A guide to the best Christmas light shows and events in the Carolinas

By Beth Mack

November 30, 2022

Wherever your holiday travels may take you, the Carolinas offer a plethora of holiday lights displays across the state to get you and yours in the holiday spirit. Events can be found at an assortment of venues across the state from farms to zoos to parks, and often offer more than just the illuminating lights. Visits from Santa, children’s rides, fire pits, hayrides, and roasting s’mores, are just some of the activities that can be found at these winter holiday destinations. 

Light the Knights Festival 

Truist Field
324 S Mint St.
Charlotte, NC 28202

Nov. 23, 2022 – Jan. 6, 2023 (Select Dates)
Hours vary

In the heart of uptown, Truist Field has transformed into a winter wonderland for its second year. Walk through the concourse inside the stadium to take in the various light displays, enjoy the artificial snow, visit with old Saint Nick and Mrs. Claus, peruse the Christmas village vendors, or grab a cup of cheer from either the concession stands or one of the Christmas village food vendors. The outfield now boasts a regulation size ice skating rink and a snow tubing track complete with concessions and seating to take in the sights and sounds of the holiday season. Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office with admission starting at $10 for all above the age of four with ice skating and snow tubing being additional costs. For a complete list of available dates and times, check out the Charlotte Knights official website.

 

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Tweetsie Railroad Christmas

Tweetsie Railroad
300 Tweetsie Railroad Lane
Blowing Rock, NC 28605

Select Dates Nov. 25 – Dec. 20, 2022
5 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains between Boone and Blowing rock is a North Carolina favorite, Tweetsie Railroad, a small Wild West amusement park and heritage railroad site. Each year for the holidays, the park is decked out with lights for a holiday experience for all ages. Guests can take an open-air train ride on one of their historic steam locomotives that is adorned with over one million lights. You can also partake in other rides, catch a live holiday show, roast s’mores over a crackling fire, and even visit with the big man in his gingerbread house. Admission includes one train ride and access to the park and is $52 for adults, $32 for children (3-12), and free for children two and under. For more information, visit the Tweetsie Railroad website.

Christmas Wonderland of Lights at Zootastic Park

Zootastic Park
448 Pilch Rd
Troutman, NC 28166

Nov. 18, 2022 – Jan. 1, 2022

Sunday – Thursday: 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

For a more exotic holiday light show, take a 40-minute trip (from Charlotte) north on I-77 to Troutman’s Zootastic Park. The drive-through safari experience has decked out its route with four million lights to help ring in the holidays. For animal lovers, you can opt to take a pony ride or feed giraffes, tigers, and barnyard animals. You can also stop in for a visit with Santa and get a photo with him and a baby kangaroo,  just don’t let Rudolph know. In addition, you can roast s’mores or take a ride on a carousel or train. Admission is $10 per person and children under two are free.

Check out Zootastic Park’s website for more details.

ZootasticPark.com

Christmas at Biltmore

Asheville, NC

Nov. 4, 2022 – Jan. 8, 2023
10 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Tour America’s largest home, the Biltmore house, as each of the 250 rooms of the historic French Renaissance chateau is elegantly adorned with Christmas trees, lights, garland, and ribbon. To pull out all of the stops, the Biltmore Estate’s Antler Hill Village, which features shops, restaurants, a farm, a winery, and a hotel, is also aglow with Christmas decor and lights. Daytime admission starts at $99 and includes a self-guided walking tour of the Biltmore house, access to its 8,000 acres of gardens and grounds, Antler Hill Village, complimentary wine tasting, and parking for the day. Evening admission, Candlelight Christmas Evenings, start at $124.

For more information, check out the Biltmore’s website.

