In some households, the most vexing question of the holiday season is: White or colored lights? To which we answer: Both!
Whether you’re a purist who prefers the simplicity of all white lights or you feel that the holidays aren’t complete without color (and lots of it), you’ll find something to love in our roundup of some of the most magnificent light displays around Duke Energy’s service areas.
Christmas at Biltmore
- Where? The Biltmore House, One Lodge St. Asheville
- When? Daytime Celebration: Nov. 1, 2019 – Jan. 5, 2020. Candlelight Christmas Evenings: Nov. 1, 2019 – Jan. 4, 2020. Closed Nov. 28 and Dec. 24 and 25.
- Why go? There is simply nothing else like it. This is the 250-room French Renaissance chateau George Vanderbilt built, beginning in 1889. It took six years to complete. He was a bachelor when he built it, but he married Edith Stuyvesant in 1898, and they raised their only child, Cornelia, here. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame) designed the gardens and grounds.
- Pro tip: Make a day (or evening) of it. Tour the house and see “Downton Abbey: The Exhibition.”
- Details: Daytime admission: $69 - $99. Evening admission: $74 - $99. Tickets for specific days and times must be purchased in advance. Walk through. www.biltmore.com
Winter Lights at the N.C. Arboretum
- Where? 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way, Asheville
- When? Nov. 22, 2019-Jan. 4, 2020. Nightly, 6-10 p.m.
- Why go? About 500,000 energy-efficient LED lights twinkle throughout the garden. A 50-foot-tall animated tree is a highlight of the 3-acre tour.
- Pro tip: Tuesdays are discount nights. Discount tickets are also available during Arboretum Week (Dec. 2-5). Allow an hour to an hour and a half to experience it all.
- Details: Walk through. Date-specific tickets are required and must be purchased in advance. $18 for ages 12-plus, $12 for children ages 5-11 and free for children 4 and under. www.ncarboretum.org
- Where? Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C.
- When? Nov. 22, 2019-Jan. 5, 2020. (Closed Christmas.) 6-10 p.m.
- Why go? More than 4 million LED lights. A Christmas village includes a Ferris wheel, fire pits for s’mores roasting and more. Christmas-themed movie nights are held Thursday through Sunday on a 16,000-square-foot HDTV screen.
- Pro tip: “If you want to simply drive through the lights, come on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday,” advises the speedway’s Susan Russo. “If you want to spend the evening and see a holiday movie, come Thursday through Sunday night. Thursday and Sunday are great family nights; there’s a little shorter wait.” Check out the overlook. Park your car above turns 3 and 4 for fantastic photo ops.
- Details: Drive through. Tickets available in advance and at the gate. Prices start at $25 per car. www.charlottemotorspeedway.com
Christmas Town USA
- Where? McAdenville, about 30 minutes west of Charlotte.
- When? Dec. 2-26. Weekdays, 5:30-9:30 p.m.; weekends, 5:30-11 p.m.
- Why go? The entire former mill town takes part. More than 160 homes and 250 evergreen trees are bedecked with more than a half million red, white and green lights.
- Pro tip: Visit on a weeknight, if you can. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the wait time can be several hours after exiting Interstate 85 or U.S. 29-74, according to officials. But, be warned. “Once our local schools are out for the holidays, every night is Saturday night,” said Steve Rankin, one of the organizers. That’s when you can expect bumper-to-bumper traffic.
- Details: Free. Drive or walk through. (Most people drive. There are two streets – Church and Academy – closed to vehicles.) www.mcadenville-christmastown.com
Lights on the Neuse
- Where? Boyette Family Farms, 1620 Loop Road, Clayton, N.C.
- When? Nov. 29-Dec. 24 on select nights. 6-9 p.m.
- Why go? A 1-mile-long, 30-minute tractor-pulled hayride around the farm and adjacent to the river.
- Pro tip: Consider bringing blankets so you can bundle up during the open-air hayride. Avoid long lines by purchasing tickets online in advance.
- Details: Walk through. $9 for hayride, $6 for a visit with Santa, $5 for cookie decorating; $60 for the full package (including four hayride tickets, one Santa photo taken with your camera, two cookie decorating tickets and four hot beverages. www.lightsontheneuse.com
N.C. Chinese Lantern Festival
- Where? Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Cary, N.C.
- When? Nov. 22, 2019-Jan. 12, 2020; Tuesdays through Sundays 6-10 p.m. Closed Mondays except Dec. 23 and 30.
- Why go? The fifth annual event includes more than 20 new displays, each one comprised of hundreds of parts and thousands of LED lights.
- Pro tip: Plan on spending 45 to 75 minutes on the half-mile loop.
