Must-See Holiday Light Shows Across North Carolina

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


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Biltmore Estate displays 135,000 LED and mini lights during the holidays.

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:

Christmas at Biltmore

One Lodge St., Asheville, North Carolina
Admission: $85 for adults; $42.50 for ages 10-16; free for ages 9 and younger. Purchase tickets online.
Dates: Nov. 3-Jan. 5, but not available Nov. 13, Nov. 22 and Dec. 24-25.

See the Biltmore Estate adorned in its holiday splendor during an evening visit. A lit towering Norway spruce decorates the grand front lawn. Enjoy the many decorated Christmas trees inside the Biltmore House. In addition, there are 135,000 LED and mini lights sparkling around the estate. Visit Antler Hill Village and Winery, included with admission, for an extraordinary display of holiday lights and wine tastings.


Chinese Lantern Festival

Booth Amphitheatre, 8003 Regency Pkwy., Cary, North Carolina
Admission: $15 for ages 18 and older; $10 for ages 3-17; free for ages 2 and younger
Dates: Nov. 23-Jan. 13, 2019. 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

Enter at 4259 Handy Road, Denton, North Carolina
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. 23-25, Nov. 30-Dec. 2, Dec. 7-10, Dec. 13-16, Dec. 19-23, 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. See a nativity movie, hear Christmas carols, and visit the petting zoo, Santa’s cabin, arts and crafts exhibits, the gingerbread house, a doll museum and general store.



Photo courtesy of Denton Farm Park


Enchanted Airlie

300 Airlie Road, Wilmington, North Carolina
Admission: $30 per car; $55 for vans
Dates: Nov. 23-24, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, Dec. 7-22. There are two runtimes each evening, 5-7 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.

Undeterred by the loss of an estimated 275 trees during the hurricane, “Enchanted Airlie will not miss a beat this year,” says Tara Duckworth, director of parks and gardens for New Hanover County, owner of Airlie Gardens. "The iconic structures and Airlie Oak survived the storm. We’ve redone all the lighting with LEDs, and the displays will be even brighter; our signature attractions, including the mesmerizing Singing Christmas Trees are returning; and, we have a lot of new things planned. The Gnome Invasion art exhibit was cut short by the hurricane in September. Some of the gnomes will make an appearance Enchanted Airlie,” Duckworth says.

Visit with Santa and enjoy hot chocolate, popcorn, cookies, beer and wine for purchase. Advance tickets only. Tickets often sell out in early December.



Photo courtesy of Enchanted Arlie


Festival of Lights at Chetola Resort

185 Chetola Lake Drive, Blowing Rock
Admission: Free
Dates: Begins at dusk on Thursday, Nov. 22 and runs through the end of Blowing Rock’s Winterfest, Jan. 24-27, 2019.

Chetola Resort is known for its sparkling display of lights each winter season. Drive or stroll around Chetola Lake and enjoy a bonfire by the water.



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), includes hayride.
Dates: Nov. 22-Dec. 29. Sunday-Thursday, 5-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4-9 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 Road, Belmont
Admission: Monday-Thursday, $7.95 for ages 2-12, $12.95 ages 13 and older. Friday-Sunday, $8.95 for ages 2-12, $14.95 for ages 13 and older.
Dates: Open nightly Nov. 23-Jan. 6, 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. New for 2018, enjoy the musically orchestrated topiary display and wander through the new illuminated prairie garden.


Holiday Lights in the Garden

Cape Fear Botanical Garden, 536 N. Eastern Blvd., Fayetteville
Admission: $12 for ages 2-12, $12 ages 13 and older. Add-on packages available. 
Dates: Nov. 30-Dec. 2, Dec. 7-9, Dec. 14-16, Dec. 19-23; 5:30-9 p.m.

Celebrate the season on the Polar Express; enjoy a synchronized show of lights and music over Cypress Pond; take a mile-long stroll featuring thousands of lights aglow; hop on a free caroling hayride; take photos with Santa; roast S’mores over the fire pit; and enjoy entertainment on select evenings and free crafts for children.


