North Carolina celebrates the holiday season with plenty of Southern charm. The entire state may not be a winter wonderland covered in snow in December, but there’s still lots of holiday sparkle from the mountains to the coast. Here are some fun things to do in the Tarheel state during the holiday season.
Asheville, N.C. is home to the grandest mansion in the United States. During the holiday season, the Biltmore Estate is magical with its candlelight Christmas evenings. Here, you’ll step back in time, and celebrate Christmas just like a Vanderbilt. The Omni Grove Park Inn is the site of the National Gingerbread Competition and Display where your holiday sweet tooth will smile in delight. The place best place to see the twinkle of lights in the Blue Ridge is at the N.C. Arboretum. The Arboretum’s Winter Lights exhibit is designed and produced in collaboration with Jerry Stipling, former Holiday and special event producer at Walt Disney World. The light show, equipped with animated displays this year, is composed entirely of energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diode) lights, which use 80% less energy than conventional lights.
Chimney Rock, N.C.
Yes, that is Santa on the chimney. Santa repels down Chimney Rock in early December for a holiday spectacular adventure. Mrs. Claus is always there to cheer Santa as he rappels on one of the world’s largest chimneys with multiple 200-foot rappels. Live holiday music, hot cocoa, cookies and kids’ activities are hosted in Chimney Rock Village.
Bryson City, N.C.
All aboard for a ride on the Polar Express with the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City, N.C. More than 70,000 passengers experienced this Western North Carolina holiday tradition in 2014 and even more are expected this year. Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, guests on board will enjoy warm cocoa and a treat while listening and reading along with the magical story. The train’s destination is the North Pole where passengers find Santa waiting.
This little town with only 832 residents, in Gaston County, near Charlotte, N.C is officially known as Christmas Town USA. In its 60th year, the town displays hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights and is the scene of a life-size nativity. The twinkling lights route is about 1.3 miles, free of admission, and operates rain or shine.
Beech Mountain, N.C.
North Carolina’s bustling ski area turns into a winter wonderland during the holiday season. Santa may have a sleigh, but on Beech Mountain, you can go tubing. The Beech Mountain Resort constructed a new, state-of-the-art tubing park adjacent to the Alpine Village at the base of the slopes.
Baby, it’s cold outside, but you can warm up at the Great Wolf Lodge in Cabarrus County with an indoor water park that turns into “Snowland” during December. Great Wolf Lodge transforms into a magical winter wonderland, complete with spectacular decorations, North Pole University activities and a life-size gingerbread house you can dine in! While in Concord, add Speedway Christmas to your holiday to-do list. Here, you’ll find over 3 million lights, a drive-the-track experience, the infield Christmas Village and drive-in holiday classic movies on the 16,000 square foot HDTV at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Explore Christmas at the Billy Graham Library, a museum that pays tribute to American’s pastor. Visitors can view a nativity scene with real animals, ride on horse-drawn carriages, or take in the incredible lights display and merry carolers. Pop into the Ritz-Carlton to see its holiday decor extravaganza. A highlight will be a 17-foot tree made 789 recycled green plastic bottles.
Take a step back in time to the 18th and 19th centuries and experience Christmas traditions brought by the Moravians in the village of Old Salem. Be sure to stop in Winkler Bakery for Winston-Salem’s most famous cookie, the Moravian sugar cookie. Every Saturday, children can visit with St. Nicholas.
The Museum of Life and Science in Durham, N.C. has hosted its annual holiday fundraiser, The Santa Train, for 38 years. Guests can sip complimentary hot chocolate, explore crafts and activities while learning about the science of Santa. The event includes the popular train ride to the North Pole.
The capital city hosts holiday traditional favorites like A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, but this year there is something new in town. For the first time ever, the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival-Cary will run at Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheatre. The festival will include more than 20 displays, each one comprised of hundreds of parts and thousands of LED lights.
New Bern, N.C.
New Bern, N.C. was North Carolina’s first state capital, and the stately Tryon Palace looks beautiful in candlelight. Travel back to 1773 at the Governor’s Palace, and experience the ball held for Princess Sophia Carolina Matilda, Marchioness of Waldegrave for the 35th annual Candlelight Celebration. Enjoy the magic and wonder of circus acts, fire eating, sword swallowing, acrobatics, historical interpretations, and 18th-century magic tricks. The enchanted evening ends with a display of black powder fireworks illuminating the night sky over Tryon Palace.
Carolina Beach, N.C.
The newly renovated Carolina Beach Boardwalk will be the site for this year¹s Christmas by the Sea. Activities include visits from Santa, storytelling around a firepit, a live nativity scene, holiday movies at the gazebo, ornament making and more.On Dec. 5, the Island of Lights Christmas Flotilla will feature electrically decorated fishing boats and pleasure crafts in a spectacular display of light and sound.
Kids can type up their Christmas list on a vintage typewriter using authentic WWII Battleship North Carolina radio message paper as part of a new event taking place at the Battleship NORTH CAROLINA, A Very Merry Showboat. Luminaries will light your way as you explore a Christmas Stroll Through the Past. Go back in time for an old-fashioned Christmas with period decorations, costumed interpreters and even a miniature animal petting zoo.
For a complete list of holiday events in North Carolina, visit http://www.visitnc.com/holiday. Be sure to tag your holiday adventures #OutaboutNC on Instagram.