One of my favorite ways to celebrate the season is by taking a long drive through a lights display filled with Santas, snowflakes, reindeer, and more. No matter how old I get, twinkling decorations never fail to put me in the Christmas spirit.
My go-to is Winston-Salem’s Festival of Lights, a North Carolina favorite. There are hundreds more options though for those of us living in the South. Here, the most talked-about (and award-winning) displays to check out in each state.
Austin: The Trail of Lights, a USA Today Top 10 Holiday Celebration, is comprised of 1.25 miles of twinkling, shining holiday displays. Located in Zilker Park, a 155-foot tree made entirely of lights can be found in the center. December 7-21
Dallas: Stroll through the city’s Arboretum and Botanical Gardens at night for a special, brand new exhibit: The 12 Days at Night. Beautiful, lit-up holiday characters abound, along with refreshments and even carolers. November 16-January 4
Gatlinburg: Hop on Gatlinburg’s Trolley Ride of Lights, sit back, and enjoy the show. The annual “Winter Magic” light display features everything from joyful snowmen and rocking horses to animals indigenous to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Trolley times are 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 pm. November 12-January 25
Rock City: Located atop Lookout Mountain and just 6 miles from Chattanooga, Rock City Garden’s “Enchanted Garden of Lights” is celebrating its 20th year. November 21-January 3
New Orleans: More than 165,000 visitors show up every year to witness the annual Celebration in the Oaks holiday display in NOLA’s City Park. The park’s gorgeous natural landscape—which includes lagoons, oak groves, and moss-covered cypresses—is the perfect setting for train rides, walkways, and New Orleans’ iconic snowman Mr. Bingle. November 28-January 3
Natchitoches: Visitors and residents alike can celebrate the holidays in Natchitoches, the state’s oldest town, with carriage tours through its historic district, fireworks over Cane River, a Christmas by Candlelight Tour of Homes, or at the city’s extravagant Christmas Parade. Events take place in the Landmark Historic District along the Cane River Lake and along the Cane River Lake south of Natchitoches from November 22-January 6.
Theodore: Ranked by USA Today as one of the Top 10 Public Lights Displays in the Country, Bellingrath Gardens’ Magic Christmas in Lights is a beloved favorite. Guests will enjoy more than 3 million twinkling lights and 1,000 displays through the 65-acre estate. November 28-January 3
Birmingham: Wells Fargo ZooLight Safari just began on December 5. The event includes 1 million lights, festival “snowfalls” each night, holiday music, and more new light show displays, including a 30-foot tall giraffe. Take a ride on the Candy Cane Train, get your photo with Santa, and check out the hayrides and carousel too! December 5-7, 12-14, 18-23, & 26-31
Atlanta: One of the most stunning light displays around, Atlanta’s Garden Lights is an electrical extravaganza featuring extravagant holiday lights, plus appearances from giant butterflies, a unicorn, frogs, and more! November 15-January 3
Pine Mountain: According to National Geographic Traveler, Fantasy in Lights is one of the world’s Top 10 Places to See Holiday Lights. Guess can enjoy Christmas treats, dinner options, train rides, story time with Mrs. Claus, and more, too. November 21-December 30
Charleston: The annual Holiday Festival of Lights is a cherished holiday tradition for many families in the Southeast—one with worldwide recognition. It includes more than 700 displays and 2 million lights along a 3-mile route, plus attractions like the Enchanted Walking Trail, a a Victorian carousel, gingerbread house displays and more. November 14-January 1
Greenville: The Roper Mountain Holiday Lights show is celebrating its 23rd year. With 72 different displays, it is the only nonprofit light show in Greenville, raising more than $2 million for local charities and nonprofit organizations since 1992. November 27-December 31
Winston-Salem: Billed as a top event in the South, the Festival of Lights is a Triad favorite with more than 1 million lights plus carriages, hayrides, visits with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and more. November 22-January 1
Clayton: Lights on the Neuse is a one-mile long, 30-minute old-time tractor-pulled hayride through a beautiful Lights Extravaganza, filled with Christmas music and holiday magic. Celebrate the holidays on the banks of the Neuse River through December 24.
White Springs: Named a top 20 event in the Southeast, the Festival of Lights—hosted by the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park—is celebrating its 20th year with more than 5 million holiday lights on display. December 5-31
Jacksonville: At Jax Illuminations’ holiday lights display, guests will enjoy the magic of driving through a mile of twinkling holiday lights perfectly synchronized to holiday music. November 21-January 4
Virginia Beach: McDonald’s Holiday Lights at the Beach offers a shiny, nautical, adventurous holiday romp along the beautiful Virginia Beach boardwalk. Check out festive fish, jumping dolphins, and more—all in brilliant lighting against a clear night sky. November 21-January 3
Multiple cities: From Richmond to Newport News and beyond, 100 Miles of Lights features holiday events and displays in multiple cities across the state, including drive-thru and walk-thru light displays. November 27-January 1
Lexington: Featuring more than 1 million majestic lights, the 21st annual Southern Lights Holiday Festival will return to the Kentucky Horse Park this year. After driving through the brilliant display, guests are encouraged to park and check out the multitude of other holiday happenings nearby, including a petting zoo, pony rides, model trains, holiday crafts, and more. November 21-December 31
Louisville: Each year the Louisville MEGA Cavern is transformed into an underground holiday light spectacular for Lights Under Louisville. Load up the kids and enjoy a 30 minute ride through part of 17 miles of underground passageways, which features over 850 lit characters with over 2,000,000 points of light. It’s the only underground light show of its kind on the planet. November 21-January 4
Have I missed one of your favorites? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!