5 iconic, must-do North Carolina holiday traditions

5 iconic, must-do North Carolina holiday traditions

Photo: Brianna Crane/Axios

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From the mountains to the sea, N.C. has no shortage of traditions to get you in the festive spirit — all within driving distance of Charlotte.

Here are five our team loves.


1. Spend a day at Biltmore.

There’s nothing like seeing the mansion and Antler Village all decked out. You can expect 100 decorated trees, 10,000 ornaments and 100,000 twinkling holiday lights this year, according to Biltmore’s website.

  • You can tour grand house by candlelight in the evenings.

Details: Christmas decor is up now through Jan. 9. Tickets start at $106-$126+ for daytime tours and $119-$139+ for candlelight evening tours.

Bonus: Stop by the 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.

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2. See the state’s best light displays.

McAdenville: 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.

  • The tree lighting ceremony will take place on Dec. 1 at 5pm, and the yule log parade will happen on Dec. 16 at 5pm.
  • Lights are on display daily from 5:30-10pm in downtown McAdenville Dec. 1-26.

Speedway: This magical 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. 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.

charlotte motor speedway christmas


3. Attend a flotilla.

If you haven’t delighted in this coastal tradition, put it on the bucket list. A flotilla is a boat parade on the water in which the vessels dress up with elaborate lights and displays. Some happening soon are:


4. Cut down your own Christmas tree.

We started this tradition in our household last year and plan to keep it up forever. Thankfully Charlotte’s a quick drive to the mountains, and it makes for a fun easy day trip.

[Axios related guide: 8 places to get a Christmas tree including local lots and mountain tree farms]

appalachian evergreens choose and cut tree farm in boone

Appalachian Evergreens choose-and-cut tree farm in Boone. Photo: Brianna Crane/Axios Charlotte


5. Take a train ride on the Polar Express.

N.C. Transportation Museum: The trip is set to the sounds of the movie and includes hot chocolate and cookies, plus a story reading of “The Polar Express.” Kiddos are encouraged to wear their pajamas to enjoy the experience.

  • Remaining dates: Nov. 26-28 and Dec. 3-5, 9-12, & 14-23.
  • Cost: $32+.
  • Location: 1 Samuel Spencer Dr., Spencer

Great Smoky Mountains: Head up to Bryson City for 75-minute train ride through the mountains set to the sounds of “The Polar Express.” Expect hot cocoa, silver bells, carols and a visit from Santa.

  • The train runs daily from now through Dec. 31. (Closed Nov. 25 & 29.)
  • Cost: $19-$93

If you’re looking for more local things to do, here’s our holiday guide with 18 festive things to do in Charlotte this winter.

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