Where you are geographically makes a difference looking at dazzling holiday light shows. In the Southeast, many displays pay homage to the temperate region with LED bulbs and intricate scenes recreating the gardens, waterways and animals of the South. Sure you’ll find traditions and the stories that define the holidays, but here a traveling family can also immerse in holiday lights that tell a story of treasures particularly southern too.
There’s always a chance the weather will be easy-breezy for viewing holiday lights in the U.S. Southeast. It might even be warm enough to unbutton your sweater. Perhaps that’s why there are so many outdoor displays and events.
Consider that a cold winter night to a southerner might be a balmy vacation to revelers from truly frigid lands. The Southeast lights offer a wide swath of traditional themes and surprising ones depicting regional culture and heritage. Cultural Heritage TravelingMom pinpoints some the Southeast holiday lights shining in 2017.
Mobile: Magic Christmas in Lights, Bellingrath Gardens. Find 65 acres of azaleas, camellias, roses, fountains and terraces plus Christmas poinsettias, nightly choral performances on the terrace Sundays through Thursdays, and the estate home, decorated and open for tours.The 22nd annual event incorporates three million lights depicting 15 scenes. Choose lights and gardens only or add in tours of the estate home. 5- 9 p.m. Nov. 24 – Dec. 31, 2017. Lights only $15 adults, $7.50 ages 5-12. Lights plus Estate home $24 and $13.
St. Augustine: The Nights of Lights display in St. Augustine features too many-millions-to-count tiny white lights from the ground to rooftop of Spanish Colonial buildings, bay front and bridge, huge oak trees, towers of 19th-century hotels – seamless reflections of 450-year-old Spanish tradition and history. Best way to experience? On foot, bicycle and pedicab or horse and carriage, Old Town Trolley or Ripley’s Red Train. Park in the lot off Castillo Drive. Nov. 18, 2017 – Jan. 31, 2018
Pine Mountain: Head to Fantasy in Lights at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain to see eight million holiday lights and sound show with 15 scenes named one of the world’s top 10 by National Geographic Traveler. The original scenes 25 years ago were designed by Disney Imagineering teams. Maybe that’s why character breakfasts are new this year! Dine with Rudolph, Frosty, the Gingerbread Man and others. Stay for dinner and the stage show of The Grinch Stole Christmas. Nov. 17, 2017 – Jan. 6, 2018. Dining and lodging options.
Waycross: For a more intimate evening of southern scenes in the wild, head to the Okefenokee Swamp Park Light Show in Waycross. Ecological, authentic, wildlife culture in the “land of the trembling earth.” Take the Lady Suwanee train 1.5 miles through a Georgia southern pine forest in the great Okefenokee. Nov. 24 – Dec. 30, 2017 Trains every 15 – 30 minutes 6-9 p.m.
Atlanta: The Botanical Garden dubs its light display “Garden Lights Holiday Nights.” Wander through the 30-acre Midtown attraction to orchestral orbs, a glittering galaxy, the radiant rainforest and massive Tunnel of Light while sipping hot drinks. The second year of the Walk of Flames. 2017 is the seventh annual, including the model trains exhibition. Nov. 11, 2017– Jan. 7, 2018 5 – 10 pm Sunday-Thursday, 5 – 11 Friday and Saturday. Entry is quicker with advance tickets. On site cafe to purchase dinner.
Louisville: Lights Under Louisville MEGA Caverns offers the world’s only fully underground drive-through holiday lights show. Drive your own vehicle underground for 30 minutes through 17 miles of underground passageways. Expect 850 displays with 2 millions points of light. 6-10 p.m. Monday – Friday, 5-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday Nov. 17 – Dec. 31. $27 per car/truck/minivan. $40 for 15-passenger van. New this year: “Dinner And Lights” special event. Dinner at the Louisville Zoo, and a VIP pass to the lights show. December 2nd or December 9th starting at the Louisville Zoo’s African Outpost at 6:30pm. (Read our review of Lights Under Louisville.)
