Top 10 Holiday Activities in the Charlotte, NC Area
Charlotte, NC might not be currently on your radar for a December Christmas trip… but it should! Whether you have family nearby or just looking for a little Christmas magic, Charlotte is a great Christmas destination.
If you have ever been looking for those cute Hallmark Christmas towns you always watch in the movies, there are so many around Charlotte. Don’t trust us? A lot of Hallmark movies have been filmed in the Charlotte area like “A Christmas Love Story“, “Nashville Christmas Carol”, “A Way Back Home”, “An Evergreen Christmas” and many more we probably have missed! So the Charlotte area definitely has the Hallmark movie charm.
With a Christmas trip to Charlotte, you can get the small-town Christmas vibe, along with the city Christmas as well. There are SO MANY Christmas activities happening around town too, sometimes it’s hard to choose what to do. We decided to put together our top 10 Christmas activities in Charlotte for you to plan your visit (or for the locals looking for something fun to do!) All of these activities are within 30 minutes of Uptown Charlotte as well, so it won’t take long to do a few of them.
So without any more delay… here is the Top 10 Holiday & Christmas activities in Charlotte, NC:
When? December 1st to December 26th
Time? 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm nightly
Where? Downtown McAdenville
From I-85 North Take Exit 22 and enter Main Street
From I-85 South or Hwy 74 Take Exit 26 and enter Wesleyan Drive from Hwy 74
McAdenville is our number one must-do every holiday season, it’s literally a Christmas dream. That’s why it’s called Christmas Town USA. If you are thinking of taking a trip for Christmas, this little town might just be your reason to head to Charlotte, NC.
The McAdenville Christmas Town started in 1956 so it’s more than a tradition in the area. Hundreds of thousands of people visit each year (approximately 600,000 people per year) to drive or walk to 1.3 mile stretch of holiday magic. It’s even been ranked in the Top 10 Public Holiday Display by USA Today as well.
We suggest you park off Hwy 74 (Franklin Blvd) and walk into town. You can see the lights the best, enjoy at your own pace, not wait in hours of car traffic, and maybe even meet Santa on some nights. Be warned Fridays & Saturdays you might wait hours if you want to drive through, a weekday is best for that!
McAdenville itself is an old mill town and was home to Pharr Mills, which is still in operation in Gaston County today. Some of the old mill houses remain, along with new houses built in a similar style.
What to do checklist for McAdenville:
? Over 250 evergreens strung with red, green, and white lights all over town
? The large lake in the middle of town, with a light up display in the middle
? Historical McAden Mills Bell Tower from 1883 plays music at the lake
? 100+ homes decorated throughout the 1.3 miles
? Restaurants and shops on the main street selling hot cocoa, treats, and maybe even a beer or wine in between your sight-seeing
When? Mid November to Mid February
Time? Time varies by day, check the calendar for specifics
Where? 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway Charlotte, NC
Cost? $6/car to park, $25/person to skate (includes ice skate rentals) – no time limit
The US National Whitewater Center is a place to see in and of itself, any time of the year. During the summer they hold free concerts, have whitewater rafting, a ropes course, and plenty of walking trails. During the winter, their highlight is a great ice skating rink.
The ice skating rink and trail is a 24,000 square foot area with four distinct sections, including two ice trails & two ice rinks. In the middle of the main rink, there is a converted air stream that serves both hot & cold beverages, including beer & wine. Because alcohol + ice… what could go wrong? ? Kidding! It does provide a nice break in between skating.
Ice skating is open 7 days a week, so we suggest going on a weekday. Though it’s a large rink, it can get crowded. We loved that there isn’t a time limit so you can stay as long or as short as you want. Plus if you have a friend that doesn’t want to skate but still wants to hang out, that’s free if they don’t come on the ice. There are snacks and drinks at the skate rentals as well.
What to do checklist for the Whitewater Center:
? Definitely see all of the ice skating trails, it’s a really unique area
? Visit the airstream in the middle for a cold beer or hot cocoa
? If you make it in the daytime, walk around the white water arena. It’s a really neat place like no other
? Go ziplining or do a winter activity that is open for the day. See the schedule here.
? Grab dinner at River’s Edge before or after you skate.
When? Weekends after Thanksgiving to the weekend before Christmas
Time? Fridays & Saturdays 12 pm to 9 pm, Sundays 12 pm to 7 pm
Where? 4150 Yancey Road Charlotte, NC
Cost? Free to attend, but grab a beer or food while you are there!
The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery Weihnachtsmarkt started in 2011 and is always growing and improving every year. If you can’t make it to Europe this holiday season, this really does transport you to a German Christmas Market right in Charlotte. Olde Mecklenburg Brewery is in the LoSo neighborhood of Charlotte and is our favorite brewery already. The holiday cheer makes it even better!
There are dozens of local Charlotte artisans and vendors selling their products out of wooden huts at the brewery. We love attending and grabbing presents to complete our Christmas list. We grabbed some great Charlotte art from local artist David Thayer French one year, his booth is always a favorite.
