The hustle, bustle, fun and excitement of the Raleigh area certainly do not slow down the week of Christmas! Whether you’re hosting friends and family from out of town or visiting yourself, there are countless festivities to enjoy during the peak of the holiday season. Choose from a variety of magical performances, dazzling light displays, nail-biting sporting events and even a few Santa sightings that will guarantee your holidays are merry and bright.

Festivals and festive performances

North Carolina Symphony shows
Dec. 21-23
Prepare to be dazzled by more than just Christmas lights this holiday season. Step right up and get your tickets to North Carolina Symphony's Holiday Cirque Spectacular (12/21-22) at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. Or, trade in pop music for the classics—for one delightful hour, soak in the magical experience of listening to the Symphony perform classic music of the holidays while basking in glow of candlelight. Featuring the North Carolina Symphony Children’s Chorus, this enchanting performance of A Candlelight Christmas (12/23) is the perfect activity for a romantic date night or an evening with your family. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance for both fantastic performances!

Holiday production traditions
The Nutcracker and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical
Both through Dec. 23
If you're looking for classic Christmas tales brought to life this holiday season, attend a performance by the Carolina Ballet as they perform The Nutcracker, or fall in love again with the many endearing characters from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical in a classic Broadway Series South production. Both are held at the Duke Energy Center.

Dancing with the Stars
Dec. 28
Christmas doesn’t have to end on Dec. 25, either! Put your dancing shoes on and get those toes tapping as the 2018 cast of Dancing with the Stars brings their live performance to downtown Raleigh. On the heels of their 27th season on television, these professional performers and surprise guest star appearances will entertain and wow you with their moves!

24th Annual Kwanzaa Celebration
Dec. 28
For more fun and unique events, look no further than Cary. On Dec. 28, the Town of Cary, in partnership with The Ujima Group, Inc., will host its 24th Annual Kwanzaa Celebration, a celebration for all. Free to attend, this year’s event features a variety of performances, vendors and a traditional Kwanzaa ceremony.


Twinkling light displays

Raleigh certainly likes to show off during the holiday season. Gather Christmas decorating inspiration from some impressive local light displays.

Piper Lights
Through Jan. 3
In Wake Forest, Piper Lights—a family-run light display that's been in action for 30 years now—is set for another big holiday season. The seven-acre light display that connects yards and jumps across a pond received national recognition in 2016 when they were named winners on ABC Television Network's Great Christmas Light Fight.

North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival-Cary
Through Jan. 13
Back in Cary,  a super trip-worthy event for the whole family returns for a fourth straight year! The North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival brings more than 20 larger-than-life lanterns to Koka Booth Amphitheatre. Made up of thousands of LED lights, displays light up the skies and mesmerize visitors on this one-hour walking tour (have your cameras ready for the spectacular Chinese Dragon that sits on Symphony Lake!).

Christmas trees in downtown Raleigh
Stroll through downtown Raleigh, where you'll find two massive Christmas trees (one out front of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, one in front of the North Carolina State Capitol). Or you can take a free, self-guided tour of the Capitol to appreciate the festive holiday decorations inside (guided tours available every Sat. at 11am and 2pm!).

​The Great Raleigh Trolley Holiday Lights tours
Through Dec. 30
The Great Raleigh Trolley, providing some of our favorite guided tours around, is ready to 'wow' you with one of their Holiday Lights tours. Grab a blanket and get ready for an evening filled with Christmas cheer and spectacular light displays throughout the Raleigh area. The tours include an exciting stop at the North Pole where you-know-who will be waiting to personally meet you and make sure he knows the ins and outs of your wish list!


On-the-ice and on-the-court

North Carolina State University Men’s Basketball and Carolina Hurricanes hockey
There’s nothing better than a little friendly rivalry around the dinner table during the holidays. For some on-the-court action, cheer on the North Carolina State University Men’s Basketball team as they battle University of South Carolina Upstate (12/22) at PNC Arena. After the game, don’t stray too far—later that night, the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes take on the Pittsburgh Penguins! To further spur the banter, watch the Hurricanes take to the ice to face off against the Boston Bruins (12/23). For those wishing for a Canes’ victory this Christmas, you might just be in luck!

Carolina Hurricanes 2017 02-205.jpg


Seasonal specials and sips

Dinner at Herons at The Umstead Hotel and Spa
If you’re simply tired of spending hours in the kitchen preparing the perfect Christmas feast, Herons (where James Beard-nominated chef Steven Devereaux Greene is one of the country’s youngest executive chefs to helm the kitchen of a Forbes Five Star or AAA Five Diamond establishment) has you covered in Cary. For Dec. 24 and 25, you can make reservations for a fabulous four-course Christmas Dinner. Herons takes the meal planning and cooking stress out of Christmas and gets your family’s taste buds tingling.

Miracle at The Haymaker plus more cozy bars
On the beverage side of things, Raleigh’s Christmas pop-up bar, Miracle at The Haymaker, is back and more festive than ever through Dec. 31. From clever Christmas cocktails (Jingle Bell Nog and Bad Santa, for starters) to holiday karaoke and gift exchanges, this new holiday tradition is one we recommend not to miss! For more cocktails and laid back drinking spots, read up on a bunch of our favorite cozy bars here.

Raleigh Beer Trail
If you’re more of a beer than a cocktail type of person, consider checking off some of the 25+ breweries on the Raleigh Beer Trail, where the more breweries you visit, the more rewards you earn!


More holiday happenings

If cabin fever starts to set in this Christmas break, here are a few final suggestions to get you out of the house and exploring the city.

The Beyond: Georgia O'Keeffe and Contemporary Art Exhibition
Through Jan. 20
An exhibition of contemporary art at the North Carolina Museum of Art from renowned artist Georgia O’Keeffe, The Beyond: Georgia O'Keeffe and Contemporary Art Exhibition brings together a significant group of O’Keeffe’s works (featuring enormous flowers, luscious color and desert landscapes) as the centerpiece of an exploration of her continued force as a touchstone for contemporary art. This exhibit is ticketed in conjunction with Candida Höfer in Mexico. 

North Carolina Museum of History
Did you know? 115 years ago, on Dec. 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful flight in history of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft. At the (always free admission) North Carolina Museum of History's exhibit, The Story of North Carolina, you'll find a full-sized replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer!

Goodnights Comedy Club shows
Dec. 20-22 and 28-30
For a few holiday chuckles, stop by Goodnights Comedy Club for hysterical stand-up performances by comedians Clayton English (12/20-22), or Alonzo Bodden (12/28-30), both former champions of NBC’s Last Comic Standing.

Vernon Pratt: All the Possibilities of Sixteen display
Through Feb. 10
At North Carolina State University's Gregg Musuem of Art and Design, Vernon Pratt: All the Possibilities of Sixteen is an 18-foot-tall, 110-foot-wide display of Pratt's ambitious idea to build (you guessed it!) all the ways that sixteenths can be visualized. The work, completed in 1982, has never been shown to the public before now!

John Wall Family Foundation High School Invitational
Dec. 26-29
At Broughton High School, many of America's most talented high school basketball players will gather to participate in the 47th edition of one of the capital city's oldest and most tradition-rich sporting events. The John Wall Family Foundation High School Invitational is three action-packed days of high-level hoops.

Live music
Ready to take in a show or hit the dance floor? A few of our top picks for Christmas week include:

  • Hard Tuck Revue (12/23)
  • DJ Glen Koka (12/24)
  • Deep South Open Mic Christmas Edition (12/25)
  • Tom Neuhauser (12/26)
  • Andrew Kasab (12/27)
  • Kate Rhudy (12/28)