It’s Christmastime in Nashville, and we’re feeling festive. With our move from California, there is a whole new set of the best Tennessee Christmas attractions for our family to explore for the holidays. We won’t be able to hit them all but look forward to “making our list and checking it twice” each year as we get into the holiday spirit.
Please share your favorite Tennessee Christmas attractions in the comments section below so I can add them to this list for the other readers. And your input will add more fun holiday activities for our family for next year.
Best Tennessee Christmas Attractions
I’m still learning all about my new home state, but these are the best Tennessee Christmas attractions that I’ve learned about while driving around, talking with friends, and reading the paper. (Yes, I still read the newspaper.)
Many of these attractions are in the Nashville area, while others are a few hours away in Chattanooga and Pigeon Forge. I’ve even added a few others in Bowling Green (Kentucky), Asheville (North Carolina), and Huntsville (Alabama), that hold a special place in my heart that are a short drive away.
Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville
The Gaylord Opryland is more than just a hotel. Every year, it hosts several holiday traditions that bring people from miles away. We recommend booking a room at the hotel so you can enjoy the full experience.
Before heading off to the attractions, wander around the hotel’s public areas to see the lights, grab some food, and take a boat ride. Yes, the hotel is so big that there’s literally a river inside it. Oh yeah, you can also spend the day at SoundWaves, the indoor water park.
The Gaylord Opryland is located at 2800 Opryland Dr, Nashville, TN 37214.
I Love Christmas Movies
While ICE! is on hold this year, visitors can do a walk-through experience of scenes from their favorite movies. This year’s theme is “I Love Christmas Movies,” featuring scenes from Elf, Polar Express, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and The Year Without a Santa Claus. You’ll go through a 20 to 25-minute guided journey of 13 scenes full of fun and nostalgia from these Christmas classics.
Tickets are only available online or with a hotel package, so you must purchase ahead. Adult tickets are $21 to $29 depending on the day, while children ages 4 to 11 are $15 to $20 each. Kids 3 and under are free. You can save by bundling I Love Christmas Movies with other attractions or your hotel stay. Also, look for coupons in local mailers or on local radio station websites to save on tickets.
Additional Attractions at Gaylord Opryland
The attraction opens in early November and runs through January 3rd. Other Christmas attractions at Gaylord Opryland include:
- The Oak Ridge Boys Dinner Show
- Ice Tubing
- Gingerbread Decorating Corner
- Breakfast with Charlie Brown & Friends
- SoundWaves Water Experience
- Ice Skating
- Build-A-Bear Workshop
- Carriage Rides
- Ice Bumper Cars
- Reindeer Encounters
Dancing Lights of Christmas in Lebanon
The family and I had a chance to visit the Dancing Lights of Christmas in Lebanon after buying a Groupon to save about 50% off admission. This is one of the best Tennessee Christmas attractions because there are over 2 million Christmas lights synchronized to music along the 2.5-mile driving path. Just tune your radio dial to the local station to hear the songs as the lights dance.
The Dancing Lights of Christmas starts at 5 pm every night and is open whether it rains or shines. It closes at 10 pm on Sunday through Thursday and 11 pm on Friday and Saturday nights. My recommendation is to go on a Sunday night or during the week to avoid the big weekend crowds.
Instead of paying per person, you pay by the carload. When you arrive, you can pay by cash or credit. Also, look out for coupons in local mailers or Groupon to save money. I found coupons that saved $4 off.
Prices vary based on the type of vehicle you arrive in. You can buy your tickets online or pay when you arrive:
- $25 for a family vehicle
- $25 for a non-profit van or bus
- $50 for limousines
- $100 for large commercial vehicles, motor homes, buses
Visit the Dancing Lights of Christmas at the James E Ward Agricultural Center. It is located at 945 E Baddour Pkwy, Lebanon, TN 37087. The Dancing Lights of Christmas are open from mid-November through January 3rd.
Cheekwood Holiday LIGHTS
The Cheekwood Estate holds many seasonal events throughout the year. Two of my favorites are the Cheekwood Harvest and the Cheekwood Holiday LIGHTS. During the Holiday LIGHTS event, you’ll find over 1 mile of Christmas lights glowing throughout the 55-acre estate.
