There are various fun seasonal attractions and festive places to visit for a holiday getaway or vacation to the Southeast U.S., whether you head to Atlanta, Louisville, Orlando, or elsewhere. Enjoy exploring time-honored traditions such as Christmas lights, visits with Santa, Christmas markets, the beauty of candlelit gardens, and more. In many cases, entry prices range from free to moderate, offering choices for all travel budgets.
Southern hospitality meets the holidays with light displays, decorations, and opportunities to visit Santa in Huntsville and Theodore.
The Huntsville Botanical Garden Galaxy of Lights offers a magical experience with lights and illuminated figures throughout the garden. You'll see Santa fly over a winter village, watch nursery rhyme characters, and marvel at the creativity of holiday scenes. Drive through the lights from November 29, 2019, through January 4, 2020 (closed December 2), go on special walking nights through November 26, 2019, and even take your dog with you on November 25, 2019.
If you are in Theodore in 2019, head to Bellingrath Gardens and Home for the Magic Christmas in Lights from November 29 through December 31 (closed Christmas and New Year's Days). Stroll through the 65-acre estate's award-winning display that features more than 3 million lights, over 1,100 lighted pieces, and 15 holiday scenes. Don't miss the highly-decorated Bellingrath Home full of colorful poinsettias.
Florida pulls out all the stops for the holidays, whether you are visiting Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld, or another desintation.
At Universal Orlando Resort, enjoy the Holiday Parade featuring Macy's, as well as the Grinchmas show. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter as Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley are filled with Christmas spirit. Universal's holiday season runs from November 16, 2019, through January 5, 2020.
SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration brings the wonder of the season to life with over 3 million twinkling lights from November 23 to December 31, 2019. Carols fill the air, and a sea of lighted trees sparkle over the lake. Watch professional skaters on the ice, and enjoy festive food, live shows, the Sesame Street Christmas Parade, and shopping for holiday gifts and treats at the Christmas Market.
In Atlanta, the mountains, and other areas of Georgia, you'll find activities ranging from ice-skating and viewing gorgeous decorations to chances to greet holiday characters.
Enjoy a diversity of holiday lights and tree-lightings from November through January at parks, farms, and other venues in the Atlanta area.
Callaway Resort & Gardens Fantasy in Lights, held from November 15, 2019, through January 4, 2020, is an annual tradition. Enjoy the Christmas Village, have your picture taken with holiday characters, and ride through the lovely and well-lit forest. There are 2,500 acres of beautiful natural landscape you can explore during the day, and visitors can also stay overnight at the resort in Pine Mountain.
Stone Mountain Christmas is an opportunity to take in some beloved park attractions like Summit Skyride and Scenic Railroad between November 16, 2019, and January 5, 2020. You can view millions of sparkling lights and enjoy music at night as well as the Snow Angel's Christmas Parade with 40 characters, various floats, and a chance to watch Santa Claus in flight.
In historic Savannah, the holidays bring special Old Town Trolley’s Holiday Lights & Sights tours and Christmas meals at the popular restaurants.
Holiday evening tours in Savannah by candlelight at The Davenport House are led by skilled interpreters who show visitors through the historic early 19th century home from December 26–30, 2019.
Celebrations in Kentucky include parades and maker's markets in Berea and light shows in Lexington and Louisville.
Fill up with holiday cheer during the 12 Days of Christmas in Berea. In 2019, you'll find Make It, Take It, Give It workshops on weekends from November 29 through December 21, and a Twilight Christmas parade on December 7, with opportunities to shop for handmade holiday decor and gifts in the Artisan Village and College Square.
In Lexington, enjoy the highly-ranked Southern Lights Holiday Festival from November 29 through December 31, 2019. Drive through three miles of lights, and park to enjoy the mini train rides, visits with Santa, and an exotic petting zoo; these bonus attractions are open November 29 through December 23, 2019.
