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 Speedway Christmas to festive train rides in picture-perfect destinations throughout our state.
Due to COVID-19, please check local tourism offices for the most up-to-date information on events and attractions. Additionally, please visit Count On Me NC to see participating businesses and for tips on how to stay safe when visiting North Carolina.
1 Home for the Holidays
1 Home for the HolidaysNov. 1, 2020 – Jan. 1, 2021, 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 wagon rides, holiday concerts and visits with Santa.
2 Christmas at Biltmore
2 Christmas at BiltmoreNov. 6, 2020 – Jan. 10, 2021, AshevilleSee on map
America’s largest home has a larger-than-life tradition that involves more than 100 decorated Christmas trees; hundreds of wreaths, bows and poinsettias; 100,000 twinkling lights; and more than 10,000 ornaments. The grandeur reaches a crescendo in the seven-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. 10.
3 Polar Express Train Ride
3 Polar Express Train RideNov. 6 – Dec. 31, 2020, 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.
4 Tweetsie Christmas
4 Tweetsie ChristmasFridays, Saturdays and select weekdays from Nov. 13 – Dec. 31, 2020, 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.
5 Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum
5 Winter Lights at the North Carolina ArboretumNov. 20, 2020 – Jan. 10, 2021, AshevilleSee on map
Please note: Due to COVID-19, the 2020 exhibition is a drive-thru show with per-car ticketing.
Experience this 3-acre nightly tour of the arboretum's nationally known gardens, including its Quilt Garden and Bonsai Exhibition Garden. Designed to showcase the natural landscape, the displays feature colorful native butterflies and winter wildlife with a special insect-themed lantern exhibit on view.
6 Santa on the Chimney
6 Santa on the ChimneyDec. 5, 2020, Chimney Rock State ParkSee on map
How could Santa resist a 315-foot granite monolith shaped like a chimney? For the 23rd 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.
7 28th Annual National Gingerbread House Competition
7 28th Annual National Gingerbread House CompetitionAshevilleSee on map
Please note: Due to COVID-19, the 2020 competition will be held virtually and not have a public display.
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.
8 Speedway Christmas
8 Speedway ChristmasNov. 21, 2020 – Jan. 17, 2021, ConcordSee on map
One of America’s largest holiday light shows, Speedway Christmas features more than 4 million lights over a 3.75-mile course that includes most of the oval and the new ROVAL. And Thursday through Sunday nights, you can watch holiday movies on the giant Speedway TV.
9 Taste of the Season at Carowinds
9 Taste of the Season at CarowindsNov. 21 – Dec. 20, 2020, CharlotteSee on map
Due to COVID-19, Carowinds' 2020 WinterFest has been canceled. However, thanks to an extensive reopening plan, the park has pivoted to a Taste of the Season outdoor Christmas event that features samples of sweets and savories, specialty drinks, holiday décor, seasonal shows and select rides.
10 Christmas Town USA
10 Christmas Town USADec. 1-26, 2020, McAdenvilleSee on map
Please note: Due to COVID-19, Christmas Town USA will be operating at a reduced scale.
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. With about 600,000 visitors traveling the 2-mile route, be prepared to relax and enjoy a very slow ride, especially on weekends.
11 12 Days of Christmas
11 12 Days of ChristmasDec. 1, 2020 – Jan. 3, 2021, Chapel HillSee on map
Now in its 23rd year, The Carolina Inn celebrates the Christmas season with enchanting decorations inspired by the traditional holiday song, "The 12 Days of Christmas." Festivities also include brunch and lunch with Santa, a gingerbread house-making class and cookie-decorating classes.
12 Holidays at Tryon Palace
12 Holidays at Tryon PalaceBegins Nov. 25, 2020, 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. Two-and-a-half centuries later, Tryon Palace historic site recreates the effect of the event with holiday-themed tours offered during the season. Plus, the annual Holiday Cheer takes place Dec. 12 and Dec. 19 with festivities illuminated by the glow of candlelight and fireworks, along with traditional circus performers.
13 WinterLights at Elizabethan Gardens
13 WinterLights at Elizabethan GardensThrough Jan. 16, 2021 (Nov. 29, 2020; 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.
Please note: Due to COVID-19, these holiday events have been canceled:
- Holiday On Ice in Charlotte
- Holidays at Old Salem
- North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary
- North Carolina Holiday Flotilla in Wrightsville Beach