Winter Lights at NC Arboretum

North Carolina Arboretum
100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way
Asheville, NC 28806

Nov. 18, 2022 – Dec. 31, 2022
6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

The North Carolina Arboretum’s walk-through light display Winter Lights display returns this year to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Touted as Asheville’s brightest holiday tradition, the outdoor event features over one million lights and serves as the Arboretum’s largest fundraiser. Expect vibrant light displays, including the iconic 50-foot tree of light, live music (on select evenings), fire pits, and a hot cocoa shack offering s’more kits, snacks, beverages, and of course, hot chocolate. Tickets are sold per vehicle with tiered pricing starting at $30. The Arboretum does limit the number of guests per evening, so it is advised to purchase tickets in advance.

To purchase tickets or need any more info, check out the NC Arboretum’s website.

NCArboretum.org

Christmas Town USA

McAdenville, NC 28101

Dec. 1 – 26, 2022
5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Voted as the fourth-best public holiday light display in the nation by USA Today in 2020 and 2021, is the community of McAdenville. Since the 1950s, McAdenville residents along Main Street deck their houses and front yards with lights and displays for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The 1.3-mile stretch of lights can be viewed either by walking along the sidewalks or from the convenience of your car through the heart of downtown McAdenville, located just 15 minutes west of Charlotte.

For more information on this free light display and holiday events, visit the Christmas Town USA community website.

Christmas Town USA



Carowinds’ WinterFest

Carowinds
300 Carowinds Blvd
Charlotte, NC 28273

Nov. 21, 2022 – Jan. 1, 2023
5 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Carolina’s largest amusement park has curated an immersive holiday light show for its WinterFest. With over five million lights, the park boasts an extensive amount of additional festive experiences such as ice skating, live holiday shows, select amusement rides, a 70-foot Christmas tree, holiday-themed games, live Christmas carolers, holiday gift shops, cookie decorating, seasonal food and beverages, and of course Santa. Your visit will be capped off with the WinterFest Wonderland Parade, the park’s nightly 9 p.m. parade complete with music, performers, and ornate floats. New to WinterFest this year, you can reserve your very own private igloo where you can sip on hot chocolate, have food delivered right to your igloo, and bask in the holiday spirit. Admission is $32.99 for ages 3-62 or above 48 inches tall and $19.99 for adults 62+ years old, children under two, and children under 48 inches tall. 

Check out Carowinds website for a complete list of activities, tickets, and more information to start planning your visit.

 

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WRAL’s Nights of Lights

Dorothea Dix Park
1030 Richardson Dr.
Raleigh, NC 27603

Nov. 25 – Dec. 24, 2022 (Closed Nov. 28-30, Dec. 5-7, and Dec. 12-14)
6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

In its third year, WRAL’s Nights of Lights is lighting up Raleigh with even more light pieces. The 1.3-mile drive-through event will again be hosted at Dorothea Dix Park and feature festive light displays, the park’s iconic oak trees dressed in lights, and local art installations. To keep lines moving, tickets are sold only online in 30-minute time slots, and start at $30 for a personal vehicle (up to eight people) or $50 for VIP Fast Lane tickets. New this year are two special packages to make for an even more magical visit. The Holiday Outpost Package includes a stop at the North Pole for a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, photo ops at the festive Holiday Outpost photobooth with keepsake prints, and fast-lane access to the Nights of Lights. The Igloo Experience Package includes a 45-minute reservation in a private igloo, a snack box, a carafe of hot chocolate or apple cider, and Fast Lane access to the lights.

To purchase your tickets and find out more information, check out WRAL’s website.

Winter Wonderlights

Greensboro Science Center
4301 Lawndale Drive
Greensboro, NC 27455

Nov. 17, 2022 – Jan. 1, 2023 (Closed Nov. 24, Dec. 24, Dec. 25)
5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Winter Wonderlights glow on a nightly basis at the Greensboro Science Center. In its second year, it has doubled in size from its inaugural event last year to include Revolution Ridge, the Center’s 11-acre zoo. This outdoor walk-through event boasts 12 unique zones of light displays with themes ranging from dinosaurs to gingerbread houses. Warm up with some hot chocolate or apple cider available for purchase and watch one of the many synchronized light shows. Admission for non-members is $25 for adults, and children under the age of two are free. Discounts are available for members of the Greensboro Science Center, groups of 15-plus, and on select “discount days.” 

