16 festive things to do in Charlotte this holiday season

16 festive things to do in Charlotte this holiday season
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This guide is proudly presented by Atrium Health. Protecting yourself and others this holiday season is the best gift you can give. Check out these helpful tips from the pros at Atrium, setting the National Standard for COVID-Safe care.

Many people are decking the halls early this year, and I don’t blame them. Here are 16 festive things to do in Charlotte this season.

Safety first: Many of these events were selected with social distancing in mind — a festive trail and drive-thru light displays, for example. Remember to wear your mask and practice social distancing if you choose to go out. It’s totally OK to decorate at home and hang out there, too.

1. Go ice-skating and walk along a light trail at the Whitewater Center

Details: The ice skating rink includes 17,000 square feet of ice and an on-ice Airstream trailer serving craft beer, hot chocolate, and coffee. After you finish skating, check out the LIGHTS installation. This isn’t your typical Christmas light display. The half-mile walking trail features otherworldly immersive light installations by Charlotte artist Meredith Connelly. The walking trail is through the forest, and the light installations will be inspired by nature — like giant crystals, cocoons, and mushrooms.


Dates: Now through mid-February

Cost: Ice skate with an Annual Pass (kids 9 and under $189, $219 adults ages 10+), Day Pass ($59), or Single Activity Pass ($20). The Lights walking trail is free and open to the public (parking is $6).

Location/hours: 5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy. Ice skating: noon to 11 p.m. Lights: 6-11 p.m. 

[Related Agenda Story: Ice skating is back at the Whitewater Center this month — plus an immersive light trail]

ice skating whitewater center charlotte

usnwc lights

2. Carowinds Taste of the Season

Details: This food festival lets guests taste holiday dishes from 30 stations around the park. Expect holiday decor and seasonal shows, too. Plus, select rides will be open. Reservations will be required for all guests to allow for social distance standards.

Dates: November 21 to December 20

Cost: $30-$45

Location/hours: 300 Carowinds Blvd.

carowinds taste of the season courtesy

3. N.C. Transportation Museum In Lights: A Drive-Thru Experience.

Details: For the first time ever, thousands of lights will illuminate the grounds of the historic transportation museum throughout the holiday season. The 1.25-mile-long drive-thru experience provides a safe way for families to ring in the season. There will also be a gift station offering s’mores and socially distanced photos with Santa.

Dates: November 20-22, 27-29, December 4-6, 10-13, 15-23, 26-30.

Cost: $8 per car or $15 for mini-and shuttle buses.

Location/hours: 1 Samuel Spencer Dr., Spencer. Open from 6-10 p.m.

4. Shop at Vintage Charlotte’s holiday pop-up store.

Details: Pick up handmade and vintage wares from more than 90 of the best local and regional creatives. For your shopping convenience, VTGCLT is offering morning shopping appointments and curbside pickup for all products.

Dates: Now through Wednesday, December 23. Weekends in November, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Additional days starting in December.

Location/hours: 1100 Metropolitan Ave., Ste. 140 (right next to Teriyaki Madness.)

Bonus: Metropolitan Merry Midtown Market is on December 5.

VTGCLT Holiday Market

5. Catch holiday movies outside at Victoria Yards: Elf is on Nov. 20

Details: Throughout the season, Charlotte Center City Partners will host outdoor movie nights where families can enjoy a rotation of food trucks, drinks, and live music before the movie screening.

Date: November 20

Cost: Free

Location/hours: 408 N. Tryon St. Pre-movie activities start at 6:30 p.m., movie starts at 8 p.m.

What more outdoor movies? Head to Camp North End for the Skyline Drive-In movie series.

Camp North End Covid

6. Dine outside by the fire

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.) – Recently reopened 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 firepits outside.
smokey old fashioned link pin

The Fireside Chat, a smokey Old Fashioned, on Link & Pin’s covered and heated patio.

front patio at charlotte beer garden

Front patio at Charlotte Beer Garden

7. Start your engines for a Speedway Christmas.

Details: America’s Home of Racing is transforming into a Winter Wonderland for the holiday season. Speedway Christmas has the largest drive-thru Christmas light show in the Southeast, an all-new 5,400-square-foot ice rink complete with real ice, and holiday movie nights on the giant Speedway TV every Thursday-Sunday. Guests must wear a mask at all times.

Dates: November 21 to January 17.

Cost: Ice Skating: $15/hour, light display drive-thru: $20-$30/car.

Location/hours: 5555 Concord Pkwy. S. Open 6-10 p.m.

christmas tree at charlotte motor speedway

8. Watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade virtually.

Details: This year’s Thanksgiving Day parade is going virtual. There won’t be crowds lining the streets of Uptown Charlotte, but you can still enjoy this annual tradition from home. The parade will be broadcast on WBTV and feature virtual “best of” segments from previous years including floats and marching bands.

