15 North Carolina Towns That Become Magical In The Winter
A southern winter wonderland is one sleigh ride away!
It’s the most magical time of the year, and while we can’t promise snow will ever enter the forecast in resiliently warm N.C. this season, our Tar Heel state has plenty to offer in the way of picturesque Christmas villages tucked away in gorgeous mountain towns. Snowscape or not, the ornate decorations and historic architecture in these North Carolina winter hideaways are sure to create lasting memories for holidays to come.
From the nationally renowned Christmas Town, the U.S.A. to the secret treasures hidden within the state’s national parks, read on to find out more about the 15 towns in North Carolina that become truly breathtaking in the winter.
Designated as Christmas Town, U.S.A., McAdenville tops the list as one of the must-see towns this season. With over 260 evergreen trees decked out in red, white and green lights throughout the town which borders a large lake, the scene is like something out of A Christmas Carol.
Over 500,000 lights illuminate this popular winter destination. The annual tree-lighting ceremony takes place each year on December 1. You’ll want to plan accordingly for your visit to this tourist hotspot: The town is known to draw over 600,000 visitors to its annual Christmas light show.
Located across from the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, the Biltmore Village is one of the state’s best offerings in the way of local, holiday shopping in a historic setting. Built by George Vanderbilt in the 1800s, the village hosts an annual Dickens of a Christmas show, featuring live performances by the Montford Park Players as well as a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony.
Visitors will enjoy shopping local merchants’ wares and marveling at the charming architecture that has remained true to its era. The town truly is the perfect backdrop for the annual Dickens homage and should not be left out of your winter wonderland bucket list.
Escape to Historic Downtown Franklin in this charming mountain village that transforms into a place worthy of North Pole wonder during the holiday season. The upcoming Winter Wonderland events held on November 24 and December 1 will feature special activities, including local vendors and shopping, horse-drawn carriage rides and the annual tree-lighting ceremony.
Franklin’s mountain town offers more than just the opportunity to enjoy a local festival. The beautiful landscape surrounding this historic mountain town will transport you back to the days of the first Christmas celebrations held on American soil.
The artsy mountain village of Dillsboro will have you believing in Christmas magic once again, especially after paying a visit to the annual Dillsboro Festival of Lights & Luminaries. During the first two weekends in December, this beautiful little town illuminates the historic streets with over 2,500 candles in white bags as an adapted Scandinavian custom of lighting away for the Christ child.
During the festival, artist galleries and local vendors remain open late into the night, serving warm beverages and homemade goodies to patrons exploring the town. Horse-drawn carriage rides, Christmas caroling and Santa visits are just a few of the reasons this town is a holiday favorite in this southern state.
Ever wonder what it would be like to take a ride on the Polar Express? Now’s your chance to live your childhood dream with a tour on Bryson City’s Polar Express on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The iconic tour based on the classic holiday tale features a 1.5-hour round-trip train ride through the woods to the “North Pole,” where Santa boards the train bearing gifts for all.
It’s a great activity to do with the family, but aside from awakening your inner child, Downtown Bryson City offers its own ethereal atmosphere with plenty of great shopping located in historic buildings. Take a stroll through this quiet and Christmassy little town this winter with your loved ones in tow.
Give your wild side some love this season and take in some breathtaking views in the process. We’re speaking, of course, about a trip to Beech Mountain. Renowned as North Carolina’s go-to destination for skiing, the Beech Mountain Ski Resort is just one of the features that make this southern treasure so magical in the winter.
With plenty of great dining choices, local retailers and breathtaking views from all around, be sure you carve out time in your busy winter schedule to visit the highest town in the Eastern United States.
A popular destination for local history, Sylva is also a vision to behold during the winter season. The most-photographed courthouse in North Carolina, the Jackson County Courthouse, is home to a full lawn of ornate, illuminated Christmas trees in honor of the holiday season. It’s a spectacular sight met with great enthusiasm from locals and tourists alike.
If you climb the 107 steps to the top of the courthouse, you’ll turn around to an incredible view of the historic and quaint Sylva tucked between the mountains. It’s an unforgettable scene that shouldn’t be missed this winter.
Historic Downtown Waynesville hosts a plethora of holiday events and seasonal festivities during winter, chief among them being A Night Before Christmas. Held each year on the second Saturday of December, Waynesville honors an old-fashioned holiday celebration, complete with caroling, wagon rides, Bethlehem marketplace, and luminaries.
