Must-See Holiday Light Shows Across North Carolina

Here are our top picks of light show extravaganzas across the state


Biltmore Estate's 2017 theme is “A Vanderbilt Christmas,” featuring 135,000 LED and mini lights.

Photo courtesy of Biltmore Estate

’Tis the season for dazzling light displays. These annual sparkling and twinkling displays are a great way to celebrate festive fun with the family. Here are our top picks of holiday light shows across the state to help bring out your family’s holiday spirit. Shows are listed in alphabetical order. Scroll through the slides or jump to specific light shows below:

Biltmore Candlelight Christmas Evenings
One Lodge St., Asheville
Admission: $85 for adults; $42.50 for ages 10-16; free for ages 9 and younger. Purchase tickets online.
Dates: Nov. 3-Jan. 6

See the Biltmore Estate adorned in its holiday splendor during a daytime and/or evening visit. The 2017 theme is “A Vanderbilt Christmas,” featuring the gilded age and grand look. A lit 55-foot-tall Norway spruce encircled by 20 other illuminated evergreens decorates the front lawn for candlelight evenings. Enjoy 55 decorated Christmas trees inside Biltmore House, as well as 30,000 lights and 150 candles. In addition, there are 135,000 LED and mini lights sparkling around the estate. New this year, Antler Hill Village features a constellation of lights as dusk descends. This must-see experience features “waterfall” lights cascading from treetops; stars and orbs draping tree branches; miniature lights outlining archways and buildings; and glowing ornaments in the Village Green illuminating holiday evenings.

Chinese Lantern Festival
Booth Amphitheatre, 8003 Regency Pkwy., Cary
Admission: $15 for ages 18 and older; $10 for ages 3-17; free for ages 2 and younger
Dates: Nov. 24-Jan. 14, 2018. Tuesdays-Sundays 6-10 p.m. Closed Mondays except for Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.

Booth Amphitheatre is transformed into a dazzling walk-through display with larger-than-life lanterns. Enjoy holiday treats and beverages from venue stands.

Photo courtesy of Booth Amphitheatre

Country Christmas Train at Denton Farm Park
4259 Handy Rd., Denton
Admission: $5-$15 ages 5 and older; free for ages 4 and younger. Additional fees for photos with Santa, wagon and pony rides.
Dates: Nov. 24-26, Dec. 7-10, Dec. 14-17, Dec. 20-23, Dec. 26-27. Friday-Saturday 4:30-11 p.m.; other nights 4:30-10 p.m.

Enjoy a lighted walking tour of the park. Stop at the church to hear a Christmas story and then take a ride on the Handy Dandy Railroad. Enjoy a nativity movie, Christmas carols, a petting zoo, Santa’s cabin, arts and crafts exhibits, and more. New for 2017, enjoy online ticket sales, additional light displays and an expanded, walk-through gingerbread house to accommodate a cookie-decorating area for kids.

Photo courtesy of Denton Farm Park

Enchanted Airlie
300 Airlie Rd., Wilmington
Admission: $27 per car; $55 for vans
Dates: Nov. 24-25, Dec. 1-2, Dec. 8-10 and Dec. 13-22. There are two runtimes each evening, 5-7 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.

Take a festive self-guided walking tour through Airlie Gardens to view a spectacular display of lights and holiday displays. Visit with Santa and enjoy coffee, hot chocolate, popcorn, cookies, beer, wine and more.

Photo courtesy of Enchanted Arlie

Festival of Lights at Chetola Resort
185 Chetola Lake Dr., Blowing Rock
Admission: Free
Dates: Begins at dusk on Thursday, Nov. 23 and runs through the end of Blowing Rock’s Winterfest, Jan. 26-28, 2018.

Chetola Resort is known for its sparkling display of lights each winter season. Drive or stroll around Chetola Lake, view glittering ice skaters, “Rudolph” reeling in a big fish, strolling carolers and many more festive scenes.

Photo courtesy of Chetola Resort

Hill Ridge Farms’ Festival of Lights
703 Tarboro Rd., Youngsville
Admission: $8-$12 (rate depends on age, night of the week and senior or military status)
Dates: Nov. 23-Dec. 31. Friday-Saturday 5-10 p.m.; other nights 5-9 p.m.

Enjoy a covered-wagon hayride through a beautiful display of lights, bonfires, s’mores, hot chocolate, apple cider, heated indoor dining, an old-fashioned toy and candy store, giant slide, jumping pillow and slide house.

Holidays at the Garden
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, 6500 S. New Hope Rd., Belmont
Admission: $8.95 for ages 2-12, $14.95 ages 13 and older
Dates: Open nightly Nov. 17-Dec. 31, 5-9 p.m.

More than 600,000 lights and illuminated displays will light up Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. Roast a marshmallow, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, enjoy music and sip a warm beverage as you tour the displays, visit with Santa and more.

Island of Lights Christmas Flotilla
Carolina Beach
Admission: Free to spectators
Dates: Dec. 2, 6 p.m.

Boats decorated with thousands of lights will cruise the Intracoastal Waterway for a festive display. Watercrafts will cruise from Snows Cut to the Carolina Beach Boat Basin and back as they compete for prizes.

