Holiday guide: 25 festive things to do in Charlotte this winter

Holiday guide: 25 festive things to do in Charlotte this winter
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Presented by Speedway Christmas at Charlotte Motor Speedway, November 18 – January 8. Experience four million lights along a four-mile course synchronized to Christmas-themed music, plus a vendor village. Buy tickets.

The 2022 holiday season is in full swing in Charlotte.

From festive lights to outdoor skating rinks, here are 25 things to do in Charlotte to keep your spirits bright.

(1) Go ice skating at the Whitewater Center and enjoy other winter activities

The Whitewater Center will have more than ice skating and Christmas lights this winter. You’ll also find:

  • Two new suspension bridges that are longer than 600 feet and more than 60 feet above the canyon below, which will connect you to a whole new activity area.
  • Starting mid-November through February, the WWC is bringing back the “Lights” program, featuring an entirely new set of illuminated installations along a half-mile walking trail.
  • A new outdoor Pond Hockey league begins in January, which will follow a three-vs-three format. League registration is now open online.
  • Ice skating will return mid-November through February with two ice trails and two free skate zones.
  • The WWC’s daily yoga series will also be extended beyond September for the first time. Daily classes now take place year-round at the South Ridge complex.

[Related story: Year-round yoga, outdoor hockey and adventure dining are coming to the U.S. National Whitewater Center this winter]

ice skating whitewater center charlotte

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(2) Shop until you drop at the Southern Christmas Show

What’s happening: The Charlotte holiday tradition returns to The Park Expo and Conference Center Nov. 10-20. This year’s theme is A Winter Wonderland.

  • Expect more than 400 vendors, designer rooms, Christmas Tree Lane, Olde Town, an entertainment stage and, of course, Santa will be there.

Details: Tickets are $16 at the door and $5 for children 6-12 years old. Children under 5 years old get in free with a paying adult.

  • You can also buy tickets at participating Harris Teeters for $13.50 with a VIC card through Nov. 20.
  • Group tickets for more than 20 people are $13 per person and must be purchased in advance.

Hours: 10am-6pm Sunday through Wednesday; 10am-9 pm Thursday through Saturday.

Parking: $10 for standard parking; $20 for valet parking.

southern christmas show

Photo: Bri Crane/Axios

(3) Experience Carowinds’ Winterfest

Details: Catch dazzling light displays and live shows or do a hands-on activity like cookie decorating. Winterfest is jam-packed with fun and immersive holiday festivities that the entire family can enjoy.

  • The WinterFest Wonderland parade will start at 9pm and feature a special guest from Mr.Claus himself.

Dates: Open select nights Nov. 21 through Jan. 1, 2023.

Cost: $32.99

Location/hours: 300 Carowinds Blvd. Winterfest hours vary by day.

WinterFest Snow Flake Lake

WinterFest’s ‘Snow Flake Lake’ ice skating rink. Photo courtesy of Carowinds.

(4) Visit Santa

Details: Santa Claus is coming to town — and he’s making stops at several local malls. Costs are for photo packages.


  • SouthPark – Nov. 11 through Dec. 24. Cost: $39.99-$49.99
  • Concord Mills – Nov. 18 through Dec. 24. Cost: $39.99-$49.99
  • Bass Pro Shops & Cabela’s – Nov. 5 through Dec. 24. Cost: Free

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(5) Board The Polar Express at the N.C. Transportation Museum.

Details: Experience the magic of the popular holiday book/movie during this Polar Express-inspired train ride. The trip is set to the sounds of the movie and includes hot chocolate and cookies, plus a story reading of “The Polar Express.”

  • Once passengers arrive at the North Pole, the train will deboard to watch Santa himself the first gift of Christmas.
  • Kiddos are encouraged to wear their pajamas to enjoy the experience.

Dates: Nov. 11-12, 18-20, 25-27 and Dec. 2-4, 8-11, 13-23.

Cost: $34+.