The Holiday Trail of Lights winds through eight North Louisiana cities, Minden, Shreveport-Bossier, Monroe-West Monroe, Natchitoches and Alexandria/Pineville. Each city is within a few hours of another, I-20 east to west and I-49 north to south, and each has its own special way of lighting up the season. Thanksgiving to New Year’s dates may vary a bit in each unique location. Lodging along the way includes B&Bs, RV sites and comfy hotels.
Concord: Speedway Christmas at the Charlotte Motor Speedway for the seventh year provides 3 million lights and holiday movies like Frozen, Polar Express, Fred Claus and Elf on a 16,000-square-foot HDTC screen. Between movies, drive through the displays of lights surrounded with music on the quad oval. Nov. 19 – Dec. 31. Movie nights Thursday – Sunday beginning at 6:30, with a second showing starting right after the first.
Columbia: At Lights Before Christmas at the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden, most of the animals will be off-exhibit, snoozing; the creatures and characters will be 1 million lights. Nutcrackers and traditional scenes, sure, but this is a zoo so look for lighted elephants and giraffes too. 5-9 p.m. Nov. 18 – Dec. 30
Chattanooga: Walk through a garden with 30 holiday scenes, live toy soldiers, animatronic polar bears, Inara the ice queen and trees that dance at Rock City Enchanted Garden of Lights. Four themed paths called “Realms of Wonder” are the Arctic Kingdom, Magic Forest, Yule Town and North Pole Village. Year-round this geological and botanical site presents a blend of nature and fantasy, scenic trails and vast views. Six miles from downtown Chattanooga. Nightly performances, winter characters in person along the trail. The Enchanted Garden of Lights also partners annually with the Ronald McDonald House Charities, and a portion of each ticket benefits local families whose children are hospitalized. 6-9 p.m. Nov. 17, 2017 – Jan 6, 2018
Nashville: A Country Christmas at Gaylord Opryland Resort is an annual tradition and ICE! is the focus again this year. Look for 2 million pounds of hand-carved, colored ice sculptures featuring the story of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Also featuring an extreme tubing hill (the only in Nashville) covered in REAL SNOW! Nov. 10, 2017– Jan. 1, 2018
Pigeon Forge: Winterfest with more than 5 million lights for a self-driving tour with a free map from the Welcome Center or take the Trolley Tour of Lights. City-wide so lodging and dining options are abundant including the Christmas Inn. Nov. 7, 2017- Feb. 28, 2018.
Richmond and beyond: The 100 Miles of Lights display winds from the Virginia capital city to the Atlantic Ocean Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day and 2017 is the 25th season. Choose from seven lighted cities with parades of boats and floats, festivals, music and dance, living history, caroling and more. Richmond, Williamsburg, Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach. Specific event times available for each city. Hankering for a Tacky Lights show? Try Richmond. Lights boat parades? Visit Hampton and Yorktown. Want walk through a million bulbs? That’s in Norfolk.
ZooLights at the National Zoo: The fabled lighting of the national Christmas tree on The Ellipse near The White House happens at 5 p.m. Dec. 1, rain or shine, for the 94th year. It involves ornaments created individually to represent each state and territory. See the tree anytime all month and then head to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo for the show lighted with 500,000 LED bulbs. Ride the lighted solar-powered carousel with 58 animals representing the Zoo’s research and conservation records, board the trackless Zoo Choo-Choo in the Kids’ Farm exhibit or tube on a snowless track. Nocturnal critter houses will be open. 5-9 p.m. Nov. 24, 2017 – Jan. 1, 2018.
Wheeling: Big light display in little state: if that’s an interesting equation, the Winter Festival of Lights at Oglebay Resort class itself one of the nation’s largest light displays—300 acres and a six-mile drive with 89 larger-than-life displays. For sure it’s “green” since all the lights are LED. Experiences include the Glass Institute exhibition and glassblowing, dining room, trolley rides, gardens with 150 hanging baskets of lights and a choreographed Zoo Lights show on the patio. Nov. 10, 2017 – Jan. 1, 2018. Sundays – Thursday until 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. Lodging and dining options.