I love holiday pop-up shops and Christmas parties with tiny hors d’oeuvres and sparkling cocktails. Problem is it’s kind of hard to drag my little one along with me. And that’s OK. The holidays are viewed through a totally different lens when your children are experiencing traditions for the first time.
The sky is the limit when it comes to picking places to celebrate the season with kid-friendly events in Charlotte. We’ve rounded up the best that are sure to become instant classics for your family. And don’t forget to read about where you can have breakfast with Santa. Big kids welcome.
Disregard my rule about pop-up shops for this event only. Children’s Theatre of Charlotte is hosting Santa’s Bag for the 43rd year, and it gives kids the chance to buy pre-wrapped gifts between $1 and $5 for family and friends. The ENCORE! Boutique is geared toward tweens, teens and adults.
When: Thursday December 3 and Friday December 4:10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Saturday December 5: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (or until merchandise runs out).
Where: Children’s Theatre of Charlotte (300 E. 7th St.)
There’s quite a range of events in one of the Charlotte area’s cutest towns. More than 20,000 people attend yearly for a reason. You can get a little Christmas shopping done from local vendors, and the kids can make crafts, listen to story time with Mrs. Claus, buy reindeer food, see a holiday theater production or take a carriage ride. Don’t forget the doggie fashion show that starts 7 p.m. Friday.
When: Thursday December 3 through Saturday December 6 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Where: Downtown Davidson
This is a unique event in SouthPark. The shopping center’s Hampton Inn & Suites becomes a six-story screen for a holiday light show, which differs every week (three events total). Carolers, hot chocolate, elves, Santa and goodie bags for the kids. Bring an unwrapped toy to donate to Toys for Tots Charlotte.
When: Thursday December 3, 10 and 17. Shows start at 7 p.m., 7:45 p.m. and 8:35 p.m.
Where: Phillips Place
The annual Deck the Halls Gala on Friday night is already sold out, but that’s OK since you wouldn’t take your kids there anyway. Saturday’s Christmas in Carolina event goes from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. and features crafts and activities for kids and a visit from Santa. Children tickets are $10, but accompanying adults are free. Sunday there’s a buffet-style lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. that costs $25 for adults and $10 for kids younger than 12.
When: December 4-6 (See above for schedule of events).
Where: Hotel Concord (14 N. Union St., Concord)
It might be 50 degrees in December, but you can still take the family ice skating. Glide across 7,000 square feet of ice under the uptown skyline. Tickets are $10 if you bring your own skates or $13 with skate rental. Don’t forget Star Wars Night on December 13.
When: Through January 3. Hours vary, so check the calendar.
Speedway Christmas: In its sixth year, Charlotte Motor Speedway’s holiday spectacular features more than 3 million lights. Open daily but Thursday through Sunday includes a petting zoo, wagon rides, a Bethlehem village and Santa. Admission includes viewing of kid-friendly holiday movies such as Elf, The Grinch and A Christmas Story. Prices start at $30 for a vehicle with up to eight people and go up for larger vans and buses. Add $10 for a fast pass.
Dates: Through December 30 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway
Let the kids run out some energy at the beautiful Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. Holiday crafts are available through December 24. Kids can meet Santa Thursday through Sunday. Tickets are $14.95 for adults, $13.95 for seniors 60 and older and $8.95 for children ages 2 to 12. Members receive a 30% discount for themselves and up to four guests. Take your best photo for a chance at winning a membership.
When: Through January 3 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Lights come on at 5 p.m. daily.
Where: Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden (6500 S. New Hope Rd., Belmont).
The N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer brings this classic children’s book to life. Hot chocolate and cookies are served aboard the train, while the movie’s soundtrack plays overhead. Silver sleigh bells are given at the end to all believers. Tickets start at $30 for children and $36 for adults. Hurry because this one is almost all sold out.
When: December 4-6, 11-13 and 16-22, with rides starting at 4 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. most days.
Where: N.C. Transportation Museum (411 S. Salisbury Ave., Spencer).
Looking for another train option? This one is based on its eponymous children’s book and is in its first year. The train departs in Belmont and heads on a 70-minute journey toward Christmas Town. Cocoa and cookies are served to passengers. Travel through nearby Christmas Town, USA, either before or after for the awesome holiday light display. Tickets start at $35 for adults and $25 for kids.
When: December 4-6, 11-13, 16-23 and 26-27. Departure times are 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., though not all are available each day.
Where: 667 Cason St., Belmont.
Make an evening of this quick trip to South Carolina with a parade through its quaint downtown streets.
When: Friday December 4 at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Downtown Rock Hill
This annual event features a kid’s craft tent, train ride, candy cane hunt and a bonfire to make s’mores. Say no more. Santa arrives at 5:30 p.m. to light the tree.
When: Saturday December 5 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: Downtown Pineville
Arts and crafts, live music, hot cocoa and a visit from the North Pole’s most famous resident complete this tradition.
When: December 6 at 6 p.m.
Where: Queen City Church of Christ (3025 N. Davidson St.)
Seriously, how can you not love animatronic bears that play music? Shows mostly play on the hour from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. with a few exceptions.
When: Through December 31. Tree lighting is December 3 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Trade and Tryon streets.
Where: Founders Hall (100 N. Tryon St.)
Indian Trail leaders must know this is my favorite movie. The event starts December 6 at 2 p.m. with the inaugural Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest. Register at the Indian Trail Cultural Arts Center beforehand. The parade starts at 3 p.m. along Indian Trail Road, and afterward head over to Crossing Paths Park for hot chocolate, crafts and s’mores. Tree lighting is at dusk.
When: Sunday December 6 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Indian Trail Road (near Navajo Trail).
Pictures with Santa, crafts and live bunnies. (Seriously, you know your kids love those furry critters.) Plus, it’s the last day of the shopping center’s Angel Tree program, so do some good while you’re out shopping.
When: Saturday December 12 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Ballantyne Village
Dreaming of a white Christmas? The annual holiday festival, put on by Southlake Christian Academy, includes snow for sledding. There are also your traditional festival attractions: a Ferris wheel, bounce houses, face painting and climbing wall. Huntersville Presbyterian will host carriage rides.
When: December 12 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Downtown Huntersville
This is the first year for this event, but the description sounds promising. Sleigh rides ($3), hot cocoa, food trucks and other vendors on site. Some crafts will have a small fee as well, so bring cash.
When: December 5-6 and 12-13 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where: 4701 Hartis Rd., Indian Trail.
Crafts, pictures with Santa, carriage rides and holiday movies on the green.
When: Friday December 18 and Saturday December 19 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Blakeney shopping center
The town will illuminate more than 100,000 lights to mark the holiday season. Carriage rides, carousel, Polar Express trackless train, live music and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.
When: Friday December 4 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Where: Downtown Waxhaw
Waxhaw Christmas Parade: Come back for more holiday cheer the next weekend for the town’s annual Christmas parade and to check back in with Santa.
When: Sunday December 13 at 3 p.m.
Where: Downtown Waxhaw
These aren’t holiday-themed, but you will need somewhere to keep the kids occupied during winter break. You can sign up for a daily session or weekly, with topics ranging from “The Incredible Human Body” to “Kitchen Concoctions.” $45 per session for members and $55 for nonmembers.
Where: Discovery Place
When: December 21-23 and December 28-31. Sessions go from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.