What to see checklist for Olde Meck:
? Grab a delicious German beer, our favorites are Captain Jack Pilsner and 704 Hoppy Wheat or a season Yule Bock or Dunkle
? Shop the local vendors for some great presents
? Grab some Gluhwein, a spiced holiday wine
? Enjoy the Christmas trees, lights, and holiday music
? Grab some festive food or hot cocoa by the fire pits
(Photo by the Charlotte Knights)
When? Black Friday to 12/23, Thursdays to Sundays
Time? Thursdays & Fridays 5 pm to 10 pm, Saturdays 12 pm to 10 pm, Sundays 12 pm to 8 pm
Where? 324 South Mint Street Charlotte, NC
Cost? $5 before 5 pm, $10 after 5 pm (you can stay after 5 pm if you enter before though)
(Photo by the Charlotte Knights)
The Charlotte Christmas Village has changed a few locations throughout the years, but now it is combined with the Light the Knights festival at the Charlotte Knights Stadium. So you can enjoy a German Christmas Village and get a light show at the same time. Win, win, right?
At the Charlotte Christmas Village you can enjoy holiday cheer, unique shopping, and the usual European menu including bratwurst, schnitzel, and strudel, along with the popular Gluhwein, hot cider, beers, and of course, hot chocolate.
The Charlotte Knights light up Uptown Charlotte with a walkthrough holiday experience at Truist Field. Feel the magic of the holidays from Christmas Tree Lane to the Snowtastic Winter Wonderland. You’ll be treated to tens of thousands of lights, beautiful Christmas trees, snow, and displays as you stroll through the ballpark.
(Photo by the Charlotte Knights)
What to see checklist for the Charlotte Christmas Village:
? See the Light the Knights that lights up every night, there are 10,000+ lights
? See Santa & grab a photo, he’s there every day!
? Grab some Gluhwein, a spiced holiday wine
? Shop the local vendors in the market & grab some traditional German food
? See a special performance, check the schedule here
When? Black Friday to New Years
Time? 5 pm to 9 pm Wednesdays to Sundays
Where? 6500 S New Hope Rd, Belmont, NC
Cost? $14.95/person, $12.95 60+, $7.95 kids 2 to 12, under 2 is free
Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens is a beautiful botanical garden located in Belmont, NC. Belmont is right beside Charlotte and very close to the Charlotte Airport. It is just across the Catawba River either on 74 or 85.
The gardens have 110 acres of spectacular gardens including a children’s garden, a conservatory dedicated to the display of tropical plants and orchids, a Dry Piedmont Prairie, annual and perennial displays, sparkling fountains, walking trails, and more. During the holidays they open in the evening for a spectacular holiday display.
You can enjoy trails and trails of Christmas lights, grab a bite from a local food truck, and grab a hot or cold drink at any of the outdoor bars throughout the gardens.
What to see checklist for the Holidays at the Gardens:
? Stroll through the gorgeous lights throughout the gardens
? Enjoy the beautiful Orchid Conservatory
? Roast a marshmallow beside a roaring fire
? Enjoy a glass of wine or local beer while touring the lights
? Grab food from a local food truck, you can see the schedule here
When? Mid-November to Mid-January
Time? 6 to 10 pm, nightly rain or shine
Where? 5555 Concord Pkwy S, Concord, NC
Cost? Weekdays $30/car, Weekends $40/car (vehicles max 15/person) For specific ticket prices see here.
The Speedway Lights is a really unique experience in the neighboring town of Concord. These are in the Charlotte Motor Speedway, which is pretty famous if you are into Nascar. A fan or not, it’s pretty cool to get to drive a Nascar track while you enjoy the lights.
This is one of the bigger light displays on this list with FOUR MILLION lights. The lights are synchronized to the radio as well, so make sure you tune into 101.3 FM when you turn in.
We suggest visiting this on a weekday or purchasing an express pass on the weekend. It can get BUSY! However, once you are in, take your time. There are plenty of passing areas to stop and take photos.
If you are already in Concord, visit Concord Mills just down the road too, for some outlet shopping for Christmas presents! It’s a massive mall where you will find just about anything.
What to see checklist for the Speedway Christmas:
? Drive on an actual Nascar track
? Stop in the middle to experience the Christmas Village Thursdays to Sundays
? Tune to 101.3 FM to enjoy synchronized music
? Enjoy four million lights strewn across a remarkable four-mile course
? Grab an express lane pass if you can only visit on the weekend for quicker entry.
When? Mid-November to early January
Time? Days and hours vary, so make sure to check the calendar.
Where? 14523 Carowinds Blvd, Charlotte, NC
Cost? Free if you have a Carowinds season pass, $32+/person if not, find full prices here
Carowinds is the Cedar Fair theme park located just down I-77 from Uptown Charlotte. It’s really unique because it is half in NC and half in SC, you can straddle the two states on your way into the park. It is 407 acres and a really neat theme park year road. They are open during the summer for their regular park and water park, have Scarowinds for Halloween, and then Winterfest for Christmas.
During the winter you can enjoy NINE themed areas with lots of lights, TEN shows both indoors & outdoors, select rides are open, there is a Christmas parade, and even a reindeer treat trail. All of this is included for free with your admission. If you want some extra fun, you can purchase a horse-drawn carriage ride, igloo rental, ice skating, cookie decorating, or pictures with Santa.
