It begins to look a lot like Christmas 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.
1 Christmas at Biltmore
1 Christmas at BiltmoreNov. 3, 2023 – Jan. 7, 2024; 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.
2 Polar Express Train Ride
2 Polar Express Train RideSelect dates Nov. 9 – Dec. 31, 2023; Bryson CitySee on map
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad had already achieved stardom by the time The Polar Express came out, but 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 Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum
3 Winter Lights at the North Carolina ArboretumNov. 17 – Dec. 31, 2023; AshevilleSee on map
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.
4 Tweetsie Christmas
4 Tweetsie ChristmasSelect dates Nov. 24 – Dec. 30, 2023; 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. 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 Home for the Holidays
5 Home for the HolidaysNov. 24 – Dec. 31, 2023; 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.
6 31st Annual National Gingerbread House Competition
6 31st Annual National Gingerbread House CompetitionNov. 27, 2023 – Jan. 2, 2024; 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.
7 Santa on the Chimney
7 Santa on the ChimneyDec. 2 & 9, 2023; 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.
8 WinterFest at Carowinds
8 WinterFest at CarowindsSelect dates Nov. 17, 2023 – Jan. 1, 2024; CharlotteSee on map
Carowinds, one of the South's most popular theme parks, transforms into WinterFest with thousands of shimmering lights, a large Christmas tree, lavish displays, live shows and strolling performers, and special holiday dishes and desserts fill the midways.
9 Speedway Christmas
10 North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival
10 North Carolina Chinese Lantern FestivalNov. 17, 2023 – Jan. 14, 2024; CarySee on map
The North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival includes all-new displays, each one comprising hundreds of parts and thousands of LED lights. A variety of ticket options – including Twilight, Any Night and VIP – make planning your visit a breeze. There will also be cultural performances and artisan crafts.
11 Kersey Valley Christmas
11 Kersey Valley ChristmasSelect dates Nov. 24 – Dec. 23, 2023; ArchdaleSee on map
From the same folks who bring to life one of the top haunted attractions in the country comes Kersey Valley Christmas. In its inaugural year, this huge family-friendly event features a village of 1 million Christmas lights, train and wagon rides, jumping pillows, Santa’s workshop – and even a Grinch Cave. Pro tip: Purchase a photo package online beforehand to guarantee meeting both Santa and the Grinch, and join the virtual queue as soon as you arrive so you can spend more time exploring.
12 Christmas Town USA
12 Christmas Town USADec. 1-26, 2023; 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. With about 600,000 visitors traveling the 2-mile route, be prepared to relax and enjoy a very slow ride, especially on weekends.
13 WinterLights at Elizabethan Gardens
13 WinterLights at Elizabethan GardensSelect dates Nov. 17 – Dec. 30, 2023; 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.
14 Holidays at Tryon Palace
14 Holidays at Tryon PalaceBegins Nov. 20, 2023; 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 Candlelight Nights take place Dec. 9 and 16 with festivities illuminated by the glow of candlelight and fireworks, along with traditional circus performers.
15 North Carolina Holiday Flotilla
15 North Carolina Holiday FlotillaNov. 25, 2023; 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 annual event includes an all-day festival and the main event, complete with fireworks afterward.