Date: November 26, 4-5 p.m.

Cost: Free

thanksgiving day parade

9. Stroll through the festive foliage at the Daniel Stowe Gardens.

Details: The Daniel Stowe Gardens transform into a winter wonderland for their annual Holidays at the Garden event. Sing along to your wintertime favorites, and roast marshmallows by the fire while you soak in the season’s cheer.

Dates: November 27 to January 3.

Cost: Adult: $14.95; Senior (60+): $12.95; Child 2-12: $7.95; Child Under 2: Free.

Location/hours: 6500 S. New Hope Rd., Belmont. Open from 5-9 p.m.

reflection of christmas lights at daniel stowe botanical garden charlotte

10. Charlotte Christmas Village

Details: Head to this European-inspired Christmas Market in Uptown Charlotte to shop for unique, handcrafted gifts and enjoy specialty foods like Austrian strudels, Bratwurst and Sauerkraut. There will also be vendors selling warm drinks like hot mulled wine, cider, hot chocolate, and alcoholic-free Glühwein in a souvenir village mug.

Dates: November 27 through December 23.

Cost: $7 regular admission, or $10 for a combo ticket, which includes admission to “Light the Knights.”

Location/hours: Truist Field, 324 S. Mint St. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

11. Support local vendors and shop for holiday gifts on Small Business Saturday(s).

Details: This holiday season, celebrate the small businesses that make Charlotte so vibrant. South End’s Small Business Saturday event will run across four weekends — every Saturday from November 28 to December 19. Expect pop-up vendors to join the South End retail scene for a one-of-a-kind holiday shopping experience.

Dates: November 28, December 4, 12, and 19.

More: Beyond this event, shop local for gifts this year, especially on Small Business Saturday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Location/hours: Atherton Plaza (Nov. 28 & Dec. 12), Design Center (Dec. 4 & 19) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

girl tribe south end

Girl Tribe in South End.

12. Drive down Hillside Avenue in Myers Park to see Christmas lights.

Details: Load into the car for a magical ride. The neighborhood is known for constructing large light balls (made from wrapping lights around a ball of chicken wire) and stringing them from the trees. Not only is it a breathtaking light display, but it’s also an opportunity for the community to donate food items for Loaves & Fishes of Charlotte.

Dates: Every night now through December 26.

Cost: Free

Location/hours: Hillside Ave, Charlotte NC 28209.

Bonus: Providence Rd. and Beverly Dr.

[Related Agenda Guide: Holiday guide: The 13 best Christmas light displays in Charlotte]

christmas light balls in trees hillside charlotte

Holiday lights, Christmas lights

Providence Rd. and Beverly Dr.

13. Festival of Trees in Belmont, N.C.

Details: For the third year in a row, Downtown Belmont will twinkle with the lights and ornaments of community decorated Christmas trees. The festival kicks off on November 30 with a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, caroling, and other fun holiday activities throughout the evening.

Dates: November 30 through January 3.

Cost: Free

Location: 24 S Main St. Belmont, NC, 28012

14. Visit McAdenville, N.C. aka Christmas Town USA.

Details: Now in its 65th year, McAdenville’s Christmas light display is back for the 2020 holiday season. Due to the coronavirus, a few traditions like the tree lighting ceremony and yule log parade, have been canceled. However, visitors can still 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.

Bonus: Be sure to vote for McAdenville in USA Today’s Best Public Holiday Lights Display

Date: December 1-26, 5:30-10 p.m. on weeknights and weekends.

Cost: Free

decorations at mcadenville christmas

christimas holiday lights near lake in mcadenville

15. Visit Gingerbread Lane at The Ballantyne.

Details: If I were I gingerbread cookie, I would want to live here. Stroll through the neighborhood to find your dream gingerbread house and vote for your favorite one. $1 minimum per vote, and all proceeds will benefit the Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital.

Dates: December 4-27.

Cost: Free

Location/hours: 10000 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Bonus: The Ballantyne Hotel has some other fun activities going on this season like Gingerbread Decorating Classes, Holiday Tea, and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners. Menu here.

16. Charlotte Symphony Magic of Christmas with Tony DeSare.

Details: Sing along to all your Christmas favorites with jazz vocalist Tony DeSare.

Dates: December 11-20

Location/hours: Knight Theater, 430 S Tryon St. 

Join us: This coverage is made possible and free to all (no paywall) with the help of Agenda Members. If you’d like to support more reporting like this, become an Agenda Member.

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