If you’re looking to ditch the typical hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the South offers plenty of charming towns to get you in the spirit. Whether you’re looking for traditional celebrations, family-friendly activities, or a mountaintop getaway, here’s a rundown of five Southern towns to visit this holiday season!
For a holiday celebration rooted in tradition, plan a trip to the small town of Columbia, TN. You’ll find everything from festive events to a beautifully decorated downtown area, a handful of charming local shops, and more!
As you drive into downtown Columbia, take note of all the holiday decorations that adorn the town square. From Christmas trees to thousands of twinkling lights, this is the perfect place to begin your holiday celebrations — or even snap a picture for your Christmas card!
As you stroll through the winter wonderland, be sure to also stop into the local shops and boutiques to knock out some gift shopping. If there’s a fashionista on your list, visit Aubree P. Boutique or The Boutique at Ye Peddler to peruse on-trend clothing and accessories. If you’re shopping for a little one or mom-to-be, Lily Jane offers the essentials — from footie pajamas to baby blankets, books, toys, and more.
Avid readers will enjoy a trip to Duck River Books, where you can take a picture with the store’s Christmas tree that’s made solely out of books!
If you’re on the hunt for last-minute hosting essentials or holiday decorations, downtown Columbia is also home to a handful of unique home decor stores. Popular shops include Amy Montgomery Home, Tin Cottage, and Smith & York Company.
After a day of exploring, you’re likely to have worked up a hearty appetite. Luckily, downtown Columbia offers a few excellent dining options. For an upscale experience in a vintage-inspired atmosphere, American Barrel offers a delicious menu of comfort food alongside handcrafted cocktails.
If you’re looking for a more casual dining experience, Puckett’s is known for its meat-and-three specials, authentic barbecue, hot chicken, and more. Meanwhile, McCreary’s Irish Pub offers staples like corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips, and pot pie.
We recommend planning your Columbia vacation around any of its signature holiday events. The fun kicks off on Saturday, November 18, with A Very Maury Christmas. Taking place at The Factory at Columbia, the event hosts vendors selling a wide variety of gift options — from jewelry to candles and decor.
The Maury Christmas Historic Home Tour is another standout holiday event in Columbia. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, December 1, and Saturday, December 2, you can tour nine historic homes that have all been thoughtfully decorated for the holiday season.
On Saturday, December 2, the city’s annual Main Street Christmas Parade & Tree Lighting also returns for another year. The parade begins at 6 p.m. along the streets of West 7th. Once the parade concludes around 7:15 p.m., head to the courthouse to witness the tree-lighting event!
To make the most of your Columbia vacation, consider staying overnight at a local hotel or bed and breakfast. Popular lodging options include the Blythewood Inn Bed & Breakfast, Two Lanes Guest House, and All I Have To Do Is Dream.
Nestled in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is another charming Southern town that offers a serene holiday getaway. From annual celebrations to local shopping opportunities and plenty of family-friendly fun, here’s how to make the most of your time in the Land of the Sky!
A trip to Asheville isn’t complete without visiting the famous Grove Arcade. As one of the world’s first indoor malls, the space is home to some of the city’s best shopping and dining options. Plus, during the holidays, the building is beautifully adorned with string lights and decorated Christmas trees.
While visiting the Grove Arcade, be sure to also stop into any of the shops to take a piece of Asheville home with you. All retailers are from the local region, offering beautiful artwork, jewelry, clothing, home decor, and more. Popular shops include Asheville NC Home Crafts, Mountain Made Art Gallery, and Serenity + Scott Apothecary.
For more shopping options, Historic Biltmore Village offers local shops as well as a few nationally recognized brands. The Asheville Outlets is also a popular shopping destination, offering over 300,000 square feet of space, complete with shops, covered breezeways, and sitting areas. During the holidays, the outlet mall also hosts visits with Santa and a Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
To view more twinkling lights and holiday decor, make plans to visit North Carolina’s Arboretum. During the holiday season, the local attraction transforms into a beautiful winter wonderland for its annual Winter Lights celebration. Home to over 400 acres of light displays, the open-air light show runs from Friday, November 17, through Sunday, December 31.
Another can’t-miss holiday event in Asheville takes place at the Biltmore Estate. Running through Sunday, January 7, Christmas at Biltmore is a tradition loved by both locals and tourists. The daytime celebration includes beautifully decorated rooms, complete with Christmas lights, garland, and ribbon. You can also visit the attraction at night to experience the property’s signature Candlelight Christmas Evenings.
