Lively cities and charming towns across North Carolina weave magic through the holiday season. Below are some of our most renowned from the mountains to the coast.
Itinerary toppers: From America’s fanciest holiday home to the season’s best comedy on wheels, Asheville invites travelers to celebrate any way they like. Christmas at Biltmore adds more than 55 ornamented trees to the décor inside America’s largest house with even more sprinkled across the vast estate. On the diminutive end of the spectrum, dozens of intricate National Gingerbread House Competition entries vie for attention at the Omni Grove Park Inn. And LaZoom’s purple bus goes on its merry way with holiday tours that promise an encounter with characters who are sure to bring joy to the world.
And more: The holiday calendar includes the Swannanoa Solstice concert, the Dickens Festival at Biltmore Village, theater performances and other happenings. For shoppers, local merchants pride themselves on products made close to home.
Itinerary toppers: On the Winston side of the hyphen, Reynolda House Museum of American Art makes an elegant holiday statement. On the Salem side, the season’s soulful dimension resounds along the cobblestone streets of the Old Salem historic district. Candlelight tours and music soften the contrast between tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds’ sweeping 60-room bungalow, where an Aeolian pipe organ rings out, and the handsome structures of Salem, where an 1800 Tannenberg organ symbolizes the importance of music to the Moravians. The Candle Tea and the Lovefeast at historic St. Philips African Moravian Church move the spirit.
And more: The performance calendar includes the University of North Carolina School of the Arts' acclaimed Nutcracker, and lights lovers can thrill to the displays and activities at the Tanglewood Festival of Lights. Uncommon gifts can be found at Reynolda Village and the shops at Old Salem – sugar cake and paper-thin Moravian cookies from Winkler Bakery top the list.
McAdenville and Belmont
Itinerary toppers: If the best things come in small packages, McAdenville makes a heck of a gift. With a population of less than 700, this town west of Charlotte wraps itself in lights to become Christmas Town USA, with virtually all of its 1.5 square miles glowing for thousands of visitors in a tradition that began in 1956. Eight miles away, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont reflects the season with a festive display of Christmas trees, including a 16-foot “tree” made with 300 live orchids, a garden specialty. Crafts, Santa visits and other activities comprise the five-week Holidays at the Garden experience.
And more: The planetarium at the Schiele Museum of Natural History in Gastonia illuminates the Yule log, menorah, Christmas tree lights and other holiday customs in its “Season of Light” program. Horse-drawn carriage rides, music, stories and a live Nativity inspire a Christmas visit to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
Itinerary toppers: Speedway Christmas might be hard to resist if only for the chance to drive on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s ROVAL. The attraction features more than 3.5 million lights through a nearly 4-mile course, plus holiday movies screened on the giant Speedway TV. At the infield Christmas Village, visitors can take in the Bethlehem Village with live actors and animals, a petting zoo, games and activities in Santa’s Workshop.
And more: Snow is guaranteed at Great Wolf Lodge, where the Snowland celebration finds harmony with the resort’s indoor water park. Concord Mills, a racetrack-inspired outlet mall, is a shop-till-you-drop experience with a movie theater, arcade-games-filled restaurant, and the Sea Life Aquarium, a 26,000-square-foot aquarium with more than 5,000 creatures.
Itinerary toppers: Holiday celebrations build on historic firsts on the North Carolina barrier islands. The Elizabethan Gardens creates enchanting light displays amid the plants and art elements that honor the royal sponsor of England’s first attempted New World colony. And Kitty Hawk Kites, the world’s top hang-gliding school, directs all eyes skyward for its Kites With Lights event.
And more: Time your visit for the Duck’s Yuletide Celebration on Dec. 7, where the Crab Pot Christmas Tree is lighted. And check out Whalehead’s Candlelight Christmas at the storied Whalehead Club, a 21,000-square-foot, Art Nouveau-style mansion.
Itinerary toppers: With its strollable streets and nifty shops, Blowing Rock has earned acclaim as one of America’s prettiest winter towns. It’s also an ideal destination for travelers who want to take home an evergreen. This is the heart of Christmas tree country, where choose-and-cut farms specialize in the native Fraser fir. With hayrides and other family activities, farms turn shopping into a full-blown event, and many of them partner with area inns on lodging packages.
And more: The Chetola Resort lights up its 87-acre lakeside property with glittering ice skaters, Rudolph landing a fish and more seasonal scenes. The idyllic village of Valle Crucis celebrates Christmas in the Valle with Santa visits, make-and-take crafts, and bluegrass and Appalachian music at the original Mast General Store. Skiing and snowboarding, zip lining, tubing and other winter sports create invigorating ways to get into the winter season.