Santa display at the Lake Julian Festival of Lights near Asheville, North Carolina

Nothing says the holidays have arrived quite like a beautiful light display. While Asheville and WNC in general may not have the show stopping light displays frequently found in other areas of the country, there are several festive destinations throughout the region. Bundle up, grab a hot cocoa, and enjoy a brisk night surrounded by dazzling Christmas lights.

Lake Julian Park

Cute light display at Lake Julian Park near Asheville, North Carolina

One of the best and most affordable light displays in Asheville is the Lake Julian drive-through Festival of Lights show. Thousands of colorful lights and themed character LED displays brighten up the dark winter skies. Admission is just ten bucks and 20% of proceeds goes towards Buncombe County Special Olympics. Compare this to the overpriced $30-40 fee typically charged at other state drive through shows, and it seems like a great deal. The affordable pricing and proximity to the city has made this a local’s favorite holiday tradition. Note – typically one night each season is a walk through night. Also, only one loop around is allowed unless traffic is considerably light.

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Omni Grove Park Inn

Beautiful Christmas tree at the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina

This 4 star resort offers picture-perfect views of the gorgeous Blue Ridge mountains. With top notch restaurants, an award winning spa and golf course, and a gorgeous lobby with 2 massive fireplaces, it’s a fantastic place to stay anytime of the year. During the holidays, they really go over-the-top in the decor department with multiple Christmas trees, festive garland, a gingerbread hot cocoa stand, and many photo opps. Most notably, the prestigious National Gingerbread competition is held here with winning creations on display for guests and the public ($25 parking fee) to view. Enjoy a breakfast buffet in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Artisanal dining room before viewing the dazzling masterpieces.

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The Grove Arcade

Winter Wonderland at The Grove Arcade in Asheville, North Carolina

One of Asheville’s most historic buildings, The Grove (est. 1929), dazzles each holiday season in an event known as Winter Wonderland. Enjoy the variety of independent shops and restaurants while surrounded by festive lights and decor. This is the best place near downtown Asheville to get into the holiday spirit. The festive ambiance makes it a great place to enjoy a cup of coffee or pastry. Relax with a cup of joe and authentic beignets at Bebettes, enjoy a glass of champagne at Battery Park Book Exchange, and browse the local boutiques to maximize your day out.

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Biltmore Park Town Square

Christmas tree at Biltmore Park Town Square in Asheville, North Carolina

This upscale outdoor shopping mall is home to a number of popular luxury shops (Athleta, Spice and Tea Exchange), plus old favorites (Barnes and Nobles, PF Changs). OP Taylor’s is a fun toy shop to browse around. Additionally, there are a number of independent and chain restaurants. I recommend Nine Mile – a unique Caribbean style restaurant with plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free selections. The Ires Ites is fantastic pesto based pasta dish with just enough kick. Note – some of the shops close quite early. Plan for shopping before dinner.

Biltmore Park directory

Downtown Asheville

Holiday light festival in downtown Asheville, North Carolina

Most tourists visiting Asheville are more interested in exploring the foodie and art scene, rather than attending holiday events. Thus, it’s no surprise that lights are a bit lacking in the region. While The Grove is the main place to see Christmas lights, there are a few other displays, namely in Pack Square and Pritchard Park. Additionally, there is a big Christmas tree in front of The Grove Arcade building. A few must-dos while in the vicinity include shopping for unique holiday gifts at WoolWorth Walk (featuring works from hundreds of local artists), lunch at Chai Pani or Blue Dream Curry house, and enjoying a hot cocoa at French Broad Chocolate Lounge.

Downtown Asheville directory

Note: I’ve left out The Biltmore Christmas and NC Arboretum (great during daytime hours) as I feel they are overpriced for what you get.

Near Asheville…

Hendersonville Main Street

Christmas tree on Main Street in Hendersonville, North Carolina

The second largest city in Western North Carolina is home to a charming Main Street which is lined with independent shops and restaurants. The popular “Home for the Holidays” event lineup draws visitors from around the WNC region. In addition to a Christmas parade, tree lighting, and business window decorating contest, the town is alive with sparking lights. The large wreaths hanging from the lanterns and small town shops give the Main Street a “Hallmark-like” vibe. Stop for a great coffee at Black Bear, shop for old time gifts at Mast General Store, and enjoy fare at a local eatery. Note – many shops close early, esp on Sunday. Plan for shopping before dinner/light viewing.

Hendersonville Christmas events

Monte Vista Hotel in Black Mountain

Deck the Trees festival in Black Mountain, North Carolina

Black Mountain is a cute mountain town located just 15 minutes from Asheville. Like Asheville, the small community is most known for its’ thriving art and foodie scene. Plenty of unique restaurants and shops line the historic Main St. The main holiday attraction in the region is the Deck the Halls festival, held annually at the Monte Vista Hotel. More than a dozen decorated trees are displayed for all to view for free at this hotel and throughout businesses downtown. Stop by the Dripolator, a cozy coffeehouse before or after your visit. Also, Veranda Cafe is a delicious lunch choice (great soups/sandwiches).

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Downtown Greenville

Pretty Christmas lights in downtown Greenville, South Carolina

As one of the nation’s fastest growing cities, Greenville offers no shortage of things to do. With one of the nicest downtowns in the South, this is no surprise. Tourism really goes up during the month of December, with a real ice skating rink, festive holiday lights, and a number of fun events spread throughout the month. Just taking a stroll along Main Street gazing at the pretty lights, popping in and out of shops, and enjoying a hot cocoa (Methodical Coffee is wonderful) makes for a wonderful winter night out. If you are up for a thrill, the ice rink (while cramped and crowded most of the season) is always a blast.

More Christmas events in Greenville

Forest City

Forest City, North Carolina Christmas lights

If you really want to see an overload of Christmas lights, then Forest City is the place to go. This small town is located about an hour southeast of Asheville. Not surprisingly, the festive display has earned it a place amongst the best Christmas light displays in North Carolina. Over a million lights line the small Main Street. The holiday windows are adorable, the decor is old-fashioned, and there are many unique photo opps. Stop for a drink at the Twisted Pear and treat yourself to dinner at a local restaurant (Mario’s is a good choice for anyone seeking comfort style Italian food).

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McAdenville

Christmas fountain light show in McAdenville, North Carolina

While “Christmas Town” is a bit far clocking in at almost 2 hours, it’s worthy of a look if you happen to be visiting Charlotte for the day. This small community’s over-the-top light display has earned it the nickname ”Christmas Town.” Many prestigious sources including Travel Channel have spotlighted the town. The 1.3 mile drive takes you through over half a million lights, including beautiful decorated homes, a synchronized show on the lake, and over 200 festive Evergreens. While in Charlotte, also check out the new ice skating rink at the US Whitewater Center, Holiday Lights at Daniel Stowe, and The Panthers tree in Uptown. Carowinds theme park also hosts an amazing Winterfest celebration with over 4 million lights, stage shows, and much more.