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If you’re in the Southeast US, the holidays come with a special perk – you get the warmth of the Christmas season, along with actual warm weather! Though you might not have a “white Christmas,” the climate makes it easy to spend as much time as you want wandering and enjoying all the holiday cheer in the great outdoors. Here’s our list of the best places to do just that, with Christmas lights, drive-thrus and even fun rides for the whole family in the Southeast.
Alabama Christmas Lights
Magic Christmas in Lights, Bellingrath Gardens. This made-in-Alabama production features 1,100 set pieces that are designed, welded, painted and lamped by members of Bellingrath’s staff. Three employees work full-time all year on the light display that covers the 65-acre grounds. The annual event incorporates three million lights depicting 15 scenes. Choose lights and gardens only or add in tours of the estate home. This year, the event runs from November 25, 2022-January 4, 2023, from 8-9 p.m. every day.
The Nights of Lights display lights up all of the historic downtown in St. Augustine from November 19, 2022 to January 31, 2023. The trains and trolleys offer special seasonal tours of the best areas, along with a variety of specialty tours, from walking to electric cart rides to tours to see the lights from the water and the air.
Georgia Christmas Lights
The Botanical Garden dubs its light display Garden Lights, Holiday Nights. Wander through the 30-acre Midtown attraction to orchestral orbs, a glittering galaxy, the radiant rainforest and massive Tunnel of Light while sipping hot drinks. This year’s dates are November 12, 2022-January 14, 2023. Tickets are only available online. Non-member ticket prices depend on dates and range from $27.95-$47.95 for adults. Tickets for children ages 3-12 range from $24.95-$44.95 (children under age 3 are free).
Head to Fantasy in Lights at Callaway Gardens to see eight million Christmas lights and a sound show with 15 scenes. This display was named one of the world’s top 10 by National Geographic Traveler. You can drive your own car through the display or take the festive Jolly Trolly. The event opens November 18, 2022 and runs through January 2, 2023. Tickets range from $24.95-$39.95 for adults and $19.95-$34.95 for kids ages 3-11 depending on projected attendance. Children 2 and under are free. Fantasy in Lights tickets are included in overnight stays at Callaway Gardens.
What kid doesn’t like a train ride – or adult for that matter? That’s the way to see the lights at the Okefenokee Swamp Park Light Show in Waycross. The Lady Suwanee train ride travels 1.25 miles through a Georgia pine forest in the great Okefenokee. Rides will run on select dates from November 27-December 27. Trains run every 30 minutes. The first train leaves at 6, the last train leaves at 9 p.m. Tickets are $14 per person.
Lights Under Louisville is one of those awe-inspiring attractions. Enjoy a ride through the Christmas lights at MEGA Caverns. It claims to be the world’s only fully underground drive-thru Christmas lights show. Plan to spend about 30 minutes driving through the 17 miles of underground passageways to see 3 millions points of light. Hours are 6-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 5-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Dates this year are from November 11, 2022-January 2, 2023. Tickets are by the carload for $32.99 for cars, trucks and minivans.
Read More: What’s Great About Lights Under Louisville
Louisiana Christmas Lights
The Louisiana Holiday Trail of Lights is the way to extend your Christmas lights adventure! Driving east to west on I-20, and north to south on I-49, wind through eight of North Louisiana’s most festive cities — Minden, Shreveport-Bossier, Monroe-West Monroe, Natchitoches and Alexandria/Pineville. Each city has its own special way of lighting up the season. Runs from Thanksgiving to the New Year, although exact dates may vary a bit by location.
The blues wrap over 100,000 lights in a special vibe in the Mississippi Delta town of Cleveland. “You might say this is where it all started: the birthplace of the blues,” according to blues legend B. B. King. Walk the downtown trail of lights for 50 nights from November 12, 2022-January 1, 2023, or drive the route. Admission is free for walking or driving. You can also consider spending the night in a limited-service hotel or full-service luxury. The boutique Lyric Hotel in Cleveland’s West End District has 65-rooms and the Cotton House Cleveland on Cotton Row invokes Cleveland’s history. Find James Beard Award nominee Chef Cole Ellis at the hotel’s Delta Meat Market.
Speedway Christmas at the Charlotte Motor Speedway is, of course, a drive-through display. What else would you expect from this NASCAR mainstay? Now in its 12th year, this event gets bigger and better every time. Expect to see more than 4 million lights over the 3.75-mile course that includes most of the oval as well as the infield. Tune in to 101.3 FM to listen to Christmas music while you drive. From Thursday-Sunday, stay for a Christmas-themed drive-in theater with the FOX 46 WJZY Movie Nights on the giant Speedway TV. This year, it runs November 18, 2022-January 8, 2023, excluding Christmas Eve, from 6-10 p.m. Tickets are $40 per vehicle, with express lane passes available for an additional $30.
At Lights Before Christmas at the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, the creatures and characters will be 1 million lights. Nutcrackers and candy canes are mixed in with the lighted lions and tigers and bears, oh my! The event runs on select dates from November 19-December 30 from 5-9 p.m. Adult tickets are $15, and children ages 2-12 are $12. Kids under 2 get in free.
Brookgreen Gardens’ Nights of a Thousand Candles was named “Best Christmas Lights in South Carolina” by Travel+Leisure Magazine. This year, it runs Thursday-Sunday from November 26, 2022-January 1, 2023, as well as Wednesday, December 28. Hours are 4-9 p.m. Expect to see more than 2,700 hand-lit candles and countless sparkling lights. Walk the paths with a warm cup of cider and listen to carolers singing holiday music. Tickets MUST be purchased beforehand and space is limited. Adult non-member tickets are $35 and children are $17.
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A quick drive from downtown Chattanooga, Rock City Garden’s Enchanted Garden of Lights features 30 holiday scenes, live toy soldiers, animatronic polar bears, Inara the ice queen and trees that dance. There are four themed paths called “Realms of Wonder:” the Arctic Kingdom, Magic Forest, Yule Town and North Pole Village. The Enchanted Garden is open from November 18, 2022-January 1, 2023, excluding Christmas Eve. Timed tickets are required and available only online. Pricing starts at $27.95 for adults and $17.95 for kids ages 3-12.
Gaylord Opryland’s ICE! and A Country Christmas at Gaylord Opryland Resort are an annual tradition. Look for 2 million pounds of hand-carved, colored ice sculptures depicting scenes from Christmas movie favorites such as A Christmas Story, Elf and The Polar Express. The event runs November 11, 2022-January 1, 2023. Tickets start at $29.99 for adults and $22.99 for kids ages 4-11. Hours vary by date, but the first hour of each day is usually reserved for hotel guests.
Find more Christmas lights at Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas, when the park is filled with holiday music, a nightly Parade of Lights, fireworks every Friday and Saturday evening, and more than nine different stage productions, including the annual headline show, “Christmas in the Smokies.” This year, Smoky Mountain Christmas runs from November 5, 2022-January 1, 2023. Old Mill Square’s Holiday Open House features a holiday light display of a covered bridge that is made out of thousands of twinkling lights that lead to one of the most historic areas of Pigeon Forge. At Christmas at Dolly Parton’s Stampede, see a 60-foot-tall tree, adorned with colorful lights, ribbons and sparkling ornaments. At The Island in Pigeon Forge, see three different Christmas trees with nearly 40,000 ornaments, half a million lights and more than 5,000 feet of garland.
The 100 Miles of Lights display winds through seven Virginia cities — from Richmond, the Virginia capital city, through Williamsburg, Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach — Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day. Specific event times available for each city. Lighted boat parades, city illuminations, festivals, parades, living history reenactments, caroling, dining events, music and dance are among the many activities occurring throughout the region.
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens’ Winter Walk of Lights was named the #1 Botanical Garden with “Wow-Factor Winter Transformations” by Fodors. It’s a half-mile walk of lights with perennial favorites such as the Lakeside Lights, the Fountain of Lights, and the Holiday Nature Walk, as well as new displays each year. The event runs from November 11, 2022-January 8, 2023. Hours vary slightly: it’s open from 5:30-10 p.m. from November 11-December 8, and 5-10 p.m. on “prime nights” from December 9-January 8. Timed tickets are only required for prime nights, but are strongly recommended for all visitors.
Bull Run Festival of Lights & Holiday Village is a 2.5 mile drive-through display. This year, it runs from November 11, 2022-January 8, 2023. Hours are 5:30-9:30 p.m. from Monday-Thursday and 5:30-10 p.m. from Friday-Sunday, as well as on holidays. Purchase tickets in advance to save $10 per vehicle instantly! Tickets are $30 in advance and $40 at the gate. On select dates, there is an additional $5-$10 off for tickets purchased online. The annual Holiday Village will be open every day, as well as the Carnival with rides and more activities.
ZooLights at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo is finally returning for 2022 after a two-year hiatus! The event will be open Friday-Sunday from November 25-December 11, as well as every day from December 16-30 (excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). Please note that while admission is free, a ticket is still required, so make sure to get yours in advance. Tickets will be available for each date two weeks ahead of time. Parking is $30.
Attracting more than 1 million visitors a year, the Winter Festival of Lights at Oglebay Resort in West Virginia features 300 acres of twinkling lights along a six-mile drive, then stroll through the Gardens of Light at The Hilltop. The event runs every night from November 10, 2022-January 8, 2023 (including holidays!), starting at dusk and running until midnight. The suggested donation is $30 per vehicle.