Twinkling lights, jolly decorations and festive activities are some of the many delights that make up the holiday season.
Many cities and towns across the South go above and beyond to capture the holiday spirit and share it with you so that you, in turn, can make some very merry memories.
One look at America’s Christmas Tree City Trail, and you’ll understand why Branson is nicknamed “America’s Christmas Tree City.” Discover 700 colorful and creative trees in all shapes and sizes, separate from the ones on display at Silver Dollar City’s An Old Time Christmas.
The city also shines brightly with various drive-through Christmas light displays, including the two-and-a-half-mile Trail of Lights at Shepherd Hills, Branson’s longest-running holiday lights, celebrating over 30 years.
Eureka Springs, Ark.
The eclectic historic town turns up the charm during the holiday season with such festivities as the drive-through light display at the Great Passion Play and the attraction’s Snow Train Village, said to be the largest train village display in the South. There’s also the Holiday Window Decorating Contest, where merchants decorate for the holidays and your vote.
Hotel properties get in on the fun as well. For example, the 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa, hosts the Christmas Tree Forest with over 30 decorated trees and other activities throughout the season. The glowing Basin Park Hotel offers a wealth of seasonal fun, too.
San Antonio, Texas
Discover the heart of the city’s holiday spirit on the River Walk with over 100,000 lights draping the bald cypress tree shining from sundown to sunrise every day until the first weekend following in January. And then there’s the Ford Holiday Boat Caroling and Ford Fiesta de las Luminaries, featuring over 2,000 luminaries.
San Antonio glows citywide from the Alamo Lights to Light the Way at the University of Incarnate Word to Lightscape at San Antonio Botanical Gardens to Natural Bridge Caverns. Oh, and speaking of the caverns, don’t miss the caroling in the chambers of Texas’ largest underground cavern.
Everything is bigger in Texas, including celebrations. With 40 days of Christmas events throughout Grapevine, it is easy to understand why the city is designated as the “Christmas Capital of Texas.”
Merriment ranges from historical activities at Nash Farm to traditional experiences in the Grapevine Christmas Village to the whimsical with classic Christmas cartoons and crafts at Lancaster Theatre. And, of course, there are lights and decorations throughout, including a Merry & Bright Christmas Drone Show.
Gaylord Texan Resort and Great Wolf Lodge are also in on the holiday fun. Gaylord Texan presents Lone Star Christmas with light shows, trees, themed entertainment, and more. Frolic in the daily indoor snow showers during Great Wolf Lodge’s Snowland. There are also seasonally themed crafts, holiday stories and much more.
The oldest city in Louisiana is home to the Christmas Festival of Lights, ranked by Yahoo! Travel as the third “Best Holiday Light Show,” behind Rockefeller Center and Disney Land.
Over 300,000 lights illuminate downtown Natchitoches, with over 100 lighted set pieces placed along the Cane River. Interesting tidbit, some pieces appeared in the 1989 movie, “Steel Magnolias,” filmed in Natchitoches. One of the longest-running holiday celebrations in America, clocking in at six weeks, it has everything, from tours to markets and more.
Natchitoches and Christmas Festival of Lights is a stop along Louisiana Holiday Trail of Lights that showcases eight of the state’s jolliest cities.
And while in Natchitoches, be sure to visit Christmas In The Park at Dark Woods Adventure Park. Take in over eight acres of lighted walkways with over 250,000 lights and displays. Don't miss the 128 foot lighted footbridge, along with snowflakes and a canopy of twinkling ice lights, and much more.
Whether it’s coming off the illumination from the light displays at the Celebration in the Oaks in City Park, the glow of the bonfires on the levees that assist Papa Noel, or the shine from the elaborate decor in hotel lobbies, New Orleans shimmers during the holiday season.
The Crescent City goes all out for the holidays with activities and events. Start the day by checking out the neighborhoods’ festive decorations, followed by ice skating (and more) at ChristmasFest NOLA. The next day, enjoy a concert at St. Louis Cathedral and indulge in a Réveillon (REV-ee-on) Dinner, a New Orleans tradition that dates back to the 19th century. The possibilities for holiday fun are endless.
Perched on a bluff overlooking the mighty Mississippi River, historic Natchez radiates small-town charm. Known as the “Little Easy,” the idyllic destination delivers a merry holiday experience for all ages.
