80 South Main St (in the building right next to the Chattahoochee River), and offers high quality Christmas decor at surprisingly reasonable prices.
If you love retro Santas, nature-themed holiday fare, and elaborate Advent calendars, this is the place for you!
READ MORE: 101+ Things to Do in North Georgia
13. Take Selfies with Santa’s Sleigh at Riverside Park
From reading “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (a.k.a. The Night Before Christmas) to watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Santa’s sleigh has always had a magical appeal for me.
But after attending the parade that signals the beginning of Christmas in New York City with my family a few years ago, I realized there’s nothing quite like seeing it in real life!
The great thing about the Lighting of the Village in Riverside Park is that, once the event ends and Santa moves to the Marketplatz downtown, you can view the best Christmas lights in Helen GA with virtually nobody else around.
We also loved the fact that you can not only see Santa’s sleigh (with five wooden reindeer) in Riverside Park, but you can take photos of yourself sitting in it!
In the end, this was one of our all-time favorite photos of Helen GA, and we were delighted to take pictures for several other families who wanted their own Santa sleigh selfie.
READ MORE: The 20 Best Places to Live in the Georgia Mountains
14. Toast With Glühwein at Hofer’s Bakery & Café
Opened in 1991 by Horst & Gerda Hofer (who moved to Atlanta from Germany in the late 1950s), Hofer’s of Helen is one of the most beloved bakeries in North Georgia.
Now owned by their son, Ralph, the old world Bavarian Konditorei & Cafe features servers in customary Bavarian outfits, and traditional German dishes whose recipes have been passed down for generations.
They’re best-known for having the best traditional German breakfast in Helen, with specialties like Apfelküchle (pan-friend apples sprinkled with cinnamon sugar), Kassler Rippchen (smoked pork chop), and Hofer’s Biscuits with creamy Nuremberg bratwurst gravy.
But you can also get European cakes, pies, and pastries (including Lebkuchen, a.k.a. German Christmas cookies), hot apple cider, and Glühwein, a traditional drink for grown-ups made during the Christmas holidays.
This German holiday favorite is made with hot red wine, which is spiced with cinnamon sticks, citrus, clove, star aniseed, sugar, and vanilla pods. It’s a delicious way to toast to your Christmas health!
READ MORE: The 20 Best Wineries in the North Georgia Mountains
15. Victorian Christmas at Hardman Farm
North Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites may not be the first place you’d think of to spend your family’s Helen Christmas holidays.
But the Victorian Christmas celebration at Hardman Farm State Historic Site offers a unique opportunity to see what a Helen GA Christmas might have looked like 150 years ago.
Located directly across the street from the Sautee Nacoochee Indian Mound, the gorgeous Italianate mansion was built in 1870 by Captain James Nichols. It was later inhabited by Georgia Governor Lamartine Hardman, then lovingly preserved and donated to the state of Georgia in 1999.
Although guided tours of the property are available throughout the year (Thursday through Saturday, 10AM to 3PM), their Victorian Christmas tours are offered on Friday and Saturday nights beginning the weekend after Thanksgiving.
The halls of the historic home are decked with boughs of holly and other period holiday decor, with living history interpreters and occasional live music offering an immersive introduction to Victorian Christmas traditions. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted