For us, making the most of Christmas in North Carolina includes spending time at home with family and friends, as well as getting to celebrate by immersing ourselves in the holiday spirit.
A classic NC Christmas features candlelit nights, Christmas lights, gingerbread competitions, small town Christmas parades, and the trademarked “Christmas Town USA” (a.k.a. McAdenville NC).
The list of things to do in North Carolina for a fun holiday getaway can also include NASCAR racetrack light displays, rides on a Christmas train, and visiting choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms.
If you’re interested in planning a North Carolina Christmas vacation, read on for a local’s guide to the 20 best places to celebrate Christmas in NC, including all our favorite holiday activities and attractions.
Places to Celebrate Christmas in NC Guide
- Christmas at Biltmore (Asheville)
- The National Gingerbread Competition (Asheville)
- Winter Lights at The North Carolina Arboretum (Asheville)
- Polar Express on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (Bryson City)
- Dillsboro NC Lights & Luminaries (Dillsboro)
- Sugar Mountain Resort (near Banner Elk)
- Christmas in the Park in Blowing Rock (Blowing Rock)
- Tweetsie Railroad Christmas (Blowing Rock)
- C&J Christmas Trees (Boone)
- Festive First Friday, Art Crawl & Solar Tree Lighting (Boone)
- Light the Knights and Christmas Village (Charlotte)
- Speedway Christmas (Charlotte)
- Winterfest at Carowinds (Charlotte)
- Hometown Holiday Festivities (Forest City)
- Christmas Town USA (McAdenville)
- NC Chinese Lantern Festival (Cary)
- Theatre in the Park: A Christmas Carol (Raleigh/Durham)
- Winter Wonderlights (Greensboro)
- Salem Saturdays at Christmas (Winston Salem)
- Sweet Valley Ranch Festival of Lights (Fayetteville)
Asheville NC Christmas
1. Christmas at Biltmore
One Lodge St, Asheville NC • (80) 411-3812
Christmas in Asheville NC has to include a visit to the Biltmore Estate.
Christmas at the Biltmore includes Daytime Celebration tours and Candlelight Christmas Evenings, which run from November 4, 2022 to January 8, 2023.
Tickets can be reserved online, and there are three options to choose from– an audio-guided visit, an audio-guided visit-plus (which includes a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition), and an expert-guided tour.
In addition to visiting the Biltmore House and botanical gardens, all tours include access to Antler Hill Village, which features great restaurants and shops full of holiday toys, confections, and festive collectibles.
READ MORE: The 15 Best NC Wineries to Visit
2. The National Gingerbread Competition at Omni Grove Park Inn
290 Macon Avenue, Asheville NC • (800) 438-5800
The Omni Grove Park Inn kicks off the Christmas season with their annual National Gingerbread Competition, which includes fantastical creations from pro and amateur bakers of all ages.
The 2022 Gingerbread Competition takes place on November 21, but the gingerbread creations will remain on display in the historic hotel from November 28 through January 2, 2023.
Self-parking costs $25 for day guests and $20 for registered guests, or valet parking is available ($35/$30). A portion of the proceeds are donated to local non-profit organizations.
For those who are not traveling to Asheville, “12 Days of Gingerbread” is a new online Christmas Event wherein one of the Top 12 finalists will be announced via social media each day.
READ MORE: The 35 Best Things to Do in Asheville NC
3. Winter Lights at The North Carolina Arboretum
100 Frederic Law Olmsted Way, Asheville NC • (828) 665-2492
Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville contains over a million lights and a 50-foot North Carolina Christmas tree.
Beyond the open-air, walk-through light show, Christmas at the NC Arboretum includes live musical performances, model train rides to the North Pole, and Storytime in Woodland Cove.
Refreshments are available at the Cocoa Shack and Bent Creek Bistro, and nighttime visitors can buy s’mores kits to roast on the firepits.
Non-refundable Winter Lights tickets are sold per vehicle ($30 for a typical car on budget-friendly nights), not per person. They can be bought in advance, or at the gate for an additional $10.
Bryson City NC Christmas
4. Polar Express on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
45 Mitchell St, Bryson City NC • (800) 872-4681
The train takes a trek through the wilderness while guests enjoy holiday music, cookies, and warm cocoa.
Tickets for the Polar Express range from First Class and Premium Crown Class to Crown Class and Coach, each with its own seating section and collection of amenities.
Most of the Polar Express train rides are on a diesel train, but there’s a daily option to take an actual steam train instead (for an extra charge, of course).
The GSMR steam engine leaves in the morning for a 4.5-hour round-trip journey, while the others are evening rides that last a little over an hour.
Dillsboro NC Christmas
5. Dillsboro NC Lights & Luminaries
42 Front St, Dillsboro NC • (800) 962-1911
Dillsboro gets a special mention because it has all those things, as well as some 2,500 candles illuminating the streets of the charming little town (population 219).
The Dillsboro Lights & Luminaries event happens over the first two weekends in December, and is regularly rated as one of the top NC Christmas events.
Visitors can enjoy the white light display while walking around a town filled with elves, Santa and Mrs. Claus, and tons of seasonal activities.
There’s no admission charge, and your trip can also include a visit to nearby Sylva, another quaint small town in Western NC with lots of holiday cheer.
Banner Elk NC Christmas
6. Sugar Mountain Resort near Banner Elk
1009 Sugar Mountain Drive, Sugar Mountain NC • (828) 898-4521
For many folks who prefer a White Christmas, the ultimate way to celebrate the season involves skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snow tubing, and/or ice skating.
In addition to fun outdoor activities, there’s plenty of shopping, Christmas light displays, and other holiday merriment to be had in the village of Sugar Mountain and the town of Banner Elk.
Beech Mountain Ski Resort is just a few minutes north of Banner Elk, and also offers a lot of wintertime activities.
Blowing Rock NC Christmas
7. Christmas in the Park in Blowing Rock
Main Street, Blowing Rock NC • (828) 295-5222
The Blowing Rock NC Christmas season starts with Christmas in the Park and Lighting of the Town, which happens annually on the weekend after Thanksgiving.
Fun festivities start on Friday with carnival games in the park, photos with Santa, and live music into the evening. The Lighting of the Town happens right after sunset at 5:30 PM.
The Blowing Rock Christmas Parade begins on Saturday morning at 10 AM, while the choose & cut Christmas tree season officially kicks off afterward.
The event and most of the parking for it are free. On Saturdays, there’s a free shuttle service running from the Tanger Outlet to Main Street in order to make parking easier.
READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Blowing Rock NC
8. Tweetsie Railroad Christmas
300 Tweetsie Railroad Lane, Blowing Rock NC • (800) 526-5740
It’s an entire North Carolina theme park, and it really gets into the holiday spirit from mid-November to late December.
Tweetsie (a.k.a. Locomotive No. 12) is a steam train originally used by the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad. It runs every half-hour from 5:30 PM on to take visitors to elaborate light displays throughout the park.
There’s also a live Christmas show, a massive gingerbread house, amusement park rides, and toasting s’mores over an outdoor fire pit.
Tweetsie Railroad tickets should be purchased in advance due to limited park capacity, and run $52 for ages 13+, $35 for children ages 3-12, and free for babies and toddlers under age 3.
Boone NC Christmas
9. C&J Christmas Trees in Boone
1999 Brookshire Rd, Boone NC • (828) 264-6694
Boone NC Christmas Tree Farms are a big thing, partly because the NC High Country offers an ideal climate for producing Frasier fir trees for Christmas.
C&J Christmas Trees is by no means the only option for visiting a tree farm in the area.
But the family-owned farm has been awarded the Environmental Stewardship Award (2019), Conservation Farm Family of the Year (2018), and Watauga County Christmas Tree Farmer of the Year (2016).
Most of them also have knockout views, so they can be fun to visit even if buying a Christmas tree isn’t the focus.
READ MORE: 25 Best Things to Do in Boone NC
10. Festive First Friday, Art Crawl & Solar Tree Lighting in Boone
King Street, Boone NC • (828) 268-6283
Boone has a youthful small town feel due to Appalachian State University occupying much of downtown. But the area’s vibes get even more fun and festive during Christmas in NC.
Festive First Friday is an annual event at the Jones House in Downtown Boone that happens on the first Friday in December, usually starting at 5PM.
The event includes a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony (hosted by the ASU Sustainable Energy Society), an art crawl, Christmas caroling, and free hot cocoa and holiday cookies.
Other holiday cheer includes marshmallow snowball fights, Santa at the Mast General Store, and horse-drawn carriage rides.
Boone NC has loads of other holiday revelry throughout the season, including the Boone NC Christmas Parade, sledding in Jaycee Park, and the Boone Winter Farmer’s Market.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Cabin Rentals in Boone NC
Charlotte NC Christmas
11. Light the Knights and Christmas Village at Truist Field
324 South Mint Street, Charlotte NC • (704) 274-8300
Every winter in NC, Truist Field (home of the Charlotte Knights minor league baseball team) becomes a beacon of Christmas fun.
The ballpark’s Holiday Walkthrough & Light Show features thousands of lights, multiple Christmas trees, and snow, while the Village at Truist Field becomes a Christmas market with food, handmade gifts, and live shows.
In 2022, this Uptown celebration will also boast an outdoor rink for ice skating and a snow tubing hill.
The base ticket (which costs $10) includes admission to the light show and Christmas Village, but there are combo tickets ($25) that also include either ice skating or snow tubing.
The $35 All-Access Day Pass offers unlimited access to all of it, and season passes are also available.
Opening night is November 23, and the Christmas festival extends to through New Years Day.
12. Speedway Christmas at Charlotte Motor Speedway
5555 Concord Pkwy South, Concord NC • (704) 455-3200
For NASCAR fans, there’s probably no better Christmas gift than the opportunity to drive around the Charlotte Motor Speedway to see a holiday light show.
The drive-thru Christmas light displays are 3.75 miles long and feature 4 million lights that require around 14,000 feet of extension cords.
There’s also a Christmas Village with a movie theater, Lil’ Donuts, and a number of craft vendors.
The Speedway Christmas celebration is open from November 19, 2022 through January 16, 2023.
Tickets are between $30 and $70, depending on the day and your willingness to wait in line. There’s also an option to pay more and skip the line entirely.
13. Winterfest at Carowinds
14523 Carowinds Blvd, Charlotte NC • (704) 588-2600
Every year, the Carowinds theme park in Charlotte creates an immersive holiday experience called WinterFest.
The festival features Christmas lights, ice skating, and special holiday foods. There are also gift shops, holiday-themed games, live shows, and crooning carolers.
Nightly holiday events include the Carowinds Christmas Tree Lighting and the WinterFest Wonderland Parade, with floats, live music, and performers.
Winterfest tickets start at $32.99 and have several iterations, such as Season Pass Bring-a-Friend, WinterFest Group Tickets, and more.
Ice skating, cookie decorating, and igloo rentals are also available for an additional charge.
Forest NC Christmas
14. Hometown Holiday Festivities in Forest City
Main Street, Forest City NC • (828) 245-0148
Located about an hour from Asheville and Charlotte, the town of Forest City is known for having one of the most festive holiday celebrations (and some of the best Christmas lights) in NC.
Christmas in the North Carolina mountains is truly at its apex here, with Forest City being voted the #1 Christmas town in the Greater Asheville Area.
The town’s historic Main Street has over a million lights, horse-drawn carriage rides, hayrides, and ice skating. You can also get hot cocoa, hot apple cider, cookies, and other tasty holiday treats.
The Christmas lights in Forest City are on each night from November 26 through January 2. Admission to the Hometown Holiday Festivities is free, but some of the holiday activities do have fees.
McAdenville NC Christmas
15. Christmas Town USA
Main Street, McAdenville NC • (704) 823-2333
McAdenville NC is widely regarded as one of the best places to celebrate Christmas in the USA.
It has a Christmas tradition dating back to the 1950s, and has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning and in Southern Living Magazine.
Officially trademarked as “Christmas Town USA,” McAdenville is known for its incredible town-wide Christmas light display, which runs from December 1-26 every year.
The McAdenvilleTree Lighting Ceremony is held on December 1, while the Yule Log Parade is on December 15.
Guests can drive or walk through the town and park, while Christmas carols are played on bells in Historic Downtown McAdenville.
NC Christmas simply doesn’t get any more traditional than this, and McAdenville is truly a holiday institution.
Cary NC Christmas
16. NC Chinese Lantern Festival at Koka Booth Amphitheatre
8003 Regency Parkway, Cary NC • (919) 462-2025
For a step away from conventional Christmas events, the Koka Booth Amphitheatre hosts the annual NC Chinese Lantern Festival, and it’s every bit as dazzling as more traditional Christmas light displays.
Open from November 18, 2022 through January 8, 2023, this relatively new NC winter tradition in the Raleigh-Durham Triangle has broken attendance records.
There are over 40 artistic lantern displays to enjoy, with cultural performances nightly on the main stage included in the price of the ticket.
Tickets are geared for all sorts of interests, including photography, education, and groups, with tickets starting at $30 for ages 3 and up.
There are also concessions available on-site, and food trucks set up on special nights.
Raleigh NC Christmas
17. Theatre in the Park: A Christmas Carol
107 Pullen Rd, Raleigh NC • (919) 831-6058
A comedic musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol has been performed in Raleigh NC annually for nearly 50 years now.
In 2022, Theatre In The Park’s performances will take place on December 9-11 at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, and on December 14-18 at the Durham Performing Arts Center.
Starring Ira David Wood III, the show has received dozens of honors, including being named one of the Top 20 Events in the Southeast, the Triangle Arts & Entertainment Reader’s Choice Award, and the Metro Ovation Award.
The show has even toured England and France, and has been seen by over a million people!
Greensboro NC Christmas
18. Winter Wonderlights at Greensboro Science Center
4301 Lawndale Dr, Greensboro NC • (336) 288-3769
The Greensboro Science Center goes all out with its Winter Wonderlights event each year. From entertaining exhibits to forest hiking trails, the entire 22-acre property is part of the Christmas celebration.
The family-friendly, nature-themed displays include Dancing Fountain, Polar Pond, Starry Night, Forest of Lights, Wintry Welcome, Dino Disco, and Festive Fun Zone.
The Winter Wonderlights festivities begin before Thanksgiving (November 17) and extend to New Year’s Day.
Regular admission ($25) is required on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, as well as the week of Christmas, but discounted rates ($16) are available Monday through Thursday. Children ages 2 and under get in free.
Carpooling is encouraged in order to help manage the venue’s limited parking.
Winston Salem NC Christmas
19. Salem Saturdays at Christmas
900 Old Salem Road, Winston Salem NC • (336) 721-7350
The historic Old Salem Museums & Gardens in Winston Salem is amazing and quaint all year round. But when the living history attraction gets dressed up for the holidays, that all reaches a new level.
Some of the many experiences on tap are Potter’s Workshop at T. Bagge for chocolate and toys, the Miksch House & Garden for painted illuminations of the Christmas story, and the Butner Hat Shop for a visit to “Santa’s workshop.”
Winkler Bakery serves up sweet treats, while the Moravian Book & Gift shop has souvenirs and gifts for sale.
Salem Saturdays are held from 10AM to 4PM on November 19 and 26, as well as on December 3, 10, and 31. Tickets are $28 for adults, or $15 for students.
Fayetteville NC Christmas
20. Sweet Valley Ranch Festival of Lights
2990 Sunnyside School Road, Fayetteville NC • (844) 622-3276
Every year Sweet Valley Ranch (a working farm) transforms into a Christmas wonderland for their Festival of Lights.
The big attraction here is a drive-thru light show with over a million lights and 350 live animals. There’s also an option to take a tractor-pulled wagon tour through the property.
The farm has all sorts of animals, including cows, horses, chickens, turkeys, goats, sheep, llamas, camels, zebras, parrots, tortoises, and more.
Holiday visitors will also enjoy Tiny’s Winter Wonderland, which is located just across the street. Tiny’s has Santa, vendors, rides, food, and a gift shop.
Just one visit and you’ll understand immediately why Sweet Valley’s Festival of Lights has become one of the most popular North Carolina Christmas events! –by Jonathon Engels; lead image of Christmas at Biltmore by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett