Seven of the South’s Most Charming Holiday Towns

Where to find carriage rides, twinkling lights, Christmas parades, and more festive fun

A brick building with shops and Christmas decor and lights in the snow

Photo: Cottrell Photography

Snow in Dahlonega, Georgia.

Since his Christmas classic first hit airwaves in 1954, Perry Como’s mellow baritone has reminded us “there’s no place like home for the holidays.” And while the crooner makes a solid argument, there are some towns that just do the holidays better than others. From a horsey hamlet in the hills of Northern Virginia to a historic Texas Hill Country community, here are seven of them.

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Asheville, North Carolina 

photo: The Biltmore Company.
Christmas at Biltmore.

Challenging Santa’s elves in the cheer department, the folks at Biltmore spend an entire year prepping for the holidays, bedecking George Vanderbilt’s historic estate—which first welcomed guests on Christmas Eve in 1895—in 1,600 feet of garland, 238 fresh wreaths, 282 candles, 45,000 twinkle lights, and sixty-seven Christmas trees, including the Banquet Hall’s thirty-five-foot-tall Fraser fir. And that’s just inside the house. The Biltmore’s Candlelight House Tour alone is worth the trip to Asheville, but it’s not the city’s only holiday happening. Check out the National Gingerbread House Competition at the Omni Grove Park Inn or bundle up to explore the Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum.   

Beaufort, South Carolina

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There’s little chance of snow in Beaufort but a heavy accumulation of holiday spirit. Seasonal highlights in the coastal South Carolina town include the Parris Island Marine Band’s holiday concert; the annual performance of the regional musical, Gullah Kinfolk Christmas Wish; and the city’s popular boat parade, where festively lit vessels cruise past the city’s picturesque waterfront. If you can’t make any of those single-run events, downtown Beaufort’s historic homes, strung with garland and wreaths, offer a healthy dose of cheer. 

Dahlonega, Georgia

photo: Michelle Kraft Deblois
The town square decorated for the holidays.

Not even a Hallmark screenwriter could reproduce Dahlonega’s small-town charm and authentic holiday spirit. Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this North Georgia enclave leans into the season, especially in the historic downtown, where live carolers perform in the square, horse-drawn carriages take visitors on tours of historic homes decked in lights, and the aptly named Holly Theater hosts performances of It’s a Wonderful Life and Elf, the Musical. Shop for artisan-made crafts and baked goods at the Christmas Market at Candy Cane Lane.

Fredericksburg, Texas

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Fredericksburg’s holiday festivities are rooted in the Hill Country community’s German heritage. The town square, or Marktplatz, features a nightly lighting ceremony for both a thirty-foot-tall tree—Germans get credit for introducing Christmas trees as far back as the sixteenth century—as well as a twenty-six-foot-tall Christmas pyramid; the traditional wooden structures, typically made to sit on an end table or chest, are considered the precursor to the Christmas tree.  

McAdenville, North Carolina

Lots of cities host holiday light shows, but in McAdenville, a North Carolina community of just 900 residents that’s situated twenty-five minutes west of Charlotte, the entire town is the light show. During the month of December, over one hundred private homes are done up Clark Griswold–style, and the downtown shines under the glow of a half-million lights adorning more than 250 Christmas trees. Plan your visit on a weeknight to avoid the largest crowds. With a coat and proper footwear, the entire light show is easy to tackle on foot, though driving is permitted.  

Middleburg, Virginia 

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Looking like a Norman Rockwell painting sprung to life in the rolling hills of Northern Virginia, Middleburg charms visitors all year long, but experiencing Christmas in Middleburg is downright magical. The first weekend in December marks the town’s official celebration and includes the South’s most picturesque Christmas parade, in which Santa isn’t the only person in a red coat folks come out to see. There’s also the scarlet-and-black-cloaked members of the Middleburg Hunt along with their horses and hounds.   

Sewanee, Tennessee 

Carols in All Saints’ Chapel.

Read a personal essay by Pulitzer Prize–winning author, historian, and Sewanee alum Jon Meacham about the Tennessee university’s annual Festival of Lessons and Carols, then visit the quaint mountain college town to experience the stirring Advent tradition for yourself. A trio of Saturday and Sunday services take place at the historic All Saints’ Chapel during the first weekend of December.