Are you wondering if coming to Asheville during Christmas is worth it? It absolutely is! There are many fun and festive things going on in Asheville throughout the entire month of December – including a ton of spectacular light displays!
Our famous local landmarks – Biltmore Estate, the Omni Grove Park Inn, and the Grove Arcade – get all dressed up for the holidays. There are neighborhood and business district Christmas display competitions, walk-through and drive-through light shows, and many Christmas events for the entire family.
I’ve compiled a list of the best places to see the Christmas lights in Asheville. Also, many events around Asheville made it onto this list because one can’t get enough when it comes to magical Christmas lights and fun holiday events.
I’ve included the Asheville Christmas traditions locals love – like the walk-through show Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum and the Lake Julian drive-through display, and a list of private houses and neighborhoods that go all out during Christmas. I’ve also added info about other religious and cultural celebrations because they bring light during the short winter days.
So if you’re planning to spend Christmas in Asheville, get ready to grab your favorite festive snacks and drinks, listen to holiday tunes, and marvel at all of the magical lights on display. It’s that wonderful time of the year again, you all!
Don’t forget to check out our web story: 13 Festive Places to See Christmas Lights in Asheville
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The 13 Best Spots to See Holiday Lights in Asheville
1. Biltmore Estate
Known as “America’s Largest Home,” the Vanderbilts’ lavish Biltmore Estate is an icon of beauty and class all year round. With their exuberant display of flowers, you won’t get enough color (or photos!) in the spring and summer. Visit in the fall, and the estate is also one of the best places in Asheville to see the leaves change.
Still, visiting the Biltmore Estate decorated for Christmas is a unique experience and one of the most magical things to do during the holidays in Asheville. The Christmas season at the Biltmore runs from the beginning of November to the first week of January.
You can enjoy the annual Christmas at Biltmore in two ways: the Daytime Celebration and the Candlelight Christmas Evenings. They also offer Christmas packages, so you can stay at one of the properties and extend the magic of the holiday season at the Biltmore for a few days.
You’ll love seeing the Biltmore Estate‘s most beloved landmarks decorated for the occasion with ornaments, Christmas trees, garlands, wreaths, and thousands of lights everywhere, from the Biltmore House to Antler Hill Village!
Imagine the lion statues in the front of the house dressed up for Christmas, George Vanderbilt’s Library made warm and toasty with a roaring fire, and the Conservatory decorated with hundreds of poinsettias. Also, Santa is at the Antler Village!
Plus, you’ll love the free A Dickens Christmas event, during which over two dozen roving, Dickens-themed acts are performed in the Historic Biltmore Village neighborhood.
2. NC Arboretum’s Winter Lights
Held at the North Carolina Arboretum, the Winter Lights open-air walk-through light show is a favorite local holiday tradition and one of the best things to do in Asheville in December. It features over one million lights distributed across many beautiful displays.
You’ll love enjoying a relaxed and festive evening checking out the lights while sipping a hot beverage (there are options for kids and adults!). Food and snack options include s’mores kits for sale at the Bent Creek Bistro. Then, stop by the large fire pit to roast marshmallows with Santa!
In addition, there is a fun gift shop to get your holiday shopping done while supporting the NC Arboretum, one of the most beautiful urban gardens in Asheville and Western North Carolina. Also, Winter Lights is open on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
The display changes every year, but some of the favorites, like the 50-foot tree, the adorable G scale model train, the Quilt Garden, and the Wishing Trees, come back year after year. Tickets are sold per vehicle based on vehicle size, and the prices vary depending on the date.
Also, Lake Julian’s Festival of Lights is a drive-through festival displaying beautiful lights around the lake. There is a fee, and 20% of the proceeds are donated to the Special Olympics Buncombe County.
3. Various Festive Neighborhoods
Is there anything more magical, simple, and fun than walking or driving around on a chilly winter evening, pointing at all those beautiful Christmas lights? Also, it’s free!
I’ve compiled a list of the best neighborhoods and houses to see Christmas lights in Asheville with the information from the wonderful Facebook Page Family Friendly Asheville and the awesome parent group Asheville Mamas.
Off of New Leicester Hwy at 1 Westwood Dr., in West Asheville, they have Christmas and other December holiday songs. The Elf Holiday’s Light Show in Hendersonville is also a fantastic synchronized light show – think Christmas lights and Christmas music. While in Hendersonville, check out 351 Old Dana Rd, too.
Also in Hendersonville, the Merchant and Home Decorating Contest is a competition where private homes and businesses go all out to make the holiday season joyful. You can vote once a day for your favorite displays!
Fletcher is another great spot to see Christmas lights. Go to the Riverstone Community in Fletcher, where they have a neighborhood Holiday Lights Competition.
In Candler, visit Carolina Mountain Lights at 59 Dragon Dale Drive, and tune your radio to 107.3 to listen to the music. And if you are in Weaverville, head out to 14 Boyds Chapel Rd.