For more information or to purchase tickets in advance, visit the Greensboro Science Center’s website.

Tanglewood Park Festival of Lights

Tanglewood Park
Manor House Cir.
Clemmons, NC 27012

Nov. 11, 2022 – Jan. 1, 2023
6 p.m. – 11 p.m.

Each holiday season for the past 31 years, Tanglewood Park– located just ten minutes west of Winston-Salem– is transformed into a winter wonderland of lights. The drive-through light display boasts over one million lights with 80 displays. S’moresville, where you can purchase s’mores kits and roast marshmallows, has returned this year as a mid-route pit stop. To really wow that special someone, opt to tour the lights by horse-drawn carriage ride or by tractor-pulled hayride. Tickets can only be purchased on-site and are $20 per car if by cash and $23 per car if by credit card.

For more information, check out the festival’s website.

Tanglewood Park Festival of Lights

Denton FarmPark Country Christmas Train

Denton Farmpark
1072 Cranford Road,
Denton, NC 27239

Nov. 25 – Dec. 27, 2022 (Select Dates)
4:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Denton FarmPark, located just 45 minutes southwest of Greensboro, hosts its 13th annual Country Christmas Train. Walk down the candy cane path to the train station where Santa will greet you before you board the train. Once aboard the Handy Dandy Railroad, sit back and enjoy the lights, live nativity scene, and even elves on the 1.5-mile track. After you disembark, check out the numerous activities offered at the Christmas Village such as a petting zoo, carriage rides, food and craft vendors, and children’s rides. Tickets include one train ride and access to all of Christmas Village. Adult tickets are $20, $6 for children 5-11, and free for those under the age of four. They also offer discounted admission to select groups including first responders, teachers, children under 12, and military on certain dates. 

For a schedule of events and to purchase tickets online visit the Denton Farmpark website.

Denton FarmPark Country Christmas Train

Winterlights at Elizabethan Garden

Elizabethan Garden
1411 National Park Dr.
Manteo, NC 27954

Nov. 25 – Dec. 30, 2022 (select dates)
6 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Should your holiday travels take you to the Outer Banks, stop by the Winterlights at Elizabethan Gardens. Stroll through their 10 acres of gardens transformed into an illuminated winter wonderland. Warm up by their crackling open-air fire pits or check out one of the many events such as a visit from Santa, children’s face painting, musical guests, and holiday story time around the fire pit. Tickets run $16 for adults, $12 for youths (6-17), $8 for children (2-5), free (children under two), and dogs are $5.

Tickets are only available for sale online on Elizabethan Garden’s website.

Enchanted Airlie

Airlie Gardens
300 Airlie Rd
Wilmington, NC 28403

Nov. 25 – 26, Dec. 2 – 22, 2022
5:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Since 2005, Airlie Gardens have provided the Wilmington area with the sights and sounds of the season with their Enchanted Airlie lights display. Meander along the outdoor half-mile, self-guided walking tour to take in the glow from the lights whilst holiday music plays in the background. This year select snacks and beverages from David’s Deli, Noni Bacca, and Wilmington Brewery will be available for purchase on-site. Tickets ($30 per carload) for the popular light show are only sold in advance in one-hour increments, and often sell out.

To purchase your tickets or to find out more details, visit Airlie Gardens’ website.

Enchanted Airlie Gardens

Speedway Christmas

Charlotte Motor Speedway
5555 Concord Pkwy S
Concord, NC 28027

Nov. 18, 2022 – Jan. 8, 2023 (Closed Dec. 24)
6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

In its 13th year, the Charlotte Motor Speedway presents one of the largest Christmas light displays in the Southeast, Speedway Christmas. Located just north of Charlotte, this drive-through event features over four million lights with hundreds of displays across its four-mile track that includes the racetrack. Be sure to tune in to 101.3 FM to enjoy the synchronization of lights to classic Christmas hits. The Christmas village returns this year on the infield complete with fire pits to roast s’mores, an indoor movie theater playing Christmas classics, and the big man himself, Santa. If that wasn’t enough, new this year to Christmas Village is a 360-degree camera located in Victory lane to get some high-tech photos. Tickets can be purchased online or in-person and range from $30-$40 per car (15 people max) depending on the date of your visit or you can skip the line on Thursdays through Sundays with the express lane at $70 per car (15 people max).

