It begins to look a lot like Christmas – and more – as numerous attractions, venues and destinations throughout North Carolina embark on their signature holiday events. Historic mansions are decorated, gardens are transformed into seasonal wonderlands, museums offer yuletide tales and festive food takes over menus. So you'll find everything from Holidays in Old Salem to the WinterFest series at Carowinds in picture-perfect destinations throughout the state.
1 Christmas at Biltmore
1 Christmas at BiltmoreNov. 1, 2019-Jan. 5, 2020, AshevilleSee on map
America’s largest home has a larger-than-life tradition that involves more than 50 decorated Christmas trees; hundreds of wreaths, bows and poinsettias; thousands of lights; and more than 25,000 ornaments. The grandeur reaches a crescendo in the 7-story-high Banquet Hall, where books, dolls and other toys hang from a 35-foot Fraser fir. Catch the glow of the 250-room mansion by candlelight through Jan. 5.
2 Polar Express Train Ride
2 Polar Express Train RideNov. 8-Dec. 31, 2019, Bryson CitySee on map
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad had already achieved stardom by the time The Polar Express came out more than a decade ago. The animated film added to the luster with an annual excursion booked by thousands of passengers. The read-along ride features Chris Van Allsburg’s 1985 book, clips from the movie soundtrack, warm cocoa and a treat as the train of pajama-clad children clacks to the North Pole, where Santa awaits with a gift. Christmas carols will be sung as they return back to the Bryson City Depot.
3 Tweetsie Christmas
3 Tweetsie ChristmasFridays and Saturdays from Nov. 22-Dec. 28, 2019, Blowing RockSee on map
Catch the arrival of Santa Claus as he enters on the train, or meet him in his home made of gingerbread and filled with candied furnishings. Step into a snow globe of swirling (synthetic) snow. Enjoy holiday lights throughout the park and along the 3-mile track. Roast s'mores and devour other handmade goodies from Tweetsie Railroad's fudge shop.
4 27th Annual National Gingerbread House Competition
4 27th Annual National Gingerbread House CompetitionNov. 20, 2019-Jan. 2, 2020, AshevilleSee on map
Sugar and spices lay the foundation for the competition, and craftsmanship sets it apart. Arrayed in a Blue Ridge Mountain inn with marvels of its own, the edible architecture attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year. Even without the gingerbread, the roaring fires, splendid décor and music raise holiday spirits.
5 Santa on the Chimney
5 Santa on the ChimneyDec. 7 and 14, 2019, Chimney Rock State ParkSee on map
How could Santa resist a 315-foot granite monolith shaped like a chimney? For the 26th year, the man in red will warm up for his Christmas Eve chimney-thon by rappelling down this iconic natural landmark. Visitors can meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, see critters, and enjoy live music, hot cocoa, cookies and kids’ activities. In 2013, BuzzFeed included this rappelling Santa in its list of eight most extreme Santas in the world.
6 Home for the Holidays
6 Home for the HolidaysNov. 1, 2019-Jan. 1, 2020, HendersonvilleSee on map
Experience small-town charm as the stores along Main Street in Hendersonville go all out with Christmas decorations and the area fills with holiday activities. Enjoy Flat Rock Playhouse productions – A Flat Rock Playhouse Christmas and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are the two shows this year – wagon rides, holiday concerts and visits with Santa. And the “iceless” skating rink will return for its fourth year from Dec. 18-Jan. 1 at the visitors center.
7 Holidays in Old Salem
7 Holidays in Old SalemNov. 16-Dec. 28, 2019, Winston-SalemSee on map
Winston-Salem acquired elements of its rich culture from the Moravians who settled there in the 18th century, and their holiday traditions make Old Salem Museums & Gardens an ideal place for distilling the holiday spirit. Visitors can create special memories on candlelight tours, hear holiday music or attend the Moravian Candle Tea, presented by the Home Moravian Church. Stop by Winkler Bakery, where Moravian sugar cookies and cakes are baked in a wood-burning oven – just as they were in the old days.
8 Polar Express Train Ride (Spencer)
8 Polar Express Train Ride (Spencer)Nov. 15-17, 22-24, 29-30; Dec. 1, 6-8, 12-22, 2019, SpencerSee on map
This holiday favorite comes to life as you and your family take a ride on The Polar Express at the N.C. Transportation Museum. Set to the music of the motion picture soundtrack, the trip to the "North Pole" features singing, dancing, a reading of the book, hot chocolate and cookies, and a visit from Santa. Passengers are encouraged to wear their pajamas for the ride.
9 Holiday on Ice
9 Holiday on IceNov. 15, 2019-Jan. 5, 2020, CharlotteSee on map
Each holiday season, Ceremonial Plaza at the NASCAR Hall of Fame transforms into a 7,000-square-foot ice rink. The rink welcomes you to practice your axels and sip hot chocolate with a view of the Uptown skyline. The venue is hosting a number of special events, including skate sessions with the Charlotte Checkers hockey team and photo ops with Santa. Skate passes are good for the entire day, as the rink accepts same-day re-entry.
10 Speedway Christmas
10 Speedway ChristmasNov. 22, 2019-Jan. 5, 2020, ConcordSee on map
One of America’s largest holiday light shows, Speedway Christmas features more than 3.5 million lights over a 3.75-mile course that includes most of the oval and the new ROVAL. But the drive is only the beginning. The infield Christmas Village includes live actors and animals at a Bethlehem Village, games and activities in Santa’s Workshop, and a 50-foot ferris wheel. And Thursday through Sunday nights, you can watch holiday movies on the giant Speedway TV.
11 WinterFest at Carowinds
11 WinterFest at CarowindsSelect nights Nov. 24-Dec. 31, 2019, CharlotteSee on map
One of the South's most popular theme parks, Carowinds transforms into WinterFest with more than 5 million shimmering lights, a 70-foot tree, lavish displays, live shows and strolling performers, and special holiday dishes and desserts fill the midways. Plus, the theme park is introducing a brand-new experience with its nightly Wonderland Parade this year that features extravagant floats, a special appearance from Santa and much more. Bonus: As many as 16 rides will be open.
12 North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival
12 North Carolina Chinese Lantern FestivalNov. 22, 2019-Jan. 12, 2020, CarySee on map
Returning for the fifth year, the festival will include more than 20 new displays, each one comprising hundreds of parts and thousands of LED lights. There will also be cultural performances and artisan crafts.
13 Christmas Town USA
13 Christmas Town USADec. 2-26, 2019, McAdenvilleSee on map
In this mill town west of Charlotte, the hundreds of Christmas trees on display outnumber the households in a celebration that started in 1956 with nine evergreens. From modest (6-foot tree, 500 lights) to dazzling (90-foot tree, 5,000 lights), the displays blaze a trail to the heart of town, where trees ring the lake and reflect their colors. With about 600,000 visitors traveling the 2-mile route, be prepared to relax and enjoy a very slow ride, especially on weekends. Special events include the annual Christmas Town 5K on Nov. 30 and the Christmas Town Festival on Dec. 12.
14 Twelve Days of Christmas
14 Twelve Days of ChristmasDec. 1, 2019-Jan. 5, 2020, Chapel HillSee on map
Now in its 22nd year, The Carolina Inn celebrates the Christmas season with enchanting decorations inspired by the traditional holiday song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Festivities also include breakfast and brunch with Santa, holiday teas, gingerbread house displays, and a New Year's Eve dinner and accommodations.
15 North Carolina Holiday Flotilla
15 North Carolina Holiday FlotillaNov. 29-30, 2019, Wrightsville BeachSee on map
Wilmington and neighboring beaches launch the holiday season with a boat parade on the Intracoastal Waterway. More than two dozen boats, from personal watercraft to yachts, channel their owners’ creativity into delightful light displays against the night sky. The 36th annual event includes a tree lighting Friday night, an all-day festival and the main event, complete with fireworks afterward.
16 Holidays at Tryon Palace
16 Holidays at Tryon PalaceBegins Nov. 23, 2019, New BernSee on map
Overtaxed colonists had a bad case of humbug in December 1770, when Gov. William Tryon threw the first party at the fancy Georgian-style structure where he would live and run the government. Nearly 2 1/2 centuries later, the Tryon Palace historic site recreates the effect of the event with holiday-themed tours offered during the season. Plus, the 39th Annual Candlelight Celebration takes place Dec. 14 and Dec. 21 with festivities illuminated by the glow of candlelight and fireworks, along with fire-eating performers and magicians.
17 WinterLights at Elizabethan Gardens
17 WinterLights at Elizabethan GardensThrough Jan. 19, 2020 (Nov. 30, 2019; Tuesdays - Saturdays in December; Fridays - Sundays in January), ManteoSee on map
Peacocks, butterflies, deer and other enchanting creatures take up temporary residence at the Elizabethan Gardens. Created with flowers, seeds and other natural elements, the lighted displays join permanent art elements – which include the world’s largest bronze statue of Queen Elizabeth I of England.