Light Displays and Holiday Activities in Raleigh, N.C.
Tuesday, December 01, 2020, 11am by visitRaleigh
The winter months are referred to as the most magical time of the year for good reason—community celebrations, light displays and performing arts productions capture the holiday spirit in a uniquely vibrant way. And while things are certainly not normal this year, many of the Raleigh area's holiday traditions—old and new—have stepped up and are ready to spread some holiday cheer (with new safety practices and guidelines in place).
Use this list of events and activities to find a way to responsibly enjoy your holidays in Raleigh. Read on for a full list, or click a link below to jump to a category that matches what you're looking for.
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See more safe dining and things to do, plus local travel safety info, here.
Note: We ask that you please explore responsibly—wear a mask, wash your hands and wait six feet apart from others. If you're traveling to Raleigh, N.C., you may want to check out this list of Count On Me NC-certified hotels. Count On Me NC is a public health initiative that specifically trains hospitality businesses to help keep both guests and staff safe from COVID-19. The program also asks guests to pledge that they'll do their part to follow safety guidelines as well.
Up for a dazzling light show? Illuminated trees, festive light displays and local art installations will delight visitors of all ages at the first-ever Nights of Lights Drive-Thru Light Show at Dorothea Dix Park. The 1.3-mile driving route features towering oak trees, open fields and rolling hills—plus views of the Raleigh skyline peaking above the trees—making it a perfect location for this holiday event. This is a ticketed experience, and purchases must be made in advance ($15 per vehicle with up to eight passengers).
Through Dec. 31, 2020
This drive-through light display is big (really big!). Nearly a million colorful LEDs light the way for vehicles to traverse the 15-acre farm property just 15 minutes south of downtown Raleigh. The 500-foot-long Tunnel of Lights—seen below—features more than 200,000 LEDs and is thought to be one of the longest holiday light tunnels in the world, and a 20-foot-tall Santa Claus riding a bicycle is only outdone by a 40-foot-tall version of Old St. Nick waving hello. We won't spoil the rest, but trust that it's truly a sight to see! This is a ticketed experience, and purchases must be made in advance ($20 per vehicle with up to eight passengers).
Through Dec. 31, 2020
Thought to be one of the largest displays on the East Coast, you'll find more than 400,000 dancing, glowing lights at Lake Myra Christmas Lights, a family-friendly and favorite holiday attraction since 1998 just east of Raleigh in Wendell. Produced by local legend Don Williams, the choreographed, drive-in style light show at Lake Myra, animated to sync with your favorite holiday music, gets better each year—plus it's totally free all season long (donations are accepted).
Through Jan. 1, 2020
In Wake Forest, Piper Lights—a family-run light display that's been in action for 30 years now—is back for another 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. The 2020 display is a drive-through experience. Enjoy this year’s light display at 5725 Fixit Shop Rd. Free admission with donations accepted.
Dec. 11-Jan. 8
Discover the wonder of light-based art—commissioned from local artists to brighten up those crisp winter nights—found throughout downtown Raleigh from Dec. 11-Jan. 8. This self-guided tour is best tackled with close friends or family, so bundle up, mask up, grab a hot chocolate and prepare to be awed! Find a map and descriptions of each installation here.
While you're at it, consider using the Downtown Raleigh Alliance's 2020 Holiday Gift Guide to get some shopping checked off your to-do list!
The Lights of North Hills
A new event this year, the first-ever Lights of North Hills features a 30-minute outdoor light show each night, from 6-10pm, for one week. Bonus: Shop locally at nearly 100 retail stores in the neighborhood, or book a weekend getaway and stay close to the lights, shops and tons of restaurants.
In Fuquay-Varina, Fuquay Mineral Spring Park will be decorated with majestic seasonal lights, and all are invited to take part in self-guided tours until 10pm nightly (and a photographer will be on-site Dec. 4-6 for family portraits). Nearby, the Fuquay-Varina Arts Center will show holiday movies on Mondays this month. Catch showings of The Polar Express (12/7), National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (12/14) or Elf (12/21).
Perhaps one of the best things to come out of 2020—the resurgence of drive-in movies! Pack up the car to see these favorite flicks in a distance-friendly setting:
- The Grinch (12/4) at Spring Forest Road Park
- Elf (12/5) at Spring Forest Road Park
- A Preacher's Wife (12/6) at Spring Forest Road Park
- It's A Wonderful Life (12/11) at Anderson Point Park
- The Polar Express (12/12) at Anderson Point Park
- events above are $5 per car with food and drink available on-site
- The Polar Express (12/11) at Sugg Farm at Bass Lake Park (tickets are $20 per car with food truck on-site)
- The Polar Express (12/12) at the Wendell Community Center (tickets are $20 per car)
Also recommended: You can see The Polar Express 3D at Marbles IMAX on select days this month.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents This Wonderful Life (in-person or at home)
Dec. 10-20 for live performance; Dec. 17-25 on-demand streaming
One actor inhabits every role in this hilariously touching stage adaptation of the iconic holiday film It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey, Clarence, Mr. Potter and the gang come to life as a single actor creates a heartwarming story about the effect one hardworking man’s life has on the people around him. Note: This is an indoor show, and a maximum of 25 tickets will be sold for each performance. Runtime is approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.