More information and tickets can be found on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s website.

Movie Schedule:

Nov. 18-20: The Holiday and Die Hard
Nov. 24-27: Christmas Vacation
Dec. 1-4: The Grinch
Dec. 8-11: Elf
Dec. 15-18: A Christmas Story
Dec. 19-25: The Polar Express
Dec. 30-Jan. 2: Home Alone

Speedway Christmas

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden Lights Before Christmas

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden
500 Wildlife Pkwy
Columbia, SC 29210

Nov. 19 – Dec. 30, 2022 (select dates)
5 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo & Garden will host the 35th edition of its Lights Before Christmas light display. While most of the animals will be off exhibit to get some sleep, there is still lots to see with over one million lights, 350 handcrafted images including an animated LED story tree, and giant illuminated animal lanterns. Stop by Santa’s Village to visit the big man, take a ride on the Candy Cane Carousel or the Gingerbread Express, or roast some s’mores while spinning on hot cocoa at the Jingle Bell Bonfire. On your walking tour of the lights, there will be plenty of stops to purchase beverages, snacks, or even a full meal. Admission is free for zoo members, $15 for adults, $12 for children (2-12), and free (2 and under)

Check out the Zoo’s website for more information.

Holidays at the Garden

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
6500 S New Hope Rd
Belmont, NC 28012

Nov. 25, 2022 – Dec. 31, 2022 (Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, Dec. 24, and Dec. 25)
5 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Located just 30 minutes from uptown Charlotte, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden hosts its annual Christmas light display, Holidays at the Garden. Stroll through the magnificently manicured gardens to take in the lights on the 90-minute walking tour. Sit by their fire pit to roast s’mores, enjoy a beverage (beer, wine, coffee, or hot chocolate), or enjoy a bite to eat from one of the food trucks while listening to Christmas music. Adult tickets will run you $20, Seniors (65+) $18, children (2-12) $10, and free for children under two. Tickets are sold in two-hour time slots and are limited, so it’s advised to purchase your tickets online. New this year, they are offering a VIP Winterland Pop-up Tent for parties of 4-10 people that includes hour-long private access to a festively decorated transparent tent located in the garden, gourmet hot cocoa board (Baileys optional), a spread of dessert charcuterie, and admission to the holiday lights.

For tickets and more information, check out the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens website.

Holidays at the Garden

Holiday Lights on the River

Saluda Shoals Park
5605 Bush River Rd
Columbia, SC 29212

Nov. 24 – Dec. 31, 2022
6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

One of South Carolina’s largest drive-through light shows is hosted in Soda City’s Saluda Shoals Park. Journey through a million colorful lights featuring over 400 animated light displays that stretch for three miles. After driving through, stop by the Environmental Center for additional festivities including a winter wonder tube slide, a meet and greet with Santa, laser light shows, letter writing to Santa, marshmallow roasting, hay or train rides, along with refreshments available for purchase. Admission is $25 per car and includes all of the above activities.

For more information, check out Saluda Shoals Park’s website.

Holiday Lights on the River at Saluda Shoals Park



North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival

Koka Booth Amphitheatre
8005 Regency Pkwy
Cary, NC 27518

Nov. 18, 2022 – Jan. 8, 2023
6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

While the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival may not be exactly holiday themed, the light show that occurs every holiday season is not to be missed. In its seventh year, this year’s festival features 40 brand new light displays that were crafted specifically for this event in Zinong, China. Each larger-than-life display features thousands of lights capped off by a 200-foot dragon lantern that floats on Symphony Lake. To round out the experience, they host nightly cultural art performances and have added Asian-inspired dishes to their regular food offerings such as spring rolls, miso ramen, and a Korean fried chicken sandwich. Ticket prices vary depending on the date of your visit but start at $9 for all of those above the age of two (free for ages two and under). If you want to learn more about the cultural history and significance of the lanterns and how the displays come together, they also offer a guided 45-minute VIP tour.

