Nov 20, 2023 - Things to Do

Holiday guide: 26 festive things to do in Charlotte this winter

Mistletoe Market at Camp North End. Photo: Courtesy of Julia Fay.

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The 2023 holiday season is in full swing in Charlotte.

From festive lights to outdoor skating rinks, here are 27 things to do in Charlotte to keep your spirits bright.

Slip on your skates to go ice skating at Camp North Pole

Camp North End is celebrating the holidays with a pop-up outdoor skating rink this winter. You can also watch the action in a cozy warming station while you sip on seasonal drinks.

Dates: Nov. 22 – Jan. 7

Cost: $15 for general admission and $10 for children 5 and under. Prices include skate rentals.

Location/Hours: It’ll be located at Ford Factory in Camp North End. It’s open Monday through Thursday 4-9pm, Friday 4-10pm, Saturday 12-10pm and Sunday 12-9pm.

  • Holiday hours are 12-10pm during Nov 22. – Nov. 25  and Dec. 20 – Jan. 2 and 12-5pm on Dec. 24.

Check out UCity Lights Festival in University City

The first-ever winter celebration will have ornament decorating, hot cocoa, tree lighting and a special visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. Toys for Tots will also be collecting toy donations for kids of all ages.

Date: Friday, Dec. 1 from 5-9pm. Tree lighting starts at 7pm.

Cost: Free

Location: The Shoppes at University Place  

Admire the Carolina Holiday Light Spectacular in Ballantyne

View more than a million lights and displays on along a half-mile walking trail at Ballantyne’s Backyard. Expect music, oversized snow globes, a holiday village shop, snow tube slide, snowflake wands, a visit from Santa and dance performances. 

Dates: Dec. 7-30

  • Grand Lighting Ceremony on Dec. 7. Carolina Panthers offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman and his wife Nikki will host opening night. Proceeds benefit The Bradley and Nikki Bozeman Foundation. 
  • Holiday Spirits Wine Stroll on Dec. 27. Receive a souvenir glass and sip from 12 spirit-tasting stations. Proceeds benefit the Isabella Santos Foundation.

Cost: $10-$15 for general admission Monday through Thursday and $15-$20 Friday through Sunday. It’s $12 to ride along the snow tube slide. 

Related story: 13 must-see holiday light displays in Charlotte

Go ice skating at the Whitewater Center and enjoy other winter activities

The Whitewater Center will have more than ice skating and Christmas lights this winter. You’ll also find:

  • Ice skating returned Nov. 17. and runs through mid-February. It costs $25 to skate along 24,000 square feet of ice.
  • There’s also a pond hockey league that begins Dec. 4, which will follow a three-vs-three format. League registration is now open online.
  • Canyon at Night starts Nov. 17. With an activity pass you can use suspension bridges, ziplines and rope bridges to explore the canyon that’s illuminated with Christmas lights. You can explore the night trail for free. 

[Related story: Year-round yoga, outdoor hockey and adventure dining are coming to the U.S. National Whitewater Center this winter]

ice skating whitewater center charlotte
Axios archives

Experience Carowinds’ Winterfest

Details: Catch dazzling light displays and live shows or do a hands-on activity like cookie decorating. Winterfest is jam-packed with fun and immersive holiday festivities that the entire family can enjoy.

  • The WinterFest Wonderland parade will start at 9pm and feature a special guest from Mr. Claus himself.

Dates: Open select nights Nov. 17 through Jan. 1, 2023.

Cost: $32.99+

Location/hours: 300 Carowinds Blvd. Winterfest hours vary by day.

WinterFest Snow Flake Lake
WinterFest’s ‘Snow Flake Lake’ ice skating rink. Photo courtesy of Carowinds.

Visit Santa

Details: Santa Claus is coming to town — and he’s making stops at several local malls.

Dates:

  • SouthPark – Nov. 9 through Dec. 24.
  • Concord Mills – Nov. 22 through Dec. 24.
  • Northlake – Nov. 24 through Dec. 24.
  • Bass Pro Shops & Cabela’s – Nov. 4 through Dec. 24.

Cost: Photo packages range from $39.99-$49.99. Free with a reservation at Bass Pro Shops & Cabela’s.

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Board The Polar Express at the N.C. Transportation Museum.

Details: Experience the magic of the popular holiday book/movie during this Polar Express-inspired train ride. The trip is set to the sounds of the movie and includes hot chocolate and cookies, plus a story reading of “The Polar Express.”

  • Kiddos are encouraged to wear their pajamas to enjoy the experience.

Dates: Nov. 11-12, 17-19, 24-26 and Dec. 1-3, 7-10, 12-23.

Cost: $34+.

Location/hours: 1 Samuel Spencer Dr.