Island of Lights Christmas Flotilla

Carolina Beach
Admission: Free to spectators
Dates: Dec. 1, 6 p.m.

Boats decorated with thousands of lights will cruise the Intracoastal Waterway for a festive display.


Lights Before Christmas

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, 500 Wildlife Pkwy., Columbia, South Carolina
Admission: $10-$12, children younger than 2 admitted free.
Dates: Nov. 17-Dec. 30, 5-9 p.m. Closed Nov. 22 and Dec. 24-25.

Enjoy nearly 1 million lights, animated images, visits with Santa, a bonfire, hot cocoa and s’mores.


Lights on the Neuse

Boyette Family Farms, 1620 Loop Road, Clayton, North Carolina
Admission: $9 for ages 3 and older; free for ages 2 and younger
Dates: See the website for dates and hours.

Take a 1-mile, 30-minute tractor-pulled hayride through a beautiful lights extravaganza to see more than 1 million lights that 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. 


McAdenville (Christmas Town USA)

Downtown McAdenville
Admission: Free
Dates: Nov. 30-26. 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 lamp-post wreaths, music, a life-size Nativity scene, a lake fountain and more.



Photo courtesy of Steve Rankin


Meadow Lights

4546 Godwin Lake Road, Benson, North Carolina
Admission: Free, but train/carousel tickets are $2.
Dates: Nov. 16-Dec. 30; 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, North Carolina
Admission: Free
Dates: Nov. 23-24

Enjoy Thanksgiving weekend at the beach during this two-day celebration. The fun 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 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and enjoy inflatable slides, bounce houses, a coloring contest, a train ride, festival food and more. The lighted boat parade begins Saturday at 6 p.m. The best viewing is along Banks Channel. Following the colorful and festive water parade, the flotilla ends with a massive and dazzling Zambelli fireworks display.

Photo courtesy of Ned Leary Photography


Speedway Christmas

5555 Concord Pkwy. S., Concord, North Carolina
Admission: $20-$30 for cars; $40-$50 for vans
Dates: Nov. 18-Dec. 31, 6-10 p.m. Closed Dec. 25.

Experience more than 3 million lights synced to music while driving the 3.5-mile track at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Christmas Village is open Thursday-Sunday and includes a petting zoo, Bethlehem village and photos with Santa. You can also enjoy watching holiday movie classics drive-in style on a 16,000-square-foot screen on nights when Christmas Village is open. Movies begin at 6:30 p.m.​


Tanglewood Festival of Lights

4061 Clemmons Road, Clemmons
Admission: $15 for cars; $35 for vans; $100 for buses and motorcoaches
Dates: Nov. 16-Jan. 1, 2018, 6-11 p.m.; Dec. 31, 6-10 p.m.

To see 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, North Carolina
Admission: $18 for ages 12 and older; $12 for ages 5-11; free for ages 4 and younger.
Dates: Nov. 16-Dec. 31, 6-10 p.m.

Stroll through the arboretum gardens to enjoy this annual holiday light exhibition. More than 500,000 LED lights shine to light your way through a festive winter wonderland. Listen to favorite holiday tunes and sip warm beverages along the way.



Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Arboretum
 


Christmas Wonderland of Lights at Zootastic Park

385 Ostwalt Amity Road, Troutman, North Carolina
Admission: $7 for ages 2 and older; free for children under age 2.
Dates: Nov. 21-Jan. 1. Sunday-Thursday, 6-9 p.m; Friday-Saturday, 6-10 p.m.

Choreographed light show, petting zoo, s’mores, carousel, wagon rides and animal encounters. New this year is a Ferris wheel and train ride, plus an additional 2 miles of lighted trails. Santa will be taking photos after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve. Photos with Santa and the baby kangaroos are available for an additional cost, or take your own photo with Santa only at no additional charge.


Myra Wright is a North Carolina-based freelance writer. She enjoys traveling and finding educational opportunities for her three kids.

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