A parade is also held through town, where horse-drawn carriages make a festive appearance, spreading good cheer throughout this romantic village. You won’t want to miss your chance to take in the magic of this mountain town.
The largest living Christmas tree in North Carolina sits on the courthouse lawn in Rutherfordton, where locals gather for an annual lighting ceremony to behold its twinkling glory. Needless to say, this town takes winter serious, offering visitors a plethora of seasonal activities that are sure to please even the greenest Grinch in your family tree.
An annual snowman-decorating contest and Christmas parade add extra flair to this town’s festive offerings. There’s no doubt about it: Rutherfordton does the holiday season right, and it’s something all North Carolina residents have simply got to experience for themselves.
Brevard takes winter wonderland to the next level with unparalleled natural beauty and frozen landscapes that leave a lasting impression well beyond the springtime thaw. Experience Looking Glass Falls’ cascading waters as they tumble down a snow-capped edifice or go mining for gems in Crystal Mountain.
Your ultimate outdoor winter dreams await you in Brevard. With plenty of year-round hiking trails, waterfalls, and picturesque vantage points, this mountain town is the perfect backdrop for your next Christmas card. Grab your adventure buddies and get lost in the nearby Pisgah National Forest as you take in the magic of winter in Brevard.
Head on up to Banner Elk for a perfect winter in a cozy cabin. The Sugar Mountain Resort offers plenty in the way of winter sports: skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, ice skating and much more.
Aside from these playful activities, visitors will enjoy taking in the natural wonders Banner Elk has to offer in the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. You can even plan for an eerie spin on your southern winter wonderland tour by making a stop at the Land of Oz, the abandoned set from the Wizard of Oz.
Tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Maggie Valley is a great destination for thrill seekers, nature lovers, foodies and shopaholics alike. With the gorgeous backdrop of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s no wonder this North Carolina mountain town makes our list of most magical places to visit during the winter.
Ski at the Cataloochee Ski Area, find a frozen waterfall and take in all the local flavor and festivities of this cozy mountain village. You’ll never need to buy another Christmas card again after taking all the pictures your memory will allow at this adorable town.
Winter in Downtown Raleigh is an experience unlike any other. The annual Ipreo WinterFest draws thousands of visitors, featuring such mainstays as the Raleigh ice skating rink, Ferris wheel, carousel, super slide, gingerbread house competition, food trucks, vendors, a holiday tree-lighting ceremony and much more.
This fantastic local festival is not only an incredibly fun place to kick-start the holiday season, but Raleigh’s spirited decor and smiling locals transform this already beautiful town into a Christmas miracle during the winter season. Truly something every Tar Heel should experience, you’ve got to get to Raleigh this year for the downtown WinterFest.
Blowing Rock is home to many trails, overlooks, and historic structures that make the quiet mountain town a unique and beautiful winter destination. With an eclectic WinterFest held in late January, featuring a dog show and polar plunge, and plenty of scenic hikes to discover within its nearby forests, Blowing Rock is one of the best places to escape to during the winter months.
Head out to the Appalachian Ski Mountain while staying in Blowing Rock and enjoy the nine slopes and three terrain parks. Take a stroll downtown through the local shops and eateries the town has to offer. At night, enjoy the Festival of Lights at Chetola Resort for an incredibly breathtaking view of the village. It’s an amazing place to experience during the holidays.
Just because it’s a city doesn’t mean it can’t compete with the mountain views of Brevard and Beech Mountain. The Queen City doesn’t get its nickname for nothing: The royal light shows Charlotte offers her citizens throughout the year are only enhanced during the holiday season. Residents will enjoy a series of holiday pop-up markets featuring goods from local vendors, food trucks, brewery, and wine tastings and a decked-out cityscape with full festive lighting to get your spirits merry and bright.
Take a stroll through the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden for a holiday light show you won’t soon forget, or spend some time mingling at the Mint Museum Randolph during their holiday pop-up shop event. Head out to the hills of nearby Concord to take in the view of the Queen City skyline from afar. It’s North Carolina’s equivalent to a star on top of the tree—timeless and elegant.
Make sure you take time to enjoy the natural wonders of the world this winter. Sometimes the best things in life really are free, and luckily, North Carolina residents have no shortage of unforgettable (and free) activities with its plentiful mountain towns and historic villages. Have a favorite destination in this southern state that didn’t make the list? Let us know about it in the comments below. Don’t forget to show us pictures of your last trip!