Shop locally for your holiday gifts 

Details: Tis the season for holiday pop-up shops. Be sure to check out Mistletoe Market at Camp North End on Dec. 2, 9 and 16 from 3-8pm.

agenda holiday gift guide shop local
Photo: Emma Way/Axios

Enjoy holiday lights from your car at Speedway Christmas

Details: The Charlotte Motor Speedway will once again transform into a Winter Wonderland for the holiday season. This four-mile drive-thru display features five million lights synched with holiday music that you can listen to on your car radio.

  • Every Thursday through Sunday, visitors can enjoy a bustling Christmas village and catch holiday movie classics like “The Grinch,” “Elf” and “Home Alone.”

Dates: The light show happens daily from 6-10pm from Nov. 17 to Jan. 7, 2024.

Cost: Tickets start at $35 per car on Monday-Wednesday. On Thursday-Sunday, it’s $45 per car.

Location/hours: 5555 Concord Pkwy. S. Hours are from 6-10pm.

charlotte motor speedway christmas
Photo: Emma Way/Axios

Go for a stroll through the Daniel Stowe Gardens

Details: The Daniel Stowe Gardens transform into a winter wonderland for the annual “Holidays at the Garden” event. Walk along the trail and take in the dazzling light displays, then stop by one of the food trucks for a quick bite or a warm drink.

Dates: Nov. 24 through Dec. 23.

Cost: $25 for adults, $23 for seniors 60+, $15 for children 2-12, free for children under 2.

Location/hours: 6500 S. New Hope Rd., Belmont. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 5-10 pm.

hallway of holiday lights at Daniel Dtowe
Photo: Andrew Weber/Axios

Ice skate and snow tube at Light the Knights

Details: The ballpark will be illuminated with tens of thousands of lights, festive holiday displays and maybe even a bit of snow this holiday season. Expect ice skating, snow tubing, shopping and holiday treats.

Dates: Nov. 22 through Jan. 1.

Cost: $10 for admission, $40 for admission + activities (ice skating and snow tubing) and $129 for a season package.

Location/hours: Truist Field (324 South Mint St.).

Charlotte Knights, Light the Knights
Photo credit Laura Wolff

Watch the Thanksgiving Parade in person on Thanksgiving eve

Details: The 77th annual Novant Health Thanksgiving Parade will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 22, in Uptown at 5:45pm.

  • Floats, performers and large inflatables will parade down Tryon Street from 9th Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
  • If you’re too busy prepping the turkey for the next day, you can watch the parade on WCCB starting at 6pm.

Cost: General admission is free. VIP tickets, which guarantee seating between Tryon Street from Levine Avenue to Brooklyn Village Avenue, are $25.

Thanksgiving parade
Photo: Andy Weber/Axios

Experience holiday magic at Festival of Trees in Belmont, N.C.

Details: Downtown Belmont will twinkle with the lights and ornaments of community-decorated Christmas trees. The festivities kick off on Nov. 28 with a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, caroling and other fun holiday activities throughout the evening.

Dates: Nov. 28 through Jan. 1, 2024

Cost: Free

Location/hours: Downtown Belmont (24 South Main St.).

Visit McAdenville

Details: Also known as “Christmas Town USA,” McAdenville (in Gaston County) is known for its spectacular light displays that have garnered national attention.

  • Visitors can drive or walk along the 1.3-mile route and peruse the town’s local vendors and restaurants while taking in the dazzling displays and twinkling lights.
  • The tree lighting ceremony will take place on Dec. 1 at 5:30pm and the yule log parade will happen on Dec. 14 at 5pm.

Dates: Dec. 1-26.

Cost: Free.

Location/hours: Downtown McAdenville. Light displays take place daily from 5:30-10pm.

See beautiful holiday home displays at the Fourth Ward Sip and Stroll

Details: This self-guided, porch-crawl-style tour lets guests stroll through the Historic Fourth Ward and check out all the stunning holiday displays. There will be holiday music plus food and cocktail tastings along the way.

Dates: Dec. 7-9.

Cost: $30-$60.

Location/hours: Historic Fourth Ward. Daily from 5-9pm.

fourth ward house
Photo: Bri Crane/Axios

Vote for the best gingerbread house in the country at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville.

Details: The 31st Annual National Gingerbread House Competition will be held on Nov. 20. The gingerbread display begins on Monday, Nov. 27, and will continue through Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024.

  • Guests not staying at the resort can view the display after 4pm on Sundays or anytime Monday-Thursday. 

Cost: Free

Location/hours: 290 Macon Ave., Asheville, N.C. 

Bonus: If you’re already in Asheville, pop over to the Biltmore Estate to view America’s largest home decorated for Christmas.

  • There are two ticket options: the daytime celebration ($110) and the candlelight Christmas evenings ($125).
gingerbread lane
Ted Williams/Axios

Go to a performance of the Charlotte Ballet’s Nutcracker.