At The Galt House Hotel in Louisville in 2019, children can delve into the Elfapalooza event (free, but donating a new toy is suggested) Friday and Saturday evenings during the first three weekends in December. The family can also enjoy events like Brunch with Santa at Walker's Exchange from December 7–21, 2019.
Another fun activity is Lights Under Louisville at the MEGA Cavern, a 30-minute ride through portions of 17 miles of underground passageways, open between November 15, 2019, and January 4, 2020. There are over 850 lighted characters to see on your journey.
Address626 Front St, Natchitoches, LA 71457-4630, USA
New Orleans' mansions are not to be missed, especially when they are decked out in lovely decor. Visitors and locals have fun at festivals in Natchitoches and St. James Parish as well.
In New Orleans, Celebration in the Oaks at City Park is a magical winter destination: The famous oaks are wrapped in more than 1 million lights, and light displays can be seen throughout 25 acres of the park, including Storyland, the Botanical Garden, and Carousel Gardens Amusement Park. Check out the attraction between November 29, 2019, and January 1, 2020 (closed Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve).
The Reveillon Dinners are the return of an old Creole holiday custom updated for today's culinary preferences; the family tradition transformed into a city-wide production of tasty food and festive spirits at dozens of local restaurants.
The Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights, tentatively scheduled for November 23, 2019, through January 6, 2020, features more than 300,000 lights and 100 lighted pieces illuminating downtown Natchitoches and the Cane River Lake each night. A whole slew of Christmas events takes place in downtown Natchitoches, including home tours and a daytime Christmas Festival with a parade, music, arts and crafts, a fireworks show, and food vendors.
St. James Parish celebrates Cajun-style at the Festival of the Bonfires. On the nights of December 13–15, there will be a bonfire, carnival rides, food, live entertainment, crafts, Santa’s Very Merry Forest, and more. The spectacular Christmas Eve Bonfires take place at Lutcher Recreational Park.
North Carolina offers everything from classic cookies and chocolate to estates filled with lovely decor and festive wines at the holidays.
The Biltmore estate in Asheville is stunning year-round, but especially during the holidays when lovely greenery and traditional decorations shine. The Christmas at Biltmore Daytime Celebration from November 1, 2019, through January 5, 2020, gives you a chance to see beautiful decor, including ornaments on over 55 trees. You can also try holiday wines and special menus, and attend Antler Hill Village's nighttime light display.
Other Asheville celebrations include light festivals and a Dickens-themed Christmas village in historic Biltmore Village, which falls on December 6 and 7 in 2019.
The National Gingerbread House Competition and Display at the Omni Grove Park Inn is a popular holiday event in Asheville: The winning houses will be on display November 20, 2019, through January 4, 2020 (certain dates are excluded, so view the website for details before heading out).
Tanglewood Park Festival of Lights from November 15, 2019, through January 1, 2020, is worth seeing: The rolling countryside in Clemmons is transformed into a winter wonderland of giant, twinkling snowflakes and whimsical scenes. Expect long waits Thursdays through Sundays.
You can drive or walk through Christmas Town USA and its famous light display in McAdenville for free.
And at Old Salem Museum & Gardens in Winston-Salem, you'll find various holiday activities. During Salem Saturdays at Christmas from November 16, 2019, through December 28, 2019, you can visit the decorated buildings and chat with the museum interpreters, and munch on Winkler Bakery's cookies, chocolates, and more.
From holiday markets to sparkling light displays, you'll find many fun things to do in South Carolina.
Myrtle Beach would make for a great family vacation because it is home to some of the state's best holiday events, including Christmas shows and the Holiday Bazaar at the Market Common on Saturdays through December 21, 2019, which has craft vendors and food.
In 2019, Brookgreen Gardens' Nights of a Thousand Candles in Murrells Inlet features over 2,700 candles and numerous sparkling lights, holiday music, and carolers on select dates from December 5–21. South Carolina boasts additional light displays that locals and visitors can stroll through or drive by:
- Riverbanks Zoo & Garden Lights Before Christmas: Check out this Columbia attraction with almost 1 million lights and Santa visits on certain nights in November and December of 2019.
