When people say Santa lives “up north,” you'll swear they are talking about North Carolina, as the Tar Heel state is home to some of the best Christmas lights in the South. With snow-capped mountains in the West and floating Christmas parades by the beach, you'll find plenty of holiday distractions at the best Christmas lights in NC.
We organized NC’s Christmas light shows into regions for easy navigation, so click the links to find the best Christmas lights in NC near you.
Best Charlotte Christmas Lights
Christmas Town USA
Affectionately known as Christmas Town USA, McAdenville, NC, has been putting on some of the best Christmas lights in NC since 1956. Located between Charlotte and Gastonia, McAdenville’s lights were heralded as the #2 Christmas lights display in the nation, according to a national survey by USA Today.
Best of all, you can park and walk, or drive through this Christmas light show free!
Check their event schedule for the Tree Lighting Ceremony, Yule Log Ceremony, and more fun and family-friendly events leading up to Christmas.
Drive through nearly four miles of lights at Speedway Christmas, the holiday light show at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord. This drive-through Christmas lights show features more than 4 million lights over a remarkable 3.75-mile course that includes most of the oval as well as the infield.
On the weekends you can enjoy movies on the Speedway’s giant screen (Thursday-Sunday). The Speedway Christmas display is one of the best Christmas lights in NC and is open rain or shine.
Given the show’s popularity — especially on weekends — Speedway Christmas organizers recommend a mid-week visit if your schedule permits. For the best experience, plan to arrive early.
Speedway Christmas runs November 17, 2023 to January 7, 2024. Ticket prices for 2023 have not been announced (as of October 2023, but last year tickets were $30 per car (max 10); $50 per van (max 36); $175 bus (max 57).
Zootastic Chrismas Wonderland of Lights
Best known as a drive-through animal park, Zootastick brightens holiday evenings with Christmas light displays along the 100-acre park route. Here you can treat the family to evening animal encounters, Christmas lights and even an area where you can stretch your legs and walk around animal enclosures.
We're still waiting for dates and ticket prices, but last year Zootastic’s Christmas Wonderland of Lights took place from late November to early January. Tickets were around $10. Zootastic Park, 385 Ostwalt Amity Road, Troutman. Zootastick displays some of the best Christmas lights in NC for visitors with kids.
Best Christmas Lights in NC Mountains
While the snow often hits after the Christmas season, the falling leaves and cool mountain air should set the mood for your little guy or girl to meet Santa.
Dazzle the whole family with a weekend trip to see one or all of these best Christmas lights in NC mountains.
Biltmore Candlelight Christmas
Christmas at the Biltmore is more than an annual celebration of the season. It’s a completely magical Christmas experience for all ages in North Carolina’s mountainous backyard.
Stroll around the grounds ooh-ing and aah-ing at expertly dressed live Fraser Firs, wreaths and boughs. Get inside for a peak into the past of how “America’s Largest Home” would have been decorated.
The Biltmore sells tickets for two enchanting experiences: the Biltmore by day or in the evening by candlelight. In our opinion, neither is to be missed!
Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum
The North Carolina Arboretum is a celebration of the native species in the Carolinas and nature. What better place to watch the lights glow while teaching your children about the wonders of botany?
This year, you can safely experience the bright and cheery one-mile stretch of some of the best Christmas lights in NC from the safety of your own vehicle. Bring a thermos of cocoa and get ready to cruise slowly—you won’t want to miss a single Christmas lights display.
Tweetsie Railroad Christmas
Blowing Rock, NC (near Boone)
The old West themed village of Tweetsie Railroad nestled between the winter-loving towns of Boone and Blowing Rock, NC, offers the most well-rounded Christmas experiences for kids and arguably the best Christmas lights in NC.
Not only will your children’s eyes light up as they board the train that takes them through the Christmas light show in NC, but they’ll have a chance to meet Santa in a Gingerbread House, and play with an in larger-than-life snow globes.
City Light Shows in and around the Triangle
Busy parents won’t need to drive far to mesmerize their kids with dazzling Christmas lights. Visit these unique and well-established festivals of lights in NC’s piedmont.
Chinese Lantern Festival
For a different Christmas experience, Koka Booth Amphitheatre hosts an absolutely mesmerizing display of creative paper lanterns. The Chinese Lantern Festival features colorfully crafted butterfly lanterns, dragons, plants, and this year, a 200-ft long, 21-ft tall phoenix, set the atmosphere for one of the best Christmas lights in NC.
This event is a self-guided walking tour on paved walkways and is wheelchair accessible. Dates of operation are November 17, 2023, to January 14, 2024.
Tanglewood Festival of Lights
Clemmons, NC (near Winston-Salem)
Drive through the Tanglewood’s Festival of Lights, an amazing Christmas lights display adored from the comfort of your own vehicle. Alternatively, book a horse-drawn carriage or tractor-pulled hayrides to view the splendor of these lights.
Your children will not only love the light show, but they’ll get a chance to meet Mr. and Mrs. Claus and their helpers. Perhaps most exciting of all – kids can visit S’moresville next to the gift shop for a marshmallow roasting experience worthy of the North Pole. The event runs from November 17, 2023 to January 1, 2024.
Get the full North Carolina Christmas light show experience at the largest and oldest Christmas lights show in Eastern NC.
At Meadow Lights, kids can snack on old fashioned candy as your family makes its way through 30 acres of light displays. Jump on the train to glide through 10+ acres more. After riding the 16 horse carousel, kids can sit pretty on Santa’s lap for a photo.
This 40 year old light show is especially popular among religious families as their light show “honors the true meaning of Christmas” with Christian displays. This event runs November 17 to December 31, 2023.
Moonlight in the Garden
Did you know the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh holds a magical light show every year? Celebrate the season with food trucks, live music, marshmallows and fire pits. Not to mention the after-dark light show!
Tickets sell out fast for this limited space event, which is one of the best Christmas lights in NC events. Be sure to check the website before you go. In 2023, Moonlight in the Garden runs November 9-11 and 16-18.
Hill Ridge Farms Festival of Lights
Food, music and a winter wonderland light show in NC? Hill Ridge Farms makes it happen.
Your kids are guaranteed to exhaust themselves. With a covered wagon hayride through the Festival of Lights, bonfires with s'mores and hot chocolate, American food at the Chuckwagon Grill, a giant slide, cornhouse, jumping pillow, slide house, roller slight, web and pipe swing, and train rides available, there’s no shortage of Christmas spirit here. Get in the spirit on November 23-26 or December 1-30, 2023, from 5:30 to 9 PM.
Best Holiday Light Shows in Coastal Carolina
In North Carolina, the coast exchanges snow for white sand beaches. But that doesn’t mean Christmas cheer is in short supply. Check out these Christmas light shows for a truly memorable holiday.
Island of Lights Christmas Flotilla
Carolina Beach, NC
It’s a sight to see and even more exciting to participate in! Carolina Beach’s Christmas light show makes the Intracoastal Waterway sparkle and shine as boaters deck out their vessels to compete for prizes. The 2023 flotilla takes places December 2.
Holiday Lights in the Garden
Visit the Cape Fear Botanical Garden in Fayetteville to impress your children with a mile-long jaunt through thousands of dazzling lights.
Snap a photo of your kids with Santa, enjoy a free caroling hayride, and let your kids make s’mores and create free Christmas crafts. Enjoy the experience from December 1-21, 2023.
North Carolina Holiday Flotilla
A bay of glowing boats light up the night at the Holiday Flotilla in Wrightsville Beach, NC. With categories for best sailboat, best power boast 31’ and over, and best costumes and crew spirit, the competition for the most holiday spirit brings out the best of the best. Attend the 40th anniversary Holiday Flotilla from November 24-26, 2023.
Did we miss any of the best Christmas lights in NC?
Where does your family make their holiday memories? Tag us @carolinatravelr on Instagram to let us know!