Plus, there are live reindeer at Reindeer Village, a Children’s Wonderland featuring 17 colorful cones, and the Nutcracker Marche in the Mansion. You can even roast a marshmallow or two with your loved ones while enjoying a seasonal beverage near the mansion.
Holiday LIGHTS is one of Nashville’s favorite Christmas traditions because it combines holiday festivities with incredible gardens for a stunning experience. The Holiday LIGHTS trail (click for map) features over 1 million lights that flow through several of the estate’s gardens. Even the TRAINS! Exhibit is lit up for the holidays. And you’ll see several of the Chihuly blown glass sculptures from the temporary exhibit along the way.
The estate is open for traditional visitors during the day, but it closes at 4:30 pm so that the Holiday LIGHTS visitors can enter from 5 pm to 10 pm to enjoy the lights. Holiday LIGHTS is open 7 days a week until January 10th.
Chad’s Winter Wonderland in Lebanon
This attraction has been run by a local man since 1982. Chad Barnard started turning his love of Christmas lights into special displays since he was 12 years old on the advice of his aunt. He estimates that 8,000 to 10,000 cars drive through his seasonal display every year.
Visitors will see over 3 million Christmas lights and more than 350 decorations as you drive through Chad’s Winter Wonderland. You can even deliver your letter to Santa through a special mailbox.
Chad’s Winter Wonderland is open every night until 10 pm from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve. From Monday through Thursday, doors open at 6 pm. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, they open at 5 pm (one hour earlier!). Although they’re open rain or shine, please note that they may close if the weather gets too bad.
It costs $20 per car and $30 for limos & commercial vans. Stop by the ATM on the way because Chad it is cash only (aka no credit cards). You must stay in your vehicle throughout your visit. Chad’s Winter Wonderland is located at 791 E. Old Laguardo Raod, Lebanon, TN 37087.
Enchanted Garden of Lights at Rock City in Chattanooga
I learned about Rock City while interviewing my buddy Nick True for my podcast episode about the best things to do in Chattanooga. Rock City is a magical place normally, but during the holidays, it transforms into something out of your dreams. It’s no wonder that Chattanooga locals consider this annual experience to be one of the best Tennessee Christmas attractions around.
Tickets are ONLY AVAILABLE ONLINE, so you cannot buy tickets when you arrive. Prices range from $17 on value nights, $25 on special weeknights, and $27 on regular nights. Children ages 3 to 12 range from $9 to $15. Under 3 are free.
Annual passholders to Rock City must also reserve times in advance. Passholders receive free admission or 50% off on select nights.
Pigeon Forge Winterfest
From mid-November 2020 to February 13, 2021, experience a true winter wonderland in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Sevierville. Among these three cities in Eastern Tennessee, you’ll find Winterfest Parades, winter lights, and trolley tours on top of all of the regular fun-filled attractions.
During Winterfest, many of the normal shows are transformed into holiday-themed performances to get you in the holiday spirit. The Dollywood Smoky Mountain Christmas is open through January 3rd and features more than 5 million lights, a firework show, and a 50-foot video motion Christmas tree. For fun inside your car, check out the Pigeon Forge Driving Tour of Lights. It also has more than 5 million lights and runs through February 15, 2021.
This year was the Gatlinburg Christmas Parade‘s 45th year. This annual parade takes place in Downtown Gatlinburg to celebrate the winter season and arrival of Santa. The Polar Express Train Ride even rolls through town for a 75-minute round trip excursion. Santa even boards the train to greet each child and presents them with a special gift, just like in the story. Christmas carols are also sung on the way back to the Bryson City Depot.
Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland
We stumbled across Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland on the way to the Enchanted Garden of Lights at Rock City last year. The kids had to use the restroom at McD’s and this bonanza of lights was up on the hill above the fast-food restaurant. It is located in Sevierville, Tennessee, at Smokies Stadium, the home of the Tennessee Smokies of the Southern League.
At Shadrack’s, you’ll find countless lights dancing to the orchestra of music. They use the most technologically advanced equipment in the industry to bring this holiday tradition to life. Your admission helps Shadrack’s support multiple non-profit charities to build up the local community. There are 7 Shadrack’s locations along the East Coast – Sevierville (TN), Jackson (TN), Johnson City (TN), Pittsburgh (PA), Madison (AL), Charlotte (NC), and Tryon (NC).