Among the various events is caroling every Thursday evening in December at the festively decorated Memorial Park. Tours of stately historic homes, including The Towers Mansion’s “Jeweled Christmas Tours,” named by U.S.A. Today as one of the top 10 Most Unusual Christmas Displays in the U.S., and Christmas at Sunnyside: “Do You See What I See” tour highlighting over 30 decorated Christmas trees.
Travelers aren’t the only ones attracted to Natchez; film production crews are as well. Recently, the destination served as the backdrop for the 2021 Hallmark Channel Christmas movie “Every Time a Bell Rings,” and a self-guided tour of the filming locations is available.
Miss. Gulf Coast
Celebrating the holiday season in south Mississippi hits differently. The coastal cities transform themselves into yuletide wonderlands through various events, like the ones mentioned above and others, such as the Annual Biloxi Christmas in the City and Christmas Lights Festival at the Mississippi Coast Model Railroad Museum in Gulfport.
As everyone knows, snow in the South is a rarity, especially in the deep South, like Andalusia. However, during most of December, snow shows and snow-related activities, such as tubing and ice skating, take place in the town during Christmas in Candyland.
Other seasonal festivities include horse-drawn carriage rides, characters and train rides. There is also the Candyland Cottage Village, with themed cottages especially built for children to explore. And plenty of photo ops for the perfect social media post.
The sixteen counties of North Alabama are merry and bright during the holiday season, with such festivities as Galaxy of Lights (Huntsville), Christmas at the Falls (Gadsden), Christmas at the Grotto (Cullman), and much more.
There are decorated trees galore found at the Downtown Huntsville Tinsel Trail and North Pole Stroll in Athens, and some Santa sightings throughout the area, too. It’s impossible not to be surrounded by the magic of the holidays in North Alabama.
The merriment is also underground with Wonderland Under Warrior at Rickwood Caverns State Park, as the cave is festooned with over 100,000 twinkling lights and more.
Great Smoky Mountains
While it’s always a great time to visit the Smoky Mountains, there’s something extra special about Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville during Smoky Mountain Winterfest. Where else but here, well, in Gatlinburg, can one walk through a 300-tunnel of lights on the SkyBridge at Skylift Park.
There’s so much to see and enjoy, whether taking a stroll through Pigeon Forge’s Winterfest Wonders of Light Walking Trail or checking out Shadrack’s new Supersized Christmas Adventure at Soaky Mountain Waterpark in Sevierville; over 15 million lights shine, glow and twinkle within a 25-mile span.
Theme parks get in on the merriment, too. Gatlinburg’s Anakeesta hosts the Enchanted Winter Celebration featuring over three million lights, daily entertainment and visits from the man in red himself. Over at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, come home to Smoky Mountain Christmas with lights, shows, festive foods and more.
The holidays are a big deal in Chattanooga, with various events and activities and plenty of lights to brighten everyone’s holiday spirit. Discover the magic of the season by walking among snowflakes on the city’s pedestrian Walnut Bridge, taking in one of the city’s largest Christmas trees inside Chattanooga Choo Choo’s lobby or viewing EPB’s Holiday Windows, a seasonal tradition that dates back to WWII.
Chattanooga continues to radiate with Noogalights at Chester Frost Park and the Magic of Lights at the city’s Summit of Softball Complex, both drive-thru experiences decorated with lights and holiday displays.
Holidays in the “Scenic City” aren’t complete without visiting Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights with its six specialty-themed realms. There’s also the opportunity to walk through one of the world’s tallest and one-of-a-kind Christmas trees in the Magic Forest.
Memories are waiting to be made at Dahlonega’s Old Fashioned Christmas. The North Georgia mountain town, which served as the backdrop for the Hallmark movie, “Christmas in Homestead” (2016), transforms into a holiday vision with shimmering light adorning the historic square and horse-drawn carriage rides around downtown.
Merry festivities vary from the Christmas Market, caroling at the historic square, mulled wine weekends and more, including a Christmas cookie walk. The joyful experience also extends to the outdoors with the Festival of Trees at Hancock Park, featuring decorated trees.
Jekyll Island, Ga.
Over 35,000 colored twinkle lights decorate The Great Tree on Jekyll Island during Holly Jolly Jekyll. At first glance, that might not seem like a big deal for the holidays, but it’s said to be more lights per square foot than the Rockefeller Center Tree in New York City.