- Details: Walk through. Date-specific tickets are $15 for ages 13 and up and $10 for ages 3 to 12. A ticket good for any night is $20. Admission for children 2 and under is free. www.boothamphitheatre.com
- Where? Airlie Gardens, 300 Airlie Road
- When? Nov. 29 and 30 and Dec. 6-22. 5-7 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.
- Why go? Enjoy holiday lights, music and displays on a half-mile, walkable, self-guided tour.
- Pro tip: Order tickets early; they generally sell out in advance.
- Details: Walk through. Tickets are $30 per carload and $55 per vanload. People with larger vehicles such as mini-buses should contact Airlie about pricing. www.airliegardens.org
Tanglewood Festival of Lights
- Where? Tanglewood Park is 10 minutes west of Winston-Salem at 4061 Clemmons Road in Clemmons, N.C.
- When? Nov. 15, 2019-Jan. 1, 2020. 6-11 p.m. (On Dec. 31, closing time is 10 p.m.)
- Why go? Enjoy carriage rides and hayrides, S’moresville, more than 1 million LED lights.
- Pro tip: Save by coming on a discount night: Monday, Nov. 25; or Tuesday, Nov. 26.
- Details: Drive through the 5-mile route, which contains more than 100 displays. Expect a wait, especially on weekends. Rates start at $15 per car. www.forsyth.cc/parks/tanglewood/fol
The Great Christmas Light Show
- Where? North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex
- When? Nov. 25- Dec. 30. (Closed Christmas.) Open 5:30-9:30 p.m.
- Why go? More than 2 million lights are strung along a 1.5-mile drive throughout the North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex. Over 500 light displays, some up to 55 feet tall, have been custom made for The Great Christmas Light Show.
- Pro tip: If you go on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, check out Santa’s Village. Visits with Santa are free. BYOC (bring your own camera).
- Details: Drive through. Prices start at $15 per vehicle. parks.nmb.us https://parks.nmb.us/festivalsevents/special-events/the-great-christmas-light-show/
Lights Before Christmas
- Where? Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, S.C.
- When? Various dates, except Mondays and Tuesdays, Nov. 23-Dec. 30. Open 5-9 p.m.
- Why go? Columbia’s longest-running holiday tradition features more than 1 million lights, an animated “story tree,” visits with Santa, a jingle bell bonfire and more. It was nominated in USA Today’s 2019 “10Best” Readers’ Choice travel awards.
- Pro tip: Don’t miss roasting marshmallows on the jingle bell bonfire.
- Details: Walk through. $12 for adults, $10 for children ages 2-12, free for children younger than 2. www.riverbanks.org
- Where? Cheekwood Estate & Gardens
- When? Nov. 23, 2019-Jan. 5, 2020. 5-10 p.m. (Closed Christmas.)
- Why go? Cheekwood’s 1-mile loop is filled with over 1 million lights; 500,000 light strings; s’mores, Candy Cane Forest, holiday music and more.
- Pro tip: Buy online and save. Each ticket purchased at the gate is subject to a $5 service charge. New this year is Poinsettia Wall – an ideal Instagram spot.
- Details: Walk through. $22 for adults, $17 for youth ages 3-17, free for children 2 and under. Holiday LIGHTS is a timed-ticketed event, and discounted packages are available. www.cheekwood.org
Zoolumination: Chinese Festival of Lights
- Where? Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, 377 Nolensville Pike
- When? Nov. 15-Dec. 30, 2019, and Jan. 2-Feb. 2, 2020. 5-9 p.m. nightly. Closed Nov. 28, Dec. 24 and 25.
- Why go? It’s the country's largest Chinese lantern festival. Over 500 custom-made silk lanterns are spread across 60 acres, creating elaborate displays and holiday-themed scenes.
- Pro tip: Wear comfortable shoes. The festival spans more than 60 acres. Don’t miss (as if you could) the dragon lantern that’s nearly the length of a football field.
- Details: Walk through. From $14-$29. Parking is $7. www.nashvillezoo.org
Christmas Nights of Lights at Coney Island
- Where? 6201 Kellogg Ave. in Cincinnati
- When? Nov. 8, 2019-Jan. 5, 2020, nightly from dusk through 10 p.m.
- Why go? Fantastic tunnels of lights. Drive the 2.5-mile route and see more than 1 million LED lights controlled by more than 10,000 computer channels. The light show is synchronized to both traditional and pop/rock holiday music through your car radio.
- Pro tip: You’ll have less of a wait if you visit on a weeknight.
- Details: Drive through. $6 per person; children 3 and under free. Purchase in advance or at the gate arrival. www.coneyislandpark.com
Holiday Lights on the Hill
- Where? Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum, 1763 Hamilton-Cleves Road, Hamilton, Ohio
- When? Nov. 22, 2019-Jan. 5, 2020, Monday through Thursday 6-9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 6-10 p.m.
