Your Guide to December Holiday Events in North Carolina

Your Guide to December Holiday Events in North Carolina

Winter Lights at The North Carolina Arboretum is open nightly through December 31

There are several reasons the Christmas season is a wonderful time of year. Not only are you likely looking forward to holiday vacation and spending time with loved ones, but for several weeks leading up to Christmas Day (and after), many attractions across North Carolina have become holiday destinations and winter wonderlands.

Enjoy amazing light shows, outdoor ice skating, tours of decorated gardens, holiday-themed amusement parks and even get tips on Christmas tree farms. Whether you're visiting family here or hosting them (or looking to escape from them), here's your guide to making the most of your December days and nights.

Holiday Light Shows

Speedway Christmas
Through Dec. 31, 2017, Concord
One of America’s largest holiday light shows, Speedway Christmas features more than 3 million lights in 800 displays along 3.1 miles – plus a drive on the 1.5-mile superspeedway. But the drive is only the beginning. The infield Christmas Village includes live actors and animals at a Bethlehem Village, a petting zoo, games and activities in Santa’s Workshop. And Thursday-Sunday nights, you can watch holiday movies on the giant Speedway TV.

Winter Lights at The North Carolina Arboretum
Through Dec. 31, 2017, Asheville
Experience this three-acre nightly walking tour of the arboretum's nationally known gardens, including its Quilt Garden and Bonsai Exhibition Garden. In addition to the lighted exhibits and landscapes, animated displays are programmed to illuminate to the sounds of holiday music.

WinterLights at Elizabethan Gardens
Through Jan. 20, 2018 (Tuesdays - Saturdays in December; Fridays and Saturdays in January), Manteo
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.

WinterLights at Elizabethan Gardens

Stroll through the scenic Elizabethan Gardens on the Outer Banks

See more holiday light shows across North Carolina.

Signature Holiday Events

The Polar Express
Through Dec. 31, 2017, Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City
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.

Holidays at Old Salem
Through Dec. 31, 2017, Winston-Salem
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. 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.

Old Salem Moravian stars

Moravian stars are a tradition from German settlers at Old Salem

Holidays at Tryon Palace
Through Jan. 3, 2018, New Bern
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 two and a half centuries later, the Tryon Palace historic site re-creates the effect of the event with holiday-themed tours.

See more signature holiday events across North Carolina.

Holiday Ice Skating

Holiday on Ice
Through Jan. 8, 2018, Charlotte
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.

Holiday on Ice in Uptown Charlotte

Enjoy ice skating surrounded by the bright lights of Uptown Charlotte

Piedmont Winterfest
Through Jan. 28, 2018, Greensboro
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.

New Events You Should Know

These events are new to the holiday landscape – taking place for the first time this year – and are poised to become long-running traditions.

Tweetsie Christmas
Through Dec. 30, 2017 (Fridays and Saturdays only), Blowing Rock
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 three-mile track. These are just a few of the many ways Tweetsie Railroad is hosting Christmas celebrations for the first time.

Tweetsie Christmas in Blowing Rock

At Tweetsie Railroad, take a night-time train ride through the Blue Ridge Mountains

WinterFest at Carowinds
Through Dec. 30, 2017 (select nights), Charlotte
It's the inaugural holiday series at one of the South's most popular theme parks. Carowinds has transformed 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, as many as 16 rides will be open.

Christmas (and Christmas Tree) Shopping

Choose-and-Cut Christmas Tree Farms
There are dozens of Christmas tree growers in North Carolina that invite you to their farms to choose and cut the perfect tree. Plus, many of the farms feature fun activities for the family, and some partner with nearby hotels and bed-and-breakfasts to offer overnight accommodations. Read more.

Christmas tree farms

North Carolina Christmas Tree Association

North Carolina produces more than 20 percent of the real Christmas trees grown in the U.S.

Holiday Shopping, North Carolina Style
Holiday shopping can be stressful, but not if you’re armed with gift suggestions unique to North Carolina for everyone on your list. From the foodie to the hard-to-shop-for, use our gift guide to find the ideal presents for your friends and family. Read more.

There are hundreds of great events taking place this month across North Carolina. Find the holiday event that best fits the experience you're looking for by searching our calendar.


There’s much to see and do in North Carolina, so read on.

Request your Travel Guide

Download or order FREE guides and maps

Discover Project Project 543

Explore unique spots across North Carolina