This past month in Western North Carolina, we’ve welcomed cooler winter temperatures along with an influx of people visiting (or returning home) for the holidays. Christmas has always been a popular time here in Asheville and WNC. George Vanderbilt welcomed his first guests to his grand Biltmore Estate on Christmas Eve in 1895, and the tradition of hosting thousands of visitors at Biltmore during the holiday season continues today. Only a few more days remain until Christmas, and with that come last minute shopping trips, tree trimming and food preparations (in addition to planning your entertainment and weekend activities). To help relieve you of some of the complexities of scheduling your holiday itinerary, we’ve compiled a list of our top Asheville-area activities for the upcoming Christmas weekend:
1.) Hunt for the Holiday Tree
Christmas trees may go on sale right after Thanksgiving, but many families wait just days before December 25 to purchase their tree. Western North Carolina is home to the state’s Christmas tree industry, which is the second largest in the country. In fact, in North Carolina alone, 1,300 farmers grow Christmas trees on 40,000 acres, and 98 percent of the trees are Fraser firs. So, if your home is lacking that fresh evergreen smell and glistening strands of lights, drive just a few miles outside of town (or go to your local farmer’s market) and purchase your own Christmas tree. Our community partner RomanticAsheville.com has pulled together a great list of local choose-and-cut farms in the region that you can view here.
2.) Experience Asheville’s Brightest Holiday Tradition
Step aside Clark Griswold, the Arboretum has created a magical winter wonderland that will surely brighten up your holiday. Winter Lights is an outdoor walking tour of the Arboretum’s gardens composed of uniquely lit displays and landscapes dressed in nearly 500,000 holiday lights. From a projected light show to fire pits to a free craft, Winter Lights is perfect for the entire family, no matter what age. Other show offerings include a G-scale model train, an indoor animatronic children’s program and live entertainment, along with food and beverages for purchase, including hot cocoa, beer and wine. Winter Lights is open nightly from 6 – 10 p.m. through January 1, 2017. Tickets must be purchased in advance by clicking here.
Don’t forget to check out Winter Lights Downtown, a holiday light display developed in collaboration between The North Carolina Arboretum and the City of Asheville, centered around the Vance Monument and Hoss Haley fountain area of Pack Square Park in downtown Asheville. This smaller-scale Winter Lights display runs through January 1, 2017.
3.) Wander through a Winter Wonderland at the Grove Arcade
For those looking to do some last minute shopping, check out one of America’s first enclosed malls, the Grove Arcade in downtown Asheville. This historic building features dozens of specialty shops, galleries and dining options. During the holidays, the inside is transformed into a winter wonderland full of beautiful holiday décor. This year, the Grove Arcade has partnered with the Grove Park Inn to feature a gingerbread house display as part of Grove Park Inn’s annual gingerbread competition. The Grove Arcade Winter Wonderland runs through January 4, 2017. To view store hours, please click here.
4.) See Big Festivities in Some of Western North Carolina’s Smallest Towns
While there may be a plethora of things to do in the Asheville area during the holidays, there are lots of holiday activities going on in the surrounding mountain towns, too. From the Polar Express train in Bryson City to the Aluminum Christmas Tree & Ornament Museum in Brevard, some of Western North Carolina’s tiniest towns show BIG spirit when it comes to holiday-inspired festivities, activities and more. Strap on your skates and hit the ice in downtown Hendersonville at their ice skating rink located on Main Street, which is open through January 1, 2017. Afterwards, hop on a trolley and head up to the Arboretum for a special Winter Lights Holiday Tour, hosted by The Trolley Company (special tickets required). To see a full list of WNC’s top 12 Christmas small towns, please click here.
5.) Take a Holiday Hike
Got cabin fever? Get outside and enjoy the beauty of Western North Carolina in winter on a holiday hike. There are many trails located right within Asheville’s city limits. In North Asheville, head over to the Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary to see birds and other wildlife in several different habitat types. If one of your hiking companions is in K-8th grade, have them record their wildlife observations by taking photos and submitting them to the Arboretum’s ecoEXPLORE program. Currently, ecoEXPLORE is in its ornithology season, so keep an eye out for our fine-feathered friends to earn special prizes and more.
Just south of Asheville, the Arboretum offers more than 10 miles of interconnecting hiking trails suitable for all levels and abilities. The property is open daily from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. (except Christmas day) during the holiday season; however, the buildings, the World of Giant Insects exhibit and the Bonsai Exhibition Garden will be closed during the day, December 23 – 27 and January 1 – 2 (parking fees are waived during these dates).
Whether it’s searching for Christmas lights or getting outside and enjoying Mother Nature, there are a variety of things to see and enjoy this holiday season in Asheville and Western North Carolina. Whichever you choose, we hope that it will make your holiday merry and bright!
Biltmore Estate photo credit: RomanticAsheville.com