Lights Before Christmas
Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, 500 Wildlife Pkwy., Columbia, South Carolina
Admission: $9-$11
Dates: Nov. 18-Dec. 30, 5-9 p.m. Closed Nov. 23 and Dec. 24-25.

Enjoy nearly one million lights, animated images, visits with Santa, a bonfire, hot cocoa and s’mores.

Lights on the Neuse
Boyette Family Farms, 1620 Loop Rd., Clayton
Admission: $9 for ages 3 and older; free for ages 2 and younger (cash only)
Dates: See the website for dates and hours.

Take a 1-mile, 30-minute tractor-pulled hayride through a beautiful lights extravaganza. You’ll see more than one million lights line the way to the banks of the Neuse River. Enjoy concessions, a visit with Santa, cookie decorating, Santa’s Sweet Shoppe and more holiday fun. 

Tickets include the Christmas Lights Hayride, and reservations are required for the hayride only. An ATM is located onsite.

McAdenville (Christmas Town USA)
Downtown McAdenville
Admission: Free
Dates: Dec. 1-26. Monday-Friday 5:30-9:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday 5:30-11 p.m.

Experience the wonder of the season in Gaston County’s Christmas Town USA, a tradition since 1956. Walk or drive by the awe-inspiring displays of more than 375 decorated trees, 200 lit lamppost wreaths, music, a life-size Nativity scene, a lake fountain and more.

Photo courtesy of Steve Rankin

Meadow Lights
4546 Godwin Lake Rd., Benson
Admission: Free, but train/carousel tickets are $2.
Dates: Nov. 17-Dec. 31; Sunday-Thursday 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5-11 p.m.

Meadow Lights is the largest and oldest Christmas light show in Eastern North Carolina with lights on more than 30 acres. Visit the Old Country Store for old-fashioned candy, ride a train or carousel, and visit with Santa.

North Carolina Holiday Flotilla
Wrightsville Beach
Admission: Free
Dates: Nov. 24-25

Enjoy Thanksgiving weekend at the beach during this two-day celebration that kicks off Friday night with a tree lighting and visit with Santa at 5:45 p.m. at Wrightsville Beach Town Hall. On Saturday, take the kids to Festival in the Park, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., to enjoy inflatable slides, bounce houses, a coloring contest, a train ride, festival food, an antique car show and more. The lighted boat parade will begin at 6 p.m. and is followed by a fireworks show. The best viewing is along Banks Channel.

Speedway Christmas
5555 Concord Pkwy. S., Concord
Admission: $20-$30 for cars; $40-$50 for vans
Dates: Nov. 19-Dec. 31, 6-10 p.m. Closed Dec. 25.

Speedway Christmas features more than three million lights, a Christmas Village, and the unique opportunity to drive the track in a lights-to-music show along the 3.5-mile course. The village is open Thursday-Sunday and includes a petting zoo, Bethlehem village and photos with Santa. You can also enjoy movie nights when the village is open. See Christmas classics on a giant 16,000-square-foot Speedway TV.

Tanglewood Festival of Lights
4061 Clemmons Rd., Clemmons
Admission: $15 for cars; $35 for vans; $100 for buses and motorcoaches
Dates: Nov. 17-Jan. 1, 2018, 6-11 p.m.; Dec. 31, 6-10 p.m.

Tanglewood’s Festival of Lights is one of the largest and most spectacular light shows in the Southeast. Drive through Tanglewood’s rolling countryside, which is transformed into a winter wonderland. Be sure to stop at the Gift Village to roast marshmallows. See the website for more information about horse-drawn carriage rides and visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Photo courtesy of Tim McCulloh Photography

Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum
100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville
Admission: $18 for ages 12 and older; $12 for ages 5-11; free for ages 4 and younger (discounted rates for members, groups and during Friends & Family Tuesdays)
Dates: Nov. 17-Dec. 31, 6-10 p.m.

Enjoy this annual holiday light exhibit throughout the arboretum’s gardens. More than 500,000 LED lights will light your way as you walk through a festive winter wonderland. Listen to favorite holiday tunes and sip warm beverages while you walk.

Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Arboretum

Christmas Wonderland of Lights at Zootastic Park
385 Ostwalt Amity Rd., Troutman (physical address)
Admission: $7 for ages 2 and older; free for ages 1 and younger.
Dates: Nov. 22-Jan. 1, 6-9 p.m.

Choreographed light show, petting zoo, s’mores, carousel, photo with Santa, wagon rides and animal encounters.

Lights for Lupus
1413 Whittington Dr., Raleigh
Admission: Donations are not required, but are welcome.
Dates: Dec. 1-27; 5:30-10 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; 5:30-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; lights will be on until midnight the week of Dec. 20-27.

​The Reid Family of Raleigh has turned their annual Christmas lights display into a lupus fundraiser. Visitors can tune into 95.9 FM, which features music coordinated with the light show. Last year the light show raised more than $3,000 for the Lupus Foundation of America, North Carolina Chapter. 

Myra Wright is the digital editor of Carolina Parent and Charlotte Parent.

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