Other great areas to see homes decorated are Biltmore Lake, Montford (check out the side streets and the main ones), West Asheville, Historic Biltmore Village, and Biltmore Park Town Square (they host the annual Holiday Tree Lighting event with a special visit from Santa.
If you don’t feel like driving, join the Holly Jolly Christmas Trolley. It will take you around town to see the lights while Christmas caroling!
4. Grove Arcade
The Grove Arcade, “Asheville’s original indoor mall,” is one of the best places to see Christmas lights in Asheville – and it’s free! It features a Christmas tree competition, gigantic Christmas trees, beautiful decorations, and free events for the family, including storytelling, a tree lighting ceremony, and photos with Santa.
The Grove Arcade also hosts a fun New Year’s Eve Roaring Twenties party on the last evening of the year with live music, games, and a full bar. Your best 1920s outfit is encouraged!
Since you are downtown, check out the local shops’ holiday window decorations. There is an annual competition for the best of the best, and you can follow the Asheville Downtown Association for updates.
Pack Square Park and Pritchard Park are other great places to see Christmas lights in Asheville. Of course, downtown has an outstanding shopping scene, focusing on local goods and featuring many pop-up markets in December.
You can get some Christmas treats and beverages at Old Europe Pastries, French Broad Chocolate, The Rhu, and Karen Donatelli.
5. Omni Grove Park Inn
Founded by Edwin Grove, the “Father of Modern Asheville,” the Omni Grove Park Inn hosts the famous National Gingerbread House Competition, one of the most popular traditions among locals to celebrate Christmas in Asheville.
The National Gingerbread House Competition is a competitive event that began in 1992 with just a few houses provided by local neighbors and organizations. The display starts at the end of November and ends in the first week of January.
But it’s not all about the gingerbread houses: The Christmas decorations at the Grove Park Inn are beautiful! There are 80 illuminated Christmas trees, and chilling by one of the giant 36-foot-wide fireplaces while drinking hot chocolate or a cocktail is one of the best things to do in Asheville in December.
You’ll love exploring the resort’s halls and outdoors. Make sure you are there on time to see the sunset. There are many wonderful restaurants where you can have dinner after your gingerbread adventure. Be sure to make reservations!
Walking around the resort is free, but there is a parking fee during the holiday season.
6. Surrounding Small Town Displays
Downtown Waynesville hosts the annual A Night Before Christmas celebration every December. The festival includes Christmas caroling, live music, Santa and Mrs. Claus, old-fashioned horse-drawn wagon rides, and an outdoor living nativity.
Also in Waynesville, check out The Strand of Lights, a drive-through light display that goes around the Smoky Mountain Event Center campus for nearly one mile. There is a fee for this attraction.
Weaverville is home to The Candlelight Stroll, an annual community celebration held at the beginning of December. There is a tree lighting ceremony, Christmas lights, live music, luminaries, a scavenger hunt, holiday food and drinks, horse-drawn carriage rides, and a fun Santa!
Go to Christmas in the Park in Brevard to experience this wonderful community during a fun festival featuring local food trucks, DJ Santa, a petting zoo with llamas, ice sculptures, bouncy houses, a gingerbread house display, and the Candy Cane Express Train. Visit the fun Aluminum Christmas Tree Museum and, after it gets dark, enjoy the lights in downtown Brevard.
Deck the Trees is a Christmas tree competition in Black Mountain. The center is the Monte Vista Hotel, but you can also find participating trees in stores and businesses throughout town.
A Small Town Christmas in Banner Elk is a weekend festival featuring all things Christmassy.
7. Forest City Christmas
The Forest City Christmas event features over one million Christmas lights along the town’s historic Main Street. The celebration starts in the afternoon on Thanksgiving with a lighting ceremony in the town center (many local businesses will be open, so you can kick off your holiday shopping!). Then, there is a Christmas parade on the following Sunday.
The ongoing festival ends the first week of January and offers carriage rides for the whole family (tickets are sold online only), hay rides (tickets are first come, first served), and visits with Santa on the stage inside the Pavilion On Park Square (POPS). There’s also an ice-skating rink!
You’ll love taking photos of the largest lighted ornament in the area (you can’t miss it, but it’s on the POPS) and the decorated tree on the small splash pad. In addition, there will be hot chocolate, hot cider, food trucks, and other goodies at the concession stands on Fridays and Saturdays.
For a festive treat, go to Smith’s Drugs, a full-service pharmacy and soda fountain that’s been locally owned and operated since 1939!
8. Mountain Christmas Trail of Lights
The Mountain Christmas Trail of Lights follows Highway 226 North from the Blue Ridge Parkway (Milepost 331) to Spruce Pine and Bakersville. There are 15 miles of Christmas light displays and other holiday events happening along the way.
The community display is free and open to all from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. In addition, there are special events during the month, like Christmas parades in Spruce Pine, Buladean, and Bakersville, tree lighting ceremonies, holiday markets, and a live nativity scene. You will see signs along the trail way letting you know where to take off to visit side neighborhoods that have also been decorated for you.
