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N.C. has holiday events happening all over

RALEIGH ― A new hotel at Biltmore and a celebrity-connected restaurant near Charlotte will give travelers more to celebrate on holiday trips from the mountains to the coast of North Carolina.

In Asheville, the Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate opens its 209 guest rooms and suites Dec. 1, when the elaborate Christmas at Biltmore celebration will be in full swing.

Centrally located in Antler Hill Village, the hotel sits within steps of shopping, dining, the winery and outdoor activities. Its casual and inviting atmosphere is inspired by the eclectic mix of cottages and farm homes that dotted the property when George and Edith Vanderbilt lived on the 8,000-acre estate.

Complementary shuttle buses will transport guests to the  250-room Biltmore House and other points of interest. Biltmore also offers luxury lodging at the Inn on Biltmore Estate.

In Belmont, the father of singers Kevin, Joe and Nick Jonas aims for a holiday opening of Nellie’s Southern Kitchen. Kevin Jonas Sr. plans on having a singing wait staff serve classic Southern fare at the North Main Street restaurant.

The Jonas family traces its North Carolina roots to the 1760s and still has relatives in the area. The restaurant should be of special interest to travelers visiting Christmas Town USA, in which the entire town of McAdenville lights up, and Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont, which stages Holiday Lights at the Garden, complete with a one-of-a-kind orchid tree.

Here’s a rundown of a dozen events and activities that make the holidays special. Find all the trimmings, trip-planning tools and more festivities at VisitNC.com.

Christmas at Biltmore
Through Jan. 10, Asheville
America’s largest home has a larger-than-life tradition that involves 65 decorated Christmas trees inside the 250-room mansion. The trees reach a crescendo with a 35-foot Fraser fir in the seven-story-high Banquet Hall. Out front, a lighted 55-foot-tall Norway spruce is encircled by 20 illuminated evergreens, and 41 additional trees are decorated at the winery, Antler Hill Village, restaurants and other points on the 8,000-acre estate. Through Jan. 2, visitors can catch the glow in a candlelight tour of Biltmore House.

Christmas at Old Salem
Through Dec. 31, Winston-Salem
Winston-Salem acquired elements of its rich culture from the Moravians who settled there in the 18th century, and their holiday traditions make Old Salem Museum and Gardens an ideal place for distilling the holiday spirit.

Visitors can create special memories on candlelight tours, hear holiday music or attend the Moravian Candle Tea, presented by the Home Moravian Church. Stop by Winkler Bakery, where Moravian sugar cookies and cakes are baked in a wood-burning oven — just as they were in the old days.

“The Polar Express”
Through Jan. 3, Bryson City and Spencer
Bedtime stories are best heard by people in pajamas, and that’s the preferred attire for those boarding “The Polar Express,” a train ride set to the soundtrack for the 2004 adaptation of Van Allsburg’s modern classic.

North Carolina’s licensed expeditions, the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer and Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City have all the right details, including cocoa, cookies and a gift from Santa.

National Gingerbread Competition
Nov. 18-Jan. 3, Asheville
Sugar and spices lay the foundation for the competition at the Omni Grove Park Inn, and craftsmanship sets it apart. Again, South Rowan High School will have several entries. Arrayed in a Blue Ridge Mountain inn with marvels of its own, the edible architecture attracts tens of thousands of visitors. Even without the gingerbread, the inn’s roaring fires, splendid décor and music raise holiday spirits.

Gardens aglow
Nov. 20-Jan. 23, various locations
Spring bulbs, summer annuals and fall mums pale beside the brilliance of lighted displays at North Carolina’s public gardens. At Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont, Holiday Lights at the Garden (Nov. 20-Jan. 3) features a must-see tree made of 300 orchids plus one-of-a-kind train displays.

Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo laces traditional and fantastical displays into the gardens’ stunning architecture for WinterLights (Dec. 2-Jan. 23).

In Asheville, Winter Lights (Nov. 20-Jan. 2) returns to the North Carolina Arboretum for its second year, adding animated displays and activities to the 3-acre walking tour.

Wilmington’s Airlie Gardens, often glimpsed in movies and TV shows, lights up with Enchanted Airlie (Nov. 27-Dec. 22).