It is open nightly from early November 2020 through January 3, 2021. The hours are from 6 pm to 10 pm every night, including holidays. Admission for cars or vans with 8 passengers or less is $25 Sunday through Thursday and $30 on Friday and Saturday nights. Bigger vans, limos, and mini-buses are $50. Tours and school buses are $100 each. You can buy tickets online or when you arrive. Cash and credit cards are accepted on site.
Speedway in Lights at Bristol Motor Speedway
The Pinnacle Speedway in Lights is the region’s most dazzling holiday light show. This is the 24th season of getting visitors into the holiday spirit. Guests drive through a 4-mile path featuring over 2 million Christmas lights and scenes. Your path even takes you on a lap around “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile.” There’s also a Christmas Village located on the infield.
This is one of the best Tennessee Christmas attractions in the state. It is located in Bristol, which is in the northeastern corner of Tennessee. Speedway in Lights is open from mid-November 2020 through January 2, 2021. It is open every night from 6 pm to 10 pm.
Tickets are available online and are priced based on the vehicle and days of the week. For a vehicle with 8 people, Sunday through Thursday is $20 and it is $25 on Friday and Saturday nights. Vans of 9 to 23 people are $50 and buses of 24 or more are $125. If you want to skip the line, tickets are available on limited dates for $50 for the car (1-8 people) and $60 for a van (9-23 people).
Lights Over Gatlinburg
At the Gatlinburg Skylift Park, visitors can walk across America’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge. During the holidays, the bridge gets festive with a 300-foot tunnel of Christmas lights that brighten the sky. Additionally, there are over 40,000 synchronized lights in the plaza and trees throughout the park.
Lights Over Gatlinburg is open daily from mid-November 2020 to January 31, 2021. Admission is included with your ticket to the Gatlinburg Skylift Park. The park is open from 9 am to 10 pm every day. You may tour the park during the day, then return at night with your ticket to experience the Christmas lights.
Tickets are available online or in-person. Adults (age 12 to 64) are $28 and juniors (age 4 to 11) are $18, while seniors 65+ are $23 and kids 3 and under are free. Military and local resident receive a discount on in-person tickets with proof of ID.
Christmas in the City – Knoxville
Knoxville is filled with holiday fun for the whole family. From free drive-in holiday movies at Chilhowee Park (Nov 20 to Dec 4, 2020) to a Peppermint Trail featuring peppermint-themed lighting displays at local businesses, there’s something for everyone. More than a dozen Knoxville neighborhoods are having a friendly competition to see who has the best holiday light displays.
Christmas in the Park – Cookeville
Starting with the lighting of the city’s 40-foot Christmas tree on December 6, 2020, the city is filled with holiday activities each week. Visitors will find downtown carriage rides, Santa Claus, concerts, and Christmas Movies in the Park. There’s even a Christmas Forest exhibit at the Cookeville History Museum. Although the annual Christmas parade has been canceled due to COVID concerns, you can still drive through the Hidden Hollow Lights from mid-November through New Year’s Day.
The Nutcracker Ballet in Nashville
The Nashville Ballet presents one of Nashville’s favorite holiday traditions. Instead of an in-person event, one of the best Tennessee Christmas attractions will be televised on local TV on NewsChannel 5 on December 18, 2020, at 7 pm Central time. If you missed it, a reply will be shown on December 24, 2020, at 7 pm (NewChannel5+) and December 25, 2020, at 3 pm (News Channel 5). Click here to download The Nutcracker program.
The ballet was filmed in October 2020 at The Martin Center for Nashville Ballet. A Behind the Curtain special offers access into the making of this holiday classic on December 11, 2020, at 6:30 pm. A replay is available on December 14, 2020, at 11 am.
Let It Glow Holiday Light Show – Union City
In Union City, you’ll find more than 1 million lights synchronized to Christmas songs for the family to enjoy. The Let It Glow Holiday Light Show is hosted at Discovery Park of America and is available from mid-November 2020 through December 30, 2020. Hours are 5 pm to 9 pm every day, but it is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
A Polar Express train rolls through the park the weekend of December 10th thru 13th. Guests will enjoy hot chocolate, storytime with the Conductor, and dancing characters that bring the story to life.