- Why go? You never have to leave your car on the 2-mile round-trip journey. Pyramid Hill is a 300-acre sculpture park with more than 80 giant outdoor sculptures displayed in a landscape of rolling hills, meadows, lakes and trails.
- Pro tip: This year is the second year that Brave Berlin, founders of Blink Cincinnati, will work with Pyramid Hill to create an installation in the Grand Pavilion.
- Details: Drive through. $20 per carload Mondays through Thursdays; $25 per carload Fridays through Sundays. www.pyramidhill.org
- Where? Newfields, 4000 Michigan Road, Indianapolis, Ind.
- When? Nov. 23, 2019-Jan. 5, 2020, 5-9 p.m.
- Why go? 1.5 million lights throughout forest, field and gardens; Snowflake Bridge; winter market.
- Pro tip: Buy your tickets online before Dec. 2 and save. Guests may arrive early and spend time in the winter market, but there’s no need to arrive more than 15 minutes before your ticket time, say Newfields officials.
- Details: Walk through. People generally spend between 60 and 90 minutes. Tickets range from $8 to $20. Free for children 5 and under. www.discovernewfields.org
Lights at the Brickyard
- Where? Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indianapolis, Ind.
- When? Nov. 27, 2019-Jan. 5, 2020. Gates open Sunday through Thursday, 6-9 p.m. and weekends, 6-10 p.m.
- Why go? More than 3 million lights on a 2-mile course along the infield.
- Pro tip: New this year and exclusively for Speedy Pass ($40) ticket holders is the Pagoda Lookout Experience and a Santa Claus meet and greet Dec. 13-24. The Pagoda Lookout Experience lets fans get inside the pagoda for an amazing vantage point from which to see the lights and the skyline. Santa will be decked out in a custom racing suit.
- Details: Drive through. Standard passes start at $25. www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com
St. Petersburg/Clearwater area
Holiday Lights in the Gardens
- Where? The Florida Botanical Gardens at 12520 Ulmerton Road in Largo
- When? Daily beginning at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 29, 2019-Jan. 4, 2020.
- Why go? Over 1 million LED lights twinkle throughout the gardens and highlight the plants and nature- and holiday-themed light displays.
- Pro tip: There’s entertainment each night.
- Details: A donation of $5 is encouraged. www.visitstpeteclearwater.com
Light Up the Holidays, sponsored by the City of Altamonte Springs, Duke Energy and Magic 107.7 FM
- Where? Cranes Roost Park, Altamonte Springs, Fla.
- When? Tree lighting takes place Dec. 7, 5-9 p.m. Fireworks show begins at 6:30 p.m. The light displays will be up through Jan. 1, 2020, from 6-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 6-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
- Why go? Live music and holiday displays featuring 200,000 lights and a 60-foot tree decorated with thousands of ornaments and 1 mile of garland.
- Pro tip: Check out the train rides, and don’t miss Santa and Mrs. Claus.
- Details: Walk through. Free. www.altamonte.org
Bivona Christmas Light Show
- Where? 1601 N. Wind Court, Winter Springs, Fla.
- When? Tree lighting is Dec. 1, 5-9 p.m. The light displays will be up from Dec. 1, 2019, to Jan. 1, 2020, 6-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 6-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
- Why go? A tradition dating back 35 years, founder Charlie Bivona began with the desire to win his neighborhood Christmas lights contest. (He did.) After Charlie’s death in 2004, his eldest son, Andy, took over – and he creates something bigger and brighter each year. There are roughly 75,000 lights, nine LED screens and a dozen inflatables.
- Pro tip: Allow about 35 minutes to see it all. Traffic is heavier the week of Christmas.
- Details: Drive through. Free. @BivonaChristmas (Facebook)
Tips for enjoying a holiday light show
- Go early – early in the season and early in the evening. “Weekends and the days before Christmas are extremely busy,” said Jessica Sanders, marketing and events manager for Forsyth County Parks and Recreation of the Tanglewood Festival of Lights. “We suggest visiting early in the season and arriving prior to 5 p.m.”
- Plan ahead. “Definitely purchase your tickets in advance,” said Whitney Smith, marketing and PR director at the N.C. Arboretum in Asheville. “Many weekends and holidays sell out early.”
- Be prepared for bumper-to-bumper traffic. Have car snacks on hand and listen to your favorite holiday music.
- Be patient. “Weekends are especially busy, and four-hour wait times should be expected,” according to the Tanglewood Festival of Lights in Clemmons, N.C.
- Get your steps in. If given the option of walking, it’s often the best way to see the lights.
- Bundle up if you plan to hoof it.
- Do your research. Websites for the light shows will often include how long you can expect to spend. “Our show is open seven days a week until January, so weekdays are typically less busy than weekends,” said Gabi Roach of Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum. “Be prepared to spend 40 minutes driving through the park, as the speed limit for this 2-mile loop is 12 miles per hour.”