A surprise snowstorm early in December turned Western North Carolina into a winter wonderland for a few days, and while the snow has melted and the sky is now Carolina blue, the wonder is still with us. The winter holidays have always been a popular time here in Asheville and WNC. This is when George Vanderbilt officially opened his grand Biltmore Estate to family and friends with a lavish party on Christmas Eve in 1895. That tradition of hospitality continues through the month not only at the Estate but at other attractions and communities throughout the area. Whether you are hosting your own guests or enjoying the holidays on a smaller scale, there is no shortage of inspiring activities, fabulous food and creative shopping opportunities to discover. Here are some of our favorites:

1) Explore Downtown Asheville

Asheville’s streets and shops are truly decorated in holiday style. Check out Winter Lights Downtown in Pack Square. The focal points of this collaboration between The North Carolina Arboretum and the City of Asheville are centered around the Vance Monument and Hoss Haley fountain area of Pack Square Park and runs through mid-January 2018. A new 10-foot lighted purple snowflake is just right for taking your perfect #SnowflakeSelfie. Then savor the flavors of seasonal menus at the local restaurants, bars and breweries that have earned Asheville its national reputation as a top food and beverage destination.

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 holidays. Winter Lights is an outdoor walking tour of the Arboretum’s gardens, composed of unique displays and landscapes dressed in nearly 500,000 holiday lights. From a projected light show to fire pits to a free craft activity, Winter Lights is perfect for the entire family, no matter what age. Other show offerings include a G-scale (garden 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 December 31, 2017. Tickets will sell out quickly during the holidays, so be sure to purchase them well in advance by clicking here.

3) See Biltmore Estate in a Whole New Light

The halls are decked. The candles are lit. The fireplaces are glowing at America’s largest home during Christmas at Biltmore. From the 35-foot fir tree in the Banquet Hall to the Victorian-themed decorations throughout the estate and around the grounds, this celebration of light recalls George Vanderbilt’s 19th century holiday traditions. Nighttime passes include daytime admission (either same or next day) to Antler Hill Village & Winery, shops, grounds and gardens. This year, even more lights and ornaments illuminate Antler Hill Village with a new light display.

4) Need to do Some Last Minute Shopping? We’ve Got You Covered

There are still plenty of holiday treasures available at many of Asheville’s locally owned shops and boutiques. Check out the Grove Arcade, one of America’s first enclosed malls, now home to dozens of specialty shops, galleries and dining options. This year, the Grove Arcade has partnered with the Grove Park Inn (both built by E. W. Grove) 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, 2018. To view store hours, please click here.

Looking for more of a non-traditional gift? Treat that special someone to a gift that continues year-round by purchasing a gift membership to The North Carolina Arboretum Society. An Arboretum membership, which includes a variety of benefits including free parking at the Arboretum and special discounts, is a perfect experiential gift that is suited for any occasion. Memberships can be purchased or renewed in person at the Arboretum, online or by calling Member Services at 828-665-2492.

 5) Holiday Hikes for the Whole Family

Need to burn some calories after indulging in holiday treats? The Asheville area is full of inspiring hikes that are perfect for the young and old. Just south of Asheville, The North Carolina 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. Buildings and exhibits are closed during the day, December 23, 24, 26 and 27, as well as January 1 (parking fees are waived during these dates).

North Asheville’s Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary features several habitats where you’ll find comfortable walking trails that provide ample opportunity to observe birds and other wildlife native to the area. Younger hiking companions (K-8th grade) can photograph their wildlife observations and submit them to the Arboretum’s ecoEXPLORE program. Currently, ecoEXPLORE is in its ornithology season, the perfect time for budding outdoor adventurers to learn about our fine-feathered friends and earn special prizes.