Tickets for Let It Glow are available online or at the gate upon arrival. Admission is $10 per card, $25 for 15-passenger vans, and $50 for school and charter buses.
Graceland Lighting Ceremony
The holiday season kicks off at Graceland with a lighting ceremony featuring performances from some of your favorite musicians. Graceland keeps the spirit of Elvis alive and kicking in Memphis as fans from around the world flock to hear tunes live Heartbreak Hotel, Jailhouse Rock, and Hound Dog. Normally, the Graceland Lighting Ceremony is an in-person event, but this year it is virtual-only.
Christmas in Collierville
Collierville embraces the holiday spirit as it decks out the town with bows, garland, and Christmas lights. During Christmas in Collierville, you’ll enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides around the Town Square and more than 250,000 holiday lights in the historic district. Plus, visitors can get festive and snap pictures along the Holiday Photo Stroll.
Christmas in Collierville takes place every Saturday from late November through December 19, 2020. Free carriage rides are offered from 10 am to 4 pm each Saturday.
The Collierville Holiday Light Tour runs from December 10 to 23, 2020, and features 104 locations throughout the city. Follow along on the self-guided tour to see festive lights and decorations by the locals. Click here to see a Google map of all the locations or download a PDF map here.
Honorable Mention: The Biltmore Estate
The Biltmore Estate is impressive to visit any time of the year. Its manor house is impeccable and the grounds are so vast, that you literally have to drive from one building to the next. Heck, the driveway alone is 3 miles long.
When the holidays come around, many of the buildings on the 8,000-acre estate are adorned with lights, while Christmas trees & decorations pop up everywhere. I expected the main manor to be decorated more, but I figure that the building is so old and intricate that adding lights would be an almost impossible task.
During our visit in December 2019, we even saw Santa. Because it wasn’t crowded, the kids were able to share how good they were and talk to him for several minutes without being rushed.
Honorable Mention: Wendy’s Twinkle at the Track
About an hour north of Nashville, just over the Kentucky border, you’ll find Wendy’s Twinkle at the Track. The Bowling Green annual tradition features more than 25 drive-thru scenes, 350+ displays, and over 1 million lights across a 2-mile section of an actual race track!
Tickets are available for $20 per car Monday through Thursday and $25 per car on the weekends. It is open from late November to January 1st, and it is closed on Christmas Day. The venue opens at 5 pm every day and closes at 9 pm during the week and 10 pm on weekends. The last car is allowed entry 15 minutes before closing.
Honorable Mention: Galaxy of Lights at Huntsville Botanical Gardens
This year is the 25th anniversary of the Galaxy of Lights at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens. It is one of the largest holiday events in the South and guests will find 2.5 miles of magnificent light displays highlighting holiday themes, classic characters, and gorgeous natural scenes.
The Galaxy of Lights is located in Huntsville, AL, which is about 2 hours south of Nashville, TN. It offers walking nights in mid-November, then driving nights from Thanksgiving through January 2, 2021. Visitors can drive through the holiday displays from 5:30 pm to 9 pm 7 days a week. Tickets are available online or by visiting the Garden’s front desk during regular business hours. Peak dates are $30, while non-peak dates are $25. Each ticket allows a vehicle with up to 10 passengers.
The best Tennessee Christmas Attractions that were closed due to Coronavirus
Sadly, the coronavirus epidemic has caused several events to be canceled in 2020. Hopefully, these amazing traditions will return in 2021 to spread their holiday cheer. After the year we’ve all experienced, we need something to look forward to.
Christmas Village in Nashville (canceled for 2020)
A holiday tradition in middle Tennessee is the annual Christmas Village in Nashville. For more than 50 years, the Christmas Village gathers merchants and shoppers from all over the local area to offer unique seasonal and gift items.
The event is organized and operated solely through the volunteer efforts of the Nashville Pi Beta Phi Alumnae Club. It benefits the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center and other Pi Beta Phi philanthropies. Since its first event in 1961, it has raised more than $12.8 million for charity and made a difference in the lives of thousands of people.
Tickets are $10 at the door and online. Or you can buy them for $8 (a 20% discount) in advance at select SunTrust Bank locations and the Vanderbilt Concierge. Children age 9 and under are free. If you’d like to return to continue shopping, you can buy a return ticket for $5 at the door before you leave.
