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

By Beth Mack

November 29, 2021

Wherever your holiday travels may take you, the Carolinas offer a plethora of holiday light displays across the states to get you and yours in the holiday spirit. Holiday light shows can be found at venues of all types from farms to zoos, and often offer more than just lights. Visits from Santa, children’s rides, fire pits to roast s’mores, and hayrides are just some of the activities that can be found at these winter holiday destinations.

Holidays at the Garden

Belmont, NC
Nov. 26, 2021 – Jan. 2, 2022
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 or 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 $14.95, Seniors (65+) $12.95, children (2-12) $7.95, and free for children under two. Tickets are sold in 90-minute time slots and are limited to encourage social distancing, so it is highly advised to purchase your tickets in advance online to ensure you can get in.

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

Speedway Christmas

Concord, NC
Nov. 19, 2021 – Jan. 16, 2022 (Closed Dec. 6-8 and Dec. 24)
6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

In its 12th 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 infamous 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. Tickets can be purchased online or in-person at $40 per car (15 people max) or skip the line 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. 19-21: Home Alone 2
Nov. 25-28: Christmas Vacation
Dec. 2-5: The Grinch
Dec. 9-12: Christmas with the Kranks
Dec. 16-26: Elf
Dec. 30-Jan. 2: A Christmas Story

Christmas Town, USA

McAdenville, NC
Dec. 1 – 26, 2021
5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Voted as the fourth-best public holiday light display in the nation by USA Today in 2020, is the community light display in the small town 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 luxury 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 Wonderland of Lights at Zootastic Park

Troutman, NC
Nov. 19, 2021 – 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 45-minute trip 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 to 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 with children under two, free.

Check out Zootastic Park’s website for more details.

Christmas at the Biltmore

Asheville, NC
Nov. 5, 2021 – Jan. 9, 2022
8 a.m. – 10 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 $106 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 $119.

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


Winter Lights at NC Arboretum

Asheville, NC
Nov. 19, 2021 – Jan. 1, 2022
6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

The North Carolina Arboretum is returning to its original, walk-through format this year for its Winter Lights display. 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. To help maintain social distance, tickets are sold per vehicle with tiered pricing based on peak dates starting at $30 if you purchase in advance.

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

Festival of Lights at Chetola Resort

Blocking Rock, NC
Nov. 26, 2021 – Jan. 30, 2020
6 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Located just 15 minutes south of Boone in the mountain town of Blowing Rock, is the Chetola Resort. Each winter, the resort hosts its Festival of Lights display; free and open to the public. Grab a hot chocolate from the on-site restaurant, Timberlake’s, and walk along the resort’s private Chetola Lake to take in the 30,000 lights featuring Rudolph, a nativity scene, and more.

Check out Chetola Resort’s website for more information.


WRAL’s Nights of Lights

Raleigh, NC
Nov. 20 – Dec. 24, 2021 (Closed Nov. 22-25, Nov. 29, and Dec. 6)
6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

In its second year, WRAL’s Nights of Lights promises more lights and more nights. 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. Tickets start at $20 for a personal vehicle (up to eight people) or $40 for VIP Fast Lane tickets.

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

Lights on Neuse

Clayton, NC
Nov. 26 – Dec. 24, 2021 (select dates)
Hours vary

There is nothing quite like a good old-fashioned Christmas down on the farm. Join the Boyette Family Farm as they light up the night with Christmas light displays for a 20-minute tractor-pulled hayride tour complete with Christmas tunes. After your hayride, stop by Santa’s Sweet Shoppe for hot chocolate, coffee, s’mores kits, and kettle corn, or swing by the Sugar Barn to decorate your gingerbread cookies. To complete the experience, jolly old Saint Nick and his sleigh will be there every night except for Christmas Eve to hear Christmas wishes and take photos. Children under the age of two are admitted free of charge, for all other children and children at heart, tickets are $10 per person.

Tickets can be purchased at the farm or online through the Boyette Family Farm’s website.


Festival of Lights at Hill Ridge Farms

Youngsville, NC
Nov. 25, 2021 – Jan. 1, 2022
5 p.m. – 10 p.m.

A short 30-minute drive north of downtown Raleigh sits Hill Ridge Farms and their Festival of Lights. Due to Covid-19, their event will remain a drive-through experience for the second year in a row. 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

Winter Wonderlights

Greensboro, NC
Nov. 6, 2021 – Jan. 2, 2022 (Closed Dec. 15, 2021)
Hours vary

Winter Wonderlights glow up 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 that are available for purchase and watch one of the many synchronized light shows. Admission for non-members is $24.50 for adults, seniors (65+), children (3-13), and children under the age of two are complimentary. Discounts are available for members of the Center, groups of 15+, and on Wild Wednesdays.

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

Tanglewood Park Festival of Lights

Clemmons, NC
Nov. 12, 2021 – Jan. 1, 2022
6 p.m. – 11 p.m.

Each holiday season for the past 30 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 while listening to festive tunes. S’moresville, where you can purchase s’mores kits and roast marshmallows, has returned this year for 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, NC
Nov. 26 – Dec. 26, 2021
Hours vary

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 you will be greeted by Santa before you board your 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 $18, children (5-11) $6, and children four and under are free.

You can purchase tickets on the Park’s website or at the venue.

Denton FarmPark Country Christmas Train

Lake Myra Christmas Lights

Wendell, NC
Nov. 25 – Dec. 31, 2021
Sunday – Thursday 5:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Friday + Saturday 5:30 p.m. – 11 p.m.

A quick 25-minute drive east of Raleigh will land you at Lake Myra Christmas lights in the town of Wendell. This light show, including over 400,000 lights to synchronized music, allows you to sit or stand to take in the unique production. With shows ranging in length from 30 to 45 minutes with a five-minute break between sets, you may bring chairs or blankets to sit and enjoy the show. Santa will not be on-site his year, but there will be a North Pole mailbox.

Admission is free for this event, but donations are accepted. For more information, check out the official website.

Lake Myra Christmas Lights

Festival of Lights Lu Mil Vineyard

Elizabethtown, NC
Nov. 26 – Dec. 23, 2021 (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. If that isn’t enough, you can enjoy a meal at their country buffet for $13 per person or make it an overnight trip and book one of their cabins for the night. Admission is $10 per person with children five and under free.

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

Winterlights at Elizabethan Garden

Manteo, NC
Nov. 27, 2021 – Jan. 16, 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 watch a holiday movie on their giant outdoor screen. On Fridays and Saturdays, the Garden features live music to spread holiday cheer. Tickets run $12 for adults, $10 for youths (6-17), $7 for children (2-5), with those under two being free.

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

Winterlights at Elizabethan Garden

Enchanted Airlie

Wilmington, NC
Dec. 3 – 22, 2021
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. 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 at Airlie Gardens

Riverbanks Zoo & Garden Lights Before Christmas

Columbia, SC
Nov. 20 – Dec. 31, 2021 (select dates)
5 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo & Garden will host another 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 and 350 handcrafted images including an animated LED story tree. Stop by Santa’s Village to visit the big man, take a ride on the Candy Cane Carousel or the North Pole Express. 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, $12 for adults, $10 for children (2-12), and under two, free.

Check out the Zoo’s website for more information.

Holiday Lights on the River

Columbia, SC
Nov. 25 – Dec. 31, 2021
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, laser light show, indoor holiday movie showings, roasting marshmallows, a hay or train ride, along with refreshments available for purchase. Admission is $25 per car and includes drive-through lights, tube slide, hay or train ride, laser light show, and holiday movie showings.

For more information, check out the Park’s event page website.

Read next: 

In this article