Another quintessential part of Asheville’s holiday event lineup is the National Gingerbread House Competition. Taking place at The Omni Grove Park Inn, the annual event is known to host some of the most intricate and whimsical gingerbread house designs. People from around the world compete in this annual competition, and you can view all of the entries in person at the resort through Tuesday, January 2.
For an immersive, family-friendly activity, book a ride on the Holly Jolly Christmas Trolley. As you ride through downtown Asheville, you can sing Christmas carols with the on-site musician, as well as hear stories of Asheville’s past. The tour is about 75 minutes long, and tickets start at $31 per person.
For a festive overnight stay in Asheville, we recommend booking a room at any of the city’s bed and breakfast options, as each is beautifully decorated for the holidays. Popular options include Abbington Green Bed and Breakfast Inn, Carolina Bed and Breakfast, and Cedar Crest Inn.
While many people frequent Lexington, KY, year-round for its horses and bourbon, the city also deserves a spot on your holiday travel list. From intricate lighting displays to highly anticipated annual events, here are a few reasons to visit Kentucky’s second-largest city this holiday season!
Now in its 30th year, Kentucky Horse Park once again transforms into a Christmas paradise for its Southern Lights event. The three-mile trail includes over one million holiday lights, visits with Santa, model trains, a petting zoo, and more. The event takes place nightly from Friday, November 24, through Sunday, December 31. Admission is $35 per car.
Luminate Lexington is another dazzling light display in the city’s downtown district. On Sunday, November 26, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., head to Triangle Park to attend the kick-off celebration, which includes a Christmas tree lighting event. During this time, attendees can also enjoy live music, ice skating, and visits with Santa Claus.
About 30 minutes north of Lexington is Mustard Seed Hill, a historic event and wedding venue in the town of Millersburg. Every year, the local attraction welcomes visitors for various holiday events. From Friday, December 1, through Sunday, December 31, you can enjoy beautiful Christmas displays, including a 30-foot ribbon tree, a 14-foot illuminated ornament, and a 32-foot glowing ribbon arch. Other attractions include an artisan market, a gingerbread house exhibit, and live music.
Before or after attending any of Lexington’s holiday events, we recommend exploring the city’s delicious restaurant scene — and you’ll find a variety of options in downtown Lexington. For a casual meal in a laid-back atmosphere, Sidebar Grill, Ramsey’s Diner, and Mama Tequila are popular options. Or, if you’re looking for an upscale dinner option, pay a visit to spots like ItalX, Dudley’s on Short, or Tony’s of Lexington.
If you find yourself in downtown Lexington earlier in the day, there are plenty of places to fuel up on breakfast, brunch, and coffee, too. A Cup of Commonwealth is a coffee shop known for offering more than just caffeine, as it focuses on sustainability and helping its local community. For food, you can’t go wrong with biscuits and gravy from Doodles or steak and eggs from Carson’s.
While the famous Kentucky Castle is a popular attraction and hotel year-round, it looks even more elegant during the holiday season. In addition to gorgeous holiday decor that’s spread across 100 acres, the castle also hosts events like brunch with Santa and an upscale cocktail party.
For fans of the performing arts, a visit to the Lexington Opera House during the Christmas season is a must. Offering a handful of holiday-centric performances, this is the perfect place to start a new family tradition. Performances for the 2023 holiday season include both Irving Berlin’s White Christmas and The Nutcracker. To see complete schedules for both shows and to purchase tickets, visit lexingtonoperarhouse.com.
When it comes to holiday fun, Oxford, MS, offers events and activities for the whole family — from ice skating to photos with Santa, holiday markets, and more. The famed celebration is known as Holly Jolly Holidays, and it returns for a fourth year in 2023, starting on Saturday, November 18, and running through Sunday, January 7.
Holly Jolly Holidays’s main events occur at Oxford’s Old City Armory Pavillion. Celebrations kick off with the opening of the ice skating rink, where skaters can enjoy an evening under stringed lights and holiday decorations. Skating hours are Monday through Friday, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets are $12 per person and include ice skate rentals.