Photos with Santa are free, but you must bring your own camera. Santa will be available on specific dates, so check the website before you come.
The Christmas Village is open for 4 days in mid-November. So get your Christmas shopping in before the craziness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday starts.
Christmas Village is canceled for 2020, but dates have already been posted for 2021.
- Thursday, November 11 – sneak peek by invite only
- Friday, November 12 – 9 am to 9 pm
- Saturday, November 13 – 9 am to 6 pm
- Sunday, November 14 – 12 pm to 6 pm
You can visit Christmas Village at The Fairgrounds Nashville. It is located at 625 Smith Ave, Nashville, TN 37203.
Dickens of a Christmas in Franklin (canceled for 2020)
This annual tradition has been featured in Williamson County since 1985. The Dickens of a Christmas offers four main areas where guests can enjoy entertainment – a Bavarian Bierhaus Beer Garden, a stage, Victorian Village, and The Franklin Theatre. The stage offers a variety of song and dance, while the Victorian Village brings you back in time with actors wearing period clothing.
On Saturday night, The Franklin Feature hosts “A Dickens of a Christmas Theatrical Experience,” where Jason Woods transforms into more than 25 characters from the beloved Dickens’ classic.
Dickens of a Christmas in Franklin is canceled for 2020, but 2021 dates have been set for December 11th and 12th, 2021. So, mark your calendar so you don’t miss it.
GLOW at First Horizon Park in Nashville (canceled for 2020)
This holiday attraction is located at First Horizon Park, the home of the Nashville Sounds. GLOW Nashville features more than 4 million lights adorning larger-than-life sculptures that are sure to dazzle your entire family. You’ll also find ice skating and snow tubing for real winter fun. There’s even a Santa’s workshop to mingle with elves.
ICE! at Gaylord Opryland (canceled for 2020)
Every year, ICE! at Gaylord has a new theme. In 2018, it was How the Grinch Stole Christmas and 2019 was A Christmas Story. Unfortunately, the ICE! event is on hold in 2020 due to coronavirus. It is expected to return in 2021 with all of the chilly fun you know and love.
There are five Gaylord hotels around the U.S. that offer ICE! shows.
- National (Ft Washington, Maryland)
- Opryland (Nashville)
- Palms (Kissimmee, Florida)
- Rockies (Aurora, Colorado)
- Texan (Grapevine, Texas)
ICE! at Gaylord Opryland is a “cool” experience that is so cold, every guest is given a heavy coat to wear inside. To keep the ice sculptures and slide from melting, ICE! is kept at a balmy 9-degrees. Be sure to bring your own beanie and gloves to stay warm. We messed up and didn’t bring them our first time attending, and we got really cold. Don’t be like Ralphy’s friend and stick your tongue to anything. Otherwise, you might be there for longer than you expect.
Nashville Christmas Parade (virtual in 2020)
The Nashville Christmas Parade has been a holiday staple in Middle Tennessee since November 1927. This annual event features performances from some of your favorite country and rock stars as they roll down Broadway among the Honky Tonk Bars.
Aside from bringing joy to families and friends, the parade also raises money for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. You can donate to show your support and bring smiles to the faces of those families who are hurting.
Zoolumination: Chinese Lantern Festival of Lights at Nashville Zoo (canceled for 2020)
In 2019, the Nashville Zoo hosted the largest lantern show in the country. Zoolumination spanned more than 60 acres and featured more than 500 custom-made lanterns. There was also a life-size holiday village, nightly performances by Chinese acrobats, and specialty food options. Stop by and say hi to St. Nick and the elves at the North Pole Village. And, of course, you could see the zoo’s wide variety of live animals during your visit.
The Bald Thoughts
Our family loves the holidays, and we have so much fun seeing all of the decorations as we celebrate Christmas. There are so many best Tennessee Christmas attractions on this list, it can be hard to see them all each year. We are sad that several of the attractions are closed or modified this year due to coronavirus, but we’re looking forward to all of them resuming normal operations in 2021.
What are your favorite Christmas attractions in Tennessee? Let me know in the comments below so that I can add them to the list for next year.
Originally published on Bald Thoughts on December 15, 2020. Updated December 20, 2020.