Your Guide to Thanksgiving Weekend Fun in North Carolina

Your Guide to Thanksgiving Weekend Fun in North Carolina

Enjoy ice skating with your family at Holiday on Ice in Uptown Charlotte

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, tours of holiday-themed mansions and gardens, and even get tips on where to find Christmas tree farms.

Holiday Light Shows

Speedway Christmas
Nov. 19 – 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 on Friday and Saturday nights, you can watch holiday movies on the world’s largest HDTV.

North Carolina Holiday Flotilla
Nov. 24 – 25, 2017, Wrightsville Beach
Named one of the Top 20 “Must See Events in the Southeast,” the Holiday Flotilla has showcased decorated boats on the Intracoastal Waterway for more than 30 years. Fireworks also light up the night, and a daytime Festival in the Park features a tree-lighting ceremony, visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus, arts and crafts, holiday shopping, children’s activities, entertainment and more.

North Carolina Holiday Flotilla at Wrightsville Beach

The highlight of the North Carolina Holiday Flotilla is the parade of decorated boats

Chetola’s Festival of Lights
Nov. 24, 2017 – Jan. 28, 2018, Blowing Rock
Drive around Chetola Lake to view glittering ice skaters, a nativity scene, Rudolph catching a big fish and more. A special Thanksgiving weekend celebration at Chetola Resort kicks off the festivities, including horse and carriage rides and a visit from Santa.

See more holiday light shows across North Carolina.

Signature Holiday Events

The Polar Express
Nov. 10, 2017 – 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
Nov. 17 – 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
Nov. 24, 2017 – 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
Nov. 17, 2017 – 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.

Piedmont Winterfest
Nov. 17, 2017 – 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.

Tree Lightings and Downtown Celebrations

Fourth Annual Carolina Panthers Tree Lighting
Nov. 22, Charlotte

Hometown Holidays
Nov. 23, Forest City

Christmas in the Park and Lighting of the Town
Nov. 24, Blowing Rock

Island of Lights: Lighting at the Lake
Nov. 24, Carolina Beach

Santa on the Green and Christmas Tree Lighting
Nov. 24, Cashiers

A Dickens Holiday
Nov. 24, Fayetteville

Holiday Downtown Lighting Celebration
Nov. 24, Hendersonville

Hometown Christmas Tree Lighting
Nov. 25, West Jefferson

Winter Wonderland
Date TBD, Franklin

Winter Wonderland in Franklin

Town of Franklin Tourism Development Authority

Winter Wonderland will feature live window displays of Christmas, free wagon and pony rides and more

Holiday Parades (Thanksgiving Weekend)

Novant Health Thanksgiving Day Parade
Nov. 23, Charlotte

Blowing Rock Christmas Parade
Nov. 26, Blowing Rock

14th Annual Emerald Isle Christmas Parade
Nov. 25, Emerald Isle

Mount Airy Christmas Parade
Nov. 25, Mount Airy

Downtown ​Mount Airy Christmas Parade

Mount Airy Downtown, Inc.

​Mount Airy's Christmas Parade coincides with Small Business Saturday

Ocean Isle Beach Flotilla
Nov. 25, Ocean Isle Beach

Sparta Christmas Parade
Nov. 25, Sparta

Forest City Christmas Parade
Nov. 26, Forest City

Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting
Nov. 26, Lincolnton

New Events You Should Know

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

A Bryson City Christmas
Nov. 10 – Dec. 31, Bryson City

Battleship Ho Ho Ho
Nov. 24, Battleship North Carolina, Wilmington

WinterFest at Carowinds
Nov. 24 – Dec. 30 (select nights), Charlotte

Christmas at Tweetsie Railroad
Nov. 24 – Dec. 30 (Fridays and Saturdays only), Blowing Rock

Crystal Coast Oyster Festival
Nov. 25, Morehead City

Shopping and Such

Choose-and-Cut Christmas Tree Farms
Many families put their Christmas trees up around Thanksgiving. And you're in luck: There are dozens of Christmas tree growers in North Carolina that invite you to their farms to choose and cut the perfect tree. 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.

Shop Local and Bring Home Keepsakes from Your Travels
Whether you’re visiting a waterfront town on the coast, a hip neighborhood in one of our cities or a village in the mountains, local shops throughout North Carolina reflect the culture of the areas. Stop by one of these destinations to take home a lasting memento. Read more.


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

6 Destinations for Holiday Wonders

6 Destinations for Holiday Wonders

From the National Gingerbread House Competition in Asheville to Kites With Lights on the Outer Banks, enjoy these holiday traditions in North Carolina.

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