- Holiday Festival of Lights: No matter what weather you find, enjoy this festival from November 15 through December 31, 2019, at James Island County Park in Charleston. Don't miss the sculpture made from over 50 tons of sand and snacks from Santa's Sweet Shoppe.
- Swan Lake Fantasy of Lights: In 2019, experience over 1 million lights every night from December 1–31 in Swan Lake Iris Gardens, Sumter.
- Holiday Lights Safari Benefit: Hollywild Animal Preserve's event in Wellford goes from November 15, 2019, through January 4, 2020; your admission fee supports the feeding and care of hundreds of animals.
Tennessee's celebrations include ice caves, shows, and celebrity attractions like Elvis Presley's decorated Graceland Mansion in Memphis, which features decorations, concerts, and a holiday lighting ceremony.
Also check out Dolly Parton's Dollywood Parks & Resorts Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival from November 9, 2019, through January 4, 2020, in Pigeon Forge. Dollywood visitors can look forward to Glacier Ridge, the winter wonderland filled with bright displays and a 50-foot video motion Christmas tree.
The Bristol Motor Speedway hosts the Pinnacle Speedway in Lights, a display with 2 million lights, from November 15, 2019, through January 4, 2020, where visitors can take a lap around "The World's Fastest Half-Mile."
If you are in Chattanooga, go on a Christmas Underground adventure to see an ice cave and Santa Claus in the North Pole. The event takes place in Ruby Falls, the tallest and deepest underground waterfall open to the public, on select dates in December of 2019.
Clarksville hosts the free Christmas on the Cumberland, with over 1 million lights and live entertainment at McGregor Park every night from November 26, 2019, through January 1, 2020.
From November 22, 2019, through January 25, 2020 (closed on December 6, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve), enjoy the Gatlinburg Trolley Ride of Lights, which includes hot chocolate and a storyteller in costume.
Gaylord Opryland's A Country Christmas and ICE! in Nashville spans from November 8, 2019, through January 1, 2020, bringing lavish displays, more than 3 million twinkling lights, and festive décor. Special Christmas packages help you save on a holiday getaway.
AddressMt Vernon, VA, USA
From holiday sing-alongs and miles of cheery (and sometimes tacky) lights to Victorian and Colonial celebrations, Virginia is for Christmas-lovers.
In 2019, celebrate at George Washington's estate by heading to Alexandria's Christmas at Mount Vernon between November 29 and December 31 for a variety of holiday activities.
Enjoy a variety of holiday happenings during Alexandria's Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend & Parade on December 6–7.
At Thomas Jefferson's estate in Charlottesville, Monticello Holiday Events range from visiting the decorated home to wreath workshops and Christmas shopping.
The Dominion Energy Garden of Lights takes place nightly from December 15–31, 2019, at the Norfolk Botanical Garden, where you can listen to holiday music in your car and drive through the striking displays.
Richmond's lighting display is the Dominion GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, open November 22, 2019, through January 6, 2020, with closures on Thanksgiving and December 24–25.
Those with a sense of humor may prefer the Richmond Tacky Lights Tours. Also in Richmond from November 22, 2019, through January 5, 2020, take in the Holiday Merriment at Maymont, which includes festive decor, wreath workshops, and more.
In Vienna, celebrate the holidays at the Wolf Trap Holiday Sing-A-Long at Filene Center on December 7, 2019. This unique event includes a U.S. Marine Band performance and a Christmas carol and Hanukkah song Sing-A-Long with choir and vocal groups.
Also, on certain days between November 16, 2019, and January 5, 2020, the city's Busch Gardens Christmas Town shows off one of the biggest Christmas light displays in North America, plus offers food, shows, and shopping.