Spruce Pine hosts a special “Small Businesses Saturday” at the end of November. This is an excellent opportunity to check out the local businesses and participate in other events like a pet holiday parade, an ugly sweater contest, the Festival of Wreathes, and a tree lighting ceremony followed by an evening Christmas parade.
9. Smoky Mountains Christmas Lights in Bryson City
The Smoky Mountain Christmas Light Spectacular in Bryson City is a drive-thru light show featuring huge LED displays and offering Christmas music “with a comical spin on the traditional song.” You can stream the music from your phone! There is a fee, and all proceeds from the light show go directly to local non-profits.
Bryson City is also home to the Polar Express Train, a perfect Christmas experience for your little ones. The train departs from the train depot downtown and, of course, arrives at The North Pole! (Guess who will be waiting there with a silver sleigh bell they can take home?).
The ride includes hot cocoa and treats, caroling, and reading the famous Caldecott-winning book The Polar Express. The adventure lasts 1 hour and 15 minutes, and you should purchase your tickets in advance.
Other holiday-related activities in Bryson City include hayrides at Darnell Farms and an ice skating rink at The Yard!
10. Tyron Resort Winterfest
Another fantastic idea during a Christmas trip to Asheville is to visit the Tyron Resort, which features the Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland drive-through light show synchronized to holiday music at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, as part of the Tyron Resort Winterfest.
The Christmas lights show gigantic LED scenes, which change every year. For example, a previous theme was “Santa at the Beach,” showing scenes of Santa riding a whale and enjoying a bonfire.
It takes about 30 minutes to see the show. The best part? Once you enter the light show, you can tune your radio to hear the music! There is an entrance fee.
The resort’s Winterfest includes the Winterfest Village. Entrance is free, and there are many free events, but you must buy tickets to enjoy some of the attractions. In addition, there are concession stands and an ice skating rink. The resort offers holiday packages during this special time of the year, too.
11. Other Asheville Christmas Events
How does a free indoor Christmas maze sound? Linda’s Plants and Shrubs in Hendersonville is cute, and your tiny ones will love it. The Jingle Bell Trolley Ride in Woodfin is another excellent option for the youngest members of the family.
Then there’s the Wortham Center For Performing Arts, which offers three local school productions of The Nutcracker at affordable prices. One is a contemporary dance production based on the book The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (a must-read during the holiday season – the story is so much richer than the one told in the ballet!). It also hosts the annual A Swannanoa Solstice, an Asheville winter tradition.
Going to Harrah’s Cherokee Center to see the Moscow Ballet perform Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet is one of the best things to do for Christmas in Asheville. Also at the Cherokee Center, check out the annual Christmas Jam. After that, plan to have dinner at the S&W Market, downtown’s only food court with fantastic food (the building is also a historical landmark!).
Do you like watching your favorite holiday movies on the big screen? Then go to Asheville Brewing or check out the Regal Biltmore. Or, if you’ve got the kids in tow, Asheville Parks and Recreation organizes fun family-friendly Christmas events, including a breakfast with Santa!
Finally, stay tuned to Rabbit Rabbit‘s events because they’ve hosted the awesome Annual Winter Tree Carnival during the past years. Also, pay attention to the Winter Wonder Walk, a new event that looks fun!
12. Theatrical Appalachian Christmas Carol Tour
The Vance Birthplace in Weaverville is where the NC Governor and enslaver Zebulon B. Vance was born. The Vance Birthplace State Historic Site and the American Myth Center have partnered to create “an evening of historical drama and discussion on the interpretation of the plantation and race in Western North Carolina.”
The Appalachian Christmas Carol uses toy and shadow theater to take the audience on an eye-opening journey through the site. The finish point is a 1790 slave dwelling. The purpose is to spark “a conversation around empathy, the complexity of Zebulon Vance, and to highlight the lives of the enslaved people that lived there.”
This is one of the most unique experiences to have in Asheville during the holidays. You have to buy tickets, and the tours run every 30 minutes.
13. Non-Christian Holiday Celebrations
December is home to other holidays besides Christmas and New Year! They are all meaningful, festive, and rooted in the Winter Solstice, just like Christmas. Also, they all are about lighting the world in the proximity of winter. This is the perfect time of the year to expose yourself and your family to other winter traditions.
Chabad Asheville organizes the annual Chanukah Live at City Hall in Pack Square Park. This free and open-to-all festival occurs on the first night of the eight-day holiday that celebrates the miracle of light. There is a Grand Menorah Lighting, live music, free traveling menorah kits for everyone, hot latkes, sufganiyot, and a chocolate gelt group with the Asheville Fire Department.
The YMI Cultural Center hosts its annual Kwanzaa Celebration featuring live music, a presentation on the Kwanzaa principles, the origins of Kwanzaa, and an opportunity to learn about the significance of Kwanzaa to the African-American community. Kwanzaa is a cultural seven-night holiday open to everyone, religious or not.
There you have it! The 13 best places to see Christmas lights in Asheville, NC. What’s your favorite spot to see holiday lights in Asheville? Let us know so we can add them to the list.
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