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:

Dining in Downtown Asheville

1. Go to town.

Asheville’s busy downtown sidewalks are dressed in holiday style, thanks to Winter Lights Downtown in Pack Square, with double the number of lights this year. A new 10-foot gilded purple snowflake serving as the pièce de résistance makes for the perfect #SnowflakeSelfie. 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.

Winter Lights at the Arboretum

2. Oh, Christmas trees.

As the sun sets, the North Carolina Arboretum’s 434 acres transform into a glowing winter wonderland, strewn with nearly 500,000 lights. In its fourth year, the Winter Lights exhibit brings back favorites such as the 50-foot animated tree, model trains, and lighted Quilt Garden, while introducing new features like interactive motion sensor games, and even more lights and music. Take advantage of “friends and family” pricing on Tuesdays, or go all out with the Winter Lights Holiday Tour and arrive in vintage style on a trolley.

Candlelight Christmas at Biltmore
Photo Courtesy of The Biltmore Company

3. (Biltmore) home for the holidays.

See Biltmore in a different, even more opulent light with its Candlelight Christmas Evenings. Biltmore staff deck the halls, lawn, and select estate locales with candlelight, firelight, and holiday lights, and the after-dark hours are the perfect time to take in the sparkle of a 50-foot fir. Nighttime passes include daytime admission (either same or next day) to Antler Hill Village & Winery, shops, grounds, and gardens. This year, even more lights and ornaments will illuminate Antler Hill Village. And visit the Winery’s tasting room for a particularly “sparkling” new display.

Gingerbread House Display at The Omni Grove Park Inn

4. Sugar and spice.

No Asheville holiday is complete without a glimpse at the National Gingerbread House Competition & Display at The Omni Grove Park Inn. Celebrating its 25th year, this pastry Parade of Homes has become a tradition for locals and visitors alike. Top off your time sipping on a hot chocolate with housemade marshmallows (or ginger apple cider hot toddy) by one of the towering fireplaces flanking the Great Hall of this historic resort. Those who aren’t guests at the Grove Park can view the entries November 26-January 4, after 3 p.m. on Sundays, and anytime Monday through Thursday (excluding Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day).

Shopping for Unique Holiday Gifts

5. Shop talk.

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. Plan ahead to catch a special market like The Big Crafty’s Hand to Heart Holiday (December 2-3) or the Show & Tell Holiday Pop-Up Shop (December 7-20).

6. All, aboard!

Santa Claus is coming to the Blue Ridge Mountains by train as Craggy Mountain Line gets in the holiday spirit. The Jingle Bell Trolley Train Run takes off on the hour, Saturdays, November 26- December 17, and on Friday, December 23. 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.

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

7. Light the lights.

There’s no shortage of holiday performances to dazzle you this year, from the classic Nutcracker to a sidesplitting, adults-only Christmas sketch comedy. Watch the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy four ways with Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium (December 3), and three interpretations of the classic ballet by local dance companies at Diana Wortham Theatre, beginning with Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre’s The Nutcracker & The Mouse King (December 1 & 2), followed by Asheville Ballet’s The Nutcracker (December 8-10), and finally the Ballet Conservatory of Asheville’s The Nutcracker (December 14 & 15). Asheville Community Theatre brings back a family favorite with the Best Christmas Pageant Ever, running December 1-17. And only in Asheville can you experience the Magnetic Theatre's Bernstein Family Christmas Spectacular—everyone’s favorite R-rated, envelope-pushing, holiday comedy (November 30-December 22).

8. Small town charm.

Minutes from downtown, you’ll find Asheville’s Norman Rockwell-esque neighbors with their own holiday traditions. Weaverville’s Candlelight Stroll (December 8) lights up the town’s Main Street, complete with music, horse and carriage rides, carolers, and children’s activities. The historic Monte Vista Hotel in Black Mountain, hosts Deck the Trees, a tree decorating contest benefiting local charity. Christmas trees adorned around an “80 Years of Christmas” theme illuminate the hotel’s lobby for all to see—and vote on—throughout the month of December.