Hop on the trolley for a guided Holly Jolly Light Tours to see the coastal Georgia gem illuminated in holiday splendor. Other festive events include Peppermint Land, a mini-golf experience with life-sized candies and gingerbread characters, carols at Faith Chapel and more. There are even opportunities to indulge in hot chocolate, coffee, cookies and other goodies during Holly Jolly Jekyll.
Don’t overlook the more island-specific seasonal magic with horseback riding or creating well-wishes for Georgia Sea Turtle Center patients to place in their stockings.
St. Augustine, Fla.
Over three million white lights brighten 20 blocks of the Nation’s Oldest City’s historic district during Nights of Lights. And this isn’t any light display, either; National Geographic magazine recognized the multi-month event as “one of 10 best places in the world to see holiday lights.”
Brilliance aside, one aspect that makes the event unique is there are so many ways to take in the lights. Aside from taking a self-guided tour on foot, other options include a trolley, train, water, and guided tours.
Holiday cheer in St. Augustine continues with Lighthouse Illuminations with decorated trees and Christmas at Villa Zorayda Museum, featuring over 100 candles throughout the museum, among other seasonal events.
Key West, Fla.
Cool or cold weather isn’t always needed to enjoy the magic of the season; Key Weather’s balmy temperatures work just as well. From lights to decorations, the southernmost city celebrates the holidays with its unique touch.
View the not-to-be-missed Key West Lobster Trap Tree at Harbor Walk of Lights. The set-up reflects and honors the area’s rich maritime history with bright light displays that include anchors and tropical fish.
Also, see the historic inns and other buildings festively adorned. But, of course, the best (and definitely the most fun) way to experience jolly Key West and not miss anything is aboard a Conch Tour Train: Holiday Sights and Festive Lights or Old Town Trolley Holiday Lights & Sights Tours.
Holiday cheer is found throughout Greenville. On Main Street, it’s a 30-foot Christmas tree embellished with 25,550 LED lights and merchants’ holiday-themed windows.
It’s discovered in festive festivities such as the Bon Secours Festival of Trees with their decorated trees, within the millions of colorful lights at the Upstate Holiday Light Show in Easley, and in the many gingerbread creations at Winter in the Woods.
Merriment abounds in Greenville during the season.
Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Over 100,000 lights stretch close to one mile with Winter Wonderland at the Beach along Myrtle Beach's Boardwalk, while two million lights dazzle and awe on a 1.5-mile drive at The Great Christmas Light Show in North Myrtle Beach. Even the grandly decorated trees at Ripley’s Aquarium Festival Of Trees shine with seasonal pride.
No doubt about it, Myrtle Beach brings all the sparkles for the holidays.
The luminosity and festivities aren’t limited to Myrtle Beach, either. With 14 towns stretching along 60 miles of coastline, there are plenty of lighted Christmas trees and more to see. For example, Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet glows warmly from the lights of 2,700 hand-lit candles and sparkling lights during Nights of a Thousand Candles. In addition, Conway offers the Celebration of Lights, a drive-thru-themed light show.
What began in 1956 as decorating McAdenville Community Center’s trees with simple red, white and green lights grew into the town, transforming into Christmas Town U.S.A. each December to the delight of many.
Even today, red, white and green lights dress the common areas and town center. Homes are decorated, too, creating an evening holiday spectacle enjoyed either on foot or in the car.
The gracious Reynolda offers “Through the Years: Christmas at Reynolda” as part of their holiday programming. The tour provides a peek into Reynolda’s yuletide past. Afterward, visit Reynolda Village for some holiday shopping.
Stop by Korner’s Folly in nearby Kernersville for a tour. Known as “the Strangest Home in America,” it’s dressed in seasonal Victorian-inspired splendor. While in town, check out Spectacular Holiday Blooms at Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden, featuring works of art created from plastic bottles.
The holiday season in Louisville is magical. The city is filled with unique events like Louisville Mega Caverns' Lights Under Louisville, allowing guests to drive their own vehicle through the cavern to enjoy over 40 themed displays, 900 lit characters, over 6,000,000 points of light and more.
For more lights, the Winter Woods Spectacular in Iroquois Park is a 1/3-mile walk through featuring millions of twinkling lights and holiday scenes. Icicle arches, Moravian stars and a multicolor tunnel of lights are just some things to see at Gardens Aglimmer at Waterfront Botanical Gardens.
Head to Paristown for Fête De Noël. Go ice skating in their outdoor rink, find something special in the Winter Holiday Village and more.