Location/hours: 1 Samuel Spencer Dr.

(6) Shop locally for your holiday gifts 

Details: Tis the season for holiday pop-up shops. Be sure to check out Mistletoe Market at Camp North End on Dec. 3, 10 and 17 from 4-8pm.

  • VTGCLT‘s Winter Market returns Nov. 19 at the Greenhouse at Savona. General admission tickets (11am-5pm) are $3 and early bird tickets (10am) are $8.
  • Visit the Holiday Pop-Up Market in SouthPark on the second level of the parking garage (5925 Carnegie Blvd.) on Dec. 3 from 10am-2pm.
  • Celebrate the season at Phillips Place’s Holiday event on Dec. 8 from 4-7pm.
  • Girl Tribe is hosting a pop-up market Dec. 10 10am-5pm and Dec. 11 12-5pm.
  • Olde Mecklenburg Brewery is hosting its annual Christmas Market weekends Nov. 25-Dec. 18.
  • Shop Small Saturdays in South End starts Nov. 26 at Atherton Mill, along Camden Road, and at the Shops at The Winnifred.
agenda holiday gift guide shop local

Photo: Emma Way/Axios

(7) Enjoy holiday lights from your car at Speedway Christmas

Details: The Charlotte Motor Speedway will once again transform into a Winter Wonderland for the holiday season. This four-mile drive-thru display features four million lights synched with holiday music that you can listen to on your car radio.

  • Every Thursday through Sunday, visitors can enjoy a bustling Christmas village and catch holiday classics like “The Grinch,” “A Christmas Story” and “Home Alone.”

Dates: The light show happens daily from 6-10pm from Nov. 18 to Jan. 8, 2023.

Cost: Tickets start at $30 per car on Monday-Wednesday. On Thursday-Sunday, it’s $40 per car.

Location/hours: 5555 Concord Pkwy. S. Hours are from 6-10pm.

charlotte motor speedway christmas

Photo: Emma Way/Axios

(8) Go for a stroll through the Daniel Stowe Gardens

Details: The Daniel Stowe Gardens transform into a winter wonderland for the annual “Holidays at the Garden” event. Walk along the trail and take in the dazzling light displays, then stop by one of the food trucks for a quick bite or a warm drink.

Dates: Nov. 25 through Dec. 31.

Cost: $20 for adults, $18 for seniors 60+, $10 for children 2-12, free for children under 2.

Location/hours: 6500 S. New Hope Rd., Belmont. Open Wednesday through Sunday from 5-9 pm.

hallway of holiday lights at Daniel Dtowe

Photo: Andrew Weber/Axios

(9) Shop at the Charlotte Christmas Village and ice skate and snow tube at Light the Knights

Details: Swing by the ballpark to enjoy the Charlotte Christmas Village — a European-inspired Christmas market where you can find handcrafted gifts and specialty foods like Austrian strudels, Bratwurst and Sauerkraut.

  • Then by nightfall, the ballpark will illuminate with tens of thousands of lights, festive holiday displays and maybe even a bit of snow.
  • This year, the baseball field will have a snow tubing station and an ice skating rink.

Dates: Nov. 23 through Dec. 23.

Cost: $10 for admission, $25 for admission + ice skating, $25 for admission + snow tubing, $39 for an admission season pass, $99 for an all-access season pass.

Location/hours: Truist Field (324 South Mint St.).


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(10) Watch the Thanksgiving Parade in person on Thanksgiving eve

Details: The 76th annual Novant Health Thanksgiving Parade will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 23, in Uptown at 5:30pm.

  • Floats, performers and large inflatables will parade down Tryon Street from 9th Street to Good Samaritan Way.
  • If you’re too busy prepping the turkey for the next day, you can watch the parade on WBTV starting at 6pm.

Cost: General admission is free. VIP tickets, which guarantee seating between 3rd St. and Levine Avenue, are $35.

Thanksgiving parade

Photo: Andy Weber/Axios

(11) Experience holiday magic at Festival of Trees in Belmont, N.C.

Details: Downtown Belmont will twinkle with the lights and ornaments of community-decorated Christmas trees. The festivities kick off on Nov. 28 with a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, caroling and other fun holiday activities throughout the evening.

Dates: Nov. 28 through Jan. 1, 2023

Cost: Free

Location/hours: Downtown Belmont (24 South Main St.).

(12) Visit McAdenville

Details: Also known as “Christmas Town USA,” McAdenville (in Gaston County) is known for its spectacular light displays that have garnered national attention.

  • Visitors can drive or walk along the 1.3-mile route and peruse the town’s local vendors and restaurants while taking in the dazzling displays and twinkling lights.
  • This season, the tree lighting ceremony and yule log parade will return after being canceled last year due to the pandemic.
  • The tree lighting ceremony will take place on December 1 at 6pm and the yule log parade will happen on December 15 at 5pm.

Dates: Dec. 1-26.

Cost: Free.

Location/hours: Downtown McAdenville. Light displays take place daily from 5:30-10pm.

(13) See beautiful holiday home displays at the Fourth Ward Sip and Stroll

Details: This self-guided, porch-crawl-style tour lets guests stroll through the Historic Fourth Ward and check out all the stunning holiday displays. There will be holiday music, carriage rides and food and cocktail tastings along the way.

Dates: Dec. 1-3.

Cost: $30-$60.

Location/hours: Historic Fourth Ward. Daily from 5-9pm.

fourth ward house

Photo: Bri Crane/Axios

(14) Vote for the best gingerbread house in the country at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville.

Details: The 30th Annual National Gingerbread House Competition will be held on Nov. 21. The gingerbread display begins on Monday, Nov. 28, and will continue through Monday, Jan. 2, 2023.

  • Guests not staying at the resort can view the display after 6pm on Sundays or anytime Monday-Thursday. 

Cost: Free

Location/hours: 290 Macon Ave., Asheville, N.C. 

Bonus: If you’re already in Asheville, pop over to the Biltmore Estate to view America’s largest home decorated for Christmas.

  • There are two ticket options: the daytime celebration ($99) and the candlelight Christmas evenings ($119).
gingerbread lane

Ted Williams/Axios

(15) Go to a performance of the Charlotte Ballet’s Nutcracker.

Details: One of the best holiday traditions in the city is back on stage at the Belk Theater. The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra accompanies the Charlotte Ballet with musical selections composed by Tchaikovsky like the well-known ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.’

Dates: December 9-23.

Cost: $30-$131.

Location/hours: Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Showtimes vary.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Ballet.

(16) Dine outside by the fire

Details: With the weather cooling down, there are a few restaurants with heaters or fireplaces to keep you warm while you dine outside.

  • Billy Sunday at Optimist Hall (1115 N Brevard St.) — Sip on some warm cocktails and grab some s’mores and a blanket on Billy Sunday’s patio, which has tables with fire pits built into them. 
  • Ruru’s (15 Providence Rd.) – This Myers Park taco spot has string lights and heaters on its patio.
  • Link & Pin (155 New Bern St.) – This is a dreamy covered and heated patio with Southwest-facing sunlight that’ll keep you warm in the evening. Order the smokey Fireside Chat cocktail to fit the cozy mood.
  • Charlotte Beer Garden (1300 S. Tryon St.) – The three-story beer garden has space to spread out and both heaters and fire pits outside.

[Related story: 19 Charlotte restaurants with heated outdoor dining]

(17) Cut down your own Christmas tree in the mountains.

Details: There are several choose-and-cut farms within driving distance of Charlotte. Some include Circle C Tree Farms in Boone, C & J Christmas Trees in Boone and Appalachian Evergreens in Blowing Rock.