There are also lots of themed food and drinks for you to enjoy, plus a refillable hot cocoa mug you can purchase for your evening. Make sure you arrive in plenty of time because sometimes paying to park takes a while and can cause a delay in arriving.
What to see checklist for Carowinds Winterfest:
? All of the nine themed areas including. See the map here.
? Enjoy all of the ten shows, they are all fantastic. You can find the schedule here.
? Eat some yummy holiday treats or enjoy a beer or wine while strolling through the park.
? Don’t miss any of the rides from roller coasters to a carousel.
? Make sure to stay for the parade, it’s usually at 9 pm each night, or catch the tree lighting show at 5 pm.
When? December to New Years
Time? Every evening after dark
Where? Main Street Belmont, NC
We’ve already mentioned the town of Belmont with the Daniel Stowe Holiday Lights, but this little town itself is straight out of a fairytale. When you think of a small town Hallmark movie where you fall in love with a small shop owner… this is it ?
Main Street Belmont is lined with cute local boutiques, shops, bars, and restaurants and all of them really get into the holiday spirit. It’s a perfect place to complete your holiday list or grab a bite to eat.
However, they do something really special every holiday season: The Festival of Trees! You can browse Stowe Park and businesses along Main Street as they are filled with a display of festive trees decorated by local schools and non-profit organizations for all to enjoy throughout the month of December. You can find the map of the trees on the BelmontGO App.
What to see checklist for the Belmont Festival of Trees:
? Decorated trees in Stowe Park in the middle of town
? Explore the local shops, many have holiday displays as well
? Grab a bite to eat or drink at one of the great places downtown. One of our favorites? Nellie’s, it’s owned by the Jonas family… yes the Jonas Brothers.
? Check their other events to see if the Tree Lighting, Parade, or Christmas Village
Gingerbread Lane Ballantyne Hotel
When? Early December to Christmas
Time? 11 am to 7 pm daily
Where? 10000 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy, Charlotte, NC
Cost? Free, $1/vote if you want to vote – it’s a donation to charity
Gingerbread Lane is a neat experience at the Ballantyne Hotel in Charlotte. It’s one of our fanciest resorts, in one of our fanciest neighborhoods. Typically this would be where presidents stay when they come to visit Charlotte.
Every year the resort hosts a gingerbread contest that has 30+ entries. They have a child category, amateur category, and professional category. We didn’t even know there were professional gingerbread decorators! They are quite intricate and impressive! You can visit and tour the houses for free & it just costs $1/donation to vote for your favorite.
This is perfect for the whole family and they even have hot cocoa with liquor ?
Plus make sure to check out the beautiful hotel and maybe even book their holiday tea or cookie decorating too.
What to see checklist for Gingerbread Lane:
? Pay $1 to vote for your favorite gingerbread house, it’s a donation to charity
? Stop by the Gingerbread Hut for a cup of hot chocolate, with the option to add liqueur.
? Take a cookie decorating class (extra cost)
? Grab lunch or dinner at one of the resort’s restaurants
? Enjoy exploring one of the most beautiful resorts in Charlotte
Time? Depends on the bar
Where? 2021 Pop Up Bars
Jingle City: $5/kids, $15/adults
Sippin Santa: Drinks & Food
Miracle: Drinks & Food
Winter Wonder: Drinks & Food
Christmas Pop Up Bars started in Charlotte in 2019, with Jingle City Bar. For 2021 there are now four pop-up bars throughout the city. What are each other them?
Sippin Santa: A “Tropical, holiday-themed cocktails cleverly called: The Regifter, Yule Log Grog, Christmas Eve of Destruction and Mistletoe-to-Toe.” Reservations are required.
Jingle City Bar: A “gaudy Christmas pop-up bar that’s interactive, family-friendly, and festive,” and it’s kid-friendly until 8 pm, and adults-only after 8 pm. Tickets are required.
Miracle: “Typically, you need a special password found on their social media accounts to get in, but reservations are recommended to get access to the Christmas pop-up bar.”
Winter Wonder Bar: It has “Holiday decorations and warm cocktails perfect for sipping by the fire.”
We’ve been to Jingle City Bar multiple times and really enjoy it. It’s great, even if you don’t want a drink, to grab some Instagram photos and enjoy the decor. The other bars are also cocktail-focused, so if you want a beer this is the spot for you. There are DJs and a great atmosphere on TWO levels with THREE bars.
Enjoy the Holiday Season in Charlotte, NC
We hope this guide inspires you to visit Charlotte, NC, and the whole Charlotte area during Christmas time. There is SO MUCH that is happening, it’s a perfect Christmas trip. Plus you can add a day trip to the Biltmore Estate to make a truly magical Christmas experience. It’s a place like no other during the Christmas season. So whether it’s this year or a year in the future, make sure to make a trip to Charlotte for Christmas.
Looking for more to check out during your Charlotte trip?
There is so much else to explore in Charlotte. Start with some of our Charlotte guides to help plan the rest of your trip: