There are several things that make Thanksgiving a much-anticipated and memorable holiday. It's the chance to reunite with family, eat more food than you should, watch football and venture out for Black Friday shopping (which now begins on Thanksgiving Day in many places).
But when you're visiting North Carolina for Thanksgiving, you're likely staying a few days, and eventually you'll want a break from the turkey, desiring to get out and about around town. Here's your guide to making the most of your time here with family and friends, allowing you to kick off the holiday season in the most festive ways possible. Fill your Thanksgiving weekend outings with holiday light shows, outdoor ice skating, downtown tree lightings, and tours of holiday-themed mansions and gardens.
Holiday Light Shows
1 Speedway Christmas
1 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.
2 North Carolina Holiday Flotilla
2 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.
3 Chetola's Festival of Lights
3 Chetola's Festival of LightsNov. 29, 2019-Jan. 26, 2020, Blowing RockSee on map
This Blowing Rock holiday tradition features more than 50,000 lights and attracts thousands of visitors each year. Drive around Chetola Lake to view glittering ice skaters, a nativity scene, Rudolph catching a big fish and more.
Signature Holiday Events
4 The Polar Express
4 The Polar ExpressNov. 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.
5 Holidays at Old Salem
5 Holidays at 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.
6 Holidays at Tryon Palace
6 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.
Holiday Ice Skating
7 Holiday on Ice
7 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.
8 Piedmont Winterfest
8 Piedmont WinterfestNov. 15, 2019-Jan. 26, 2020, GreensboroSee on map
Bundle up and head to Piedmont Winterfest in downtown Greensboro, taking place at LeBauer Park. Glide down an ice slide and let your kiddos go wild in the snow play box. There’s even an ice rink, which lets you rock those figure eights. To really show off your moves though, lace up your skates on Friday and Saturday nights for dance music with synchronized disco lights at the rink.
Tree Lighting and Downtown Celebrations
- Carolina Panthers' Tree Lighting: Nov. 26, 2019, in Charlotte
- Christmas in the Park and Lighting of the Town: Nov. 29, 2019, in Blowing Rock
- Santa on the Green and Christmas Tree Lighting: Nov. 29, 2019, in Cashiers
- Island of Lights: Lighting at the Lake: Nov. 29, 2019, in Carolina Beach
- A Dickens Holiday: Nov. 29, 2019, in Fayetteville
- Home for the Holidays: Nov. 29, 2019, in Hendersonville
- Hometown Christmas Tree Lighting: Nov. 29, 2019, in West Jefferson
- Winter Wonderland: Nov. 30 and Dec. 7, 2019, in Franklin
Holiday Parades (Thanksgiving Weekend)
- Novant Health Thanksgiving Day Parade: Nov. 28, 2019, in Charlotte
- Blowing Rock Christmas Parade: Nov. 30, 2019, in Blowing Rock
- Emerald Isle Christmas Parade: Nov. 30, 2019, in Emerald Isle
- Mount Airy Christmas Parade: Nov. 30, 2019, in Mount Airy
- Ocean Isle Beach Flotilla: Nov. 30, 2019, in Ocean Isle Beach
- Sparta Christmas Parade: Nov. 30, 2019, in Sparta
- Forest City Christmas Parade: Dec. 1, 2019, in Forest City
- Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting: Dec. 1, 2019, in Lincolnton
Other Holiday Events
- A Bryson City Christmas: Nov. 2-Dec. 31, 2019, in Bryson City
- Battleship Ho Ho Ho: Nov. 29, 2019, in Wilmington
- Crystal Coast Oyster Festival: Nov. 30, 2019, in Morehead City
- WinterFest at Carowinds: Select nights Nov. 24-Dec. 31, 2019, in Charlotte
- Tweetsie Christmas: Fridays and Saturdays from Nov. 22-Dec. 28, 2019, in Blowing Rock