Looking for a fantastic place to spend the holidays? The Charlotte area has some of the most notable Christmas lights in the southeast US. Plus, the weather is typically milder than the larger cities of the north.
The Thanksgiving parade, the uptown Charlotte German inspired Christmas market, the tree and lights at the Panthers stadium are all local favorites. But, if you’re looking for the biggest and best Christmas light events, here is a list of our favorites.
Most Charlotte Christmas events are taking place in 2020, however there are likely to be accommodations for Covid this year.
Instead of the usual WinterFest, for 2020, Carowinds is putting on a special Taste of the Season: An Outdoor Holiday Food Festival. Tasting Cards allow visitors to choose several samples from 30 holiday foods located around the park.
Though Carowinds have rebranded the event, there are many similarities
with WinterFest. There will still be shows and a dance party, selected
rides, holiday decor, games, and shopping. However, no parade or ice skating rink. Plus, it’s more of a daytime event than late into the evening.
The park is limiting capacity, so tickets must be purchased in advance for select dates.
One of the newest winter celebration events in the area is also one of the largest. 5 million lights turn this theme park into a winter wonderland. Enjoy multiple themed performances throughout the park, an ice skating rink, elaborate decorations, and a 70-foot tree of lights. There’s also a 9 pm larger than life parade. It winds its way throughout the park and culminates at the main stage where a dance party ensues until closing.
Bonus! 25 of the parks rides are open. Most are for a younger audience but some larger coasters, like Copperhead Strike and Afterburn, are open.
Read more on Carowinds WinterFest.
Speedway Christmas Lights
Over 4 million lights decorate the 3.75-mile driving course. It’s pretty cool to weave your way around the racecourse (albeit slowly), infield, then under the grandstands. Enjoy quirky and cute light displays on the first half of the course. On the second half, the Christmas lights dance to the music on the radio.
Usually there’s a Christmas Village in the infield to enjoy. With food and craft vendors, a ferris wheel, carousel, fire pits to make smores and more. However, this is unlikely to take place in 2020.
Though, they may still have the Christmas movie on the giant Speedway big screen TV.
Lights on: November 21, 2020 – January 17, 2021 | 6 pm – 10 pm nightly | Closed Christmas
Adult Pricing: $20 – $30 per car, depending on day
Address: Charlotte Motor Speedway, 5555 Concord Parkway South, Concord
- Several promotional discounts are usually available.
- Tickets purchased online must be printed.
McAdenville’s Christmas Town USA
One of our personal favorites, is in a little town just west of Charlotte. Every year McAdenville transforms itself into a glowing celebration of the season. For about a mile, gorgeous big homes decorate every square inch of their façade. The centerpiece is the town’s lake, reflecting the tall decorated trees surrounding it.
The town has received so much national recognition over the years, over 600,000 visitors descend on the tiny town every year. This causes horrible traffic lines, which are easily avoided with good planning. For more details and to know how to miss the traffic, see our post on Visiting McAdenville’s Christmas Town USA, the Right Way.
Lights on: December 1 – December 26, 2020 from 5:30 – 10 pm nightly.
Adult General Admission & Parking: Free
Address: McAdenville, NC
Daniel Stowe’s Holiday at the Garden
Nicknamed the “Mile of a Million Lights” Daniel Stowe’s Botanical Garden turns into a glittering garden for the holidays. They did a lot to improve it a few years ago, if it has been a while since your last visit, it’s well worth heading back. Don’t worry the big, beautiful orchid tree is still there.
The gardens are encouraging pre-purchasing tickets, especially for 2020.
Lights on: November 28, 2020 – January 3, 2021 | 5 pm – 9 pm nightly | Closed Christmas
Adult Pricing: $14.95 advance sale
Address: 6500 S New Hope Rd, Belmont, NC 28012
Billy Graham Library Christmas Lights
Pretty little white lights bring a classic Christmas feel to the library. Horse drawn carriages ($8 for adults) are the best way to see the beautifully lit grounds.
As you make your way to the library, the large barn building, carolers harmonize their Christmas songs and hymns.
Take a peek in Billy Graham’s parent’s home before exiting to the live nativity scene. Stop to say hello to the grazing animals before heading into the library.
In the library, you can step through time in the footsteps of Billy Graham. Learn of his message and his impressive influence. You can visit the graves of Billy and his wife, Ruth, in the Prayer Garden on the grounds.
This is a fantastic place for families and couples, but it is worth noting there is no Santa here. It’s a stripped back to basics, christian spirit of Christmas.
Before you head back into the cold, grab a bite and a few holiday goodies available to purchase at the Dairy Bar.
They also do a nightly Christmas dinner. This sells out long before the season starts.
Lights on: November 30 – December 23, 2020
Adult Pricing and Parking: Free
Address: 4330 Westmont Dr, Charlotte, NC 28217
Winterland Express & Celebration of Lights
Over 250 thousand lights decorate Village Park in Kannapolis. You can walk the park but the best way to see the lights is on the Winterland Express, the park’s rotary train. Other features of the park include the animatronic singing bears which perform carols for 30 minutes each hour on the hour. Model train displays are set up Wednesday through Sunday nights. In addition, various shows are put on throughout the month.
- November 24 – December 30, 2020 | Closed Christmas Eve & Day |
- Sunday – Thursday: 6 pm – 9 pm
- Friday & Saturday: 6 pm – 10 pm
Adult Pricing & Parking: Free, Train and Carousel rides $2
Address: Village Park, 700 W C St, Kannapolis, NC 28081
U.S. National Whitewater Center – Light Installation
This is something a little different, and definitely not Christmas lights, but an interesting night out none the less. They started this in 2019, and we were surprised but pleased to see it back this year.
Designed by local resident and artist Meredith Connelly, a half-mile forest walking trail guides visitors through a series of light displays. The installations resemble mushrooms, crystals, vines, honeycombs and other curious shapes.
Tip: The trail can be very dark in places so we recommend bringing a flashlight.
The center has also installed a 17,000 square foot ice skating rink for the season. The light trail starts just behind the ice rink.
For more information see our post “Lights” Illuminated Walking Trail.
- Starting mid-November – The lights and ice-skating rink will run until February.
- Times vary by day. Check the center’s website on the day. Typically,
- Light installation runs 6 pm – 10 pm
- Ice-skating rink same as “Pass Activities”: Weekends 10 am – 10 pm, Weekdays 12 pm – 10 pm
Website: U.S. National Whitewater Center
Adult Pricing: Free entry, but ice-skating requires a Single Activity Pass ($20) skates included, bring socks
Address: 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy, Charlotte, NC 28214