Some local lots with pre-cut trees include:

[Related story: 8 places to get a Christmas tree including local lots and mountain tree farms]

Simpson Family Christmas Trees

Photo: Symphony Webber/Axios

(18) Tree Lighting Festival at Bank of America Stadium

Details: Charlotte FC and the Carolina Panthers are inviting all fans and their families to the Tree Lighting Festival, on Tuesday, Nov. 22, at Bank of America Stadium.

  • The festival returns to the corner of Mint and Graham streets outside of Bank of America Stadium and will begin at 5pm.
  • The event is free, but tickets are required to attend.
bank of america christmas tree

Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

(19) Dine in an igloo atop Merchant & Trade’s rooftop

Details: You can make reservations now for the private dining experience atop one of Charlotte’s most scenic rooftops.

  • The igloo is reservation only and will be available Tuesdays-Sundays beginning Nov. 11.
  • It fits two to 10 people. 
  • Prices range from $750-$850, which includes a food and beverage minimum and the rental fee.

[Related Story: The igloos are coming back to the Merchant & Trade rooftop]

(20) Hit up one of four local holiday pop-up bars

  • The Christmas bar at Billy Sunday will operate from Dec. 1-Jan. 2. 
  • Sippin’ Santa at The Royal Tot takes place Nov. 11-Dec. 31.
  • Miracle at Backstage Lounge will be open Nov. 23-Dec. 31. 
  • The “Ugly Holiday Sweater” Speakeasy at Supperland is from Dec. 3-Jan. 7. 

[Related Story: 4 Christmas pop-up bars coming to Charlotte in 2022]

The Royal Tot Christmas Pop Up Bar

Sippin’ Santa Pop Up. Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios

(22) Take a horse-drawn carriage ride at the Billy Graham Library

Details: The Graham Family Homeplace is decorated for the holidays and has activities every day and night. During the day, explore the grounds while sipping on hot chocolate, stop by the petting zoo and grab a bite at the Graham Brothers Dairy Bar. 

  • At night, the Billy Graham Library grounds are transformed into a festive celebration, complete with horse-drawn carriage rides, carolers, a live nativity scene, storytime for kids, and shopping at Ruth’s Attic bookstore.

Dates: Nov. 28 – Dec. 23, 2022

Location/ Hours: Monday through Thursday, 5–9pm, Friday and Saturday, 5–10pm. at 4330 Westmont Dr. 

Cost: Both admission and parking are free. Reservations are required.

  • Horse-drawn carriage rides are $11 for adults and $5 for kids under 12.

(23) Spice up the holidays with spirits from Southern Distilling Company

Details: Southern Distilling Company is holding its holiday celebration on Saturday, Dec. 10. There’ll be distillery tours, a bourbon-themed ornament craft station (available first-come, first-serve), a holiday movie screening and a visit from Santa.

Location/ Hours: 3-7pm at 211 Jennings Road, Statesville.

Cost: Free

(24) Christmas in Davidson

Details: Enjoy holiday light shows, a live nativity, live music, great food and holiday shopping in the town of Davidson.

Location/ Hours: Dec. 1-3 from 6-9pm in Downtown Davidson.

Cost: Free

(25) Holiday happenings at Optimist Hall

Details: The holiday season kicks off Friday, Dec. 2 at Optimist Hall with live carolers and festive treats from 7-10pm.

  • Santa Claus is comin’ to the hall on Saturday, Dec. 10, from 10am-2pm. But a little reindeer told us he’ll be making frequent visits to take pictures with your pets at Billy Sunday throughout the season.

Location/ Hours: Optimist Hall is located at 1115 N Brevard St.

Cost: Free

[Related Story: Everything you need to know about Optimist Hall]

Billy sunday holiday cocktails

(From left to right) Billy Sunday’s holiday drinks: Advice from a narwal (brandy sour with mulled wine spices), House-made egg nog, and the Hallelujah Holy Sh*t where’s the Tylenol (cranberry vodka, rosemary sparkling wine). Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios

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