Things to Do

10 Must-See Holiday Light Displays In and Around Charlotte

To truly get into the holiday spirit, make sure to visit these special spots in and around Charlotte.

Whether you’re visiting Charlotte for the holidays or are a local looking to impress out-of-town friends and family, the Queen City is even more magical during the holiday season.


Christmas Town USA

Just west of Charlotte, McAdenville, North Carolina, is known as Christmas Town USA – and for good reason. The quaint area goes all out when Santa Claus is coming to town. For 65 years, McAdenville residents have put together over-the-top light displays for visitors to enjoy. Cruise through with family as holiday music plays over the radio, or bundle up, grab some hot chocolate and stroll through on foot (while social distancing, of course). See the lights daily Dec. 1-26 from 5:30-10 p.m. Admission to Christmas Town USA is free.

Fourth Ward Holiday Sip & Stroll - Photo by Austin Caine

Fourth Ward Holiday Sip & Stroll

The Fourth Ward Holiday Strip & Stroll is a can’t-miss if HGTV is your favorite channel. You’ll be begging to move into the abodes you see, ranging in style from Victorian to sleek and modern, all impeccably decorated for the season. The self-guided porch-crawl-style tour lets you view diverse architectural styles and lavish exterior holiday decor while enjoying food and beverages, carriage rides, and the sounds of choirs and handbell ensembles. Buy tickets early because spots sell out quickly. When you’re done, take advantage of complimentary samples at neighboring restaurants. The event takes place Dec. 3-6. Tickets are $20 per person and must be reserved in advance.


Lights and Ice Skating at the U.S. National Whitewater Center

While the U.S. National Whitewater Center is a terrific place to spend a warm, summer day, the expansive facility has exciting winter offerings, too. From November through February, the free “Lights” illuminated walking trail features vibrant light installations with webs, vines, branches and other natural elements integrated into the work of art, offering an immersive, multi-sensory experience for all ages. And returning again this year, a 17,000-square-foot ice skating rink will be located in the upper pond of the USNWC. When you need to catch a break, head over to the on-ice Airstream trailer and warm up with some hot chocolate. Rental skates are included with the ice skating activity pass for $20, available for purchase on-site. Parking is $6 per car.

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Holidays at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont (just 20 miles outside of Center City) is the perfect, magical setting to view millions (yes, really) of holiday light displays during Holidays at the Garden Nov. 27, 2020-Jan. 3, 2021. Take in the “Mile of a Million Lights” as you stroll the 110-acre property; savor the sight of the beloved Orchid Tree with more than 300 live orchids; and roast marshmallows by the crackling fire. Tickets are $14.95 for adults, $12.95 for seniors (60+), $7.95 for children ages 2-12 and free for children under 2.

Speedway Christmas - Photo by Kyo H. Nam

Speedway Christmas at the Charlotte Motor Speedway

Charlotte Motor Speedway welcomes back its Speedway Christmas event for its 11th year Nov. 21, 2020-Jan. 17, 2021 (closed Christmas day). Visitors will be treated to more than 4 million twinkling lights (and coordinated music on the radio), spanning a nearly 4-mile course that makes for a festive holiday drive for the whole family. Every Thursday through Sunday, enjoy a Christmas-themed drive-in where you can watch your favorite holiday movies on one of the largest screens in the country. Advance tickets are sold for the vehicle only, starting at $25 per car Nov. 21-Dec. 29 and $20 per car Dec. 30, 2020-Jan. 17, 2021.


Christmas Wonderland of Lights at Zootastic Park

Zootastic Park in Troutman, North Carolina, gets into the holiday spirit with its Christmas Wonderland of Lights. From Nov. 21, 2020-Jan. 1, 2021, enjoy a drive-through light show, carousel rides, train rides, and festive food and drinks. You can also take advantage of a photo opportunity with Santa and an adorable baby kangaroo if you’re looking to really make your holiday cards stand out this year. Admission is $8 for adults and children ages 2 and up.


Taste of the Season at Carowinds

Carowinds seamlessly blends the magic of the holidays with tasty seasonal treats during Taste of the Season, an outdoor holiday food festival. Beyond the samples of sweet and savory holiday favorites, enjoy enchanting light displays, favorite family rides and special holiday performances. The event runs on select days Nov. 21-Dec. 20. These festive experiences at Carowinds will delight your group, regardless of age or the size of your list for Santa Claus. Tasting cards range from $30-$45 per person.

N.C. Transportation Museum in Lights: A Drive Thru Experience

This 60-acre historic site in Spencer, North Carolina, pays tribute to the state’s transportation history, including trains, cars, planes and more. Approximately 1.25 miles of railroading equipment and historic structures, like an authentic train station, a railway roundhouse and a steam locomotive repair facility, will be illuminated with thousands of lights for N.C Transportation Museum in Lights: A Drive Thru Experience on select days Nov. 20-Dec. 30. Tickets are available on-site and are $8 per car or $15 for 12-15 passenger vans, mini-buses or shuttle buses.


Celebration of Lights & Winterland Express in Kannapolis

The 16-acre Village Park in Kannapolis, North Carolina, will twinkle with more than 250,000 lights at the Celebration of Lights & Winterland Express Nov. 20-Dec. 30 (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas). Families can walk through the light display or ride the Winterland Express train (reservation required). Get in the holiday spirit with other fun activities like visits with Santa, roasting marshmallows over a crackling fire, and Christmas carol performances by the Kannapolis Singing Bears. Admission to the park is free; train reservations are $6 per row (three seats) on the train.

Holiday Light Show in Downtown Mooresville

More than 150,000 lights set to music will light up the Mooresville Town Hall lawn at the annual Holiday Light Show Nov. 27-Dec. 31. Special Friday night holiday celebrations will take place downtown at Broad and Main streets with Mistletoe Sip & Shop on Dec. 4 and A Classic Christmas on Dec. 11 and 18, featuring ice skating, Santa visits, wagon rides and more. Admission is free.

Article originally written by Lauren Levine Corriher. Updates by Kristen Moore.