Details: One of the best holiday traditions in the city is back on stage at the Belk Theater. The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra accompanies the Charlotte Ballet with musical selections composed by Tchaikovsky like the well-known “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”

Dates: Dec. 8-23.

Cost: $30-$151

Location/hours: Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Showtimes vary.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Ballet.

Dine outside by the fire

Details: With the weather cooling down, there are a few restaurants with heaters or fireplaces to keep you warm while you dine outside.

  • Billy Sunday at Optimist Hall (1115 N Brevard St.) — Sip on some warm cocktails and grab some s’mores and a blanket on Billy Sunday’s patio, which has tables with fire pits built into them. 
  • Ruru’s (15 Providence Road) – This Myers Park taco spot has string lights and heaters on its patio.
  • Link & Pin (155 New Bern St.) – This is a dreamy covered and heated patio with Southwest-facing sunlight that’ll keep you warm in the evening. 
  • Charlotte Beer Garden (1300 S. Tryon St.) – The three-story beer garden has space to spread out and both heaters and fire pits outside.

[Related story: 19 Charlotte restaurants with heated outdoor dining]

Cut down your own Christmas tree in the mountains.

Details: There are several choose-and-cut farms within driving distance of Charlotte. Some include Circle C Tree Farms in Boone, C & J Christmas Trees in Boone and Appalachian Evergreens in Blowing Rock.

Some local lots with pre-cut trees include:

[Related story: 11 places to get a Christmas tree including local lots and mountain tree farms]

Simpson Family Christmas Trees
Photo: Symphony Webber/Axios

Tree Lighting Festival at Bank of America Stadium

Details: Charlotte FC and the Carolina Panthers are inviting all fans and their families to the Tree Lighting Festival, on Tuesday, Nov. 21, at Bank of America Stadium.

  • The festival returns to the corner of Mint and Graham streets outside of Bank of America Stadium and will begin at 5pm.
  • The event is free, but tickets are required to attend.
bank of america christmas tree
Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Sip on festive drinks from local holiday pop-up bars

  • Tinseltown at Billy Sunday will operate from Nov. 29-Dec. 31
  • House of Krampus at Humbug runs from Dec. 1-23.
  • Sippin’ Santa at The Royal Tot takes place Nov. 21-Dec. 31.
  • Miracle at Backstage Lounge will be open Nov. 22-Dec. 30. 
  • The “Ugly Holiday Sweater” Speakeasy at Supperland is from Nov. 26- Jan. 6, 2024. 

[Related Story: 9 Christmas pop-up bars coming to Charlotte in 20233]

The Royal Tot Christmas Pop Up Bar
Sippin’ Santa Pop Up. Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios

Take a horse-drawn carriage ride at the Billy Graham Library

Details: The Graham Family Homeplace is decorated for the holidays and has activities every day and night. During the day, explore the grounds while sipping on hot chocolate, stop by the petting zoo and grab a bite at the Graham Brothers Dairy Bar. 

  • At night, the Billy Graham Library grounds are transformed into a festive celebration, complete with horse-drawn carriage rides, carolers, a live nativity scene, storytime for kids and shopping at Ruth’s Attic bookstore.

Dates: Dec. 1-23

Location/ Hours: Monday through Thursday, 5-9pm, Friday and Saturday, 5-10pm. at 4330 Westmont Dr. 

Cost: Both admission and parking are free. Reservations are required.

  • Horse-drawn carriage rides are $12 for adults and $6 for kids under 12.

Spice up the holidays with spirits from Southern Distilling Company

Details: Southern Distilling Company is holding its holiday celebration on Saturday, Dec. 9. There’ll be a cocktail competition, tree decorating contest and a visit from Santa. Proceeds support three local charities.

Location/ Hours: 3-8pm at 211 Jennings Road, Statesville.

Cost: $25

Christmas in Davidson

Details: Enjoy holiday light shows, a live nativity, live music, great food and holiday shopping in the town of Davidson.

Location/ Hours: Nov. 30 and Dec. 1-2 from 6-9pm in Downtown Davidson.

Cost: Free

Holiday happenings at Optimist Hall

Details: The holiday season kicks off Saturday, Dec. 9, at Optimist Hall with Santa Claus and hot cocoa from 10am-12pm.

  • Celebrate the season at the hall with festive tenant specials and live music​​ on Friday, Dec. 15, from 6-9pm. 

Location/ Hours: Optimist Hall is located at 1115 N Brevard St.

Cost: Free

[Related Story: Everything you need to know about Optimist Hall]

Billy sunday holiday cocktails
(From left to right) Billy Sunday’s 2023 holiday drinks: Advice from a narwal (brandy sour with mulled wine spices), House-made egg nog, and the Hallelujah Holy Sh*t where’s the Tylenol (cranberry vodka, rosemary sparkling wine). Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios

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