8 Ways Asheville Sparkles for the Holidays

Winter Lights at the NC Arboretum

Every holiday season needs a little bit of sparkle—the twinkle of lights, the flicker of a fireplace, the shimmer of sugarplums or the glow of candlelight. Asheville, North Carolina brings all the sparkle—and gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountain views—to your holiday season this year with festive ways to play, indulge and get away from it all.

Discover how Asheville shines for the holidays!

1. Go to town.

Holiday Lights Downtown Asheville

Asheville’s busy downtown sidewalks shine in holiday style, thanks to "Local Lights" displays in Pack Square Park and Pritchard Park (Canceled for 2020). A 10-foot gilded purple snowflake in Pack Square Park makes for the perfect selfie. While being merry, don’t forget to eat and drink off the seasonal menus at the local restaurants, bars, and breweries that have earned Asheville its reputation as a top foodie and craft beer destination.

2. Oh, Christmas trees.

Drive through lights display as part of Winter Lights at the NC Arboretum in Asheville, NC

As the sun sets, the North Carolina Arboretum’s 434 acres transform into a glowing winter wonderland, strewn with thousands of lights. In light of social distancing guidelines, the Winter Lights celebration (November 20, 2020-January 10, 2021) changes format for 2020 from a walk-thru experience to a dreamy drive-thru adventure. This drive-thru experience is designed to give you an opportunity to enjoy this Asheville holiday tradition safely from within your own vehicle. You will navigate through a one-mile stretch of the Arboretum’s campus and see unique exhibits covered in thousands of holiday lights. 

3. (Biltmore) home for the holidays.

Christmas at Biltmore 2018

See Biltmore in a different, opulent light with its Candlelight Christmas Evenings (November 6, 2020-January 9, 2021). Biltmore staff deck the halls, lawn, and select estate locales with candlelight, firelight, and holiday lights. Nighttime passes include daytime admission (either same or next day) to Antler Hill Village & Winery, shops, grounds, and gardens. Biltmore has expanded its lights and ornaments display at Antler Hill Village. You can, of course, also visit during the day to experience the decorations during the two-month Christmas at Biltmore celebration (November 6, 2020-January 10, 2021).

4. Sugar and spice.

2017 National Gingerbread House Competition

No holiday season in Asheville is complete withoutthe National Gingerbread House Competition at The Omni Grove Park Inn. This pastry Parade of Homes has become a beloved local tradition. In 2020, the Omni Grove Park Inn is revolutionizing the event in light of social distancing guidelines. While there will be no public display, the event is going virtual. Stay tuned for updates about engaging socially distanced alternatives (in place of a physical display) for Gingerbread fans both on and off property at the Omni Grove Park Inn to view the finalists. See our guide to the National Gingerbread House Competition for more information.

5. Shop talk.

Shopping for Unique Holiday Gifts

Find unique gifts for friends and family--do your holiday shopping in the land of all things local and handmade. Historic Biltmore Village and downtown’s Grove Arcade sparkle with holiday light displays, as does Asheville’s bustling Biltmore Park shopping district to the south. Pop in and out of galleries and independent stores featuring one-of-a-kind items for everyone on your list. Catch a special virtual market like The Big Crafty’s Hand to Heart Holiday (December 5-6, 2020).

The Asheville Outlets hosts holiday events throughout the season. Traditionally, the Asheville Outlets kick off the season Santa's Arrival and Tree Lighting Ceremony. Past years have included a free santa photo experience.

And, you can shop Asheville from the comfort of home! Explore our online gift guide, Handmade Holiday: A Gift Guide from Local Makers, for more than 50 unique, Asheville-made gifts. There's something for everyone on your list!

6. All, aboard!

Holly Jolly Christmas Trolley

Hop aboard the Holly Jolly Christmas Trolley with Gray Line Tours for a fun and festive celebration of the season (not operating in 2020) The tour includes live music, storytelling and caroling. All the while, the Holly Jolly Trolley rolls past the decorations and lights in downtown Asheville, Biltmore Village and the Montford and Grove Park neighborhoods. The Trolley is heated and enclosed with clear vinyl roll-down curtains. 

Meanwhile, Santa Claus is coming to the Blue Ridge Mountains by train as the Craggy Mountain Line gets in the holiday spirit (not operating in 2020). The Jingle Bell Trolley Train Run takes off on the hour on select dates from November to December. Twelve dollars includes hot cocoa, cookies, and a meet ‘n’ greet with Santa. Purchase tickets at the station or ahead of time to guarantee your spot.

7. Light the lights.

Moscow Ballet - The Great Russian Nutcracker
Photo courtesy of the Moscow Ballet

Traditionally, Asheville has had no shortage of holiday performances to dazzle you, from the classic Nutcracker to a sidesplitting, adults-only Christmas sketch comedy.

While most performances have gone virtual in 2020, popular annual show A Swannanoa Solstice will offer a live performance at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts on December 20 at 2 p.m. A virtual performance will be available that same day at 7 p.m. The virtual performance can be enjoyed anytime through December 31.

You can easily search our Asheville events calendar by date for updated information on performances, events and festivals.

8. Small town charm.

Deck The Trees Black Mountain

Minutes from downtown, you’ll find Asheville’s Norman Rockwell-esque neighbors with their own holiday traditions. Weaverville’s Candlelight Stroll lights up the town’s Main Street, complete with music, horse and carriage rides, carolers, and children’s activities. The historic Monte Vista Hotel serves as the centerpiece of the Deck The Trees event in Black Mountain. Deck the Trees is a tree decorating contest benefiting local charity. In 2020, for its 10th anniversary, Deck the Trees expands to feature trees throughout Black Mountain's downtown businesses (Dec. 3-Jan. 4).

Updated November 23, 2020
Read More