New this year to the Holly Jolly Holidays lineup is the Peppermint Trail, a perfect destination if you’re looking to do some last-minute gift hunting. The trail leads guests to participating stores and restaurants for special holiday treats, discounts, and promotions. Simply look for a peppermint sticker outside of a local business to see if they’re joining the fun! Participating businesses include Jack & Claire’s Boutique, Olive Juice Gifts, Heartbreak Coffee, and more. To see a complete list of stores and restaurants, click HERE.
For more shopping opportunities, head to Oxford’s historic town square (known simply as “The Square”) to peruse various options, including clothing, books, and music. For on-trend clothing and accessories, we recommend Cicada, D-Squared Clothing, or Style Assembly. For a collection of thoughtfully curated gifts, visit Katherine Beck, a shop offering everything from home decor to jewelry, candles, and more. For book or music lovers, head to Square Books or The End of All Music. Or, for a little bit of everything, pay a visit to the South’s oldest department store, Neilson’s Department Store.
If a unique Christmas lights display is what you’re after, The Square’s Canopy of Lights has been an Oxford staple for almost 60 years. You can enjoy strings of environmentally-friendly white LED lights that hang from the courthouse and beautifully decorated trees.
If you prefer to enjoy Christmas decor from the warmth of a cozy home, plan your trip around the annual Doors of Hope Holiday House Tour. This year’s event returns on Saturday, December 10, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and features nine beautifully decorated sorority houses on the Ole Miss campus. In addition to home tours, attendees can enjoy live entertainment, a raffle, and beverages. Tickets begin at $30.
If you’re looking to stay in town for a few days, The Oliver Hotel of Oxford (formerly the Chancellor’s House) and The Graduate are great boutique options, and they’re less than a five-minute drive from Holly Jolly Holidays! Oxford’s Courtyard by Marriott is another great option located near Oxford University and Oxford Castle, offering everything from a rooftop bar and restaurant to an indoor pool and shuttle services.
Rock Hill, SC
For a holiday getaway that offers something for everyone — including sports enthusiasts and history buffs — add Rock Hill, SC, to your list of destinations to consider. As the only major South Carolina city in the Charlotte area, Rock Hill is the perfect blend of historic charm and modern luxury.
When planning your Rock Hill adventures, we recommend doing so around the city’s ChristmasVille event. From Thursday, November 30, through Sunday, December 3, head to Old Town Rock Hill to enjoy a weekend full of Christmas-themed activities, delicious food, and beautiful holiday decor.
The festival kicks off with the annual Grand Opening Ceremony (which includes an appearance from Santa himself!). It continues with other special events like the Festival of Trees, historic trolley tours, the Reindeer Romp 5K, the annual Christmas parade, arts and crafts, and more.
In addition to ChristmasVille, many people flock to Rock Hill during the holidays for its sports offerings — especially in terms of cycling. If you’re a biking enthusiast or simply looking to enjoy Rock Hill’s natural beauty, plan a visit to the Rock Hill Outdoor Center. Located near the Catawba River, you’ll find opportunities to bike along both a paved trail and through the surrounding woods. If you’re not a fan of biking, don’t fret! The area also offers opportunities for kayaking or canoeing.
Rock Hill is also known to host a handful of national cycling events at state-of-the-art venues like the Rock Hill Velodrome, BMX Supercross Track, and Criterium Course. However, if there isn’t an event during your visit, you may be able to attend an open ride session at one of these venues, too!
Glencairn Garden is a popular Rock Hill attraction all year round, but during the fall and winter months (November through February), the 11-acre botanical garden offers beautiful seasonal blooms. You’ll find a variety of plants and flowers throughout the grounds, including daffodils, roses, pansies, and more.
You also can’t go wrong with attending one of Historic Rock Hill’s signature holiday events at The White Home. In addition to Old Town Historic Walking Tours, you can attend a self-guided tour on Sunday, December 3, during Historic Rock Hill’s Holiday Home Tours and Craft Fair event. From 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., enjoy a glass of wine as you stroll through The White Home and learn about its storied past.
If you can’t attend the home tours, you can also visit The White Home on Friday, December 8, at 6 p.m. for Miracle on White Street. The event includes signature cocktails, signature ChristmasVille beer, and delicious food from Kounter Dining. Tickets are $100.
With so much to do and see, you’ll likely need a full day or two to explore everything that Rock Hill offers. Luckily, the city is home to a few cozy lodging options, such as Cambria Hotel Rock Hill University Center and Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Rock Hill.
This article is sponsored by Visit Columbia. All photography provided unless otherwise noted.