Holiday guide: 18 festive things to do in Charlotte this winter

Holiday guide: 18 festive things to do in Charlotte this winter
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This guide is proudly presented by Bank of America. No matter how you’re making the most of this season, Bank of America is here to help power your Charlotte experience.

The 2021 holiday season looks promising for festive events and spending time with friends and family.

Here are 18 holiday things to do in Charlotte this season.

(1) Go ice skating at the Whitewater Center.

Details: For the 2021 season, the Whitewater Center will debut a new ice skating trail in the Upper Pond — increasing the total size of the rink to more than 24,000 square feet. The rink is made up of four separate areas that include two ice trails and two free skate zones.

  • The on-ice Airstream trailer will return this year and serve up craft beer, hot chocolate and coffee for skaters who need a break.
  • Skates are included in the ticket price but you will need to bring your own socks.

Dates: Now through mid-Feb. 2022.

Cost: Ice skating can be accessed through an annual pass ($219 for adults, $189 for kids 9 and under), day pass ($64 for adults, $54 for kids 9 and under) or single activity pass ($25).

Location/hours: 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy. Hours are from noon to 10pm.

[Related Axios story: Ice skating is back at Whitewater Center, but not in Uptown]

ice skating whitewater center charlotte

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

Details:  The annual shopping event is back after taking a hiatus in 2020 due to COVID. Expect the usual mix of small businesses, holiday shops and other vendors, along with decorated trees, lights and holiday cheer.

Dates: Now through Nov. 21.

Cost: Tickets are $5 for kids (ages 6-12) and $13 for adults if you buy online here.

Location/hours: The show runs through Sunday, Nov 21. Hours are 10am-6pm Sunday-Wednesday and 10am–9pm Thursday-Saturday.

  • The exact address is 800 Briar Creek Rd. Parking is $10 and there’s a golf cart shuttle that can take you back to your car (tips suggested).

[Related Axios story: 6 takeaways from the Southern Christmas Show, happening now]

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.

Dates: Open select nights now through Jan. 9, 2022. (Nov. 20-24, 26-28; Dec. 3-5, 10-12, 15-23, 26-31; Jan. 1,2 8, 9)

Cost: $24.99.

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 with Santa.

Details: Santa Clause is coming to town — and he’s making stops at South Park Mall and Concord Mills. Get your holiday photo with Santa by booking a time slot at your nearest Simon mall.


  • SouthPark – Nov. 12 through Dec. 24.
  • Concord Mills – Nov. 19 through Dec. 24.

Cost: Photo packages range from $19.99-$49.99

Location/hours: Times vary at each location. Find Southpark slots here and Concord Mills here.

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

Details: Experience the magic of the hit holiday 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 present the first gift of Christmas.
  • Kiddos are encouraged to wear their pajamas to enjoy the experience.

Dates: Nov. 12-13, 19-21, & 26-28 and Dec. 3-5, 9-12, & 14-23

Cost: $32+.

Location/hours: 1 Samuel Spencer Dr.

(6) Shop locally for your holiday gifts 

Details: Avoid supply chain delays and support local businesses for all your gifting needs.

  • This is also the season of holiday pop-up shops so be sure to check out VTGCLT and Mistletoe Market at Camp North End.

Bonus: Pick up gifts at Camp North End’s newest retail collective Lokal.

[Related guides: Gift guide: 50 local items for everyone on your list under $100 & Gift guide: 12 local luxury gift ideas $100+]

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.

Dates: The light show happens daily from Nov. 19 to Jan. 16, 2022, except on the three days it’s closed: Dec. 7, 8 and 24.

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

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

[Related story: Charlotte Motor Speedway’s light show returns this month. Tickets cost $30+]

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 its 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 beverage.

Dates: Nov. 26 through Jan. 2, 2022.

Cost: $14.95 for adults, $12.95 for seniors 60+, $7.95 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 then stay ’til nightfall for 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.

Dates: Nov. 24 through Dec. 23.

Cost: $5-$10.

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


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

Details: This year, the 75th Novant Health Thanksgiving Parade will be a nighttime event with lights and music along Tryon Street.

  • You can watch it on WBTV Wednesday night at 6, Thanksgiving Day at 2pm and early Christmas morning.

Dates: Nov. 24, 2021.

Cost: General admission is free. VIP tickets, which guarantee seating between 3rd St. and Levine Ave., are $25.

Location/hours: Tryon St. 6pm.

(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 November 29 with a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, caroling, and other fun holiday activities throughout the evening.

Dates: Nov. 29 through Jan. 3, 2022

Cost: Free

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

(12) Visit McAdenville, N.C.

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

  • Visitors can drive or walk along the 1.3 mile-long 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 5pm and the yule log parade will happen on December 16 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 & cocktail tastings along the way.

Dates: Dec. 2-4.

Cost: $30-$40.

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

fourth ward house

Photo: Bri Crane/Axios

(14) Stroll down Gingerbread Lane at the Ballantyne Hotel.

Details: Get some inspo for your next gingerbread house and vote for your favorite one at this gingerbread house display. There is a $1 minimum per vote and all proceeds will benefit the Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital.

Dates: December 3-26

Cost: Free

Location/hours: The Carolina Room at The Ballantyne Hotel (10000 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy). Open daily from 11am to 7pm.

Bonus: Want more ginger-filled fun? Take a day trip to Asheville’s Grove Park Inn to see some of the most extravagant gingerbread creations you’ve ever seen.

  • The display opens to the public on Nov. 28 and will run through Jan. 2, 2022.
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 3-23

Cost: $25-$114

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, here are a few restaurants that have heaters or fireplaces to keep you warm while you dine outside.

  • Kiki Bistro (1500 Central Ave.) – Plaza Midwood restaurant converted its outdoor lounge space into outdoor dining with heaters. If that’s booked, try beloved sister restaurant Soul Gastrolounge above.
  • 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. Including 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:

  • Sutherlands Farm – 1324 East Blvd.
  • St. Ann Catholic Church – 3635 Park Rd.
  • Simpson’s Christmas Tree Lot – 938 South Kings Drive and 4833 Sharon Rd.
  • Hillbilly Market – Foxcroft Shopping Center, The Arboretum, and Antioch Church Road

[Related Axios story: 7 places to get a Christmas tree including local lots and mountain tree farms]

Simpson Family Christmas Trees

Photo: Symphony Webber/Axios

(18) Ring in the New Year at Rich & Bennett’s NYE bash.

Details: Known for their world-famous pub crawls, Rich & Bennett’s is renting out an entire establishment transforming it into the place to be on NYE.

Date: Dec. 31.

Cost: More details TBA.

[Related Story: What’s next for Rich & Bennett’s world-famous pub crawls]

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