When it comes to the winter holidays, celebrations abound in and around Charlotte. While such events tally into the dozens, these are the chosen few you shouldn't miss.
Holiday on Ice
The NASCAR Hall of Fame Plaza is home to Uptown's seasonal toast, the Holiday on Ice outdoor rink. A 14-year Charlotte tradition, skaters glide beneath the Hall of Fame's twinkling Christmas tree and holiday light display. Bring your own skates, or rent a pair on site and skate for as long as you like. Should you need necessities such as hot chocolate and a warm pair of gloves, those are available as well.
Spirituality of the Season
Head to the Billy Graham Library and celebrate the very first Christmas at the live nativity: it's a real-life representation of the birth of Jesus complete with shepherds, a camel, donkey, lambs and other animals. In keeping with the spirit, a horse-drawn carriage is an integral part of your Christmas journey. There's also a traditional Christmas dinner you can join in on and performances by Christmas carolers. Events take place Nov. 29-Dec. 22 and vary in price.
Get in tune with Mother Nature at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. The natural festive décor includes a stunning tree of orchids, traditional lighted trees and other illuminated displays dressed with 600,000 holiday lights. Horse-drawn carriage and garden tram rides are available; discover crackling fires and model train displays throughout this horticultural masterpiece.
A Holiday Thrill
Take part in a new holiday tradition at the only amusement park to traverse two states (North and South Carolina). Carowinds hosts the seasonal WinterFest; you'll be dazzled by its 5 million shimmering lights, over-the-top displays and a 70-foot-tall Christmas tree. Play on 16 rides, greet the PEANUTS gang, Sugar Plum fairy and other holiday characters, decorate cookies with Mrs. Claus and join in the festive live entertainment.
A European-Style Christmas
Uptown Charlotte is home to the quaint Charlotte Christmas Village, a European-inspired Christmas market with specialty foods, a German bakery with traditional sweets and plenty of Glühwein, a mulled, spiced wine (you can get yours in a souvenir mug). Find a special, one-of-a-kind gift, enjoy trivia and musical performances and feast in the good cheer through Christmas Eve.
And over at the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery comes the open-air Olde Weihnachtsmarkt, where seasonal brews come together with locally-made baked goods and gift items. More than 40 vendors are on hand Fridays and Saturdays for the first three weeks in December.
All Aboard the Christmas Train
Best known as the hometown of Dale Earnhardt, Kannapolis comes alive at the holidays with more than 250,000 lights in Village Park; the Winterland Express train takes you on a tour through the lights. The celebration, which lasts through Dec. 30, also includes marshmallow roasting, model trains, visits by Santa and Mrs. Claus and performances by the Kannapolis Singing Bears.
While at the park, don't miss the chance for a ride on the 1989 Bertazzon Carousel; the Italian-made ride is the only double-decker carousel in North Carolina.
Christmas Town USA
Why, that's McAdenville, North Carolina, a small suburb west of Charlotte. Every December since 1956 the entire town transforms into a sight you really must behold: every home, shop and municipal building decks itself out in Christmas lights, wreaths and trees in a display that makes the rest of the country green with envy. This festive and free attraction runs Nov. 30-Dec. 26.