The start of December means it’s time for all things holiday – parades, light shows, Christmas trees, gingerbread houses and more. And North Carolina has a long list of ways to enjoy and celebrate this special season in its Christmas towns. Whether you’re visiting the shores of the east coast, the mountains in the west or just hanging out somewhere in between, there are lots of amazing things to check out in the Tarheel State this December.

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Speedway Christmas, Concord Speedway Christmas in Concord
Speedway Christmas in Concord

Speedway Christmas, Concord

Even if you’re not a fan of auto racing, you’ll still want to check out Speedway Christmas that’s held at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord. This impressive drive-through light show has been dazzling visitors for ten years and includes a whopping 4 million lights on display. As you drive through the 3.75 mile course, you can listen to the accompanying Christmas music on 101.3 FM. Once you reach the middle of the speedway, make sure you stop and visit the Christmas Village set up on the infield, which includes carnival rides, a petting zoo, photos with Santa, games, food and more. On Thursday through Sunday evenings, you and your family can also catch some of your favorite Christmas movies on the giant Speedway TV.

North Carolina Holiday Flotilla, Wrightsville Beach The Intracoastal Waterway in Wrightsville Beach lights up during the annual Holiday Flotilla.
The Intracoastal Waterway in Wrightsville Beach lights up during the annual Holiday Flotilla.

North Carolina Holiday Flotilla, Wrightsville Beach

You may be used to sitting on the side of a city street to watch a holiday parade go down the street, but have you ever been to one that takes place on the water? The annual North Carolina Holiday Flotilla celebration in Wrightsville Beach, NC features a line-up of beautifully decorated and lit-up boats that parade down the Intracoastal Waterway, as well as a tree lighting ceremony, fireworks, a visit from Santa and rides, food, arts & crafts at the Festival in the Park, held the afternoon before the parade.

Christmas at Biltmore, Asheville Candlelight Christmas Evenings at Biltmore Estate in Asheville
Credit: Biltmore
Candlelight Christmas Evenings at Biltmore Estate in Asheville

Christmas at Biltmore, Asheville

Perhaps one of the most popular things to do in North Carolina in December is to visit Christmas at Biltmore Estate. This magnificent 250-room French Renaissance chateau is a sight to be seen no matter what time of year you visit. But, seeing it at Christmastime is extra special, thanks to Candlelight Christmas Evenings – an annual tradition that dresses up the estate house with thousands of ornaments and dozens of Christmas trees throughout. There’s also live performances of Christmas music to enjoy, as well as plenty more lights in the trees, buildings and pathways outside the home. Make sure to stop in at the Biltmore Winery, located in Antler Tree Village, to enjoy a wine tasting and admire the beautiful ornament display on the ceiling of the tasting room.

Christmas Town USA, McAdenville Walking through McAdenville will let you see the lights up close.
Walking through McAdenville will let you see the lights up close.

Christmas Town USA, McAdenville

The small North Carolina town of McAdenville, also known as Christmas Town USA, welcomes thousands of visitors each year to see the more than 500,000 lights that illuminate the town. Visitors can choose to either drive through or walk along the 1.3-mile course that features more than 160 decorated homes, as well as a large lake surrounded by 38 illuminated spruce trees. The display is free to view, but it’s extremely popular, so be prepared to hit some traffic and possibly have a wait. You can also attempt to avoid some of the crowds by visiting Monday through Thursday evenings. The lights are all on automatic timers, so they will turn off precisely at 9:30 pm Monday through Friday and at 11:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays (they begin at 5:30 pm), so make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to see them!

Polar Express Train Ride on Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Bryson City Polar Express Train Ride, Bryson City
Polar Express Train Ride, Bryson City

Polar Express Train Ride on Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Bryson City

Kids who loved the popular book, The Polar Express, will feel like they’ve stepped right into the story when they take the Polar Express Train Ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The trip, which takes a total of 1 ¼ hours and departs from the Bryson City Depot, allows children and their families to listen and read along with the story, sing Christmas carols and enjoy hot cocoa and cookies. The train also makes a special stop at the North Pole where Santa boards the train and gives each child their own silver sleigh bell to take home.

Santa on the Chimney at Chimney Rock State Park, Chimney Rock Chimney Rock State Park
Chimney Rock State Park

Santa on the Chimney at Chimney Rock State Park, Chimney Rock

If you’re looking for something truly unique to do at Christmas, why not go watch Santa rappel down a rock face at Chimney Rock State Park? Several times during the month of December, Santa will visit this gorgeous state park and rappel down the 315-foot Chimney Rock, where he’ll give a friendly wave to onlookers. Santa will also visit with guests in front of Cliff Dweller Gifts, where you can get a photo with him to take home.

Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville The Winter Lights at the NC Arboretum features more than a half million lights spread over three acres.
Credit: ncarboretum.org
The Winter Lights at the NC Arboretum features more than a half million lights spread over three acres.

Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville

If you can’t get enough holiday lights during the month of December, there are plenty more to see at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville. Every night, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., you can walk through this amazing light display that features more than half a million lights over three acres, while you sip on some cocoa, cider or beer and listen to Christmas music.

Winterfest at Carowinds, Charlotte Carolina Harbor at Carowinds, Charlotte
Carolina Harbor at Carowinds, Charlotte

Winterfest at Carowinds, Charlotte

Carowinds Amusement Park in Charlotte turns into a winter wonderland each year in the month of December. During Winterfest, the park is decked out with more than 5 million lights, as well as a massive 70-foot Christmas tree and lots of holiday displays. Throughout the park, you’ll also find live entertainment, strolling performers, hands-on activities and delicious holiday treats from hot cocoa and sweets to full-on holiday meals with turkey and ham. While you’re there, you can also enjoy a ride on some of your favorite rides and take a spin on the ice skating rink.

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