McAdenville, North Carolina (aka Christmas Town U.S.A.) really takes this time of year seriously. (Image via Christmas Town U.S.A. on Facebook) Christmas Town U.S.A.
McAdenville, North Carolina (aka Christmas Town U.S.A.) really takes this time of year seriously. (Image via Christmas Town U.S.A. on Facebook)

North Carolinians go all out with their holiday lights. We’ve curated the best neighborhoods in the Triangle, the Triad, Wilmington, and Charlotte areas. 

True, NC does have some amazing ticketed Christmas light displays–and we definitely have tickets to them. (Yes, we got tickets to Enchanted Airlie before it sold out, please don’t hate us). But, despite the showstopper beauty of hundreds of meticulously arranged lighting confections, I have to admit, these one-day-only, timed entries, leave something to be desired. 

Where’s the spontaneity? Where’s the bundling into the car in the middle of the night with the baby (who seems to have a personal vendetta against sleep)? And where’s the true Christmas spirit: epic hokiness?

That’s right, this is yet again another ode to NC’s just-one-stop-short-of-concerning love of seasonal decor. And here at Cardinal and Pine, we’ve rounded up some of the best free (and never sold out) neighborhood Christmas lights. 

The Triangle

If you like your Christmas lights coupled with the lilting fragrance of Smirnoff Ice, head over to Greek Row in Chapel Hill for an off-the-beaten-trail local favorite. Like Whitney Housten said, the children are our future (or something). 

On the more family-friendly end of the spectrum, check out the Holt Road Christmas Lights which are located at a private residence just outside of Raleigh in Apex, NC. All are welcome, and the enchanting drive-through light display only encompasses 22 acres of pure Christmas joy. 

Still haven’t gotten your fill of light-peeping? This user-updated map of family light displays in the Triangle will get you there. 

The iconic Christmas lights on Holt Road in Apex, N.C. (Image via Facebook)

Greensboro / Winston-Salem 

Sunset Hill in Greensboro, a.k.a the only place where the phrase “yes it’s ball time of year” is ever reassuring, has one of the most iconic neighborhood light displays. 

Starting right after Thanksgiving, neighbors festoon their bare-branched trees with hundreds of lighted balls (made from lights and chicken wire) and the effect is magical. The tradition began in the 90s and has grown to include a Running of the Balls 5K(ish) and food drive that have helped feed over 1 million at-risk people in the area. 

Even though walking and driving around Sunset Hills is free and open for all, residents encourage donations of non-perishable goods at stations scattered throughout the neighborhood.

Charlotte

11 months out of the year, McAdenville, NC—population 900—is known for its textile plants both in and on the outskirts of the city. But all that changes in December when the town transforms into Christmas Town U.S.A–with some 100 decorated homes for visitors to enjoy featuring lights in classic Christmas colors and ever-growing porch/yard displays. 

Just 15 miles outside of Charlotte, Christmas Town U.S.A is open and lit up for visitors between Dec. 1-26. You can enjoy the lights Monday through Friday from 5:30pm to 9:30pm or Saturday and Sunday until 11pm (though things can get very crowded on the weekend). 

And for (at least) a once in a lifetime experience, brave the traffic and visit Christmas Town U.S.A for the tree-lighting ceremony (this year on Dec. 1 at 6pm) when the entire town lights up at the flick of a switch. 

Wilmington

Like the Triangle, Wilmington has a handy interactive map which is maintained by an anonymous Christmas Light Enthusiast and you can check out their own glittering display on Williamsburg Court, which is timed to flicker to all the Christmas hits on 107.1 FM. 

If you want to hit one “high concentration” neighborhood of Christmas cheer, wind your way through the ranch-riddled streets of the Kings Grant neighborhood–a deliciously kitschy corner of North Wilmington where more is always more when it comes to holiday-themed inflatables.