From Dec. 17-25, you will also be able to stream a pre-recorded performance of This Wonderful Life from the comfort of your home via Broadway on Demand (ticket still required).
New Hope Valley Railway Reindeer Train Rides
Dec. 6, 9, 12, 13 and 19
The New Hope Valley Railway—also known as the Triangle’s Train—offers excursion rides on vintage equipment at the North Carolina Railway Museum, which features displays of historic railroad equipment and artifacts, a large garden railroad, memorabilia and a gift shop.
For five days in Dec., the railway offers their Reindeer Roundup Express ride, taking passengers on a locomotive ride with a route dressed for the holidays, and Santa will be on his sleigh (not on the train) for socially distanced family pictures.
One of Raleigh, N.C.'s longest-standing and unique neighborhoods, Historic Oakwood—on the edge of downtown Raleigh—is a 19th-century gem, full of tree-lined streets, incredible architecture and homes with tons of character.
Every holiday season for nearly 50 years now, the neighborhood has hosted the Oakwood Candlelight Tour, a ticketed affair inviting guests and visitors into a dozen private homes—dressed for the holidays—with docents to tell you about the rich history that occurred here. Due to COVID-19, this event will look different in 2020, but plans are in the works for a free, walkable outdoor tour of decorated homes.
The Great Raleigh Trolley Santa Express Tour (in-person or virtual)
Dec. 5, 6, 12, 13, 19 and 20
The Santa Express trolley ride returns for a limited engagement this year. Kids and parents hop aboard The Great Raleigh Trolley for their chance to enjoy a ride through downtown Raleigh with the guest of honor himself...Santa! The Big Guy in Red will visit with each kid personally on the Trolley to review their wish list and pose for pictures during the one-hour tour. Surprises, holiday music, lights and more await those riding The Santa Express.
Tour capacity is limited due to COVID-19. A virtual, personal visit from Santa is also being offered.
Happy Holly Days Tree Trail at Ting Park
In Holly Springs, stroll around the Ting Stadium concourse and beer garden areas and enjoy up to 50 trees festively decorated by local businesses, organizations and families.
Come during the day to enjoy the trees with fewer people, or come after dark to enjoy the trees twinkling with lights (stadium capacity will be limited per state guidelines). Concessions will be open designated hours during the event featuring hot chocolate, hot apple cider, seasonal coffee offerings and ballpark favorite foods. Music and dance performances will be scheduled on the stadium field following social-distancing guidelines.
Mordecai Historic Park Holiday Open House
Dec. 12 and 13
Celebrate the holiday season while exploring holidays past at Mordecai Historic Park, the site of the oldest house in Raleigh that remains in its original location and the birthplace of 17th President Andrew Johnson. See how the home would have been decorated over the past 235 years and learn about different holiday traditions. Festive craft kits will be available to take home, and a scavenger hunt and other activities will be located around the park! The Holiday Open House is free and open to all ages.
Holiday Open House in Downtown Wake Forest
Kick off the holiday season and discover historic downtown Wake Forest’s unique array of shops and restaurants during the Downtown Holiday Open House. Shops and restaurants will be dressed for the occasion, and the Holiday Artisan Market will take place from 10am-4pm with music that fits the season.
Holidays with the Popes
Dec. 5 and 6
As the only African American house museum in the state, the Pope House Museum in downtown Raleigh offers a look into the life of one of Raleigh’s prominent African American citizens, Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope. For the holidays, children can safely explore the museum and schedule a visit with Santa Claus (and photography will be available for purchase).
Letters to Santa at Cary's Downtown Park
Nov. 23-Dec. 13
In downtown Cary, special arrangements have been made to act as a drop-off site for letters to Santa. Drop a letter in the box by Dec. 13, and your child will receive a letter in return from our jolly friend in red!
One of the Southeast's true destination restaurants, Raleigh's Angus Barn has been a family-owned institution for more than 60 years now. Famous for steaks, wine and to-die-for chocolate chess pie, Angus Barn truly goes over-the-top for the holidays, decorating every room in the 650-seat restaurant from head to toe, each with their own Christmas tree. Give the restaurant a call and see about reservations, or ask about the first-come, first-served seating options. There's also a full to-go menu so you and your family can relax at home.