And Cape Fear Botanical Garden in Fayetteville switches on a new show of lights synchronized to music and shimmering over the Cypress Pond during Holiday Lights in the Garden (Dec. 11-27).

Speedway Christmas
Nov. 21-Dec. 30, Concord
One of the largest holiday light shows in the United States features 4.5 miles of LED displays — and a drive on the 1.5-mile superspeedway.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, visitors can also stop at the Speedway Christmas Village, which includes a Bethlehem Village, a petting zoo and horse-drawn wagon rides plus a chance to visit Santa.

And every night that the village is open, holiday movies ― “Elf,” “A Christmas Story,” “Frozen,” “The Polar Express” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” ― will be shown on one of the world’s largest high-definition screens.

Tanglewood Festival of Lights
Nov. 21-Jan. 3, Clemmons
This holiday classic at Tanglewood Park near Winston-Salem features a 4-mile route with about 100 displays in a picture-perfect woodland setting. In addition to activities ― including hayrides, horse-drawn carriage rides and an eco-minded gift shop ― travelers can consider booking a room at the Manor House Bed & Breakfast at the park or RV camping (until Nov. 30).

North Carolina Holiday Flotilla
Nov. 27-28, Wrightsville Beach
Wrightsville Beach launches the holiday season with an extravagant boat parade on the Intracoastal Waterway. About two dozen boats, from personal watercrafts to yachts, channel their owners’ creativity into delightful light displays against the night sky. The event includes a Friday night party, an all-day festival Saturday and the main event, with fireworks before and after.

Other holiday boat parades include the Swansboro Christmas Flotilla, Nov. 28 on the Swansboro waterfront; Ocean Isle Beach Flotilla on Nov. 28; the Cliffs of the Neuse Christmas Tree Lighting & Flotilla, Dec. 4 at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park in Seven Springs; Edenton’s Christmas Extravaganza flotilla Dec. 4-5; the Crystal Coast Holiday Flotilla, running from Morehead City to Beaufort on Dec. 5; the Island of Lights Christmas Flotilla, Dec. 5 at Carolina Beach; and the Southport Christmas Flotilla on Dec. 12. 

Holidays at Tryon Palace
Nov. 27-Jan. 3
New Bern
Overtaxed colonists had a bad case of humbug in December 1770, when Gov. William Tryon threw the first party at the fancy Georgian-style structure where he would live and run the government.

Nearly 2½ centuries later, the Tryon Palace historic site re-creates celebrations from different eras. And opening just in time for the holidays, there’s “Child’s Play: Celebrating the History of Toys and Games” exhibit at the North Carolina History Center. Best time to visit: Dec. 12 and 19 for the Candlelight Celebration, which includes holiday vignettes throughout the complex.


12 Birds of Christmas
Dec. 1-31, Scotland Neck
Get ready for a fresh take on the holidays’ most parodied song with a trip to Sylvan Heights Bird Park. Instead of parroting lyrics, you can scan the 18-acre park for swans a-swimming, geese a-laying and other birds chosen for a holiday scavenger hunt. Sylvan Heights is home to 170 species of waterfowl, many of them rare and endangered, from six continents, and the sight of a Scarlet Ibis alone turns a visit into a festive occasion.

Christmas Town USA
Dec. 1-26, McAdenville
In this mill town west of Charlotte, the 375 Christmas trees on view outnumber the households in a celebration that started in 1956 with nine evergreens. From modest (6-foot tree, 500 lights) to dazzling (90-foot-tree, 5,000 lights), the displays blaze a trail to the heart of town, where trees ring the lake and reflect their colors. With a car count in the hundreds of thousands on the 1.3-mile route, be prepared to relax and enjoy a very slow ride, especially on weekends ― or cover the route by foot.

Santa on the Chimney
Dec. 5 and 12, Chimney Rock
How could Santa resist a 315-foot granite monolith shaped like a chimney? As he has done for more than two decades, the man in red will warm up for his Christmas Eve chimney-thon by rappelling down this iconic natural landmark. Visitors can meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, see critters, and enjoy live music, hot cocoa, cookies and kids’ activities.

For more information on planning your vacation to North Carolina, be sure to go toVisitNC.com.



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