On top of Menorah and Christmas Tree lightings, full light shows offer a seasonal experience for any family to enjoy –– as close as uptown or drive-able within an hour. Don the holiday PJs, pour some hot chocolate tumblers, and get ready to ride (or stroll) through these winter wonderlands of de-light.
Rather than try to pack it all in, just choose a few from our list below to see now through early January. These are in order of opening day, so some destinations are already aglow and ready to experience now. Before you start the car though, be sure to click the link provided for days and times of operation as well as any associated costs or required reservations.
Now through Jan. 2: Free Family Light Displays
This compilation from Charlotte Magazine has my vote as the Smartiest way to take in holiday lights. Pandemic-proof frivolity is only a car ride away with almost ten residential displays to see. Many hosts have turned these into charitable giving opportunities too, so pack a donation. A few have even coordinated lights with Christmas music so that you can tune in and jingle all the way. Full details here.
Now through Jan. 1 : Zootastic Christmas Wonderland of Light
When the sun goes down, the lights go on at this Lake Norman area zoo. Animal lovers are sure to enjoy this display, with more than 4 million lights on display. Santa is available each evening for a visit –– along with some furry friends to greet, including tigers, giraffes, and a baby kangaroo. Full details here.
Now through Jane. 16: Speedway Christmas
Smarty Tip: Those with a lead foot will want to visit on the early side during non-peak evenings (Sun-Thurs) to avoid traffic delays. Enjoy a four-mile ride of vibrant, dancing lights synchronized with holiday music. Tune in at 101.3 FM and cruise along an actual NASCAR track. Full details here.
Now through Dec. 30: Kannapolis Celebration of Lights
Join the town of Kannapolis in its holiday merriment by taking in not only a light show but also a joyride on the Winterland Express or the double-decker carousel. While there, you can also shop and eat local with food vendors and arts and crafts merchants. Full details here.
Now through Dec. 30: Holiday at the Hall — Lights Decor at NASCAR Hall of Fame
Check out racing’s history in the museum by day. Then head out front by night for a family pic in front of a 32-foot towering, lit tree. Cool your jets as you walk through thousands of glimmering lights in Ceremonial Plaza, and just enjoy the warm glow of being together this season. Full details here.
Now through Jan. 2: Holidays at the Garden
The Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden’s light designs rival the beauty of thoughtfully curated landscapes. After being bundled up outside, your crew can relax and warm up with Santa, s’mores, and hot cocoa inside. Food trucks like Two Chicks & A Truck, Ranucci’s Big Butt BBQ, and Lobster Dogs will be on hand to lessen dinnertime fuss and add to your holiday cheer. Full details here.
Now through Dec. 23: Christmas at the Library
Focus on the reason for the season during a horse-drawn carriage ride through holiday lights at The Billy Graham Library. There will also be a live nativity, carolers, and story time to add to the experience. Full details here.
Now through Dec. 26 Christmas Town USA
Don’t miss this small town tradition in McAdenville, now in its 66th year (ranked #4 in national public light shows by a USA Today 2020 survey.) When our kids were smaller, we loaded up the wagon and pulled them through the trail of lights. Now, we pour hot chocolate and walk the 1.3 mile path. You can also drive slowly through to take in all the displays. We particularly enjoy the lake view. Try arriving on the early side during weekdays to avoid traffic and crowds over the weekend. Full details here.
Dec. 4-5 and Dec. 11-12: Lights at Dallas Lavender Lane Farm
This Saturday (Dec. 4) and Sunday (Dec. 5) from 1-6 p.m., you can visit Santa (and some cute barnyard friends) while you check out the lights by train ride or on foot. On Dec. 11 and 12 from noon to 7 p.m. you can enjoy the lights and shop the farm’s marketplace for special gifts like lavender honey, tea, and lotions. The Winter Festival marketplace event has free entry and will feature holiday movies under the pavilion, local craft and food vendors, the farm’s playground, petting zoo, putt putt, carousel rides, and kid-friendly activities. Stay tuned for updates on the farm’s Facebook page. Full details here.
Dec. 11: Northern Lights of Lake Norman Boat Parade
From 5-7 pm, a stream of boats will light up the northern part of Lake Norman. Proceeds from this year’s parade (now in its third year) will benefit Tunnel to Towers Foundation and Home Hope of Mooresville. There will be free registration with a donation for boaters. Full details here.