To find out more information and purchase tickets, visit Koka Booth Amphitheater’s website.

Sweet Valley Ranch Festival of Lights

Sweet Valley Ranch
2990 Sunnyside School Road
Fayetteville, NC 28312

Nov. 25 – Dec. 26, 2022 (Select Dates) 
6:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Each holiday season the 300 acre Sweet Valley Ranch lights up the night with its Festival of Lights. The drive through light show not only features over one million lights, but you can get a glimpse of the farms 350 animal residents ranging from potbelly pigs, cows, llamas, peacocks, and zebras. As an added bonus, directly across the street from Sweet Valley Ranch is Tiny’s Winter Wonderland where you can get out of your car to enjoy rides, shop from one of their local vendors, grab a snack to eat, and even visit with Santa. Tickets start at $10 per person with discounts offered for larger groups and children two and under free. To plan your visit, visit the Sweet Valley Ranch website.

Festival of Lights at Lu Mil Vineyard

Lu Mil Vineyard
438 Suggs-Taylor Rd
Elizabethtown, NC 28337

Nov. 25 – Dec. 23, 2022 (select dates)
6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Located approximately an hour west of Wilmington, you can find Lu Mil Vineyard’s Annual Festival of Lights. This drive-through light exhibit has something for both children and adults to ensure there is enough holiday cheer for all. Children will enjoy photos with Santa, a kiddie land with rides, and a candy shop. Adults can enjoy wine tastings from the vineyard, and if that isn’t enough, you can enjoy a meal at their country buffet for $14 per person, or make it an overnight trip, booking one of their cabins for the night. Admission is $10 per person with children under the age of five, free

For more information, check out Lu Mil Vineyard’s website.

Festival of Lights at Lu Mil Vineyard

Festival of Lights at Hill Ridge Farms

Hill Ridge Farms
703 Tarboro Rd
Youngsville, NC 27596

Nov. 24, 2022 – Jan. 1, 2023 (Closed Nov. 28 – Nov. 30)
5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.

A short 30-minute drive north of downtown Raleigh sits Hill Ridge Farms and their drive-through Festival of Lights. Cruise the mile-long route featuring over one million lights from the comfort of your car. They will not be offering concessions, so be sure to bring your own hot chocolate and snacks. Entrance is $20 per car if you pay by cash, which is preferred to keep the lines moving, or $23 if you pay by credit or debit.

Check out Hill Ridge Farm’s website for more details.

Festival of Lights at Hill Ridge Farms

Celebration of Lights and Winterland Express

Village Park
700 W C St.
Kannapolis, NC 28081

Nov. 19, 2022 – Dec. 30, 2022 (Closed Dec. 24 and 25)
Sunday – Thursday 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday – Saturday 6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Each holiday season Kannapolis Parks & Rec wraps its Village Park in over 250,000 lights to ring in the holiday season. This year the park has enlisted the beloved Leonard Bearstein Orchestra animatronic band, to delight guests with their 30-minute holiday hits show at the top of each hour. To add to the festivities, guests can visit with Santa, roast marshmallows, shop their craft vendors, take a ride on their carousel or train (The Winterland Express), and indulge in snacks and seasonal food offerings from one of their food vendors. Entrance to the park and its festivities is free. Tickets to ride The Winterland Express are by online reservation only and are $6 per row (each row can accommodate two adults and one child) and tickets for the carousel are $2 per person. For a schedule of activities and to reserve tickets for The Winterland Express, check out Kannapolis’ Parks and Rec website.




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