Through Jan. 16
Perhaps the most well-known bar in Raleigh when it comes to dressing up for the holidays, The Haymaker has found a way to make things work for this holiday season. Guests can purchase tickets to "A Very Tipsy Christmas," which reserves an outdoor seat and includes a cocktail in an over-the-top festive setting with kitschy décor and the nostalgic energy of the best holiday party you’ve ever been to (socially distanced, of course). Tickets and timeslots should be purchased in advance, and seating is limited.
A perfect girls night or date night activity, Wine and Design—founded in Raleigh and seen on ABC's "Shark Tank"—has adapted in recent months to offer both social distance-friendly in-person events and at-home virtual art classes so you can create your own masterpiece (and enjoy your own wine). A full schedule of events dot the upcoming calendar, and guests will be create painted scenes of winter landscapes, holiday wreaths, cheery snowmen, mistletoe, beloved Christmas characters and more!
Raleigh Night Market's Holiday Bazaar at Moore Square
Dec. 12 and 13
Join in for some holiday fun and spend your money supporting small businesses this holiday season! This two-day holiday shopping event will take place at Moore Square with more 40 handmade artisans in attendance to shop from. Live music, photos ops and more will be on hand for the entire family to enjoy.
No stranger to making a big to-do of the holidays, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is focused on the fun—but also safety of guests and employees—again this year with a very merry and Secret Santa-y season. For special Secret Santa Cinema showings, each guest will receive a free Santa or elf hat full of holiday treats and other surprises. The Polar Express, Die Hard, Gremlins, A Christmas Story and more are on the schedule!
Carolina Ballet presents The Nutcracker (virtual)
Broadcast on television by WRAL on Dec. 25 at 7pm
Grace, grandeur and mysterious illusions. Carolina Ballet's holiday classic is a can't-miss tradition for locals, visitors, families and friends. The only production in the country using illusions created by renowned magician Rick Thomas, The Nutcracker makes characters levitate, disappear and reappear before your eyes. Because The Nutcracker cannot be performed in front of a live audience this year, WRAL will film and broadcast a special performance of the event—it can be seen for free on Christmas day at 7pm. Encore showings are expected to be scheduled in the following days.
This theater production from local passionate mind Ira David Wood III, a Raleigh holiday tradition since 1974, has wowed more than a million guests throughout the years. The beloved musical comedy, in which Wood himself puts on an incredible performance as Scrooge, has long been one of the state's most beloved annual theatre events. In a normal year, audiences would pack Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium for the show. In 2020, a streaming version of the hilarious 2019 version of the show will be available for purchase (and we wouldn't miss it for the world!).
This gospel music experience, a production of The Justice Theater Project, takes the audience on a journey back to the Bethlehem of Mary and Joseph, resplendent in African costumes and uplifting songs of worship. With a joyous, inspirational score, Black Nativity is a legendary family show that shares this unforgettable story of the Nativity through compelling gospel music and the beautiful poetry of Langston Hughes, all brought to life by more than 70 show-stopping singers, dancers and musicians.
This is a ticketed virtual event. A ticket purchase gives you access to stream the performance one time beginning Dec. 11.
North Carolina Symphony presents Holiday Pops with Jingle the Elf (virtual)
Back by popular demand, the hilarious Jingles the Elf joins the symphony for a family Christmas concert bringing joy, fun and holiday spirit to everyone! Sing along with favorite songs you know and love, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Joy to the World—plus, hear a special reading of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.
This is a virtual, streaming event. Two days before the event you will receive a YouTube link to access the concert. The concert will be viewable on demand for 10 days after original airing.
Also on the schedule: North Carolina Symphony presents Brass & Organ (virtual), Dec. 23
North Carolina Master Chorale presents Joy of the Season (virtual)
Dec. 15-Dec. 31
The North Carolina Master Chorale, hailed by critics as the area's premier choral ensemble and the recipient of a Raleigh Medal of Arts award, has performed choral masterworks with orchestra since 1942. Joy of the Season celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2019, filling Meymandi Concert Hall with nearly 200 voices, guest choirs, brass ensemble and more. For 2020, director Al Sturgis, along with special guest artists, will introduce pre-recorded musical treats featuring the chorale and instrumentalists so you can still experience Joy of the Season from home!
Also on the schedule: North Carolina Master Chorale's Messiah Together Singalong (virtual), Dec. 6
Planning a trip? Whether driving or flying, exploring the outdoors or tasting the area's best food and drinks, we look forward to soon welcoming you to Raleigh, N.C. From transportation to lodging, dining and attractions, your health and safety are top priority for the hospitality industry. No matter how you travel, or what you do, you can travel confidently. Click here for the latest updates on COVID-19 and openings in the Raleigh area.
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